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Newest Issue of the Standard Highlights a Role for States in Advancing High-Quality Curriculum


Alexandria, VA —State leaders have long viewed the selection of curriculum and materials as local decisions. Yet state learning standards and classroom materials often do not align, creating inequitable opportunities for all students to master state standards. Authors in the latest issue of NASBE’s State Education Standard draw lessons from a spectrum of state policies that are being used to increase the adoption of high-quality curriculum. They also encourage state leaders to apply what they have learned from the successes in improved reading and math curriculum to other critical subject areas.

RAND Corporation’s Sy Doan and Julia Kaufman lead the issue with a look at state textbook adoption and strategies that a network of states are using to move the needle on quality. These states have used a variety of “mandates, signals, and incentives” to increase the use of high-quality instructional materials across school districts.

To ensure faithful implementation, write Jocelyn Pickford and Kate Poteet, advisors to the Collaborative for Student Success, state leaders should center professional learning opportunities on effective use of high-quality curriculum.

Johns Hopkins University’s David Steiner points out that even when districts implement suggested instructional materials, most teachers “add, mix, and match a plethora of content from the internet into their district-mandated content,” creating uneven quality, inconsistency from classroom to classroom, and inequities across school districts. “The caliber, rigor, and any rational sequencing of that material both within and across grade levels becomes a matter of luck and chance,” Steiner writes. Overcoming such implementation barriers requires changing teacher and leader mindsets.

EdReports’ Sam Shaw and Eric Hirsch find that when it comes to K-12 science, available instructional materials lag what state science standards demand. But state policy, practices, and legislation can increase access to and use of quality curriculum in science, as it has in other content areas, they say.

Ruth Wattenberg, former D.C. state board president, makes the case for states to prioritize the building of students’ knowledge across content areas in order to improve their reading comprehension. She lays out steps state boards can take to navigate trade-offs between local control and the need for coherent, comprehensive, and coherent curricula.

This issue of the Standard also marks the first in a fully digital format. It also features opinion pieces by state board members Andrew J. Rotherham (Virginia) and Lu Young (Kentucky), as well as by NASBE President and CEO Paolo DeMaria. Rotherham recounts Virginia’s high-profile debate over its new history and social studies standards—and how the board got to consensus. Young sees current debates over content standards and curriculum changes as too prescriptive and procedural, forgetting that teaching is a profession and an art. There’s room for state leaders to strike a balance, she says, and show teachers that we value their creativity and skills in creating rich learning environments and that we trust them as professionals and leaders. DeMaria urges education leaders to attend to principles of change management as they seek to ensure that high-quality curriculum are embedded in classroom instruction.

Read the Winter 2024 Standard, “Curriculum That Counts.”

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