Common Core Watch

William Shakespeare penned the famous line in Henry the Sixth: ?The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers,? setting off a wave of lawyer jokes that continues 400 years later.

Had Shakespeare had the opportunity to witness the infighting and special interest politics of state textbook adoption processes, he might have found a better target for his ire.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Florida lawmakers have introduced a bill that includes, among other things, a provision that would change the state's textbook adoption process.

The [provision] would replace the state's formal review committees?which include lay citizens, teachers, teacher supervisors and a school board member?with a trio of subject-matter experts appointed by the state education commissioner.

School districts would appoint teachers and content supervisors to rate the practical usability of the texts recommended by the state's experts.

Opponents of the bill??Tea Party? conservatives chief among them?are outraged.

"'We the People' should have a say on what textbooks OUR CHILDREN read," Tea Party activist Shari Krass wrote recently in a letter to Scott.

Krass and activists like her believe some texts used by Florida schools are slanted to favor Islam over Judaism and Christianity?

?"This legislation 'ties our hands'?where we will be restricted in our ability to influence our children's education," she wrote.

Of course, battles over textbook adoption seem, on some level, beside the point. If a state has set clear expectations for what students should know and be able to do,...

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Albert Einstein once famously noted that we should ?make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.?

In spite of the string of policy victories we have seen this year (see here and here), he might be disheartened to see what has happened to the education reform debate of late.

Changing complicated systems?and there are few more complicated than our patchwork quilt of overlapping federal, state and local education policies?is necessarily iterative and incremental. Politically, you can't change everything at once, and everything you do change impacts other areas of education in ways that are often hard to predict.

Yet, in the era of 140-character debates and multi-million dollar ad buys, people on all sides often boil complex ideas down into pithy soundbytes and oversimplifications. But it's the ed reformers?the people trying to build something new?who will suffer the most from this trend because we're trending towards trading a comprehensive vision for a new kind of education system for a series of bold but isolated changes that will sell in state legislatures.

This year's ?message discipline? seems to have translated into a nearly myopic focus on teacher quality as the antidote for our student achievement woes. (In a blog post last week, Robert Pondiscio pooled together a drumbeat of soundbytes from notable reformers who touted the importance of teacher quality in the effort to close the achievement gap.)

Reformers are, of course, using this rhetoric to push important (and necessary) reforms such...

According to the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now (MinnCAN), the Minnesota House and Senate just passed a sweeping education policy bill that included, among other things, a provision that would prohibit the Commissioner of Education from adoption "common standards." (Click here for more.)

The governor has until midnight tomorrow to veto the bill. If he doesn't, the Minnesota Commissioner will not be able to adopt common standards in any other content area, no matter how good those standards may be. That means, for example, that when the state's math standards are up for revision in 2015, the Commissioner will not even be able to consider adopting the Common Core math standards even though, according to our math reviewers, those standards are stronger than what the state has in place today. It also means that future Commissioners would be prohibited from even considering adopting common standards in any other subject, no matter how good they may be.

The governor is expected to veto the bill. If he does, it would go into special session. What happens from there is anyone's guess.

--Kathleen Porter-Magee

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This is a guest post from Diana Senechal, written in response to my post, Private School Idolatry and the Case of the Missing Solution. Diana was a contributor to Fordham's review of state ELA standards in 2010, she is also author of the book Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield Education in November.

Kathleen,

I am speaking for myself here?I just wanted to respond to your points.

The problem with the ?maximize every moment? approach is that in the name of maximizing every moment, the moments themselves are often limited?and needlessly.

Many children in urban schools are not on the brink of failure; they desperately need more challenge. They are placed in classes with students who lag them by several years. I'm not saying tracking is the solution?but these students should at least be acknowledged.

Because of the belief that urban students in general must be yanked into success, some reformers assert that every moment of the lesson should be directly tied to its objective and that the lesson should be swift, purposeful, and productive. This precludes the sort of discussion that allows for tangents and open questions and that does not lead to a physical product or concrete result.

Not every lesson can be like that, even in wealthy schools. You need to teach children concrete things and to ensure that they are learning them. But children are...

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Diana Senechal wrote a thoughtful response to my post Private School Idolatry and the Case of the Missing Solution. In it, she argues that

Many children in urban schools are not on the brink of failure; they desperately need more challenge. They are placed in classes with students who lag them by several years. I'm not saying tracking is the solution?but these students should at least be acknowledged.

Because of the belief that urban students in general must be yanked into success, some reformers assert that every moment of the lesson should be directly tied to its objective and that the lesson should be swift, purposeful, and productive. This precludes the sort of discussion that allows for tangents and open questions and that does not lead to a physical product or concrete result.

First, I agree that there are many urban students who do not come in behind?or at least not as far behind as many of their peers.

That said, I think we do need to deal with the reality that we face in far too many urban classrooms. Here are a few fast facts (gathered together by the Education Equality Project) that we should remember when we're debating the tough choices and tradeoffs that urban schools face every day:

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Catherine Gewertz reports today that New Hampshire Republicans have introduced a bill that would, it seems, all but undo the State Board of Education's decision to adopt the Common Core last July. She explains:

If approved, the measure would require the state legislature, called the "general court" in New Hampshire, to approve any changes the state board of education makes in academic standards. It specifies that the common standards, approved by the state board last July 8, "shall not be adopted" without the general court's consent. Both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature are controlled by Republicans, but the state's governor is a Democrat.

It seems strange to require legislative approval for something that doesn't seem to have needed it before, but one presumes they know what they're doing.

Either way, this is a terrible sign for Common Core implementation in New Hampshire. And it comes on the heels of eerily similar bills in Minnesota and Texas. (Of course, the MN and Texas bills explicitly forbid adoption of ?common? and ?national? standards.) And it also makes me wonder how many other states have groups working to unravel Common Core adoption before implementation has even begun?

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I've already weighed in on Alfie Kohn's ?pedagogy of poverty? article that appeared in Ed Week last week. (See here.) The debate sparked by Kohn's article rages on?in blogs and on Twitter?and my colleague, Mike Petrilli, weighed in today, arguing:

The question of whether affluent and disadvantaged kids need a different kind of education?different instructional strategies, different curriculum, maybe even different kinds of teachers?is a serious one. This discussion is easily demagogued (particularly on Twitter). But it's not racist to say that poor kids?who generally come to school with much less vocabulary, exposure to print, and much else?might need something different?more intense, more structured?than their well-off, better-prepared peers.

On some level, we're overcomplicating this. In the end, the ?achievement gap,? as we now call it, is really little more than a practice gap. And schools that are succeeding in closing it are simply better at creating a culture that makes time for that practice.

In his bestselling book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that, across divergent fields (athletics, music, business, academia), the people who rose to the top had two things in common:

  1. They had been exposed to and given the opportunity to learn, and
  2. They had logged at least 10,000 hours of practice.

That's because extraordinary achievement is a function of extraordinary practice. Unfortunately, the sad truth for too many of America's poor children is that they are never given the opportunity to learn. ?And they are even more rarely given...

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In his most recent missive (published today in Ed Week), Alfie Kohn decries "the pedagogy of poverty," i.e.: the way many poor children are taught in traditional public and public charter schools around the nation. He complains:

Policymakers and the general public have paid much less attention to what happens inside classrooms—the particulars of teaching and learning—especially in low-income neighborhoods. The news here has been discouraging for quite some time, but, in a painfully ironic twist, things seem to be getting worse as a direct result of the “reform” strategies pursued by the Bush administration, then intensified under President Barack Obama, and cheered by corporate executives and journalists.

In an article published in Phi Delta Kappan back in 1991, Martin Haberman, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, coined the phrase “pedagogy of poverty.” Based on his observations in thousands of urban classrooms, Haberman described a tightly controlled routine in which teachers dispense, and then test students on, factual information; assign seatwork; and punish noncompliance. It is a regimen, he said, “in which learners can ‘succeed’ without becoming either involved or thoughtful,” and it is noticeably different from the questioning, discovering, arguing, and collaborating that is more common (though by no means universal) among students in suburban and private schools.

This description is misleading on so many levels. First of all, it seems to suggest that having tight classroom management and routines is antithetical to creating classrooms where students can think deeply about issues. Nonsense....

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Winning RTT states got a lot of points for promising to adopt CCSS and implement the standards by adopting some fairly bold reforms. Now the rubber meets the road and it's time to look at whether states are beginning to do what they promised. (And, perhaps, to evaluate whether those promises made any sense in the first place.) To that end, I have begun to read the RTT applications from the winning states, beginning with DC. My plan is to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of each state's implementation plan and eventually to track how states are progressing against their own implementation goals.

Washington, DC

Overview

I think that I may have started by reading the gold standard CCSS implementation plan because the District's RTT application outlines a plan that is as thoughtful as it is comprehensive. States and districts that are looking for smart CCSS implementation advice would do well to read and adapt DC's plan.

Strengths

There are essentially three areas of the RTT application that deal directly with CCSS implementation: standards and assessment, data, and great teachers and leaders. What impressed me most about DC's plan was how well integrated these areas were. It seems clear that the ?state? officials had a unified and clear theory of action and aligned all elements of their reform plan around particular goals. Even better, they are clearly using assessment and data as the driving force behind CCSS implementation. To that end, DC plans:...

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In science, statisticians must frequently grapple with interaction effects. Let's say, for example, that a scientist wants to study the impact of diet and exercise on lowering cholesterol. They have one group follow a low-fat diet, another a new running regimen, and a third group both. It's possible that both the diet group and the exercise group see a modest dip in cholesterol. But it's also possible that the third group will see a drop that is more than double what could have been achieved by diet or exercise alone?meaning that diet and exercise are ?interacting? in some way to affect cholesterol more powerfully. But, at what levels do participants see this interaction effect? When you follow a strict diet and exercise once a week? Twice? Etc.

In education, interaction effects are everywhere. As I've argued before, a strong curriculum implemented by skilled instructor often yields amazing results. The same curriculum implemented by a weak teacher may yield no (or negative) student achievement gains. That's because, as anyone who's ever worked in a school knows, outstanding student achievement results are the product of many different interacting elements within schools, not just of standards or curriculum alone.

For policy makers, it's challenging because no policy can control all of the (school-based) factors that will determine whether their programs succeed or fail in boosting student achievement.

So it is with Common Core. While the standards themselves are far more rigorous than what existed in most states previously,...

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