Aided by a highly misleading New York Times article, the anti-Common Core crowd is pushing the narrative that Massachusetts’s recent testing decision (to use a blend of PARCC and its own assessment rather than go with PARCC alone) spells the end for the common standards effort. AEI’s Rick Hess and Jenn Hatfield called it a “bruising blow.” Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman described a testing system in “disarray.”  Cato’s Neal McCluskey tweeted that Common Core is getting “crushed.”

It reminds me of my favorite Monty Python scene. I’m sorry, haters, but Common Core isn’t dead yet.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / Via here

First, let’s deal with Massachusetts, where the state board of education has decided to use a hybrid of PARCC and the Bay State’s own MCAS. In what must surely be a first, Commissioner Mitch Chester and Common Core opponent (and one-time Senior Associate Commissioner) Sandra Stosky concur:  This move is no repudiation of PARCC. As Chester wrote in a letter to the Times, “Neither my recommendation to the Massachusetts Board of...

Earlier this year, when it looked like ESEA finally had a chance of being reauthorized, I came up with a graphic for assessing the accountability provisions of the various proposals. I argued that, at least when it comes to federal policy, we should think about accountability as having four dimensions: tests, performance targets, school designations, and interventions.

My goal was to show that each dimension had a spectrum of possibilities, ranging from heavy-handed federal prescription to virtually no role for Uncle Sam. An upshot of this is that proposals could vary in countless ways—for example, one could be to beef up the federal government’s role in testing and targets, while another only had Uncle Sam active in designations, while another only had federal mandates on school interventions.

In this post, however, I showed that the eleven major proposals naturally sorted into three categories: some were prescriptive across the board, some were hands-off apart from testing, and some pushed hard on targets while backing off on designations and interventions. The big question was whether there was a single combination of approaches on the four dimensions that could garner sufficient support in both Houses of Congress and at the other...

Robin J. Lake

In refusing to reconsider its September ruling that public charter schools are unconstitutional and not entitled to receive public funds, the Washington State Supreme Court is bringing the state one step closer to shutting the door on promising educational opportunities for disadvantaged Washington students. Families in most other states have these options, and the charter sector continues to expand and thrive nationwide. Now that Washington students and families have seen what charters in our state can offer, however, it would be shameful to let that door close.  

State leaders are still scratching their heads over the logic of the initial ruling, which hinged on a nineteenth-century definition of “common schools.” State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the ruling was illogical and overly broad. Many agreed, including four previous Washington State attorneys general and a bipartisan group of legislators. Even former Democratic Governor and Attorney General Christine Gregoire joined the amicus brief and said the ruling was “not fair, not right.” Some believe that the ruling was influenced by the legislature’s standoff with the court over Washington’s failure to fully fund K–12 education, which was mandated in the well-publicized McCleary decision. The court has been displeased...

If every school in America was pretty good—if not better—our education policy debates would largely evaporate. Politicians would feel comfortable leaving educators alone to do their thing. And they would empower parents with the ability to choose the good (or great) school that best fit their values and their children’s needs.

And in fact, that’s how we should treat the vast majority of schools today — district, charter, and private. Do they keep kids safe? Check. Can they demonstrate reasonable evidence that they are putting young people on a pathway to success in what comes next (postsecondary education, the workplace, and citizenship, especially)? Check. Fantastic! Parents, take your pick, and send the taxpayers the bill.

All the talk of backlash, opt-outs, and teachers quitting in despair would simply melt away, because both parents and educators would feel in charge again. No more micromanagement from Tallahassee or Washington. No more second-guessing decisions made on the ground. No more desperation at feeling pressured to narrow the curriculum, teach to the test, or follow bureaucratic dictates. Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’d be free at last!

If I were king, that’s exactly how our system would work for the...

The ESEA reauthorization conferees delivered some good news for America’s high-achieving students last week. Absent further amending, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will include a necessary and long-overdue section provision that allows states to use computer-adaptive tests to assess students on content above their current grade level. That’s truly excellent news for kids who are “above grade level”—and for their parents, teachers, and schools.

Here’s the language, with emphasis added: 

The quality of state assessments matters enormously to children of all ability levels, but today’s tests do a grave disservice to high-achievers. Most current assessments do a lousy job of measuring academic growth by pupils who are well above grade level because they don’t contain enough “hard” questions to allow reliable measurement of achievement growth at the high end.

Doing that with paper-and-pencil tests would mean really long testing periods. But a major culprit is an NCLB provision requiring all students to take the “same tests” and (at least as interpreted during both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies) barring material from those tests that’s significantly above or below the students’ formal grade levels. Though the intentions behind this decision were honorable—to...

Gary Kaplan

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education wisely decided this week to tack between the Scylla of MCAS and the Charybdis of PARCC. Following Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s recommendation, they chose to adopt MCAS 2.0, a yet-to-be-developed hybrid of the two options. Their adroit navigation calms the troubled waters for the time being. But choosing a test is only the beginning of the voyage. Strong and sustained tailwinds will be needed to swell the sails of student achievement.

A test is a measuring instrument. It shows where a student needs to improve, but it doesn’t provide instructional strategies and tools to achieve that improvement. Even without a new test, current state, local, and national assessments already generate more data than anyone can digest.   

Assessment data should directly drive instruction, and the instruction should be individualized to the student. This is the intent. But data-driven, individualized instruction can only take place online. Teachers can’t cut and paste textbooks—but software can be customized with a keystroke. Still, very few schools have the computers and software to support individualized online instruction.

MCAS 2.0 can be an effective driver of instruction if the state invests in a computer for every student (along with the...

All right, first things first: What do we mean when we use the phrase “Response to Intervention” (RtI)? Its utterly functional label—surely all interventions are designed to provoke a response—lends itself to a host of vague interpretations. Education Week has produced a useful overview of its growth and effects, and Fordham attempted the same in its 2011 exploration of trends in special education, but the general points are these: RtI emerged around the turn of the century as a way to identify kids with learning disabilities as early as possible, provide them with a series of gradually intensifying academic interventions, and monitor their progress throughout. Spurred in its expansion by the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (which permitted districts to use up to 15 percent of their Part B dollars on early intervention services), RtI supplanted IQ-focused “ability/achievement discrepancy” models of learning disability screenings, and it eventually came to be adopted as a general education framework. In the words of Alexa Posny, the DOE’s assistant secretary of special education and rehabilitative services, the approach “hasn’t changed special education. It has changed education and will continue to do so. It is where we need to...

A new Social Science Research study examines racial differences in how teachers perceive students’ overall literacy skills. It asks whether there are differences in these perceptions and to what extent they might be a reflection of a difference in actual abilities. In other words: Are teacher perceptions accurate?

The study uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, specifically those students enrolled in first grade during spring 2000 who had literacy test scores from kindergarten and first grade (ECLS-K administers a literacy test). Teachers were also asked to evaluate students’ overall ability relative to other first-grade students on a scale that ranges from “far below average” to “far above average.” The analyst controls for a host of student, teacher, and classroom variables in the regression analysis, including parental income and education, teacher race, percentage of poor students in the school, and more.

The study finds that, per the average performers, teachers were mostly accurate in labeling them so; there are no statistically significant racial differences in teacher ratings here. But among lower performers, teachers tend to rate minorities (Asian, non-white Latino, and black students) more positively than their performance suggests, while low-performing white students were rated more negatively than their...

Welders, as Marco Rubio recently reminded us, sometimes earn more than philosophers. But neither of them earn as much as students who receive degrees in STEM subjects. So perhaps the most encouraging bit of data to emerge from the ACT’s “The Condition of STEM 2015” report is this: Of the nearly two million high school graduates who took the ACT in 2015, 49 percent had an interest in STEM.

Interest, however, does not necessarily translate into aptitude. For the first time this year, ACT has added a new “STEM score” to their report—an acknowledgement of recent research indicating that college success in science, technology, engineering, and math classes requires a higher level of preparedness than ACT’s previous benchmarks in math and science alone seemed to predict.

Based on this enhanced measure, a paltry 20 percent of the 2015 ACT test takers were deemed ready for first-year STEM college courses. For reference, readiness is defined as either 1) a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or 2) a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in freshman courses like calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics. Among students who say that they are interested in STEM majors or...

The Achilles’ heel of the West, I read not long ago, is that many people struggle to find spiritual meaning in our secular, affluent society. How can we compete with the messianic messages streaming from the Islamic State and other purveyors of dystopian religious fundamentalism?

It made me reflect on my own life. How do I find meaning? Largely from my role as a father, a role I cherish and for which I feel deep gratitude. But ever since I lost faith in the Roman Catholic Church of my upbringing—not long after I nearly succumbed to cancer at age eighteen—much of my life’s meaning has come from my view of myself as an education reformer.

I suspect that I am not alone. We are drawn as humans to heroic quests, and those of us in education reform like to believe that we are engaged in one. We’re not just trying to improve the institution known as the American school; we see ourselves as literally saving lives, rescuing the American Dream, writing the next chapter of the civil rights movement.

When people speak of Arne Duncan with tears in their eyes—explaining earnestly that he has always put kids first—it...