Textbooks, Curricula Failing to Align with Common Core


Back in 2010 when Common Core arrived in New York, Cheryl Schafer, a veteran math teacher, soon saw that the materials teachers were given were not what they needed to teach the new national standards. The textbook publishers responded with editions they said were aligned to the standards, but almost all of them were simply repackaged versions of the earlier books.

Matt Collette of The Daily Beast writes that even now, the majority of textbooks are not aligned with the national standards and the resulting burden on classroom teachers is huge since their performance is often tied to students’ test scores based on Common Core standards. Having the correct materials for teaching the standards may even make a difference in a teacher’s paycheck.

“If you don’t have the material that you need, it makes your job incredibly more difficult,” Schafer said. Teachers were left scrambling, doing their best to make do with materials that often didn’t line up with what they were supposed to be teaching.

After her retirement last year, Schafer took a job with a nonprofit called EdReports, an organization that wants to become a Consumer Reports for education. Funded by the Gates Foundation, which played a part in the adoption of Common Core, the organization hires teachers to conduct thorough reviews of textbooks.

Without the appropriate texts, teachers have to patch together materials from other texts, the Internet, and tests or assignments created from scratch. This is time-consuming work that few teachers can complete along with planning lessons that engage and resonate with students and the other myriad duties required of them.

Some textbook publishers took exception to the EdReports’ reviews, arguing that supplemental materials were provided to fill in any gaps. EdReports countered by pointing out that busy teachers need to have information that is in one primary text and its accompanying teacher’s edition.

“Not everyone gets the supplementary material,” said Sheldon Fine, a former teacher and administrator who now works to train math teachers through the organization Math For America. “And I know from being in schools, very often you get a kit and you use what you need to use and those [supplemental] things sit on the shelf. To expect teachers to go all over the place to put things together is unfair.”

Of the first 20 digital and print K-8 math materials from publishers like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and others, 17 failed to meet the publishers’ claims that they were aligned with Common Core. NewsMax’s Melissa Clyne reports that only the Eureka Math curriculum, published by the small Washington-based nonprofit Great Minds, lined up with the standards in all grade levels reviewed.

In East Lansing, Michigan, curriculum director Tammy Baumann and her team tore books apart, rearranged lessons, filled in gaps with outside materials, and combined it to create the K-2 math curriculum for the upcoming school year. Writing for the Associated Press, Carolyn Thompson reports these East Lansing educators did what had to be done.

“We literally created our own curriculum … essentially creating it from scratch — creating the homework, creating the student achievement challenges,” Baumann said at the end of a school year spent collecting feedback and refining the materials.

Some publishers produce materials more quickly than others, but there are other factors in play as well. The recession did not help and the shift to digital learning may have also played a part. Many schools were left without adequate money to replace old texts with the new Common Core aligned textbooks.

Implementing Common Core standardized testing before proper textbooks were acquired just added to the distrust of the standards, which teachers nonetheless largely support, according to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

In the meantime, OER, or open educational resources, are continuing to appear, allowing teachers and states to use curriculum available for free or for sale online. The largest of these is EngageNY, a website created by the state’s DOE with federal funding. It includes K-12 English Language Arts and math curricula along with downloadable lessons.

Data collected showed that more than 20 million downloads of material from the site had been made as of early June. A third of the downloads were made by districts outside of New York, including Berkeley, California.

“That, to me, is a pretty good proof point that no matter where you are, teachers and school districts are just not that happy with the quality of material that’s available to them through traditional commercial publishing routes,” said Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Fordham Institute.