Brookings Institution has found that the quality of instructional materials available to students has a big impact on their academic achievement. In light of that, the scant attention being paid to the study and systematic analysis of such materials is alarming, and in a new Brown Center Report "Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness and the Common Core," Russ Whitehurst and Fellow Matthew Chingos lay out easy and straight-forward steps states can take to correct the oversight.
With the assistance of federal government's National Center for Education Statistics, states should design and implement a plan to collect information from their school districts on the kinds of instructional materials the teachers are using in their classrooms.
he collection of comprehensive and accurate data will require states to survey districts, and in some cases districts may need to survey their schools. In the near term, many states can quickly glean useful information by requesting purchasing reports from their districts' finance offices. Building on these initial efforts, states should look to initiate future efforts to survey teachers, albeit on a more limited basis.
The NCES could lend the expertise gained from decades of collecting education-related data in order to make the effort more thorough and consistent and make the gathering methodology easy to follow and transparent.
Organizations with an interest in education reform should support this effort. For example, the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have put their reputations on the line by sponsoring the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Research based on current and past state standards indicates that this initiative is unlikely to have much of an effect on student achievement in and of itself.
Non-profit and philanthropic organizations that focus on education should pitch in to with seed funding to finance the data collection, and support research efforts utilizing the collected information.
Unless action is taken, this "scandalous lack of information," Chingos and Whitehurst write, will only become more troubling as two major policy initiatives—the Common Core standards and efforts to improve teacher effectiveness—are implemented.