Could curriculum end "The Achievement Plateau?"
I've been reading a report on a district-led turnaround in Tennessee, the iZone. What they did was as remarkably unoriginal as their name (i-Ready, iPad, iKnowWhatYouDidLastSchoolYear?). And yet it was really effective.
They standardized their curriculum across all the schools. The report focused mostly on math, with iZone schools all adopting Eureka and then spending years developing teachers' efficacy with it. This yielded significant increases in math achievement for students.
I often tell my staff, "If we were a business, our core product would be instruction. At the end of the day, the quality of our instruction is what most impacts our customers -- the students."
The best we get are the vague Common Core Standards, which have been unpacked so many times they were probably underwritten by Samsonite. 😬
Those standards themselves give broad guidelines for how to produce instruction. Teachers still require curriculum to actually teach.
In the more than 13,000 school districts (a problem in itself?) in the U.S., you will find teachers using many different curriculum to teach those standards. And in many cases, like in our social studies, science, and writing departments (as of Dec. 2020), you'll find no standardized curriculum at all, just some suggestions and links.
Even within districts, like mine, you'll find schools using several different curriculum to teach math and reading. A deeper dive shows even more teachers who end up creating their own.
Utilizing the same curriculum across schools allowed the iZone leaders to build a system of district support that focused on building school capacity to learn how to teach Eureka at a high level over several years.
That seems key -- curriculum are complicated and take time and commitment to master. Think about how many times you need to cook a recipe to truly get it right. How long do districts/principals/teachers need to master a recipe for instruction?
A recent study from Harvard Professor Thomas Kane showed no difference in achievement from several math curriculum. The headlines from that study have implied that curriculum doesn't improve achievement, and it's not that simple, as Kane himself argued. More on that in a separate post.
These iZone results suggest curriculum could play a role in upending the plateau.
That makes sense. Chipotle, Sweetgreen, and Starbucks have benefitted from uniform recipes, and education could too. So why haven’t we?