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How Instructional Materials Fit Into ESSER

Schools have returned to in-person learning but many continue to struggle with the undisputable and substantial learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we head into another new school year, new tools, including the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund, are at educators' disposal to ensure learning recovery and continuity.

While additional funds offer significant opportunities for schools to move ahead with recovery plans, deciding on the most effective and fiscally responsible ways to leverage the funds can be challenging. Without question, it’s imperative that school districts support teachers with robust evidence-based and inclusive strategies.

Instructional Materials Have a Direct Impact on Student Learning Outcomes

Quality instruction materials are critical for students and educators. Teachers use instructional materials in their classrooms every day. Students use these invaluable resources to learn new skills and demonstrate understanding. Instruction materials are also essential to train teachers on implementing curriculum and as resources for families supporting learning at home.

High-quality materials are essential to meet changing educational needs and accelerate learning past the pandemic. State and district leaders can support educators, students and families by ensuring access to these materials and resources. Access to high-quality instructional materials is vitally important to all teachers and students; however, it’s crucial for under-resourced schools.
Using ESSER funds for instructional materials is an investment that will yield tangible results long after the pandemic has ended and the funding is no longer available.
All students benefit from instructional materials, and research confirms that instructional curriculum materials, combined with professional support for teachers, can significantly improve student performance.
For example, one study found that textbook effects on student achievement were substantial. The study also explained that using top-ranked instructional materials in grades four and five math classes can lead to student achievement gains of 3.6 percentile points.
In addition, studies found that instructional materials had a measurable impact on disadvantaged students. For example, an earlier study conducted by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance concluded that the curriculum selected affected student achievement.

ESSER Offers an Opportunity to Allocate Funds for Instructional Materials

Two of the four primary focus areas for ESSER funding include:

  1. Providing educational technology that enriches regular and substantive education (ESSER I, II, III)

  2. Addressing learning loss among students (including but not limited to tracking student attendance and improving engagement in remote education) (ESSER II, III)

School districts have the flexibility to use ESSER funds on any "activity authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” In addition, ESSER II and III legislation specify that funds can be used to address learning loss. ESSER funds can be used for:

  • Assessments

  • Identifying and addressing unfinished learning

  • Instructional materials

  • After school/extended day

  • Summer learning

  • Professional development

  • Software, hardware, connectivity

For under-resourced school districts, the infusion of federal COVID relief money is an opportunity to obtain the high-quality instructional materials they often lack. More than half of the districts in the highest-poverty quartile are planning to invest their federal aid in instructional materials, making it the number three priority behind HVAC and academic staff.
For example, the Helena-West Helena School District in Arkansas, where 54 percent of the 1,200 students live in poverty, plans to put $600,000 toward curricular expenses, including new science textbooks and mobile science labs.
In Detroit, where 42 percent of the 50,600 students qualify for Title I services, administrators plan to spend about $18 million on supplemental instructional materials, including new technology for connecting students to the internet.

ESSER Strategies for High-Quality Instructional Materials

School districts may use ESSER funds to purchase high-quality instructional materials, curricula and related professional development resources to improve instruction and prevent learning loss. Student achievement is enhanced when all students have access to standards-aligned, coherent curricula and high-quality instructional materials across all learning environments.
School districts may use the funding for:

  • Tier 1 instruction materials, including district-wide high-quality curriculum offering online and in-person options.

  • Advanced coursework materials used to implement Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or honors courses. In addition, and where necessary, to provide additional support so that all students, particularly vulnerable students, can access and succeed in advanced coursework.

  • Culturally diverse instructional materials that reflect the diversity of students and their families.

  • Instructional resources and technology, including obtaining mobile devices, headsets, learning management systems, etc., to support distance learning.

Quality Instructional Materials Matter at Home, Too

Remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted the need for families to engage directly with the materials and curriculum their children use to help drive academic achievement — and high-quality instructional materials are the tools that make this possible.
A recent study explored the roles families and instructional materials played in virtual learning during the pandemic and how those roles should continue even when students return to in-person learning.

Give Your Students and Teachers an Advantage With Quality Instructional Materials

While the ESSER funds are a welcome opportunity for districts to obtain much-needed support, deciding how to appropriate the funds can be overwhelming. The National Math and Science Initiative is committed to helping states and school systems make smart decisions about ESSER spending.

To assist you, NMSI has developed a guide and companion workbook. In addition, NMSI can work with schools to build the required evidence-based plans detailing how they will allocate the money. Work with NMSI to help you ensure your classrooms are engaging to improve student outcomes.