The idea that schools can get better simply by improving the content of what they teach may seem at once novel and obvious in an education policy debate dominated by heated battles over school choice, integration, funding, and teacher tenure.
But a significant body of research suggests that choosing better curriculum – often meaning textbooks – can lead to notable gains in student achievement. “Multiple research studies meeting the highest bar for methodological rigor find substantial learning impacts from the adoption of specific curricula. The impact on student learning can be profound,” wrote Johns Hopkins University’s David Steiner in a review of research.
Take recent studies in California: One analysis found that elementary school students who used a specific math textbook made larger gains on tests than students who used other books. The impact of switching to a better textbook was comparable to results from a separate California study on the impact of reducing class size by 10 students.
Another analysis found that simply allocating extra money (around $100 per student) for textbooks – which was required in a class-action lawsuit settlement – can bump up elementary school test scores (though there was no noticeable impact in middle or high school)
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