Curriculum-Aligned Professional Learning at Statewide Scale

Our community has long preached the importance of pairing high-quality curriculum with professional learning that is specific to those materials, giving teachers the What, the Why, and the How for strong instruction. Research has shown that this approach has a strong evidence base, whereas professional learning alone is unlikely to raise student outcomes.

We pair our curriculum work with curriculum-specific professional learning in our districts. Yet many of our colleagues are in Tennessee, a state that is applying the curriculum-aligned professional learning model statewide. Tennessee’s Reading360 training is intentionally designed to incorporate instructional materials, and practice with those materials, as a part of statewide training. As Scott Langford has recently written, the strong outcomes in Tennessee are likely attributable to this thoughtful investment in its educators.

How did districts experience this training, and how did it enhance and reinforce the work with high-quality curriculum in Tennessee districts? What are the outcomes in local schools? Hear from educators in three Tennessee districts on these important questions.

Our founding member Robin McClellan, who was at the Tennessee Department of Education during the rollout of Reading360 training, moderated this conversation.


  • Richard VanHuss, Director of Schools, Elizabethton City Schools
  • Travis Hurley, Principal, Elizabethton City Schools
  • Trey Duke, Director of Schools, Murfreesboro City Schools
  • Quinena Bell, Principal, Murfreesboro Schools
  • Jonathan Criswell, Director of Schools, Milan SSD
  • Nicole Claybrooks, Second grade teacher, Milan SSD

Moderated by Robin McClellan, co-founder of Curriculum Matters and Director of Partnerships, Rivet Education.

Watch a Recording:

Teaching Black Boys in Elementary Grades – a Conversation With Dr. Alfred Tatum

Dr. Alfred Tatum believes advanced reading and writing has become taboo – especially for Black boys. He seeks to refocus on the life of the mind in elementary schools. How do we refashion classrooms as intellectual spaces, and writing as an intellectual exercise, beginning in the elementary years?

Tatum brings fresh evidence to these questions in his new book, Teaching Black Boys in Elementary Grades. He spent two and a half years conducting research with 131 Black boys in pursuit of higher reading outcomes, and his book translates his learnings into a tangible, multi-dimensional reading model grounded in daily instruction.

On Wednesday, December 8th, Yvette Stewart hosted an open conversation with Dr. Tatum and the Curriculum Matters community on how we foster advanced levels of reading and writing for Black boys – and for all children. Where is the high-quality curriculum movement on the right track, and where can it continue to grow to meet these goals?

You can watch a recording of their conversation below.

Watch a Recording

Revisiting Concerns About Reading Workshop

Amidst growing critique of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Program ‘Units of Study’ materials, the authors have announced that a revised version will be available for purchase for the 2022-23 school year. The nature of the revisions has been somewhat unclear, and many in the field have raised questions.

This webinar unpacks the changes that have been announced by TCRWP to date, all of which affect Units of Study in grades K–2. 

In many regards, Units of Study will remain unchanged – including aspects that were reviewed poorly by literacy experts last year and by EdReports in October. Our panel details what’s not changing about the program – and the implications for student reading success.

Our speakers also reflect on balanced literacy programs beyond Reading Workshop, as the issues are not exclusive to one program.

Matt Warford of Aldine ISD – a district that shifted from Reading Workshop to high-quality curriculum last year – moderated this conversation among educators and literacy experts.

You can watch a recording below and review the slides from the conversation here.


  • Carissa Berliner, Literacy Coach, New York City DOE
  • Margaret Goldberg, Literacy Coach, West Contra Costa Unified School District and co-founder of Right2Read Project
  • David Liben, Consultant, Student Achievement Partners
  • David Paige, Professor of Literacy, Northern Illinois University

Watch a Recording

Level Up Professional Learning

The creative professional learning approaches in Aldine and Sumner County have been earning cheers in social media, and we want to learn more! Each district is refining a model that we can all borrow.

In Aldine ISD, grade level teams have been doing Lesson Rehearsals, allowing each teacher to try out his or her instructional approach and receive feedback from the group. Everyone benefits from this modeling; the Aldine team has been refining the approach for a year, and they’ll detail both their model and learnings.

Sumner County coaches are using Swivl to record lessons in action, which are then reviewed with teachers for truly tangible feedback. Coaches also record their coaching sessions, then coaches debrief their coaching moves with each other! By capturing exemplary lesson and coaching videos, the Sumner team is building a library with many potential uses. Team Sumner will give us a glimpse of this work.

Each these approaches fosters powerful “on-the-job” professional learning, with a healthy dose of community-building!

On October 21st, we heard from the Aldine and Sumner teams. Watch a recording below, and join our Slow Chat on this topic on October 25th in Twitter.


  • Demedia Edwards, Director of Literacy, Aldine ISD 
  • Gloria Guerrero, Literacy Coach, Aldine ISD
  • Kyle Craighead, Student Growth Coordinator, Sumner County 
  • Rachel Sowder. Lead Educator, Sumner County

Watch a Recording

Delaware, The Small State With Big Curriculum Outcomes

This year, we noticed an unmistakable trend: we kept adding districts to our network from Delaware, and each district had seriously impressive outcomes from work with high-quality curriculum!

The stories in Brandywine, Cape Henlopen, Laurel, and Seaford are each individually compelling – and collectively, they make a powerful case for curriculum as a change agent, to improve instruction, drive impressive reading and math outcomes, and to fuel quality professional learning for teachers.

On August 3rd, leaders from our four Delaware districts shared their curriculum journeys – both the success stories and the learnings along the way. They also explored the question: why is high-quality curriculum work taking off right now in Delaware?


  • Ashley Giska – Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Laurel School District
  • Kelly Carvajal Hageman – Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Seaford School District
  • Lavina Jones-Davis – Director of Elementary Education, Brandywine School District
  • Jennifer Nauman – Assistant Superintendent, Cape Henlopen School District

Related Reading

You can read more about Delaware districts’ success stories in The 74, which has been featuring their work in a series of Curriculum Case Studies, as well as on the Knowledge Matters School Tour site:

Watch a Recording:

So, You Want to Accelerate, Not Remediate. Let’s Talk About HOW.

Many educators are aligned around the instructional goal to “accelerate, not remediate” as students return to school in the fall. We know that we can best address unfinished learning by keeping the learning bar high, rather than watering-down instruction out of fears of student learning loss.

What does this mean in practice, though? 

Leaders from Curriculum Matters, TNTP, and Zearn unpacked this approach in our July 27 webinar. We got tangible – participants spent time delving into exemplars in math, ELA, and science. We also talked about how to accelerate with English Language Learners. 

You can watch recordings of the event below, including all breakout rooms. As a pre-read, we highly suggest the Accelerate, Not Remediate report from TNTP and Zearn.


  • Colleen Stearns, Vice President of Curriculum & Instruction, IDEA Public Schools
  • Dan Weisberg, CEO at TNTP
  • Neena Hendershott, CMO at Zearn
  • Kristin McQuillan, Project Director at TNTP
  • Stephanie Ely, CAO at Zearn
  • Jamila Newman, Partner at TNTP
  • Mary Pittman, Director of Mathematics at TNTP

Watch a Recording

Full webinar, including the Math breakout room (from 31:30 until 48:15):

ELA breakout room:

Science breakout room:

‘Everyone has a place at the table’: The Haywood Curriculum Journey

This is the first blog in a new series in which we share the curriculum journey for each of our Squad Members.

Q: In your district, what problem or data prompted you to adopt a new literacy curriculum? How did you hope the curriculum you chose would help you address it?

Our state testing data showed that some kids were not performing well. When we went into classrooms, we saw that one class was doing one thing and the next class was doing something else and the next class something else again. We wanted to equalize what was going on in our schools and to support every teacher and every student to be successful by exposing kids to high quality texts and making sure that instruction was consistent across the board. We started with Ed Reports and only brought curricula to the table that showed all-green.

Then right from the beginning, we started using the Instruction Partners Curriculum Support Guide, which really helped us to have an intentional process for bringing everyone on board. We used their Instructional Practices Guide when their coaches did virtual walkthroughs. We dialogued a lot with them about what we saw and our administrator who led a particular PLC would follow up with a coaching conversation designed specifically for individual teachers. So we were all learning together and leaning on Instruction Partners to help us build capacity where we needed it and basically just to be our shoulder partner in the work.

Q: What shifts in mindset were necessary for a successful implementation?

Changing teachers’ mindset was tough! I really don’t like the words “this is what we’ve always done” because if you do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten. Teachers and leaders needed to understand that we’re not just pulling something out of the air here. There’s a research base and there’s a process for bringing students up to the level of rigor in our curriculum. Teachers always want to do what’s best for kids, but they have to change their mindset to believe that what’s best for all kids is truly complex, grade-level texts and kids engaging in the hard work of responding to and discussing those texts, not having the answers spoon-fed to them. 

Q: How is this curriculum work driving greater equity in your district?

We have inclusion teachers who work with students, and the EL curriculum has strategies for differentiation that we maximize. We’re not watering anything down for our special needs population. The beautiful thing about this work is you can walk into any classroom and most of the time you have no clue which students are receiving special services. Sometimes the kid raising his hand and asking more questions than anybody in the room has an IEP, but you can’t tell because they truly are fully included and empowered by this type of instruction.

What’s really driving equity is that this curriculum and instruction is rigorous for all students. My own son was in sixth grade when we started with the EL Education curriculum. I remember him coming home and saying, “Wow, this is tough. I don’t know if I can do this.” But the unit they were doing was about perseverance and people like Steve Jobs who have had to do really hard things, so he was able to tie it into what he was currently going through in his life. Now he’s getting ready to be a freshman in high school and he’s really ready for that level of reading. In fact, some of the things he’s doing now—writing and responding, having a dialogue with his peers—reminds me of what I was doing as an English major in college! He’s really prepared for that, and it’s because our school system made this shift.

What missteps did you make along the way that others can learn from? What would you do differently if you could do it over?

I think one of the hardest things is onboarding new teachers. One teacher might be on year three of the curriculum and really rocking and rolling, but then all of a sudden you have a teacher on that team who is in year one. We’ve learned to be much more intentional about how we bring those teachers up to speed without overwhelming them—and also not holding back the teachers who have already got it.

Now we differentiate our teacher groups and match them to different presenters and supports so that everyone gets what they need. We invite coaches from the curriculum providers and those from Instruction Partners to work more intensively with our new teachers, unpacking the lessons, and figuring out the instructional moves.  It’s a little like studying the owner’s manual of a new car so you understand which buttons to push and where all the parts are. We don’t need to do that again with teachers who’ve been teaching the curriculum already, but it makes a world of difference for our new teachers.

Can you share one exemplary aspect of your implementation that might be a model for other districts to follow?

One of the things that’s been crucial to our success is that we make sure that everybody who has contact with the kids—teachers, teachers’ assistants, principals, inclusion teachers—they’re all at the table and everybody knows what their role is in the process. All of these people are involved in regular PLCs that meet every week, and on other days they’re still working together as a team to unpack lessons and look at their data and bring student work to the table. Some days we look forward to what we’re going to do and other days we look back at what we have done. That reflective planning has really strengthened our teachers’ ownership of the work and their overall confidence. 

Before we had this curriculum it was almost like teachers were scared of each other. They didn’t want to talk about what they were doing, and they didn’t want others to know what they didn’t know. But we’ve witnessed a whole transformation of that culture to where teachers are getting better together and looking forward to walkthroughs and helping each other spot trends in their data. That collaboration and deliberate practice of the teacher moves that help all kids read well is a total game changer for our district.

The Trouble With Basal Bloat: An Important Discussion of the Wonders Review

Recently, Student Achievement Partners published an important review of the Wonders curriculum (read more in EdWeek). It put a spotlight on some known concerns with the program, like its weak support for knowledge acquisition.

The review also illuminated an issue that has implications well beyond Wonders: basal bloat.  When a curriculum is loaded with so many bells, whistles, and options – particularly when they are of varied quality and relevance – a teacher can easily wind up teaching the weak stuff and miss what’s good (and aligned). We  think this is a serious problem in the industry that deserves unpacking.  

On July 12th, Janise Lane hosted an open conversation with the authors of the Wonders review to discuss why basal bloat is a problem and how districts might address the issue. 

Speakers included:

  • Sue Pimentel, Founder, Student Achievement Partners
  • Meredith Liben, ELA Designer, Student Achievement Partners
  • Sonia Cabell, Assistant Professor of Reading Education, Florida Center for Reading Research, Florida State University 
  • Janise Lane, Executive Director or Teaching and Learning, Baltimore City Schools

Watch a Recording

The Urgent Need to Scale Research-Based Reading Instruction

My journey to understanding the research on how kids learn to read was decades longer than it should have been.

I started my career in the classroom, as a special education teacher. I hadn’t learned the essentials during my teacher preparation. Then, even though I worked with children with disabilities, I didn’t learn what I needed to know about reading on the job, either.

I went and got a Masters degree in Special Education, thinking that would be the magic solution to learning how to teach reading! Sadly, it was not.

Next, I trained to become a school psychologist. This increased my knowledge on how kids learn to read, but I still didn’t find the answers I needed.

I became a district Special Education Director. Then in 2014, I became the Director of Literacy in Lauderdale County. And finally, my role allowed me the time to study the research in greater depth, and in the years that followed, I began to have a command of the science of reading. (In 2019, when Robin McClellan, Jared Myracle, and Brian Kingsley shared that they’d only learned key reading research as district leaders, this felt all-too-familiar.) 

I thought to myself, “In this role, I can impact change in a larger way!” Yet here was the harsh reality: I had a lot of knowledge about literacy, but my teachers did not. And I didn’t have a way to bring this knowledge to our teachers at scale… districtwide, and in depth.

My first opportunity to influence instruction at scale came with our adoption of high-quality curriculum. The materials gave teachers a clear roadmap for research-aligned instruction, and more importantly, our professional learning partner TNTP was incredibly helpful in crafting a learning journey for our team.

Then, I watched as literacy networks like the SCORE LIFT network and the Curriculum Matters PLN augmented that learning. These networks give our teams opportunities to collaborate and grow professionally. Our teachers need these growth opportunities! We can only truly scale awareness of the science of reading with deep professional learning, at scale. 

That’s where the next chapter of my career comes in: I’m joining the Tennessee Department of Education during an exciting time, when the Reading 360 initiative is bringing this potential to fruition. 

I hope you’ll follow Reading 360, if you aren’t already. This summer, Tennessee is training almost 12,000+ teachers on sounds-first instruction, while providing an excellent, free foundational skills curriculum. More than 20% of K–2 parents have signed up to receive free decodable readers! All of this work ties back to the crucial role of curriculum; finally, a state is supporting extensive professional learning and aligned materials, in parallel.

At first, it felt bittersweet to leave Lauderdale County just as our work with high-quality curriculum was really taking off. Yet I have come to see this opportunity to network teachers across Tennessee through professional learning as the ultimate complement and accelerant to my goal, and the goals of the Curriculum Matters PLN: high-quality instruction at scale. Watch this space, y’all.

Teacher Preparation’s Big Opportunity

As high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) become increasingly prevalent in K-12 classrooms, the instructional landscape is undergoing significant change. We need teacher preparation programs to keep pace with this evolution.

Historically, teacher preparation programs have treated individual lesson plan creation as THE essential teaching skill. Teacher candidates are graded on their ability to create a lesson from scratch, with professors looking for criteria such as learning objectives, cognitively demanding questions, and opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery as measures of successful planning. The focus is almost entirely at the individual lesson level; rarely is a teacher candidate challenged to sequence lessons into coherent units of study.

While teacher preparation programs certainly shouldn’t be in the business of training teacher candidates in how to write entire curricula, are tomorrow’s teachers being prepared for the curriculum reality they will encounter in the classroom today?  

In addition to learning to write lesson plans, what constitutes much of teacher preparation is introduction to a rapid succession of topics like effective pedagogy, meeting individual student needs, and assessment. After such a course of study, newly-minted teachers head off to their classrooms and begin teaching their hearts out, satisfied to stay a lesson or two ahead of their students. Teachers burn midnight oil by the barrel, but particularly in their first few years. With little training in the actual demands of writing aligned curricula, teachers without an adopted curriculum have struggled.  

But now, as districts move away from asking teachers to create lessons and design curriculum, and they have increasingly high-quality options to tap into, everyone’s focus should shift from lesson creation to effective implementation. That goes for teacher preparation, too.  

Districts bear the main responsibility of training teachers to use their adopted curriculum effectively. But, unfortunately, though models of effective implementation exist, not all teachers receive the professional learning necessary to utilize them. A recent study found that teachers implementing HQIM are only receiving an average of 1.6 days of professional learning as they begin to use the new materials that will be the primary basis for teaching and learning in their classrooms (Kane, 2019). The reality is, teachers receive more professional learning in a week while in their teacher education program than they will in a year after they’ve been hired by a district.

Herein lies the big opportunity for teacher preparation programs. 

Rather than placing such significant emphasis on training teacher candidates to create lesson plans (as preparation for life as a content-creating teacher), time with future teachers can be leveraged to lay a firm foundation for the selection and effective implementation of high-quality instructional materials. How much better, for example, would our candidates be if their preparation included deep dives into the following topics:

  • What are high-quality instructional materials?
  • What is the research underpinning these materials?
  • How can you distinguish high-quality instructional materials from lesser quality resources?
  • What are examples of high-quality instructional materials in math and reading? 
  • How do you access, plan, and assess with high-quality instructional materials?
  • What do you do if your school or district isn’t implementing high-quality instructional materials? 

Evidence suggests that teachers who work closely with HQIM as part of their student teaching work hit the ground running in year one.  Given this is the case, in regions where districts are using specific HQIM, teacher prep could even consider taking things a step farther and offering training on the specific programs being implemented. Where districts aren’t using HQIM, a cohort of new teachers who can advocate for use of stronger instructional materials could spur transformative change in school communities. 

Teacher preparation programs have a lot of standards and regulations thrown at them, from accreditation processes to state policies. But they can do a real service to the field if they proactively respond to their ultimate clients, the districts that hire their teachers. Partnering to train new teachers on HQIM would have a dramatic impact on “Day 1” readiness, and could significantly improve teacher retention and student achievement. 

In Jackson, TN, where I was Chief Academic Officer, I saw firsthand that higher education leaders were willing to align teacher preparation with district needs. My district built relationships with our university partners, and once the leaders of the teacher preparation programs understood our goals for implementing HQIM, they were much more open to integrating its use into their programs.  

We saw a discernible difference in the effectiveness of teacher candidates who were able to incorporate our HQIM into their internship experiences over those who had not been given this opportunity.  They simply became valued members of the team more quickly, because their assignments were more aligned with our priorities and, therefore, our experienced teachers and school leaders were able to provide better guidance. Consequently, principals were more motivated to hire these candidates, as they knew they would have a running start as new teachers. Other Curriculum Matters leaders have sought similar changes from their local universities. Now we need to seek this shift in programs across the country. 

Burning the midnight oil preparing the next day’s lessons has always been a rite of passage for teachers, but we can make the transition to the classroom easier for new candidates by helping them tap a stronger materials landscape. The win for teacher prep?  As they begin to align their programs with the curricular reality on the ground, they will surely deepen their partnerships with local districts and carve a more meaningful role in the curriculum renaissance occuring in K–12 education.