Mississippi

OPINION: As we seek to meet the educational needs of all students, we can’t overlook curricula

Teaching great content can level the playing field in Mississippi and beyond

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As educators, we owe children and families our very best. This has always been my guiding principle, and it drives everything we are doing to improve educational quality and equity here in Mississippi.

High-quality instructional materials simply aren’t optional. And ensuring that students have them is a crucial aspect of this work.

Historically, Mississippi hasn’t done enough to promote or provide the high-quality resources that our teachers seek. A recent milestone changes that. Thanks to our state board of education’s approval of a rigorous K-8 math curriculum, it’s now easier for schools and districts to obtain challenging and engaging content that can help push our students to learn.

Related: How to program greater diversity among Mississippi’s computer science grads

Research has shown that high-quality curricula, combined with related professional learning for teachers, play critical roles in academic success. That’s when the magic happens: When great teachers teach great content, learning becomes exciting. And this can help level the playing field for all students, regardless of their circumstances. It’s what we want for every school in Mississippi.

Like many states, Mississippi values local autonomy; our districts are not required to use the resources recommended by the state. We are, however, incentivizing schools and districts to choose high-quality materials through the textbook procurement process allowed under state law.

We began our work in this area two years ago by establishing a plan to refine the review process. We assembled a cadre of educators from across the state. They received training on how to evaluate texts and other materials.

The teachers then conducted an extensive curriculum review. It went deeper than simply examining whether the materials are aligned to state standards. Reviewers vetted for the richness of the content, such as the way that math lessons are sequenced to build on existing knowledge, teach practical applications of key concepts and prepare students for more advanced problem-solving. Drawing on their own experience and third-party reviews from organizations like EdReports, the team selected the high-quality materials approved by the state board.

Related: After years of neglect, Mississippi takes baby steps to boost school readiness

Now, instead of having to scan the overwhelming array of curricular options on their own, districts have a reliable reference for what our state’s teachers and independent experts have said are great choices.

Another benefit is that teachers who use these curricula won’t have to spend hours searching for outside resources to fill in gaps in their materials. They can focus on what they do best: teaching students.

Just as important, we’re overhauling our professional development programs so that teachers have the necessary tools to make the most of the new materials. Moving forward, we will follow this same comprehensive approach for other subjects and grades.

Throughout the United States, education leaders are recognizing that we can’t overlook curricula if we want to provide an equitable education that meets the needs of every student.

Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education chiefs that I am a member of, recently released a report outlining steps that all states can take to promote the use of high-quality materials. With the recent action by our state board and ongoing initiatives in this area, Mississippi is making important progress.

Our students are achieving at higher levels than ever before. On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, we were among the handful of states that demonstrated significant growth.

There’s more work to do, but with great curricula and strong connections with teachers and families, we are headed in the right direction.

This story about Mississippi curricula was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter.

Carey Wright is the state superintendent of education in Mississippi and a member of Chiefs for Change.

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Carey Wright

Carey Wright, Ed.D., is Mississippi Superintendent of Education. See Archive

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