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Common Core complicates textbooks, from cover to cover

Filed by KOSU News in Education, Feature.
August 19, 2013
 

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Today, KOSU kicks off our weeklong series on Common Core. In the coming days, we’ll run through the tests, what it will look like every day inside a classroom, and how rural districts are going through implementation, compared to city districts. Today: textbooks.

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Every day at school, kids use textbooks. Most are still hard cover, while some districts have tried to go to more e-editions. With Common Core changing standards across most of the country, textbook companies are adjusting too. In the first part of our weeklong series on the new standards, a look at how teachers, districts, and the state are all sorting through the piles of material.

The textbook. It’s been around since, oh at least the fourth century, in some form or another. But Common Core standards have touched everything in the classroom.

“It will change and it has changed how our teachers design projects, how teachers assess students. And then of course, then that impacts how you instruct.”

Gay Washington is the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services for Stillwater Public Schools. Basically, she evaluates textbooks, curriculum, and anything else that goes into classrooms. Common Core textbooks starting arriving at her mailbox years ago.

“I get stacks and stacks of materials daily that say Common Core ready.”

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“A teacher brought to me one of the review copies of a textbook. And then she also brought to me her current textbook that she’d been using for years. She put them side by side, and I saw the shiny new Common Core aligned sticker, and started opening the pages. They were exactly the same. She was furious.”

That’s Josh Flores, he’s the head of English Language Arts for the State Department of Education. He’s traveling around Oklahoma, working to educate educators about Common Core, and textbooks. And some textbook companies have resorted to something so simple – a sticker. Kari Bostwick is head of Oklahoma’s Textbook Committee.

“I normally don’t look at the sticker. I look at the copyright date. I want to see when the book first came out. I want to see if its been updated in the last few years. We’ve had a lot of books that were not updated.”

Nearly everyone I talked to mentioned these stickers. Ones that say “Common Core aligned” or “Common Core compliant” or some variation of that. Remember, there are stacks and stacks of books coming in. There’s one way to resolve this whole sticker problem without even opening up the book.

“Oklahoma hasn’t even published their Oklahoma standards. And then you’ll get something that says it’s ready. So those are the things you want to be very cautious of.”

That’s right. As Stillwater’s Gay Washington says, not all of the standards are in place. Books are arriving saying they meet requirements that well, don’t exist.

Remember, Common Core isn’t a curriculum. Teachers, districts, and the state have to come up with lesson plans to get kids to a point where they’ve got the critical thinking skills to pass new standardized tests. That’s why Natalie Hutto, Curriculum Director for Elementary English Language Arts in Tulsa, has to go a step farther.

“So when somebody says something is common core aligned, it’s easy I think for some people to say that because you can use it with any material. It’s just about whether you understand the depth of what the standard is saying, and going into that depth with that material.”

And that’s one key. The text can provide a starting point, but just as always, it comes back to the teacher.

Last week, preparation was underway in Joleen Royer’s third grade classroom at Sangre Ridge Elementary in Stillwater. Helpers were hanging posters, labeling drawers, and putting out school supplies.

“So this would be like for the first unit, where we have the story. And this story is called Boomtown. It really ties in well with Oklahoma history…”

That’s reading, which is already in place. But with science standards at the state level still getting finalized, there’s a bit of a gap. Back to Kari Bostwick, with the state Textbook Committee.

“So we were faced with do we adopt to PASS and that will be obsolete in a year, or do we ask our science teachers to continue using their old decrepit materials.…now they’re nine years in, do we ask them continue using that for a year so we can give them textbooks that are aligned to the right standards?”

“Yeah that’s huge. That’s very huge, it’s always changing.”

Some superintendents are holding off on any purchases until they get more certainty about standards, others who are buying are asking for supplemental materials online that can be updated easily. Josh Flores with the state says there’s always the computer.

“Everything that I use with my model lessons you can get for free on the internet.”

Or you can be like Joleen Royer, back in her Stillwater classroom. She wanted to show me just how much material is out there.

“I mean on my phone, let me pull this up…um…like there was an email from Edutopia, taking charge of the new year. And then there was one from Readworks, check out our new Common Core aligned reading passages. We’re so excited to share a few samples of our 900 new reading passages and questions.”

With change already in place, but more coming, emails may be the place teachers get updated textbook material. Educators say even after all the standards are set, it could be years before textbooks start to look like they should.

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