Common Core Watch

Last December, I wrote a post criticizing the assessment consortia for their failure to release more information about the development of the forthcoming Common Core assessments. At the time, I argued that providing information about how the standards would be assessed is critical for teachers working to align their planning, curriculum, and instruction to the new expectations.

Providing information assessments is critical for teachers working to align their planning, curriculum, and instruction to the new expectations.

Today—seven months later and just two years from implementation of the new tests—we aren’t much closer to giving teachers a clear sense of how they and their students will be held accountable to the new standards. And while state and district leaders have begun to put pressure on curriculum developers to provide CCSS-aligned materials, there is very little public pressure being put on the consortia to release more information that would help teachers (and curriculum writers) in their quest to align planning, curriculum, assessment, and instruction to the Common Core.

Fortunately, a few states have started to provide more of the guidance that teachers so desperately need. To that end, the New York department of education has released a set of sample assessment questions for grades 3-8 for both ELA and math. (New York is a governing member of the PARCC consortium, but this work is separate from—though I assume informed by—the work being done by the consortium. PARCC is expected to release sample items sometime this summer as well.) The...

Categories: 
Oleksandr Nartov
Setting a high bar for academic performance is key to international competitiveness.
Photo by EO Kenny.

There is a reason big, modern countries care about education: Decades of experience and heaps of research have shown a close tie between the knowledge and skills of a nation's workforce and the productivity of that nation's economy.

One way to ensure that young people develop the skills they need to compete globally is to set clear standards about what schools should teach and students should learn—and make these standards uniform across the land. Leaving such decisions to individual states, communities, and schools is no longer serving the U.S. well.

We know from multiple sources that today's young Americans are falling behind their peers in other countries when it comes to academic performance. We also know that U.S. businesses are having trouble finding the talent they need within this country and, as a result, are outsourcing more and more of their work.

One major reason for this slipshod performance is the disorderly, dysfunctional way we've been handling academic standards for our primary- and secondary-school students. Yes, an effective education system also requires quality teachers, effective administrators, and a hundred other vital elements. But getting the expectations right, and making them the same everywhere, is important and getting...

Categories: 

Thanks in part to the Common Core, there is broad (though not yet universal) agreement that we need to raise the level of rigor in the reading that’s assigned to all students. Unfortunately, the guidance that’s starting to emerge about how teachers can best select “grade-appropriate” texts is overly complicated and may actually end up undermining the Common Core’s emphasis on improving the quality and rigor of the texts students are reading.

Take, for example, the book recently released by the International Reading Association entitled Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading. The first chapter of the book (blogged here), made a strong argument against the practice of assigning “just right” books and in favor of selecting more rigorous texts.

Having made a persuasive case for upping the rigor of readings, the authors devote the better part of the remaining eighty pages to showing, in great detail, just how complicated this process can become when put into practice. What unfolds is a dizzying array of quantitative and qualitative measures that teachers can use to select appropriate texts. 

The authors warn teachers that relying on quantitative measures alone (word and sentence length, word frequency, and text cohesion), which are by far the easiest and perhaps even the most reliable way to pin a text to a particular grade band, is “too problematic to be effective.”

Of course, the authors are right that quantitative measures alone can’t give you...

Categories: 

The central idea behind standards- and accountability-driven reforms is that, in order to improve student learning, we need to do three things:

  • Clearly define a minimum bar for all students (i.e., set standards).
  • Hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable for meeting those minimum standards.
  • Back off: Give teachers and leaders the autonomy and flexibility they need to meet their goals.
The push for greater accountability has often been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control.

It’s a powerful formulation, and one that we’ve seen work, particularly in charter schools and networks where teachers and leaders have used that autonomy to find innovative solutions to some of the biggest instructional challenges.

Unfortunately, in far too many traditional school districts, the push for greater accountability has been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control. That is a prescription for a big testing and accountability backlash. 

You needn’t look far for examples of how traditional districts have gotten the accountability balance all wrong. There are a host of stifling district practices that unintentionally hamstring, rather than free, our teachers and leaders. And that unintentionally encourage precisely the kinds of practices most testing critics loathe.

Many of these top-down district policies stem from the earnest desire to replicate the practices of the best and most effective teachers. Unfortunately, what too many state and district leaders miss is that you can’t script your way to great instruction from district offices or from the statehouse. And trying to do so...

Categories: 

Guest blogger Paul Gross is an emeritus professor of life sciences at the University of Virginia and former head of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole.

Yesterday in Ed Week, an article by Nora Fleming highlighted the results from a recent NAEP assessment of “hands-on” science skills, which demonstrated that “elementary, middle, and high school students failed to demonstrate a deep understanding of science concepts when they performed activity-based science tasks and investigations…” This breathless account hardly merits close attention. The NAEP data will receive it in due course. But the remarks of the NAEP Governing Board’s spokesman, here quoted, are disturbing. They call for a response not much longer than statements quoted in Nora Fleming’s article.

Cell Culture
All scientific "situations" are "real life."
Photo by Umberto Salvagnin.

First, the comment attributed to Alan J. Friedman implies that, until now, K-12 science education has consisted of “rote memory and how to follow instructions.” Abandonment of this canard by science teachers (and their teachers) is long overdue. There is no evidence to support it. For half a century, specialists in school science and their professional organizations have stressed, and overstressed, the importance of “hands-on” science learning. That insistence antedates by decades the advent of computers. The suggestion that until now science education ignored the “grasping of...

Categories: 

Common practice and conventional wisdom among many literacy experts suggest that the best way to help improve student reading comprehension is to assign “just right” texts—those that are pitched at a student’s instructional reading level. The theory is that you want to challenge students to read books that are just hard enough to push their comprehension, but not so difficult that they’ll throw up their hands in frustration.

Does a focus on “just right” texts adding to the gap between advanced readers and their below-level peers?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post wondering whether this focus on “just right” texts was doing a disservice to our most-struggling students, even adding to the already large reading and content gap between advanced readers and their below-level peers.

A new book published by the International Reading Association and written by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Diane Lapp provides yet more evidence that the focus on “just right” books may in fact be undermining student learning in three critical ways:

1. Assigning “just right” books makes reading too easy.

“Perhaps one of the mistakes in the past efforts to improve reading achievement has been the removal of struggle,” the authors argue.

As a profession, we may have made reading tasks too easy. We do not suggest that we should plan students’ failure but rather that students should be provided with opportunities to struggle and to learn about themselves as readers when they struggle, persevere, and eventually succeed.

Of course, advocates of the...

Categories: 

I don’t love standards. I doubt any teacher does.

I love literature. History. Science. I love grappling with ideas. I’m excited to know how things work and to share what I have learned with others, especially eager-to-learn children. Standards, by contrast, are unlovely, unlovable things. No teacher has ever summoned his or her class wide-eyed to the rug with the promise that “today is the day we will learn to listen and read to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues from a variety of perspectives."

School events teach liberty, citizenship
No teacher has ever summoned his or her class to the rug with the promise that "today is the day we will learn to listen and read to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues from a variety of perspectives. Won't that be fun boys and girls?!"
Photo by Fort Rucker.

“Won’t that be fun, boys and girls?!”

Well, no, it won’t. Standards are a joyless way to reverse engineer the things we love to teach and do with kids. Thus I understand and sympathize if beleaguered teachers view Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as just one more damn thing imposed on them from on high, interposed between them and their students. But if they do, that’s a shame. Because far from being just another compliance item on the...

Categories: 

Fordham's Mike Petrilli joined Education Sector's Susan Headden on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss how much the Common Core will actually change American education. The conversation includes why the Common Core hasn't gotten more headlines nationwide and what impact it will have on the states that adopt it. The replay is worth a listen:

Categories: 

Among the most controversial aspects of the Common Core ELA standards is their far greater emphasis on nonfiction reading than is traditionally seen in American classrooms. The standards demand that students spend as much as 50 percent of their time reading “informational texts” in the early grades and up to 75 percent on informational texts and literary nonfiction by high school. It’s a common sense effort to restore balance to readings that have traditionally focused almost exclusively on fiction. But it also takes on one of the most prominent and often fiercely defended fallacies in American education: that fiction is the only—or perhaps even the best—way to develop students’ love of reading, learning, and critical comprehension skills.

The CCSS take on the fallacy that fiction is the only—or perhaps even the best—way to develop students’ love of reading, learning, and critical comprehension skills.

Diane Ravitch recently added fuel to the fire when she penned a post entitled, “Why Does David Coleman Dislike Fiction,” where she lamented the standards’ focus on informational texts and literary nonfiction. She argued:

Maybe David Coleman thinks that education is wasted on the young. But how sad it would be if future generations of young people never read the poems and stories and novels that teach them not only how to think but how to feel, how to dream, how to imagine worlds far beyond those they know.

Of course, none of the CCSS architects or supporters imagines a world where students don’t read fiction....

Categories: 

As states and districts strain their budgets, the cost of the impending transition to Common Core State Standards has generated a disconcerting lack of attention from state policymakers. At a time when money is a key element in education-policy discussions, the dearth of such cost projections is not only alarming, it has left the entire standards effort vulnerable to opponents eager to spread fears about—inter alia—its fiscal viability. Those who are still pushing states to repudiate the Common Core would have us believe that its price tag is huge—and that all those costs are new. Wrong. Most states have been implementing their own academic standards (good, bad, or mediocre) for years and money that they’re already spending for that objective can (and should) be repurposed for Common Core implementation. Nor do all implementation strategies carry the same costs. Which, especially in an era of tight budgets, is why the nuanced findings of Fordham’s latest study, Putting A Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?, come at a crucial time.

CCSS costs video
Watch Amber Winkler explain how much Common Core implementation will cost. 

Our analysts (Patrick Murphy of the University of San Francisco, Elliot Regenstein of EducationCounsel LLC, and Keith McNamara) targeted the three primary cost drivers of standards implementation—instructional materials, student...

Categories: 

Pages