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School & District Management

Do You Know How Effective Your Instructional Materials Are?

By Catherine Gewertz — April 11, 2012 1 min read

You’ve created—or purchased—curriculum materials for your district, school or classroom. How much do you know about their effectiveness?

Researchers from the Brookings Institution argue in a new white paper that instructional materials affect student achievement as much as any key factor, including effective teaching, and yet the research base is weak or nonexistent for most of the materials used in classrooms. That, they argue, must be remedied by changes in policy.

The paper, “Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core,” comes to you from the same think tank that recently produced a report projecting that the common standards will have little effect on student achievement. One of the co-authors of this week’s paper, Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the U.S. Department of Education’s former research chief, has done earlier work for Brookings that found it’s curriculum, not standards, that can make an impact on student achievement. With co-author Matthew Chingos, he’s mining than same vein of work here.

Whitehurst and Chingos argue that our relative ignorance about curricula’s effectiveness is “scandalous,” especially as the Common Core State Standards drive creation of new instructional materials. But it’s something that can be remedied if states, the federal government, philanthropies and nonprofits team up to focus on it, they write.

To start with, states should survey their districts to see what materials are being used in classrooms, the two researchers argue. The federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics can help this effort by creating data-collection templates and offering guidance.

They envision organizations like the Data Quality Campaign playing a role by urging states to collect the information and helping them make sense of it once it’s collected. Foundations that are big into education could help with monetary support.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.