Corporate Leaders Envision System for Reviewing Common-Core Materials

Managing Editor

By Catherine Gewertz

Cross-posted from the Curriculum Matters blog:

An organization of top business leaders is calling for the establishment of a panel of judges who would decide which instructional materials are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

The idea has been kicking around for several years, but the Business Roundtable formally proposed it in a document released on Monday. The paper is a broad policy statement about the group’s educational priorities. In the section about the common core, it includes a proposal for an alignment group:

Create an Independent Organization To Review Curricula: Educators need an independent organization to create Consumer Reports-type reviews that assess how well curriculum and instructional materials are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Although there is currently a shortage of high-quality curricula aligned to the Common Core State Standards, eventually curricula of varying quality will be available from both nonprofit and for-profit sources. Independent review regarding the quality of these materials will assist educators with making well-informed, cost-effective decisions.

There is no mention in the Business Roundtable paper of who will establish this panel or who would serve on it. But it’s not difficult to see how quickly this could become a political powder keg. People of varying viewpoints on the common core have told me in the last few years that they think it would be virtually impossible to assemble a group whose educational and political persuasions wouldn’t raise bias concerns.

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, who now heads up the Business Roundtable, has been interested in the idea of a vetting panel for some time, and recently floated it—ever-so-lightly—at a Center for American Progress discussion of the common core. He noted that “credibility” could well be an issue with such a panel.

One of Engler’s closest aides is BRT Vice President Dane Linn, who spearheaded the common-core initiative for the National Governors Association.

Even as the common core got off the ground, Linn and many others worried about how educators will find their way through the torrent of materials that would be produced in response to the new standards and immediately labeled—perhaps mislabeled—”common-core aligned.” After rounds of discussion, however, Linn concluded that setting up a vetting panel was too potentially problematic. That was when he was at the NGA, though. Perhaps things look different from the BRT perch.

If carried out, the Business Roundtable’s panel wouldn’t be the first to train a judging eye on common-core instructional materials. Achieve, which had a pivotal early role in shaping the standards, has created something called EQuiP, which offers rubrics to help educators figure out whether the materials they’re considering—or creating—are fully aligned to the common core. Here’s the thing, though: EQuiP has also created a jury of reviewers that will examine curricular submissions. As it says on its EQuiP website:

In June 2013, Achieve launched a cross-state EQuIP Jury of educators. We are honored and excited to announce that we selected 25 jurors from 14 states during our first selection process. Selected jurors met to calibrate their judgment. EQuIP jurors will commit up to 12 days of service each year through a combination of in-person and virtual convenings, as well as time spent independently reviewing lessons and units. Each lesson or unit submitted to the EQuIP Jury will be reviewed by at least three jurors.

Others have been grappling with the alignment issue by stopping short of a reviewing panel, and simply offering tools to guide educators through the process of figuring out whether curriculum is aligned to the standards. Student Achievement Partners—you remember them, right? They’re the folks who helped write and launch the common standards—has a version called “toolkit for materials alignment.”

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