Curriculum

Common-Core Materials Penetrate Every State

By Liana Loewus — July 07, 2015 7 min read
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As states continue to draw lines in the sand about whether or not they have adopted the Common Core State Standards, there’s some evidence the new benchmarks have crept into classrooms in all states—mainly through instructional materials.

Four states—Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia—have firmly refused to adopt the standards since they were unveiled five years ago, and yet there are examples in each place of schools and districts using common-core-aligned curricula.

In fact, some curriculum providers say as many as 1 in 12 users of their common-core-aligned materials hail from states that either never adopted or have repealed adoption of the standards.

Educators’ reasons for using common-core-aligned materials vary: Some say such materials are simply the most well-vetted and widely available at this point, and that they line up nicely with their own states’ standards. “From the classroom perspective, you’re not thinking about is this a common-core lesson or is this not, you’re thinking about is this a good example of what I want my kids to know and be able to do,” said Sarah Maffei, who teaches at KIPP Shine Prep in Houston. “So you’re reaching out for resources anywhere, and there are more [common-core] resources available because it’s been so widely adopted.”

Some teachers, including those in Omaha, Neb., are using common-core materials because that’s what their district provided. And for some educators, it’s a matter of advocacy—a way of getting the standards they’d hoped their state would adopt in front of their students.

At A Glance

SOURCE: Education Week

BRIC ARCHIVE

“When I pull supplementary materials, most of the times they are common core,” said Cama Charlet, a 3rd grade teacher in Omaha. She pushed to bring the common standards to her state, though the state did not end up adopting them. “That critical thinking has become a core piece of my instruction.”

Lessons Spreading

According to BetterLesson, an online lesson-sharing site founded by Teach For America alumnus Alex Grodd that provides common-core materials, about 8 percent of its U.S. traffic is from people in states that never adopted the common-core standards. (Those four states make up about 13 percent of the national public school enrollment.) About 5 percent of its users overall are from the non-adoption state of Texas.

Student Achievement Partners, a professional-development group founded by the lead writers of the common core, says the states that never adopted the standards account for about 2 to 3 percent of U.S. traffic on its website, which offers common-core resources.

Including Indiana and Oklahoma, both of which repealed the standards last year, non-common-core states account for nearly 5 percent of traffic.

“I don’t think people are coming to [our materials] specifically because they’re common core,” said Lisa Goldschmidt, the digital director for Student Achievement Partners. “When they decide to use them, it’s because they offer things that make sense to teachers.”

The publishing companies Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw Hill declined to offer comments or data for this story. However, there’s evidence that commercial publishers are selling common-core materials in non-adoption states as well.

Last year, Omaha public schools in Nebraska began using Go Math!, a common-core-aligned curriculum published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The district did not return a request for comment by deadline.

Ms. Charlet said her suburban Omaha district is also deciding between two curricula—Go Math! and another Houghton Mifflin Harcourt curriculum called Math Expressions—that are advertised to be in alignment with the common-core standards. A review of those two curricula and others by the nonprofit EdReports.org found that they were not in alignment with the common standards. However, that review process has since faced criticism.

Ms. Charlet sees the use of common-core materials as a good thing. “Regardless of whether we’ve adopted or not, the materials being created are for common-core states,” she said. “But that benefits us as a non-common-core state.”

In fact, Nebraska recently drafted a set of new K-12 mathematics standards that have many similarities to the common standards, including a list of “mathematical processes” that look a lot like the common core’s “Standards for Mathematical Practice.”

“Politically, we like to label things common core and non-common core,” Ms. Charlet said. “But we’re elevating our instruction, deepening student learning. I think everybody’s doing that, whether you’re common core or not common core.”

Lynne Munson, the executive director of Washington-based Great Minds, which publishes the common-core-aligned Eureka Math curriculum, pointed to schools and districts in all four of the non-adoption states that have downloaded her company’s free common-core materials.

Several school systems purchased the Eureka math materials as well, including Lynchburg City Schools in Virginia and KIPP Houston schools, which are part of the nationwide charter network.

Alaska’s Bering Strait schools, a remote 1,700-student district that serves 15 villages in the northwest part of the state, also bought pre-K through 8th grade Eureka materials.

And of the 18 professional development institutes the publishing company is holding this summer to help teachers implement Eureka Math, two are in non-common-core states—one in Houston, another in Charleston, S.C. South Carolina repealed adoption of the standards last year.

Vetted Materials

One of the most widely used online repositories of free materials that are cropped up with the advent of the common core is EngageNY. The website’s K-12 resources, developed and housed by New York state, have been downloaded 20 million times—and about half of the downloads came from New York. Even so, 83,000 downloads, or 0.4 percent, originated in Texas.

“I think teachers in the common-core space or the non-common-core space, they’re reaching out for good resources whatever that may be,” said Ms. Maffei.

Ms. Goldschmidt of Student Achievement Partners agreed that teachers are more concerned with quality than they are with which standards a lesson was written for. “We’ve had lots of conversations with teachers about how they go about finding resources on the Internet,” she said. Often, “teachers will go to Google and type in ‘grade 4 fractions worksheet.’ They’ll find a grade 4 fractions worksheet and have it be common-core aligned, and if it’s good they’ll use it.”

Another lesson-sharing site, ReadWriteThink, a joint project of the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, allows users to view a lesson’s alignment to either the common core or to their own state standards—indicating just how much overlap there can be.

“As long as you can defend that you’re teaching your state’s standards—you’re just aligning it to the more in-depth problem-solving approach to thinking—I don’t think there’s any downside” to using common-core materials, said Ms. Maffei, who is a BetterLesson master teacher and developed a year’s worth of common-core lessons for that site.

About 2 percent of traffic to another common-core-specific website, Illustrative Mathematics, which was developed in part by William G. McCallum, a lead writer of the common-core math standards, comes from states that never adopted the standards. Half of that traffic is from Texas.

Both Eureka and BetterLesson said a significant portion of their Texas users are coming from Houston. That may be because the KIPP charter network, which has 22 schools in Houston, is encouraging the use of common-core-aligned curricula. The KIPP Houston schools are using a math curriculum that is based on Eureka, with some modifications so that it also aligns with the Texas state standards. While charter schools do have some autonomy, they’re still required to follow state standards and take the same standardized tests as the public schools.

KIPP Users

According to Ms. Maffei, working in a charter network has made it easier to openly implement common-core materials in her state. “I think if I was in a [noncharter] public school, I absolutely would have pushback,” she said. “Because of the environment I teach in, and because so many schools in our network are in common-core states, [other teachers and administrators] are supportive.”

But teachers in all schools are looking for vetted materials, Ms. Maffei said. “I think more teachers than are probably publicizing it are using these resources,” she said.

And considering some curricula and lesson-sharing sites are more overt with the common-core branding than others, it’s possible some teachers are unknowingly downloading and using such resources.

“Everyone kind of uses some, sometimes without fully realizing the materials are common core,” said Ms. Charlet. “We just don’t use those words openly [in Nebraska]. ... We’re dancing around it.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 08, 2015 edition of Education Week as Common Core Trickles Into All States

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