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Research Questions

  1. What characteristics do school leaders think that "good" instructional materials include? What dimensions or qualities do school leaders consider in thinking about what is "good"?
  2. What does the selection process for instructional materials look like? What role—if any—do school leaders play?
  3. How and to what extent do school leaders provide guidance and support to teachers regarding the use of instructional materials?
  4. How, if at all, have pandemic-related changes to instruction affected the instructional materials that teachers use or how decisions are made about what materials to use? How are school leaders supporting teachers' use of instructional materials during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Just as teachers' perceptions of instructional materials influence what they do with those materials, school leaders' perceptions of instructional materials influence their decisions about how and how strongly to support teachers' material use. The authors address a gap in existing literature by identifying what school leaders regard as key dimensions of quality instructional materials and describing the role that school leaders play in guiding the selection and use of instructional materials.

The authors found that school leaders particularly valued characteristics of instructional materials that facilitated teachers' implementation and use of the materials. They also prioritized standards-aligned materials, perceiving these as best meeting the needs of their teachers and students. Fewer school leaders identified cultural relevance, language-acquisition supports, and social-emotional learning supports as essential dimensions of quality instructional materials. School leaders influence teachers' use of instructional materials by involving teachers in the selection of instructional materials, creating buy-in for district-recommended or -required curriculum, and providing guidance that balanced teacher autonomy and the fidelity of curriculum implementation. During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, school leaders grew more concerned about the engagement and social-emotional learning supports that materials offered.

These findings can provide useful guidance to district policymakers about how to leverage the role of school leaders in the use of instructional materials and what might support school leaders in helping teachers use their materials thoughtfully.

Key Findings

  • School leaders prioritized two critical dimensions of quality instructional materials that facilitated teachers' use—usability and standards alignment. Fewer school leaders identified cultural relevance, language-acquisition supports, and social-emotional learning supports as essential dimensions of quality instructional materials. School leaders' perceptions of the essential features of good instructional materials largely did not vary across contextual factors, although there appeared to be differences in the grade levels served by their schools (i.e., elementary, middle, high).
  • School leaders reported that their districts and schools used one of the following three processes for selecting instructional materials: district-led, school-level, and district-school collaborative processes. Those involved in the selection process drew on a variety of information and tools to inform that process. School leaders were more satisfied with the selection process when they or their teachers were involved.
  • School leaders used multiple strategies to support teacher buy-in for newly adopted instructional materials; they often indicated providing guidance that attempted to balance teacher autonomy and the fidelity of curriculum implementation.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, school leaders grew more concerned about the engagement and social-emotional learning supports that materials offered. School leaders realized the importance of having materials that are available, accessible, or adaptable for online instruction, and they considered opportunities for reshaping instruction.

Recommendations

  • Districts should engage school-level staff, including school leaders and teachers, in the material-selection process to ensure the consideration of important dimensions and establish buy-in.
  • Districts and schools should develop and use rubrics or explicit criteria and processes for evaluating instructional materials.
  • Districts should provide specific guidance for school leaders on how to assess and select materials for cultural relevance.
  • Districts should provide school leaders with training and guidance to support teachers' use of curriculum materials.
  • Districts should consider whether differences in school leaders' perceptions and decisions around instructional materials by school grade level are intended and provide targeted supports for school leaders, if necessary.
  • Districts and schools should capitalize on increased interest in incorporating technology supports in instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, districts and schools should seek materials that provide social-emotional learning supports.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the Bernard van Leer Foundation and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.