Common Core

Matt Gandal

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, our country is entering a new chapter in education reform. After fifteen years of work by states and school districts to raise standards, disaggregate data, and close gaps, the federal government is taking the foot off the gas and leaving more decisions to the states and local school officials, including those about measures, metrics, incentives, and interventions.

For those of us who have been working with states for many years toward the goal of college and career readiness for all students, this is a period of great excitement—and, admittedly, some trepidation. Excitement because there's a real opportunity for states to build on the good work that has already been accomplished, make midcourse corrections, and spark needed innovation. Trepidation because if state leaders and advocates aren't careful, more than a decade of important work to establish more meaningful, rigorous expectations for our schoolchildren could be undone.

Although the No Child Left Behind Act outlived its relevance, let's not overlook the significant progress that states made during its time frame. As recently as the early 1990s, very few states even had standards. Expectations for students varied district by district and school by school,...

A new study from RAND uses information from teacher polling to examine state implementation of the Common Core State Standards. The data are drawn from two nationally representative surveys of U.S. educators (both K–12 math and ELA teachers) administered in summer and fall 2015. Both had response rates ranging from 57 to 62 percent, with roughly 1,100–1,700 participants responding to each. The questionnaires focus on teachers’ perceptions and practices as they relate to key instructional approaches reflected primarily in the standards. My seven critical takeaways are these:

1) When asked if they ever used particular materials, the majority of math teachers generally report developing materials themselves (97 percent of elementary teachers). Over forty percent of all surveyed elementary teachers claimed that they used the popular and universally available Engage NY.

2) Ninety-eight percent of elementary teachers report using leveled readers, and  those who do so weekly or daily describe various applications for them. For instance, high percentages (68 percent) say they use the readers to support struggling students in place of the grade-level text other students are reading. (Yet Common Core supports the teaching of grade-appropriate texts with the idea that teacher support and explanation, not text difficulty, is...

Ah, spring. The much-anticipated return of baseball, blooming flowers, chirping birds, and…standardized tests.

Annual testing is now well underway in schools across the nation, and several states have already experienced major technological complications, frustrating educators and students alike and fueling increasingly vocal testing opponents.  

Students taking the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) test, developed by the University of Kansas’s Achievement & Assessment Institute, encountered widespread Internet access issues this spring. Even after initial connectivity failures across Alaska were addressed, the state’s testing platform continued crashing, and responses submitted by many students were simply lost. In a largely rural state with limited bandwidth to begin with, the Alaska Department of Education opted to scrap computer-based testing entirely this year rather than continue to frustrate teachers and students statewide with technical disruptions.

Then, in a snafu described as “simply unacceptable” by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, many students taking the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) ran into complications and were unable to complete their online tests last month. Responses for an additional fourteen-thousand-plus tests were also inexplicably lost due to computer hiccups. In light of these troubles, the Texas Education Agency is letting districts decide whether to...

The Democratic primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has been a fractious one, dividing party loyalists on issues like health care, foreign intervention, financial reform, and corporate influence on politics. Curiously, education hasn’t surfaced as a subject of dispute—until this week, when a few education voices on the Left mistakenly harangued Clinton for going soft on her commitment to testing. Though well-intentioned, these commentators need to cool their jets and take a closer look at her record.

It’s appropriate that this kerfuffle would start now that both candidates have alighted in New York, a bulwark of union strength and bare-fanged hostility to Common Core (some 20 percent of eligible students were opted out of last year’s round of standardized testing). The crux of it is this: Some left-leaning reformers have seized on a few ill-advised comments by Bill Clinton as proof that his wife is selling out school accountability. Liberal tribune Jonathan Chait (or at least his headline writers) accused her of “abandoning education reform”; Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, wrote that the former president’s remarks would redound “to the detriment of our students, particularly poor and minority children, children of recent immigrants, and students with...

Last week marked the beginning of the annual New York State English and math tests for grades 3–8. While Catholic schools (and their teachers’ unions) have largely stayed out of the political fray when it comes to standards and testing, we at the Partnership Schools—a network of six urban Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx—voluntarily participate in the New York Common Core assessments.

Catholic schools have long been unapologetic supporters of high standards for all children, and we at the Partnership use results from the New York tests both to ensure that we are keeping expectations high for our students and to benchmark our students’ academic growth.

In an age when some people are opting out, we are opting in.

Of course, we’re aware of the pushback against standards and tests, particularly in our home state of New York. But we believe that pushback is misguided and that the opt-out movement is misleading parents. In particular, it is using tests as a scapegoat for implementation decisions that are mostly within the power of educators and education leaders to change.

As choice schools, we’re fortunate. Our parents—many of whom come from the nation’s poorest congressional district—opt into our schools. And...

It’s not really a surprise that the progress of school choice at the state level is so often tethered to the fortunes of Republican lawmakers. A number of Democratic interest groups (teachers’ unions chief among them, though they’re certainly not alone) have traditionally lined up against charter schools and voucher initiatives, and down-ballot officeholders have been slow to follow the lead of national figures (and charter fans) like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That’s why it’s so striking to observe this month’s developments in Maryland, where an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature has teamed up with the GOP to carve out new funding for private school scholarships aimed at low-income students. It’s important to keep a sense of proportion; the initiative accounts for just $5 million out of a $42 billion state budget, and legislators rejected a far more ambitious proposal for private school tax credits. Still, the move is a major step forward for private schools of choice in the Old Line State.

With New York City authorities already facing serious questions about student safety, the country’s biggest school district must now address a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of students who have been the victims of...

Now that New York’s students are heading into another year of Common Core-aligned standardized testing, it’s probably time to start taking bets on exactly how many kids will actually show up. With last year’s opt-out numbers reaching a staggering 20 percent and a new Regents chancellor claiming that she’d keep her own kids from taking the exams, assessment boosters might be wondering if anyone’s willing to speak up for the joy of filling in tiny bubbles. If so, they’ve found perhaps the least surprising champion in Success Academy honcho Eva Moskowitz, who gave a stridently pro-assessment interview last week following a pre-test pep rally in Harlem. “We need to know how the most affluent communities are performing and whether our kids can do as well as those—and you can’t do that with internal assessments,” she noted. Her arguments were later echoed by old pal Al Sharpton—you remember, the guy who memorably roasted her for protesting Mayor de Blasio’s charter policies. The good reverend is now on the record imploring students to take the tests and expose gaps in achievement. See? Testing was always meant to bring people together.

Chicago kids looking to enjoy a...

Despite the continued controversy surrounding Common Core, the vast majority of states that originally adopted the standards have chosen to stick with them. But the same can’t be said of several new standards-aligned assessments.

Developed by two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, these new tests offered member states shared ownership over common assessments, significant cost savings, and the ability to compare student performance across states. Despite this initial promise, however, membership in PARCC (and, to a lesser degree, Smarter Balanced) has been dwindling for some time now. But is this attrition due to the quality of the tests, as some claim?

To inform states about the quality and content of PARCC and Smarter Balanced, Fordham conducted the first comprehensive evaluation of three “next-generation” tests this past summer, recruiting reviewers who examined operational test items from PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT Aspire. We also evaluated one highly regarded existing state test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Our team of rock star reviewers, comprising educators and experts on content and assessment, judged these tests against benchmarks based on the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO’s) “...

If I had to pick just one reason to support Common Core, it would be to address the paucity of nonfiction texts read by students in elementary and middle school reading instruction. Gaps in background knowledge and vocabulary make it stubbornly difficult to raise reading achievement. Conceptualizing reading comprehension as a skill you can apply to any ol’ text broadly misses the point. By encouraging reading in history, science, and other disciplines across the curriculum, Common Core encourages “a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give [students] the background to be better readers in all content areas.”

Thus, it is great good news that the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education finds the dominance of fiction waning in the fourth and eighth grades. The standards call for a 50/50 mix of fiction and non-fiction in fourth grade. In 2011, 63 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported emphasizing fiction in class, while only 38 percent said they emphasized non-fiction. A mere four years later, the gap is down to just eight percentage points (53 percent to 45 percent).

On the math side, CCSS asks for fewer topics or strands, as well as a focus on whole number arithmetic from kindergarten...

  • Even before they start school, inner-city students are often beset by huge learning obstacles—from the infamous thirty-million-word gap to the perils of urban violence—that need to mitigated by overtaxed districts. There’s a morbid irony, therefore, in new findings suggesting that these kids face the additional danger of poisoning once they walk into school. Nationwide testing in the wake of the Flint crisis has revealed distressing levels of lead contamination in school systems from Los Angeles to Newark. The problem has gone largely undetected for years because the only statute governing lead levels in public water supplies is a grossly inadequate 1991 EPA rule. Countless district facilities around the country are exempted from its language, and their lead-lined pipes and water coolers are spreading pollutants that are known to damage children’s bodily organs and stunt intellectual development. Disadvantaged families need to know that their kids are safe at school, not at risk of sustaining irreversible biological harm.
  • We all know the hallmarks of a typical civics lesson: dust-dry soliloquys about the Virginia Plan versus the New Jersey Plan, yellowed daguerreotypes of Abraham Lincoln, and melodically flaccid episodes of Schoolhouse Rock. If there were any class period that could
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