In recent years, momentum has been building behind the idea that curriculum materials, including textbooks, represent a powerful lever for education reform. And yet, as the Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli noted recently, no more than 10 or 15 percent of schools are using materials that have been found by outlets like EdReports to be high-quality and aligned to state standards. Why, Petrilli asked, are these numbers so low?
As I write in a new Brookings Institution report, The challenges of curriculum materials as a reform lever, there are many reasons why districts flunk this basic test.
First, school districts have complex, highly ceremonial practices when it comes to textbook adoptions. In the interviews my team conducted for the report, we found that virtually all districts have processes that involve a) one or more committees of teachers, b) evaluation of textbooks against complex rubrics, c) multi-week pilots, and d) one or more formal votes before reaching a final decision.
Second, even if districts adopt strong materials, that’s no guarantee that teachers will actually use them. The fact is that, while many teachers still use textbooks, large proportions of teachers use them as simply one resource among many. This finding...