The need for standards-aligned curricula is the most cited Common Core challenge for states, districts, and schools. Yet five years into that implementation, teachers still report scrambling to find high-quality instructional materials. Despite publishers’ claims, there is a dearth of programs that are truly aligned to the demands of the Common Core for content and rigor. Fixing America’s curriculum problem is no small challenge.

In Uncommonly Engaging? A Review of the EngageNY English Language Arts Common Core Curriculum, Fordham analyzes New York State’s Common Core-aligned ELA curriculum, built from scratch and made available online for all to use for free. How solid is this product? Is it well aligned to the Common Core? Is it teachable?

Here’s what we found:

  • EngageNY’s alignment to the Common Core is generally strong.
  • Selected texts are high-quality and appropriately rigorous, and the program allows educators greater flexibility than other scripted programs.
  • But because New York engaged multiple curriculum developers to create separate resources for different grade bands, each set of materials reflects a distinctive underlying approach to curriculum and literacy, meaning that the progression across grade bands is bumpy.
  • While content and foundational skills in the early grades appear thoughtfully developed, the sheer quantity of content across all grade bands can be overwhelming.
  • Additionally, EngageNY’s high school curriculum (not yet complete) lacks a critical emphasis on literary content, a problem that is amplified by the fact that students read mostly excerpts of great books rather than full novels, biographies, and so on.

While not perfect, the materials offer educators—both inside and outside New York State—an important alternative to traditional textbooks of questionable quality and alignment. 

This has been updated to reflect that at the high-school level, students mostly, not exclusively, read excerpts of great books rather than full novels and biographies.

Sheila is an education consultant based in Washington, D.C. who has taught English in the District of Columbia Public Schools and in Italy and Japan. She was the founding director of the American Diploma Project and is the former deputy executive director of the California Academic Standards Commission. She is the co-author of Stars by Which to Navigate? Scanning National and International Education Standards (Thomas B.…

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