April 30, 2021
Brief Explains How States Can Promote the Use of High-Quality Curriculum

With states receiving an unprecedented amount of federal Covid-19 relief aid for education, our state chiefs are using some of those funds to support districts in adopting high-quality instructional materials. To encourage more states to do the same, today, we published a brief outlining recommendations for education departments and highlighting initiatives in members’ systems.

A compelling body of research suggests that content-rich, standards-aligned, and high-quality curricula can have a powerful influence on student achievement. Despite the impact that excellent curricula can have, school systems often face obstacles in acquiring that content. These obstacles largely exist because, while the curriculum landscape has evolved, the laws and policies that guide when and how instructional materials are adopted have not.

Our brief, Incentivizing Smart Choices: How State Procurement Policies Can Promote the Use of High-Quality Instructional Materials, explains that any state, regardless of its level of control over curricular decisions, can review procurement policies and processes and update them, as needed, to ensure greater access to, and use of, excellent instructional resources. Specifically, the brief recommends that state education agencies:

  • Encourage school systems to select instructional materials from a state-vetted list;
  • Modernize requests for proposals;
  • Use shared platforms to showcase resources; and
  • Braid funding streams related to curriculum, professional development, and curriculum-embedded assessments.

“States have the opportunity to incentivize the adoption and implementation of high-quality instructional materials and to lessen the burden of procurement processes for school systems, while still preserving the autonomy and decision-making authority of those school systems,” the brief states.

It also notes that states can take other important steps such as loosening overly restrictive curriculum review and adoption timelines, requiring publishers to regularly update materials, and leveling the playing field for vendors that have struggled to break into a market dominated by textbook giants.

Watch video
Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn explains how excellent curricula can make a difference for students and teachers and describes the state’s multi-year effort to support districts in adopting high-quality materials.

Rhode Island and Tennessee are among the states making progress in this area. The education departments are led by Angélica Infante-Green and Penny Schwinn, respectively, both members of our network and alumni of our Future Chiefs leadership development program. Tennessee chooses at the state level which textbooks school systems can use, while Rhode Island does not—signaling that even in different policy environments, states can play an important role. The brief includes case studies about both states.

In 2019, Rhode Island passed a law requiring local education agencies statewide to adopt high-quality instructional materials aligned with academic standards, curriculum frameworks, and statewide standardized tests. As of March 2020, almost all school systems had adopted these materials in at least one grade and subject. The state department of education has earmarked a portion of its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund award to support systems in not only adopting high-quality instructional materials, but in partnering with third-party experts who can help them fully implement materials at scale.

The Tennessee Department of Education, meanwhile, is engaged in a multi-year effort to support school systems in this work. During the 2019-2020 school year, 97 percent of districts reported they would be adopting high-quality curricular materials in core subjects within the academic year. The state plans to build on its efforts by utilizing federal funding—from existing streams like the federal Connected Literacy State Development grant, and from new streams like federal COVID-19 relief and stimulus funding—to ensure school systems can adopt high-quality materials and implement them at scale.

Incentivizing Smart Choices is the latest in a series of Chiefs for Change reports and resources to promote the use of high-quality materials. See other resources here, here, and here.