Findings and Lessons


May 2017

The high cost of having teachers design and deliver daily literacy lessons

What about all the late-night lesson planning that teachers are doing after full days of work? We don’t ask pilots to build and fly the planes. Yet, we ask teachers to both design and deliver instruction every day.”

When we present to an audience of teachers, these are the lines that receive the most head-nodding. At every level, and in too many schools across the country, teachers are charged with leading classroom instruction and responding to children all day, and then also analyzing student work and creating lessons for the days to come. The rise of Pinterest and other websites confirms that a marketplace has grown from educators spending great amounts of time – and often money – scouring the internet to find lesson ideas and materials. And long before the Internet, we often heard about the exorbitant expenses many teachers incurred trying to get good texts and other materials into their classrooms. As a field we have to ask ourselves about this prevalent practice — at what cost, and to what end?

There is a heavy burden associated with both designing and delivering instruction—a burden for the educator, and a cost to the quality of the learning and teaching, at scale:

  1. There are inconsistent educational experiences for students and less instructional cohesion across grades, compromising opportunities for professional collaboration, support and curricular leadership.
  2. Teachers are not trained to be curriculum designers. The task of putting together a cohesive content-rich scope and sequence, with complex texts and planned redundancies to boost student learning, takes teams of trained professionals with access to a wide variety of books and supporting videos and printed materials.
  3. Teachers’ excessive workloads cause burnout and contribute to the high turnover rates across the nation. Workforce instability costs districts time and money, and is connected to low literacy rates.

When schools provide teachers with comprehensive curricula, which include text sets and rich materials that promote language and knowledge building in classrooms, our students are much more likely to develop 21st-century literacy skills. And educators finally have the time to focus on developing and refining their craft and the real work—that of delivering instruction that addresses children’s varied needs as readers. While some believe that a shared curriculum diminishes the creative opportunities and dismisses teachers’ abilities to come up with their own lessons, we can’t confuse good teaching with good curricula and better outcomes for children.