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, Cristen, and Amanda discuss their perspective on the quality of curricular materials, the inclusion of educators in the selection process, and training for implementation in their own districts.
Q: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. What has your experience been with this?
“Teachers should have the materials they need; they shouldn’t have to go look for them.”
Cristen: Even if more high-quality materials are out there, we need districts who are able to make informed decisions and are willing to adopt them. Our district has used EdReports in the past and has adopted high-quality materials, but teachers don’t always receive the supports they need to implement them. Once they’re adopted, we need to make sure that educators understand the importance of high-quality materials and why they need to implement them, even if it feels difficult because it’s potentially a new way of teaching for them.
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. But, the training my district provided didn’t cover that. It didn’t give teachers the background information they needed to be bought into the materials or ongoing training on how to use them.
Q: On that note, 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. It sounds like you all would agree. What has your experience been with this?
“Oftentimes it’s assumed that high-quality materials equals high-quality instruction, but this isn’t true without the training.”
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.
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.
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
Q: Now let’s talk about selection. 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. What has your experience been with participating in processes to select new curricular materials?
“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.”
Omar: I don’t feel that teachers have a real say. I think often, teachers are invited to participate in a selection process, but those who do feel they’re intentionally directed toward a certain option. It doesn’t feel authentic. 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.
Q: Finally, to summarize, what change is needed—from your principal, district, or state—to improve your experience with selecting and implementing a high quality curriculum?
“Teachers need to seek out opportunities to get involved in decision- making and information about the quality of their materials. But they also need to be invited to the table as well. The responsibility goes both ways.”
Cristen: Districts need to do more to support their teachers in understanding and implementing their curricular materials. There is a gap between how teachers were trained to teach and what we know now about how people learn. That gap needs to be filled.
Amanda: Classroom teachers do certain things to help their students buy into the learning process. We talk about why we’re learning, how that learning is important and effective, and spend the extra time to make those connections for students. That needs to be mirrored with the curriculum adoption process with teachers. We need to understand the whys behind the decisions that are made.
Omar: I agree—what we’re expected to do with our students, our leadership should be expected to do with us.
Cristen: But, as a teacher, I also have the responsibility to go out there and learn about high-quality materials. The primary responsibility is with the district, but also part of that is on teachers to take advantage of the information that’s out there. And, at the state level, states need to spread the information about the availability of high-quality materials so that all teachers know it’s out there.
Amanda: We need both the commitment from leadership at the top and the demand from teachers at the grass roots. Teachers need to seek out opportunities to get involved in decision-making and information about the quality of their materials. But they also need to be invited to the table as well. The responsibility goes both ways.
Calls to Action
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.
This is a collaboration between EdReports and Educators for Excellence. The Q&A originally appeared in EdPost as Real Talk from Teachers About Why Good Curriculum Doesn’t Get Taught.