As fallout from the Common Core rollout continues, a noticeable trend has emerged: “Big publishers aren’t dominating districts’ Common Core curriculum choices,” notes a recent Education Week piece, highlighting one of the major findings drawn from a series of recent surveys published by the Center on Education Policy.
Indeed, one of the survey reports notes that just a little over one-third of districts “are using or will use [Common Core–aligned] curricular materials developed by for-profit entities.”
The CEP surveys reflect the well-documented difficulties that some districts are reporting in obtaining Common Core–aligned curriculum materials, noting that the process has proven “more complicated than simply buying off-the-shelf products.” For example, some resources that “claim to be aligned with the Common Core,” CEP notes, “have been found to be virtually identical to their pre-standards version,” while many of these texts “omitted key concepts and content in the standards.”
Part of the problem is budgetary. The CEP also describes the challenge some districts face in creating their own Common Core–aligned curriculums with limited funds.
Even as publishers are working to increase the quality of their educational products, Education Week reports, many school districts are simply bypassing those offerings, instead taking a grassroots approach, allowing teachers to create and share their own learning materials for use in their classrooms. “In more than 80% of districts in [Common Core] adopting states,” CEP notes, materials are being “developed locally, often by teachers or the district itself.”
With the power of the Web, sharing lessons and resources has become common. One popular option that has emerged as an alternative to purchasing Common Core–aligned materials from traditional publishers is a website called Teachers Pay Teachers, which is billed as the world’s first and largest “open marketplace” for educators to buy, sell, and share their original resources. A search on the site using the term Common Core yielded 5,200 results.
“We believe that real teachers create the most relevant and engaging educational resources,” reads a line from Teachers Pay Teachers. “Bringing educators together forms a powerful community that shares best practices, raises the bar for all, and compensates our best curriculum developers (sometimes spectacularly). In the end, everyone wins, especially students. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Of course, it isn’t just about making money for educators. While the teachers posting resources on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers often do charge to make their lessons available, many post lessons on other sites for the simple satisfaction of being able to help fellow educators.
On another website called Share My Lesson, managed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), educators can offer free K–12 teaching materials. As of last month, there were more than 293,007 resources available on the site. And the Common Core standards play a prominent role, with information including “facts, figures, and tips” readily available, in addition to resources from teacher unions and content partners across the country.
“Teachers are really engaged,” Elena Balint, the manager of Share My Lesson, told Education Week, adding that teachers are sharing their lessons because they believe such sharing makes for better teachers, especially in a time of change. “Teachers trust teachers,” she said, “It’s their area of expertise to create materials and lesson plans that work for their classrooms.”
Of course, questions persist as to whether those teachers are being adequately supported. “The research doesn’t tell us, for instance, how many are given time away from class to work with colleagues,” writes Education Week blogger Catherine Gewertz, “and how many are scrambling individually, in the evenings, to cobble together lesson plans.”
A Textbook Controversy
But it is not just a desire among teachers to share Common Core resources and to engage directly that is putting pressure on traditional publishers. Recently, in Texas, concerns over the inclusion of Common Core standards within instructional materials “stymied a vote” by the State Board of Education on new textbooks.
Texas is one of only four states in the country not to adopt Common Core, and opposition to the standards is fierce there, as evidenced by legislation introduced in 2013 to ensure that Common Core will never be taught in Texas classrooms. That bill would empower parents and local school boards to ensure “that only Texas standards are taught to Texas students.” The Common Core blowback is so strong in Texas that at least one major publisher, Cengage, was recently forced to scramble in Texas after local reports noted that “a member of the public said the company, through its relationship with the National Geographic Society, championed the Common Core.”
As 2015 kicks off, controversy continues to swirl around Common Core, and it is clear that the textbook and instructional-materials markets are feeling the effects. Teachers, backed by their central administrators and their enormous purchasing power, are making the case for change. And changes are coming in terms of the accessibility of content. For example, some larger school districts have banded together to push publishers to offer “small chunks” of content, rather than being locked into lengthy contracts for whole textbooks or units of material. The goal is to make it easier for teachers to personalize the learning experience for their students.
And educators are also seeking to better evaluate how resources meet their Common Core goals. As we reported in our September Cut to the Core column, the nonprofit organization EdReports.org (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) has announced that its free online reviews of commonly used print and online instructional materials, including textbooks, will now include ratings, similar to those used by Consumer Reports, that will assess how aligned the materials are with Common Core. That should help educators. At the same time, one can only wonder how that feature will play in Texas—and, to a larger extent, in the many states that are now scaling back their Common Core approach, or moving more cautiously.
Common Core and controversy have gone hand in hand. But beyond the classroom, it’s clear that Common Core developments are roiling the market for educational materials.
Do you have any developments to report? How do you feel about teacher-generated materials to support Common Core, or the situation in Texas? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Margaux DelGuidice a librarian at Garden City High School (N.Y.) and also works as a youth-services librarian at the Freeport Memorial Library. Rose Luna is a librarian at Freeport High School (N.Y.) and also works as a bilingual reference librarian at the Freeport Memorial Library.