The Frustrating Search for Good Common-Core Instructional Materials

By Catherine Gewertz — December 18, 2014 2 min read
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This morning we have for you what might be the most unsurprising bit of news: Denver education officials undertook a big search for good common-core curricular materials, came up empty-handed, and have to start all over again.

Chalkbeat Colorado tells us that the Denver public school system has been scouring the market for instructional resources in math and English/language arts, but hasn’t found anything it likes enough to justify the multimillion-dollar investment.

“It’s a real struggle right now,” Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer, tells Chalkbeat. “Finding a curriculum that’s that’s been redesigned for the common core is difficult enough—and finding one that’s aligned for English-learners is a different challenge.”

Denver’s hardly the first district to run aground in its search for common-core curriculum. For four years, we’ve been reporting that big publishers were quick to jump into the market, issuing instructional materials stamped “common-core aligned"—even though they were virtually unchanged from previous editions—within nanoseconds of when the standards were finalized in 2010.

Even later versions, which publishers claimed were built “from the ground up” to reflect the new standards, have drawn complaints from many teachers and curriculum developers, who feel they don’t exactly live up to that billing.

The alternative, though—creating your own curriculum from scratch—is a mammoth undertaking. Nonetheless, the marketplace offerings are so unsatisfying that many districts are taking that route. Not long ago, we wrote about Long Beach, Calif., which undertook a lengthy process of curriculum-writing with its own teachers because it couldn’t find materials it liked well enough to buy. Orlando, Fla., on the other hand, found a solution in the marketplace, spending millions on common-core materials from Houghton-Mifflin.

In Denver, both routes seem to have failed at the moment. The district didn’t find its solution when it shopped around, and it tried writing its own, only to come up short there as well, according to Chalkbeat.

”...that turned out to be equally challenging,” Whitehead-Bust told Chalkbeat. “Now we’re back to the drawing board.”

That leaves Denver teachers pretty much betwixt and between, as tests for the common core draw near. They’re adapting their current resources as well as they can, and district officials are supporting those efforts. But it’s likely that many other districts are in similar straits.

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