February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

What’s Happening at the Core?

Illustration by Otto Steininger

Illustration by Otto Steininger


More on Common Core:

Librarians on the CCSS

Anchor standards. Text complexity. Ensuring college and career readiness. Whether you love them, hate them, or are somewhere in between, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their high bar for student learning are here, having now been adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

With the rolling implementation of these rigorous standards and student tests, educators are still grappling to understand the CCSS, assemble materials, and adjust their teaching methods. Because the English Language Arts standards require students to master deeper levels of critical thinking and comparative text analysis, teachers must prepare students for more demanding standardized assessments. They also need to brace students for lower test scores, as has been the case and a point of controversy in pilot states.

Publishers and distributors are providing a flood of CCSS-aligned materials and professional development (PD) support, ranging from teacher manuals and conferences to webinars to interactive learning tools. According to an informal December 2013 SLJ survey of 55 publishers and distributors who serve the school library market, 81 percent provide texts aligned to the CCSS, particularly for grades K–5, and 68 percent offer PD materials. Sixty percent will reposition existing titles to show CCSS alignment this year, and 51 percent will develop original titles for the same purpose.

Educational publishers are seeing their highest profits in eight years. Revenues rose by seven percent through September 2013, compared to a 14 percent decline in 2012, says Jay Diskey, executive director of the PreK–12 Learning Group Division of the Association of American Publishers. Such an increase has not occurred since 2005, Diskey says, though “the Common Core is not the only reason for that. This is a bounceback from the recession. The educational publishing industry was hit very hard. School districts were broke.” He adds, “We have seen a pent-up need for new materials.”

State of the Common Core: too much, too fast?

Even so, educators have a long way to go to adjust to the CCSS. “At this point, most [educators] have moved on from just working to understand what the standards call for,” says Kent Williamson, executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), which will issue a report about the CCSS later this month. “About half our educators work in schools where a plan for standards implementation is shared with the staff.” However, “far fewer than half of schools in CCSS states have purchased ‘standards-aligned’ materials and instructed teachers to use them.” Facing publishers’ vast offerings, “It is far more common for educators to create their own materials and approaches,” says Williamson, though “many don’t feel particularly well supported in doing so.” He adds that educators say their biggest challenge is changing their way of teaching, not the materials themselves.

The rigorous nature of the standards isn’t the issue, some believe. “There’s nothing wrong with the Common Core,” says Deborah Wooten, associate professor of reading in the Theory and Practice in Teacher Education Department at the University of Tennessee. “Implementation is the problem,” she adds. “This is all brand-new to the students, teachers, and administrators.”

Critics are vocal. “What is the purpose of raising the bar so high that many more students fail?” educator Diane Ravitch asks on her blog, noting that, when Kentucky piloted the CCSS, measured student proficiency dropped by 30 percent. She writes, “We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown program at the same time.”

The solution? “Slow down testing,” says Wooten. “Let [teachers] get a better footing in the Common Core” before implementing the new student tests. Responding to such pressures in New York State, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made the case last month for delaying implementation.

For most educators, adapting to the CCSS is simply something they must do—and fast. “The teachers I’ve worked with were given staff development for the Common Core during the summer,” Wooten says, and “a few days to prepare their lesson plans.” However, she adds, “A lot of teachers are adjusting.”

In Tennessee and some other states, teachers are judged by their students’ scores on tests. Because “test scores are tied to teacher evaluation,” Wooten says, “the pressure is pretty intense. Test scores in the South are typically lower than anywhere else.”

This pressure is motivating educators in the region to get up to speed on the CCSS. “The Southeast is the furthest in terms of their thinking about anecdotal assessment,” according to Amy Cox, marketing manager at Capstone Publishers. She says that educators “need a baseline knowledge and then people are willing to learn about implementing” the CCSS. “The Southeast has passed that.”

Quest for resources

Teachers want support; publishers are providing lots of it. Some maintain that educators are struggling due to the lingering impact of the recession, publishers’ revenues notwithstanding. “Reform needs a lot of money behind it,” says Nell Duke, professor of literacy, language, and culture and a faculty associate in the combined program in education and psychology at the University of Michigan. “The Common Core has come at a moment when school budgets are really strained. It’s bad timing. Budgets are shrinking, and adopting the Common Core doesn’t necessarily come with money.” Duke says, “The biggest [need is for] professional development.”

Publishers’ and distributors’ offerings include an explosion of CCSS-aligned titles—49 percent offer CCSS collections and series—plus educational technology, databases, and other materials, according to SLJ’s survey. Eighty-nine percent produce materials for K–5; 83 percent also focus on the middle grades; while 46 percent generate high-school level CCSS offerings. Regarding content, 45 percent focus on nonfiction, a major shift in the new standards; 13 percent on fiction; and 42 percent a mix of both.

Duke and others applaud the nonfiction emphasis. “I’ve been advocating for informational texts for young children for a long time,” she says. Wooten also likes the potential for biographical picture books in the new curriculum.

Within PD materials, 83 percent provide teacher guides, 63 percent reader guides, 40 percent offer digital discussion guides, and 30 percent have created PD resource lists, along with webinars, conferences, one-on-one support, regional and statewide coaching, and other resources.


Publishers and the Common Core

Everyone’s in on the action. To start, publishers large and small offer sites searchable by the standards to varying degrees of sophistication and support material, including the major trade publishers—Hachette, Penguin Random, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster—along with educational, series, and smaller niche publishers.

Common Core-positioned titles are a natural for primarily nonfiction publishers including Rosen, Lerner, Clarion, National Geographic, Rourke, and others. Lerner provides CCSS research and writing tools through its Common Core Connections site and Common Core Libraries series, along with detailed information on text complexity. ABDO’s imprint, Core Library, features more than 300 CCSS-related titles.

“We welcome the Common Core,” says Roger Rosen, president of Rosen Publishing. “We think it’s an elegant document and well-conceived, encouraged by the assumption of rigor for all students. A refusal to dumb down materials and have kids read and be engaged in a way we feel very congruent with.”

“We embrace the notion of 21st-century learning, not just as consumers of information but creators,” Rosen adds. That vision is embedded within the company’s publishing program—on the print side and on the digital. Products like Rosen Classroom’s InfoMax Common Core Readers, Rosen Interactive Ebooks, and Digital Literacy database support comparative text analysis and other standards.

The CCSS provides “a good opportunity to re-promote books that are being used in the classroom,” says Lucy Del Priore, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group school and library marketing director. Del Priore says that titles by Macmillan authors from Jack Gantos to Peter Sís are being positioned for CCSS teaching. Other trade publishers are following suit. Dorling Kindersley, a division of Penguin Random, features deep Common Core offerings at us.dk.com/commoncore, while Penguin Young Readers also offers CCSS materials. Simon & Schuster’s Common Core site features CCSS teachable titles—such as Brian Floca’s Locomotive—with discussion questions, and many other resources.

While Macmillan’s digital catalog is “a terrifically filtered database,” Del Priore says, she believes that educators will go to the distributors, including Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Follett, and Mackin, in order to find their teaching resources.

To help educators navigate materials, “Common Core information is being filtered down by professors and people writing articles,” Del Priore adds. “Do you want to go to 10 websites for resources, or one spot?” She notes, “We share [our materials] with third-party sites like TeachingBooks.net. Teachers are more likely to go to a source like that.”

“We’re curating the materials that publishers are providing,” says Baker & Taylor director of merchandising Diane Magnan. “The strategy is around credibility and cutting through the noise out there.” This month, the distributor is launching a revamped site devoted to the CCSS with “publishers’ resource teaching guides, reading group guides, and lists based on appendixes,” among other resources. Educators tell Magnan, “Don’t just put a sticker on a book.” They’re looking for deeper guidance.

Mackin Educational Resources seeks to provide that through the distributor’s Classroom Services, featuring a CCSS focus, along with its Core Knowledge title lists and other resources, including those for PD. Follett’s support encompasses CCSS text exemplars, curriculum maps, and more.

For Solution Tree, a company dedicated to professional development, materials oriented to the CCSS now constitute about 10 percent of revenue, says Solution Tree Press president Douglas Rife. “Seven of our top 10 titles in 2013 were on the Common Core,” he says, with webinars, Web conferencing, coaching, interactive video, and support for English-Language Learners (ELL) in the mix. “We do a lot of custom work” on the state, district, and local level, Rife says. “The next big wave is going to be assessment” support materials.

In addition to the teaching titles, Capstone’s division Capstone Professional Services features “webinars supporting Capstone professional titles written by educators who are experts in their field and the Common Core,” according to Cox. Along with features such as CCSS resources in Capstone Classroom, “We have 100 Capstone reps across the country visiting libraries every day.”

Enslow Publishers takes a different approach to CCSS guidance. “We tried to solve the problem of Common Core correlations and anchor standards looking like a bunch of numbers and letters,” says president Mark Enslow. “We use a visual way of showing how our books fit the Common Core.” The sophisticated website uses “green checks where we show the anchor standards—scaled to national standards.”

Enslow adds, “I found that school librarians were pretty much on top of” the standards during conversations at the American Association of School Librarians conference. “But when our public library customers came by, they were quite confused. There’s work to be done there. They wear so many hats and serve so many clients.”

“Teachers tell me they want short, high-interest texts they can read in one class period,” says Rebecca Hinson of Rebecca Hinson Publishing, focusing largely on visual and art books.

Hinson’s offerings are often geared toward ELL students, who comprise 10 percent of the US public school population, and Hispanic students, who comprise 25 percent, according to Hinson.

Florida-based Hinson sees that teachers “just want their kids to pass” the assessments. Ninety-one percent of ELL students failed the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, she says.

Last year was “the largest year ever within the educational unit of Scholastic,” says Margery Mayer, president of Scholastic Education, which offers text pairing, lesson plans, and PD in person in a variety of settings, and a range of other resources. Scholastic reps in the field will conduct “a workshop, classroom coaching, or give a presentation with a leading educator.” She adds that Scholastic supports “the half to two-thirds of students who are not reading proficient.”

Scholastic partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch Primary Sources, with views from 20,000 teachers about the CCSS. “We found that teachers are supportive intellectually, conceptually. Where we have anxiety is around what it really looks like, what it means when the tests come down,” Mayer says.

Some wonder if publishers’ eagerness to align material to the CCSS could be compromising standards. “There are publishers in a rush to say everything is Common Core, which in some cases means putting a Common Core label on a product that was created before the standards existed,” says Duke, noting that a book she wrote pre-CCSS was recently labeled as CCSS-relevant. However, she acknowledges that materials don’t have to be new to be teachable.

Regarding publishing oversight, Diskey says, “There has been talk over the past three or four years about having a national advisory group that would review or vet publishers’ materials. Nothing has gotten off the ground.” The reason? “At a time when there is significant backlash, it might be politically difficult to get something like that up and running.”

Core success: student motivation, teacher collaboration

Analyzing from the student perspective, Duke says, “The standards ask that the students read much more complex texts and do complex things with these texts. For students to meet them, they need to be much more motivated.” To help students become self-driven, teachers will have to learn motivational tools.

In Williamson’s view, teacher collaboration is the key. “The new standards have placed a premium on effective collaboration across content areas,” he says. “The more that educators are involved and working together on the ongoing planning and assessment of literacy learning, the more optimistic they are that standards will have a positive impact.”

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Sarah Bayliss About Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss (sbayliss@mediasourceinc.com, @shbayliss) is associate editor, news and features, at School Library Journal.

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