You heard that right

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You might not expect us to champion this great new report from Brookings, but we are. Russ Whitehurst and his new colleague, Matt Chingos, not only decry the nation's excessive focus on teacher quality—at the expense of curriculum—but also provide some neat evidence of the cost of that imbalance to student performance.  

One might quibble over the source of data for this little chart, given that the big impact from a better curriculum is derived from just a single study (though a very good one), but we think their point is still valid. Curriculum can and does move student performance.  To quote the authors:  To focus education reform policy on selecting and retaining effective teachers while ignoring the role of instructional materials is to pay too much attention to the aspects of teacher quality that are set in stone and too little attention to ways that the effectiveness of all teachers might be improved and the variability among teachers reduced. To which we can only say: Amen.  

Drawing from IES studies under Whitehurst which had the difficult job of tracking the complex curricular choices that schools make, they recommend that states need to develop the same level of data collection capabilities about curricular choices that they're using to track teacher performance.  Currently, Florida is the only state in the union that is systematically tracking what curricula teachers are using in their classrooms. No one else seems to much care.

But wait, isn't the Common Core going to solve the nation's sloppy curricular choices? Not likely. Whitehurst's colleague at Brookings, Tom Loveless, attracted a lot of attention recently for suggesting that, based on our experience with state standards, the "new and improved" Common Core standards are unlikely to produce student gains. Chingos and Whitehurst add grist to the mill, predicting that without a renewed focus by states on curriculum, Loveless will unfortunately be proven right. Because states and districts have a long-standing tradition of choosing and implementing curricula that bear little real connection to their own standards, they are unlikely to behave any differently for having replaced their state standards with the Common Core.  

We might put it more bluntly. States along with the rest of us need to confront the fact that the Common Core is not a curriculum. Without attention to good curricular choices, not only will teachers be less effective than they would be otherwise, student progress will continue to stall.   

Kate Walsh and Arthur McKee