As we continue to explore areas of education reform currently under discussed, we wanted to bring this recently released study from the Brookings Institute's Brown Center on Education Policy, titled "Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core", to your attention.
There is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning—effects that rival in size those that are associated with differences in teacher effectiveness. But whereas improving teacher quality through changes in the preparation and professional development of teachers and the human resources policies surrounding their employment is challenging, expensive, and time-consuming, making better choices among available instructional materials should be relatively easy, inexpensive, and quick.
Administrators are prevented from making better choices of instructional materials by the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of the materials currently in use. For example, the vast majority of elementary school mathematics curricula examined by the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse either have no studies of their effectiveness or have no studies that meet reasonable standards of evidence.
Not only is little information available on the effectiveness of most instructional materials, there is also very little systematic information on which materials are being used in which schools. In every state except one, it is impossible to find out what materials districts are currently using without contacting the districts one at a time to ask them. And the districts may not even know what materials they use if adoption decisions are made by individual schools. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which has the mission of collecting and disseminating information related to education in the U.S., collects no information on the usage of particular instructional materials.
This scandalous lack of information will only become more troubling as two major policy initiatives—the Common Core standards and efforts to improve teacher effectiveness—are implemented. Publishers of instructional materials are lining up to declare the alignment of their materials with the Common Core standards using the most superficial of definitions. The Common Core standards will only have a chance of raising student achievement if they are implemented with high-quality materials, but there is currently no basis to measure the quality of materials. Efforts to improve teacher effectiveness will also fall short if they focus solely on the selection and retention of teachers and ignore the instructional tools that teachers are given to practice their craft.