- What curriculum will sustain the interest of my middle-grades students?
- How can I be sure it meets state standards?
- Can I possibly reach all my students, even those who need extra help?
- Do I have the time to learn how to use new materials?
Such questions are on the minds of many teachers who are trying to improve their teaching and respond to growing pressure to produce better educated students. To assist them, EDC has developed a series of discipline-specific guides that introduce and review a variety of standards-based curricula.
Funded by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and the W.K Kellogg Foundation, the guides are designed to help teachers, principals, and curriculum leaders as they make decisions in four subject areas: math, science, language arts, and social studies. Drawing on staff expertise and dozens of interviews with practitioners, the handbooks present a framework for decision making, propose steps toward selecting a curriculum, and provide detailed information on a variety of curricula and curriculum resources in each discipline.
The call to get high-quality curricula in the hands of more teachers is loud and clear. International surveys have revealed that U.S. middle-grades students have significantly lower math and science scores than students in other countries. Within the past decade, each major subject area has developed academic standards that raise the bar for student achievement and performance. To make use of these standards, teachers must teach more challenging and extensive content. Ironically, in an effort to hook students on learning, some middle schools mistakenly have let students off the hook of mastering content, say guide co-editors Ilene Kantrov and Lynn Goldsmith, of EDC’s Center for Educational Resources and Outreach. “Quality education isn’t simply about having students busy and happy in the classroom. It’s about having them engaged in work that has intellectual teeth,” they write.
The guides are imbued with the vision of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, an EDC-based coalition of funders, educators, researchers, state and local leaders, and representatives of national associations. This vision focuses on three priority areas: academic rigor, equity, and developmental appropriateness. In applying that framework to the guides, ERO editors collaborated with content specialists, interviewers, researchers, and practitioners in the Center for Science Education and the Center for Family, School, and Community, both EDC centers.
“It was a huge boost to work with people whose daily work involves working with curriculum,” says Goldsmith. “We found that our perspectives were very similar.” Adds Kantrov: “With the guides, we were able to take all of our knowledge, collect it, and communicate it.”
For each guide, authors interviewed dozens of teachers, curriculum coordinators, principals, and others with hands-on curriculum experience. Their voices are heard throughout the guide, describing challenges in implementation, insights into the nuances of curricula, and creative strategies in their classrooms. “Even when the materials we reviewed in the guides are out of date, these guides will still be useful. They give educators a way to think about curriculum,” notes Kantrov.
The guides cover four key areas: components of academically excellent curricula, critical questions< in decision-making, an overview of the curriculum selection process, and comprehensive curriculum descriptions. While the authors do not “rate” the curricula, inclusion in the guide is a recommendation of sorts, says Kantrov.
“Synthesizing and organizing material for educators so they do their jobs better is our goal,” says Kantrov. “It is part of our mission to publicize the best research and materials.”
Kantrov says educators have given the guides “phenomenal feedback.” Readers have thanked the authors for the material’s timeliness, usability, and richness. One said, “We’re going to use it as the core of a professional development program with middle school teachers.”
Professional development, the authors know—and emphasize in the guide—plays a critical role in successful curriculum implementation. As the guides note, “Simply putting standards-based curriculum materials in the hands of teachers is not enough. Teachers must have a solid understanding of the purpose, content, and pedagogical approaches built into new curricula. Ongoing professional development is essential to this understanding.”
Originally published on February 1, 2001