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Ensuring Quality Curriculum for Common Standards

How can states and districts figure out which curriculum and instructional materials are strongly aligned to the common standards?

That's a question that's hovering large in the minds of the people who have been designing the standards and those who will have to put them into action. We've reported on some of the ongoing discussions in the field about this. It's a tricky question that wanders into some sticky turf.

Some have suggested that it would be best to set up an independent panel to review materials that publishers will predictably rush to claim are highly aligned to the standards. This could, the logic goes, provide states and districts with some reassurance that "aligned" materials truly embody the standards. The counterweight to that idea, however, holds that it would be difficult to populate any such panel with people who possess both sufficient expertise on the common standards and no vested political or financial interest in the subject.

So where does all that leave the question of how to help states and districts wade through the thicket of decisions when they start hearing pitches about instructional materials aligned to the common standards? Far from resolved, but undergoing interesting contemplation and discussion.

I talked earlier this week with Dane Linn, who is heading up the common-standards effort for the National Governors Association, and asked him about this, among other things. The NGA has convened two meetings—one for education groups and one for publishers—to brainstorm about curriculum for the common standards. And even after those meetings, many questions are unresolved, he said.

But he has come around to the view that it's best not to create a centralized panel to analyze curriculum materials designed for the common standards. Instead, he said, it would be better for the NGA and others to serve as supports to districts and states as they sort through their options.

"I don't believe we should set up some external validation process to ensure that any curricula that emerge [for the common core] are aligned," Linn said.

He said he believes that publishers have a key role to play—and a duty to uphold—as well. "I do believe the onus is on the publishing community ... to provide some level of assurance to states that are considering the materials that they are aligned to the standards," Linn said.

In the spirit of helping states and districts put the standards into practice, Linn said, the NGA is working on an implementation guide that will touch on all the policy and practice areas that need to be re-examined if the standards are really going to make a difference in classrooms (think teacher recruitment and training, assessment policy, school finance, and much more). They're also considering working with other national groups to figure out what are the best ways to help states and districts "unpack" the standards, to help educators understand what might constitute various levels of mastery of each standard, he said.


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