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Trends in K-12 instructional materials purchasing

What were the buying trends that emerged for instructional materials in 2019?

4 min read


Trends in K-12 instructional materials purchasing


There are three main drivers behind the purchasing of instructional materials by schools: enrollment, standards/policy changes, and funding. Beyond that, in states that held statewide adoptions of instructional materials in 2019, additional buying trends emerged. Simba Information looks at these trends in our 2019 National Instructional Materials Adoption Scorecard and 2020 Outlook

Traditional strength

Reading/English language arts has always been the most lucrative of disciplines for publishers. In the 2019 Texas K-8 English language arts adoption, the established leaders held sway. Of the 16 participating publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt took the most advantage from the opportunity with its Into Reading program. HMH outdistanced other publishers in the K-5 segment for 60.7% of total segment sales, according to Simba Information calculations based on Texas Education Agency data. HMH combined that run-away position with a strong second-place finish in the grade 6-8 segment to be the strongest competitor in the adoption.

Digital preference 

Most of the approved programs in Texas were offered as print or digital or various combinations of the two formats. In the large core programs in K-5, the appeal of digital was widespread. As an example, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offered eight program options for its K-5 Into Reading program. By far its most popular was its 8-year subscription for Into Reading and Writing Premium Student Resource Package in print consumable/digital. 

Texas schools wanted their primary spelling and handwriting materials to be print consumable regardless of which publisher they chose—Zaner-Bloser, Learning Without Tears or Perfection Learning—in grades K-5. Learning A-Z’s digital program got picked up only as a supplement. In grades 6-8, however, preferences turned to digital programs.

Persistence of cursive 

Another trending aspect of the Texas adoption was the strength of the demand for materials for handwriting, a subject area that has been under attack as unnecessary in the computer-driven digital age. Individually, K-5 sales of handwriting materials for both Zaner-Bloser and Learning Without Tears earned them only supporting roles. Combined, however, their revenue catapulted them into second place in the K-5 segment.

According to, 21 states require cursive writing to be taught in schools. The list includes West Virginia, where a bill requiring the teaching of cursive handwriting in grades 3-5 passed the House in January and is expected to get the OK in the state Senate.

The embrace of hands-on science

The K-8 FOSS science program from School Specialty has long appealed to districts looking for a hands-on approach. The program did well in strong science adoption years but generally was considered an alternative program. 

Competition has stiffened. In the California K-5 science adoption, which kicked off in 2019, FOSS faces competition from approved programs from Accelerate Learning, Carolina Biological Supply, Discovery Education, Great Minds (although only in fourth grade), TCI, Twig Education, Cengage’s National Geographic Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw Hill and Pearson.

Timing is everything

The 2019 K-12 math adoption in Florida was to be one of the top adoption opportunities for publishers, until January 2019 when newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended the adoption and upended the adoption calendar for the next several years when he ordered a rewrite of state curriculum standards in English language arts and mathematics. Districts faced making do with old materials or adopting programs that might become un-aligned to new standards. 

The Brevard County school district, among Florida’s largest districts, had begun reviewing potential new math programs in 2018 and went ahead with the adoption, approving $2.3 million in new K-6  math materials: 

  • $1.6 million: Eureka Math, Great Minds, grades K-5, two years;

  • $711,450: Middle School Mathematics Solution Grade 6 Advanced, Carnegie Learning, five years.

Excerpted from Simba Information’s 2019 National Instructional Materials Adoption Scorecard and 2020 Outlook, published in December 2019. Additional information on the report can be found at


Kathy Mickey is senior analyst/managing editor of the Education Group at Simba Information, a provider of market intelligence on the K-12, higher education and professional publishing industries. 


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