Date: Aug 8, 2012 2:36 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: Common-Core Writers Issue Math 'Publishers' Criteria'
From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record],
Friday, July 20, 2012. See
Common-Core Writers Issue Math 'Publishers' Criteria'
By Erik Robelen
The lead writers of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics
have finalized a set of guidelines for curricular materials that seek
to promote "faithful" implementation of the new standards at grades
K-8. The 24-page document, to be published online today, is intended
to guide the work of educational publishers in developing textbooks
and other instructional materials, as well as states and school
districts as they evaluate and select materials or revise existing
The so-called "publishers' criteria" document (attached above) homes
in on the issues of focus, coherence, and rigor, and gets pretty
specific at times. It suggests, for instance, that elementary math
textbooks should be fewer than 200 pages in length, and that at any
given grade level, approximately three-fourths of instructional time
should be devoted to the "major work of each grade." (To illustrate,
in grades K-5 the "major work" generally consists of arithmetic and
the aspects of measurement that support it, one of the authors
In addition, the criteria spell out when it is appropriate for
certain topics to be assessed in curricular materials, such as
through chapter tests or unit tests. Probability should not be
assessed until grade 7, for instance, the document says, and
statistical distributions should not be assessed by materials until
grade 6. The document notes that this timing is pegged to when those
topics are first introduced in the common standards.
If the new criteria are widely embraced by publishers and educators,
they could have a profound influence on teaching the common math
standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of
Columbia. As we've noted on this blog, similar publishers' criteria
for English/language arts (recently revised) are indeed being taken
to heart by publishers.
In a sign that the new math document will be taken seriously, it has
the endorsement of several prominent organizations in the education
sphere, including the National Governors Association, the Council of
Chief State School Officers, the Council of the Great City Schools,
the National Association of State Boards of Education, and Achieve, a
national nonprofit that managed the process to develop the common
standards. Both the NGA and CCSSO spearheaded that undertaking.
In fact, a group of 20 big-city districts, led by the Council of the
Great City Schools, served notice to publishers last month that any
materials they purchase must reflect the priorities of the
That said, the criteria are likely to provoke a lively debate, and
perhaps some pushback from those who disagree with particulars, or
believe more broadly that the standards writers may be wading too far
In an interview, Jason Zimba, a co-author of the document and one of
the three lead writers of the math standards, said he anticipates
"There will be pushback on some of these things, because shifts are
not shifts if they're painless," said Zimba, a co-founder of Student
Achievement Partners, a New York City-based nonprofit organization
working to help states and districts with common-core implementation.
"It's going to take a culture shift to achieve the focus and
coherence of the standards."
The other two co-authors of the criteria (and lead writers of the
math standards) are William McCallum, a math professor at the
University of Arizona, and Philip Daro, an education consultant to
states and districts. Both McCallum and Daro also are advisers to
Student Achievement Partners.
Some readers may recall that the companion document for
English/language arts caused quite a stir, especially for its
criteria for reading aloud to students and cutting back on the
practice of "prereading."
To be clear, this is not the final word from the standards writers.
An "updated" version of the publishers' criteria for math, taking
into account feedback, is expected out early next year. In addition,
a separate document for high school math will be issued around the
Zimba argues that the single most important element to ensuring the
common core's success in improving math education is the emphasis on
focus-essentially the idea of covering fewer math topics, but in
"If we don't get to focus, the rest of the promise of the standards
is a fantasy," he said.
The criteria document acknowledges upfront that it may be hard for
math educators and experts to let go of some topics.
"During the writing of the standards, the writing team often received
feedback along these lines: 'I love the focus of these standards! Now
if we could just add one or two more things,' " it says. "But focus
compromised is no longer focus at all. ... 'Teaching less, learning
more' can seem like hard medicine for an educational system addicted
The authors emphasize that the criteria are intended both for
publishers and those who select their wares.
"These criteria were developed from the perspective that publishers
and purchasers are equally responsible for fixing the materials
market," the document says. "Publishers cannot deliver focus to
buyers who only ever complain about what has been left out, yet never
complain about what has crept in. More generally, publishers cannot
invest in quality if the market doesn't demand it of them nor reward
them for producing it."
This point calls to mind a recent book I blogged about, Tyranny of
the Textbook. It was a broad indictment of the textbook market,
suggesting that blame can be shared by a variety of actors for what
the author suggests is the generally poor quality of many textbooks
and related instructional materials.
In addition, the new criteria are also aimed at helping to shape
professional development pegged to the common-core standards.
The goal of the criteria, the authors say, is not to dictate
acceptable forms of instructional resources, suggesting that
"materials and tools of very different forms" can be deemed
acceptable, including digital and online media.
Carrie Health Phillips, a program director at the Council of Chief
State School Officers, said she believes the new document is on
target and will be an important resource to educators.
"We've heard a lot of need for this type of guidance," she said.
"It's something people will take or not, but we've heard loud and
clear, especially from district-level curriculum specialists or
supervisors, that they need that guidance on how do we make these
That said, she was quick to note that the guidelines are not binding.
"Ultimately, it's still up to people at the local level. We think
it's better to have something to react to than to have nothing out
there, ... with people guessing on what they're supposed to do."
Zimba said wading into the particulars of curricular decisions rather
than being vague was a deliberate and important strategy in writing
"Some of these specifics are going to attract comment," he said. "But
if we weasel out of limits and specifics, then we're actually not
pushing things forward. ... So you have to be quantitative in order
to be understood."
Beyond the push for focus, the criteria spend a lot of time exploring
the issue of "coherence" and what that should look like in curricular
materials. And here, the document emphasizes that coherence is about
making connections not simply across topics but across grade levels,
to examine the progressions spelled out in the standards and how
major content is developed over time.
"Materials cannot match the contours of the standards by approaching
each individual content standard as a separate event," the document
says. "Nor can materials align to the standards by approaching each
individual grade as a separate event."
Meanwhile, the publishers' criteria emphasize three aspects of
"rigor" in the major work at each grade level: conceptual
understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and applications.
"To date, curricula have not always been balanced in their approach
to these three aspects of rigor," the document says. "Some curricula
stress fluency in computation, without acknowledging the role of
conceptual understanding in attaining fluency. Some stress conceptual
understanding without acknowledging that fluency requires separate
classroom work of a different nature."
There is far more covered in the publishers' criteria than I can
possibly address in this blog post. So, take a look for yourself,
Dear Reader. I expect to be back with more analysis and feedback
later, once folks out in the field have a chance to digest this. And
if you have opinions pro or con about the document that you wish to
share, by all means post a comment here.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244