Debunking the Myths of High-Quality Curriculum Adoption

As a veteran educator of over 25 years, I know that curriculum can make a monumental difference for teachers and students. There have been many reports in recent years that revealed that educators are increasingly using their own instructional materials, often finding resources and lessons from places like Google, TeachersPayTeachers, and Pinterest. Research has also shown that these resources are not all high-quality or aligned to the standards. The adoption and implementation of a high-quality curriculum helps alleviate the need for teachers to search for materials on their own and ensures the instruction being delivered is aligned to the high expectations we have in place for students.

Transitioning to a new curriculum is sometimes a hard shift for educators. Tracy Crow, Director of Communications at Learning Forward, states “Teachers value the opportunity that developing lessons gives them to tailor instruction for the students in the room and create engaging and unique learning experiences. Teachers also know better than anyone the specific needs and interests of the students in the classroom on any given day.” A high-quality curriculum should provide teachers with rigorous lessons and materials, as well as allow room for teachers to tailor those to best fit the needs of their students.

There is widespread agreement that many districts are not currently using high-quality, aligned curriculum or providing the instructional support that teachers need to deliver aligned instruction. When districts seek to improve classroom instruction and student outcomes, one of the most impactful ways is to adopt curriculum that is better aligned to the state standards and has the supports teachers need to deliver effective instruction.  

Selecting and implementing high-quality curriculum is not easy. There are several misperceptions that exist that often make it seem like a scary and risky task. It is time to debunk some of these myths.

Myth 1: A high-quality curriculum will solve everything.

The adoption of high-quality curriculum is not a magic pill. For curriculum to be effective, schools must first understand what kind of materials will best serve their students and how it should be rolled out to teachers. It is critical that schools and districts support teachers in adjusting to, understanding, and implementing the new materials in their classrooms. True impact in the classroom only comes when we support teachers in understanding WHY these materials are high-quality and HOW to use them effectively.

Myth 2: The mark of a good teacher is being able to write your own curriculum and lesson plans.

Curriculum development is a time consuming, costly, and difficult task. At the school level, finding teachers who understand the full depth and breadth of the standards and how they can be introduced and assessed in the classroom is difficult. The adoption of an aligned curriculum does not mean teachers cannot be creative and innovative in adjusting or developing lesson plans tailored for the needs of their students, it simply lays the foundation to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education. When teachers continuously create their own materials, there is a natural discrepancy between classrooms and schools.

Myth 3: A curriculum that is successful in one school will be successful in another school.

Different students have unique needs and learn and respond to materials and instruction in different ways. What works for one student population is not guaranteed to be effective for another. An equitable education requires culturally relevant instructional materials that can and should look different based on the characteristics of a school and community. Schools should select materials that reflect the diversity and needs of their students. Similarly, different materials are a better fit for some teachers than others, depending on content knowledge, pedagogies, and teaching styles.

Myth 4:  High-quality aligned curriculum does not need to be supplemented. 

Understanding the needs of students within a school should be a top consideration when deciding what they need from a curriculum. Some schools may also need supplemental or remedial programs to help their students improve reading fluency. Others may need additional support for teachers on differentiated or scaffolded instruction and interventions in the classroom. There are often additional programs outside of curriculum that are needed to help teachers adjust their instruction for unfinished learning and to support students with varying needs, such as English language learners and those with disabilities.

Teachers are undoubtedly the experts about their students’ needs and know better than anyone else the type of instructional practices and curriculum that are necessary to improve student outcomes. They must, therefore, be engaged in decisions about curriculum adoption, and should be using their expertise to review, pilot, and adopt the curricular materials used in our schools.  Teachers should also be leading the work on developing successful implementation strategies and sharing best practices with their colleagues.

A high-quality curriculum is not a silver bullet, but it is one of the foundations of ensuring our students are set up for success. When combined with strong support for educators and high standards and aligned assessments, quality curriculum is one important piece of the puzzle of improving outcomes for our students. 

Jana Bryant is the district math instructional coach for Daviess County Public Schools in Owensboro, Kentucky and is a National Board-Certified Teacher in mathematics. She has previously served as a 2017-2019 Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) Member for Hope Street Group, an EdReports mathematics content reviewer, and a Standards Advocate with Student Achievement Partners. She is passionate about finding ways to develop state and national leadership teams that have a pulse on the needs and concerns of teachers, students, and their families. Follow Jana on Twitter at @JanaBryant14.