Study Finds Common Instruction Materials in Common-Core States

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — March 24, 2017 5 min read
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One potential benefit of having the majority of states using the same standards (and most states still are using the Common Core State Standards, despite the public controversy about the standards and a number of states’ decisions drop the standards) is that teachers and states might be able to share information or resources.

But seven years after states began adopting the common core, there’s not a lot of information about what resources states endorse or share with educators, or about how much different sets of resources have in common.

In a paper called (Un)Commonly Connected, published by the American Educational Research Association late last year, Emily M. Hodge, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Montclair State University, Serena J. Salloum, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Ball State University, and Susanna L. Benko, the director of English education at Ball State University, map the resources shared by various state departments of education and highlight which resources and developers have the most influence.

It turns out that many states that adopted the common core are linking to one another, and to the same resources developed by other organizations.

“Since you have this new context of common standards, states can link to each others’ materials, they can link to the same organizations in ways that they couldn’t before,” said Hodge. “We wanted to know whose voices were most powerful.”

They analyzed more than 2,000 English/language arts resources from every state and the District of Columbia and mapped them in a sociogram, a diagram that depicts relationships and influence.

The diagram shows the different organizations providing curricular resources to states, including the states themselves and nonprofit and for-profit curriculum providers. (The version below is hard to read but gives a sense of the connections. See the paper for more information.)

Some states, including Mississippi and New Mexico, only post internally generated resources on their websites and appear as isolated dots on the graph. (Look at the right side of the chart above.) Florida, Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, and South Carolina were each connected to one or two organizations (look around the periphery of the chart), but didn’t link to any of the web of influential organizations and states.

That large web in the center contains most states, which were linking to one another and to many of the same organizations: Hodge, Salloum, and Benko found that there was a significant amount of overlap in what resources states are promoting and sharing with educators. They found that 30 states direct their teachers to curricular resources from the Council of Chief State School Officers, and 25 link to the National Governors Association as sources of common core-aligned material. Student Achievement Partners, Achieve, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Public Broadcasting Service, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the International Literacy Association, the Teaching Channel, and the Council of Great City Schools rounded out the top ten organizations linked to by state education agencies.

The New York State Department of Education was the state education agency linked to by most other states—which makes sense, as the state’s EngageNY curriculum, developed with the support of a federal Race to the Top grant, has proven to be extremely popular. States that won Race to the Top grants from the federal government were more likely to be connected to one another.

In an interview, the researchers said that both teachers and state policymakers should consider the origin of the resources they’re using and sharing. Different organizations interpret the standards differently and have different perspectives on what it means to be an English/language arts instructor. “Who wrote this, what’s the authority or expertise base for the thing I’m looking at?” Benko suggested teachers and policymakers ask themselves.

While most of the states in the large web are common core states, five states that aren’t using the common core — Alaska, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska — are connected to the mass of states that are sharing common core-aligned resources. In some cases they were linking to general literacy materials that weren’t explicitly tied to the core. But Alaska, for one, links directly to common core-aligned material. The researchers said that may be because, while Alaska did not adopt the common core, some of its largest school districts, including Anchorage, have. That lines up with previous reports that common core-aligned materials are used in schools and districts in every state.

Benko said that the internet and having shared standards has the potential to “level the playing field” among states: “If one state or organization has a great person developing resources and we [a state education agency] don’t have the same capacity, we can draw on what other people are doing.”

Types of resources

Another interesting finding: It turns out that most states share relatively few practical resources with teachers. Just 17.5 percent of resources shared by states were concrete instructional resources, while most materials shared were conceptual documents about standards and research.

“We think there’s a real hunger for practical resources that isn’t necessarily being met,” Hodge said. She said leaders at the state level should consider how to share information in a way that “honors teachers’ busy lives.”

The researchers plan to follow up on their work in several ways: First, by conducting interviews with state English/language arts coordinators to learn about how they identify and share resources, and second, by doing a more in-depth analysis of the resources shared by the ten organizations linked to by the most states. They hope to learn more about what the resources say about how teachers “should” teach the common core, with a particular focus on how different organizations say teachers “should” teach about close reading.

For more on how states and teachers are navigating curriculum adoption, check out our blog post from earlier this week about the curriculum-review site EdReports’ work in California. The founder of EdReports told my colleague Liana Loewus that teachers usually need a little more than a list of theoretical resources to help them determine which curriculum is best for them and their students.

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