A Novel Way to Improve Teacher Prep: Give Teachers Better Curriculum

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 15, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Is a focus on curriculum the missing piece in the preparation of teachers?

That’s the argument made by in a new paper released by Education First, a global education consulting group. It’s part of a project, partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, bringing together teacher-preparation experts from Finland, Brazil, Australia, and the United States.

While the paper focuses on the preparation of U.S. teachers, it also draws on insights from the other countries. (The Gates Foundation also supports Education Week, which retains full editorial control.)

One of the paper’s main insights is that countries like Singapore and Finland tend to base all of their preparation around vetted, high-quality curriculum in a way that the United States and other countries, like Australia, do not.

In those countries, “curriculum explicitly connects teacher preparation to the classroom, and it helps new teachers to learn by providing them with concrete examples of how to teach content and assess student learning against student achievement standards,” the report notes. "... Beginning teachers are rarely expected to develop lessons from scratch, but by the time they enter a classroom, they are well versed in how to evaluate, adapt, and use curriculum materials because they have studied and worked with quality curricular materials throughout their education.”

But in the United States, it notes, teacher preparation tends to be curriculum-agnostic and more abstract.

To the uninitiated, it may seem like plain ol’ common sense to base teacher preparation around high-quality teaching materials. But the nature of the United States’ highly decentralized education system means that teacher-preparation programs prepare teachers who will go on to work in potentially dozens if not hundreds of different school districts.

As a result, they’ve tended to avoid teaching students with a specific curriculum, instead favoring general principles or teaching strategies. So budding teachers typically become familiar with specific curricula only when they’re in student teaching, typically the very last part of their preparation.

The report recommends that those who prepare teachers consider whether their states and districts offer curriculum guides that they can adopt for use in their teaching programs; how they can better help teachers select and recognize good materials from within the extremely diverse marketplace; and explore whether it’s possible to use high-quality sample materials themselves to underpin their training.

Special Report: Navigating New Curriculum Choices

There are a few reason why this argument merits some attention. For one thing, teaching programs have worked for years to improve their offerings, but one of the most pervasive pushes has focused on behaviors and routines—think the Relay Graduate School of Education model of preparation, for instance. (Some such programs are now considering how behaviors and routines fit within specific content areas and curricula.)

For another, as I’ve remarked before, there appears to be a newfound appreciation in the U.S. for curriculum given research showing that high quality curriculum can make a difference for student achievement.

And finally, a snarky aside: How, in all these years of people making entire careers of out promoting the “Finland miracle,” has no one mentioned the fact that the country’s teacher preparation systems don’t require teachers to sort through so much junk when they’re first getting into the classroom?

There are, of course, still challenges to taking this approach in the U.S., not the least of which is the curriculum marketplace in the U.S. is much more vast, and getting larger, and there is so much diversity in what states and districts use.

But there are some bright spots, the report’s authors say: Louisiana and New York both put a focus on curriculum when they were implementing the Common Core State Standards. Due to that, certain curricula in both states have become very popular among teachers, so there it might be possible for a teaching program to select some exemplars. Other states, like Massachusetts, have detailed curriculum guides, which might be a good place to start.

Learning First’s paper is one in a series on teacher prep.

Meanwhile, if you’re in teacher preparation yourself, do tell us about your thoughts on this really interesting argument. And if you’re yourself thinking about the place of good curriculum in teacher preparation, let me know—I’d like to follow up.

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

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."