Now that Common Core seems to be taking over the curricula in states across the nation, companies furnishing educational materials are desperately trying to attract school districts and teachers to buy their materials by advertising them as aligning with Common Core standards.
Linda Gojak, former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, quipped, “We sometimes laugh and say that Staples is going to make a lot of money on a rubber stamp that says ‘100 percent Common Core-aligned.'” When asked if companies with educational materials to sell feel pressured to have Common Core approval of their products, Gojak said, “If they want to sell it.”
Yet one problem is that some materials claim to be Common Core-aligned but are not, as Stacy Monsman, a math coach in an Ohio school district, saw at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference last year. She said, “When Common Core comes out, literally within a few weeks you saw materials with that sticker on it and there’s no way, the Common Core just came out. There’s no way that a good thorough job could have been done to truly incorporate everything into some kind of material.”
Greta Anderson, the chair of the math department at New Orleans’ Dibert elementary school, echoed Monsman, saying, “Everything is saying right now that they are ‘Common Core-aligned’ and some things are really top notch and others aren’t. It takes deeply knowing the standards. It takes looking at the whole package and not just the best sample unit that’s out there.” She added, “We don’t want shortcuts. We don’t want gimmicks to get kids through a year of standardized testing. We want them to deeply understand the math.”
Rebecca Kockler, the assistant superintendent of academic content at the Louisiana Department of Education, said that two years ago, when her state conducted an in-depth review of existing educational materials, the results fell short of expectations. She stated, “We didn’t feel as if there were any programs that were submitted to us that were fully aligned to the standards or would support a teacher to teach the standards.”
Kockler and a team of educators started ranking educational materials when they were released to see how they matched the Common Core Standards. If the materials were in “Tier 1,” they met the standards with the most regularity. Most of the materials they reviewed did not meet that standard, often resorting to math gimmicks or unchallenging reading samples.
The sparse curricula that ranked in Tier 1 sold like hotcakes. But because much curricula has not yet been ranked, schools are still in the dark as to which products to purchase.
Gojak said, “It’s like going on the Internet. There’s some cool stuff you pull down and there’s some junk you pull down. And you have to know what you are looking for.”
Just recently, a company calling itself the educational materials version of Consumer Reports said it would start posting free teacher reviews of textbooks and other materials.