September 21st, 2011
I recently came across an article in the New York Times that seems to confirm what I have always known…the playing field for the development and distribution of educational materials is anything but level. I know this isn’t big news as there are really only a handful of companies that successfully market textbooks and materials to schools in mass. But, with the development and adoption of the Common Core State Standards, nearly every school and district in the country is evaluating their textbook and material needs. With so few providers of content the potential profits for companies is staggering.
Jim Ryan recently commented on the efforts made by textbook manufactures to “align” their content to the Common Core State Standards in a recent blog post entitled “Common Core Aligned! Nice new cover.” Rather than restate what Mr. Ryan has already articulated so well, I will just say that I agree with him and that I find the potential deception alarming. When you consider the stressed school budgets and the desire for schools to find materials to support the adoption of the CCSS there is great potential for schools to waste an incredible amount of money on repackaged materials that are at best loosely aligned to the core. Teachers will have shiny new textbooks and materials and still be left trying to find content that is truly aligned to the new core.
I can foresee a time in the not so distant future when we will once again be asking the question that has been asked for years…When are we going to stop allowing the textbooks to drive instruction? That definition of “insanity” keeps running through my head as I consider the rush of curriculum directors and purchasing agents to gobble-up the latest offerings from the publishing giants who promise to deliver everything a teacher will need in a well-packaged box. The box will contain teacher’s manuals, curriculum guides, benchmark assessments, black line worksheet masters, student work books, dvds, online support materials with fancy graphs…all “aligned” to the CCSS. Teachers will spend countless hours in workshops and professional development learning to use the new textbooks and supplemental materials. When the dust settles and the teachers enter their classrooms the school’s textbook budgets will be exhausted, teachers will struggle to connect the materials to the core standards and we will be no better off than when we started.
So when are we going to stop allowing the textbooks to drive instruction? When are we going to provide teachers with the tools they really need to implement the CCSS? Is it really that difficult or expensive to provide teachers with a tool to monitor student performance relative to the core, provide teachers access to core focused formative assessments and resources and allow teachers from all over the country to connect and collaborate around the core? Is it really too much to ask that we expect and allow teachers to do what they are employed to do…teach? Teaching has always required teachers to utilize a variety of resources to do their job including textbooks, self-created and collected materials and the materials shared by colleagues. I have often heard teachers say that a textbook is just a tool and I believe that to be true, but textbooks in their printed form are becoming dated. Access to information is not the problem in today’s digital world and yet…we wait…we wait for the textbook manufactures to produced their aligned materials. Why must we wait?
We saw the Common Core State Standards coming. We spent months reviewing the standards before they were ever adopted by a single State. Months before the standards were finalized we began asking teachers to help us begin creating content for those teachers who would soon be asked to implement the new standards. We were worried about the impact the new standards would have on teacher’s time and energy and wanted to be prepared to offer meaningful resources for monitoring student performance and the sharing of teacher created content. We saw the CCSS as an opportunity for teachers to connect and bring a true alignment of teacher focus. Most of all, we finally thought it was time for someone to answer that often asked question. The time to stop allowing the textbook to drive instruction…is now.