Procedures for Selecting Instructional Materials in Public Schools

There is a great deal of variation from state to state with respect to the statutes, policies, regulations, and resources governing local K-12 education and the selection of instructional materials. Some states mandate that state adoption guides, recommended lists, or state standards be considered; and political issues sometimes affect the development and enforcement of state policies. Ultimately, however, the local level is where the final decisions are made about which science instructional materials will make it into the classroom.

According to information gathered by the Council of Chief State School Officers, 13 states specify that the state will determine which instructional materials may be used or that the state will publish a list of materials from which local school districts may choose. In another 8 states, state authorities recommend materials, but the selection is actually carried out by the local districts. In all of these states but one (Idaho, where districts are restricted by law and must choose only state-approved materials), districts can choose other materials by following a waiver process (CCSSO, 1997). In California, for example, a school district can seek approval from the state board of education to spend state instructional material allocations on materials not on the state adoption list (IMF, 1989).

State adoption lists influence the education of many U.S. students; the adoption list in California alone represents 10% of the textbook market nationwide, or 5.6 million public school students (CBEDS, 1997). Consequently, adoption or recommendation is, for publishers of instructional materials, a high-stakes make-or-break business that provides access to large markets. This is especially true in the largest adoption states — California, Texas, and Florida — which together represent 20% of the national textbook market (Wheeler, 1999b).

Competition for adoption or recommendation causes publishers to adopt cost-saving measures by publishing a single textbook that is acceptable in several states (Tyson, 1997). To do so, textbook publishers often sacrifice quality for quantity by covering multiple curricula (many of which are broad to begin with), thereby sacrificing depth for breadth (Tyson, 1997). As outlined in A Splintered Vision: An Investigation of U.S. Science and Mathematics Education (Schmidt et al., 1997), such materials tend to emphasize scientific vocabulary at the expense of the acquisition of fundamental understanding of scientific concepts.

State and local selection procedures for instructional materials may require vendors to make formal presentations

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