How Can States Support More Classroom Use of Quality Instructional Materials? Let Me Count the Ways

As a former teacher, state education agency employee, and district school board member I know firsthand that one size fits none when it comes to replicating strategies that have worked in other places. Leaders need to customize resources and guidance to match their legal and political contexts and climates – but they do need examples to draw from. 

That’s why CurriculumHQ shares information about the variety of approaches states can take to support districts in local selection, adoption, and implementation of quality materials. Our 50-state map is the “cheat sheet” for examples, and the site’s resources and blogs offer more details for those who want to dig in. Since we started populating the map in September 2021, states have made enough progress that we’ve just completed a refresh of the content. For each of the map’s categories, more than half of states now offer at least some information. And while I continue to applaud the leading states, it’s exciting to see more emerging with new initiatives. Here are some highlights.

Curriculum Resources

While curriculum selection is most often a local decision, some state education agencies have made real progress in developing guidance or model curricula to provide districts with vetted high-quality choices. By our count, 43 states now provide at least some resources on instructional materials, with just under half of those directly linked to measures of quality, such as EdReports. 

  • Connecticut has rolled out parts of its new K-12 Model Curricula, a set of “high-quality, standards-based units of study for teacher use,” the result of state legislation to create a model curriculum for grades K-8 by the beginning of 2023 (and state use of ESSER funds to support it, as I wrote about here). 
  • New Jersey is one of 10 states that has partnered with OpenSciEd to make high-quality science curriculum accessible by implementing professional development, teaching the field test units, and participating in extensive data collection.

Adoption Guidance and Materials

States are making promising improvements in offering curriculum adoption guidance to inform local selections, with 38 of them providing at least some form of information, and 30 of those linked to objective measures of quality.

  • States like Illinois and Utah are taking first steps by providing useful information on the education agency website that emphasizes adoption of high-quality materials.
  • Several states, including Colorado and North Dakota, are working to ensure districts are using quality literacy curriculum based on the science of reading. As of now, more than half of states have passed science of reading legislation, with six joining the list just since the start of 2022. 

Professional Learning 

According to our research, 34 states now provide at least some guidance for educators on high-quality professional learning opportunities, with many directly connected to curriculum-based instruction.

  • Alaska has recently carried out multiple initiatives as part of its Strategic Reading Plan. Last year, it offered the Alaska Science of Reading Leadership Academy “to develop principals and other school leaders who understand the science of reading and can support teachers with a variety of literacy leadership strategists in their schools and classrooms.” The state plans to build upon its progress this year, beginning with a Science of Reading Symposium for education stakeholders to connect the science of reading and leadership practices.
  • In my home state, recent amendments to the Pennsylvania Code require the state agency to integrate structured literacy instruction into educator preparation and continuing professional development programs for employees who teach reading.

ESSER Investments

Just over half of states (26) are dedicating at least some ESSER investment to high-quality instructional materials and/or professional learning support. 

  • Alabama’s ESSER Plan includes a focus on professional learning in the science of reading and evidence-based, high-quality math instruction.
  • Michigan is supporting the MiSTEM Network in training teachers in math recovery content using high-quality instructional tools. The state will administer a Survey of Enacted Curriculum to understand the best ways to tailor support to districts in selecting high-quality materials.

Examples like these prove that no matter your state context, there are concrete steps leaders can take to support more teachers and students with the quality instructional materials they deserve. And that’s worth counting.

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.