George Lucas Educational Foundation
Curriculum Planning

Why School Districts Need Learning Engineers

April 28, 2015 Updated April 27, 2015

I just read this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I can tell you that I've had the exact same thought. It baffles me just how much education is left up to chance. I taught high school English and Reading for years in two different states and found, again and again, the same thing: school districts are winging it.

They're doing what's been done before, trusting the curriculum passed down and handed out. And I can't blame them, really. I was one of them. I accepted that someone out there had tested the learning materials when I used them in class. I believed that I was doling out rigorously tested, scientifically evaluated materials. 

Until I became part of a curriculum development team. And I say "team" loosely, here. Without any curriculum design experience outside of one graduate school class, I was put in charge of developing the content for a remedial reading class. My masters is in English Ed. My undergrad in Creative Writing. I knew almost zero about developing content to help novice readers advance. I had no scientific basis for the curriculum I developed, although I did my best, struggling to hack together the content while teaching two other preps in five different classrooms (I was a newbie then, so I was on a cart!). 

Everyone loved it. They congratulated me on the fine job I'd done.

Looking back on some of things I slung together today, I think, "Why wasn't there a learning engineer behind this curriculum? Why did it fall to me, a novice teacher, who clearly had no idea what she was doing?" Not only did I do a large disservice to the students who took my class and the subsequent classes who were fed my curriculum (God help them all), I did a disservice to the entire district. 

Because I didn't speak up.

I knew then, just as I know now, that I was the wrong person to develop that curriculum. I needed more research. I needed better understanding of how students learn. But as I've come to realize, I was just one of thousands of teachers and district employees put in this same predicament year in and year out. 

I was underqualified for the task I was given. I was taught in my content area. Classroom management. Childhood development. Some educational theory. A smattering of assessment classes.

And that was it.

We need, need, need learning engineers who are paid very well to help our struggling districts choose curriculum that is worthy of our students. We do not need to wing it anymore. As one of those teachers who did her fair share of hacking it, I say, it has to end. It really does. 

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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