Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Curriculum Reform is a Cost-Effective Way to Boost Student Outcomes, New CAP Analysis Reveals
Press Release

RELEASE: Curriculum Reform is a Cost-Effective Way to Boost Student Outcomes, New CAP Analysis Reveals

New CAP report suggests curriculum reform is an underappreciated, relatively inexpensive way to improve student performance.

Washington, D.C. — A new analysis from the Center for American Progress suggests that curriculum reform could be a hidden key to boosting the return on investment, or ROI, for education dollars and that such reform is frequently overlooked by policymakers even though it offers one of the most inexpensive ways to improve student performance. In fact, the study found that the average cost-effectiveness ratio of switching curriculum was almost 40 times that of class-size reduction.

“This report shows that when districts and states put in place smart processes to select high-quality curricula, students achieve more. A proven curriculum aligned to high standards, like the Common Core, is a powerful combination for expanding student learning,” said Ulrich Boser, CAP Senior Fellow. “This analysis shows that better product research and improved adoption and selection processes at the state and district levels would help policymakers make the right decision on curricula—a decision that can have a significant effect on educational outcomes.”

“Curriculum reform is both cost-effective and able to be adopted at scale and should play a larger role in our efforts to improve the American school system,” said Matthew Chingos, senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “The adoption of the Common Core means that many schools and districts are introducing new curricula in the classroom, and this moment is ripe to introduce new reforms that could have significant payoff when it comes to student learning and performance.”

The co-authors of the report—Boser, Chingos, and CAP Policy Analyst Chelsea Straus—collected price data on instructional materials from 19 states, examined effectiveness research on six pairs of curricula, and interviewed state and district leaders in order to gather information about how states select their instructional materials and to gauge the quality and pricing of those materials. The authors’ research revealed that district and state leaders should place curriculum reform at the top of their to-do lists in order to improve student performance. Their findings include:

  • The most expensive curricula remain relatively inexpensive, even compared to the cheapest curricula. With such opportunities to boost the ROI for education resources, district and state leaders should choose the best product—rather than simply selecting curricula by price.
  • Rigorous elementary school math curriculum can deliver far more ROI than other reforms.
  • When it comes to curriculum, cost does not equal quality—which further underscores the need for reform in this area. Among the curricula examined, high-quality products often cost less than those of lesser quality, and the most expensive curricula are frequently among the least effective.
  • Politically tinged debates about textbook content—such as the teaching of evolution and climate change—tend to overshadow the more important discussions around the quality of curricula. The decision-making process around curricula often fails to include rigorous measures of quality.

In order to improve the curriculum selection process for policymakers at the state and district levels, the authors offer several recommendations, including:

  • Investing in better curriculum effectiveness research
  • Improving the state textbook adoption process
  • Improving the selection process for school districts
  • Creating a competitive grant program, to be funded by philanthropy or nonprofits, dedicated to creating high-quality curricula

Click here to read “The Hidden Value of Curriculum Reform” by Ulrich Boser, Matthew Chingos, and Chelsea Straus.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at [email protected] or 202.478.6331.


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