Curriculum as Reform

I’m seeing a lot more discussion of curriculum as a key factor in improving student learning. Robert Pondiscio and Checkers Finn at Fordham, Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris in the Reinventing Curriculum blog published in the T.H.E Journal, and of course E.D. Hirsch. A new policy spotlight from Chiefs for Change—Hiding in Plain Sight: Leveraging Curriculum to Improve Student Learning—is one of the latest to make the argument that high-quality standards matched with high-quality instructional materials, lead to strong student outcomes. The Chiefs note that an emerging body of research shows that content-rich, standards-aligned curricula exert a strong influence on student achievement. There is even some early evidence that switching to a high-quality curriculum may be a more cost-effective way to raise achievement than other interventions.

The Chiefs’ policy spotlight makes the argument that the new policy structures of ESSA present state and district leaders with the opportunity to:

  • Develop content-rich, high-quality curricular frameworks and materials that match the new standards and are scalable; and
  • Develop a set of policies that incentivizes adoption by school districts, researches their impact on student learning, and scales the use of the materials statewide.

All of this could be good news, both for teachers and curriculum developers in the commercial and OER sphere. Teachers, in the absence of an organized and well aligned curriculum, are spending large chunks of time searching for resources that will help flesh out the standards for their students and provide rich learning experiences. Curriculum developers may begin to see more willingness on the part of schools to consider the use of a well-aligned, content rich curriculum—a program of instruction and sequence of experiences and related resources (like lessons, activities, units, extension projects). Teachers will always tweak and adapt, slimming down or enlarging a given lesson or unit to meet their students’ need and better fit local standards and expectations, but that’s a more manageable task if they have a framework within which to make those adjustments.

A few other items of interest from this week’s news. Amazon announced TenMarks Writing a new online writing curriculum program. Among other features TenMarks Writing uses natural language processing technology to analyze each student’s work and delivers personalized feedback to help them think critically and refine organization, word choice, and more. Amazon acquired TenMarks in October of 2013 and has been selling TenMarks Math since that time. Like the math product TenMarks Writing will be sold as an annual subscription, priced at $4 per students.

Florida’s Broward County Schools will be using EdCredible’s EdValuate Product Evaluation Platform for their 2017-2018 product adoption evaluations. Late in 2016, the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) partnered with EdCredible to makes its textbook adoption and RFP evaluation systems available to FSBA members. The system automates and simplifies the secure creation, weighting, administration, scoring, analysis and overall management of the textbook adoption and RFP evaluation process. While EdCredible provides access to over 23,000 validated educator product reviews, its EdValuate tool allows districts to involve all educators in the evaluation and review process. The system automates and simplifies the overall management of materials adoption and RFP evaluation process, allowing districts and schools to create evaluations, weight categories and questions, access real-time scoring and compare multiple products in a scorecard format. The platform also offers vendors the opportunity to provide responses to each of the indicators that make up the BCPS evaluations. As more and more responsibility under ESSA falls on districts, platforms like this may prove to be useful tools.