Why These Ed Funders Think We Should Review Curriculum Like We Review Toasters

The current education reform movement seems to be obsessed with the “who” in schools. Namely, who are the people teaching our children and how competent are they? This seems intuitive and like common sense.

But in between these often heated discussions about the people standing in front of our children are considerations about what gets taught—namely, the curriculum being used. We have written before about how much of the energy behind the Common Core is shifting from adoption to implementation as curriculum providers are lining up to ensure that teachers have a hand in how these materials are being developed. And as expected, educators have expressed some significant reservations about the quality of the curricula they are meant to teach as Common Core alignment becomes all the rage.

Enter a trio of heavyweight funders—Helmsley, Hewlett and Gates—who together have given around $1 million and pledged an additional $2 million to jumpstart a new group called EdReports.org that is being billed as the “Consumer Reports for school materials.”

The EdReports team consists of 19 educators, half of them classroom teachers, which will conduct reviews of yearlong instructional series. Their reviews will be free online and widely accessible to educators across the country as they make decisions on curriculum.

The question of independence becomes important here as Helmsley, Hewlett, and Gates have all heavily funded support for the adoption of the Common Core while they’re now funding a body that will evaluate the quality of Common Core materials. That sounds kind of sticky, right?

And then there's a larger question: Why are the feds, states and districts relying so heavily on private foundations to fund the development of content, testing, standards, and evaluation for our public education system? In fairness, states like Louisiana have already begun the process of vetting curricular materials according to new standards and should be given credit for doing so. But the broader critique remains.

It is too early to tell what EdReports will produce in its reviews, but we do know that it is starting with top-tier curriculum producers McGraw Hill and Pearson as they initially focus on math and then move to literacy.

Will districts rely on their evaluations when making large-scale purchasing decisions? What will the implications be for curriculum publishing companies who do and do not stack up in the eyes of the folks at EdReports? More questions than answers abound right now, but we look forward to following this rather interesting confluence of funders, curriculum developers, and evaluators.