The superintendent of a large suburban district recently told his cabinet that the theme for this school year is to be “strategic and frugal” with district funds. The same message has likely been conveyed in many districts. Districts spend more on instructional materials (IMs) than on any other annual purchase, so IM purchasing practices have a significant impact on a district’s bottom line.
To be “strategic and frugal,” a district’s practices for purchasing IMs should include: 1) assessing current materials to determine whether gaps exist, and 2) comparison shopping to find materials that fill those gaps and provide the best value to the district.
The following criteria will help identify gaps in the district’s current materials that should be filled in order to meet learning goals:
Alignment to State Standards
Evaluate whether current materials are aligned to the content and cognitive rigor of the state’s standards for each grade and subject in the core curriculum.
Teachers rely on comprehensive, year-long IMs to buttress their instruction and on supplemental IMs to provide additional practice or extension activities If the district’s materials are not aligned to the standards they are being used d to teach, then students likely are not learning all of the knowledge and skills the standards require… and their test scores will reflect the materials’ deficits.
Bottom line: If the district does not have materials to address all of the state’s standards, then it would be strategic to purchase materials to fill in those gaps.
Adaptions for Special Populations
Consider whether the current materials have adaptions for each of the district’s special student populations.
Students won’t learn from the district’s materials if they cannot use them. It is imperative to ensure that every student is able to fully access at least one material that is aligned the state standards for the grade and subject. Besides having the requisite adaptions, if the district uses online materials, it is equally important to ensure that the core instructional content in those materials is accessible to students who do not have internet access at home.
Bottom line: If the district’s materials do not have the necessary adaptions to make the content accessible to all students, or if the core instruction in online materials is not printable or downloadable, then it would be strategic for the district to purchase materials that contain those additional features.
Resources for Teachers
Ensure that teachers are able to use their current materials effectively.
Students also will not benefit from IMs that their teachers are not using effectively. It may be difficult to determine whether teachers are using their print materials, but most online materials come with usage reports. Teachers may not be using their materials due to lack of training. While professional development is typically included with an online subscription, often it goes unused. Furthermore, teachers may not be using their materials effectively if the products do not provide the instructional supports they need. Beginning teachers typically need materials with instructional supports such as margin notes, questioning strategies, and lesson plans. Student test scores may indicate that other teachers need instructional support, as well.
Bottom line: It would be strategic to provide the professional development teachers need to use their current materials and to ensure that materials purchased have the instructional resources they need to use the products effectively.
Verify that current materials provide teachers with various ways to assess student progress.
Assessment is critical to the learning process. Therefore, the district’s materials should contain formative and summative assessments in a variety of formats to help teachers assess student learning. The assessments should help build students’ critical thinking skills and provide feedback at critical points in during the school year to enable teachers to adjust their instruction.
Bottom line: If the district’s current materials do not contain formative assessments that provide teachers with meaningful feedback about student learning, then it would be strategic for the district to purchase materials that do.
The criteria will help determine whether the district needs to purchase new materials. To be frugal with the district’s funds, it is imperative to comparison shop. Federal EDGAR regulations and most state purchasing laws require that districts competitively procure IMs. Furthermore, as these tables show, comparison shopping makes cents.
Prices of materials, even those with similar alignment percentages, can differ by up to $200 per student, and the percentage of standards covered does not dictate an IM’s price.
Bottom line: Too often, districts spend money on new materials with features that are redundant of resources they already own. In order to be strategic and frugal when purchasing new IMs, start by assessing the alignment and features of the district’s current resources to determine whether and where gaps exist. Then, comparison shop for materials to fill those gaps at the best price.
Jackie Lain is the founder and president of Learning List. Follow her on Twitter: @JackieLainLL.