School districts may gain control over instruction materials
Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 6:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 6:53 p.m.
School districts are moving closer to gaining more authority over the kinds of instructional materials used in their classrooms.
The Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education has approved a measure that would allow districts to review, adopt and purchase materials without going through the state review process.
“School districts have had concerns about the current review process, and school district personnel want more direct involvement,” state Sen. Bill Montford said at an April 1 hearing on the bill, SB 1388.
“The purpose of this bill is to increase flexibility while ensuring that all students, whether they live in Miami-Dade with 370,000 students or Liberty County with 2,000, receive the same quality instructional materials,” he said.
Mary Hall, supervisor of instructional materials for Alachua County Public Schools, said this change is partly in preparation for a shift to more digital instructional materials. The Legislature has mandated that by the 2015-16 school year, each school district in Florida must spend at least 50 percent of its instructional materials funding on electronic resources.
The measure has several more steps to go, including a vote in the full Senate, before the changes would become law.
“We are eagerly waiting to see what will happen with the language of the bill and what it will look like,” Hall said. “We have always used the state adoptive process. We have found the process as it stands right now works for us.”
Under the process, the state reviews materials and then publishes a list of the approved materials.
“In Alachua County, we purchase off of the state-approved list,” Hall said. “There is a certain portion of the money for materials not on the list, but we try to purchase from the list because of the review process.”
Alachua County also has a local adoptive process. Every school elects a teacher representative who meets and views presentations from publishers.
They then take that information back to their respective schools, where teachers rank the choices. Then, the committee meets again to vote.
“It’s solely teachers,” Hall said. “It’s a very democratic process. Whichever teachers choose, that’s the chosen material.”
The selections are then presented to the School Board for approval.
Montford said the bill will increase the variety of instructional materials and content, the opportunity for privatization of services and functions, and the retention of existing fiscal and administrative efficiencies.
“School districts will be able to build on materials from a variety of sources and not just one tool,” he said.
The proposed bill requires the Florida Department of Education to post on its website a list of department-approved instructional materials, district-approved instructional materials and instructional materials approved by other states that are consistent with the state standards, Montford said.
It will also require school superintendents to notify the Department of Education and to submit an annual report on the quality of materials and cost effectiveness of the district process.
There can be no more than five reviewers and at least 50 percent have to be classroom teachers of the subject materials being adopted, Montford said.
Hall said she is concerned about the time it will take for the district to have experts review the instructional materials.
“It is a very time-consuming process to do a really good review,” she said. “The number of people needed to do a quality review could be an issue. It has been an issue at the state level, and it could be at the district.”
Hall said she is also concerned that the bill would eliminate the Florida School Book Depository, which guarantees a fair price for each district no matter its size.
“It puts us all on a level playing field,” she said.
Hall is not sure what changes are in store for the future, but she said one thing is for sure: “Teachers want to continue to be heavily involved in the process.”