At a session, Melissa Jacobs-Israel, library services coordinator for the New York City Department of Education created a mantra for those questioning the goals of the Common Core educational standards about to roll out across the country: “We’re teaching kids to think.”
The Common Core is moving beyond the “cut-and-paste” methods of previous generations, she stressed, placing a focus on reading, building and applying analytical skills, and creating the kind of “reading stamina” that will be required of students by the time they reach college. And that, she said was an exciting opportunity.
And while she touted the opportunities for publishers, booksellers, and librarians as the standards emphasize more trade books in classrooms—she also stressed what was not needed. “We don’t need golden stickers on books,” she said, denoting “Common Core” worthiness. Publishers also don’t need to re-issue their entire nonfiction backlist based on the much discussed “Appendix B” exemplars. What is needed, she said, is greater communication between educators, librarians, booksellers and publishers, as well as from “professional review sources,” who should go beyond simply describing a book’s content, and whether a book is “age-appropriate.”
In addition to Jacobs-Israel, the well-attended, 80-minute panel, moderated by Turtleback Books’ Richard Buthod, represented a wide range of interests—including booksellers Becky Anderson (outgoing ABA president, and co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshops, Naperville, Ill.), and Kenny Brechner, (Owner of DDG Booksellers, Farmington, Maine); distributor, Cheryl Dickemper from the Booksource, and publishers Phoebe Yeh (HarperCollins) and Victoria Stapleton (Little, Brown). And each perspective agreed—the Common Core represents an uncommon opportunity—but needs support, participation, and information if, as Brechner noted, this initiative is to escape the tradition of failure that plagues educational initiatives.
“The Common Core is not perfect,” Brechner observed, but it gives educators “plenty to work with”—and its focus on reading is important. What it requires most of local booksellers, is for booksellers “to do what booksellers do best: filter.”
Anderson agreed that the Common Core represents a great opportunity and urged local booksellers to engage with their community. through teacher talks and other events that let teachers and administrators “pick your brain”—but she added a warning, asking the audience what often happens after such events, where booksellers share their expertise? “They buy the books the from Amazon!” responded an audience member. Anderson urged booksellers to bear in mind polite ways to ensure that the sales stay with them.
Both Yeh and Stapleton, meanwhile, discussed publisher efforts to evaluate their books, create new titles and promotional offerings, and to get more books into classrooms. “We should see this as an opportunity to to embrace constructiveness in education,” Stapleton concluded, “and not freak about jargon, or numbers. We should help get kids excited about reading.”