The Kind of Curriculum Transparency We Can All Get Behind

Let me get right to the point – parents care about what their children are being taught in school. I’m one of them. But, let me be equally clear: curriculum adoption processes – when done right – are hard. I’m currently participating in two of them in my home district as a parent (and recent school board member) and it’s a big commitment trying to understand what each set of materials has to offer and whether they’re up to snuff. And that’s for someone with quite a bit of background in this arena.

Thanks to the experts at Learning Heroes, we know that 93% of parents plan to be as or more involved with their child’s education this year – and that a majority of parents are worried about politicians impacting what students learn in school. There is no denying that curriculum transparency is now a “thing.” So how can we channel the current discourse into something positive for families and teachers? 

My vote is to encourage states and districts to:

  • Offer a clear picture of which instructional materials are in play locally, 
  • Identify whether those materials are high-quality (evidence-based, aligned to academic standards, adaptable for all kinds of learners, supported with aligned PD), and 
  • Provide evidence of results for students and teachers.  

This is a tall task, but the good news is that leaders across the country are working on it. Recent evidence comes in a new report from the Council of Chief State School Officers on the impact of their High Quality Instructional Materials & Professional Development Network (IMPD) – something I’ve written about previously here and here. This group of 12 states has committed to supporting local districts in the adoption and implementation of quality curricula paired with educator training, with promising results over the past four years. 

I highly recommend a read of the whole report. It’s full of state-specific nuggets and data points about impressive increases in access to quality materials. One page that caught my eye, in particular, offers a look at curriculum “heat maps” across four states. Massachusetts was the leader of the pack, collecting district-level curriculum data and displaying it on a state map. This inspired network members Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin to conduct similar efforts and create their own displays with different approaches to showing where districts have quality, standards-aligned curricula in place – or not.

There are many reasons why this kind of transparency can incentivize positive change. In my current role on the district adoption committee, I’d love the ability to click on a map and explore what our neighbors are using – especially the districts with the best outcomes for kids. And having just recently left a seat on the school board, I know in that position a little friendly competition never hurts. If I could see our district next to others using better-rated materials, that would certainly light a fire. Putting my old teacher hat on, I could’ve used such a map to learn more about materials in use across the state, and to seek opportunities for local professional networks around the same curriculum. 

The unifying goal around all of these reasons is the same goal of CurriculumHQ – to increase awareness and uptake of quality materials nationwide. Our students and teachers deserve the right tools and resources to succeed. Kudos to the IMPD network of these leading states for sharing ways to get this done. 

Want to push for a similar effort in your state? Check out our advocacy tool and drop us a line.

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.