Developing a Needs-Based Mindset for Curriculum Funding

Twisted by Li-So

Mindset – the ideas and attitudes in which a person approaches a situation, especially when these are seen as being difficult to alter. 

The Way We Were…

For the last don’t-know-how-many-years, curriculum adoptions in our district have been pretty cut and dry. Each year, there has been about the same funding earmarked for new materials. Every 8 years a content area like science or social studies would have funding allocated for materials refurbishment. The division of the funds was based on a formula on the percentage of students involved in the course and the length and depth of the course itself.  Typically, more funding was set aside for math, literacy, science and social studies.  Less funding was set aside for art, music, physical education, languages, and career & technical education.  Our mental mindset to curriculum adoption was pretty much set. There were some pretty clear expectations as to the funds that were available. The organization maintained a sense of stability since the funds that were available were pretty much the same funds that were available in the past. Until the last several years.

Early Stages of Shifting Mindset

The first signs of pressure on our system stemmed from increased costs of materials as offered by publishers and vendors. Coupled with flat funding, this meant that a typical adoption would provide fewer resources.  In many cases, this meant instead of buying a text for each student, a classroom text was purchased instead.  This pressure was pesky and bothersome, but it didn’t cause us to shift our adoption mindset.  We just bought less and grumbled more and tried to figure out why weren’t getting any more money to buy what we thought we needed.

Additional elements of pressure began when the nature of materials began to shift from paper to digital formats, thus impacting the types of curriculum materials needed. Pre-engineering labs, graphics labs, streamed content, internet or server-based interventions.  All these required curriculum dollars be spent on hardware and software and technical support. The mindset shifted; the types of materials a district could purchase with what was essentially considered previously a textbook adoption cycle.  With more and more resources flowing to non-textbook purchases, flexibility in thinking about how to use the available funds increased. However, some of the purchases made for specific content areas required yearly allocations for content subscriptions.  This was troublesome for the existing curriculum adoption system.  As annual commitments to certain programs increased, the number of dollars for new cycle purchases decreased. These annual commitments began to impact the total amount of funding available for each subsequent adoption.

At the present, we are facing some of our greatest challenges.  Decreased state revenue has in turn decreased school district funding allocations.  Last year our district switched from an incremental budget to a zero-based budget. Instead of being presented with a total amount of funds that could be spent on the upcoming adoption, we were asked to present our materials needs in advance of the budget being funded.  The 2010-2011 year was the social studies adoption year.  A curriculum gap analysis found that the greatest need was in the 6th and 7th grades where the new state standards were vastly different from our current curriculum.  A plan was drafted to meet the needs in these courses and funding was allocated to a greater degree for these grades than other grades.  We took a giant step towards a needs-based mindset. But, we still grumble a bit because it just doesn’t seem fair.

The Way We Need to Be…

As we enter our 2011-2012 school year we look to our adoption cycle that was set over eight years ago.  According to this document, it is now science, physical education, and career and technical education’s “turn” to refurbish materials.  With more cuts likely, it seems unlikely that we will be able to fund these content areas with dollars equal to the previous adoption cycle.  Many district’s like ours have put their entire adoption cycle on hold until funding streams get back to normal.  I’m not so certain we will ever get back to normal.  Normal funding or normal adoptions.

The New Normal

A needs-based curriculum adoption is inherently different from an incremental based adoption cycle.  It necessitates that systems and structures are in place to effectively analyze the needs based on learning in the 21st century. They understand the current state of curriculum materials that include Open Education Resources (OER), hardware, software, subscription-based content and paper-based materials. The supporting materials must align with the student learning outcomes that elevate problem-solving, information literacy, global connectivity, productivity, and inquiry learning. These are areas of reflection for our P-12 Content Councils and our overarching Curriculum Improvement Council as much as they are for our entire district and the community we serve.

Moving forward into the 2011-2012 school year, we have identified our greatest curriculum gap in science.  This means that we will likely not fund adoptions for physical education, health and career and technical education this coming year.  We may have some funding to sustain programs in these content areas, but we will use greater amounts of funds to address the gaps that are present in science.

We will explore the current research related to science learning and science education.  We will look to our colleagues in higher education, business, and the field. We will reach out to those in our community to help us reflect upon our current state of science instruction and materials and we will identify needs with a critical eye knowing that we will have to make difficult decisions with the resources available to us.

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