Common Core Watch

Several weeks ago,
Education First—a national education policy and strategic consulting
firm—released the
first in what will be a series of three reports
aimed at providing guidance to states as
they work to develop Common Core implementation plans. Yesterday, Education
First and Achieve together released the second report, a “Common
Core State Standards Implementation Rubric and Self-Assessment Tool.
” While
imperfect, this rubric is a useful tool that can help push states thinking
about standards implementation.

State policy leaders should commit these differences to memory.

Among the most useful
elements of the report is Table 1, which outlines the “key instructional
shifts” that ELA and math teachers will face as they begin to shift instruction
to the Common Core. Drawn from advice produced by Student Achievement
Partners
, the guidance is simple, but more clearly outlines the essential
differences between the Common Core and most existing state standards than most
of the “crosswalk” comparisons
that state Departments of Education have
undertaken to date. On the ELA side, for instance, the authors explain that the
CCSS will focus on:

  • Building knowledge through content-rich
    nonfiction and informational texts 
  • Reading and writing grounded in evidence from
    text 
  • Regular practice with complex text and its
    academic vocabulary 

This very clearly and
succinctly highlights some of the key differences between the Common Core and
existing state standards....

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As everyone in the
education world already knows, the New York Times won a lawsuit that forced the New York City
Department of Education to publish the teacher-level value-added data it has
been collecting as part of its accountability system. The result? The public
unveiling of the work product of an expensive system that is confusing,
unreliable—and apparently—error-riddled.

Before we go further down
this path, now is probably as good a time as any for education reformers to
pause and ask themselves if this kind of top down effort is really what will
lead our schools to excellence?

The question is not whether student achievement data should be used as one
of several measures of teacher effectiveness, but rather how those data should be used and who is ultimately in the
driver’s seat.

Critics of using test
data argue that it’s unfair; that standardized tests are imperfect and
therefore cannot be used to determine whether students have learned what they
should have, and certainly not whether teachers have taught what they were
supposed to.

Such arguments are
misguided for lots of reasons, chief among them that there is, in no
profession, a perfect measure of effectiveness. And teachers ultimately should
be held accountable for how well they are able to drive achievement in their
classrooms.

No matter how
well developed a tool is, it needs to be reality checked.

But these critics are correct on a larger...

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Amanda Young
learning specialist, Noble Charter Schools

Noble Charter Schools in Chicago have gotten a heap
of negative attention
over the past several weeks for a discipline policy
that some call a “dehumanizing system that looks a lot more like reform school
than a college prep.” In
short, the school issues demerits to students who commit infractions, and students
who earn four demerits in two weeks are given detention and charged $5. Critics
claim that such policies amount to “nickel and diming” poor families who are
already struggling to make ends meet. (Last week, Fordham’s own Adam Emerson pointed
out
that Noble is hardly alone—there are many Catholic schools, for
instance, that levy similar fines for student misbehavior.)

Of course, there are different ways to structure
discipline policies, and what works for one school won’t necessarily work for
another. But what’s missing from this discussion is the context necessary to
understand how the policy is used and its impact on the culture, students, and
families.

Below is the response from Amanda Young, a learning
specialist who works at a Noble Charter School
in Chicago, and
who is shocked and dismayed by the attention Noble’s discipline policy has
received. She believes that, taken together, Noble’s policies are designed to
support students and create a culture that helps them succeed. And it’s hard to
argue with the success they’ve had so far. As Emerson noted in his...

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The
Pioneer Institute—no friends of the Common Core to begin with—released a report
this week claiming that it will cost the nation $16 billion to implement the
new standards. (If you read the full text, the authors frequently note that
this is, in their opinion, a wild underestimate.)

The
astronomical estimate is not entirely surprising. If you want to scare
cash-strapped states away from moving forward with their Common Core plans,
it’s not hard to attach a frighteningly large price tag to implementation.
After all, the purpose of standards is to create the foundation upon which the
entire education system is built. So, obviously, changing standards must mean
knocking down the house, re-pouring the foundation, and starting again.

Concrete Housing Construction in Chile
Implementing Common Core doesn't necessarily mean knocking down the house and starting from scratch.
Photo by Concrete Forms.

Right?

Well,
not quite.

Yes,
implementing the Common Core will be costly. No one disputes that. Aligning
materials, instruction, and assessment around new standards cannot be done on
the cheap if it’s going to be done well.

On
the other hand, let’s pretend neither that implementation of the new standards
needs to look exactly like implementation...

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According to Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute, “The Common Core will have little to no effect on student achievement.” 

Standards—no matter how clear or
how rigorous—are not a panacea.

To
prove this, he draws on research from 2009 conducted by his colleague,
Russ Whitehurst. Essentially, Whitehurst found that the quality of state
standards (as judged by our own Fordham analyses as well as analyses
conducted by the AFT) did not correlate with state NAEP scores. More
specifically, he found that “states with weak content standards score
about the same on NAEP as those with strong standards.”

Q.E.D.?

Hardly.
What Loveless conveniently ignores is the second—and arguably more
significant—element of Whitehurst’s research. In short, Whitehurst
“concluded that the effects of curriculum on student achievement
are larger, more certain, and less expensive than the effects of popular
reforms such as common standards…” (Emphasis added.)

His
point is that setting standards alone does very little, but that a
thoughtfully and faithfully implemented rigorous curricula can move the
achievement needle, sometimes dramatically.

While
one could chose to pit those two policy advancements against it each
other (standards versus curriculum), a much more logically way to view
it is that while strong standards provide a solid foundation, you still
need to build the schoolhouse. For education reformers trying to drive
the needle on student achievement, the process should start by setting
clear and...

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I’ve posted before about the
unusual interpretations and suggestions for implementing the Common Core
standards that are popping
up across the country
. Earlier this week, more evidence emerged that when
it comes to organizations peddling Common Core implementation resources and
strategies, the buyer should beware.

When
it comes to organizations peddling Common Core implementation resources and
strategies, the buyer should beware.

Eye on Education, a
publishing company that provides “busy educators with practical information” on
a host of topics (professional development, school improvement, student
assessment, data analysis, and on), released a report this week authored by
Lauren Davis that highlights “5 Things Every Teacher Should be Doing to Meet
the Common Core State Standards”:

  • Lead High-Level, Text-Based
    Discussions
  • Focus on Process, Not Just
    Content
  • Create Assignments for Real
    Audiences and with Real Purpose
  • Teach Argument, Not Persuasion
  • Increase Text Complexity

At first glance, this
appears to be pointed in the right direction. After all, nearly every point
includes quotes from the standards themselves or from the publisher’s criteria
released by David Coleman and Sue Pimentel.

Unfortunately, dressing
up advice with strategically placed quotes does not a Common Core
implementation strategy make. And, in all but one area, Eye on Education has
gotten the spirit of the Common Core dead wrong.

First, teachers are told
to “focus on process, not just content.” Here, the author...

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The Northwest Evaluation Association recently surveyed parents and teachers to gauge their support for various types of
assessment. The
results
indicated that just a quarter of teachers find summative
assessments “‘extremely’ or ‘very’ valuable for determining whether students
have a deep understanding of content.” By contrast, 67 percent of teachers (and
85 percent of parents) found formative and interim assessments extremely or
very valuable.

I can understand why teachers would find formative and
interim assessments appealing. After all, teachers generally either create those
assessments themselves, or are at least intimately involved with their
creation. And they are, therefore, more flexible tools that can be tweaked
depending on, for instance, the pace of classroom instruction.

But, while formative and interim assessments are
critically important and should be used to guide instruction and planning, they
cannot and should not be used to replace summative assessments, which play an
equally critical role in a standards-driven system.

Formative and interim assessments cannot and should not be used to replace summative assessments.

Summative assessments are designed to evaluate whether
students have mastered knowledge and skills at a particular point in time. For
instance, a teacher might give a summative assessment at the end of a unit to
determine whether students have learned what they needed to in order to move forward.
Similarly, and end-of-course or end-of-year summative assessment can help
determine whether students mastered the...

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Two weeks ago, Obama made waves in his State of the Union
address when he called for raising
the dropout age
and requiring all students across the country to stay in
school until they’re 18. One big solution to our educational crisis, he
explained, is to simply not let kids drop out. (Or at least to make it more
difficult for them to do so.)

If only it were that easy.

Obama may end up ratcheting up the pressure to water down the standards to
which all students are held.

The truth of the matter is, we have yet to develop an
education system that keeps students in schools, that holds them accountable to
rigorous standards, and that helps them meet those ambitious goals. Therefore,
by putting the focus on staying in school longer, without dealing with the very
real challenge of how you ensure that the time spent in school is meaningful,
Obama may end up ratcheting up the pressure to water down the standards to
which all students are held.

This is a truth that Al Shanker recognized two decades
ago. In the 1990 National Governors Association meeting, Shanker explained:

…if we had outstanding teachers and if
we were to require students to take a tough curriculum, and if we were to give
them homework to do and make sure that they did the homework, and if we didn't
...
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Last week, I wrote
a post
about how reading instruction would change when aligned to the
Common Core. Specifically, I outlined the vision of “close reading” that has
been promoted by David Coleman and Sue Pimentel, the two chief architects of
the CCSS ELA standards, which puts the focus on reading and re-reading
grade-appropriate texts and using effective, text-dependent questions to guide
lessons and class discussions.

The vision is compelling—I believe in the power of close reading
and I also agree with Coleman’s point (made clearer in his comment on the post I wrote) that reading strategies are important only
inasmuch as they are used to support comprehension of difficult texts. (They
are not, in other words, an end in themselves.)

Its hard not
to be biased in favor of one’s own interpretations of a text when it repeated
back to you.

That said, there is one part of Coleman’s vision—specifically,
his rejection of using “pre-reading” strategies to help prepare and provide
context to students before they dive in to a complex text—that is likely to
send shock waves into reading classrooms around the country, including those who
are using the
strategies suggested by Doug Lemov
in Teach
Like a Champion
. And, while the decision about whether or not to download
background knowledge and information to students before reading may seem like
small potatoes in the context of our...

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Since
states began to adopt the Common Core ELA and math standards en masse, the big
question was how well those standards would really be implemented. As I’ve mentioned
before
, there isn’t yet a clear consensus about what Common Core
implementation should mean for instruction. Nor are states necessarily targeting
their implementation efforts on the highest-impact activities
.

Enter
the GE Foundation. In the hopes of providing a big boost to the Common Core
implementation efforts, the foundation announced a 4-year, $18 million grant to
Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by CCSS architects David
Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Sue Pimentel. According to GE, the grant will support
several implementation efforts, including:

  • Direct collaboration with teachers
    to produce and share examples and best practices of excellent instruction
    aligned with the Standards;
  • A website, www.achievethecore.org, to distribute
    free resources designed to support teacher understanding and implementation;
  • Standards Immersion Institutes
    designed to cultivate teacher experts who can build knowledge in their
    districts and states;
  • The development of tools to track
    implementation and evaluate the quality of student work; and
  • Partnerships with a network of
    non-profits to provide ongoing technical support to district and state leaders
    guiding implementation.

Of
course, the pressure is now on to deliver on these lofty goals. There will
certainly be other investments in nonprofit groups looking to provide school-
and district-level implementation support, but this...

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