From Day One, among this blog’s raisons d’être has been to say to ed reformers of every stripe “don’t forget curriculum.” So it’s great to hear Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst say the same thing–and with cold, hard data to back it up. In his latest Letter on Education, Whitehurst lays out an argument that should catch the eye of everyone who is focused on charter schools, teacher quality, early childhood ed and standards as the means of boosting student achievement. He looks at the effect sizes of those reforms and reports curriculum effects have a much greater impact than all of them:
Further, in many cases they are a free good. That is, there are minimal differences between the costs of purchase and implementation of more vs. less effective curricula. In contrast, the other policy levers reviewed here range from very to extremely expensive and often carry with them significant political challenges, e.g., union opposition to merit pay for teachers. This is not to say that curriculum reforms should be pursued instead of efforts to create more choice and competition through charters, or to reconstitute the teacher workforce towards higher levels of effectiveness, or to establish high quality, intensive, and targeted preschool programs, all of which have evidence of effectiveness. It is to say that leaving curriculum reform off the table or giving it a very small place makes no sense. Let’s do what works for the kids, and let’s give particular attention to efficient and practical ways of doing so.
“We conclude that the effect sizes for curriculum are larger, more certain, and less expensive than for the Obama-favored policy levers,” writes Whitehurst, the former director of the Institute of Education Sciences. He recommends the Administration “integrate curriculum innovation and reform into its policy framework.”
The Department of Education, through the Institute of Education Sciences, should fund many more comparative effectiveness trials of curricula and other interventions, both through its National Center for Education Evaluation and through competitive grants to university-based researchers. The Obama administration has clearly recognized the importance of comparative effectiveness research in health care reform. It is no less important in education reform.”
Can I get an amen?