Education Letter to the Editor

Privatizing the Philadelphia Curriculum: A ‘Watering Down’

February 23, 2005 2 min read

To the Editor:

The contracting of Kaplan K12 Learning Services Group, a division of Kaplan Inc., to write a college-preparatory curriculum and supervise its implementation is an attempt to privatize Philadelphia’s public schools, where the No Child Left Behind Act has not done so (“For-Profit Writes Mandatory Courses for Phila. High Schools,” Feb. 9, 2005).

As one quote in your front-page article suggests, the contract really involves “diverting a lot of money that is needed to sustain and strengthen the district’s own capacity to do curriculum and assessment work.” What the Philadelphia schools should be doing is putting curriculum and methods design in the hands of its professionals—the system’s teachers. But school officials there seem to be too busy listening to this private company’s false and degrading portrayal of teachers as people who would “linger on content that they’re comfortable with and avoid material they don’t like” if the task were left to them.

How convenient for Kaplan that teachers are so supposedly small-minded, ill-prepared, and selfish. The solution then is obviously to make sure Kaplan can assure the Philadelphia school officials that teachers will have nothing to do with it—for a tidy sum, of course.

The curriculum Kaplan has written is a watering down of coursework; it is not, as Kaplan officials claim, “more than just a test-preparation program.” A case in point is the drive-by format for covering our nation’s most important citizen rights. Students are expected to learn the Declaration of Independence and Enlightenment ideas in one-half of a period (24 to 26 minutes), and the U.S. Constitution in two periods. Afterwards, they are to have a class discussion of freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly—all in 12 to 14 minutes. The historic significance of the Bill of Rights in 14 minutes? Just exactly whom is this “education” going to benefit? (We can be certain it won’t hurt the test purveyors.)

As for multicultural curriculum, research is already clear on this point: The greater degree to which the curriculum is standardized, the greater degree to which we lose the unique, creative, personalized approach to in-depth, reflective teaching, which includes social critique and respect for diversity. Kaplan’s program has no hope of imposing even a pale resemblance of a good teacher through this curriculum design.

Juliet Luther

Bilingual Educator and ESL Specialist

New York, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week as Privatizing the Philadelphia Curriculum: A ‘Watering Down’