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High-Quality Curriculum and System Improvement

Learning First, 2019

Much recent research on the impact of curriculum on student learning has emerged from the US since the development of the Common Core State Standards. While the definition of curriculum remains contested (see our working definition overleaf), this research focuses on content-rich, standards aligned curriculum materials, especially textbooks. Several US states and districts, such as Louisiana, have begun to develop systems to identify and make available high-quality curriculum materials – and the approach seems to have paid off. The experience of these American states and districts reinforces some of Learning First’s research findings in high-performing systems such as Finland, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, and British Columbia. In these places, high-quality curriculum is always part of the story. Of course, what we teach matters. But what does this mean for educators and policymakers? How do we ensure that schools have the support they need to select or develop high-quality curriculum aligned with rigorous standards for student learning? How do we narrow the gap between the achievement standards that sit on department of education websites, and what is actually taught in classrooms? How can policymakers meaningfully engage with teachers, support and make the most of their instructional expertise, and encourage uptake of quality curriculum? What is there to learn from how other systems have designed and implemented standards and curriculum, and what are the implications for related policy levers, especially initial teacher education, ongoing teacher professional learning, and student assessments? Finally – and critically – how do we define high-quality curriculum in the first place? The answers to these questions have profound implications for education policy in Australia, the United States, and around the world. This series of reports, – a collaboration between Learning First and Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy – draws on international research to help inform the conversation.

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