Great Curriculum Will Fuel, Not Hamper, Charter Autonomy and Innovation

Since reforms were enacted in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, student performance has improved dramatically. In fact, Tulane University researchers who studied the results “are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time (Good News for New Orleans, features, Fall 2015).” More recent studies indicate that ACT scores, graduation rates, and the number of college-going students also rose at rates that outpaced the rest of the state and even the nation. While we are proud of the key strategies—preserving autonomy, increasing accountability, expanding parent choice, and focusing on equity—that led us to these gains, we realize these alone are not enough to sustain progress. New Orleans has preserved the systemic changes that guided our charter movement while, as a city, we have turned our focus to the quality of the instructional materials being used in our classrooms.

Research suggests that consistent exposure to high-quality curricula has a significant positive impact on student learning. The Louisiana Department of Education developed a rating system that identifies curricula with the strongest alignment to the state’s academic standards, identified partners that provide high-quality professional learning to teachers, and supported school systems as they purchased these top-notch resources. In an article for Education Next, Robert Pondiscio found that these “advances are unmatched in other states that have adopted Common Core or similar standards.” We believe that ensuring every student has access to the highest-quality instructional materials our country has to offer is the responsibility of every school system in our country, including charter systems.

The process of creating the cohesive, rigorous curricular programming our students deserve takes content expertise, knowledge of how the standards are scaffolded, and most of all, time—a resource few classroom teachers have at their disposal. Rather than spending their valuable time creating new tools, educators deserve to build from a strong base of existing instructional materials developed by our nation’s premier content and pedagogical experts. They deserve to dedicate themselves to implementing the materials and tailoring lessons to their unique students, to monitoring the individual progress of all students and to meeting the needs of every student.

To date, 75 percent of charter schools in New Orleans have adopted the high-quality curricula. As the city looks to sustain the progress of the past decade, a focus on instructional quality in all of our charter schools will be a critical component of our strategy. Our charter schools have let their entrepreneurial spirit be the catalyst for excellent instructional materials as we work towards sustained progress. Chiefs for Change, a network of bold, innovative education systems leaders, of which I am proud to be a member, has spoken out to say that expanding access to high-quality curricula should be a top priority for every district and state across the country. As the leading hubs of student-focused innovation, charter schools should do the same. We owe it to our students and teachers to provide the very best materials in every subject, in every grade, every day.

— Kunjan Narechania

Kunjan Narechania is the Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement for the Louisiana Department of Education and the Chief Executive Officer of its Recovery School District where she oversaw the unification of the New Orleans school system. She is also a member of Chiefs for Change, a diverse, bipartisan network of state and district education chiefs.

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