Beyond Buying the Book
New Curriculum, New Support Systems in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is one of the largest school districts in the US. That includes over 33,000 kids in Middle School alone. With 32 middle schools, using varying curriculums, CMS saw schools and students excelling at different rates. A systemwide assessment by CMS showed that math, especially in middle schools in higher-poverty areas, was a key opportunity area.
CMS decided to unify the math curriculum across all schools as a way of eliminating one variable for inequity. The challenge was how to make implementation work for students and educators. Embracing a new curriculum takes time and support to help even the most seasoned educators. What about when it’s also being implemented to address inequity?
New Teacher Center helped CMS create Professional Learning Communities (PLC) structures and routines for educators based on the new middle school math curriculum. The goal: support curriculum rollout and ensure a coherent student experience with the content. Our work centered on equity and teacher confidence.
Equity for students
What was causing these schools to be so different in their student outcomes? CMS wanted to ensure students’ needs were a part of the curriculum implementation.
Educators needed to learn some of the conceptual strategies in a safe, collaborative, supportive environment to fully embrace the new curriculum.
Level of support
One-off summer afternoons would not be enough to ensure the new curriculum took root. To really make a difference in student outcomes, educators needed a program with a cadence and structure that would help them truly succeed.
We partnered to create spaces that supported teachers in understanding the instructional routines, arcs of learning, and progression of standards throughout the curriculum. Teachers were empowered to focus on students’ needs and interests.
– Allison Paul, Program Consultant, New Teacher Center
- 18th largest school district in the US
- 460 middle grades teachers in the district
- 63% students of color
- 60% students receive Free or Reduced-Price Lunch, district-wide
- 40-42 schools supported through NTC
- NTC’s engagement was extended to include 7th grade math as well as 8th grade, providing deeper support, earlier in the curriculum
- Noted improvements at schools with higher levels of support
New Curriculum Implementation
Equity for students: Focusing on student needs
It can take several years for a teacher to feel like they have confidently mastered a curriculum. That means that year one of a new curriculum is just about the teacher trying to orient and understand the new content — leaving little room to focus on the needs of their students. NTC helped PLCs create structures around curriculum and student needs, enabling cohort groups to support teachers and educators through this process. We found that in year one of a new curriculum, the PLC conversations were mostly focused on teaching and content alone, not on students. By focusing so intensely on delivery and metrics, we were missing out on seeing students through an equity lens.
Curriculum strategies: Growing the craft of teaching
Introducing a new curriculum often requires unlearning / relearning in order to build better habits. That can leave even the most seasoned educators feeling under threat, like their craft of teaching isn’t good enough, or what they’ve done in the past isn’t what’s best for their kids. They may feel like their identity as a teacher is put into question. Coaching for new curriculum needs to consider the hearts and minds of every learner, adults and kids. Early in our work with CMS it was clear that many of the educators (teachers and coaches alike) needed greater support. The curriculum taught math in a way that was very different, and required time and support to help these educators unpack and tailor the curriculum to their own unique teaching styles
Level of support: Meeting the need for high quality coaching
Frontloading curriculum rollout during summer training can leave educators feeling overwhelmed and unsupported as the year progresses. As units come up, teachers start over again. Simply put, coaching wasn’t happening enough to support movement through units, leaving teachers no space to unpack content and curriculum. The structure and process of coaching wasn’t adequate to meet the high level of support needed. It wasn’t enough for a coach to be in-school once a semester to have real impact on student outcomes.
Inequities in Middle School Math
Pecentage of students who scored as “not proficient” on state tests was:
higher for economically disadvantaged students
higher for English Language Learners
higher for Black and Hispanic students
Building Tools for New Content
There’s no simple solution to rolling out a new curriculum. It requires communication, collaboration, and a partner who’s in it for the long haul. A single summer training won’t cut it. NTC worked hand in hand with CMS to build and evolve a plan for professional development that empowered teachers to embrace the new curriculum and make it their own.
Create safe spaces for adults to learn a new curriculum together
NTC worked to create trusting learning environments where coaches, teachers, and educators felt comfortable unpacking a new curriculum together. We provided PLC leads the space to break down the curriculum and build understanding together with support from NTC and the district. We brought together coaching experts and curriculum experts, and together we mapped out how to coach for each unit so teachers could adopt new strategies.
Most importantly, we invested in building relationships. The math teachers at CMS weren’t left to navigate the content and curriculum alone.
Professional Learning Communities: Supporting teachers, centering students
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are a space for teachers to make decisions. Within this collective space they decide as a team HOW they are going to teach a curriculum. These important decisions can either boost a student’s support, or become an unintentional roadblock. We focus on fostering a PLC space where students are placed at the forefront of the conversation, and decisions are based on data, not assumptions.
Adapt coaching to be a curriculum-based support journey (unit by unit)
Initially, our coaching structure had us being on-site in each school once a semester. However, we wondered if we were missing an opportunity to improve outcomes by increasing support. We picked 5 pilot schools and changed to a cadence of 2x/month. This meant we could coach and support educators as the curriculum progressed, unit by unit. We built a planning rhythm for tackling content understanding before entering a module. And what we found was that more support meant better impact. Educators in the pilot schools reported seeing their students take more ownership of their learning in class. Consistent, embedded high-quality professional development can empower teachers to change outcomes for their kids.
When teachers trust the curriculum and trust the students to be able to work with it, you can see it in the classroom. The kids are all talking to each other now. It’s not business as usual. They know: We are all math people.
– Rob Leichner, Secondary Math Specialist, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Connect coaching to the larger system to create effective, meaningful change
Coaching is just one piece of the equation when it comes to student success. It’s important to understand and position coaching within the larger structure of the school system, and how that connects back to students. We worked to integrate the student experience into our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) content and conversations. Educators soon realized that coaching and PLCs could be a key tool to help share resources and knowledge throughout the entire educational ecosystem. When educators are empowered to support each other, they can focus on what really matters: helping their students thrive.
About our Approach
NTC partners with educators across the country — from Pre K to high school, in districts big and small — to develop localized solutions to their biggest challenges. Our services aren’t one-size-fits-all; they’re collaborative and customized to meet the unique needs of each school and district. Our work starts with listening and leads to a collaborative plan on how to make real change happen for students.
Strengthening Communities of Support
Future Forward Plan
NTC’s engagement was extended to include 7th grade math as well as 8th grade. That means we can provide deeper support, earlier in the curriculum. We’re working to develop a phased approach to coaching, with year 1 focused on content mastery, and year 2 focused on student needs.
What makes NTC unique is the way they use the content to coach others. It’s enhanced how teachers, teacher leaders, and district staff unpack the content and have it stick. Bite-sized action steps grounded in the content gave everyone a model of how you do this type of coaching well.
– Dr. Brandy Nelson, Executive Director of Learning and Teaching,
- Create safe spaces for adults to learn a new curriculum together
- Adapt coaching to be a curriculum-based support journey
- Connect coaching to the larger system to create effective, meaningful change