The practicality of ensuring high student achievement across a state, district, or even a single classroom can seem overwhelming. This task often falls to teachers who deal with the day-in and day-out challenges of making sure each and every student learns. But there’s an often-undervalued factor at the district level that can impact achievement in an outsized way—curriculum.
Research points to curriculum as the most affordable and powerful change a district can make to improve student outcomes and address achievement gaps. One study found that switching curriculum to boost achievement was, on average, nearly 40 times more cost-effective than reducing class size to bolster student outcomes. This is in part due to curriculum’s power to affect meaningful student growth, rivaling even the impact that teacher effectiveness has on student performance. In a recent study, Chiefs for Change states that "the most extensive study to date found that a comprehensive, content-rich curriculum was the salient feature in nine of the world’s highest-performing school systems.”
Too often, district-provided curricula isn’t able to fully meet the specific needs of teachers and students, so much so that teachers often need to hunt down instructional materials from various print and online resources themselves. As a result, many students are learning from idiosyncratic curricula, making it nearly impossible to guarantee that they receive the significant cumulative impact that high-quality curriculum provides among classrooms and over time.
But there are states and districts innovating to ensure that their teachers have access to and are motivated to use high-quality curriculum. After the Louisiana Department of Education evaluated ELA curricula and couldn’t find an option that met all of their state’s needs, they built their own. But teachers struggled to use the first iteration of the curriculum, built in PDF form, which prompted the state to transform its curriculum into an easier-to-use, dynamic digital resource. A study from the RAND Corporation found that Louisiana teachers are now teaching and thinking about their work in ways that align more closely with state standards than teachers in other states are.
Louisiana’s achievements underscore the importance of ensuring that high-quality curriculum is easily accessible to teachers. To enhance the user-friendliness of their chosen curriculum, Newark Public Schools worked with LearnZillion to customize and curate their ELA instructional materials. These newly curated materials helped ensure that teachers in their district were set up for instructional success.
And in the midst of rolling out a new LMS platform district-wide, Paulding County School District quickly discovered that integrating easy-to-use, high-quality curricular resources into their platform was key to earning teacher buy-in and support for the new technology.
Through research and execution, it’s clear that districts, teachers, and students all benefit when curriculum becomes a main focus. Devoting district resources to curriculum improvement is not only the most cost-effective way to raise student achievement, but also the most vital.