Opportunity to Learn

How do school systems guarantee that the same skills and concepts are taught from one classroom to the next? Teachers and administrators understand the importance of aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment. However, “curriculum design and delivery face one fundamental problem in schools. When the door is shut and nobody else is around, the classroom teacher can select and teach just about any curriculum he or she decides is appropriate” (English, 2000, p. 1). If education becomes dependent on a three-legged stool (curriculum, instruction, and assessment), then students may not receive the opportunity to learn a ‘guaranteed’ curriculum. Opportunity to learn, a concept introduced by John Carroll (1963), is controlled by classroom teachers.

Curriculum mapping is a process for aligning the written and taught curriculum, but unless teachers guarantee they will teach the key skills, concepts, and content outlined on the map, students will not receive the same opportunity to learn information which is considered essential. Ravitch (1996) wrote, identifying what children are expected to learn is necessary for educational improvement because it is the starting point for education. “When educators fail to agree on what children should learn, it means that they have failed to identify their most fundamental goals” (Ravitch, p. 134).

Once a common curriculum has been established, instruction and assessment can be organized to help each student learn the prioritized curriculum or the essential curriculum. What systems are in place in your school or school district which guarantee that each student will receive the opportunity to learn? The Professional Learning Community Model is one example of how teachers can utilize curriculum maps to identify and share the school district’s curriculum. Having a plan is an important first step, but communicating the plan and developing benchmarks to check student understanding of the written curriculum throughout the school year is essential.

The Professional Learning Community Model:
Four Guiding Questions in a Professional Learning Community

1. What is it we want our students to learn?
(Developing a Curriculum)

2. How will we know that they have learned it?
(Assessing Opportunity to Learn)

3. What will we do when they don’t learn it?
(Revisiting Opportunity to Learn in a new way)

4. What will we do when they already know it?
(Taking Opportunity to Learn to a new level or building on the learned curriculum)

Source: DuFour & Eaker, 1998

Glatthorn (1987) wrote, “One of the tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment, so that the learned curriculum is maximized” (p. 4). If educators are expected to increase student achievement, then opportunity to learn must be addressed.

Questions to Consider:

1) Does our school district have a common curriculum?

2) How do educators obtain a copy of the common curriculum?
(i.e., online, password protected site, three-ring binder, etc.)

3) Will educators meet prior to the first week of school to guarantee that the curriculum will be provided to each student?

4) How will educators know if students are learning the district’s curriculum?

5) How often will school administrators schedule uninterrupted time for classroom teachers and school staff to discuss curriculum and student understanding?

6) How will teachers communicate about curriculum and instruction with teachers in other schools?
(i.e., blog, web site, wiki, Ning, email, videoconferencing, etc.)

7) How will teachers and administrators know if each student had the opportunity to learn the district’s curriculum?

How does a Professional Learning Community support Opportunity to Learn? Feel free to cite one or more examples from your team.


Carroll, J. B. (1963). A model of school learning. Teachers College Record 64:723-733.

DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

English, F.W. (2000). Deciding what to teach and test: Developing, aligning, and auditing the curriculum. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Glatthorn, A.A. (1987). Curriculum renewal. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Ravitch, D. (1996). The case for national standards and assessments. The Clearing House 69:134-36.

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