This (perhaps obvious) thought arrived in my brain yesterday while discussing CCSS with my intelligent colleague Andrew Karre: Good literature existed before Common Core was written.
It seems the publishing industry is tripping over itself to put CCSS labels on a lot of its product. I’ve seen a number of school library publishers rolling out their fall lists with Common Core tools, alignment points, repackaged product—you name it. We have discussions here about how best to make librarians, sales representatives, teachers, and parents aware that our list aligns to the new standards. Are these practices useful? Are they smoke and mirrors? What gives?
That’s the trick and beef and reality of CCSS, in my opinion: the standards barely point to content specifics. Instead, the standards are opening the door to let great teachers teach great content through comparative literature, critical thinking, questioning of sources, and more. The emphasis is on skills. The how more so than the what. The “can you recognize good information and writing” rather than “this is the end-all, be-all, and ‘right’ answer.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a proponent of the philosophy and intentions behind these goals. I also think they present a real challenge to teachers and librarians and districts in terms of training and implementation. This type of approach takes time. It takes a solid review of texts and a curatorial eye toward what has substance and what can truly get a reader thinking. It’s only natural that people are looking for ways to cut through the chaff. (And yes, that chaff is out there.)
Without labeling anything, without creating ads and filler and Look at Me Now! signs, I think the titles we offer already do a lot to help the selective instructor. The reality is that our list has historically lent itself to these concepts long before the standards even came about. The books speak for themselves in terms of quality; the ever-growing quantity of starred reviews and awards serves to reinforce that point. Do our books align to CCSS? Of course. Do we want to help support those implementation efforts? Absolutely. Did the chicken come before the egg here? No. No, it certainly did not.
The bottom line is that you can neither buy nor sell CCSS compliance. Publishers can help teachers use good books effectively and in a way that supports CCSS principles, but there is no new secret ingredient publishers are using to make books compliant to these ideals. These ideals sprang forth, in part, from the good books that already existed—books that we will continue to create.