MSU researcher launches Common Core tool for teachers

March 4, 2015

A screenshot from the Textbook Navigator/Journal tool, which helps K-8 teachers find textbook lessons covering Common Core State Standards in mathematics.

Michigan State University researcher William Schmidt has created a free web-based tool to help American educators teach the Common Core State Standards in mathematics.

Although the majority of U.S. states have voluntarily adopted the standards, many teachers still must use outdated textbooks or find other materials to ensure students meet the common set of learning goals at each grade level. By logging into the Textbook Navigator/Journal, K-8 teachers can quickly find which parts of their existing math textbook cover a standard, or identify which standards are addressed in specific textbook lessons.

Schmidt and his team developed the Navigator based on an in-depth analysis of 34 commonly used math textbook series comprising 185 individual textbooks. They found none of the textbook series cover 100 percent of on-grade standards, with the typical textbook skipping at least a quarter of the math topics students are expected to learn.

William Schmidt

William Schmidt

“We are asking teachers to depend on textbooks that are not well aligned and also vary widely, meaning children with different books may get entirely different, incoherent opportunities to learn important mathematics,” said Schmidt, director of the Center for the Study of Curriculum in the College of Education at MSU. “The Navigator will empower more teachers to design their own instruction by letting the standards—not the textbooks—guide the process.”

Schmidt said the need for a tool like Navigator became evident through a related study he conducted on Common Core implementation with more than 1,000 teachers in three states.

He and his team selected textbooks for the analysis based on a 2011 survey of school districts in states that had adopted Common Core at the time. They also sampled newer books that have been published more recently. The books were analyzed based on a system of coding each lesson to identify what standards were covered (or none).

Here are some additional key findings:

  • Only half of the total standards covered in a typical textbook focus on math considered appropriate for grade level. Some books spend as much as two-thirds of the school year on standards from the wrong grade.
  • On average, the textbooks allocate between 62 percent and 74 percent of their class days to grade-appropriate standards. That means students are likely to spend at least a quarter of their time—between eight and 13 weeks—on extraneous material.
  • Newer (post-2011) textbooks cover, on average, a higher percentage of grade-specific standards (82 percent) than older books (64 percent).

The Navigator can help teachers and school district curriculum leaders decide what order they wish to cover textbook lessons (and which lessons they can and probably should skip), rather than being rigidly tied to the order defined by a textbook. If there are no lessons in a textbook covering a particular standard, the Navigator will point to several free, online sources of curricula materials.

“One of the most serious consequences of what we found is that textbooks contribute in a significant way to the inequalities in our educational system,” Schmidt said. “The Navigator can create a bridge for teachers to make better use what they have, until newer well-aligned textbooks become available.”

The textbook analysis project was supported by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the GE Foundation’s commitment to college and career readiness.

Read a summary of the Textbook Navigator/Journal’s development and background for more information.