California Set to Adopt Literacy Materials Tied to Common Core

By Liana Loewus — October 06, 2015 4 min read
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California, the largest common-core-adoption state, is on the verge of adopting new K-8 English/language arts instructional materials for the first time since it put the Common Core State Standards in place—and nearly all the textbooks that were submitted for review are likely to be approved.

Materials adoptions in the Golden State have historically been influential in defining the publishing market and other states’ curricular choices, but many say this year’s board vote will make less of a splash nationally. For one, California has changed a policy that once required districts to choose from the state-approved list. And states and districts now have access to more materials—including free digital resources—that meet their needs.

The California adoption “probably won’t have the same impact it had before,” said Carrie Heath Phillips, a program director for the Council of Chief State School Officers. Now, “states together are moving the market.”

California’s Instructional Quality Commission, which reviews materials against the state’s curriculum framework, is recommending the state board adopt 25 of the 29 instructional materials submitted. In all likelihood, those materials will be adopted at the board’s upcoming meeting set for the first week in November, according to Thomas Adams, the director of California’s curriculum and instructional-resources division and the head of the commission.

Programs by several major publishers—including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson—are on the recommended list. Two programs by Amplify Education Inc. and two by the College Board were found not to meet the adoption criteria (though other programs by both publishers were recommended). The College Board declined to comment. David Stevenson, vice president at Amplify, said that many California districts have expressed interest in using its new textbook.

“It’s not the adoption process that California had for decades,” said Jay Diskey, the executive director of the Washington-based Association of American Publishers’ P-12 division. “It’s an adoption process that’s probably best described as an advisory process.”

California and Texas were once the two most influential textbook adoption states, with publishers often preparing their materials for the national market based on those two states’ criteria.

Landscape Changes

But the landscape has changed drastically in recent years.

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia are now implementing common standards, meaning their instructional goals are now more similar than ever. Texas, though, never adopted the common core.

California last went through an official adoption process for ELA materials in 2008—just before the Great Recession hit. During the economic downturn, districts were released from the state requirement to buy new materials.

And recently, California moved to a “local control funding formula” that allows districts to continue to bypass the state list of instructional materials, as long as they can prove the programs chosen are aligned to the common-core standards. Other states, such as Florida, have ceded control over instructional materials to districts as well.

Because of the post-recession changes, there’s “been a great deal of nervousness on the part of publishers over the years about what California would do” regarding adoption, said Diskey.

There’s also a glut of open educational resources aligned to the common standards that districts and individual educators can use to guide their instruction. EngageNY, an online library of academic materials created in New York state, for instance, has had an estimated 20 million downloads by educators around the country.

About 200 people—mostly educators—participate in the California materials-review process. The publishers receive the detailed criteria ahead of time, and all commission meetings and analyses are open to the public.

This year’s process was unusually smooth, according to Adams, the chairman. “In the past, we’ve had reading wars, bitter disputes,” he said. “We’ve kind of reached a consensus as a state. There are a broad range of options [for materials], yet they’re all rooted in very solid standards.”

The fact that so many ELA programs are being recommended to the state board this year is “great news” for publishers, Diskey said.

Even if not required to do so, Adams believes, districts have a compelling reason to switch to the new materials: They’re designed to address the needs of English-language learners, who make up a quarter of California’s students. The criteria for the materials required that English-learners receive instruction on grade-level English/language arts content while simultaneously improving their language skills. Previously, students worked on language alone before content.

“What this adoption does is really put in place the gold standard for combining ELA and ELD [English-language development]. There isn’t anything out there that even comes close to what these materials are doing,” Adams said. “I think California districts will embrace these materials enthusiastically.”

Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford professor and English-language-acquisition expert, called California’s expectation of the connection between English/language arts content and English-language development “in a sense, cutting edge.

“I think every state is going to get there eventually,” he said. “But I think California is ahead of the curve in doing this.”

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A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2015 edition of Education Week as Calif. Set to Adopt Literacy Materials Tied to Common Core


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