States’ Control Over Selection of K-12 Classroom Materials Shifting to Districts

Senior Editor

For years, the conventional wisdom about the school publishing industry was that the nationwide market for textbooks was largely dictated by the states, particularly big ones like Texas and California with their own processes for adopting materials that were expected to be used by their local districts.

Those dynamics appear to be changing. As my colleague Catherine Gewertz reports in an insightful new story in Education Week, many states are turning over much more of the power to choose textbooks to local districts.

It’s a shift that is likely to have big implications, not just for the top-dog publishers, but potentially for all sorts of content providers, if local districts are given greater freedom to pick and choose the kinds of materials they want, with fewer obligations to buy from “approved” lists.”

Just a few years ago, 22 states were “adoption” states, meaning those that review textbooks and other resources and create lists of approved materials, according to the Association of American Publishers. But today, the number has fallen to 19 adoption states. And more important, the big kahunas—California, Texas, and Florida among them—have taken steps to cede more authority to districts in their choice of materials, without obligations to buy from “approved” lists, as Gewertz notes.

“More and more, districts can use state money to buy whatever materials they want, with only minimal obligations, if any, to demonstrate their alignment to academic standards,” she reports.

What’s driving the shift from state to local control? Among the factors in play:

  • The recent long and deep recession. During that period, states found themselves with less money to spend on books, and thus less influence in dictating what local districts bought;
  • The rise of digital content. Computer-based content defies many of the dictates of states’ approval process for printed texts, because digital material can be updated so quickly; and
  • The reaction to the common core. States’ adoption of the standards has fueled some local officials’ determination to choose their own curriculur materials.

Other insights on the shifting K-12 market abound. You can read the full story here.

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