- A review released Tuesday of 300 most-downloaded supplemental instructional materials from popular resource websites used by teachers says while materials offered were generally free from errors, the majority were "not worth using."
- The report offered an evaluation of materials available on Share My Lesson, ReadWriteThink and Teachers Pay Teachers, finding the most-downloaded supplemental instructional materials on these websites lack clarity and instructional guidance, are "poorly aligned" with academic standards, and a majority offer no support for teaching diverse learners including high- and low-performing students, English language learners and students with disabilities.
- The report, published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, focused on the quality of supplemental materials for high school English language arts, an area the authors say teachers are "especially likely to supplement their core curricular resources."
The online marketplace is a growing and increasingly popular resource for teachers looking to fill holes in curricula. Studies conducted by RAND in the past few years found nearly all teachers surveyed report using online instructional materials, with 55% of ELA teachers saying they use Teacher Pay Teachers for that purpose at least once a week.
The websites subject to the Fordham Institute review report high numbers of users, with Teachers Pay Teachers saying 5 million teachers used the site in the past year alone and 1 billion resources were downloaded. Share My Lesson reports 1.5 million members with resources downloaded more than 13 million times.
But authors of the review — conducted by experts on academic standards and alignment, curriculum and assessments — call their findings "sobering" and suggest "a major mismatch" between what experts suggest teachers use in classrooms and what teachers are downloading for use.
With the added caveat that the results do not take into account thousands of other resources available on the sites evaluated and elsewhere online, the authors also claim teachers hungry for instructional material are turning to sites "offering subpar versions."
The American Federation of Teachers, which created and runs Share My Lesson, told Education Dive its resources are checked for spam, inappropriate content and possible copyright violations. However, any vetting is done primarily by the teachers using the site through a crowdsourcing process.
"Resources that are more popular, downloaded, viewed and rated highly rise to the top in the search," AFT said, while "resources that are not as good quality, and there are some, remain at the bottom."
Outside of that, resources verified by the site as standards-aligned are identified with a green checkmark, and users can narrow their search to only those materials.
When asked how the site hopes to improve quality going forward, AFT pointed to its 300-plus partner organizations that provide free materials for Share My Lesson. "We are continually reaching out to our partners and seeking new partners to provide more free resources for teachers," the organization said.
In response to the report, Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) released a statement saying the website is "confident that teachers know how to select the resources their students need" and it relies on the "expertise of teachers" in the form of educator reviews of its online resources.
"This signal is critical in understanding the quality of the resources," TPT said.
The website also noted improving its ratings and reviews system is a "major companywide priority" and it will launch a newer version next month.
On the other hand, the assistant superintendent of content for the Louisiana Board of Education, which provides its educators with online state-led reviews of instructional materials, said "lessons should not be evaluated in isolation" and reviews of curricula should be conducted only by educators trained for specifically the task.
"They should know, for example, if they are vetting curricular materials for usability, approach, content alignment, or all aspects," Jill Cowart said, adding, "When pulling isolated lessons, you are losing sight of the coherence of a student’s learning experience."
ReadWriteThink did not respond to Education Dive's request for comment.