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Real Talk from Teachers About Why Good Curriculum Doesn’t Get Taught

When we ask someone to do a job, we usually give them the tools to get it done. Not so in teaching, where more than half of U.S. teachers create learning materials on their own.  

Even as publishers are getting more high-quality curriculum materials into the marketplace,  teachers continue to struggle to access those materials. A recent report from the nonprofit curriculum reviewer EdReports found that less than half of U.S. teachers believe their instructional materials align with learning standards.

That mismatch keeps kids locked out of the grade level materials they need to excel.

Last year, both EdReports and the teacher-led advocacy organization Educators for Excellence dug in to uncover teachers’ perspectives about the quality of their instructional materials and how they could be improved. This past spring, E4E released Voices from the Classroom 2022 and EdReports released State of the Instructional Materials Market 2021: The Availability and Use of Aligned Materials. 

Three teachers connected with these organizations sat down to offer some real talk about the challenges of getting good materials to teachers and offer solutions:

  • Omar Araiza, fifth-grade teacher in Los Angeles and E4E National Teacher Leader Council member 
  • Amanda Lanigan, secondary math teacher in Northville, Michigan, and EdReports reviewer
  • Cristen Rasmussen, science teacher in Newport-Mesa, California, and EdReports reviewer

Omar AraizaCristen RasmussenAmanda Lanigan (1)

Teachers Need to Know the Why Behind New Materials 

Voices from the Classroom and State of the Instructional Materials Market found that less than half of teachers believe their instructional materials are aligned to learning standards. Among teachers surveyed by E4E for Voices from the Classroom, only 35% of teachers said their curricula are culturally relevant to their students. Better communication and more information up front about curriculum could help build trust with teachers and ensure high-quality materials make it to students.  

  • Omar: This year we implemented a new ELA curriculum in our district, and teachers were hesitant to use it because they weren’t told whether it was high-quality or why. I know my curriculum has a very high rating on EdReports, which makes me trust it more, because I went and found that information myself. Information on whether or not curricular materials are high-quality, and why, needs to be both widely available and easily accessible to teachers.
  • Cristen: Principals are trusting their teachers, but there is a lack of communication and discourse. This isn’t intentional on the part of principals or teachers, but schools need to structure more dedicated time for discussing curriculum, implementation, and pacing.
  • Amanda: And, we still have too many principals—nearly half—saying, “Use whatever materials you think will best meet students’ needs,” when it comes to instructional materials. High-quality materials are out there and teachers should have access to what they need. They shouldn’t have to go look for them.

Better Materials Won’t Get Used without Better Training

Voices from the Classroom and State of the Instructional Materials Market found that only about half of teachers feel they’re receiving the necessary professional development to implement their materials effectively. Without real professional learning, even high-quality materials can be used improperly or left on the shelf.

  • Amanda: In my first teaching job—I came in mid-year and was teaching remedial classes, which had a specific curriculum. When I went to a training on the materials a few weeks in, I realized that I wasn’t implementing the materials correctly at all. This was a really positive experience for me, and it improved my instruction significantly. That’s the power of professional learning. Unfortunately, though, I know experiences like this aren’t happening often enough.
  • Omar: In my experience, the trainings I have attended for new materials seem to be more of an advertisement for the publisher, rather than an explanation of why a program is high-quality or how to implement it.
  • Cristen: This matches my experience. Administrators need to support teachers in understanding why new materials are high-quality and how to use them. Oftentimes it’s  assumed that high-quality materials equals high-quality instruction, but this isn’t true without ongoing professional learning.

Teachers Play Too Small a Role In Choosing Curriculum

In Voices from the Classroom, only 30% of teachers, and 15% of teachers of color, reported playing a role in selecting the curriculum used in their school. More authentic processes and a clear rubric for determining quality–such as that provided by EdReports–could help.

  • Omar: The teachers I’ve talked to that have been invited to be part of adoption processes did not feel that the selections they prefered were chosen. In order for teachers to buy-in, we need more authentic processes and more communication about why the materials matter, how they were chosen, and why we should use them.
  • Cristen: I helped my middle school science team go through an adoption process that I think ticked many of those boxes. We provided a pool of options and used EdReports as the primary review tool to evaluate for alignment and quality. It was encouraging to work through a real process with fellow teachers. We ended up selecting the highest quality materials, and it mattered that we could come to that decision on our own. 
  • Amanda: The math teachers in my district are just now starting the process using EdReports and anyone who wanted to participate at middle or high school was able to—I’m hoping it will run as smoothly and feels as authentic as it sounds like it did in your district, Cristen.

Districts and Teachers Can Work Together to Increase Curriculum Quality

Omar, Cristen and Amanda agreed that leadership from states and districts must be coupled with demand for better curriculum from teachers themselves. States and districts should be spreading awareness of how to spot excellent curriculum and sharing information about the availability of high-quality instructional materials and inviting teachers to the table where decisions are made. At the same time, they agreed that teachers themselves also have a responsibility to learn about high-quality materials and seek opportunities to get involved in choosing curriculum. 

Educators can make a difference at the local level. Here’s how:

  • Learn more about your own instructional materials or materials under consideration for adoption and, if you have access to high-quality programs, implement them with integrity.
  • Seek out opportunities to provide input during your district’s materials adoption, and advocate for the authentic inclusion of teacher voice at every step of the selection  process.
  • Speak with your school leaders about your current materials and whether or not they are high-quality, using evidence from EdReports educator created reviews. Advocate for ongoing professional learning to ensure you have the training you need to use new and existing materials well. 
  • Contact district leaders with recommendations for how to improve adoption processes as well as improve access to curriculum focused professional learning.
Maureen Kelleher
Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Partner at Ed Post. She is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to ...

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