Common Core Watch

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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Catherine Gewertz at Curriculum Matters penned a post describing a meeting of chief academic officers from 14 urban school districts who came together to discuss how to help teachers implement the Common Core. According to Gewertz, the CAOs spent “hours exploring one facet of the common standards: its requirement that students—and teachers—engage in ‘close reading’ of text.”

It is exactly this “close reading” that Common Core supporters hope will usher in a new era of reading instruction—one where teachers select grade-appropriate texts for all students; where they have students read and reread those texts—perhaps more times than even makes sense or feels comfortable—to support deep comprehension and analysis; and where they push students to engage in the text itself—in the author’s words, not in how those words make us feel.

Common Core challenges us to help students (and teachers) understand that reading is not about them.

The reality is that the Common Core challenges us to help students (and teachers) understand that reading is not about them. Of course, what students read will often touch them, sometimes even change them. But that will happen only if, while they’re reading, they deeply understand and absorb the words and images in front of them first.

This is a lesson that David Coleman, one of the architects of the CCSS ELA standards, has traveled around the nation trying to help illustrate. His ideas are, of course, not without their critics. There are plenty of people who believe that Coleman, who has...

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ipad

Textbooks won't go extinct anytime soon.
Photo by meedanphotos

Last week, Apple launched two programs
for the iPad that it hopes will transform the textbook industry in the same way
the iPod transformed the music industry. The first, iBooks 2, will make
media-rich electronic textbooks available for purchase on the iPad at a
fraction of the cost of a hard-copy text. (Currently, all titles are available
for $14.99 or less.) The second, iBooks Author, allows anyone to create
textbooks for free using an iMac, and to publish them to iBooks immediately.

There were many skeptics who, when the
iPod was launched a decade ago, believed it would have only a negligible impact
on the way people listened to music. Helping those folks eat their words has
become something of a cottage industry on the web. Just yesterday, tech blogger
and Apple enthusiast John Gruber gleefully
documented
all of the people who underestimated the appeal of the iPhone
and iPad and contrasted them with Apple’s just-announced record-breaking sales
for both products.

And so, I’m loathe to doubt the
transformative power of the iPad in the world of education. After all, if
anyone can transform the textbook industry, it’s Apple. As someone who spent
...

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Last
week on the Core Knowledge blog, Robert Pondiscio called for the end
of seven classroom practices that don’t work
. Four of the seven practices
dealt with standards- and data-driven instruction—or, really, the
bastardization of standards- and data-driven instruction. The crux of
Pondiscio’s argument is right on the money: Standards-driven instruction is
only as good as the standards and assessments that are used to drive
instruction, and reading standards (and/or assessments) that prioritize empty
reading skills over content are sure to steer our teachers wrong.

Unfortunately,
Pondiscio’s post distracts from that point by deriding some practices that,
when done well, can be used to powerfully drive student achievement.

Take,
for example, data-driven instruction. Pondiscio is right that “using data in
half-baked or simplistic ways” is going to do very little to drive student
learning. But the answer is not to abandon data-driven instruction writ large,
but rather to encourage teachers to use data thoughtfully and purposefully.
There aren’t nearly enough examples (or quality PD purveyors) that demonstrate
how this can be done and done well. We need more.

There is no question that test prep is virtually useless.

Similarly,
Pondiscio derides both “dumb test prep” and “reciting lesson aim and standard.”
There is no question that test prep is virtually useless. In fact, the fact
that test prep is used so widely, but that reading scores have remained
...

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Last
week, a report was released by Education First and the EPE Research
Center entitled Preparing
for Change
. The report is the first in a series of three that will look
at whether states have developed Common Core implementation plans that address
three areas of CCSS implementation:

  • Developing a plan for teacher
    professional development,
  • planning to align/revamp
    state-created curricular and instructional materials, and
  • making changes to teacher evaluation systems.

Many
CCSS supporters cheered at the report’s main finding, which indicated that all
but one state—Wyoming—“reported
having developed some type of formal implementation plan for transitioning to
the new, common standards.” There is cause for excitement—this is a clear
indication that states are taking CCSS implementation seriously and that they
are working to reorient their education systems to the new standards.

That
said, while developing implementation plans is an important first step, it’s
far more critical to ensure that those plans are worth following—that they
properly identify the gaps in teacher knowledge and skill so that they can
target state-led PD efforts, for example, and that they prioritize the
essential components of the CCSS in state-created curricular and instructional
materials. This report doesn’t get into these questions of quality—though
Education First and EPE will release two follow-up reports in the coming months
that address...

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Over
the past decade, education reform advocates on both the state and national
level have demonstrated an almost single-minded focus on various “structural
reforms”: setting standards, adopting assessments, establishing clear
accountability for results, providing school leaders greater autonomy and
flexibility, injecting greater competition and choice into school funding
systems, etc. But, by focusing on structural reforms over getting
classroom-level curriculum and instruction right, are reformers missing the
boat?

Beverly
Jobrack thinks so. In fact, she’s written a book— The Tyranny of theTextbook: An Insider Exposes How Educational Materials Undermine Reform—that
argues, essentially, that it’s curriculum, not structural reform, that has the
greatest potential to drive student achievement.

Standards alone will do little
to drive student achievement if they’re not meaningfully implemented.

Jobrack
has a point—as we’ve long said here at Fordham, standards alone will do little
to drive student achievement if they’re not meaningfully implemented (via,
among other things, a thoughtfully designed curriculum). In fact, few state and
national education reformers would disagree with Jobrack about the importance
of curriculum and instruction in driving student achievement. So why do so few
actually take up the fight for curriculum and instructional changes?

One
big challenge is the belief of many reformers—including Jobrack herself—that
curricular and instructional policy should not be set centrally. After all, if
you have to drive change one school at a time, you lose all the leverage
...

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In
the discussion about ESEA reauthorization, people on both sides of the aisle
have recognized the importance of setting rigorous standards aligned to
college- and career-readiness expectations. The Obama Administration has, for
instance, required that states adopt college-
and career-ready standards as part of its ESEA waiver process. Similarly,
Republican-sponsored ESEA reauthorization proposals (which Mike wrote
about in a post
yesterday) also ask states to set college- and
career-readiness standards for students.

While
this focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important,
it is also insufficient. After all, if we’ve learned anything from 10 years of
NCLB implementation, it’s that the act of setting standards doesn’t translate
to increased student achievement unless those standards are meaningfully implemented
in the classroom. And, one of the most important things for states to do to
ensure strong implementation is to hold students accountable for actually
learning the content laid out in the standards.

While
the focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important,
it is also insufficient.

Unfortunately,
over the past 10 years, too many states—even those with reasonably rigorous
standards—have asked very little of students on statewide assessments. In fact,
Fordham’s 2007 “Proficiency Illusion” report found that “the central flaw in
NCLB is that it allows each state to set its own definition of what constitutes
‘proficiency.’” And so, as we look towards...

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 Critics
of “bubble tests” rejoice! The campaign against the use of multiple choice
questions in state tests may finally be turning the tide. But, on the eve of
this victory, it’s worth pausing to ask: is this actually a good thing for
those of us who care about smart, efficient, and effective accountability
systems?

Details continue to trickle in about the PARCC
and SMARTER Balanced assessment consortia plans for their summative ELA and
math assessments. Catherine Gewertz has dug into the RFPs for both consortia
and shared some of her findings in an article published in Education Week yesterday. There’s a lot of
interesting information, including the fact that both consortia appear to be
moving away from multiple choice questions in their test designs. Gewertz
explains:

Documents
issued by the two groups of states that are designing the tests show that they
seek to harness the power of computers in new ways and assess skills that
multiple-choice tests cannot…

While the plans offer few details about how
the new items will differ, or why it’s necessary to abandon multiple choice
questions entirely, people across the education world will no doubt celebrate
the demise of the multiple choice question.

Multiple choice items are, after all, the
assessment items everyone loves to hate. Critics on all sides of the education
debate deride “bubble tests” as the enemy of genuine learning and believe that
...

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In
all the excitement in the buildup to the New
Hampshire primary, one important educational
development seems to have gotten overshadowed. Last week, a New Hampshire law allowing parents to demand
alternatives to curricular materials that they find objectionable took effect.
It could have far reaching consequences not just in the Granite State but—if it
catches on—for schools across the country.

Specifically,
the law (which was passed over the governor’s veto) requires all districts to
adopt a policy that:

“…include[s] a provision requiring the parent or legal guardian
to notify the school principal or designee in writing of the specific material
to which they object and a provision requiring an alternative agreed upon by
the school district and the parent, at the parent’s expense, sufficient to
enable the child to meet state requirements for education in the particular
subject area.”
Do parents not have a right to
ask that assignments not insult their beliefs and teachings?

In
a post on Curriculum Matters last week, Erik Robelen explained
that New Hampshire Governor John Lynch “said the measure was too vague about
what might be deemed objectionable and would prove burdensome to school
districts. He also said it risked stifling teachers, who might shy away from
exposing students to ‘new ideas and critical thinking’ for fear of sparking
complaints.”

Governor
Lynch went on to say that...

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iPod Sad Face
Photo by Joel Washing

Two months ago, Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of the
release of the iPod. Sunday, we will “celebrate” the 10th birthday of NCLB.

The iPod is universally seen as a game changer—something
that not only transformed the way we listen to music, but that changed the
music industry itself.

Few would say the same about the transformative power of
NCLB.

Yet, what if the iPod hadn’t evolved in the ten years since
its initial release? What if, after Steve Jobs released the 2001 version—the
first-generation iPod—the different divisions at Apple couldn’t come to
agreement about how it should evolve?

As one tech-expert explained:

[The iPod] debuted in the fall of 2001 as a Mac-only,
FireWire-only $399 digital audio player with a tiny black-and-white display and
5 GB hard disk. The iTunes Store didn’t exist until April 2003. The Windows
version of iTunes didn’t appear until October 2003—two years after the iPod
debuted! Two years before it truly supported Windows! Think about that. If
Apple released an iPod today that sold only as many units as the iPod sold in
2002, that product would be considered an enormous flop.

The transformative power of the iPod was unleashed not by
its...

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