Common Core Watch

I'm pleased to report that I'm going to be doing a bit of education blogging over at U.S. News. My first piece revisits the controversy over Common Core and kindergarten. I've taken some heat for my defense of the kindergarten reading standards, but I'm sticking to my guns. I share critics concerns that early childhood learning is leading schools to take all the joy out of kindergarten. But I see no reason to blame Common Core for that—and nothing in the standards that demands teachers do so. Meanwhile, the stakes for not teaching disadvantaged kids to read early seem too high to ignore. Here's the thrust of my piece.

The broad thrust of Common Core for kindergarten is ensuring kids are ready to read by the first grade. There is arguably no more important task in American education. A struggling first grade reader has a nearly 90 percent chance of still struggling in fourth grade; three out of four struggling third grade readers are still behind in ninth grade. Early reading success or failure is highly predictive of a child’s academic trajectory: one out of six kids who are not reading proficiently by third grade will not graduate from high school on time.

I hope that those who say "Common Core made me do it" will support their argument by pointing to exactly where in the standards the problem lies. That's not a knee-jerk defense of standards, mind you (at...

I’d like to see Bobby Jindal use a teleprompter the next time he attacks Common Core. I’d like to be reassured he knows how to read.

Jindal continued his full-throated and disingenuous attack on Common Core for the benefit of the base at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week. “The federal government has no right imposing curriculum,” he noted, “when these decisions have always been made by local parents, by teachers, by local leaders.” Needless to say (unless you’re saying it to the governor of Louisiana), Common Core comes nowhere near imposing curriculum; this the cynical Jindal surely knows—or at least would know if he actually took the time to read the standards. 

Jindal was the worst offender, but not the only one. At CPAC, Marco Rubio invoked the prospect under Common Core of “a national school board that imposes a national curriculum on the whole country.” What curriculum, Senator? 

Even National Review, no bastion of squishy liberalism, cringed at a CPAC panel on the standards, describing it as “a badly missed opportunity to educate conservatives about how Common Core has created tension between small-government principles and the priorities of one of the most successful right-of-center movements of the past couple decades, education reform.” As NRO’s Patrick Brennan noted,

The moderator focused one of her questions on the idea that one of the biggest problems with Common Core has been its “content,” listing sex education, evolution, and U.S. history as flashpoints. This is straight-up misinformation—Common Core...

What does the Common Core portend for America’s high-achieving and gifted students? Quite a kerfuffle has erupted in many parts of the country, with boosters of these rigorous new standards declaring that they’re plenty sufficient to challenge the ablest pupils and boosters of gifted education fretting that this will be used as the latest excuse to do away with already-dwindling opportunities for such children.

Previous research by Fordham and others has made clear that the pre-Common Core era has not done well by high achievers in the United States. Almost all the policy attention has been on low achievers, and, in fact, they’ve made faster gains on measures such as NAEP than have their high-achieving classmates. Gifted children, in our view, have generally been short-changed in recent years by American public education, even as the country has awakened to their potential contributions to our economic competitiveness and technological edge. It would therefore be a terrible mistake for the new Common Core standards, praiseworthy as we believe they are, to become a justification for even greater neglect.

We asked gifted education expert Jonathan Plucker of the University of Connecticut to help us and others understand what lies ahead, particularly with regard to how the opportunities presented by the Common Core can benefit high-ability students as well as others. In a new brief, Common Core and America’s High-Achieving Students, he addresses these challenges and provides guidance for CCSS-implementing districts and schools as they seek to help these...

J. Richard Gentry

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at Psychology Today.

There is much wrong with American kindergartens—but the Common Core State Standards are not to blame. If interpreted correctly, the Common Core standards for literacy enable us to help enhance the kindergarten experience for all kindergarten children—from the underprepared to the most gifted and advanced. Here’s how the literacy standards can be interpreted to support reading and writing in kindergarten without harming any child.

A recent report by early childhood experts amplified by the Washington Post says that “requiring kindergartners to read—as Common Core does”—may harm children. The position paper, written by early childhood experts, states that many kindergartners aren’t developmentally ready to read. While well intended, both the media report and the recommendations of the early childhood experts lead us down the wrong path.

What’s the Harm in Common Core Kindergarten Literacy Standards?

Both the Washington Post report and the research report, which was issued jointly by the Defending the Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood organizations, call for the kindergarten Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to be withdrawn. Six of the literacy standards are deemed “harmful.” In this post, I un-complicate the six CCSS kindergarten standards and ask you to decide if each of the standards would be an appropriate expectation for your child in kindergarten. You may find that the standards are reasonable and desirable once they are demystified and interpreted correctly.

Not only are my interpretations based on cognitive development and socio-cultural theory, but also on a tried and true...

We at Fordham are big fans of Jason Riley, a Wall Street Journal columnist who just joined the team at the Manhattan Institute. So we were doubly disappointed to see him parrot the Russ Whitehurst/Tom Loveless argument that “standards don’t matter.”

Of course they don’t—in isolation. On their own, content standards are just words on paper (or, as Rick Hess likes to say, akin to restaurants’ mission statements). We’ve acknowledged as much for years.

The question is whether they can spark instructional change. That’s no sure thing; as we’ve argued forever, it takes a ton of hard work at the state and local levels. First, it requires developing tests that assess the full range of the standards, including the challenging ones; this is something that arguably no state save for Massachusetts actually did in the pre-Common Core era. Second, it means investing in high-quality curricular materials and allowing time for teachers to master them. (No, the curricular materials need not be—and should not be—“national.” But surely we can do better than the schlock that textbook companies have been peddling for years.)

This is where Riley’s argument falls apart. He quotes Whitehurst saying that teachers are what matter most—and it’s true that researchers have long found big differences in teacher effectiveness both within schools and across schools. But there’s no law of physics stating that such huge differences are inevitable. It’s arguably America’s uneven, amateurish approach to curriculum...

A report last month from a pair of advocacy organizations, the Alliance for Childhood and Defending the Early Years, argued that “there is a widespread belief that teaching children to read early will help them be better readers in the long-run,” but that there is “no scientific evidence that this is so.” The Washington Post and its Common Core-averse education blogger, Valerie Strauss, have been particularly aggressive in highlighting this report and running pieces from both parents and teachers arguing that “forcing some kids to read before they are ready could be harmful.”

The report, titled Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose sounds an alarm over a perceived shift “from play-based, experiential approaches to more academic approaches” in early-childhood classrooms starting in the 1980s. “Under the Common Core State Standards (CCSS),” the authors claim, “the snowball has escalated into an avalanche which threatens to destroy appropriate and effective approaches to early education.”

The authors make much of the fact that no one involved with writing the standards was a K–3 teacher or early-childhood professional. The more important issue, however, isn’t who wrote it, but whether Common Core is beyond the abilities of five-year-olds or the expectations we should have for them. The short answer, I think, is “no.” But let’s look at some of the report’s specific complaints.

Expecting kindergarteners to read is “developmentally inappropriate.”

The much-used phrase “developmentally appropriate” (or inappropriate)...

Editor's note: These remarks were delivered as an introduction to Doug Lemov's February 10 panel discussion at the Fordham Institute.

It is a genuine honor and pleasure to be here with you today and to have the opportunity to introduce Doug Lemov. Doug is a man whose humility knows no bounds—indeed, he attributes his own success with Teach Like a Champion to his own limitations as a teacher. I’ve heard him more than once explain—earnestly and sincerely—that the reason he started filming and analyzing videos of great teachers in action was because he was such an “average” teacher, and he wanted to learn the magic of the champion teachers around him.

And that humility courses through all of his work, including his writing.

Yet his achievements are remarkable. He and his colleagues at Uncommon Schools consistently achieve at the highest levels on state tests. And Doug’s work identifying what “champion” teachers do that drives their results has been nothing short of transformational.

You might even say the work Doug and his team does is magic.

And so I thought it was fitting, before we launched into the weeds of how to improve teacher practice—a subject that is near and dear to my heart—to talk about the secrets of great magicians.

A few years ago, Teller—the silent partner of the famed Penn and Teller duo—wrote a piece for Smithsonian magazine in which he revealed his secrets. In it, Teller shares three lessons that I think are worth repeating.

The first lesson is that technology, no...

Last week, in his State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put the weight of his office behind an education tax credit—a bill that would provide dollar-for-dollar tax relief to both individuals and businesses who donated money to either public schools or to scholarship funds that aid needy students in private and parochial schools.

This is an idea I have a personal stake in. As the superintendent of six Catholic schools in New York City, I know how financially challenging it is to keep these schools open and what a difference the donations from this tax credit would make in supporting the important work of our teachers and students.

Of course, for some people the idea of a public policy that provides any tax relief for supporters of religious schools is a third rail. They conjure up a vision of religion being forced on children or of the American ideal of “education for democracy” withering away.

But that not only represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the roots of American public education, it also ignores the reality of the debate. Rather than a choice between keeping religion in or out of our schools, it is really a debate about whether we should have a single state-sanctioned perspective on the values taught in schools or a plurality of approaches from which parents can choose. 

Common Schools, Majority Values

An uncomfortable reality for...

Mary Scott Hunter

Editor's note: This post was originally published in a slightly different form on the Daily Caller.

There is a message for Republicans in the results from the last several election cycles: We must continue to expand our base to remain the party of leadership. The platform of “No” is no longer enough. We need leaders who are able to articulate policies of upward mobility, accountability, and prudent governance.

Too often we have let the poles of our party dictate the agenda, dismissing out of hand those candidates who show the conviction to stand up for sensible ideas. Nowhere is this reality more evident than in the public debate over the Common Core education standards. Despite the fact that this important education initiative remains a state-led effort; despite the fact most parents support high academic standards; and despite the fact the standards are working, a small but vocal faction of the party would have voters and candidates believe it is political treason to support them.

No sooner had former Governors Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee announced they would consider running for president than were critics astir about how support for the Common Core would ruin their credibility with Republican voters. I have encouraged both men, as I would any other candidates who will toss their hats in the ring, not to shy away from the standards, as others have.

When I ran for reelection to the Alabama Board of Education last year, opponents made similar claims. Support for the Common...

Karen Vogelsang

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in The Tennessean.

My name is Karen Vogelsang, and I am the 2014–15 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. I am a supporter of the Common Core State Standards, which we have adopted as our own state standards and which are taught in classrooms across the state. I am ill at the thought that these standards could be repealed.

As Tennesseans, we sought Race to the Top funds to make sweeping changes—not only to benefit our state but, more importantly, to benefit our students.

We have data showing that our students are performing at a rate faster than any other state in the nation. We (Tennesseans, not the federal government) made decisions about how the standards would be implemented and how our educators would be trained.

As educators, we have received top-quality training from experts in the fields of math and reading, and Tennessee is the only state that has provided consistent, focused training in the standards from the state’s Department of Education on down. No one has mandated the curriculum or instructional practices teachers use in their classrooms, and districts have selected the materials they want to use to best support their students.

Critical thinking skills prevail

When I began my career as a teacher, my focus was teaching a skill so my students could pass a test. If they did, I figured I was doing a good job. I would ask questions; a student would answer correctly; I replied, “Good...

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