April 30, 2019
New Report Analyzes Curriculum Adoption Policies, Offers Guidance for States

Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education chiefs, today released a report showing that many states, tacitly or explicitly, promote the use of low-quality K-12 instructional materials. In the most recent review cycles, some states did not approve even a single highly rated curriculum for school districts to use—despite research that shows high-quality curriculum and related professional support for teachers can have a positive impact on student achievement.

Findings in the report are based on an analysis conducted this month by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. The analysis scanned curriculum adoption policies across the country and found that only 17 states exercise formal authority over curriculum decisions. Such states publish lists of approved or recommended textbooks and resources. Lists are used in various ways depending on a state’s level of control over district decision making. Some states mandate the use of resources on the list or incentivize districts to select from among the approved materials. Others offer the list as loose guidance that districts can choose to follow or ignore.

Analysts also looked at how the curricula on the lists are rated by well-respected, independent entities such as EdReports and the Louisiana Department of Education’s tiered curriculum reviews, both of which are nationally recognized measures of quality. The analysts learned that, in the most recent review cycles, 14 states approved more weak than highly rated curricula—and four of those states approved no highly rated options whatsoever.

“We can’t expect students to succeed if they never learn important concepts, are asked to do work that’s beneath their capabilities, or go through school without lessons that build on what they already know,” said Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee. “State leaders across the country must examine their curriculum adoption policies and make it easy for teachers and districts to obtain rigorous, standards-aligned content that is challenging and engaging.”

The Chiefs for Change report, Choosing Wisely: How States Can Help Districts Adopt High-Quality Instructional Materials, describes several reasons why states with curriculum oversight often fail to prevent the use of poor materials. Factors include unclear and subjective review processes, improperly trained or unqualified reviewers, and a bias in favor of large publishers that lobby to maintain their competitive advantage.

To address these issues, the report outlines recommendations for the 17 states that exercise formal control over curriculum. These recommendations include working with experts to conduct regular curriculum reviews and providing ongoing professional development to support teachers in using high-quality materials.

Importantly, the report also provides recommendations for all states, even those that do not have formal authority over curricular choices. Many such states have “missed opportunities to promote the use of effective curricula and safeguard against low-quality options.” To improve, states should:

  • Define what “high quality” means for instructional materials and professional development.
  • Work with experts to create objective rubrics and tools to evaluate instructional materials.
  • Collect, study, and publish data on district curricular options.
  • Incentivize smart choices through financial, operational, and teacher supports.

More information is included in the report, which notes that “[s]tates are uniquely positioned to ensure that students have access to the best possible instructional materials. Whether or not a state possesses direct control over curriculum decisions, its policies and influence can make better choices more likely.”

Chiefs for Change advocates for the use of excellent curriculum and related professional learning. The group also published a Statement on the Need for High-Quality Curriculum, a recent report calling for top-notch resources that reflect the diversity of America’s students, and a 2017 report on leveraging curriculum to improve student learning.


About Chiefs for Change

Chiefs for Change is a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s through deeply committed leadership. Chiefs for Change advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference today for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.