Friday, August 15, 2014

Marketing and Mystification for CCSS

Well, we knew this was coming.

Launching in winter of 2014, EdReports, a new non-partisan non-profit, will provide "Consumer Reports-style reviews will highlight those instructional materials that are aligned to the higher standards states have adopted so that teachers, principals and district and state officials charged with purchasing materials can make more informed choices."

Politico calls it a "Consumer Reports for the Common Core." The organization will bring in some teachers and other educationistas to rate materials from various publishers. They'll be starting with "Pearson’s enVision Math, McGraw-Hill’s Everyday Math, Houghton Mifflin’s Go Math and more than a dozen other widely used curricula."

If you are thinking, "Oh, good. Some independent experts will rate these materials and give us an impartial view of which materials are the best," then I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. is brought to you by the usual suspects.

Per Politico, a cool three mill in funding is coming from the Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Trust. Education First, a thinky tank/consulting firm that has teamed up with the Fordham Institute to promote the Core, is "incubating" them. The executive director is Eric Hirsch, previously a big wig at the New Teacher Center (they sell teacher induction) and the Center for Teaching Quality (spoiler alert-- quality comes with the Core). The board chair of EdReports is Dr. Maria Klawe. Dr. Klawe's day job is mathematician and president of Harvey Mudd College, a sort of high-powered STEM school. You might also be interested in one of her side gigs-- one of ten members of the board of Microsoft Corporation.

So what's happening here? My guess is two things-- one obvious, and one not quite so.

First, it's just good marketing.

Common Core has always been in large part about branding and marketing. A nationalized education system where textbook companies don't have to market fifty different flavors of the same product, but can just hawk the same material coast-to-coast --- that kind large scale sales had to get Pearson et al salivating from day one.

But an unregulated CCSS marketplace meant that just anybody could slap a sticker on a book and start cashing in on the new wave. That's not good. For one thing, competition is a Good Thing if only the Right People are allowed to compete. Little fish have to be squeezed out. For another thing, what good are standards if you don't have standards for standardizing the standards. Folks like the Brookings guys have been saying all along that we have the need, the need to weed, as in weeding out the crap that is CCSS is cover sticker only.

An independent-looking verifier of  your product's excellence is super-duper marketing.

Second, the mystification factor.

Here's a quote from Thomas Newkirk, from "Speaking Back to the Common Core."

We are already seeing at work a process I call “mystification”—taking a practice that was once viewed as within the normal competence of a teacher and making it seem so technical and advanced that a new commercial product (or form of consultation) is necessary.

In other words, in the brave new Common Core world, teachers are not capable of choosing textbooks on their own. Their professional judgment is not sufficient to the task-- we need an entire non-profit organization of consultants and experts to truly discern if this math series or those language textbooks are okay to use.

In the old days, a committee of teachers could work as a committee, look through various texts, hear the pitch from salespeople, and make a choice based on what they thought would work best for their program in their schools. Now here comes EdReports to say, "Step aside, little ladies. We wouldn't want you to hurt your pretty little heads doing all this hard pedagogical thinky stuff. Let us just tell you what you want to pick."

Teachers used to be educational experts. Now, apparently, we're not.

Bonus factor: Common Core boosting

One of the things teachers would probably get wrong is considering textbooks and materials based on what would, in their professional opinions, provide the best education for their particular student population while fitting the strengths of their building and district. They might look at all sorts of technical things like the sequencing of concepts and the examples and exercises used to support instruction.

EdReports is here to remind you that what most matters when selecting a textbook is how well it lines up with the Common Core. All those myriad of questions that you ask your self when reflecting on your practices and instruction-- you should only be asking one question. Does this line up with the Core. Because nothing else matters except how well you and your students adapt yourselves to the one size that all must fit.

As I mentioned above, this delightful service doesn't launch for a few months yet (just in time for textbook shopping season). Be sure to alert your district administration so that you can avoid the mistake of letting teachers make up their own minds about materials.

1 comment:

  1. CC instructional materials would be marketed more effectively if they were advertised as being aligned to PARCC and SBAC tests. This crap comes right out of the Advanced Snake Oil Salesman's Guide to Ripping Off the American Taxpayer. Step right up teachers and lookee here. Guaranteed to boost you VAM scores or your . . .