Dec 21, 2017

Classroom Trends Report: U.S. Teachers Take on Expanding Roles and Responsibilities

by Anne Wujcik, Education Analyst, MDR

Today’s teachers juggle a variety of responsibilities and expanding roles in U.S. schools — from daily instruction, to writing curriculum, to integrating digital resources, to recommending and purchasing classroom instructional materials. In this article, we will discuss the findings of MDR’s latest report, Classroom Trends—Teachers as Buyers of Instructional Materials and Users of Technology, based on a wide range survey of U.S. teachers about:   
  • Their purchasing behaviors and budgets,
  • Factors that are important in deciding what to buy,
  • Types of instructional resources used in classrooms,
  • Teacher models and their use of apps,
  • The growing role in creating their own instructional materials and,
  • Their influence on purchases at the school and district level.

Teachers as Buyers — Purchasing Behaviors and Budgets
Classroom teachers in America’s public schools spend $1.75 billion per year on instructional materials and school supplies from classroom budgets and teacher out-of-pocket expenditures. While schools and districts provide basic supplies and instructional resources, many teachers need additional materials throughout the school year. More than half of the 3.4 million U.S. public school teachers receive an annual classroom budget from their schools. The average is $270 per year, though the most common classroom budget ranges from $101-$250. About 25% have a budget less than $100 and a fortunate 12% receive classroom budgets of more than $500.

Materials Purchased
Teachers purchase a variety of items for their classrooms, ranging from basics like paper, pencils, and art supplies to print supplemental materials and books for the classroom library. More than two-thirds (69%) of teachers are most likely to purchase basic classroom supplies, and half are most likely to purchase print supplemental materials with their school budget. Apps ae increasingly added to the mix of low-cost items purchased with classroom budgets.
Personal Funds
In addition to budgets provided by schools, almost all teachers spend personal funds on classroom materials, on average spending $381 of their own money. A fourth of teachers spend $301-$500 each year and nearly as many (22%) invest more than $500.  With personal funds, almost three-quarters of teachers are most likely to purchase student incentives/rewards, 65% purchase classroom supplies, and 53% are most likely to purchase bulletin board items and print supplemental materials.
Elementary school teachers spend more of their own funds, $424 on average, than middle or high school teachers. In total, the average teacher spends $651 annually on classroom materials and supplies, whether paid for by the school or with his/her own funds. Teachers are more likely to report using classroom budgets to purchase materials directly related to classroom instruction and personal funds for items that benefit the classroom environment but are harder to tie to instructional impact.
Top Five Places to Shop
To purchase instructional materials, teachers generally go to the same places as they do to gather information. The top five sources — retail stores, websites and Internet searches other than Amazon, teacher stores, Amazon, and print catalogs. These are a mix of brick and mortar stores and online retailers, thus indicating that the more established channels continue to be relevant, but that online retailers have grown to almost equal strength. It also suggests that teachers turn to sources that they probably frequent in their personal lives — the Internet and big box stores — to purchase classroom materials.

Teachers as Purchasing Influencers
Aside from the materials they purchase using classroom budgets and personal funds, teachers are seldom the final decision makers for purchases of the instructional materials intended for wide use in district classrooms. They do, however, participate in the purchasing process in a variety of roles. Between 30% to 40% report having some level of influence over the purchase of school supplies, supplemental materials, and textbooks — as either final decision makers or by serving on a purchasing committee. Nearly a quarter are final decision makers for school supplies and 12% for supplemental materials. Another third describe themselves as influencers, who review products. Teachers are most likely to say they have no involvement in the purchase of formative assessment products and instructional technology.

Factors That Influence Teachers’ Buying Decisions
Whether acting on their own behalf or in a larger district role, without question, ease of use is the most important factor. Ensuring any new material is easy to use hastens the time to implement in the classroom, making it better for the teacher and her students. Word-of-mouth has always been an important factor in the school market, so it is no surprise that 75% of teachers rank recommendations by other educators as an important factor in making purchase decisions. Continuing demands for improved student achievement means that schools must also make their best effort to select products that have positive reviews and evaluations, with 75% of educators citing this factor as important. In the same vein, 68% of teachers rank research based as an important factor in purchasing.

Teachers as Curriculum Writers
While teachers have always created their own instructional materials — reformatting bingo boards into phonics games and, more recently, creating videos that help deliver flipped learning — the nature of that exercise is changing. Over the last seven years, as schools and districts transitioned to the Common Core or their state’s chosen standards system, they were challenged to find resources that adequately met their needs. Therefore, they turned inward, resulting in educators becoming curriculum developers. What once was an isolated activity undertaken by individual teachers has become a district-sponsored effort to create curricular content aligned to new standards and attuned to the unique needs of the district’s students.

Classrooms once organized around the print textbook are rapidly making the transition to digital and seeking out more modular content that supports efforts to personalize learning. Textbooks are not disappearing, but in an increasing number of classrooms they are no longer the organizing principle. Teams of teachers are creating the curriculum, searching for aligned resources, Integrating games and apps into instruction and exploring Open Education Resources (OER).

Time Spent Using Teacher-Created Instructional Materials
Teachers, schools, and districts increasingly rely on instructional materials they create themselves. Two- thirds of teachers use — at least once a week — materials that they or other school staff have developed. Nearly as many teachers (62%) use free materials, other than OER, found on the Internet. More than half report using digital instructional materials at least once a week. But textbooks and other more traditional resources continue to be a core component of instruction. Just over half of teachers say that they use commercial materials provided by their school, district, or state at least weekly. Use of Open Educational Resources is more limited, with only 19% of teachers reporting weekly use.

Teachers use locally developed materials more frequently, with 42% of teachers reporting daily use. The remaining resources are each used daily by roughly 25% of teachers, though OER are used daily by only 6% of teachers. Almost half of teachers (47%) surveyed never use OER.

Time Spent on Research
Since teachers are producing their own instructional materials, they spend considerable time on this task. The majority of teachers spend four or more hours per week on each of these tasks: creating instructional resources, and searching for paid and free classroom resources.
In total, teachers spend more than 12 hours each week creating or searching for materials. This is a significant time commitment that positions teachers, schools, and districts as competitors for published products. Publishers need to understand why educators have the need to create their own materials and work with teachers to address their concerns.

Classroom Trends—Teachers as Buyers of Instructional Materials and Users of Technology is part of MDR’s State of the K-12 Market Report 2016 series. This report offers a deep perspective into teachers’ sphere of influence in the classroom and school buying process and their expanding roles and responsibilities in deciding what to develop and purchase. Teachers are most interested in products that are easy to use, have worked for other teachers and have the potential of being effective classroom tools for learning. Ultimately, it is to both the publishers’ and the teachers’ advantage for school suppliers to create curriculum so teachers can focus on teaching to improve student achievement through personalized learning. 

Anne Wujcik has more than 35 years of education research and publishing experience. She is Managing Editor of MDR’s EdNET News and supports MDR’s EdNET Insight market intelligence service. Anne began her career as a classroom teacher at the primary levelMDR is an integrated marketing services agency with unique digital, creative, and branding capabilities. MDR leads the industry in helping clients achieve their business goals by connecting with targeted audiences through research and market intelligence, a world-class school database and these multi-channel digital communities: WeAreTeachers, WeAreParents, School Leaders Now,, and EdNET.

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