Just as Claude Raines’ character in the classic movie Casablanca was “shocked, shocked!” to find that gambling was taking place in everyone’s favorite nightspot, many people may have been just as “surprised” to recently learn that education publishers can’t always be trusted when they declare that their materials serve the Common Core. (For those who haven’t seen the movie, Raines’ character wasn’t really all that shocked.)
If you’ve been an educator for a while, you might remember the days when “customization” meant simply that publishers changed state logos on the same textbooks to “customize” them to meet the state standards. Similarly, Education Week recently reported on a study by researchers Polikoff and Schmidt, which found that publishers’ claims that traditional instructional materials are aligned to Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are largely a “sham.”
With so many states gearing up to implement and assess the Common Core State Standards—and looking for quality materials that support them—it’s puzzling that economies of scale, growing competition, and increased scrutiny haven’t yet resulted in well-aligned instructional materials.
Prior to the advent of the Common Core, standards varied widely from state to state, and the work of analyzing the quality of instructional materials and their alignment to state standards typically fell to selected teachers and curriculum staff in an individual district or state, sometimes with assistance from organizations like McREL. When this work went well, it resulted in a map of standards to the textbook series, recommendations for supplementary materials to ensure all standards were covered, and cautions where matches needed special attention. When done right, that work is time-intensive and can be expensive.
But now we have a universal set of standards, implemented across more than 40 states. Shouldn’t that make alignment, from a publisher’s perspective, a bit more efficient? And if, as Polikoff and Schmidt suggest, this is not quite the case, where do we go from here?
Let me offer a modest proposal: if the efficiency offered by a common set of standards hasn’t yet provided the benefit of quality, aligned work from publishers, then maybe consumers (teachers, schools, and districts) should take the lead.
One example of this type of grass-roots effort is the Anthology Alignment Project which houses free, teacher-developed Common Core aligned lessons for Anthology reading series in grades 6–10. This effort is a follow-on to the Basal Alignment Project, spearheaded by the Council of the Great City Schools, which is a collection of replacement lessons for the most commonly used basal readers.
With hundreds of schools and districts across the U.S. reviewing the same textbooks—either in consideration for adoption, or mapping for current use in the Common Core—we have the strength in numbers to develop high-quality alignment work that is available and affordable to all, whether it’s a mapping of Common Core to a mathematics textbook at 4th grade, or to a well-designed grammar lesson available as a downloadable file.
Do you know of efforts to develop consortia of schools or districts to realize a similar goal? If so, I invite you to use the comments section below to share information on how they came together and how others might join.
Working together, we ought to be able to reduce the expense of, and the gamble on, curriculum adoption, and maybe, to quote Casablanca again, even begin a few beautiful friendships.
John Kendall conducts research and provides technical assistance on academic standards to schools, districts, states, national, and international organizations. He is the author of Understanding Common Core State Standards and Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K–12 Education and the author or co-author of numerous reports and guides related to standards-based systems.