Common Core Curric In A Box (free politics with every order!)

Back in 2010, I wrote in the NYTimes "Room for Debate" section:

I do think national standards could help millions of at-risk children.

First, it will be easier to share good ideas and curriculum. For example, our school recently began a collaboration with the Houston school district, 1,800 miles away. For the past t10 years, we've built up a math curriculum that allows tutors to "turn around" failing inner-city students. But here's the catch. The Massachusetts standards and Texas standards don't line up. So we can't simply hand our stuff to folks in Houston.

Second, national standards go nicely with the rise of blogs, self-publishing and platforms like BetterLesson.com. Some amazing teachers will sell their yearlong courses, often displacing textbook companies (or making licensing relationships with them). If you're teaching 9th grade algebra, do you want a book from Scholastic, or a whole curriculum (lesson plans, homework, classwork, a yearlong calendar, remediation plans, "Do-Nows," "Tickets-to-leave", quizzes, unit tests and a final exam) from the Teacher of the Year in, say, Philadelphia?

Some updated thoughts:

1. Had Indian food with Better Lesson founder Alex Grodd the other day.  Turns out the reality I'd hoped for is about to go live.  I saw a sneak peek.  Quite good.  They spent a ton of dough (from Gates), and partnered with the nation's largest teachers union (the NEA).  On their blog, they described it:

With the Master Teacher Project, BetterLesson hopes to shed a light on the practices of “masterful” educators...Our most recent Master Teacher Project, created in partnership with the NEA, will highlight the talents of 96 math and ELA teachers in grades K-12. By September of 2014, our exceptional MTs will have covered the Common Core Standards from top to bottom. 

The MTP aims to go far beyond basic lesson plans; we are filming all 138 Master Teachers at work to create a living, breathing body of knowledge around effective teaching. Want to see a great teacher differentiate? How about “Cold Call”? Not sure what a math practice is? Terrified of tackling non-fiction in an English class? Our MTs will light the way.

We hope that by showcasing the work of a few amazing educators on our site, (and offering their lessons free, forever!) we can have a measurable impact on the lives of students around the country. Teachers improve when they collaborate,  and BetterLesson offers them the venue to “share what works” and learn from each other’s success.

2. How many states will leave the Common Core because of political concerns? 

Here's the latest.  Rick Hess predicts many will.  Or I think that's his prediction.  Maybe it's one of those predictions where you say "this will only happen if you don't take drastic measures" so you can't be wrong. 

Conservative and libertarian pundits like Michelle Malkin, John Stossel, etc., slam on CC as massive Obama overreach.  CC is now a punch line. 

It puts educators in a tough position -- we're bad political prognosticators, but the idea of putting huge energy into massive curriculum changes now, only to have the whole larger effort possibly die in a few years, is dispiriting. 

3. How can Common Core proponents put Humpty Core back together?

Here is my personal view, which you should discount at 99%, because I don't know what I'm talking about....

Currently, CC proponents are trying to head off the left with their strong (NEA) and equivocal (AFT) support from the unions, and they're trying to reach the right with old school Republican former governors like John Engler, saying "we need the higher standards to make USA competitive." 

I don't know if that'll work, particularly on the right. 

Connecting my point #1 and #2 might be worth a shot. 

CC "accidentally" does a great thing -- all those top-down type CC backers accidentally created a marketplace

The market, as usual, helps sellers and buyers.  It allows a successful teacher to become a small business, to earn money for the curriculum they created; these small businesses can beat the oligopoly of Big Publishers.  Look at Better Lesson.  130 master teachers each getting real money to publish a full curriculum.  Celebrate those stories, get them to explain how they're an Army of Davids beating the big textbook goliaths.  And the market helps the buyers -- teachers!  What are the chances, after a teacher in Peoria has read 5 competing full year Grade 3 math curricula -- created by teachers, nicely curated, and free -- that instead you'll want to buy the Houghton Mifflin textbook?  Low!  Almost assuredly you'd like one of the 5 homemade products better. 

The market will now exist because of Common Core; previously the textbook companies had a very happy fence...each state has its own standards, and its own complex procurement guidelines, blocking all the little guys.  Moreover, why shouldn't that Grade 3 teacher in Peoria, plus every other teacher in the USA, be able to choose her own curriculum, not get stuck with the school district choices?  If she's going to be held accountable for kids' learning, why not give her the agency to choose?  That wasn't possible before -- it wasn't practical to buy 25 books for her room.  With Common Core creating a marketplace though, small orders like that are easy to fulfill -- she just downloads her stuff for free and takes it to Kinkos. 

So will this happen?  Will CC backers figure out how to tell their story as the invention of a marketplace, as free enterprise, featuring happy individual teachers as buyers and sellers, and featuring happily disintermediated superintendents (no longer controlling curriculum) and unhappily disintermediated publishers? 

Uh, feels like a long shot.  It's an accidental success of CC, not its intent.  I think instead we'll see a continued pounding of the table that CC is our best bet to compete with China and India at schooling.  I just don't think that's enough.  A blue state like Massachusetts will likely keep Common Core.  But more red states will leave in 2014. 

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