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5 Memphis high schools get a Common Core boost, even as the standards are set to disappear

Grace Tatter

Tennessee might be moving away from the Common Core standards, but a handful of English classes in Memphis are getting closer.

That’s because Shelby County Schools — the district that educates 61 percent of Memphis schoolchildren — is experimenting with a curriculum that New York State developed to help educators there teach to the shared standards. This year, teachers and students in 80 classes at five high schools will follow the curriculum, called Paths to College and Career 9-12, to see whether they outperform classes that use different programs.

The pilot suggests that Shelby County is not immediately abandoning the Common Core because state legislators decided last year to drop the standards. It also suggests that local officials have determined that the best way to have students meet the state’s new standards, which go into effect next year, could be to use Common Core-aligned materials.

The Paths curriculum is a rebranded version of EngageNY, which some consider “the first ‘breakout hit'” of the Common Core era because teachers across the country have downloaded the curriculum materials, even as their states have waffled on whether to continue using the standards. (New York, like Tennessee, is abandoning the politically perilous Common Core in favor of similar standards that were developed locally.)

The Shelby County curriculum comes with teacher training from the Public Consulting Group, an organization that EngageNY endorses as equipped to help educators use its materials. The pilot is being paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested heavily in promoting the Common Core nationally and improving teaching locally. (The Gates Foundation also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding.)

In addition to boosting students’ scores, the pilot aims to get 80 percent of assignments aligned to the Common Core, which emphasizes difficult texts, arguments rooted in evidence, and critical thinking. That could be a challenge: An analysis found that only 20 percent of assignments in the pilot classes were Common Core-aligned in the past — and that was when the standards were on the books in Tennessee.

Correction: Sept. 26, 2016: This article originally mischaracterized the Public Consulting Group as a nonprofit.

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