Professional Development

Publishing Leader Rallies Industry to Help Shape Common-Core Market

By Catherine Gewertz — June 03, 2014 2 min read
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The turmoil and uncertainty surrounding common-core implementation represents an unprecedented opportunity for the education publishing industry to shape teaching and assessment, an industry leader said in opening an annual meeting of those who design curricular materials for K-12 schools.

Tom Allen, the president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, listed a plethora of market and policy dynamics that have converged to create both confusion and possibility.

While some voices “clamor” for all-digital schools, emerging research has cast doubt on the efficacy of using electronic learning materials, Allen said. Nearly every state adopted the Common Core State Standards, and publishers were urged to design materials that reflect the new standards, and then bills started popping up in legislatures to delay or halt their implementation, he said. (With a few notable exceptions, those bills have not made it past both houses of their states’ legislature.)

Allen said that the country’s increasing distress about its lackluster performance on international tests was one of the forces that led to the creation of new exams for the common core. Those tests, however, have sparked a renewed outcry from parents and others about over-testing children in schools, he added.

“Personalized learning becomes the brass ring” in designing instructional materials, but sparks public skepticism because the collection of data for educational purposes becomes “confused” with the collection of data for commercial purposes, he said.

Many new players are flooding the instructional-materials marketplace, and classroom teachers are positioned to have a powerful influence because more and more, they are assembling their own materials and using old-fashioned textbooks as just one of many resources, Allen said. As the industry grapples with all those dynamics, he said it also must contend with the widespread expectation that resources will be free, “which is not what we do.”

Given all those shifting sands, Allen said, “the state of our industry is opportunity.”

“As confused as we are about the state of standards, so are teachers, parents, and lawmakers,” he said. That translates into opportunity to engage them in dialogue about standards alignment and show them that “no matter what the standards, we understand how to make materials that help students learn,” Allen said.

Publishers have an important chance to “join the discussion on meaningful assessment and show the difference between learning necessary skills and teaching to the test.” They can take an active role in discussing with schools and parents the value of using data to track achievement, he said.

The publishing industry “can be a voice in legislatures,” advocating for funding that allows states and districts to buy what they need, said Allen, a former U.S. Congressman from Maine, and for copyright laws that reflect the growth of digital media.

Allen was calling on his colleagues to be a force for good, supporting teaching and learning with new and improved products. But his comments land amid increasing criticism that the publishing industry has largely failed to create new materials that reflect the complexity and demands of the common-core standards. The industry is also under strident attack from activists who oppose what they see as an overemphasis on teaching to high-stakes tests.

Those camps, too, see this as a time of opportunity, but opportunity of a very different kind.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.