Much has been written and debated on the state-led shift toward more rigorous, consistent K-12 education standards commonly known as Common Core. At the same time, that intense focus on the standards has obscured an equally important shift - the adoption of instructional resources aligned to the new standards.
If Common Core standards are a menu describing what students should know and be able to do at each grade level, then instructional resources - the lessons, tools, and materials each individual teacher uses - are the personal recipes, in which teachers use their own judgment and expertise to help students meet the standards.
Teachers and school systems greatly need these tools to engage and prepare students. Instead of searching, teachers should be able to spend their time selecting the best materials, refining it for their students, and collaborating with other teachers. Unfortunately, too many schools, districts, and states still lack transparent information about the quality of the materials and tools they use to guide instruction. Or worse yet, they use materials marketed as "common core-aligned" that really aren't. Common core-aligned resources work; teachers need more, and our communities need more schools and school systems using these tools.
EdReports.org, an independent nonprofit whose expert educators provide free, trusted curriculum reviews, has found that few sets of materials currently in the market are fully aligned to the Common Core. This gap in the market is important because improving instructional materials is a high-impact, low-cost way to support students.
The good news is many schools and districts recognize the urgency to align resources to new standards and adopt tools to aid teachers. One example is Duval County Public Schools in Florida, using the rigorous and college ready Sunshine Standards. Under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Nikolai P Vitti, Duval restructured the district's process for choosing curricular materials to make sure every classroom's content allows teachers and kids to tackle higher standards.
According to Dr. Vitti, "The aligned resources have dramatically improved the quality of teaching and learning in elementary classrooms." District-wide, the percentage of Duval students who met or exceeded grade level expectations in mathematics increased by anywhere from two to six percentage points when compared to the mid-year data in 2015-16. In English Language Arts, the average increase for students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations was six percentage points; 3rd graders increased by 10 percentage points and 4th graders by 15 percentage points over the same period.
Also, this year, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) - one of the nation's fastest-improving urban districts, is rolling out Cornerstones - engaging and rigorous Common Core-aligned curricular materials that will be created and reviewed by teachers during multi-day professional development sessions. According to Brian Pick, Chief of Teaching and Learning in DCPS, Cornerstones "are about bringing equity to the district - a shared experience creating a floor, but not a ceiling, around the teaching and learning that happens in our classrooms."
The "magic" behind an unforgettable meal is that you combine high quality ingredients with creative recipes, a great chef, and quality cooking tools. A world class education doesn't require sorcery, but the transformation that is possible in a student's life through a combination of high standards, inspired teaching, and effective teaching tools is nothing short of miraculous.