Industry Experts Weigh in on Common Core at BEA

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Panelists Marc Aronson, Melissa Jacobs-Israel, Eric Heidemann, and Becky Anderson

As many states are in the process of implementing Common Core State Standards for kindergarten through grade 12 education, those in the book industry are looking to identify how the new curricula will affect booksellers, librarians, and publishers. At BookExpo America on May 29, 2014, four panelists joined moderator Neil Jaffe, president of Booksource, at the educational session “Common Core: An Update for Booksellers and Librarians,” to provide insights and commentary on the opportunities arising from the Common Core initiative.

The session participants were Becky Anderson, co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshop and Anderson’s Bookfair Company in Naperville, Illinois; Melissa Jacobs-Israel, coordinator for the Office of Library Services, New York City Department of Education; Eric Heidemann, owner and managing partner at Fujii Associates Publisher Representatives; and Marc Aronson, lecturer at Rutgers University School of Communication and Information.

“Common Core is going to affect the trade book market in a strong way. It’s important and incumbent upon booksellers, librarians, and educators to become familiar with the Common Core,” opened Jaffe. Common Core standards require a more involved reading experience for students, who will be reading an increased amount of fiction and informational texts that are complex and build upon one another as the child grows and learns.

“For us as booksellers in our communities, in a way, a lot of this is business as usual,” said Anderson, and the new standards provide another way to ramp up a bookstore’s connection with educators, parents, and children, as well as to bolster nonfiction and educational book sections in the store. Booksellers should try to connect with teachers in any way possible to help with approaching the assessment tests and to alleviate the worry about finding the needed materials, she said.

Anderson has made a point to discuss new titles with educators as often as possible, as booksellers’ recommendations have weight and can get current titles onto Common Core title lists that are distributed statewide. “You will find, if you talk about it enough and you grab people’s ears, that those books will end up on those statewide lists,” Anderson said. An additional benefit of these adoptions, she said, is that it increases a bookstore’s ability to secure purchase orders from schools and get children into stores to purchase these titles.

Common Core is “an opportunity for getting kids hooked on reading with engaging narrative,” said Jacobs-Israel, who stressed that it allows booksellers to sell more books to new readers. Teachers are pairing nonfiction titles with fiction to get students interested in and learning about the world around them, she said, and this creates lifelong readers. Moreover, said Jacobs-Israel, with the need for new content, “What Common Core does for trade materials is that it brings out books that may have been at the back of the library, that may have been in the back of the bookstore.”

New Common Core-aligned materials include diverse, thought-provoking books covering both fiction and nonfiction subject matter. Common Core looks to “introduce kids to competing texts, texts that take different points of view, that examine things from a fiction and a nonfiction point of view, a pro and a con,” said Aronson. “And this is a tremendous opportunity because it frees authors to speak with their own passion and voice and interest, and it frees all of you to look for those kinds of materials that are engaging, passionate, alive, and that a reader can juxtapose and compare and contrast.”

Aronson agreed that the push for more nonfiction reading among students is opening up a world that is popular for adults but has not bridged the ages. Schools can take advantage of bringing in nonfiction authors, hosting nonfiction read-alouds, and extending to children exciting material that comes in all different topics and styles, said Aronson. “It’s just a marvelous opportunity to right that balance and open the door for that kind of reader,” he said.

Common Core’s Appendix B offers a list of “text exemplars” that identifies complex and quality titles that teachers may use in their curricula. The text exemplars list, noted Aronson, highlights books that reflect what the Common Core says students should focus on, but is not a definitive list of titles that must be used in the classroom.

Educators are also looking toward Lexile reading levels or Fountas & Pinnell reading levels to select books most appropriate for students, though Anderson noted that few educators that Anderson’s Bookshop has met with were concerned about the levels and looked rather to the store for guided recommendations. “Most of the educators didn’t care — what they wanted from us was that expertise, that knowledge to say that this is a great book and for what reason, and for what grade level or what reader it will work for,” she said.

Jacobs-Israel also looks beyond leveling, which she called “one component of many components” to take into account when selecting titles for the classroom. Jacobs-Israel references professional reviews as an important piece of the selection process, one that critiques and analyzes the content and benefits of titles through a professional lens.

Aronson acknowledged his support for the Common Core, noting, “I believe deeply in the Common Core Standards primarily because I read them and I found them to so deeply accord with the kind of critical thinking and critical reading that everybody in this room does and everybody in this room supports.” This movement for a change in education is not a fad, he said, and the growing focus on English language arts, math, and next-generation science is here to stay. “What Common Core aims to do is driven not by some federal initiative, not by one term or one test. It’s driven by what happens to kids the year after they graduate from high school,” he stressed.

To best take advantage of the Common Core, find ways to reach out to educators and the community, be it hosting parties with publisher sales reps and parents or teachers, or bringing “rock star” authors into schools, said Anderson. As communities look increasingly toward booksellers for information on how to bring the best titles to students in the Common Core classroom, “There’s many, many ways that those of us in independent bookselling can really connect with our communities,” she said.