Sunday, August 31, 2014

PDK & Marketing for the Core

One of the features of Common Core has always been the ability to market materials on a national scale. A national set of standards should help edubizes get away from having to marker fifty different sets of materials, but it only partially solves the problem of millions of individual teachers who think they have the professional expertise to think and choose for themselves.

We've already covered the creation of EdReports, a site intended to be a Consumer Reports style recommender of education materials. But here comes a puff piece in the Phi Delta Kappan that read likes the advertising insert in a glossy magazine.

"Support the Common Core with the Right Instructional Materials" authors Rachel Leifer and Denis Udall both have nifty education pedigrees. Leifer did stint with TFA in DC ("where more than 80 percent of her students advanced at least 1.5 years in academic skills annually")and is now a program officer for the Helmsley Foundation. Udall graduated from Harvard's Graduate School of Education and went on to found a charter school; these days he works for the Hewlett Foundation. So, big fans and supporters of public education.

Leifer and Udall open with an anecdote about a school in New York that used EngageNY materials and -- whoosh!-- for the first time in years "test data show that nearly every student at Ripley is making substantial learning gains." Or at least test data show that students are generating better test data. But it wouldn't be another day in Reformsterland if we didn't blithely assume that test scores = learning. The conclusion Leifer and Udall reach in this introductory anecdote is that having the right materials makes all the difference!

So advertising point one-- you need good materials.

Point number two-- the good materials are essential, but they are scarce.

Well, damn. If only there were some expert organization that could direct me to the Right Stuff!

CCSS supporters "realized early that they would need to prod the marketplace to respond to the standards." So "working with educators," the Student Achievement Partners (the non-profit profiteering group founded by CCSS writers David Coleman, Susan Pimentel and Jason Zimba) decided they would whip something up.

Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) is a product of SAP. It is

a set of rubrics designed to support educators and administrators tasked with developing, evaluating, or buying full-year or multi-year curricula. The rubrics distill the standards into non-negotiable criteria for alignment with tangible metrics.

Doesn't that sound grand and technical and like the kind of thing you'd need experts for-- real smart experts and not just classroom teachers? And so we consider the process of suggesting that classroom teachers are not knowledgeable enough to select classroom materials. I know that's not a new idea, but the CCSS marketing plan requires it.

Educators Evaluating Quality Instructional Products (EQuIP) is from our good friends at Achieve.

This rubric evaluates a lesson or unit on four dimensions: alignment to the depth of the standards, key shifts required by the standards, instructional supports, and assessments. Scores for each dimension classify materials as exemplar, exemplar if improved, revision needed, or not ready.

Achieve has trained a boatload of teachers to use this (because, again, the poor dears certainly couldn't have mastered it on their own) and has a cadre of fifty evaluators ready to give materials a look-see and the stamp of approval (or not).

It's about here, in a small-print paragraph, that Leifer and Udall note that both of these groups being advertised here get grant money from Helmsley and Hewlett.

The author's cite two benefits of using the rubrics. First, they will create "smart demand." In other words, these rubrics are a way for the rubric designers to coach the market, to encourage the market to want what the rubric designers think the market should want. Second, the rubrics will make everyone who uses them more familiar with the Core. Presumably not in the "Now that I understand what the Core is, I do not support it" manner documented in recent polls.

Two shining lights

Leifer and Udall go on to discuss two states that have had super-duper success with this sort of thing: Louisiana (where Leifer worked for a while) and New York.

For Louisiana, they talked to John White as well as touting the use of materials from some of the same folks who helped write EngageNY's lesson plan straightjackets. At any rate, they claim that LA reviewed textbooks so rigorously that only one each for math and ELA made the grade. White is proud of judging publishers transparently. The article does not in any way address that giant regulatory clusterfinagle that is currently LA education.

In New York, we just go ahead and declare EngageNY a success, based on anecdotes from a couple of administrators. This alleged success is due to three factors:

         1) Using the EQuIP rubric real hard
         2) Training many educators
         3) Facilitating adaptions instead of requiring scripts

Because EngageNY is just famous for its lack of scripting and its enormous freedom for teachers. Which, given what I've been hearing for the last year or more, will come as real news to some folks.

The Five Main Steps

So what does it take to come up with great materials? Five steps, it turns out.

1) Build on previous efforts and existing resources. By which they mean, use the techniques that have already worked for places like Louisiana and New York.

2) Make sure educators are involved and trained. The training is important because, remember, teachers are not sufficiently knowledgeable or professional to select their own classroom materials without first being properly indoctrinated trained.

3) Have non-negotiables. In the dating world, these are called dealbreakers. In this case, it means don't try to make your own revisions to the rubrics-- if the rubric says no go, then listen tot it. Remember, teachers and principals and curriculum directors-- you are not professionals and these sorts of decisions are beyond your ability to make unaided.

4) Provide detailed feedback. To textbook companies, that is. It's your job to help them make the sale.

5) Enable teachers to supplement and adapt material on their own. By which they apparently mean to allow teachers to go to "online libraries of vetted materials" (EQuIP and SAP both have them), not actually write or adapt materials themselves. Good lord, they're only classroom teachers-- how could they possibly do that?


It's a pretty little advertising insert and really, what better message to send out to the members of a society of professional educators that they can relax, because education is in the hands of people more capable than professional educators.

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