Navigating the Curriculum Maze: States Stepping in to Help Teachers

By Catherine Gewertz — February 20, 2020 2 min read
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Another state is proposing to join a growing trend: taking a stronger role to help teachers find high-quality curriculum materials.

The latest news comes from Virginia, which is considering creating an online platform that would serve as a hub for good curriculum resources from all over the state, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It would include a range of resources, from lessons created by museums to those written by teachers.

The “Virginia Learner Equitable Access Platform” would provide teachers with “equitable access to high-quality, standards-aligned, digital media content, and virtual and blended learning opportunities,” according to a description in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget. He seeks $7.1 million in fiscal year 2021 and $6.1 million in fiscal year 2022 to support the platform.

For now, the platform is just an idea. But the concept falls in line with similar initiatives that have taken shape around the country in recent years. They’re all aimed at helping teachers sort the wheat from the chaff when they’re looking for materials to use in their classrooms.

Nebraska recently jumped in with its own idea: it created a new tool that allows educators to see what curricula their colleagues in other schools are using. Massachusetts has something similar, as my colleague Sarah Schwartz reported.

Some states have stepped in to create and share their own curricula, or conduct reviews of what’s already out there. New York State created curriculum resources for the Common Core State Standards and made them freely available on a website, Engage NY. Word got around and educators from all over the country used the site as a curriculum resource. Louisiana started doing its own curriculum reviews and making them publicly available as well.

So Many Choices. Which Materials Are Good?

By taking a bigger role to help educators find and use good resources, states are responding in part to the dizzying array of options that have proliferated as technology makes creation and sharing easier. Teachers comb the internet for materials, using sites that range from Pinterest to Teachers Pay Teachers.

But quality varies. One recent study found that low-quality materials abound on lesson-sharing websites. Another found that even district-chosen material can’t be relied upon for quality: many districts don’t choose curricula that are well-aligned to their states’ standards, the Center for American Progress found.

What role states play in districts’ and schools’ curriculum choices varies wildly. Some states—known as “adoption states"—create lists of curriculum materials from which districts must choose. Others leave curriculum decisions to local districts, in deference to the much-cherished principle of local control.

The recent crop of state actions to help teachers find good materials unfolds, interestingly, as state authority over curriculum adoption continues to wane.

In 2015, EdWeek reported on that trend. We found that fewer states were “adoption states” in the traditional sense of the word, requiring districts to choose materials from their approved lists. And even some of the states that still kept such lists no longer required districts to use them.

We checked with the Association of American Publishers this week to see if that trend is continuing. Its data shows that it is: As of March 2019, only 15 states were “adoption states.” That’s down from 19 in 2015 and 22 a few years before that.

Image: Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.