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Publisher Addresses Common-Core 'Alignment' Issue

Peter Cohen, the chief executive officer of Pearson's K-12 division, stopped by on Monday for a wide-ranging chat with us at EdWeek. Since I hear so much skepticism on my beat about publishers' claims that their materials are "aligned" with the common standards, I asked him if this was something of a speed bump in the company's work to provide resources for the new standards.

It really isn't, Cohen said. He noted that Pearson and other big educational publishing-and-services companies have been adapting or creating materials in response to states' shifting standards for years now, so they're used to that process. And it's not as if the common standards "dropped from the sky," he said.

"These weren't brand new," he said. "It's not as if we weren't teaching people to read for a long time before that, and people still need to learn how to read."

What's more, Cohen noted, some of Pearson's authors served on the panels that shaped the standards, allowing the company to create or adapt materials in a way that reflected the guidelines as they were taking shape. The word he used is "coherent"—so that Pearson materials are "coherent with" the new standards.

Pearson spokeswoman Kate Miller, who accompanied Cohen to the meeting, explained that they favor that phrasing over two previously used versions: "aligned to" or "compliant with" the standards. Those phrases, she said, carried too much negative baggage.

Whatever phrasing you want to use, Cohen said he is "confident" that Pearson's adapted and newly created materials embody the requirements of the common standards.

"I'm not hearing from schools and districts [as they review Pearson materials] that there is a misalignment" between the materials and the standards, he said. "We hear it from the press and from pundits," he added with a laugh, "but not from schools and districts."

(Here at EdWeek, we hear it a lot. Whether it's generalized, uninformed, skeptical grumbling or based on a real comparison of materials with standards is an open question. But the alignment question floats around a lot. Check this story for one teacher's account of that alignment gap, and this blog post for the perspective of a professor studying common-core implementation.)

Cohen said that Pearson is "committed" to continuing to adapt its materials once the assessments for the standards are developed.

"We've done as good as job as we can for the standards, but we're blind to the assessments, because they're not out yet," he said. "We won't know if we've hit the mark" until those tests, due to be fully operational in 2014-15, are created.

Even as Pearson moves more heavily into professional development, and expands into data analytics, online portals, and personalized digital approaches that let educators build their own curricula, Cohen said he doesn't foresee Pearson moving away from its established role as producer of curriculum programs anytime soon.

Especially with the specter of accountability for student achievement looming, the instructional-materials stakes are high, he said, leading most districts to buy programs and use them as is or modify them. Relatively few choose to build them from scratch with open-source resources, he said.

"Companies that deliver coherent programs will be around for a while," Cohen said.

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