The Center for Education Market Dynamics • December 19, 2023
Studies of student experience in American classrooms often paint a bleak picture, especially when it comes to curriculum. Research strongly suggests that low-quality curriculum prevails, especially in classrooms with high concentrations of students of color and students with disabilities.
Our recent report on the state of K-8 math curriculum quality adds to this body of evidence. After collecting data on math curriculum selection from a subset of 934 districts we call the Impact Core, we found that just 36% of these districts have selected exclusively high-quality math curriculum for elementary school, and 22% for middle school.
Despite these worrisome findings, several key shifts in the market make us optimistic about the potential for systemic movement toward higher-quality math curriculum overall.
As several lower-quality curricula, many of which are not aligned to EdReports’s criteria, are being revised or phased out, and as California and Texas prepare for new math curriculum adoptions, we anticipate the arrival of what we call a ‘red sunset.’”
Both of these big states will soon adopt new instructional materials for math, and they will have many more high-quality curricula to choose from compared to prior adoption cycles. These adoptions represent a significant opportunity to increase underserved students’ access to high-quality math curriculum.
California: In California, curriculum quality is a central focus of the state’s new 1,000-page math framework. The framework was created to “address the urgent need to improve mathematics learning,” as the state’s mathematics achievement ranks below the national average. And, like most other states, California fourth and eighth graders experienced significant declines in math on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Chapter 13 of the framework, which is dedicated to “equitable and engaging instructional materials,” highlights extensive criteria that will be used to determine curricula the state includes on its planned 2025 adoption list. Given that California’s last adopted materials list was published nearly a decade ago, the new adoption will have tremendous implications for the instructional materials market in the state, where many classrooms are still using curricula from that adoption.
Texas: On the heels of the changes in California, Texas officials will soon revise the state framework for math, which will then guide the selection of new math materials in 2025. The upcoming math adoption cycle is particularly significant because of new legislation in Texas that will give school districts incentives to select curricula from the state’s adoption list through a “sweeping overhaul” of the state’s instructional materials’ review process.
As part of these reforms, districts will receive an extra $40 per student for adopting state-approved materials, the impact of which is expected to be considerable: according to EdWeek, analysts anticipate that within three years, 81 percent of Texas schools will be using at least one set of materials from the state’s adoption list. Open Educational Resources (OER) are also expected to get a boost from the new legislation, as the Texas Education Agency intends to buy OER licenses from vendors, using their baseline content as the foundation for developing their own state-specific materials.
There are 153 Impact Core districts in California and 117 Impact Core districts in Texas, together making up nearly a third of the 934 Impact Core districts. Practically speaking, this means that curricular changes in either state—and especially in both—have the potential to generate a ripple effect on the entire K-12 education market.
While there’s much we still don’t know about what will drive the next round of district curriculum selection, we know that these upcoming state adoptions will happen in a market that’s higher-quality overall, and that they will impact a huge share of districts in the Impact Core. So we are optimistic, both about the potential for expanding the footprint of high-quality math materials nationwide, and about getting these resources into the classrooms that need them most.