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Common Core success dependent on materials, textbooks

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December 05, 2012 05:32 pm

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In 1985, the California State Board of Education rejected every science textbook submitted for statewide adoption. The following year, the board did the same for mathematics textbooks. Why? According to Bill Honig, then the state superintendent of pubic instruction, the books all failed to measure up to the state’s curriculum frameworks.

Under Honig’s leadership, California was a pioneer in what later was called standards-based reform. The state developed frameworks in core subject areas that spelled out what should be taught at each grade level. The state then attempted to use its clout—as the largest state, California represented 13 percent of the textbook market—to encourage textbook publishers to produce materials that were aligned to the frameworks. When the publishers failed to do so, in the state board’s judgment, the board rejected the books and asked publishers to revise them.

Something similar just happened in Louisiana.

There, the state put off adopting mathematics and reading textbooks because reviewers had found that they were not aligned to the Common Core State Standards. While Louisiana is not as large as California, this shot across the bow might send a signal to the forty-five other states that have adopted the Common Core to look closely at the textbooks.

Textbook adoption is a frail reed; schools and districts can buy materials that are not adopted statewide, although they cannot use state funds to do so (and the California legislature recently passed a law that gives districts a lot more flexibility in textbook purchasing). But the signal Louisiana sent, like Honig’s in the 1980s, shows the way the system ought to work.

The Common Core State Standards will only be effective in changing classroom practice if teachers have materials that support instruction that leads to student attainment of the Standards. Policy makers, having adopted the Standards, have a responsibility to provide teachers with those materials. More effort like this will make it possible that the Standards can lead to real improvements.

Robert Rothman is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education. 

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