What Do Teachers Think About Curriculum Quality? Tennessee Knows

It’s one (commendable) thing for states to prioritize access to high-quality instructional materials and training for educators – but it’s another (even more commendable) thing to track and study how those priorities are actually showing up in classrooms. That requires hearing from educators who do or do not use those resources, and not every state collects or shares this information. That’s why I’m so impressed by Tennessee’s recent Tennessee Educator Survey results, which include a deep dive into teachers’ beliefs about curriculum and professional learning quality, among several other topics.

Conducted in partnership with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance at Vanderbilt University, this voluntary annual survey gathers feedback on key issues in education. By my count, the most recent survey asked teachers over 20 questions about their experiences with their district’s curriculum and professional learning. Tennessee has built a strong foundation for district-level work by curating a list of state-approved high-quality instructional materials and prioritizing state support for implementation – so it must be gratifying for state leaders to see results like these:

  • When asked how well their district’s ELA curriculum addresses learning standards, 87% of teachers said it addresses all or some of the standards. Only 4% said they primarily create or use different ELA curricula than the one their district provides – perhaps in part because the majority of teachers said the ELA curriculum is easy to use.
  • The majority of math teacher respondents were supportive of their district’s curriculum as well; 88% said it’s aligned to state standards, 73% said it’s easy to use and 63% said they are able to deliver high-quality lessons by using the math curriculum as designed.
  • 87% of teachers (regardless of subject) said their professional learning has been closely aligned to the instructional materials that have been adopted by their district frequently (46%) or sometimes (41%) and 83% said the training has led to improvements in their teaching frequently (36%) or sometimes (47%). 

These numbers are in stark contrast to national figures around teacher experiences with curriculum, which show 70% of teachers lack access to high-quality materials and can spend up to 12 hours per week piecing together lessons on their own. And Tennessee’s survey results can be viewed at the district and school levels where participation rates allow – which means local leaders can examine teacher perceptions of curriculum selection and implementation to examine differences between progress with ELA and math, for example, and to identify areas where more support is needed. 

Kudos to Tennessee for such a strong, ongoing commitment to support local practices (learn more about these efforts by clicking on the Volunteer State on our map), and to collect and report data about how it’s going. I hope other states follow suit.

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.