Curriculum Based Professional Learning: The State of the Field

In recent years, promising open-source, high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) have presented exciting opportunities to enhance students’ engagement and agency in their learning, expand access to grade-level content, and narrow the boundaries between home and school —all without increasing the cost that schools and districts incur for curricula. However, research suggests that curricula, on their own, can only do so much to advance student learning; curriculum-based professional learning, that is, professional learning grounded in the specific curriculum or discrete set of K12 instructional materials that teachers use with their students, is an essential ingredient. Yet, a recent RAND Corporation survey reveals that almost a quarter of teachers report receiving no professional learning on how to implement their curricular materials, and just over a third report receiving only 1 to 5 hours over the course of the academic year.

Providing curriculum-based professional learning at scale is challenging, complex, and contextualized. It requires time, people, money, and expertise at the systems-level and at the ground-level. No single school system, organization, or actor can accomplish it alone. Instead, scaling the curriculum-based professional learning on which HQIM relies requires a field of diverse, interdisciplinary actors from across the education sector who collectively co-produce improved professional learning through research, strategy, policy, and direct service. Put another way, to strengthen educational experiences and outcomes for students, proponents of HQIM and curriculum-based professional learning must build a strong, resilient field of individuals and organizations working together to transform teaching and learning. 

Building on an analysis of information provided by 146 people over the course of 122 interviews, as well as an extensive review of secondary sources, this research reveals that the field of curriculum-based professional learning is emerging. While its impact is not yet consistently felt across the education ecosystem, its infrastructure and field-level agenda are fairly well-developed. Its actors, knowledge base, and resources are still in more nascent stages and require focused attention for the field to reach its potential for impact.

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