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Curriculum Research: What We Know and Where We Need to Go

David Steiner

In Winter 2017, 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. That review,1 available upon request at standardswork.org, surfaced several important findings, including the following: » Curriculum is a critical factor in student academic success. » Comprehensive, content-rich curriculum is a common feature of academically high-performing countries. » The cumulative impact of high-quality curriculum can be significant and matters most to achievement in the upper grades where typical year-on-year learning gains are far lower than in previous grades. » Because the preponderance of instructional materials is self-selected by individual teachers, most students are taught through idiosyncratic curricula that are not defined by school districts or states. » Research comparing one curriculum to another is very rare and, therefore, not usually actionable. The overarching conclusions from the Johns Hopkins’ review 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.

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