By Eric Hirsch, EdReports Executive Director

March 4, 2020

Five years ago, when EdReports released its first reviews of math curriculum, the instructional materials marketplace could not have been more different than what we see today. In 2015, there was almost no independent information about the quality of K-12 instructional materials that educators could easily access. We knew little about what was actually being used in classrooms. When districts chose new programs, educators often had to rely on sales pitches from publishers or standards-alignment claims from stickers on the covers of textbooks to make a decision. 

Five years ago, our educator reviewers reported that the vast majority of instructional materials were not aligned to college and career-ready standards as companies asserted. In fact, out of the 19 programs we reviewed in our inaugural release, only one was aligned. We had to face the reality that teachers and students didn’t have access to the content that could make a significant difference for student learning and in preparing all kids to thrive in school and beyond. 

Five years ago, EdReports set about trying to change this fact on the premise that more information would lead to better choices and that independent information had the power to shape the materials market as a whole. 

Disrupting the Materials Market

As we enter a new decade, what was once 87 grade-level reports on our website is now more than 650 grade-level reviews of science, mathematics, foundational skills, and ELA curriculum (that’s over 90 percent of the known ELA and math market!). With information pouring into the field, districts have made more informed and stronger choices, and now far more materials are designed to support college and career readiness. Nearly half of ELA materials and a third of mathematics materials are now standards-aligned. At least 27 publishers have updated and improved their products as a result of our reviews. Rather than a single option, dozens of quality programs are available and districts can now consider which aligned curricula is the best fit for their students’ needs and their local priorities. 

We’ve documented 900 districts representing more than 11 million students using EdReports to choose curriculum.

And, in fact, our reviews are finding their way to an increasing number of local decision makers and school leaders who report having heard of EdReports and using our resources to identify, select, and implement instructional materials. We’ve documented 900 districts representing more than 11 million students using EdReports to choose curriculum. We’re honored to be partnering with many of these districts, such as Baltimore City Public Schools, and states, such as Wisconsin, as they devote time and resources to supporting smart adoption practices.

More and more, instructional materials are viewed as a critical investment states and districts must make to support teachers and to fulfill the promise of a high quality education for all students.

We are encouraged at how the conversation around instructional materials and the materials market itself has evolved in such a short time. We see a growing consensus in research and in districts across the country around why materials matter and how materials impact student learning. More and more, instructional materials are viewed as a critical investment states and districts must make to support teachers and to fulfill the promise of a high quality education for all students.  

Confronting the Challenges We Face

As proud as we are of all we have accomplished in partnership with more than 600 expert educator reviewers, our research into the materials market has also illustrated how much more work there is to do. Even with the abundance of aligned materials available, these materials are not always finding their way into classrooms. 

In mathematics, a third of materials are standards-aligned while only a quarter of the materials in classrooms fully meet EdReports criteria. In English language arts we see more aligned programs available but fewer of those materials getting into the hands of students. Nearly Half of ELA programs we have reviewed are standards aligned but only 16 percent of ELA materials used in classrooms meet expectations for alignment. 

Through additional research on materials usage drawing upon RAND’s American School Teacher Panel, we also know more about what other materials are frequently used. Sadly, 1 out of 10 ELA classrooms report regularly using materials that are nearly a decade old and were created before the introduction of the college and career ready standards widely used in most states. This means that these materials have not been independently evaluated and that thousands of students are not benefiting from all the improvements and changes we are seeing in the materials market.  

Shaping the Future Together

The challenges the education community faces are real, but as the last five years have taught us: the status quo can be changed. As we turn the corner to a new era, we no longer have to rely on the old way of choosing instructional materials. There are decisions states and districts can make that will have a real impact on outcomes.  

States can use their resources and influence to signal quality to the field and support local communities. We see this happening in places such as Louisiana, Nebraska, and Mississippi where departments of education have honored district autonomy while creating resources that incentivize quality, aligned materials. We’ve also worked closely with states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island who are bringing districts together and supporting educators with training and resources to make smart adoption decisions.

Putting students’ needs front and center means no longer accepting programs created before the standards were even introduced.

Districts can commit (and are committing) to comprehensive adoption processes that engage educators and select materials that have been reviewed by independent evaluators such as EdReports. Putting students’ needs front and center means no longer accepting programs created before the standards were even introduced. And it means that selection is recognized as only a first step among many in ensuring aligned materials are actually used in the classroom. Investing in strong implementation plans and professional development to support teachers in using new materials can be the difference between materials that reach students and those that stay on the shelf.

I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring. I am hopeful for a future where quality materials are in the hands of every teacher and every student in the country. I am excited to continue working with educators to create more reviews and resources so that data continues to shape the market for the better. I am inspired to meet the challenges we face with energy, information, and dedication to the same vision that led to the creation of EdReports in 2015.

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