Common Core Watch

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....

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...

Today, Fordham is releasing a new report on the costs of putting the Common Core State Standards into place around the country. Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost? estimates the implementation cost for each of the forty-five states (and the District of Columbia) that have adopted the Common Core State Standards and shows that costs naturally depend on how states approach implementation. Authors Patrick J. Murphy of the University of San Francisco and Elliot Regenstein of EducationCounsel LLC illustrate this with three models:

Pricing the Common Core
Download Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core to learn more.
  • Business as Usual. This “traditional” (and priciest) approach to standards-implementation involves buying hard-copy textbooks, administering annual student assessments on paper, and delivering in-person professional development to all teachers.
  • Bare Bones. This lowest-cost alternative employs open-source instructional materials, annual computer-administered assessments, and online professional development via webinars and modules.
  • Balanced Implementation. This is a blend of approaches, some of them apt to be effective as well as relatively cost-efficient.

The report examines the tradeoffs associated with each strategy and estimates how much the three approaches would cost each state that has adopted the Common Core. The authors also point out that, since states already invest billions annually in professional development,...

Education reform critics often compare the practices of elite private schools to those of traditional public schools serving our nation’s most disadvantaged students and are appalled by the differences they see. Just this morning, I saw a tweet from science teacher Aaron Reedy, retweeted to Diane Ravitch’s 30,000 followers, which said:

We need to look at what works for the wealthy and emulate that in all of our public schools.
Too many of us draw exactly the wrong lessons about what should be replicated from elite private (and public) schools.

It’s a familiar theme, and one that I—and many reformers—are sympathetic to. Unfortunately, when observing teaching and learning at elite private (and public) schools, too many of us draw exactly the wrong lessons about what should be replicated. And by doing so, we unintentionally promote strategies that end up widening the knowledge gap between children born to privilege and those born to poverty.

I wrote about this a year ago, responding to an article written by Alfie Kohn that accused urban schools in engaging in what he called “a pedagogy of poverty.” At the time, I argued:

A lot of education activists, like Alfie Kohn and Diane Ravitch, like to argue that urban schools should copy the instructional practices of elite private schools…
…What they are missing is what happens outside the classroom: the heavy reliance on parent involvement to help teach their students the key skills, knowledge and abilities they need to succeed. Teachers in these schools...

Nearly two years ago, as states weighed the decision of whether to adopt the Common Core ELA and math standards, they were told that they were allowed—encouraged, even—“to add an additional 15 percent on top of the core.”

The reality is that the CCSS were never meant to represent the totality of what states expected students to know and be able to do, particularly in ELA, where the introduction specifically warns:

The CCSS were never meant to represent the totality of what states expected students to know and be able to do,
Furthermore, while the Standards make references to some particular forms of content, including mythology, foundational U.S. documents, and Shakespeare, they do not—indeed, cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn.

Yet, despite the freedom that states have to take ownership over the standards and add the critical content teachers and leaders need to guide curriculum and instruction, only eleven states added even a single new word to the core. And in many cases, what was added was barely more than window dressing. Some of the eleven states focused on changing the format, with minimal changes to the content. Others added minor statements, phrases or clarification. (Alabama, for instance, added three standards to the K-12 math standards and seventeen “statements” to the K-12 ELA standards. Montana merely added “cultural context” to the existing CCSS.) And a few added some specific content to further clarify the intent of the standards.

That’s why, in the absence...

As Kathleen noted in a blog post on Saturday:

Louisiana State Capitol
Download "Future shock: Early Common Core implementation lessons from Ohio."
There isn’t a Common Core supporter in the nation who hasn’t qualified her enthusiasm for what the standards can do with “if they are implemented properly.” On the other hand, I’m not sure there’s a Common Core opponent who isn’t standing in the wings, waiting for implementation to fail.

She went on to explain why Common Core implementers must be willing to take risks, fail, and, most importantly, learn from their mistakes if the project is to succeed. Now, Fordham’s Ohio team has released a useful tool for Common Core advocates looking to avoid miscues by learning from the challenges others have already faced in the implementation process. In a new report, “Future shock: Early Common Core implementation lessons from Ohio,” veteran journalist Ellen Belcher provides the perspectives of educators working at schools around the Buckeye State that are leading the way at putting the rigorous new standards into practice. With luck, these insights into what is working—and what hasn’t worked so far—will help educators around the country through the implementation hurdles that lie ahead.

To learn more about the challenges of Common Core implementation download the full report and sign up to attend or webcast our...

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

—Colin Powell

There isn’t a Common Core supporter in the nation who hasn’t qualified her enthusiasm for what the standards can do with “if they are implemented properly.” On the other hand, I’m not sure there’s a Common Core opponent who isn’t standing in the wings, waiting for implementation to fail.

It’s only by allowing the chance for failure that standards can have any real meaning.

This is often the point in a new initiative when supporters feel most vulnerable and start scrambling to figure out how to avoid high profile failures. But, if we’ve going to succeed in this venture, we shouldn’t be trying to avoid failure, we should be looking to shine a spotlight on it and embrace it as a key element of change. It’s only by allowing the chance for failure that standards can have any real meaning.

This is something that KIPP understands intimately. KIPP has become perhaps the most well-known charter model not just because it was the first CMO to achieve national scale, but also because it’s been consistently the most successful. There are KIPP schools around the country that beat the odds and that do amazing things for the students in their care.

Of course, there are also KIPP schools that haven’t lived up to the promise of the best among them. Schools that opened to great promise, but whose...

Today, Achieve is releasing drafts of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), an attempt to create “common,” multi-state standards for that critical subject. (It’s not part of the separate Common Core initiative for reading and math.) Using a framework developed by the National Research Council (and reviewed by Fordham last fall), experts from twenty-six Lead State Partners worked with Achieve to draft the new standards, supposedly “rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally-benchmarked science education.”

It remains to be seen whether these common standards willl avoid the pitfalls that plague too many state standards; their "commonness" alone certainly doesn't guarantee they will be better than existing standards. Still, this is a crucial step in a multi-year process, one that may significantly alter American science education—and it couldn’t come at a better time. Fordham will be publishing a formal review of the draft standards in coming weeks (and Achieve is soliciting feedback, so sharpen your pencils), but regardless of how the NGSS drafts stack up, something needs to change. Our recent study of state science standards in every state revealed a dismal situation: A majority of states received a D or F grade in the review, with the national average a low C. States will need to think hard about whether they can live with the status quo—and whether the NGSS offers a viable alternative.

To give a better sense of...

A clique of conservative groups is pushing the message that tomorrow’s ALEC vote is part of a “growing movement” against federal intrusion vis-à-vis the Common Core standards. There’s a problem with that line of reasoning: ALEC is already on record against federal intrusion into education vis-à-vis the Common Core standards.

In December, the organization of conservative state lawmakers adopted two Common Core resolutions in its education committee. One—the subject of the vote tomorrow at the board of directors level—calls on states to back out of the common standards initiative altogether. The second—which has already become ALEC policy—focuses instead on the federal role in the initiative, and tells Uncle Sam to back off.

Here’s the first resolution:

The State Board of Education may not adopt, and the State Department of Education may not implement, the Common Core State Standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Any actions taken to adopt or implement the Common Core State Standards as of the effective date of this section are void ab initio. Neither this nor any other statewide education standards may be adopted or implemented without the approval of the Legislature.

And the second:

BE IT RESOLVED, that the {legislative body} vigorously opposes any effort by the federal government to deny the authority of any state to set its own education academic content standards or to attempt to overturn decisions made duly by a state regarding any education standards deemed by the constitutionally-designated authorities in that state to be in...

In a 2000 campaign speech, George W. Bush famously said:

Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less—the soft bigotry of low expectations.
It turns out that there are also some pretty deep, possibly unconscious, biases at work that manifest themselves through the way we praise students.

It was a powerful turn of phrase that ended up emerging as the signature phrase of Bush’s reform agenda. There has been evidence around for some time that students of color or those from disadvantaged backgrounds have not been exposed to the same rigorous content as their white, middle class and affluent peers. But it turns out that there are also some pretty deep, possibly unconscious, biases at work that go beyond exposure to rigorous content and that manifest themselves through the way we praise students.

For a new study recently published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Rutgers-Newark psychology professor Kent D. Harber and his team gave a poorly written essay to 113 white middle and high school teachers. The teachers were told that the essay was written by a black, a white, or a Latino student and that their feedback would be given directly to the student to help him/her improve. According to one article:

The results showed that the teachers displayed a “positive feedback bias.” The teachers provided more praise and less criticism if they thought that the student who wrote the essay was Black or Hispanic....

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