Tackling Ohio’s toughest education challenges: Create a curriculum-review committee

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Editor’s Note: As Ohioans prepare to elect a new governor this November, and as state leaders look to build upon past education successes, we at the Fordham Institute are developing a set of policy proposals that we believe can lead to increased achievement and greater opportunities for Ohio students. This is the third in our series, under the umbrella of supporting great educators. You can access all of the entries in the series to date here.

Proposal: Form an independent review committee at ODE that evaluates the quality of curricular textbooks and materials. These evaluations would help to inform districts’ purchasing and instructional decisions, but districts would not be required to adopt or implement any particular curriculum, textbook, or learning material.

Background: Smart, hardworking teachers are a critical part of the school-quality equation, but so too are the curricula deployed in their classrooms. Studies from California, Florida, and Indiana all indicate that curricular decisions—referring to the textbooks and materials that schools deploy—make a difference in student learning. These studies also find that high-quality materials seldom cost more than mediocre ones, suggesting that curricular reform could be a cost-efficient way to boost learning. However, surveys find that educators often struggle to identify which resources are most likely to boost achievement. This isn’t surprising, given limited planning time, as well as an increasingly crowded marketplace for educational products, both digital and in print. Several efforts have been undertaken to help educators better discern quality materials. For example, EdReports, an independent nonprofit, evaluates math and ELA textbooks based on alignment to college-and-career-ready standards. Louisiana undertook its own evaluations—carried out by veteran teachers—that aimed to inform schools’ curricular decisions. Ohio does not have a central process for adopting textbooks or materials—under state law, local districts and schools make those decisions—nor does it have a review or rating process for curricular materials, à la Louisiana. Although Ohio’s decentralized approach ensures local control over curriculum, it also leaves educators without clear, impartial information that can guide decisions on curriculum.

Proposal rationale: High-quality instructional materials, properly deployed, benefit students at little additional cost to schools. By creating a system to evaluate materials—but not requiring their use—Ohio would both provide important information that can sharpen educators’ decision making, while maintaining local autonomy over curricular decisions. To incentivize the use of high-quality textbooks and materials, the state could begin to offer quality materials at a discount, something that Louisiana has done.

Cost: Though exact costs are indeterminate, allocating an additional $5 to $10 million per year to support a review team that evaluates curriculum and periodically updates those evaluations as new materials come to market would likely achieve the desired goal. The funds would be used for administrative expenses and to create an online tool through which educators can access reviews and ratings. Once evaluations are completed, Ohio could then offer materials and textbooks deemed high quality to districts at a discount.

Resources: For a broad summary of curriculum research, see David Steiner’s report Curriculum Research: What We Know and Where We Need to Go, published by Standards Work (2017); for a study from California on math textbooks, see Cory Koedel and Morgan Polikoff’s article “Bang for Just a Few Bucks: The Impact of Math Textbooks in California,” published by the Brookings Institution (2017); and for more on Louisiana’s curricular efforts, see Robert Pondiscio’s 2017 article “Louisiana Threads the Needle on Ed Reform,” published in Education Next. EdReports’ reviews are available on its website.