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Common Standards Will Test Teachers, and the Education Industry

Denver

The shift toward common academic standards will bring big challenges for schools and the teachers who work in them—and also for the vast education industry, which needs to develop products that not only are aligned with those academic goals, but also deliver content in ways that make sense of today's tech-savvy student population.

That was one of the messages delivered by school district officials at a summit of school business officials, who came here to exchange ideas and gather information about the changing K-12 market.

Many of the sessions at the annual meeting of EdNET focused on how publishers and others are responding to changes in demands from schools, which are facing myriad academic and financial pressures these days.

One of the EdNET sessions brought together school officials from Colorado, Georgia, and Tennessee to talk about the hurdles districts face in adopting common academic standards. Those district officials also said publishers and developers will need to come up with better products to help schools meet the demands of the common standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states.

Lissa Pijanowski, the associate superintendent of academics and accountability in the Forsyth County (Ga.) school system, predicted that her district and others will seek academic products that they can buy in flexible, digestible formats, to meet students' and teachers' needs. She likened that approach to allowing districts to download single songs (the equivalent of lessons) through iTunes, rather than buying entire albums (like textbooks).

Districts want the option of not choosing the whole package and instead getting "the individual content," Pijanowski said.

Fred Carr, the chief operating officer of the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, said businesses need to move well beyond simply providing textbooks and other materials in PDF form, which "is not what we need with our tech-savvy students right now." Students are at ease with hand-held devices; the education industry needs to find more ways to provide rich lessons that way, and in many other ways, he said.

Catherine Martin, the director of mathematics and science in Denver's public schools, said publishers, as well as school officials, also need to recognize that the common standards represent a major break from the norm.

The temptation in education is "trade a new book of standards for an old book," Martin said, but you can't just "put a rubber stamp on the cover and say they're aligned to the common core."

Carr agreed, saying the success of the common core will depend on everyone—from teachers to publishers—understanding how significant a shift they represent from what is being used in states today.

"The common core standards are actually very deep," he said. "You won't be successful with them if you just skim the top. ... We've got to convince people that the new way of doing business is a better way of doing business."

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