High School Math: Examining the State of the Curriculum Market

In this report, CEMD explores the state of the high school math market, the variety and quality of its offerings, and the implications of this landscape for high school students.

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The Center for Education Market Dynamics • December 07, 2023

Today’s ninth graders, particularly those from underserved backgrounds, faced significant learning disruptions when the initial shock wave of COVID-19 hit. Despite nearly four years passing since, educational recovery has been challenging, especially in math, leading to a two-decade low in nationwide math achievement. Many of today’s most vulnerable high schoolers now lack a solid foundation in math, emphasizing the urgent need for effective math instruction in US public high schools. While much education research and commentary focuses on our youngest students, this report highlights the critical role of high school in preparing students for future success, underscoring the need for immediate attention to the state of high school math curriculum in the US.

The high school math market is compositionally different from the K–8 math market. It’s a smaller market overall, with fewer publishing players on the supply side, lower spending on the demand side, and generally less research and policy attention focused on it. The market is also subdivided into two distinctive curriculum models: “traditional” and “integrated,” which imply distinctive ways of organizing and teaching high school math content.

This market is characterized by more stasis and stagnation. The incipient growth and innovation that CEMD has chronicled in the K–8 market is less evident here; our district sample is dominated by incumbent publishers and older titles. Newer, more digitized, and high-quality curricula have a relatively weak imprint in district selection for high school math.

Improvement will require a concerted effort by all participants in the market. High school students urgently need up-to-date, engaging, and effective curriculum in their math classrooms — and our data suggest we are far afield of this goal. But there are also points of promise: an influx of high-quality curriculum on the supply side, for example, and a small but notable subset of districts moving towards it. We call on researchers, funders, policymakers, and publishers to help encourage this forward momentum on behalf of high school math students nationwide.

Many districts nationwide seem ripe for this change, which they’ve already begun to embrace in increasing numbers for K–8 math. Indeed, beneath the overall picture here of a largely stagnant high school math landscape dominated by past-generation curriculum, we see clear movement on the supply side and blips of disquiet on the demand side.

High school is high stakes in reverse: it’s the last opportunity our school systems have to impart the skills and knowledge that students need — now more acutely than ever — to transition to productive adult lives. Our findings suggest that plenty of leaders are hungry for better curriculum on behalf of their high school math students. And we do need better. It’s an imperative in the context of our high school math classrooms, where older students should not be saddled with past-generation textbooks to learn math; they should benefit from the absolute best that the contemporary market can deliver. And we believe that they can be — with concerted efforts by the many dedicated researchers, funders, policymakers, education leaders, and curriculum developers working in this sector.

¹ See Part I: The Lay of the Land.
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