Market for Math Resources More Competitive in Middle School Than in K-3

Associate Editor

Three companies command 36 percent of the market share for math resources in grades 6-8, but they are much more dominant in grades K-3, Noodle Markets found.

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The middle school market for instructional resources in math is more wide open and competitive than the K-3 math market, according to a new Noodle Markets Report that examines districts’ and other local education agencies’ purchases.

The report finds that from 2008 through 2015, three companies accounted for 36 percent of districts’ spending in math for grades 6 to 8: Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Those three providers were much more dominant in the K-3 market, accounting for  85 percent of districts’ expenditures in those grades, Noodle Markets found.

The yearly growth in spending on supplemental 6-8 math resources—mostly in the form of digital resources—was 90 percent during that period. That spending outpaced the yearly growth in spending on core resources, which was 63 percent and primarily focused on textbooks, the researchers found.

The researchers evaluated data from more than 62,000 purchase orders of math products by 3,772 local education agencies for seven years beginning in 2008, and arrived at “relative cost” and “market share” determinations for the products.

The report’s conclusion calls for greater transparency in purchasing decisions and a deeper investigation into the effectiveness of the products.

This latest report by Noodle Markets is the third in a series of comparisons the school procurement platform is producing in the hope that, by sharing the data with districts, K-12 leaders will be able to identify products that might best meet their needs, and consider them for pilots or purchases.

Kirk Walters, a managing researcher in K-12 mathematics at the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit organization that performs basic and applied research, said the report’s conclusions about which instructional resources are used in high-performing low-, middle- and high-income districts could be a starting point for school decisionmakers considering what products to use.

“But if I were a superintendent or principal, I’d want more fine grain information about these programs,” he said, adding that he hoped educators would not rely on the report as a shortcut in lieu of research about what works in the classroom. That information can be found for some of these products in the What Works Clearinghouse, he said.

“I’ve worked directly with several of the publishers in this study, and I know how hard it is to get current information about where they are [in the market], and what the uptake is,” said Walters.

However, he questioned whether these comparisons are “apples-to-apples,” because some pricing reflected in purchase orders might include digital and print versions of products, as well as a prescribed amount of professional development, while other purchases might be in one format or the other and with different amounts of educator training.

Besides evaluating purchase orders, the Noodle Markets researchers looked at how students performed on 7th grade state assessments, and evaluated socioeconomic data for the districts whose purchases are included in the study. Low-income districts, it found, tend to spend more on 6-8 math, regardless of how students perform on assessments. And low-achieving districts, across all socioeconomic groups, spent 30 percent more per student than middle and high-achieving districts on the middle school math instructional resources, the study found.

The report also identifies what its researchers call the most positive products within various income levels, although it points out that “historically, socioeconomic status correlates with student achievement.”

The products identified were gathered from state-approved resource lists, and the Noodle Markets library of curricular resources.

Image by Getty and Market Brief

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