July 14, 2020
In this new world of remote learning, most districts are evaluating the resources they’ll be using in the fall. There’s a sense of urgency amongst school and district leaders right now to make changes and for good reason. What students and teachers need will be dependent on the format of learning this fall—students may have multiple teachers over the course of a week or unit. Without standards-aligned materials, students are unlikely to have access to coherent content. Given the possibility of a lack of consistent instructors, ever-changing settings, and an evolving schedule, materials may be the one constant both teachers and students can count on to hold learning together.
The choices districts make about instructional materials will impact teachers and students the most. What’s more, since teachers use instructional materials daily and are closest to the needs of the students in their classrooms, they have a unique lens into what works and what should be considered when selecting new programs.
Educator voice is too often missing from the areas it is needed most, and curriculum adoption is no exception. Don’t wait for decision-makers to come to you. Use your knowledge, expertise, and experience to ensure that you have the resources you need to support your students throughout this challenge and beyond.
Below are three ways to effectively advocate for better curricula.
Understanding the data behind the importance of materials, how materials support student learning, and the challenges districts face in getting quality content into the hands of teachers and students is key to making your case to leaders and decision makers. Empowered with information, you’ll be able to convey the urgency of investing in new materials as well as begin to offer solutions for how challenges can be addressed.
Studies have shown that students learn primarily through their interactions with teachers and content. What is chosen matters. Yet less than 20 percent of teachers are using the standards-aligned curriculum needed to support classroom success. Instead, teachers spend 7-12 hours per week searching for or creating materials, time they could instead be spending planning to support the individual needs of their students.
Alas, most digital resources used this spring fell far short of what students need. For example, a RAND survey found: Most digital materials are not curricula. They typically do not include lessons that build upon one another over time and are not necessarily clearly tied to academic content standards for particular grades and subject areas. Many materials were no more than practice worksheets.
The dearth of aligned materials contributes to the ever-widening opportunity gap, with students of color and those living in poverty spending less time on grade-level assignments than their white and higher income peers.
Not only is it important to understand why materials matter, it’s vital to investigate the specific materials your district is using. It will be natural to ask questions about quality (Are the materials aligned? How easy are they to use? Do they offer support for diverse learners?), but it is equally critical to understand how the materials were selected in the first place. Look into your school’s or district’s adoption process. Does your state have requirements around curriculum adoption? The more you know about the process, the more likely you are to have a voice in decision making.
Check out EdReports’ latest resources to guide decision making around materials.
Once you learn the research and understand your local context, advocacy will be easier than you think. Educators are natural champions for change but are sometimes intimidated by the scale of the problems they are trying to solve. Try starting small. The first step is to recognize that you are an expert in your field and an authority in the information and experiences you want to share. Then consider the steps below.
Questions to Consider
Steps to Take