This article is jointly written by Bridget Foster and Mitch Weisburgh.
In addition to being the most populous state, California is often a bellwether for education change. This is the first year of California’s current ELA adoption. What can we learn, and how will this play out in the rest of the country?
What’s changed in this adoption cycle?
The last adoption for ELA instructional resources in California was in 2008, but was suspended the following year. This means that the last adoption with teeth and budget was in 2002, with many districts not purchasing materials over the last 12-14 years.
California, like other states, has been shifting control down to the districts. Of the five categories in the adoption, the primary category and the one getting all the attention, is for Basic ELA/ELD programs. There were 6 approved programs for Basic ELA/ELD but making the list doesn’t guarantee any market share because of policy changes for the adoption itself that include:
- Districts are not required to purchase anything, and they can use the funds for other purposes as funds are now part of a block grant.
- Districts can choose a program off the list, or develop their own, if they can demonstrate it meets state criteria.
- This adoption list is good for 8 years, unless the schedule is modified, so purchases do not have to be in any one year.
- English Language Arts (ELA) and English Language Development (ELD, for English Language Learners) are now integrated into one program.
Two transformations are also changing the landscape of this adoption.
- Common Core or 21st Century learning standards, are requiring changes to the curriculum, such as reading for greater understanding, increased emphasis on writing, and demonstration of critical thinking skills.
- There is an increased use of technology, and an increasing number of schools and districts are moving to 1:1 environments.
In past adoptions, many districts followed the path of least resistance; continuing with the current product meant less disruption and less need for PD. But this time districts are more amenable to change due to increased technology capacity in some districts and the emphasis that the Common Core places not only on decoding text but also the ability to comprehend complex text.
This is an opportunity for any publisher, including those that have previously found it difficult to compete with the publishing giants, to pick up market share, with an innovative solution, and not just in California.
Some larger districts seem to be more likely to develop their own learning resources, which is the path chosen by both San Francisco USD in Math (57,620 students) and Stockton USD in various subjects (39,486 students) in our survey of curriculum purchasers. Larger districts are more likely to have the internal resources necessary to develop programs and to ensure that all student needs are met (i. e. handicapped students). If these materials prove to be less expensive but with comparable results, it could really change the competitive landscape.
Districts that have adopted 1:1 are strongly attracted to programs that emphasize 1:1. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) revamped their materials to engage in more complex texts, eliciting the following comment from one school district, “HMH has increased the rigor in the curriculum. It’s upping the game and getting kids more prepared for college and career.” The HMH curriculum can be used as printed textbook, as a tech solution, or blended.
McGraw-Hill Education (MHE) chose a different tack with two offerings, one traditional and one designed for 1:1 solutions. This second solution hit pay dirt with schools and districts that have gone 1:1, and should be attractive as the number of 1:1 schools expands.
Benchmark Education created a K5 ELA curriculum based on Common Core. While their new approach makes some schools and districts uncomfortable, one county education official indicated that once people look at it they find it is the most rigorous, most rational, has the most scaffolding, and the text is tightly constructed for readability (same sentence patterns, language choices).
What could go wrong?
California schools are busy selecting and implementing new programs that integrate ELA/ELD for the first time, utilize technology more fully, and meet tougher learning standards. The rest of the country is watching to see how they fare:
- Many of the programs are relatively new offerings, there are no large scale long term studies showing they are any more or less effective than other solutions.
- Schools still have massive technology hurdles because of connectivity, alignment with Student Information Systems (SIS), and interoperability (single sign on, rostering, and gradebooks). While there are a lot of purported solutions, schools are finding that they need custom integrations in many cases.
- A good amount of professional development is needed to transition to Common Core (or whatever name a state chooses to use for the tougher 21st Century standards) and the use of technology-based solutions.
- In this budget year, districts have not budgeted for the integration and PD services they might need. While these services are available from the publishers, they are not free. This is causing friction. In the future both districts and publishers will need to be better prepared to smooth the implementation.
With schools demanding more rigorous materials that comply with 21st century learning standards, and with technology deployment issues dogging efforts to go fully digital, it's a confusing time. Publishers can contact us for advice and direction.