Common Core Watch

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...

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...

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
...

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...

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...

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...

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
...

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
...

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...

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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