Every Common Core supporter by now must be sick of this mantra: the new standards adopted by most states are not curricula. They do not prescribe textbooks or lessons. They simply set student learning goals.

That reality is empowering to district leaders and teachers, but also presents a sobering challenge: how can busy educators find strong, Common-Core aligned instructional materials when, frankly, most materials don’t meet those criteria? Open educational resources have given teachers myriad free options, but the price tag is the daunting task of sorting through all of them for what will work best. And the question of quality isn’t just academic: a Brookings Institution report concluded that the “choice of instructional materials can have an impact as large as or larger than the impact of teacher quality.”

The good news is that nonprofits like Student Achievement Partners and Achieve have developed tools to help districts and schools become smart consumers. And several pioneering states have undertaken rigorous curriculum development and review efforts, with lessons that others can apply to their decision-making.

A new article by Rachel Leifer of the Helmsley Charitable Trust and Denis Udall of the Hewlett Foundation in Kappan, the magazine of the PDK International professional association, illuminates some of these experiences (we provided research assistance to Rachel and Denis). We encourage you to read the piece for ideas on (for example) how to use curriculum review efforts to generate more productive conversations between educators and publishers, and as a tool to train educators in the Common Core. And anyone in the social sector who deals with market failures may find it useful to see how education professionals are confronting the challenges of the textbook market (more on this soon).

To us, the most striking moment in the article comes in the first few paragraphs, where we hear from a principal in a small New York town at a school with many struggling students. A special ed teacher by training, she finds that the combination of the new standards with strong, well-aligned materials allows her staff to support all students better than they ever could with previous resources.

When an issue becomes as politicized as Common Core has, it is so refreshing to talk to leaders on the ground that are moving beyond the rhetoric to get things done for their communities. We are thrilled to help the Helmsley Trust and Hewlett Foundation gather and document lessons and tools to help other educators do the same.

Rachel and Denis also address this topic in a recent Stanford Social Innovation Review post titled, “Disrupting the Textbook Status Quo.”

    About the Author
  • Nathan Huttner

    Nathan leads Redstone’s education practice, developing strategies, business plans, and impact initiatives to improve K-12 and higher education, and has also served clients in shared prosperity, health, and climate.