What Variables Influence Educators’ Adoption Decisions?

March 3, 2022

In recent years, Federal regulations such as the No Child Left Behind and Every Student Succeeds Act, encourage the use of scientifically supported interventions. To accomplish this, it is necessary that educators adopt programs that have empirical support. Little is known about the variables that influence educators’ adoption decisions. Pinkelman and colleagues (2022) recently published a small qualitative study that asked district-level and school-level administrators about the variables that influenced their most recent adoption decision. The results are interesting. Three general themes emerged from this analysis: (1) Establishing Need (2) Identifying Options (3) Elements of Program. 

Establishing Need refers to school-level or district-level factors considered in adoption decisions. There were three subthemes within Establishing Need: (1) Data, both informal and formal (2) Time Cycle (3) Academic Content Domains.  

Within the subtheme of data, 90% of the participants reported using informal data to determine the need for adoption. This was the most frequently cited means of determining need. Informal data included input from stakeholders through meetings, conversations, and anecdotal commentary. Formal data was mentioned by 55% of the participants as a means of Establishing Need. Formal data was defined as empirical data to assess an academic or behavioral construct, test scores, surveys, school climate data, universal screening data, and student performance data.

The subtheme Time Cycle refers to changes over time such as a district’s schedule for rotating the adoption of new programs, expiring program licenses, changes in standards, or availability of current resources. Thirty-five percent of the participants mentioned this. 

Academic Content Domain refers to academic subjects such as reading, math, and science. Thirty-five percent of the participants indicated that district priorities regarding academic content influenced the need for new programs. Collectively, the data regarding factors influencing Establishing Need suggest that variables other than evidence of effectiveness of current programs or evidence about adoption options.

When identifying adoption options, 85% of the participants reported they relied on word of mouth which included talking to colleagues and other education professionals. Fifty-five percent of the participants also mentioned marketing efforts by publishers. Fifty percent of the participants initiated an independent search through web searches and reading articles. The only reference to relying on empirical effectiveness to make adoption decisions can be inferred from the reference to reading articles. These data also suggest that variables such as word of mouth play an important role when making decisions. This is an understudied role in influencing adoption decisions.

The third major theme regarding variables influencing adoption decisions is Elements of Program Selection. Within this theme there are four subthemes: (1) alignment (2) Teacher Factors (3) Cost and (4) Supplemental curriculum materials.

Seventy percent of the participants referenced alignment with Common Core standards and agreement with the district’s values as a factor in adopting a program. Seventy percent of the participants also identified Teacher Factors as influencing decisions. Such considerations as teacher buy in, time required to implement, training required implementers. Cost was also a component of Elements of Program Selection and was noted by 70% of the participants. Sixty percent of the participants mentioned the availability of online supplemental materials as influencing decisions.

All of these data suggest that adopting a program is a more complex process than simply considering effectiveness data. The news from this study is that effectiveness data do not seem to be a primary source of influence over adoption decisions. Implementation scientists should consider these data when developing processes to influence adoption. This is a small-scale study and should be replicated at a much larger scale to determine if these results are representative across settings.

Link to article: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s43477-022-00039-2.pdf


Pinkelman, S. E., Rolf, K. R., Landon, T., Detrich, R., McLaughlin, C., Peterson, A., & McKnight-Lizotte, M. (2022). Curriculum Adoption in US Schools: An Exploratory, Qualitative Analysis. Global Implementation Research and Applications, 1-11.