When I learned that EdReports would be reviewing high school English Language Arts instructional materials for the first time, I knew I wanted to be part of the process. Six teams of educators worked together and created 24 new reports representing more than 1,700 hours of work. One cluster reviewed an entirely digital curriculum. Another focused on a series continuing from middle school. While the results and trends changed from one series to another, one conclusion remained the same across each and every one of the reviews: the importance of educator voices being heard and sharing this empowering information with colleagues.
As a teacher of 18 years, I’ve often felt that my opinions in this area were ignored. I cannot describe how powerful it is as a practitioner to be able to say, ‘Hey this isn’t very good. You need to fix this if you want us to use it’ or ‘Hey- this is really excellent- can you do more of this?’ and actually have our voices acknowledged.
Beyond the value of expert educators being able to contribute to the field, the reports also matter in a larger sense of empowering and supporting teachers with their instruction. I know how difficult it is for a new teacher or even a long-time practicing teacher to find really good materials to use in the classroom and do the 93,000 other things that we have to do.
In my first five years as a teacher, I didn’t have strong instructional materials and there wasn’t an organization like EdReports to turn to for information about the gaps in my curriculum. When I wasn’t grading and giving feedback, I was putting together materials, writing units, and developing assessments. The units I put together may have been strong but I was often too exhausted to do them justice in the classroom. Like all teachers, I want to be able to focus my attention on meeting my students needs, differentiating, assessing, and giving feedback. If I can spend the bulk of my time doing the actual art of teaching and leave it to someone else to do the heavy lifting of the curricular materials, that’s invaluable.
Most importantly, these reviews are about empowering schools and districts to make the best choices for their students and local communities. Knowing which materials truly align to college and career ready standards and where those gaps are is the first step in ensuring that the promise of high school English Language Arts can be fulfilled. And make no mistake about it – the promise of ELA extends well beyond any graduation date.
My job is all about teaching students how to think and how to express that thinking. That is why it is so important that we have a good mix of materials in our curriculum. We need to have different sides speaking, we need to have different ethnicities expressing their experiences. We need a way for our students to see and respond to other points of view.
If we’re paying attention to the standards and truly assessing kids to those standards, and we’re really targeting that through what we teach and how we teach it, then we will have really intelligent, creative, effective people going out into the world to do things like vote in elections, run companies and discover new solar systems and cures for disease.
If we don’t pay attention to what students are learning and we aren’t using standards as a baseline, then we’ll have 9th graders who don’t know what a counter argument is. We’ll have juniors who cannot listen to an opposing idea and respond to it thoughtfully. Our materials matter so much because the stakes are high. Our work is about the citizens we’re growing, the leaders they will become, and the future they will shape.