Common Core Watch

Editor's note: This post has been updated to include the entirety of "Knowledge is literacy."

In his best-selling book In Defense of a Liberal Education, Fareed Zakaria worried that in the era of technology and globalization, "an open-ended exploration of knowledge is seen as a road to nowhere." Defenders like Zakaria have argued that a liberal education is still the best preparation for a broad and unpredictable range of careers.

I agree, but I'd like to propose that we start by restoring the liberal arts tradition to where it can really do the most good: elementary school. A K–5 version of a liberal arts education would go a long way toward solving one of the most stubborn problems we face in American education: How to raise kids who love to read and are pretty good at it.

To be educated in the liberal arts is to have a broad grasp of literature, art, music, history, and the sciences. That's also a fair description of what it takes to be a good reader. Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia, has driven this point home with exceptional clarity in his outstanding new book Raising...

Sherman Dorn

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on Sherman Dorn's blog.

Science writer David Kohn has an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times, “Let the Kids Learn Through Play.” For historians, the first three words ring alarm bells: “Twenty years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing” (emphasis added).

Great: another Myth of the Golden Age. Maybe my memory is flawed, but Google Books and I both agree that the early 1990s was a time when “child-care crisis” was on the tip of many tongues, or at least on far more tongues and keyboards than before or since:

For many parents, any child care they can pay for is an uncertain proposition; debates over play versus early academics are a luxury for millions. For others, the quality of interactions between teachers and young children trumps the question of what happens during the day. And in practice, the divide between “play” and “academics” is often specious. When my son’s preschool teachers in the late 1990s cut up samples of almost a dozen types of fruit for his class to try, was that...

In 2007, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute published what was probably the most influential study in our eighteen-year history: The Proficiency Illusion. Using data from state tests and NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress, our partners at NWEA estimated the “proficiency cut scores” of most of the states in the country. We expected to find a race to the bottom during the No Child Left Behind era; instead we found a walk to the middle. Importantly, though, we also demonstrated the vast discrepancies from state to state—and within states, from subject to subject and even grade to grade—when it came to what counted as “proficient.”  Checker and I wrote in the foreword:

What does it mean for standards-based reform in general and NCLB in particular? It means big trouble—and those who care about strengthening U.S. K–12 education should be furious. There’s all this testing—too much, surely—yet the testing enterprise is unbelievably slipshod. It’s not just that results vary, but that they vary almost randomly, erratically, from place to place and grade to grade and year to year in ways that have little or nothing to do with true differences in pupil achievement. America...

With the end of the school year fast approaching and the annual testing window closing, we can make some preliminary judgments about what's signal and what's noise in the debate over parents opting their children out of state assessments. There have been missteps and lessons for those on both sides of the issue. Four have struck me hard.

1) Respect parental choice. Education reformers who support testing may not agree with parents' decision to opt out. But it's senseless to argue that parents know best when it comes to choosing their child's school, yet are ill-informed when it comes to opting out. Parental choice is like free speech; the test of your belief is whether you still support it when you dislike how it's used. My fellow U.S. News contributor Rick Hess writes that education reformers have dismissed test refusers as "conspiracy theorists and malcontents." That overstates things, but no matter. Those of us who value testing need to do a better job of explaining to unhappy parents what's in it for them. But we also must respect parental prerogative, whether or not we like where it leads.

2) Don't follow the money. Parents have every...

Rand Paul, the junior U.S. senator from Kentucky, is one of at least six Republicans hoping to be president. He’s officially up against Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina—and more likely candidates, like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, are waiting in the wings. He’s also the subject of the eighth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ stances on education issues.

Paul, who is both a standing U.S. senator and a practicing ophthalmologist, has been around national politics most of his life. His father Ron was an on-again, off-again congressman between 1976 and 2013, ran for president twice, and first held office when Rand was thirteen years old. So although Rand has only been in office for four years, he isn’t exactly a novice—nor is he treated like one. Here are his views on education:

1. Common...

With little fanfare, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) last month released a draft of its new “School Quality Snapshot”—Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s bid to evaluate each of Gotham’s more than 1,800 schools based on “multiple measures.” The DOE’s website invites public comment on the new reports until May 8. Here’s mine:

I confess I wasn’t the biggest fan of the single-letter-grade school report cards of the Bloomberg-Klein era. But as a signaling device to schools and teachers about what mattered to the higher-ups at the DOE’s Tweed Courthouse headquarters, they were clear and unambiguous: Raise test scores, but most importantly raise everyone’s test scores. With 85 percent of a school’s grade based on test scores—and 60 percent of the total based on test score growth—the report cards, for good or for ill, left little room for doubt that  testing was king. Valorizing growth was an earnest attempt to measure schools’ contributions to student learning, not merely demographics or zip code.

Fariña, whose contempt for data I’ve remarked upon previously, values “trust.” You may worry if your child can’t read or do math. So does Chancellor Fariña, sort of. But she deeply cares if “teachers trust the...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at U.S. News & World Report.

I wanted to hate this book.

I’m a bit of an education technology skeptic, but I come by it honestly. No field overpromises and underdelivers more than education. And nowhere within education is that more true than among education tech’s various cheerleaders. For years, we’ve heard innovators, disruptors, and paradigm shifters natter on about twenty-first-century skills, flipped classrooms, and the “school of one.” Meanwhile, the experience of school for most kids remains the same, with the same mediocre outcomes year after year. Read my lips: No new TED Talks.

So I confess that I opened Greg Toppo’s The Game Believes in You with an arched eyebrow. I’m not ready to abandon my skepticism entirely, but Toppo made a persuasive case that games do many of the things we expect schools and teachers to do—differentiate instruction, gather data, and assess performance—and very, very well.

He started to win me over by not making the standard, clichéd education tech enthusiast’s argument about student engagement and “meeting the children where they are.” I don’t think...

Mike Huckabee announced his candidacy for president yesterday, becoming the eighth hopeful to do so and the third Republican in two days. The Republican primary is now a six-person race, compared to the Democrats’ two. And Huckabee is the subject of the seventh installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues.

The forty-fourth governor of Arkansas is very familiar with both politics and presidential campaigns. He started his political career in 1993 as the lieutenant governor of Arkansas. He leveled up to governor in 1996, a gig he held until 2007. Dreaming even bigger, he ran for president in 2008. He considered running in 2012, but ultimately didn’t. And here he is in 2016, back in the mix. His long career has brought many opinions on education, some of which have changed significantly. Here are ten:

1. Common Core (2015): “I also oppose Common Core....We must kill Common Core and restore common...

Carly Fiorina announced Monday that she’s running for president, joining five other hopefuls in the race to win the Republican primary. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, isn’t entirely new to politics. In 2010, she received 42 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Barbara Boxer, the junior U.S. senator from California.

Fiorina is neither a popular talking head nor a seasoned politician, so her stances on the issues aren’t as publicized as those of her competitors. Nevertheless, she’s been pretty vocal the last few months, and her senatorial run necessitated some opining. So in this sixth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ views on today’s biggest education issues, here are Fiorina’s positions:

1. Common Core: “I don't think Common Core is a good idea. I don't support it.” January 2015.

2. No Child Left Behind: “No Child Left Behind helped us set high standards for our students, and many of our students have met and exceeded that bar.” August 2010.

3. School choice: “Parents should be given choice, competition, and accountability in the classroom.” February 2015.

4. Non-cognitive skills: “Teaching entrepreneurship, innovation, risk taking, and imagination comes with local control, and we have to maintain this...

Ben Carson announced yesterday that he’s running for president. The retired neurosurgeon has never held political office, but he was the first doctor to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head—so there’s that. He’s also the fifth subject in the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ stances on education.

Since his highly publicized speech at the 2013 National Prayer breakfast, Carson has become a popular figure among conservatives. This has afforded him many opportunities to share his views, and education is one of his favorite issues:

1. The importance of education: “Education is the fundamental principle of what makes America a success. It is the foundation of what truly makes our country ‘the Land of Opportunity.’” May 2015.

2. Common Core: “In recent years, there has been a troubling trend of the U.S. Department of Education increasingly...

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