As states expand access to high-level math courses, they can’t forget curriculum

On the heels of this week’s alarming PISA results, the education media has been shining its light on math achievement declines once again. The best part of the coverage in my mind has been the effort to skip the gloom and doom and focus on what’s working to advance student progress in math.

I’m particularly interested in a slightly wonky but promising state play – policies to automatically enroll students in higher-level math classes based on their prior performance. Chad Aldeman and Dale Chu recently commented on approaches in a couple of states trying this out. 

I’m all for efforts to expand access to higher-level courses, especially for the kids too often left out of those opportunities. Given that the classroom teacher is the most important in-school variable for student success, we should also push leaders to connect the dots from student placement to classroom instruction as quickly as possible. This means a focus on high-quality instructional materials. As the leading states hone their automatic enrollment policies and more states consider joining their ranks, here are the curriculum questions they should address:

  • What curricular materials are being used in the automatic enrollment courses? Are they high-quality materials as verified by EdReports, a state-approved list if applicable, or another third-party validator?

  • Do teachers of the automatic enrollment courses have curriculum-based professional learning opportunities? Are the states with these policies on the books helping to organize and/or subsidize these opportunities? 

  • Do students and families have access to additional curricular supports such as resources to use from home and/or tutoring if needed to provide them with every opportunity to succeed in higher-level coursework?

  • Are districts and states monitoring student outcomes in these courses relative to the answers to the questions above? In other words, can states start examining whether more students are succeeding in schools using a certain curriculum or teacher training initiative to identify best practices worth replicating?

States won’t have answers to these questions yet – but even starting the conversation is an important step forward.

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.