Providing all students with a high-quality education is one of the greatest gifts we can offer our youth – and among the most important missions we embrace as a society. Our schools must prepare students to be successful in a world that is experiencing rapid transformation driven by technology, globalization and climate change.
To prepare our students to be successful in their futures, across the nation – and here in Florida – the bar of expectations has been raised. These expectations are the education standards, which define what students at each grade level are expected to know and do. While setting high expectations for our students is important, what is abundantly clear to educators is that implementing rigorous new standards is only one part of the process when it comes to helping students reach higher levels of achievement.
A report released recently by Chiefs for Change, an advocacy group of state and district education leaders of which I am a member, echoes what we found here in Broward County: curriculum matters a lot. The report highlights that high-quality curriculum can be a force for change that benefits students greatly.
As a District, Broward County Public Schools strives to promote high-quality instruction without scripting how teachers should teach. Instead, we want to create, curate and procure curriculum and instructional materials aligned to the rigor of the Florida standards that teachers can weave into their interactive classroom lessons.
Here’s how we do it. Our teachers, principals and curriculum specialists are working together to identify and provide high-quality, content-focused instructional materials to support students’ achieving at the level of the new standards. Once we identify materials that qualify, we work to share them with our instructional staff in as many ways as possible, including through our District’s online learning management system, which disseminates the materials throughout our schools. Our online management system lets teachers design lessons and select materials that are best for their students. They can also share their lesson plans with other teachers across the District. Through this collaborative environment of lesson plans, resources and assessments, our teachers help ensure that no matter which classroom a student is enrolled, the student has equal access to rigorous content.
The aim is to support teachers’ autonomy by giving them access to resources they can utilize in their own style, while not compromising the level of achievement expected for students. Students start from different developmental points and teachers need to create custom roadmaps for them to reach or exceed the common standards-based expectations. When teachers are not limited to just one textbook, they can create a more innovative, personalized approach toward teaching and learning for their students. Our teachers are the ones best equipped to identify which content fits the needs of their students and how best to personalize instruction to meet students’ pace and interests.
Our experiences in Broward County Public Schools are consistent with what the Chiefs for Change report indicates. There are approaches that can bolster autonomy for teachers, schools and districts. The report found that many states do not actually know a lot about the curriculum used in their school districts, nor do they have information on which curriculum is most effective in helping students meet standards. This lack of information stems from the absence of a broad focus on curriculum.
As we found, shifting the conversation to curriculum provides a tremendous opportunity. Research has shown that a high-quality curriculum can be one of the most cost-effective ways to boost student achievement. According to a 2015 study from the Center for American Progress, the average cost-effectiveness ratio of switching curriculum was almost 40 times that of class-size reduction. Further research also shows that across the educationally top-performing countries, one of the few characteristics they share is a high-quality, content-rich curriculum.
What we teach matters. In Broward County Public Schools, we are dedicated to educating today’s students to succeed in tomorrow’s world. To accomplish this, we need to equip our students with the best we have to offer, and that means starting with rigorous, high-quality curriculum.
Robert W. Runcie is the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools – the nation’s sixth largest school district with over 270,000 students in 337 schools.