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Guiding Publishers on Curriculum for the Common Standards

Into all the hubbub about creating curriculum for common standards comes a new set of guidelines for publishers and curriculum developers.

Written by Susan Pimentel and David Coleman, the two lead writers of the English/language arts standards, the "publishers' criteria" try to help curriculum developers and publishers craft materials that embody the standards well.

Focusing on "the most significant elements" of the standards, the guidelines describe the key qualities of good ELA curriculum, sounding now-familiar themes from the standards, such as tilting more toward informational text, and building a ladder of increasingly complex text over time. Close reading, and re-reading, of text are emphasized, as is building "academic vocabulary."

Drafts have been circulating for several months in the publishing world, teachers unions, state departments of education and national groups representing big-city superintendents, and state education chiefs. But now they're done. They don't have an official home on the Web yet; the final version is still being passed hand to hand at conferences and such. We've got copies for you; one set is aimed at developers of K-2 materials, and another is aimed at developers of materials for grades 3-12.

The lead writers of the math common standards are working on curriculum guidance as well.

The Illustrative Mathematics Project aims to guide states, testmakers and curriculum developers by illustrating the types and range of math work students should be given in a good implementation of the common core, Jason Zimba, one of the lead writers of the math standards, told me. The Progressions project offers descriptions of how students' skill and knowledge builds in each domain, from grade to grade, in the standards, Zimba says.

Information and drafts can be found on commoncoretools, the blog that one of the lead math standards writers, William McCallum, maintains to keep people abreast of various projects on the math common core. (Look in the "tools" section of the blog.)

McCallum also links to the Mathematics Curriculum Analysis Project, which aims to provide some curriculum guidance as well. Led by William S. Bush from the University of Louisville, that one seems to be aimed more at helping people analyze curriculum choices than guiding them in developing curriculum.

These math and literacy projects fit squarely into the debate about how to ensure that good curriculum is developed for the common standards.

Even before the ink on the common standards was dry, folks were mulling over how to help educators evaluate the inevitable torrent of instructional materials that would gush into the market, all claiming to be aligned to the common core. Should there be some kind of validation panel, they wondered, to judge whether materials really reflected the common standards? Should some of the national organizations supporting the standards serve as technical advisers to states and districts to help them sort the wheat from the chaff? Or should they just let the marketplace choose the best, as educators find what works for them? Each approach generates questions and concerns.

When people started calling for shared curriculum for the new standards, the debate got kicked up a notch. One outcropping came when the AFT expressed concern that there was a curriculum gap between the standards and the upcoming assessments. Another was when the Albert Shanker Institute issued a manifesto calling for shared curriculum for the standards (the AFT has pushed for this, also).

Then there was the "counter-manifesto" issued by those who saw shared curriculum as a threat to local control of instruction. And controversy continues over the curriculum work being done with a federal grant by the two assessment consortia.

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