Still Wondering How Important Curriculum Choice Is?

June 15, 2017

StandardsWork recently completed a research review project with the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy that looked at the effects of curricular choices in K-12 education and arrived at some compelling findings.

While there is still much to learn about the specific elements that make one set of curricula more effective than another, this review highlights key big picture insights to guide teachers and districts as they make important curriculum decisions.

Here are 3 takeaways from the review that we believe all educators should be aware of:

1. Curriculum is a critical factor in student academic success.

Shifting from a “business-as-usual” curriculum to a researched-backed, high quality curriculum could move student performance from the 50th to the 60th or even 70th percentile. This is a massive change, and could completely transform not only the futures of student outcomes but the school as a whole.

2. Comprehensive, content-rich curriculum is a common feature of academically high-performing countries.

A content-rich curriculum prioritizes, as a central facet of its design, the use of prescribed, clearly defined content. This means that in order to qualify as content-rich, a curriculum must take a scaffolded approach to instruction and place significant weight on deep, narrow exploration of topics that build up to larger ideas. The value of this type of curriculum cannot be understated: the research suggests that curricula that do not do this are comparably as effective for students as having no curriculum at all.

In 2009, a Common Core research team conducted a study that found a comprehensive, content-rich curriculum was the primary feature in nine of the world’s top-performing education systems based on the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment. The authors note that very few published curricula in the U.S. currently qualifies as being “content-rich.”

3. The effects of quality curriculum compound over grades, becoming most influential in later grades.

Most studies focus on the impact of a curriculum over one or two years. Over time, however, even a small annual effect size, beginning in first grade, could compound drastically by the end of fifth grade–approximately the equivalent of a student’s scoring in the 74th percentile versus the 50th percentile.

This StandardsWork research project further confirms that high quality curriculum is central to improving student outcomes across the country. This is central to the mission of our organization, UnboundEd. We seek to empower schools with high quality curricular resources that help teachers bring all students to grade level.