Early concerns over Common Core support materials

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Over the long run, widespread use of the Common Core State Standards might allow more small companies to scale up helpful materials. In the short run, however, it looks like the big players are passing off what’s old as new.

That’s the conclusion of two different studies, reported on recently by Education Week, that examined textbooks and other materials that claim to be “Common Core aligned.” Both studies conclude that many claims of alignment are overstated, to say the least. As one author put it in Ed Week, the materials are “only modestly aligned” to the new standards.

In the past, I’ve covered the political controversy that’s sprung up around the Common Core standards, but for the purposes of this post, let’s assume that they do in fact represent a higher level of thinking and learning than existed in most states’ standards before the Common Core. If those higher levels of learning are not translated into instructional materials, there’s a good chance teachers pressured to teach to their textbooks and curriculum will not be able to realize the potential of the Common Core.

That the current set of “aligned” materials “systematically failed to reach the higher levels of cognitive demand,” according to the same author quoted earlier, suggests that we’re nowhere close to the goal. This is exactly the sort of racket that many Common Core critics were worried about.

Now, there’s still a chance that the full promise of the standards will play out in coming years as smaller companies scale up (and if the larger companies are shamed into doing better). Much of textbook publishing in the past was driven by the state standards of California and Texas, the two biggest consumers of textbooks, and more widespread standards should disrupt that tendency, too.

For the time being, though, districts are still operating in a “buyer beware” market populated with companies looking to get their “new” materials out quickly. While Minnesota has already adopted the English/Language Arts part of the Common Core, maybe it’s good we’re restricted by statute from signing onto the math standards until 2015, when our current math standards are up for revision. Perhaps the market will have sorted itself out by then.

In any case, local communities should expect their local schools and districts to exercise particular care before committing to a new curriculum.