Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Leverage on Learning: Test Scores, Textbooks, and Publishers

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Leverage on Learning: Test Scores, Textbooks, and Publishers

Article excerpt

Teachers and administrators who are concerned about improving student achievement often overlook a crucial factor: curriculum materials. The authors supply the information educators will need -- including tips on negotiating with publishers -- to select the most appropriate materials and to maximize budget dollars.

SARAH Johnson frowned at the newspaper article comparing the achievement test scores of schools in the three-county area. "More pressure is all we need," the associate superintendent mused. "This will dominate the agenda at the next board meeting and generate more complaints from parents and taxpayers."

Like school leaders everywhere, Johnson is searching for effective ways to respond to the demands for better student performance. In the meantime, she may have overlooked the leverage on the teaching and learning process that can be gained from the acquisition of new curriculum materials. Whether their concern about student growth and achievement stems from their professional ethos or is spurred by the pressure of accountability, many school leaders -- teachers, principals, and central office administrators alike -- sorely feel the need for such leverage.

Even in cases where educators recognize the pivotal role of curriculum materials, their lack of understanding of the role of publishers may undermine the processes of selecting and purchasing curriculum materials. Here, we explore the importance of this process and suggest a strategy for working effectively with publishers of school curriculum materials. We offer recommendations to make it more likely that the new curriculum materials that your school district acquires will result in higher scores on achievement tests.

The annual purchase of textbooks and curriculum materials is among the most direct ways of influencing assessment outcomes. Yet, when we ask participants in our university educational leadership classes, many of whom are teachers and principals, to tell us what they can do to improve student achievement, the most frequently heard responses include offering various forms of staff development, allocating more resources to early education, reducing class size, and aligning the curricula with assessments. Seldom does anyone mention purchasing new materials.

The purchase of new curriculum materials presents an opportunity for school leaders to exercise considerable leverage on student learning. Moreover, the acquisition of materials is much simpler and more direct than other ways to improve student learning. The materials can be changed relatively quickly, with little time lag between decision and implementation. Efforts to change other factors -- among them facilities, student grouping, scheduling of time, and teacher knowledge, skill, and commitment -- are far more complex and usually require much longer to take effect.

There is another reason to pay special attention to purchasing curriculum materials: big money is involved. When expenditures for all items used in K- 12 schools in the U.S. -- from pencils and textbooks to computers -- are tallied, the annual total runs to an estimated $140 billion.1 Expenditures on textbooks and other curriculum materials not only represent a great deal of money in the aggregate, but they also account for a large proportion of discretionary spending in the school budget. Matching curriculum materials to the learning needs of students ensures that scarce budget dollars are not wasted.

Much More Than Content

Textbooks and curriculum materials provide detailed structures for classroom activity, simplifying the many decisions involved in planning for learning. They are the main source of lesson content in many classrooms, and, through teacher guides and other supplementary materials, they strongly influence how content is taught. Indeed, textbooks and supporting curriculum materials are the de facto curriculum in many schools and classrooms. …

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