High-quality instructional materials

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 well. We are working to promote the use of excellent resources in our states and districts.

Far too many schools in the United States have poorly constructed curricula or curricula that doesn’t challenge students at a level aligned to the standards—meaning, what children are expected to know or be able to do in a given subject or grade. Some schools have no curricula at all. As a result, students can become disengaged. They can be inadvertently subjected to the same content multiple times; confused by conflicting methods in math and texts pulled out of context in English Language Arts (ELA); and forced to use weak materials that don’t foster deep understanding or reinforce what students have already learned.

Teachers often end up with slightly revised, older textbooks stamped “standards ready,” or they’re told to use a locally created curriculum that hasn’t been vetted for rigor, coherence, and deep standards alignment. Recognizing that those lessons can be confusing or boring for their students, teachers are left to cobble together alternative options from a variety of sources. Teachers should not have to spend hours each week searching for lessons on their own. We must give them high-quality, culturally relevant resources, so they can focus on bringing the content to life in the classroom.

At the state level, we have implemented programs that train teachers on how to vet materials, and teachers have partnered with experts to review and rate resources. By broadly sharing the results of those reviews and providing incentives related to the curriculum procurement process, we are making it easier for districts to find and adopt high-quality materials. We are also collaborating with teacher leadership networks to customize professional development to specific curriculum so that teachers are versed in how to make the most of the materials they actually use in the classroom.

At the district level, with support from the Chiefs for Change accelerator fund, several of us have worked with experts to conduct in-depth curriculum audits aimed at assessing whether the curricula in our districts provide a coherent, culturally relevant instructional program or omit important content that could lead to gaps in knowledge. Using those insights, we are actively improving as needed: Efforts range from equipping teachers with a library of vetted resources to overhauling an ELA curriculum.

Chiefs for Change has published several reports in this area: One is focused on how high-quality, culturally relevant curriculum and instruction can help to systematically remove prejudices about race and class and honor students’ diverse backgrounds. Another analyzed curriculum adoption policies in all 50 states and outlines steps that states can take to make it easier for schools and districts to choose high-quality resources.

We also partnered with the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy to create the Knowledge Map, a tool that can be used to analyze an ELA curriculum. A team of teacher experts trained by the institute reviews all required texts and rates them based on depth of knowledge, accuracy, and academic rigor. The institute then produces related reports and a plan that can help instructional leaders determine whether the materials encompass a variety of rich texts—including those that reflect the diverse cultures and experiences of students—and the degree to which those texts expose students to cumulative knowledge across key domains.

Watch video
Baltimore City Public Schools partnered with experts to conduct a thorough review of the district’s ELA curriculum. CEO Sonja Santelises describes the findings of that audit and explains how her team overhauled the curriculum and implemented a rigorous, culturally relevant instructional program with high-quality content that invites critical thinking at all levels.