Update on State Textbook Adoptions

As key states enter another round of adoptions, much of the market is in flux. The conflict over implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), along with policy changes and the growing interest in digital content and new types of instruction are affecting the decisions that state education departments and schools are making about their instructional materials. States must decide what to adopt (textbooks, supplemental programs, digital products, or a combination of materials), while publishers need to determine what best practices and content states demand, including what standards to align to.

When the Common Core was first developed in 2010 to level the education playing field, it was adopted by forty-six states along with the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories. Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia did not adopt the CCSS. By the fall of 2017, ten more states dropped out (Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) with a major standards rewrite or replacement, while Minnesota chose to adopt the Common Core only in English Language Arts.

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Though thirty-six states are still using the CCSS, it is difficult to determine how uniform the application of the standards is across all the states. It is also not clear whether the revised standards that states are developing differ significantly from the Common Core. Interestingly, most of the states that never adopted the CCSS or later repealed them are also textbook adoption states. To further complicate the situation, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in a recent speech that Common Core is dead at the U.S. Department of Education.

Another major policy issue impacting state textbook adoption is that more states are moving to a recommended process for adoption rather than a mandated process, which has been a long-standing source of their power over education. States are increasingly allowing school districts to choose off-list instructional materials to use in the classroom. This is due to a variety of issues such as:

  • smaller budgets at the state level,
  • districts wanting to review the growing number of publishers’ new offerings, and
  • the rise of digital materials that are updated annually instead of on a 6- or 7-year adoption cycle.

Changing standards is not the only factor affecting products being developed for state adoptions. Schools are implementing different kinds of instructional approaches such as personalized learning, blended learning, the flipped classroom, balanced literacy, as well as competency-based and performance-based assessment. Products must be designed to support each approach.

The range of instruction schools are implementing is fueled in part by the increasing acceptance and purchasing of educational technology. One example of leveraging technology in the classroom is the rise in 1-to-1 student computing, in which each student is given a tablet or laptop to access pre-loaded or cloud-based curricula. Another example is the increase in online administration of state standardized tests, which provides a financial incentive because the same devices delivering instruction can be used for assessment. These types of materials are now appearing on state adoption lists.

Personalized learning, which schools see as an answer to the needs of a more diverse student population, is another trend that depends on digital devices, software, and learning platforms. These technologies enable teachers to tailor instruction to each student’s particular strengths, weaknesses, and learning style.

Though there is an array of educational technologies available to educators and more than $3 billion per year is spent on digital content, schools have been slow to transition to an entirely digital environment. This is due to a range of financial and technical obstacles. For example, schools often lack the infrastructure to support every student simultaneously working online. As a result, teachers use a mix of print and digital resources and take more of a blended-learning approach that combines traditional teacher-to-student lessons with technology-based instruction. The challenge for publishers is how to develop products that support that mix.

Between a market in flux and divergent instructional materials, the choices schools have to make are complex. What’s your take on the textbook adoption market? Let us know!

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