What Does a Curriculum Specialist Do?

A curriculum specialist working with a laptop, pen, and paper.

If quality teachers are the No. 1 indicator of student achievement, quality curriculum is not far behind. While any curriculum sets academic targets and outlines a structure for hitting them, a quality curriculum goes further; it inspires and engages students, supports them through challenges, and pushes them to reach their potential.

Boosting student learning calls for research-based teaching strategies and rich instructional resources. To empower students and teachers with quality curriculum, explore the challenging and rewarding role of a curriculum specialist.

A Curriculum Specialist’s Role

Curriculum specialists support classroom teachers by developing new course components and improving existing ones, training teachers to implement them, then evaluating student learning outcomes.

Curriculum specialists know their way around a classroom. Before moving to this administrative role, curriculum specialists often teach for several years. This gives them firsthand knowledge of what makes instruction engaging and effective. It also gives them the credibility to guide other educators in shaping quality instructional materials.

Curriculum specialists often work with school staff to help them build or improve course components. For example, they may lead sessions that focus on unit assessments, investigating whether a curriculum strikes a balance between formative and summative assessments.

They may also look at whether lessons offer a range of assignments, such as short responses, homework, and quizzes that help teachers and students gauge their learning process. Do students have a chance to demonstrate what they learn in various formats, such as portfolios, presentations, essays, and the like?

Curriculum specialists may also collaborate with other educational leaders, teaming up with special education, assessment, or professional development departments. For example, to support students with IEPs, curriculum specialists may work with special education specialists to incorporate assistive technologies—such as text-to-speech software, text magnification, or graphic organizers—into lesson plans.

A curriculum specialist’s role can extend beyond the classroom. Some curriculum specialists advise school boards or other governing bodies about the effectiveness of curriculums, making research-based recommendations when called for.

Schools face considerable challenges in their efforts to deliver an equitable education to all students. The work of curriculum specialists, however, supports school districts in providing rigorous, quality instruction. They aim to ensure instructional materials create enriching learning experiences for students while raising their achievement levels.

Duties and Responsibilities

The primary duties of a curriculum specialist include developing, assessing, and implementing curriculum.

Developing and assessing curriculum requires curriculum specialists to look at data. Curriculum specialists examine test scores; teacher, student, and parent feedback; as well as other student data to measure the quality of curriculum.

Test scores, for instance, might reveal that a district’s middle school students struggle to comprehend assigned literature readings. In response, a curriculum specialist may examine a curriculum’s literature selections. Are they sufficiently challenging, giving students a chance to sharpen their skills, or are they too advanced?

Next, a curriculum specialist may appraise the processes instructors use when teaching literature. Do the course units properly scaffold content? Are various students’ needs addressed?

Based on research, curriculum specialists change existing curriculums and create new curriculums. Any course components they create must align with state and federal standards, as well as the most up-to-date information about effective instructional methods and approaches.

When it’s time for schools to adopt new curriculums or update existing ones, curriculum specialists play a key role. In addition to planning and designing a curriculum, they train school staff to deliver it to students. Curriculum specialists may also collaborate with instructional leaders or reading specialists throughout a district or participate in administrative meetings about improving curriculum components.

Additional responsibilities of a curriculum specialist may include:

  • Maintaining online resources, such as instructional videos or explanatory documents that support instruction
  • Reviewing and selecting textbooks and other educational materials for school districts
  • Monitoring student data to measure district performance in reaching state and federal standards
  • Developing benchmarks to ensure necessary topics are covered in course components
  • Staying current with the latest educational technology and instructional strategies

Curriculum Specialist Skills

Successful curriculum specialists have honed their skills in specific areas:

Analysis

To effectively assess and develop curriculum, a curriculum specialist needs excellent critical-thinking skills. This allows them to accurately analyze student data and research, as well as make informed decisions about implementing curriculum changes.

Decision-Making

Schools depend on curriculum specialists to make well-informed recommendations about curriculum changes, instructional resources, and teaching strategies such as modeling, experiential learning, and cooperative learning.

Teamwork

Curriculum specialists collaborate with other educators in various positions who have differing levels of experience. This requires listening, problem-solving, and time management, among other key teamwork skills. It also calls for the ability to form positive working relationships.

Communication

During the implementation process, curriculum specialists must clearly explain procedures and the reasons behind any curriculum changes. Additionally, to effectively deliver training sessions, curriculum specialists need to keep lines of communication open so they can give and receive feedback.

Leadership

Curriculum specialists must organize and guide other educators. They often conduct meetings and conversations when reviewing course components, as well as lead training and professional development.

The Need for Advanced Training in Curriculum Development

Curriculum specialists make important decisions that affect what students learn and how they learn it, so they need advanced training in curriculum development. Training can come from years of teaching, working in administration, or a combination of the two. Additionally, an advanced degree in education with a focus on curriculum development can provide critical knowledge needed to succeed in the position. Coursework in curriculum design and the collection and analysis of data is particularly valuable.

Curriculum Specialist Salary and Career Outlook

Curriculum specialists had a median annual salary of $66,970 in May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10% of earners made more than $105,650 a year. Curriculum specialists working for the government or within elementary and secondary schools tend to command the highest incomes. The BLS projects the number of curriculum specialists positions to increase 6% between 2019 and 2029.

Learn How to Make a Difference as a Curriculum Specialist

Overcoming the challenges facing U.S. schools takes a collaborative, comprehensive effort. Curriculum specialists use their experience as educators and their instructional design expertise to ensure teachers reach students through innovative, creative, and research-tested course components.

Learn what it takes to make a difference as a curriculum specialist by visiting Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program page.

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Sources

The Balance Careers, “What Does a Curriculum Specialist Do?”

Chalk, “7 Reasons Why Your Curriculum Matters More Than You Think”

Houston Chronicle, “Qualifications of a Director of Curriculum Development”

PayScale, Average Curriculum Specialist Salary

PVSchools, “The Role of Curriculum Specialists in Education”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Instructional Coordinators