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Chiefs for Change Statement on the Need for High-Quality Curriculum

In February 2018, ERS released  What is Resource Equity? We describe nine dimensions of resource equity that shape the student experience and contribute to student success. One of the most crucial dimensions is academic rigor - which includes curriculum as well as grading practices and course access. The Louisiana Department of Education has set an excellent example of how states can support disticts in adopting rigorous curriculum. We applaud Chiefs for Change for highlighting the importance of  high-quality curriculum and framing it as an equity issue.

Read the statement as it originally appeared at Chiefs for Change.

All children deserve a culturally relevant instructional program that prepares them for college, meaningful careers, and life. Education should challenge students and ignite their curiosity.

We know research has shown that one of the best ways to dramatically improve student learning and engagement is to give teachers high-quality instructional materials and the support they need to use those resources. And yet that’s not happening nearly enough. Far too many schools have poorly constructed curricula, curricula that doesn’t challenge students at a level aligned with what they’re expected to know or understand, or even no curricula at all.

We know, as a result, students zone out in the face of under-demanding or over-demanding instruction. They can be inadvertently subjected to the same content multiple times; be confused by conflicting methods in math and texts pulled out of context in ELA; and be forced to use poorly designed materials that don’t foster deep understanding or reinforce what they’ve already learned.

We know teachers try to make the best of what they’re given. But all too often, they end up with slightly revised, older textbooks stamped “standards ready,” or they’re told to use a locally created curriculum that likely hasn’t been vetted for rigor, coherence, and deep standards alignment. Recognizing that those lessons can be confusing or boring, teachers take it upon themselves to assemble their own. They want the best for their students and regularly spend hours pulling content from online and printed sources in the hopes of creating something they can believe in.  

We know all of these things but have done too little to address them.

The morass of rules and regulations governing educational materials does not support students and teachers—it helps textbook giants boost profits. Some of these laws have stood on the books unexamined for 40 years, written while Jimmy Carter was president, digital information was stored on floppy disks, and before NASA sent its first female astronauts to space. Survey the landscape and you will find everything from a near total absence of curricula guidance in some places to arcane systems of mandates in others. Problems include long procurement cycles, antiquated RFP requirements, pointlessly restrictive categorical funding, and bid processes that disadvantage non-profit curriculum developers who create high-quality open educational resources. Simply put, too many of the current laws are unacceptable.

In this day and age, we know more about effective curricula than we ever have. Researchers have produced a growing body of evidence about what works to improve student performance, and that research is finally being put to practical use. Entrepreneurs are creating exactly the kind of challenging, engaging, thoughtfully sequenced content students and teachers need. And in many cases, the content is not only excellent, but free. That’s why we, as Chiefs for Change, are calling for an end to harmful and outdated laws that prevent access to excellent instructional resources.

We are calling on textbook companies to stop protecting anachronistic regulations that hurt students and teachers, and we demand that curriculum providers produce standards-aligned, culturally relevant curricula that meet the highest bar for coherence and rigor. This is true for both traditional resources and personalized learning platforms. The materials must also contain embedded formative assessments aligned to state summative assessments, as an increasing number of states have chosen to use their own statewide assessments.

We are calling on leaders in higher education to align their teacher preparation programs to our efforts, and we encourage them to make the use of research-based curricula a central aspect of professional learning for all teachers.

We are calling on state policymakers to, wherever necessary, end needlessly long textbook review processes, textbook caravans, and state-sanctioned textbook storage depositories, none of which incentivizes timely adoption of quality materials. We also urge policymakers to establish regular, ongoing, transparent curriculum-review processes led by teachers. This will help to ensure that materials are standards-aligned, digitally available, and associated with strong professional development providers. Lastly, we ask policymakers to insist that procurement requirements favor low-cost, high-quality resources.

As the leaders of some of the nation’s largest education systems, we pledge to redouble our own efforts to see that our schools use high-quality instructional materials and offer curriculum-specific professional development. This is—and will continue to be—one of our very highest priorities until all students and teachers have the top-notch instructional resources they deserve.

About Chiefs for Change
Chiefs for Change is a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education Chiefs dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s through deeply committed leadership. Chiefs for Change advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference today for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.

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