As a veteran educator who taught for multiple decades in both public and private institutions, I vividly recall those beginning of the year faculty meetings and professional development sessions where we were all introduced to the newest initiative, program, or curriculum for the coming school year. I would be handed a big stack of stuff, boxes of books, maybe attend a half-day training, and then I'be be sent on my way with a pat on the head and well wishes.
The message was, "Here's the next new thing. We spent a lot of money on it, so go implement it with fidelity and bring us back higher test scores."
While updating our content and evolving our processes and pedagogy is essential for any consummate professional, this approach of impulse shopping and bandwagon jumping rarely, if ever, yielded the hoped for outcomes.
A few years ago I went to work for an English Language Arts curriculum company. Now on the other side of the fence, it became my job to coach and train the teachers in districts across the country who were purchasing and adopting our curriculum. At the start of those partnerships I would sit down with the leaders to find out why they had selected us.
Common responses were:
- One of our teachers attended one of your workshops a few years ago.
- One of our neighboring districts is using your curriculum and they seem to like it.
- You were one of the three programs within our budget.
- Our department head has a cousin who used to teach with someone who worked with you for a while... (You get the idea)
While not invalid, these responses lacked adequate intention and were incomplete at best. An impulsive or uninformed selection made it almost impossible to determine the following factors:
- What was their implementation plan?
- What was the level of understanding and buy-in from teachers and other stakeholders?
- What outcomes were they expecting?
- What would be our indicators of success?
Essentially, how were we going to make sure they weren't wasting time and money? And more importantly, how could we assure that we were the most effective resource for their students to achieve the level of learning they need to reach, not just for test scores, but for life as a contributing global citizen?
Finding the right resources matters. We all agree that it matters, but I completely understand why so many districts struggle with it. It's hard. It's complicated and overly time consuming, even in the most organized and buttoned-up districts.
Typically, the individual(s) tasked with making resource selections already has a full-time job as a teacher, department head, vice principal, or instructional coach. They may or may not have any background in the content area for which they are purchasing. They spend months being inundated by calls and emails from sales reps, and giving up their own time and sometimes money, to attend conferences across the country in search of the best resources for Robotics, or Social Emotional Learning, or College and Career Readiness, or Remedial Math. There are districts (I kid you not) even in 2021, which advertise in the newspaper want ads, inviting vendors and publishers to district-hosted curriculum fairs to pitch their products and programs for an upcoming adoption. Whoever shows up, those are the finalists. There is no other criteria.
"To a degree we're always grasping at straws as to what resources to even bring to the table," admits Todd Robson, Director of Teaching and Learning in the Tigard Tualatin school district, Oregon. "We open it up to staff recommendations but there are such different levels of knowledge and familiarity with what people bring and it may or may not be at all vetted."
At worst, selections are made in isolation by an individual or small group of school or district leaders. At best, those leaders recruit a committee of stakeholders to propose, review, evaluate, and select a curriculum from the contenders, requiring multiple meetings over a standard 12-24 month period. Once one content area adoption is complete, the district starts working on the next one, as adoptions usually cycle every 5-10 years.
Thousands of hours and dollars go into these curriculum adoptions, but sadly, my own experience represents the norm. Without adequate buy in from, and training for, the classroom teachers implementing a new curriculum or program, those resources often sit on shelves and eventually disappear into book rooms and closets unused.
The Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education conducted a research review on the effects of curricular choices in K–12 education for the Knowledge Matters Campaign, a project of StandardsWork, Inc. The conclusions, reported by Dr. David Steiner, "...are that curriculum is deeply important, that a teacher’s or district’s choice of curriculum can substantially impact student learning, and that—as a result—the paucity of evidence upon which sound instructional, purchasing, and policy decisions can be made is a matter of deep concern and urgent need."
It was this urgent need and long held conviction that we simply need to do better, that prompted the founders of EdCuration (former teachers and administrators) to create the first online, two-sided marketplace for instructional materials. EdCuration allows educators to browse a comprehensive marketplace to discover learning solutions that they wouldn't otherwise know about. They can search by content area or grade level. They can further filter results by adaptations, tutorial videos, language availability, and many more essential and relevant selection criteria.
Vendor pages provide research and efficacy studies, standards alignment and implementation schedules. The site allows educators to select and save favorites, make and share notes with colleagues and stakeholders, create comparison spreadsheets and connect with providers directly through their vendor or product profile pages.
"I see this being beneficial in so many ways. To be able to conduct a search and filter it based on our needs and parameters and pull up a comprehensive list is an amazing time-saver, just for starters," observed Wendy Renée, Executive Director at Montessori del Mundo in Aurora, Colorado. Her population is made up of primarily English language learners, which presents an additional challenge in finding high-quality, effective curriculum resources.
This digitized process not only allows a much more comprehensive, targeted search and easier collaboration among stakeholders, but it shortens the procurement process down to a few months or even weeks.
"I love it," says Robson. "I say that because, having been inundated with the task of wading through a log jam of curriculum adoption leads that we've had in this district to stay on the seven year cycle, a resource like this would always be our first go-to."
EdCuration curates the most impactful instructional resources, currently featuring hundreds of providers for all content areas and grade bands. Best of all, EdCuration is always completely free to educators. Getting relevant, high-quality resources into classrooms faster increases student success.
There is a better way.