Choosing Wisely: How States Can Help Districts Adopt High-Quality Instructional Materials

Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education chiefs, released a report showing that many states, tacitly or explicitly, promote the use of low-quality K-12 instructional materials. In the most recent review cycles, some states did not approve even a single highly rated curriculum for school districts to use — despite research that shows high-quality curriculum and related professional support for teachers can have a positive impact on student achievement.

Findings in the report are based on an analysis conducted this month by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. The analysis scanned curriculum adoption policies across the country and found that only 17 states exercise formal authority over curriculum decisions. Such states publish lists of approved or recommended textbooks and resources. Lists are used in various ways depending on a state’s level of control over district decision making. Some states mandate the use of resources on the list or incentivize districts to select from among the approved materials. Others offer the list as loose guidance that districts can choose to follow or ignore.

To address these issues, the report outlines recommendations for the 17 states that exercise formal control over curriculum. These recommendations include working with experts to conduct regular curriculum reviews and providing ongoing professional development to support teachers in using high-quality materials.

Importantly, the report also provides recommendations for all states, even those that do not have formal authority over curricular choices. Many such states have “missed opportunities to promote the use of effective curricula and safeguard against low-quality options.”

To improve, states should:

  • Define what “high quality” means for instructional materials and professional development.
  • Work with experts to create objective rubrics and tools to evaluate instructional materials.
  • Collect, study, and publish data on district curricular options.
  • Incentivize smart choices through financial, operational, and teacher supports.

To read the report, see