Textbook Adoption: More than Meets the Eye

As a recent article from The 74 pointed out, purchasing curriculum that is rigorous and meets the needs of students is much more than “going to the right dinner.” Textbook sales representatives assist districts in making the correct purchase to meet their curricular needs, but they are also trying to sell their products. This is how incentives, such as dinners and other perks, were common in the past for those in charge of buying textbooks. Like purchasing a car, buying curriculum on a district level is a huge expense, and the decision made needs to last a while! Having a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and a doctorate in literacy, I love putting my expertise to work by serving on both state and local level textbook adoption committees. This blog is intended to highlight the importance of districts adopting quality curricular materials that are aligned to the state standards and give educators a strong foundation to hold students to high expectations and support them when necessary.

Having curriculum aligned to the standards matters. It matters a great deal! When teachers do not have the tools they need to plan lessons that meet our high academic standards, students suffer. With fourteen years of experience in education, I have witnessed the standards in my state change four times. This is because, as in many other professions, we are continually tweaking, adapting, and rising to higher standards based on the research in our field. If a teacher does not have access to updated teaching materials that meet the demands of the standards, they are left scrambling for supplemental resources. Often these resources are not research-based or vetted. Students may be left in the “dark ages” if teachers are using outdated materials. Access to quality curriculum is another reason equitable funding is so important in education. Without adequate levels of funding, districts will be more likely to choose the curriculum that is the least expensive, even if it may not be the best fit for their teachers and students. To learn more about how your state distributes funding, check out this article from Education Week.

Proper funding is one part of the equation, but having a team of experienced educators committed to researching the standards and the curriculum that best meets the needs of their students is also an essential component of the textbook selection process. At the state level, applications are accepted for educators with certification and advanced experience in the textbooks’ subject area. Positions to serve on a state committee are often very competitive. These candidates are meticulously trained on the requirements for the vetting process and can work for months poring over the potential curricular options for their state. Guaranteeing every standard is properly covered in one textbook can be a daunting task! The state board of education must vote in approval of the entire adoption process, too. In our state, we allowed textbook companies the opportunity to submit changes to their curriculum if they did not meet the demands of our state’s standards during the initial review period. The comments the textbook reviewers make about the materials are available online, and the public is also allowed to comment on and review resources. A similar textbook selection method is used at the local level, although many unacceptable choices may have been eliminated by the state’s textbook vetting process. Teacher experts in my school district will pore over materials for around six months and vote before a final selection is made.  Adoption cycles usually last six years.

Textbook sales are a big industry, and like most big industries, not all products are created the same. It is important that districts make the right choices for both their teachers and students. It is wonderful that educators currently in the classroom are being involved more and more in the textbook vetting process. There is no one more qualified to identify quality aligned materials than the educators who will actually engage with them every single day.  I encourage all educators to seek out ways to serve on their state and local textbook committees. Do not lament over the curriculum choices in your district or state. Get involved and help make the selection process even better!

Dr. Rachel Peay Cornett is an Academic Interventionist at Brown’s Chapel Elementary.  Here she teaches rising readers and future mathematicians in grades K-5.  Rachel had been teaching for 13 years, previously having taught 1st grade. Dr. Cornett also teaches intervention pedagogy to preservice educators at a local university. She recently earned her educational leadership endorsement. She serves on the Tennessee Department of Education’s Early Literacy Council and has helped create statewide professional development about higher academic standards for students. Rachel is president of her local recycling board and in her free time, she likes to giggle with her infant son.