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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gates and Pearson Foundations Team For Common Core Curricula

The Foundations have undertaken an ambitious project to create 24 courses in math and English from kindergarten through grade 12.

May 5, 2011

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is joining with the Pearson Foundation to write a set of math and English curricula that will be built around the recently introduced Common Core Standards, Education Week reports. The curricula will include 11 courses in math for grades K-10 and 13 in English and language arts for grades K-12. Of the 24 courses, four will be available online for free and the remainder will be purchasable through the Pearson Foundation. In addition to the course plans, the full program will also include tools for teacher assessment and professional development.

Each course will serve as a 150-day curriculum and will harness technological advances such as social networking, animation, and gaming to better engage and motivate students, Judy B. Codding, the managing director of the Pearson Foundation, told reporters.

The effort will be funded by a $3 million grant from the Gates Foundation. It is part of a recently announced $20 million project by the foundation that will use new technologies to craft teaching and learning tools for the Common Core Standards.

The first set of courses for secondary-level math and elementary school English is scheduled to be available for the 2013-14 school year, while the full 24-course set will be released in time for 2014-15. Officials from Gates and Pearson have said that they are working with experts both inside and outside the U.S and consulting with professionals from countries like Japan, Singapore, and Israel.

The effort has drawn both supporters and critics. Kent Williamson, the executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, said that many previous attempts at a comprehensive curriculum failed because they didn’t have enough flexibility to account for local conditions. He added that NCTE has never written a model curriculum because it feels the best approach is for districts and schools to develop their own, only using comprehensive ones as a guide.

Grover J. Whitehurst, former director for the U.S. Department of Education and currently working for the Brookings Institution, was happy to see an attempt at a curriculum that covers so many grades with the new material smoothly building on the previously covered work. He was, however, unsure if the deadline the project organizers set for themselves was entirely realistic:

They’ve set out some ambitious goals if they expect [the curricula] to be truly innovative and groundbreaking. It’s easier to have good-sounding rhetoric about new materials, thinking, approaches, technology, than it is to do it. Ultimately, we have to see what it looks like.

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