Tennessee Partners Up to Advance Literacy

How does a state expand the use of high-quality instructional materials at scale? Tennessee has an answer.

Only 2% of Tennessee teachers recently reported that they primarily create their own English language arts curriculum, with 54% reporting that they adhere to district-provided curriculum for nearly all lessons and another 37% using supplements in addition to the materials.

Thanks to transparent data collection, we know that state efforts to vet and support the use of high-quality curriculum are well-received by Tennessee educators. The 2023 survey results show that on the whole, teachers remain satisfied with the resources available to them. Nearly 8 in 10 teachers indicated they received adequate training to use ELA curriculum effectively, compared to 67% in 2020. 

How are they doing it? According to TN SCORE, one of the nation’s most effective state-based education advocacy organizations, partnership holds the key. SCORE supports the Leading Innovation for Tennessee (LIFT) network for district leaders focusing on high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials. Three members of the LIFT network recently shared their experiences using high-quality programs to advance early literacy. The superintendents shared these essential elements and partners for any successful curriculum implementation:

  • Strong relationships between home and school: Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers, and they need clear guidance to reinforce what their children are learning. Home-school partnerships grounded in quality curriculum can help advance student success. 
  • “Intellectual preparation” for teachers: Teachers need training to effectively teach lessons without feeling scripted. District leaders should provide opportunities for teachers to practice with guides and other implementation strategies. Teachers can also share tips with each other. In one district, lead educators recorded themselves giving new lessons and shared them with peers for additional support.
  • A comprehensive rollout strategy: First impressions are important. If teachers do not have a good experience implementing the curriculum for the first time, they are unlikely to feel better about it later. Leaders may want to pilot a new curriculum with one grade level and gradually expand to ensure teachers are offered adequate support. Recruiting outstanding principals and leading teachers to spread enthusiasm also helps. 
  • Continuous feedback: There’s no need to wait years to determine whether a curriculum package has been successful. Regular input from teachers in addition to student outcomes data are important to assess implementation. For districts just starting with a new curriculum, leaders should consider gathering teacher perceptions twice per year as a “litmus test” for implementation.

States can (and should) play a leadership role in expanding quality curriculum – but local schools and districts are where the daily work is done. Congratulations to the many partners in Tennessee working at all levels to help students succeed.

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.