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Curriculum (and much more) matters

There’s a lot of talk about the importance of adopting high-quality instructional materials so teachers have the resources to bring powerful learning to life.  But the latest research and our own experience shows that only adopting new materials is not enough to make a reliable difference in how much students learn.  So what’s the answer? A new report suggests leaders should look to Tulsa.  

Successful Implementation of High-Quality Instructional Materials, a new report from the Center for American Progress, highlights five different approaches to supporting teachers with curriculum-aligned professional learning. The report details our partnership with Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) to support a five-year districtwide rollout of Core Knowledge Language ArtsⓇ (CKLAⓇ).  By equipping teachers to engage deeply with quality materials, strengthen their practice, and create grade-appropriate learning experiences that reach every learner, TPS hopes to make big strides tied to equity. 

In the report, Devin Fletcher, the chief talent and learning officer of Tulsa Public Schools, says that the district’s leadership has had to ask themsevles, “How are we as a district creating strong experiences for leaders to continue to build content knowledge and ensure they understand standards?”

Two years into the work, some of the lessons learned include:

  • Connecting strong curricula to professional learning helps educators build their knowledge of standards.

  • Any effective professional development must build in opportunities for practice, reflection, and feedback.

  • Buy-in from teachers and school leadership on the vision and process for professional development is critical for success.

Learn more about our partnership with Tulsa Public Schools.

Detroit district high schoolers will start school using a new curriculum aligned with state standards

An article in Chalkbeat dives into the impact of new curriculum being implemented in Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD). Leading Educators CEO Chong-Hao Fu explains the importance of great curriculum.

“The core is about evidence, the evidence coming from the text as opposed to pulling from anywhere,” said Chong-Hao Fu, CEO of Leading Educators, a nonprofit headquartered in New Orleans that trained Detroit teachers in the new English Language Arts curriculum. “We’re just starting to realize that what makes good readers is knowledge of the world.”

A new partnership between DPSCD and Leading Educators builds on DPSCD’s master teacher initiative with a focus on helping teachers make instructional decisions that accelerate learning breakthroughs. Over the next year, Leading Educators and DPSCD will increase district-level capacity for continuous improvement, scale shared leadership that allows master educators to mentor peer teachers, and implement regular collaborative learning opportunities for ELA teachers.

You can read the full article from Chalkbeat here.

Taking Coherence Across the Chasm in Tulsa

“Taking Coherence Across the Chasm” spotlights the district’s efforts to support teachers in bringing powerful lessons to life

August 5, 2019

TULSA, OK -  Nearly one year ago, Leading Educators launched an innovative partnership with Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) to help teachers foster equity in the classroom by developing their practice.  Today, these efforts are the focus of a new publication, “Taking Coherence Across the Chasm”, which highlights the importance of adopting a coherent instructional approach and districts who are leading the way. 

Every day, educators make countless in-the-moment decisions that shape a student’s opportunities to learn.  Before this point, many teachers spend 7-8 hours per week searching for instructional materials to supplement their lessons, which is neither a good use of their time nor a reliable way to ensure students engage with the content they need.  Instead, when schools and districts adopt a coherent instructional system that aligns time for meaningful collaboration, quality curricular materials, and supports for strong teaching and learning, teachers are more likely to create teaching experiences that set up every student to succeed. 

TPS is among a group of “early adopters,” visionary districts who have been willing to experiment with new ideas and pursue innovative systemic change.  This approach could be misperceived as risky, so leaders at TPS made concerted efforts to coordinate a network of support partners including Leading Educators, TNTP, and Education Resource Strategies who could bring expertise and technical assistance to the design and implementation. This required setting a strong vision with a narrow yet deep focus on instructional improvement to succeed.  One year into a five-year roll-out of Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA), there is promising evidence that the conditions for effective teaching and learning are improving.

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In the piece, TPS Deputy Chief of Academics Danielle Neves shares, “CKLA takes a long time.  [The curriculum] requires 120 minutes for K-2, 150-180 in grade 3, and 90 in grades 4-5.” The authors note that, without thoughtful design, either the curriculum would be implemented poorly or leaders would have to let go of other priorities. 

Early adopters like TPS are critical to generating new learning and establishing proof points of practices and strategies that may work in other systems.  Devin Fletcher, Chief Talent and Learning Officer at TPS, shares “Teachers are rapidly building their knowledge both in content and the pedagogical process.  [Seeing the progress] from where they self-assessed at the beginning to where they are now is exciting.”

Grantmakers and mission investors have an important role in helping coherence take hold at large: increasing compatibility with existing systems and initiatives, providing capital for iterative product and service development, and building research and evidence-sharing capacity.  Learn more at leadingeducators.org/coherence.

Bringing Equitable and Excellent Teaching to Life in D.C.

“The Path to Instructional Excellence and Equitable Outcomes” shines a spotlight on D.C. Public Schools’ successful efforts to strengthen teaching and student learning.

When D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and Leading Educators launched LEAP (LEarning together to Advance our Practice) in 2016, many saw the potential for a significant teaching and learning evolution.  More than three years later, “The Path to Instructional Excellence and Equitable Outcomes,” a new report from Learning Forward, shares lessons learned from system investments that have paid off for students and teachers. 

You know your content but you don’t know why the math works the way it works. It’s a struggle for an adult to say, ‘I don’t know this. I have to study to learn this.’”
— Marian Wilkins, LEAP Leader at Kelly Miller Middle School

DCPS has been a system on the rise for much of the past decade which is part of what made it an ideal setting for LEAP to take shape.  The program, which established a strong vision for students’ instructional experiences rooted in equity and alignment to college and career readiness standards, built upon previous district efforts focused on teacher leadership and curriculum.  Creating a learning architecture that provides consistent opportunities for teachers to learn, plan, and practice collaboratively with high-quality instructional materials provided a structure and arc for collaboration that was already occurring in some schools and filled gaps in schools where teachers and school leaders were feeling a real need for support.  “LEAP Leaders”—teacher leaders, instructional coaches, department chairs, and assistant principals selected to lead content-based professional learning in their schools—are now the drivers of instructional improvement at all 115 DCPS schools. 

Bringing the promise of LEAP to life was a complex endeavor requiring clear focus and strong buy-in at all levels of the district.  The support provided by Leading Educators as a design and change management partner was critical to accomplishing scale with fidelity while also bolstering capacity for continuous improvement.  One such adjustment after the first year of implementation, for example, was to create more school flexibility as to how time reserved for LEAP could be used. Leading Educators and district leaders also made adjustments to the strategy for leadership coaching at school sites, prioritizing more touchpoints for LEAP leaders who needed more support. 

In the piece, Marian Wikins, a math LEAP leader at Kelly Miller Middle School shares, “[The experience of having one-on-one coaching] was amazing.  They were able to give me feedback on my presentations, how I was facilitating adult learning. They came out during debriefs to look at how I was providing feedback, making sure teachers walk away with something tangible. It was also great when they came out to co-observe with me. I really loved having that one-on-one support because it was customized for me.”

The takeaways for system leaders in other contexts center around prioritization and key conditions for success.  These include:

  • Provide rigorous content for teacher learning that moves beyond student data protocols to deepen content knowledge and curriculum expertise together.

  • Select leaders with intentionality.

  • Align resources (including materials, people, time, systems, and money) while gradually building school capacity to nurture those conditions without central office. 

  • Plan for intentional scaling over time using a multilevel program evaluation strategy and a commitment to continuous improvement.

  • Protect time for teacher learning and remove priorities that don’t allow teachers to focus on deepening pedagogical content knowledge.

DCPS’s commitment to centering excellent and equitable instruction while creating the operational flexibility and school-based choice for contextual relevance has made LEAP work. Looking into the future, the district now has bolstered capacity to bridge student and teacher needs with support, igniting the potential to keep rising. Read the full report here.

Put Learning in High Gear

In a recent article in The Learning Professional, Leading Educators CEO Chong-Hao Fu makes the case for why access to effective professional learning is critical to teachers being effective at creating excellent and equitable educational experiences for every young person.

Chong-Hao Fu, CEO of Leading Educators (a curriculum-specific professional learning design organization), explains that just as doctors aren’t expected to invent a new procedure to do open heart surgery, teachers shouldn’t have to design lessons from scratch. Instead, they can apply professional judgment to differentiate instruction, drawing from evidence-based practices to meet students’ needs.

“There isn’t a Platonic ideal lesson that exists outside of the relationship between teachers and students,” says Fu. “Teachers inevitably must make decisions to respond to their students. The question is, how do we help them do so skillfully?”

True equity—that is, the sum of intentional efforts to ensure students furthest from opportunity are given what they need to be successful—happens at the intersection of a coherent instructional approach and systemic supports for excellent teaching. A system that has the success of every young person in mind has strong academics at the center.

You can read the full article from Learning Forward here.

Meet The Nonprofit Disrupting The Multibillion-A-Year Teacher Professional Development Industry

Leading Educators’ innovative partnership with Tulsa Public Schools is the focus of a new article in Forbes. Chong-Hao Fu, Leading Educators CEO, explains how increasing district-level supports for teacher-leaders leads to continuous improvement in schools.

“When you do this [approach],” Fu said, “not only are you generating student gains, but you’ve built up the leadership capacity and you’re growing the amazing teachers that you already have in your school building … so it is something that can be sustained over time.”

You can read the full article from Forbes here.