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To Customize or Not to Customize, That’s the Question

According to a 2016 White House report, the U.S. spends over $1.3 trillion on education expenditures. And the instructional materials market for K-12, which includes state adoptions, is over $19 billion. In large states, such as Texas, it makes sense to customize a national program. With smaller states, a calculation needs to be made: does the potential revenue justify the expense of customization? What’s the best way to customize for a specific state?

instructional material customization

Start with Gap Analysis

The first step is a gap analysis to analyze the state standards. For example, in Texas, we would compare the TEKS to the standards the national program was aligned to, usually the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This is a bit ironic, given that Texas never adopted CCSS. A gap analysis relative to CCSS is a tool you can use again and again as you develop plans for the many states that are moving away from CCSS or adapting it to create their own customized standards. Ultimately, the gap analysis answers important financial questions about the scope of work required for a successful customized program.

How different are the standards? The standards from state to state are not substantially different, however there are nuances that need to be addressed. Furthermore, state educators want to see that any instructional program addresses, meets, and satisfies their standards. Teachers are held accountable for meeting the standards, their tests are tied to the standards, and test scores can drive funding and teacher compensation. So the state standards have to prominently figure into the customization of a national program. This includes creating point-of-use correlations that clearly show which standards are addressed in each lesson.

Customization Beyond the Standards

The gap analysis will tell us about missing content that needs to be added. After identifying the gaps, we want to make the most of the required revisions. Curriculum evaluators will not only look for coverage of their state standards, they also look for content that is explicitly about their state. So the new gap-filling content should include “state-centric” content, such as:

  • folktales from the state, poems about the state (ELA);
  • nature and geography of the state (science and ELA); and
  • specific historical examples from the state (social studies and ELA).

instructional material customizationOf course, changes can be made even when there was no gap. All of this new content is then woven seamlessly into the existing product. For example, in customizing for Texas Reading, include Texas folktales such as “Bigfoot Wallace” and “The Legend of Bluebonnet.” For upper-grades ELA in Texas, you might add an excerpt from Isaac’s Storm, which tells about the Galveston Hurricane. To improve the visibility of this customized content, it helps to include appropriate maps, timelines, photographs, and digital assets such as videos and authentic song recordings.

Listen to Teachers and District Coordinators

In large states such as Texas, publishers will also conduct independent reviews and focus-group tests to ensure that the products will meet state requirements, and more importantly, that the products will sell once they are adopted. Typically, prototype lessons are constructed to test against programs currently used in the state. In smaller states, publishers must find ways to gather data with more streamlined market research, which can include virtual focus-test rooms to evaluate digital prototypes.

Customization in the Digital Age

Another way of customizing is to put together digital modular products so that individual districts can customize curriculum using only the modules they select. This becomes possible only if the original national product is carefully structured so that school districts can deconstruct it to best fit their needs. This customization approach gives a strategic marketing/sales advantage to the publisher because it gives control to the school district so their buying makes more sense to them. The key is to make the customization process as painless as possible for the end user.

Keep the Goal in Mind

The goal of customization is to create a product that fits a specific need. Consumers will be more likely to purchase a product if they feel it has been created just for them. It shows that the producer has listened to the customer and heard what he or she was saying. In other words, “You got me!”

At Victory, we believe in listening first and then producing what is wanted and needed. This strategy is our way of building successful partnerships and tailored customizations.

Bigfoot Wallace, c. 1872. By Michael Miley (1841-1918) (Heritage Auction Gallery) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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