Silver Linings Textbooks

Let’s be honest: Those of us working in public education are desperate for good news. As we confront reports and headlines about the devastating impact of COVID-19 on student well-being and academic progress, teachers, leaders, and advocates could use a boost.

This week, the RAND Corporation offered that boost in the form of new research on teachers’ use of EdReports-verified, standards-aligned curriculum across the country. And while we clearly still have work to do, the report shows promising trends in states that have prioritized access to quality curricular resources. It turns out that state leadership around high-quality materials really does matter.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has impacted every aspect of our education system — so it’s no surprise that RAND’s study reveals that after an increase in teachers using quality materials since 2018, the 2020-21 school year saw a dip nationwide. An overnight shift to remote learning coupled with the urgent need to prioritize health and safety created challenging-at-best circumstances for instruction. 

But here’s where the good news comes in. A set of states is leading the way in ensuring teachers have access to aligned materials, in many cases bucking the national trend of decline even through COVID-19 disruptions. The RAND study highlights the 13 states in the Council of Chief State School Officers’ High-Quality Instructional Materials and Professional Development (IMPD) Network (an effort I highlighted previously here). While these states have different approaches to supporting local curriculum decisions, each has committed to elevating the need for high-quality materials and professional learning — and their efforts are paying off. 

Two of the IMPD states showed the greatest gains in teachers reporting the use of fully aligned curriculum since 2019:

  • Rhode Island jumped from 39% of teachers using aligned math curriculum in 2019 to 66% in 2021. Of note: the Ocean State passed legislation in 2019 requiring “statewide academic standards and curriculum frameworks,” multiple examples of high-quality materials for core subjects, and state support for district adoption and implementation. 
  • Tennessee teachers using aligned English Language Arts curriculum rose from 23% in 2019 to 48% in 2021. Also noteworthy: Tennessee’s focus on quality early literacy instruction includes district-led efforts through Leading Innovation for Tennessee (LIFT).

Good news in education is tough to come by in the COVID era. Thanks to RAND for this curriculum silver lining and kudos to CCSSO, EdReports, and leading states making the case for quality instructional materials to accelerate learning for students nationwide. 

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 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.