Instructional Materials Policy Reform: Local Educators Are Held Accountable for Results, but They Have Little Flexibility in the Selection of Instructional Materials and Other Key Inputs for the Development of Successful Programs

By McFadden, Brett | Leadership, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

Instructional Materials Policy Reform: Local Educators Are Held Accountable for Results, but They Have Little Flexibility in the Selection of Instructional Materials and Other Key Inputs for the Development of Successful Programs


McFadden, Brett, Leadership


No discussion about K-12 accountability and assessment is complete without at least some reference to instructional materials. In fact, the foundation of California's education reform movement rests on four pillars: world-class academic standards, accountability and assessment, high quality teaching and standards-aligned instructional materials. Organizational theory and some common sense will tell you that all four should be coordinated if schools and the students they serve are to achieve their goals and outcomes.

California has struggled for several years to implement all four elements simultaneously. The logical sequence of adopting standards, adjusting instructional materials and professional development to reflect those standards, aligning assessments and then holding schools accountable was essentially reversed. California implemented an accountability system first and then rushed to align everything.

The state has come a long way in bringing these elements into alignment. Part of the problem now is that this rapid, simultaneous alignment has been accomplished through enormous top-down pressure.

The reality is that there is a fundamental tension between California's school accountability system, which measures outcomes, and its instructional materials funding and adoptions process, which controls inputs. This article will explore the state adoption and funding process for instructional materials, and suggest modifications that would expand academic achievement.

The state adoption process

Under the state Constitution and current statute, the State Board of Education is charged with the responsibility for adopting K-8 instructional materials in core academic content areas. The board's primary mission in this regard is to ensure that those materials are aligned with California's academic content standards.

Although recent adoptions deserve recognition as having helped promote improved student performance on state-approved assessments, it is equally important to note that past state adoptions contributed heavily to the problems now being corrected. It is important to remember that the state is not always right.

A growing challenge to local education agencies has been the rigid, command-and-control fashion the state has used to implement its goals. Local educators are held accountable for results, but have diminished flexibility in the selection of instructional materials and other key inputs for the development of successful programs. Investing too much control in the hands of the state at the expense of local decision making is not the optimum manner in which to implement public policy.

Even if the state adoption process results in the right program, the record shows that it has been poorly managed. For example, as recently as 1999 districts were urged to quickly purchase materials under a special adoption based on the state's reversal of its previous whole language instruction policy. Over the next two years, LEAs were criticized for failing to move fast enough to spend those funds for new materials.

Then, in 2002, school districts were informed that those "interim" materials were not adequate and they needed to purchase entirely new programs. The result was that several hundred million dollars were wasted in an attempt to reverse prior state policy.

The state adoption process should be modified in three ways:

1. Where school districts or schools have demonstrated success, either in terms of overall API scores or via the achievement of growth targets, they should be granted flexibility to select the instructional materials that they determine will maintain their record of success.

2. LEAs need greater discretion to purchase basic instructional and supplemental materials according to a timeline that reflects their local needs.

3. Where districts can demonstrate via their own analysis that materials are appropriately aligned to the state's academic standards, a process should be in place for the state to fairly review and add materials to the list of state-adopted materials. …

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Instructional Materials Policy Reform: Local Educators Are Held Accountable for Results, but They Have Little Flexibility in the Selection of Instructional Materials and Other Key Inputs for the Development of Successful Programs
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