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Illuminating the District Curriculum Selection Landscape to Drive Systemic Change in K-12 Education

Read to discover how CEMD is bridging the information gap in district curriculum selection to drive systematic change in K-12 education.

The Center for Education Market Dynamics • January 05, 2024

Despite a growing body of research that shows a link between high-quality curriculum and better academic outcomes, many students, particularly those from historically underserved populations, do not have access to effective instructional materials. Why? The Center for Education Market Dynamics (CEMD) believes a major contributor to this phenomenon is the curriculum information gap: good information about curriculum is hard to find.

As it stands now, there is limited public information on the curriculum that districts select (and use) and the quality of these selections. Only eight states currently have policies that require curriculum reporting from districts. Nationwide, most districts have wide latitude in terms of which curriculum they select, the process they use to select it, and whether/how they publicize this information.

We encountered the limitations of this information landscape when producing our first market reports, which explored K-8 math curriculum selection in a subset of 934 districts we call the Impact Core. Many of these districts did not make curriculum information public, and even when it was available, it was frequently incomplete. And, there is no central source where such information is aggregated for public consumption and analysis at the state, let alone federal, level.

When state leaders understand the instructional materials that districts select, they can more effectively support districts with curriculum implementation, providing them with funding, resources, and professional development that connect to the materials they choose. They can also, over time, examine how district curriculum choices correspond to trends in student achievement and other outcomes of interest, like teacher retention. Encouragingly, several states have recently launched efforts to both improve curriculum transparency and increase the uptake of high-quality resources.

In Louisiana, for instance, educators in districts using “top-tier materials” have access to curriculum-connected professional development opportunities. In addition, in order to qualify for state grants, Louisiana districts must adopt curriculum the state defines as high-quality. Similarly, districts in Delaware can apply for Reimagining Professional Learning Grants to support high-quality curriculum implementation. And in Massachusetts, one-to-one coaching is offered by an Evaluating and Selecting Network of districts to districts that are exploring the adoption of high-quality curriculum.

State leaders with a full view of district curriculum selection will also be able to better understand how well the products that districts select are working for students. In Louisiana, the curriculum each school uses is listed on the school’s report card alongside other key data like academic outcomes, allowing state and district leaders to begin identifying how certain instructional materials may impact student learning.

While there are certainly bright spots when it comes to understanding the district curriculum selection landscape, there is still much work to be done. Ready to learn more? Click to read CEMD’s math reports, which seek to begin closing this curriculum information gap, and get actionable insights and resources about K-12 education in the United States.

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