Schools Unsure Which New Common Core Materials Work Best

Oct 15, 2015 by

There is a dearth of research on curriculum effectiveness for the new Common Core standards.

By Lauren Camera –

For the last few years, states that adopted the Common Core State Standards have been purchasing new textbooks and other instructional materials to better align their curriculum with the new academic benchmarks. But it turns out they’re largely in the dark when it comes to deciding which materials deliver the most bang for the buck.

According to a new study from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy think-tank, there is little relationship between the cost and quality of curriculum materials. In fact, higher-quality products tend to cost less, researchers found, and in some cases the most expensive curriculum is among the least effective and the least expensive is among the most effective.

Education Reforms Are Here to Stay

Confounding the issue even further, there is a dearth of research on curriculum effectiveness, making it difficult for states and local school districts to make informed decisions about which instructional materials will benefit students the most.

“Many states are moving forward with implementing the new Common Core standards, and this process offers important opportunities for the creation of innovative, cost-effective instructional products,” wrote Ulrich Boser, Matthew Chingos, and Chelsea Straus, the three lead researchers of the report. “However, these new products will not add much value if schools cannot accurately separate the wheat from the chaff.”

The report also found that some states seem to be choosing textbooks that don’t entirely align with their standards, regardless of whether they’re using the Common Core or not.

For example, textbooks in Texas, a state that does not use the Common Core, only need to cover 50 percent of the state’s grade-level standards and researchers found that the curriculum reviewers don’t consider whether or not textbooks contain extraneous material. And in California, reviewers often rely on “standards maps” that the publishers provide themselves.

“In other words, the state’s textbooks can cover a lot of material that’s not in the standards,” the report’s authors wrote. “The result is that schools often use misaligned textbooks, and studies have shown that there is a clear gap between what publishers say is aligned to state standards or effective and what truly fits those criteria.”

In addition, the report underscored an already widely acknowledged problem with the curriculum adoption process – namely that it’s dominated by politics rather than substance, with debates erupting over things like the role of evolution and climate change in textbooks. Last year, for example, reviewers in Texas debated over whether or not Moses inspired the Founding Fathers.

“Such heated political debates are a type of distraction, and states often fail to focus in any significant way on issues of effectiveness,” they wrote. “Politics may also help explain why issues of alignment are often overlooked, and a number of recent studies show that the supposedly Common Core-aligned textbooks are not all that aligned.”

Across the country, 19 states have a state-level adoption process for curriculum materials but leave the final selection decisions to individual school districts. Of those 19 states, nine compile a list of materials from which school districts are “required or strongly encouraged” to use when selecting textbooks and other instructional materials.

In most of the other states, districts select materials with no direct input from the state.

In general, states aim to purchase new materials in specified subjects at semi-regular intervals, which range from five to eight years, though sometimes state funding issues can cause delays.

Common Core Gives Us a Common Measure Across States

Typically, the process begins with appointing a committee made up of a mix of teachers, administrators, school board members, parents and students. The committee either makes the final adoption decision or reviews materials and makes recommendations to the school board, which then makes the final decision.

The authors collected price data on adopted elementary math instructional materials from 19 states. They also analyzed the relationship between price and quality by collecting price data for instructional materials and comparing the relative cost and benefit of switching to a new curriculum to other education policies.

Notably, the researchers did not examine digital or other online curricula.

The report urged the federal government to begin studying the impact of various instructional materials.

Under federal law, the federal government is prohibited from recommending curriculum or incentivizing states to adopt any specific instructional materials. But philanthropies, the researchers suggested, could create competitive grant programs for publishing companies to develop and scale-up promising instructional materials.

“Put simply, the need for high-quality research on curriculum quality has never been greater, and the federal government has a clear role to play in supporting gold-standard research,” the researchers said.

Researchers also suggested that school districts pilot new products alongside existing products in order to produce evidence on effectiveness before committing to the new product. Districts should also create networks for sharing information across districts within a state, they said.

Source: Schools Unsure Which New Common Core Materials Work Best – US News

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