Common Core Alignment: More Than a Product Sticker

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Organize.

Quick self-reflection poll for the K-12 sales and marketing teams reading this: Do you tell prospective customers that your product aligns with the Common Core State Standards? And if you do, how much time did your organization’s product/content team spend on the related development?

These days it seems like everyone claims to offer Common-Core-aligned products and services, suggesting that their offerings are perfectly in sync with the new guidelines for teachers. But are the claims actually true? Recent research says no. In this post we look at the implications for your longer term sales and marketing goals.

Teachers Need Your Help in Navigating the Common Core

This blog has covered in past posts the importance of technological professional development for K-12 educators. As teachers integrate new tools into their lesson plans to facilitate deeper learning, they need to understand not only the potential benefits of the tools, but also how to reach that potential.

The Common Core similarly warrants significant training. In a strange reversal of classroom expertise, the teachers currently most comfortable with the idea of Common Core standards might be those with the least overall experience—recent graduates whose teaching programs specifically taught the new guidelines. Veteran teachers are being asked to learn the standards on the fly, but they have little time to do so.

We recently spoke with Joe Crawford, a senior consultant at Partners4Results who previously spent over 35 years as a K-12 teacher and administrator. “Teachers are swamped with so many initiatives, [and have] so few support systems to help them work on the Common Core,” he told us. “With so many people telling them to do so many things, they are inundated.”

The stakes are high for these teachers because schools and districts’ evaluations are increasingly based on their students’ test scores. Crawford argued that, “To make all of this make sense, what we teach must be aligned to what we test, in both content and context.”

Schools are looking for resources that were developed with the new standards in mind; they want your organization to clearly delineate how and where your products align with specific standards. Efficiency is important for overextended teachers. If they must fish through your textbook or software to find the standards, they’ll be less likely to use it to its full potential. Unfortunately, two recent, independent studies both showed that many K-12 vendors are falling short of offering Common Core alignment.

Did Some Publishers Promise Too Much Too Early?

As EdWeek reported in March, William Schmidt and Morgan Polikoff—professors at Michigan State University and University of Southern California, respectively—each found in their forthcoming studies that many widely-used K-8 texts do not closely align with the Common Core standards (despite publishers’ marketing claims to the contrary).

After reviewing seven fourth-grade math textbooks used in Florida, Polikoff judged that, on average, 10-15 percent of the grade-appropriate Common Core standards was not covered; 15-20 percent of the books’ material covered topics outside the scope of the Common Core. Overall, he concluded that the textbooks were 60-70 percent identical to older versions and did not facilitate deeper learning.

While reviewing 700 textbooks collectively used by 60% of K-8 students in the U.S., Schmidt’s team discovered that some of the Common-Core-aligned textbooks were, “‘page by page, paragraph by paragraph’ virtually identical to their old, pre-common-core versions.”

Over-promise, Under-Deliver at Your Organization’s Peril

Publishers responding to the two studies cried foul, pointing out that they were developing new versions much more aligned to the new standards. We understand that it will take time for your organizations to completely update their K-12 offerings, but our message in the meantime is directed at those of you marketing and selling the products.

Crawford pointed out that companies that have truly integrated their solution with the Common Core are likely to not only meet an educator’s stated needs but also gain a loyal customer and earn the opportunity to sell additional services, like professional development and assessments. If your organization is at this stage, ensure that you (through your collateral and sales conversations) and your colleagues on the product team (through the user experience and manuals that they develop) clearly explain how your offering addresses specific standards.

If your product is not yet fully-aligned with the Common Core, though, there are still many ways to build a strong relationship with customers. For instance, you might offer consulting hours to help them identify the aspects of your solution most applicable to the new standards; offer a discounted package with supplemental material to provide a more complete solution during the transitional period; or pursue a co-marketing opportunity if another organization’s offering complements your own. Busy educators will appreciate the extra effort you make to help them efficiently use your product.

If you instead try to claim alignment where it does not yet exist, the benefits will be short-lived and will come at the cost of losing your credibility. Your customers, no longer trusting your word, will look elsewhere during their future purchasing cycles, and your organization will lack up-to-date proofs of efficacy when approaching new prospects.

Don’t be swayed into cutting corners if your competitors appear to roll out Common Core products at a faster pace. Remember the findings from the two textbook studies: sometimes the alignment sticker slapped on a solution represents little more than the sticker itself. To better position your organization for tomorrow, be honest with your prospects today, demonstrate your investment in their goals, and help them to succeed.

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