An unexpected byproduct of 41 states adopting common curriculum standards is that California schools won't be limited to textbooks and other instructional materials developed specifically for the state.
Some state education experts are saying that the "common core" standards, as they're known, could result in a new marketplace of instructional materials, which could yield learning products that are more creative and perhaps even cheaper than what the state has had access to in the past.
This week California Watch reported that under current scenarios K-8 math textbooks will be ready for use in California classrooms in 2019, and English language arts textbooks for the same grades in 2021. By law, the State Board of Education is required to adopt textbooks for K-8 grades. Even under normal circumstances, the procedure for doing so is a convoluted, multi-year process [DOC] – one which has become even more drawn out because of a state prohibition on the State Board of Education to even get the ball rolling for several years.
That lengthy timeline could significantly delay implementation of the closest the United States has ever come to a national curriculum, and which the Obama administration has hailed as a "game changer" in U.S. public education.
But Michael Kirst, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and president of the State Board of Education, says the situation in California may "not be as bad as it appears" because "unlike in the past, there is a great deal we can use from national sources."
When it comes to textbooks and other instructional materials, California needs to "keep its eye on the national ball, not just on the state."
In particular, he said, the state needs to look at "new delivery methods in place of bulky textbooks."
Some 85 percent of the common core standards adopted in California are shared with the other states, while 15 percent are unique to California.
So what California will have to specifically work on, Kirst said, are materials aligned to "our own 15 percent" of the new standards.
As a transitional step, a bill, SB 140 [PDF], introduced by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would require the state Department of Education to come up with a list of instructional materials aligned to the new content standards that schools could adopt on their own independently of the state. Its most innovative feature is that it would allow districts to select materials for grades K through 8, just as they currently allowed do for grades 9 through 12.
According to Gavin Payne, who until last year was chief deputy superintendent in the state Department of Education, there should be a lot of materials for schools to choose from. The common core standards should trigger a wave of creativity in many states, not necessarily tailored to what the biggest states want, as has been the case in the past.
"The advantage of everyone rowing in the same direction is that we will have access to a whole set of new ostensibly good materials written to the same standards," said Payne, who now consults nationally on the common core standards. "Some of it will be expensive, and some of it won't be. In that sense, school districts that are struggling to find textbooks now will have a lot of choices for their dollars."
What's more, says Payne, schools may be able to buy textbooks and other materials more cheaply because as a result of the common standards adopted by 41 states plus the District of Columbia, "they will be produced for a larger (national) audience."
The huge opportunity any state has is that every publisher is writing to the common core, more than just the big publishers. That includes the online guys, the virtual guys, all the small publishers and writers who in the past had a tough time playing in the big markets like California, New York, New Jersey and Florida.
Tom Adams, director of the Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division at the California Department of Education, said that one reason the common core curriculum could translate into lower prices in California is that the state will now have a chance to enforce the "most favored nation" provision in state law governing the sale of textbooks.
Under the law, California can bar publishers from charging higher prices for the same material here than in other states, at least in theory. But the provision. said Adams, has been virtually unenforceable, because publishers have typically argued that textbooks tailored for California are not the same as textbooks sold for a lower price in North Carolina, for example.
With textbooks aligned to the common core, he said, "what we will be able to do is say (to publishers) that it is the same book based on the same standards, and we should enjoy the same prices as North Carolina."
The Legislature now has the chance to approve AB 250 [PDF], introduced by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, chair of the Assembly Education Committee. The law –would lift the prohibition that currently prevents the state Board of Education from beginning work on new textbooks until 2013-14.
Whatever happens, the road to new textbooks could be less daunting than in the past, because California now has the chance to share the load – and the costs – with other states.