Texas, a Prized K-12 Market, Approves Wave of Instructional Materials

Managing Editor

For companies competing to sell curriculum in schools, few markets rival the importance of Texas.

That means the state’s recent announcement about the materials it approved for “adoption” was a cause for either celebration or vexation among many vendors. On Nov. 16, the state’s board of education released the full list of materials approved across a variety of subjects for 2018, including English language arts/reading, grades K-8, and Spanish language/reading, grades K-6; English learner/ language arts, grades 7-8; handwriting for English and Spanish, grades K-5; spelling, English and Spanish, grades 1–6; and personal financial literacy.

You can read the full, 22-page list of approved materials here. All of the products on the linked document were given the state board of education’s blessing, with only a handful of exceptions that didn’t meet the state requirements, according to the Texas Education Agency.

As one might expect, some of the biggest publishers had multiple materials approved by Texas officials. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill Education, and Pearson each had more than two dozen different academic resources approved, across subjects, according to the document.

But many others made the list, too. Among those gaining approval of at least one product–and in some cases, several of them–were Learning A-Z; TPS Publishing Inc.; the Center for the Collaborative Classroom; EMC Publishing; StrongMind; ThinkCERCA; Perfection Learning Corporation; the College Board; Learning Without Tears; and Zaner-Bloser Inc.

The list includes companies promising to deliver some combination of print products, print with digital components, or online resources.

Texas is a critical market for K-12 vendors for a variety of reasons. One is its sheer size. There are about 5 million public school students there, roughly the same number as there are in all of Canada.

Getting on the state-adoption list in Texas also gives curriculum companies a big advantage in making their case to districts across the state to buy their products. Local districts in Texas must use classroom materials that are aligned with the state’s standards. So they look very closely at those that make the state board of education’s cut.

One important caveat: Texas districts have more flexibility to stray from the state-adopted list than they once did. In 2011, Texas officials changed state law to allow the state’s K-12 systems to buy academic resources, even if they aren’t 100 percent-aligned. Fifty percent is enough, though if the materials don’t reach complete alignment, a Texas district has to find additional resources that fill in the gaps.

California, another huge market, has also changed its adoption rules in the last decade to give districts additional flexibility to buy materials that are not on the state list.

Despite that new running room, state officials in Texas and California say local buyers often rely heavily on the state’s imprimatur when choosing materials. That’s partly because they see the state approval process as a form of authoritative vetting that they may not have the time to do themselves.

When Texas officials announced the approved list, big and small publishers try to get the word out to the K-12 community through press releases and other means. Successful state adoptions in big states like Texas and California even typically get a mention in the messages that big companies like Houghton Mifflin deliver to shareholders.

And in the months that follow, approved companies’ sales teams will no doubt make sure Texas districts know which of their products are on the list.

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