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All Is Common-Core Aligned at Math Education Exhibit Hall, or Is It?

Math educators walking through the enormous exhibit hall last week at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics meeting in Denver couldn't help but notice a "common" theme. With so much talk in conference sessions about the common-core standards, they may have been wondering where to find instructional materials that reflect the new standards.

A stroll through the exhibit would suggest that pretty much everything already is aligned. Or, at least that's true if you take the claims at face value of many educational companies promoting their wares.

NCTMexhibit1.jpg

Think Through Math promises materials "built for the common core." Math 180 promotes its "Revolutionary Math Intervention for the Common Core." Kendall Hunt? "High School Math for the Common Core" and "K-5 Gifted Math for the Common Core."

Cengage Learning said it has "all new common core editions." And Texas Instruments is "your partner in common-core implementation." McGraw Hill Education, Pearson, and others also had "common core" emblazoned on their materials.

This is just a sampling of what I encountered in the exhibit hall at the conference. (That said, I scrutinized the calculator display from Casio, but could find no claims of calculators aligned with the standards!)

So, do materials branded with a "common core" label truly reflect fidelity to the math standards? Maybe yes, maybe no. But I clearly recall that in the days and weeks after the standards were completed in 2010, some publishers already were making such claims.

I asked a few math educators at the conference if they believed the claims in the exhibit hall.

"No. Some of it's just a gold sticker on the front," said Cliff Bara, a high school math and science teacher at Troy Junior and Senior High School in Troy, Mont.

Bara said he's spent some time perusing high school materials lately and isn't very impressed by the degree to which they match the standards. "So far at the high school level, I have not seen anything that jumps out at me yet," he said.

NCTMexhibit2.jpg

"I think they're trying," said one math teacher I met in the exhibit hall, but she wasn't convinced. Another said: "I'm not so sure yet. To me, I'd need to dive into it a lot [to better judge]."

While at the conference, I ran into Doug Sovde, a director at Achieve, a Washington-based group that helped oversee the development of the common-core standards, and asked him what he thought of such claims by educational publishers.

"I would say, 'prove it,' because [claims of] alignment can hide all manner of sin, particularly when someone is trying to sell something," said Sovde, who is himself a former math teacher and principal.

"Alignment is not a simple thing. It's as much about what you take out as what you [include]," said Sovde, who is now focused on developing instructional supports, and engaging educators, around the forthcoming common-core assessments from the PARCC testing consortium.

In the end, it's about a "balance" among a variety of factors, Sovde said. "My perception is that there's a lot of work yet to be done there."

One new resource to help is a set of "publishers' criteria" developed by the lead writers of the math common-core standards. They just issued criteria for high school math materials, as well as a revised K-8 document. These documents have been endorsed by Achieve, as well as national groups representing governors, chief state school officers, state boards of education, and large urban districts.

The bottom line? Buyer beware! Take a long, careful look before you decide if instructional materials live up to their claims.

Photos taken by Erik Robelen at the exhibit hall for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics meeting last week in Denver.

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