Common Core Watch

Jason Zimba, PhD

Until now, I have generally kept out of the politics of the Common Core State Standards, in favor of helping teachers, districts, and states understand and implement them. But the recent editorial by James Milgram and Emmett McGroarty was so misleading that it demands a response.

Just how rigorous are the Common Core State Standards?

Jason Zimba
Jason Zimba: "Calling the Common Core 'fuzzy' is not only misreading the standards—it is also, I fear, sanctioning others to misread them in the same way."

  • The standards received a perfect score for content and rigor in the Fordham Institute’s 2010 review.
  • Research by William Schmidt, a leading expert on international mathematics performance and a previous director of the U.S. TIMSS study, has compared the Common Core to high performing countries in grades K–8. The agreement was found to be high. Moreover, no state's previous math standards were as close a match to the high-performing countries as the Common Core.
  • Milgram and his circle are a decided minority on the question of
  • ...

Tomorrow, the New York Department of Education plans to publicly release the results from the first administration of its new Common Core–aligned assessment—and leaders have already tipped their hands to let schools and districts know that the news isn’t good.

Common Core
We raise the bar in order to ground the work of our schools in an honest understanding of how our students are actually doing.
Photo by Benjamin Chun

Even though this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone in New York, especially since state officials have been previewing the presumed drop in scores for nearly a year, opponents of standards- and accountability-driven reform are at the ready to jump on the announcement and lambaste State Education Commissioner John King and New York City Mayor Bloomberg, both of whom remain steadfast in support of the Common Core.

Some of the criticism you will see will be familiar: these standards and tests are simply pitched at a level that’s too high, some will say. Our expectations are unrealistic. Diane Ravitch...

My name is Kathleen Porter-Magee; I’m a senior director and Bernard Lee Schwartz policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that also leads ground-level work in the great state of Ohio. We support a variety of education reforms, with a particular focus on school choice and standards- and accountability-driven reform. In addition to my own policy work, I’ve spent several years working to implement rigorous standards in urban Catholic and charter school classrooms. Fordham’s president, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan Administration, and its executive vice president, Mike Petrilli, served under George W. Bush.

I’m honored to be with you here today and am grateful for the opportunity to talk to you about what I believe is one of the most important education initiatives of the past decade: the development, adoption, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

I hope to help explain why the Common Core hold such promise, to demystify what the standards are all about, and to debunk some of the most common myths and misconceptions. But before we decide whether the CCSS is the right choice for Indiana students, it’s important to understand four facts:

1.  ...

I’ve been a little quieter than usual on the blog lately for a number of reasons, chief among them that I and the rest of the Porter-Magee clan were able to escape to New Hampshire earlier this month. An annual tradition that takes us away from cell phone and mostly out of WiFi range and lets us swim and kayak and just enjoy each other.

Perhaps the biggest reason for my silence, however, is that, after nearly four years back working at Fordham (on my second tour, my first having started in 2002), I’ve decided to take a position as the Senior Advisor for Policy and Instruction at the College Board. There, I’ll be able to focus even more of my research, reading, and writing work on understanding classroom-level standards implementation and assessment issues.

The decision to leave Fordham is one of the most difficult of my professional career. I’ve never worked for or with an organization that is as committed to excellence as it is to an open exchange of ideas. While we at Fordham all share certain reform and policy ideals and principles, there is no expectation that we toe some predetermined “party line.” (This is clear not...

PARCCing lot
Has Common Core lost its drive?
Photo by Thomas Hawk

This week, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) released its latest cost estimates, which are coming in significantly higher than the costs of the Smarter Balanced assessments. Almost immediately following the announcement, Georgia dropped out of the federally funded assessment consortium. This after Utah, Alabama, and Oklahoma dropped out of both consortia and after North Dakota switched from PARCC to Smarter Balanced.

Around the blogosphere, speculation—and occasional high-fiving—erupted. My friend and colleague, Andy Smarick, jumped on the announcement declaring it a “disaster” on Twitter and hinting that the PARCC defections might be signaling the beginning of the end of the Common Core. On Twitter, Rick Hess lamented, “If only Core Core'ites had been warned to take political, policy concerns seriously...” And Mike Petrilli lambasted Georgia officials on Twitter, chiding, “Shame on Georgia. You really can’t afford to spend 1/3 of 1% of your per pupil funding on...

The following testimony was prepared for delivery on July 23, 2013, to the Arkansas House and Senate Interim Committees on Education.

Senators and Representatives: It’s an honor to be with you today. My name is Mike Petrilli; I’m the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that also does on-the-ground work in the great state of Ohio. We promote education reforms of all stripes, with a particular focus on school choice and standards-based reform. I was honored to serve in the George W. Bush Administration; my boss, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan Administration. Perhaps most importantly, I was raised up the road in suburban St. Louis, where I attended public schools. (Go Cardinals!)

I suspect that not all of my friends agree with me, but I am glad that you are holding this hearing and debating the issue of whether Arkansas should stick with the Common Core. These standards were developed by the states, and to be successful, they need to be owned by the states. Our educators are all too familiar with the “flavor of the month”—reforms that come and go. They are wondering if they...

Despite the tireless marriage-wrecking efforts of Common Core opponents and their acolytes and funders, few states that initially pledged their troth to these rigorous new standards for English and math are in divorce mode. What’s far more fluid, unpredictable, and—frankly—worrying are the two elements of standards-based reform that make a vastly greater difference in the real world than standards themselves: implementation and assessment.

Implementation and assessment
Standards are not self actualizing; unless thoroughly implemented and properly assessed, they have scant traction.
Photo by Ginnerobot

Don’t get me wrong. Standards are important, because they set forth the desired outcomes of schooling and it’s obviously better to aim for clear, ambitious, and academically worthy goals than at targets that are vague, banal, easy, or trendy. Standards are also supposed to provide the framework that shapes and organizes the rest of the education enterprise: curricula, teacher preparation, promotion and graduation expectations, testing and accountability, and just about everything else. (Kindergarten standards, for example, should affect what happens in preschool...

Paul Bruno

Most people agree that a well-rounded science education must provide students with both content knowledge and facility with the practices of scientific inquiry. That is why both facts and skills should be clearly represented in the science standards adopted by states.

As the Fordham Institute demonstrated in its evaluation of the final draft of the Next Generation Science Standards, however, by giving “undue prominence” to scientific skills and practices, the NGSS ultimately underemphasize content knowledge. As a result, the NGSS are an inadequate guide for science teachers—like me—who need to know what is expected of our students and us.

What form, then, should practices take in science standards? There may be numerous ways of integrating practices into standards documents, but as a science teacher I appreciate in them at least two qualities.

First, clearly and specifically articulate the practices in which students should be able to engage.

This may seem obvious, but even the skills-heavy NGSS often fall short in this regard.

For example, the NGSS’s middle school “waves and electromagnetic radiation” standards require that students “[d]evelop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.” This does sound vaguely scientific,...

“When the law is on your side,” the saying goes, “argue the law. When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table.”

Sandra Stotsky pounds the table
The Pioneer Institute is at it again. 

Writing for the Pioneer Institute’s blog, University of Arkansas professor Sandy Stotsky does a lot of table pounding in her latest post, subtly titled, “Why Do They Lie? And Why Do Others Believe Them?

The post is aimed at exposing Common Core supporters to be the charlatans she believes we are. Unfortunately, Stotsky’s piece is itself so riddled with misinformation and falsehoods that it ends up more effectively proving that her case against the Common Core is, at its core, substantively weak.

In between the name calling and cheap shots, Stotsky advances an argument that rests on three weak claims: 1) The Common Core are not internationally benchmarked, 2) they are really about curriculum and not about standards, and...

Peter Cunningham

This Sunday’s New York Times piece on Common Core standards, Queens College political-science professor Andrew Hacker and Columbia University adjunct professor Claudia Dreifus contribute greatly to the confusion and misinformation surrounding the issue of learning standards.

The piece conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn. It also confuses assessments, which are tests to determine what students know, with accountability, which are systems of tracking student performance, determining which schools and teachers are succeeding or struggling, and providing support or intervening where necessary.

They open with an anecdote about some parents opting out of a new test in New York City as an indication that Common Core may face a broad national backlash. But the backlash—to the extent it exists—is about testing, not standards.

The authors wrongly suggest that the “uniformity of the standards” is what appeals to Common Core supporters. Actually it is the richness and rigor of the standards that appeals to supporters. The uniformity is a bonus. No one really expected forty-six states to adopt.

In their attempt...

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