Transitioning from the 7-year textbook adoption cycle most districts are familiar with to a yearly support approach may feel challenging at first, but it's perfectly possible. The first step is to capture current costs as a set point for what the district is already spending, while the second step is to determine what is reasonable for initial implementation of a new curriculum and sustainability of that curriculum over time.
Capturing Current Costs
Transitioning to a yearly maintenance cycle is far from impossible, but it will feel daunting at first. Rather than trying to tackle everything at once, the best starting point is to think about what the cost of "just textbooks" really represents to start with.
Textbooks already represent a considerable cost to a district… and that's not even including what teachers purchase for their classrooms out of pocket, which is neither fair to teachers nor a reliable way to ensure the consistency of curriculum materials.
To transition from a 7- to 1-year cycle, we need to start by looking at what you're already paying for that 7-year adoption cycle in a class of 25 students. Naturally these costs will vary district to district and grade to grade, but let's just use some ballpark figures. Let's say that a textbook costs $125, including the online CD or access. If you get 25 of those, that represents an upfront cost of $3,125.
Now, most of the time, people get kits as well as textbooks. They'll buy three kits—one for each unit in the year. Depending again on the state, district or grade, the cost varies, but $1,250 is a good average. If you buy three of them, that totals $3,750.
Then, after that first year, you have to think about supplemental materials to replenish the kits. That might come to around $600 a year for 7 years for a total of $4,200. Then comes the cost of teacher reimbursements at an average of $500 a year. That comes with a big asterisk, though, since many districts don't have teacher reimbursements. Those that do will vary in what they reimburse, but it's usually roughly the same across grade levels and will really stack up over 7 years. In this case, it represents a cost of about $3,500 in that time.
You might have different line items in your district. You might have $500 a year in workbooks instead of kits. Or your district might pay for an online access license to some kind of test prep program related to science. Then we have to consider both professional development and consultants. These costs are often related to people who come in for training or to teach a specialty science class every week, and so on. This often totals around $2,500 a year. That right there is $17,500 over seven years, which is a huge cost.
When you add up all of the line items for 7 years, your total is about $32,000, and that's only for 25 students. That is an astronomical number to be spending on each classroom in a district every 7 years. It's about $4,600 a year, or $15.30 per student per month. The thing most educators don't realize when they want to stick with their current textbook ordering cycle instead of committing the time and cost for developing new NGSS-aligned curriculum is what they're already paying for is much more than textbooks. You've probably already got a lot of hidden costs that you don't even think about but have already been wrapped into your budget.
So what you need to think about now is how you can smooth those costs out and reallocate money so that you're getting more value for what you're already spending. Workbooks, for instance, don't give you much value for the money you're spending, because they don't engage students in developing and using content with skills. They are not inquiry-based, they are not conducive to higher order thinking skills and they do not represent independent work. If you reallocate that money to other areas, you've just freed up funds for true hands-on inquiry and created some room in the budget to spend on a yearly basis.
Similarly, it's important to ask why professional development and consultants are needed. Why isn't the classroom teacher sufficiently equipped to take on this role? That's the bottom line: If they can't do it, it's because they haven't been equipped to do so. If we can build that skill in the teachers, we can support the teachers by virtue of the resources we are making available. In addition to creating an environment more conducive to higher order thinking skills and three-dimensional learning, we liberate a huge chunk of money that becomes available to support that teacher on a yearly basis.
And if we reallocate the bulk of spending on textbooks, we increase the available budget even more. Why textbooks, anyway? These new standards are all about developing and using content with skills, not about reading, remembering or reproducing facts. Same thing with the three-per-year kits. These kits are outrageously expensive, especially considering how insufficient they are in meeting NGSS standards. Not only do they not teach practices in an inquiry-based way—instead relying on canned scratch-test-style lessons—but there aren't enough of them either. Moving away from those, along with textbooks, frees up a huge amount of money that can be reallocated to annual expenses for developing curriculum or adopting more robust curriculum and maintaining the PD and materials.
Doing nine units a year every year requires a lot of materials, which may seem costly, but if you rid the budget of bloating expenditures such as textbooks and workbooks, which don't add to higher order thinking skills or useful science and engineering practices, you can find much more wiggle room.
We're doing nine units a year rather than the traditional three. Every one of these units is made up of weekly lessons that are series of experiences with lots of hands-on materials. What you end up with is curriculum materials and professional development that all unify to support that STEM learning experience. When you look at it in the classroom, every week students are in the role of scientist and engineer, they've got a huge range of different materials in front of them week to week, and they're actually building skills and using higher order thinking.
One of the benefits of using curriculum from an expert developer that devotes itself entirely to creating this type of curriculum is that your curriculum will come with the infrastructure in place. Schools and districts don't have to go through the entire curriculum development process and that ideation, nor do they have to keep spending so much money on materials that don't add to the learning experience. This is an excellent option for providing effective science education to students without breaking the budget.
So from here on out, when you think about textbooks being the only solution to meet performance expectations, keep in mind that there are other ways to source curriculum and materials. You have to be very smart about and knowledgeable about the resources you choose, choosing curriculum that is robust, grade-specific and intentionally nurturing from September through June and from one grade level to the next.
Professional development is a key part of instituting STEM curriculum that successfully guides students through the material and helps them meet performance expectations.
And lastly, let's consider that professional development represents a serious cost, which is needed to support your teacher team in mapping their knowledge to these new expectations and actually deliver Next Generation inquiry. This must merge with curriculum and physical materials to support the teaching and learning environment. Making sure that the funds exist to provide teachers with adequate professional development—instead of spending that on outside consultants—is critical to creating a year-round STEM learning environment that continues from grade to grade.
(left) Students engaged in projects where, using a variety of relatively simple materials, they attempt to answer questions and design prototypes, gather data and form conclusions.
It's important to note that aligning curriculum to NGSS more effectively and teaching hands-on, inquiry-based lessons that enable students to actually engage as scientists and engineers doesn't have to be super fancy. In the above images, you can see students engaged with a variety of simple materials, making their own ideas come to life through planning and prototyping. In the second picture, you can see a contraption two students designed to solve the specific problem of lifting and transporting marbles. In the third picture, students are working on solar cars. In other words, it doesn't take a wealth of materials to produce quality STEM outcomes. It merely takes intentional curriculum that allows teachers to coach students while they learn to interact independently with content and crosscutting concepts through use of the practices.