Common Core Watch

If you count Democrat Lincoln Chafee, five hopefuls have now declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. The forthcoming nineteen months promise to bring scandals, flip-flops, attack ads, and a whole bunch of memes. So in anticipation of all that fun, I welcome you to Eduwatch 2016, Fordham's coverage of the race as it pertains to education. To start things off, let’s see where the candidates stand on today's biggest issues by looking at what they’ve said in the past.

As each contender throws his or her hat in the ring, I’ll publish a collection of their quotes about education. Some will be recent—but if a candidate hasn’t said anything about an issue in eight years, well, they may be a little more dated. But that has its uses, too; silence can speak volumes.

So without further ado, let’s start with the biggest name in the race: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Earlier this month, Clinton held a sixty-minute education roundtable at which she spoke with a handful of educators and students at an Iowa community college. Due to the format, there wasn’t a...

The testing “opt-out” movement is testing education reform’s humility.

The number of students not participating in state assessments is large and growing. In one New York district, 70 percent of students opted out; in one New Jersey district, it was 40 percent.

Some reporting makes the case that this phenomenon is part of a larger anti-accountability, anti-Common Core story. Some reformers, it seems to me, believe opting out is the result of ignorance or worse.

Participants are routinely cast as uninformed or irrational. Amanda Ripley implied that opting out of testing is like opting out of vaccines and lice checks. New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch argued, “We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up…we should not refuse to take the test.” A column in the Orlando Sentinel argued we’d “lost our minds” and that the “opt-out movement has officially jumped...

This post has been updated with the full text of "Wanna opt out of tests? Try this instead"

There’s a bracing moment early in the 1991 movie Grand Canyon. A tow truck driver played by Danny Glover miraculously appears to rescue a stranded motorist played by Kevin Kline, who is being terrorized by thugs on a deserted Los Angeles street. Glover’s character appears, calmly hooks up the disabled car to his rig, and appeals to the gun-toting gang leader to let him and Kline go on their way.

“I'm gonna grant you that favor, but tell me this,” the gang leader says after a tense standoff, reminding the tow truck operator that he’s calling the shots. “Are you asking me as a sign of respect? Or are you asking because I've got the gun?”

“You ain't got the gun,” Glover replies, “we ain't having this conversation.”

I think of this scene every time I read a story about the “opt-out movement”—parents and others protesting the distorting effects of standardized testing in schools by refusing to let their children take the tests. Opt-out parents believe they have a gun pointed at testing. They might be right. But the opt-out movement...

A new report by a Harlem-based parent advocacy group calls on New York City charter schools to reduce their long waiting lists by “backfilling,” or admitting new students whenever current ones leave. The report from Democracy Builders estimates that there are 2,500 empty seats in New York City charter schools this year as a result of students leaving and not being replaced the following year.

It’s a deeply divisive issue within the charter sector. When transient students (those most likely to be low-performing) leave charter schools and are not replaced, it potentially makes some charters look good on paper through attrition and simple math: Strugglers leave, high performers stay, and the ratio of proficient students rises, creating an illusion of excellence that is not fully deserved. Charters should not be rewarded, the backfillers argue, merely for culling their rolls of the hardest to teach or taking advantage of natural attrition patterns.

Fair enough, although there’s a distasteful, internecine-warfare quality to all of this: Charters that backfill resent the praise and glory heaped upon those who do not, and seek to cut them down to size. Traditional schools hate...

My U.S. News column this week is sure to raise hackles. But that’s only because anytime you put the words “Eva” and “Moskowitz” adjacent to each other, you’re sure to upset either fans or haters of the polarizing founder of New York’s Success Academies. 

Much has been written by me and others at Fordham about the stellar results achieved by Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter schools and the controversial tactics used to achieve them. This isn’t an attempt to re-litigate any of those arguments. How Moskowitz runs her schools is of enormous importance to education policy advocates and activists, but most parents simply don’t care. Indeed, I’m tempted to suggest the secret of Moskowitz’s success is that she may have a better grasp of what parents want than just about anyone in education today. From the piece:

For inner-city moms and dads who have been disappointed by unsafe schools, chronic failure, and limited educational opportunities, questions about schools come down to three: Is my child safe? Is my child behaving? Is my child learning? Moskowitz can answer affirmatively—and accurately--for all three.

Having taught in a troubled South Bronx elementary...

Here’s a fascinating data point: Did you know that the entire weight of Finnish superiority on international reading tests rests on the shoulders of that country’s girls? The reading scores of Finnish boys on PISA tests is not statistically different than those of American boys, or even the average U.S. student of either sex—that’s how wide the gender gap is in Finland. “Finnish superiority in reading only exists in females,” writes Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Tom Loveless in what is surely the most eyebrow-raising finding in the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education. “If Finland were only a nation of young men,” he observes, “its PISA ranking would be mediocre.”

That girls outscore boys on reading tests is not news. What is surprising is just how profound and persistent are the gaps. Boys lag girls in every country in the world and at every age, and they have for quite some time. But the gender gap on the 2012 PISA in Finland, the global education superstar, is the widest in the world and twice that of the United States. The sober and precise Loveless can barely restrain himself. “Think of all the commentators who cite Finland to promote particular...

This post has been updated with the full text of "A troubling verdict."

This is how it starts: You work with these kids all year. You teach them how to do fractions or find the main idea. They struggle; they make mistakes. They get it. They forget it. You keep at it. Some days you go home with tire tracks on your back, but you come back the next day. They’re your kids, even the ones who push your buttons. Especially them.

On test day, you look over their shoulders while proctoring. You cringe. A careless mistake. Another one. You know they know this stuff. You’ve been over it enough. The one kid, he’s bright enough, but unfocused. Always rushing; always has to be done first. Use the remaining time to check your answers, you suggest. “I did,” he says.

Your finger comes to rest on his answer sheet. "Check this one."

This is how it ends: In an Atlanta courtroom, with eleven educators convicted of criminal charges in a cheating scandal dating back to 2001. Forty-four schools, 180 educators, thirty-five indictments. The ones convicted Wednesday face up to twenty years in prison. They were all found guilty under...

This post has been updated with the full text of "The demise of college is greatly exaggerated."

On a snowy December night in 1981, I packed my clothes and stereo into the back of a battered Ford Capri and drove away from SUNY Oswego. I was midway through a restless sophomore year and decided to “take a semester off.” I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out to be my last day as a full-time college student.

I finished my degree eventually, after far more years than I ought to admit, through a combination of classes, life-learning credit, CLEP exams, and independent study. Ultimately, my college education was highly personalized, largely self-directed, and only loosely bound to a physical campus. Cheap, too. I ended up spending far more on my daughter’s preschool than my entire bachelor’s degree.

Given all this, I ought to be solidly in agreement with the argument put forth by Kevin Carey in his new book The End of College, which holds that American colleges and universities are operating on a deeply flawed and increasingly unsupportable model. The litany of complaints is familiar: College is too expensive, caters to elites, and saddles young people...

There used to be a wry and mildly provocative blog called “Stuff White People Like.” Briefly popular in its heyday, it was described by the New Republic as a “piquant satire of white liberal cultural mores and hypocrisies.” The site’s creator stopped updating it a few years back after landing a book deal. But if it were still active, “opting out of tests” might have been right up there with craft beer, farmers’ markets, NPR, and Wes Anderson movies on that list of mores. Maybe hypocrisies, too.

A list compiled by the teachers’ union in New Jersey, where PARCC testing began earlier this month, claims that there have been more than thirty-five thousand test refusals statewide. On the order of one million young New Jerseyans are supposed to take the test, yet the state data documenting how many of them opted out won’t be available for at least a month. An informal analysis of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)’s list, however, shows that the highest numbers of test refusals are concentrated in communities that are affluent, left-leaning, and heavily white. 

A blue state with a Republican governor, New Jersey features a mix of affluent suburbs...

Last week, I complained that Eva Moskowitz and other reformers weren’t being fair when they described schools as “persistently failing” because they didn’t get many of their students to the ambitious levels built into the Common Core. This is how I concluded:

The move to higher standards means that we need to recalibrate our rhetoric and, more importantly, our approach to school accountability. In the low-standards days, it was perfectly legitimate to call out schools that couldn’t get all or most of their students to minimal levels of literacy and numeracy. It simply doesn’t work to similarly defame schools that don’t get all of their students “on track for college and career.” It’s a much higher bar and a much longer road.

But reform critics aren’t any better when it comes to playing games with the new standards. Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss, for example, continue to peddle the notion that the Common Core is developmentally inappropriate because it expects all students to be able to read simple passages by the end of kindergarten. Perhaps without knowing it, they’re making the same mistake as Moskowitz and...

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