Common Core

The language of standards—even relatively straightforward ones like Common Core—can easily flummox the layperson (and more than a handful of professionals). What does it mean if a third grader is supposed to “use multiplication and division within 100 to solve word problems in situations involving equal groups, arrays, and measurement quantities?” Common Core might say a fifth grader should be expected to “write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.” But—on a good day at least—so should a columnist for the New York Times. What’s the difference?

Parents cannot be faulted if they look at the standards, find them less than helpful, and want to know simply, “What should my child be able to do at this age?” That’s the goal of an interesting new project from GreatSchools, the school information megasite for parents. “Milestones” seeks to demystify the standards with a free and engaging collection of short videos in English and Spanish showing what grade-level work looks like in grades K–5. Each short clip shows students with their teachers “demonstrating what success looks like in reading, writing and math, grade by grade.”

Created in collaboration with Student Achievement Partners and...

Aging action hero edition

Single parenthood and ed reform, moral truths and the Common Core, and Republicans’ federal education policy paradox.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Charles L. Baum and Christopher J. Ruhm "The Lasting Benefits of Early Work Experience," Employment Policies Institute (August 2014).


Mike:               Hello, this is your host Mike Petrilli at Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at The Education Gadfly Show and online at, and now please join me in welcoming my co-host the Harrison Ford of education reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:            Crashing and burning using a golf course in way in which it was not indented.

Mike:               I was thinking that you have a sort of aging action figure look going on.

Robert:            Oh, no, there again with the aging, thanks.

Mike:               Harrison Ford crashes a small plane into a golf course. I saw the image, it looked like the Millennium Falcon crashing into a golf course.

Robert:            Apparently, this is not his first time on the golf course or in at least a plane crash.

Mike:               Didn't he break his leg recently on the set of star wars?

Robert:            Let me just say if I walk away from two plane crashes, there will not be a third. I'm not sure what he was thinking.

Mike:               Because you learn from experience!

Robert:            Some of us would like to think so.

Mike:               If only the same could be said of so many of our colleagues in this education reform debate! Lots to cover, lots to cover, let's do it gang. We're going to play pardon of the Gadfly. Ellen, get us started.

Ellen:               Is single parenthood a legitimate topic for education reform?

Mike:               Yes!

Robert:            Absolutely.

Mike:               There you go. This been a bit of a debate lately. As you may know, "Education Next," has a special issue out marking the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report, which was controversial back then and remains controversial today.

Robert:            A hardy perennial.

Mike:               Here’s what I've been trying to explain, I am not particularly interested in whether kids today have single parent families. We know there's all kinds of evidence, and the Ed Next articles get into this, that those kids tend to on average do worse than kids from two parent families. Which is shocking to probably nobody. 

Mike:               All kinds of relationships, one thing is we know single parent families are much more likely to be in poverty for obvious reasons. It's hard to both make a living and care for children when you're doing it by yourself. What I care about are single parent families tomorrow. What I care about saying, we've a lot of debate in education reform about on ramps to upward mobility the number one, one being college. We've had debates for them about whether we're too focused on college, that is one good on ramp, but we have to be worried about the off ramps as well. There are some clear off ramps from the evidence, prison.

Robert:            Substance abuse.

Mike:               Substance abuse, thank you, and early parenthood especially on your own. This isn't controversial, nobody would say, "Hey, do you want to climb a latter to the middle class? Teenage pregnancy is a great idea." We've even made great progress on teenage pregnancy, the problem is it's been delayed from say 16, 17, 18 now to 20, 21, 22. Many of those young women have still not finished their education, and they have still not established themselves in the work place, they haven't gotten married. As a result they still struggle to make it out of poverty and their children then end up growing up in poverty.

Robert:            Given how difficult it is why would you want to have any more obstacles placed in front of you, right? You and I have talked about this before, this so called success sequence, this is Ron Haskins and this is Isabel Sawhill. You have something like a 95% to 98% chance of escaping poverty if you graduate from high school, if you get a full time job, if you get married, and delay parenthood until you've done those three things.

                        Now, what's interesting is we aren't exactly shy in schools about running kids lives for them, shall we say. The school where I teach when I'm not here at Fordham. At Democracy Prep, you walk down the halls, and a lot like other no excuses charters, it is awash in college banners and awash in these aspirational statements that reinforce certain character traits that we want to see in students. For some reason, I don't mean to single out my school, all of us in this line of work are just a bit cherry about doing that extra thing of saying, "Hey, you know what, stay in school, get married, get a job, don't have kids until you do that," when it may be the most important thing kids need to know to actually escape intergenerational poverty.

Mike:               Well said. Topic number 2, Ellen.

Ellen:               A recent New York Times editorial accused the common core for promoting moral relativism by ignoring moral facts. Is this accurate?

Mike:               As our colleague Kathleen said, "Just when you thought they'd run out of every argument, they came up with a new one." How did she respond Robert, what's this all about?

Robert:            You saw the piece, I think she's not having very much of it, but there's a larger issue here and frankly it's not unrelated to the issue of single parenthood. Let's dispense with the Common Core comment argument. I have to confess I read the original New York Times piece and I can't remember the author's name who was talking about ...

Mike:               A philosopher.

Robert:            A philosopher. It seems a little bit nitpicky, and I hate to wave the bloody shirt, it's a particle matter when you're teaching facts and opinion at the level of elementary school, even middle school, you're just not concerning yourself with questions of moral relativism.

Mike:               Let's back up here. He was worried that kids are being taught in school that there are facts and there are opinions. Facts are things that you can prove and opinions are things that you can't. He wanted there to be a third category for moral facts. That killing somebody isn't just saying, I think it's wrong to kill somebody, that's not just an opinion, that is a moral fact. That was the whole point. I think he certainly has some truth that there is a fair amount of moral relativism in our society, a fair amount of people being shy about saying no, there are things that some things are true with a capital "T".

Robert:            Kathleen made the point in the essay that you referenced, if this is your concern, the Common Core is a really bad straw man to attack because it actually does create a third possibility that it's not just fact or opinion. There is, I believe the phrase is, “reasoned judgement,” in analyzing a piece of writing. This should be exactly what, if this what you're concern about moral relativism, exactly what you want to see in your standards.

Mike:               That's right, actually, he would have written a great piece if he'd said, "This is a problem in our school, I see it as a college professor. However, I'm encouraged because finally the Common Core Standards at least call for a third way, not just facts, not just opinions, but reasoned judgement."

Robert:            My experience, require having read them. Don't get me started.

Mike:               Again, there's his view on the Common Core is that fact, opinion, or reasoned judgement or un-reasoned judgement, we'll leave that up to you. Topic number three.

Ellen:               Federal education policy currently presents a paradox for Republicans, particularly Republicans governors who want to be president. Please explain.

Robert:            Mike you have at it.

Mike:               Well, in fact it was really Rick Hess and Andrew Kelly at a Yahoo Explain this week, they had a piece on this and it was very well put. I think it's important because many of our friends on the left are just so confused when us Republicans call for a limited federal role in education. They say, "How can it be that Republicans on the Hill are saying that they don't want accountability for title one funds." The point is not that we don't believe in accountability, we still believe in a limited federal role in education.

The paradox is that Republicans care both about education reform but also about federalism, and so there's always been this debate at the federal level, which takes precedent, usually it's been federalism. There was been a slight detour, actually huge detour, under the No Child Left Behind Act when the educational reform instincts won out. What Rick and Andrew are wondering is now with George W. Bush's brother, Jeb, in the race: where is he going to fall? He was a very aggressive education reform governor. Does that mean he's going to do like his brother did and take those reforms to Washington or is he going to acknowledge: I did those things at the state level and what I want to do in Washington is empower other governors to do the same.

Robert:            What you're saying, to translate, is that Republicans should just not talk about education when they’re running for President.

Mike:               That’s a great question Robert, the problem is that's a really bad political strategy because the public actually wants to hear Republicans talk about education. It's one of the reasons George W. Bush did it. He was making the case that he was a different kind of Republican, he was a compassionate conservative. This was especially appealing to independents, especially women. They had all kinds of polling data on this, every time he talked about education his poll numbers went up in those groups. They want to hear that you care about schools, you care about kids, you care about poor kids, you care about upward mobility. It's tricky because you want to say I care about all those things but I don't think the federal government has much to do with it.

Robert:            So you take care of it at the state level.

Mike:               Which is a paradox.

Robert:            It is, well look it is entirely possible that you may be called upon at some point in your role on the right to advise the would be nominee, let's say it is Jeb, what are you going to tell him?

Mike:               I'm going to tell him to definitely talk about sending authority back to the states. What I would tell him is this, you could talk about education reform. Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it and then when somebody ask what should the federal government do and you say I want to empower states to do these kinds of reforms. I think that you can make distinction between the bully pulpit part, of saying what's best for kids, what's right for all things that are working around the country, and saying that we're going to therefore get into states business from Washington.

Robert:            I think there's a lot of wisdom to the idea that the proper federal role is sunshine, as opposed to sanctions.

Mike:               Or rain.

Robert:            Or rain.

Mike:               Definitely sunshine, not rain.

Robert:            Not rain.

Mike:               Okay, that's all the time we've got for pardon the Gadfly. Now it's time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute! Amber, welcome back to the show.

Amber:            Thank you, Mike.

Mike:               We were talking about Harrison Ford earlier, I guess his wife Calista Lockhart—

Robert:            Calista Flockhart.

Mike:               Flockhart, not Lockhart. Oh yeah, Ally Mcbeal. She said to him you're not flying those planes anymore. Is that the right approach as the wife?

Amber:            Is he better? I haven’t heard. He’s better now?

Mike:               He's okay, but I guess he's done this a couple times.

Robert:            Three crashes.

Amber:            Three crashes.

Robert:            That's God's way of telling you are not a pilot.

Amber:            I think that's kind of right.

Mike:               He was so good flying the Millennium Falcon!

Amber:            And he's seventy- how many now?

Mike:               Seventy-two.

Amber:            Wow, he's not invincible. Who'd he play, I just had a brain freeze ...

Robert:            Han Solo.

Amber:            No, he plays, his biggest role of all time.

Mike:               Star wars, no Indianan Jones.

Amber:            Indiana Jones!

Mike:               It’s certainly my favorite role ...

Amber:            Biggest role.

Mike:               I don't know if that's bigger than Star Wars.

Amber:            I didn't watch Star Wars.

Mike:               What?!

Amber:            I know, don't tell anyone.

Mike:               That's almost Un-American. That is like culture literacy.

Amber:            I've seen it, but not into it.

Mike:               We'll leave that for another day. What do we have first?

Amber:            We have got a new study out by a couple of economist that examined the impact of having a job in high school. A long term labor market benefit such as employment and earning. The study called, "The Lasting Benefits of Early Work Experience," uses data from the 1979 and 1997 national longitudinal survey of youth which tracks students from high school up to several decades later.

Robert:            I had a job at Taco Bell on Saturday night.

Amber:            We all start thinking about our first job. The sample comprises roughly 13,000 students who were between 14-21 in 1979, and roughly 9,000 students who were aged 12-16 in 1997. They look at impact after graduating ten years in the more recent cohort and thirty years in the earlier cohort. Such as the 1997, cohort are 26-30 year olds in 2010, when they stopped tracking them, and the 1979, cohort are ages 45-51.

Robert:            Thanks for reminding me.

Amber:            The control for gender, race, age, marital status, family size, region of residence, urban city,  family background, student abilities, student characteristics, a lot.

Robert:            Do they control for unemployment?

Amber:            That said, this is just a little bit of my opinion here, some of the control variables aren't that robust. For student ability, all they had was 8th grade GPA and military test results like, ASVAB. The key finding was that part time work by high school seniors during the school year and during the summer, so it's okay to do work in the summer too, translate to higher hourly wages, increased annual earnings, and less time spent out of work. Further, the differences in earnings between employed and unemployed high school seniors held up 10-30 years later, for the most part.

Mike:               Say that again.

Amber:            The differences in the earnings between the kids who were employed in high school and weren't employed actually held up, so they didn't fade.

Amber:            It’s a little example, a young adult in high school in early 2000's who spent 20 hours a week of part time work as a senior, was linked to earnings 20% higher 6-9 years after they graduate.

Robert:            All other things being equal.

Amber:            Right, compared to the peers who didn't work. For those in high school in the late 70's and early 80's 20 hours of senior year work experience per week was linked today to annual earnings about 7% higher compared to those who didn't work. Yet, here's the downside, because you go through all this positive stuff, in the report which was not called out in the summary, 20 hours per work in one's senior year verses not working decreases college graduation rates from 49% to 22%.

Robert:            Wow, that's huge.

Amber:            Less for the 1979, cohort. Analysts conclude, this is a direct quote, "Clearly, extensive early work experience has substantially larger harmful effects on academic outcomes then on labor market outcomes." Then they got this hypothesis where they discuss it and say, you know what, when you work your senior year, and we all think about what our job senior year, you learn more work ethic, self-reliance, time management, all these good things. Which could potentially bump your salary, but you could also potentially be taken away from studying.

Robert:            There's been a big shift ... I'd be curious if this was in the report. I feel like there's been a big shift in how we raise our children from when I was in high school to the way I raise my own high school aged daughter who has never had a job. I don't know if any of her friends have had jobs, all of my friends had jobs in high school.

Mike:               It’s interesting. I remember Lawrence Steinberg, we've talked about his work recently on adolescents, he used to be a crusader against these kinds of jobs because he was looking at the evidence on academic obtainment. How there was problems that these kids were going to the quote shopping mall high schools during the day which wasn't very interesting or challenging and literally work at the shopping mall at night and be tired in class and not have enough time for homework and all of that kind of stuff. Turns out that there is some positive aspects to this as well. There's kids ... I wonder if they go on to become entrepreneurs ... There's still selection bias.

Amber:            Absolutely. They do the best they can. Honestly, this are top notch economists, one's from UVA, so you know he's top notch. They go through 15 different test for robustness and they do the IV, the instrumental variables ... They did the best they could do.

Mike:               You would that think of course there's something different about kids who work and kids that do not. The kids that work may be more motivate by money for example and that's the case when they're 16 and want to buy a car or might be the case 15 years later when they want to buy a house. They make more money, they find a way.

Amber:            There's a sweet spot in there because once you start getting up past 20 the outcomes just get negative because the graduation rates get worse.

Mike:               One of the most interesting is the upward mobility conference in December was when Robert Swartz from Harvard said that poor kids were three times less likely to have part time job then affluent kids. There again that they aren't getting work experience, that they are getting that disadvantage as well. I wonder for the Democracy Preps and other no excuses schools would say of high school are they encouraging their students to have part time jobs or summer jobs.

Amber:            That was another finding, if you had no job at all or if you worked too many hours you were less likely to graduate from college. Both ends of the spectrum.

Robert:            There really is a sweet spot.

Mike:               I would say in the summer, you're 16 how do you spend your summer. I'm curious where the KIPP high schools are encouraging their kids to do during the summer. There's an argument that says look, part ... They should be helping their kids find jobs. We've talked about summer job programs before, that this is important.

Robert:            Does an internship count as a job? That materially affects their kinds of job you choose whether you're trying to get work experience or trying to get college experience or earn a few bucks.

Amber:            They didn't code it, by internship. First job, what was it?

Mike:               McDonalds.

Amber:            McDonalds! Wow.

Mike:               I lasted six weeks. I lasted until the day I had to wake up at 4am and help load stuff from the truck into the deep freezer in the middle of the summer.

Amber:            I was a cashier at Russell Home Shoes.

Mike:               No kidding. Selling shoes.

Amber:            Loved it.

Mike:               I’m impressed. That’s a good choice for you. 

Amber:            I remember, because all the guys were three years older than me and I was just smitten. Because I was a high school senior and they were 21, I was just like, I'm going to go into my little cashier job and bat my eyelashes.

Mike:               Where did you bat your eyelashes, Robert?

Robert:            I had a paper route, but my first real job was off the books, I was a bust boy at the Oasis Diner Jericho Turnpike Huntington Station, Long Island, from 6pm to 6am Fridays and Saturday nights. I went home with $40 in my pocket on Sunday morning and I thought I was rich.

Mike:               Pretty good.

Amber:            Awesome.

Mike:               You were too tired to do anything with the money.

Robert:            That's true.

Mike:               All right, good stuff. Thank you, Amber. That's all the time we've got until next week.

Robert:            I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Mike:               I'm Mike Petrilli, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off. 


“A spirit of license makes a man refuse to commit himself to any standards....When society reaches this stage, and there is no standard of right and wrong outside of the individual himself, then the individual is defenseless against the onslaught of cruder and more violent men who proclaim their own subjective sense of values. Once my idea of morality is just as good as your idea of morality, then the morality that is going to prevail is the morality that is stronger.”

—Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Have all the possible arguments about the Common Core been exhausted? Up until a week ago I would have said yes, but that was before we started talking about moral facts.

First, a little background on the idea of “moral facts.” One aim of a liberal arts or classical education is the search for objective truth. That search is based on the presumption that moral facts (e.g., “all men are created equal,” “murder is wrong”) do exist and that education should focus in large part on imparting the knowledge students need to reason and understand the difference between fact, opinion, and moral facts that are derived from reasoned judgment.

This belief...

This post has been updated with the full text of "No time to lose on early reading"

I’m a fan of the Common Core State Standards, but I recognize there are many reasonable and honorable areas of disagreement about them, both politically and educationally. One recent thread of opposition, however, strikes me as quite unreasonable: the idea that Common Core demands too much by expecting children to be able to read by the end of kindergarten.

recent report from a pair of early childhood advocacy organizations (Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood) makes the argument that “forcing some kids to read before they are ready could be harmful” and calls for Common Core to be dropped in kindergarten and “rethought along developmental lines.” It’s a really bad idea. Early reading struggles left unaddressed tend to persist, setting kids up for failure. Common Core is not without faults, but its urgency about early childhood literacy is not one of them.

The first red flag in the report is its insistence that Common Core is “developmentally inappropriate.” That sounds scientific and authoritative, but it’s a notoriously slippery concept, harkening back to the day when Piaget theorized that children go...

Peter Sipe

I’ve always liked Fridays as much as the next guy, but this year I especially like them. The reason is that every Friday, my students and I read an obituary together. If that sounds morbid, let me tell you what I tell the kids: An obituary is the story of a life; death is just the detail that gets it printed.

How do I select the weekly life story we read? I don’t. I have other people do it for me. I’ve been asking folks around town—elected officials, businesspeople, civic leaders, colleagues, and friends—this question: If you could pick one person from the past whom you wish kids would learn about in school, who would it be?

With their introductions, we’ve made the acquaintance of Phyllis Jen, a beloved family doctor, Ruth Batson, a civil rights activist who helped desegregate our schools, and Tom White, a businessman who gave away his riches to the poor. In upcoming weeks, we’ll be reading about a firefighter, a judge, and a rowing coach. And I’ve got lots more in my pile, all marvelously interesting—and inspiring. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’d never heard of most of these people before, but I’m glad to...

While the merit and politics of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been much debated and discussed, one topic has been virtually ignored: What do the standards portend for America’s high-ability students?  In a new brief from Fordham, Jonathan Plucker, professor of education at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, provides guidance for districts and schools implementing the Common Core.

1. Common Core is no excuse to ditch gifted services.
2. State and local officials should get rid of policies that hurt gifted students and strengthen those that help them.
3. Schools should work hard to make differentiation "real."
4. Schools should make use of existing high-quality materials that help teachers adapt the Common Core for gifted students.

Download the brief, read “Can gifted education survive the Common Core?” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Amber M. Northern, and watch today’s event to learn more.

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...

Meet Mr. Wright

Brandon’s first podcast features Common Core for kindergarteners, America’s new aristocracy, Tennessee’s preposterous teacher evaluations, and the benefits of acceleration.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Katie Larsen McClarty, "Life in the Fast Lane: Effects of Early Grade Acceleration on High School and College Outcomes," Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 1 (January 2015). 

Robert:            Hello, this is your host Robert Pondiscio of The Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at Now, please join me in welcoming my cohost, the Beck of education reform, Brandon Wright.

Brandon:         As opposed to Kanye?

Robert:            Which would you rather be?

Brandon:         I like them both.

Robert:            Ok.

Brandon:         I’m not sure.

Robert:            I’m going to let you finish, Brandon.

Brandon:         Oh, I think Beck’s fine.

Robert:            Yeah. I have to admit, I mean I like Beck back in the day. I mean I’m a lot older than Mr. Wright and I feel like he was kind of my generation.

Brandon:         Oh, he was pretty popular. I think his album was Odelay when I was in maybe middle school.

Robert:            You had to go there, didn’t you?

Brandon:         I think I’ve heard more Kanye than I’ve heard Beck, but I think everyone has.

Robert:            In the last 20 years.

Brandon:         Which I think is part of Kanye’s point there.

Robert:            That Kanye, he’s that guy who’s married to Kim Kardashian, right?

Brandon:         I know.

Robert:            He’s famous and he’s in the Beatles now I think.

Brandon:         Yeah. He’s really helping out Paul McCartney’s career.

Robert:            Yeah. That’s Sir Paul McCartney to you. Ok. Now, it is time to play, “Pardon the Gadfly.” Ellen, what do we have for this week?

Ellen:               Robert, this week, you’re writing about whether Common Core is too hard for kindergartners, is it?

Robert:            No. What’s the next question? Ok, we’ll take this one on. Now, there was a report, Brandon, a couple of weeks ago back in January. I’ll be honest it kind of set my teeth on edge a little bit. I’m an elementary educator, although, you probably wouldn’t want me to teach kindergarten. The report basically and it came out from a couple of early childhood education advocacy groups and it made the case that look, Common Core is asking too much of kindergarten or kindergartners. Kindergarten should be a time for play. You should learn language through play-based techniques. It ended up calling for Common Core to be withdrawn from kindergarten.

                        They made a case which just struck me as odd, so I started researching it that there’s no real research to support the idea that early kindergarten reading leads to long-term success. It just struck me as counterintuitive and the more I looked into it, the more I realize it’s really not true. Now, there’ve been any number of studies and by the time this podcast is heard, you can go online and read the Gadfly and you’ll see this deathlessly long piece that I wrote about all the research.

                        What troubles me most about it is I hate to see as or reports like this communicate some kind of lack of urgency about early reading. I mean the one thing that I think is very clear and [inaudible 00:02:52] ambiguous is that so much is said in motion by early literacy. One piece of data from one report, a child who is struggling in first grade has a 90% chance of also struggling in reading in third grade. A child who is struggling in third grade reading has a 75% chance of still struggling come ninth grade. If you look at high school dropout statistics, if you were a struggling reader, you are something on the order of 4 to 6 times more likely to drop out than if you were reading on time.

                        About the last worst thing I think that we could communicate to the field is that there’s a lack of urgency around early childhood reading.

Brandon:         I think I agree entirely. In your piece, you mentioned a bunch of the standards that the reports seems to take issue with, and I don’t, to me they didn’t seem too hard at all. One of the of scary things that one of the authors said is that doing this that early could be harmful when it actually seems to me to be the opposite and kind of not doing it because you think it’s harmful seems to actually be the potentially harmful thing.

Robert:            Yeah. I think I understand the impulse where this comes from. I mean we’ve spoken a lot on this podcast about the deleterious effects in too much testing. I’m not a testing hawk, I think it’s an important principle, but sure, I’m deeply sympathetic for those who say, look, let’s not pressure kids too early. Let them enjoy a play-based kindergarten. I worry that kind of thinking comes from what I would call the educational equivalent of the worried well. In other words, I live in New York City, if you’re on the Upper East Side and you’re educated and affluent, your kid is going to read. It’s not going to be a problem.

                        Kids like the ones that I teach in Harlem and the South Bronx who come from homes whether they’re single-parent homes, less educated homes, they hear less language growing up, let’s face it, those are the kids that ed reform at large is aimed at helping. It tends to be the type of thing where affluent kids sneeze and low-income kids catch cold. If we try to change this for kids on the Upper East Side so to speak that I just worry about the kids from families or some kids like the students that I teach.

Brandon:         Absolutely.

Ellen:               The economist recently ran an article discussing education and class, calling education “America’s new aristocracy.” What’s to be done?

Robert:            What is to be done? The first thing to be done is somebody has to find where Charles Murray is so he can say, “I told you so,” the 4 most beautiful words in the English language. I don’t know if you read Murray’s book a few years ago called, Coming Apart, but this was basically his thesis that educated, affluent people tend to marry other educated, affluent people and they have educated, affluent children. If you grow up less prosperous, we’re creating these kind of divisions and subcultures in America. Now, we’re according to the economist, we’re paying a price.

Brandon:         Yeah. It speaks to a very important problem, but it’s also one that starts seemingly when one gets born. Another economist article quoted that 32 million word thing where if you’re a child of a professional, you hear 32 million more words by the time you’re 4 compared to a child of someone on welfare.

Robert:            Yeah, enough 32 million words, 32 million more words.

Brandon:         Right, yeah. That starts essentially from birth. One of the solutions this aristocracy article suggest is to start early. I think that’s right on point. At the same time, right, these kids aren’t behind just because of their first 5 years. As years go on, they continue to fall behind. This kind of help needs to start young, but it needs to continue essentially through college.

Robert:            Yeah. I’ve described it a couple of different places.

Brandon:         Until they graduate college.

Robert:            Exactly. Something called the Matthew effect which I think was a phrase coined by Keith Stanovich who’s a cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto. It takes its name from a passage in the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew and I can’t quote it to you, but it’s the one that basically says; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. That is absolutely the case when it comes to language proficiency. That 32 million word gap that you were talking about just primes kids to learn more language. Kids who are in the wrong end of that are primed to learn less language. That gap just grows and grows and grows. It’s a profoundly important issue for those of us who are concerned about raising the prospects for low-income kids.

Brandon:         Profoundly hard to solve.

Robert:            Because what do you do, right?

Brandon:         I don’t know.

Robert:            I mean it’s not as if you’re going to prevent educated people from marrying each other. You can [crosstalk 00:08:03]. I don’t know. Make a case for that.

                        It really is a profound public policy problem, but it may not be a public policy issue.

Ellen:               A teacher’s union in Tennessee just sued the state over its teacher evaluation policies. Do they have a case?

Robert:            What do you think, Brandon? Do they have a case?

Brandon:         I have a blog post on our site now. What I’m about to say probably parrots that. In the state, they just have an absolutely preposterous policy.

Robert:            Preposterous. You have strong feelings about this.

Brandon:         I do.

Robert:            Ok.

Brandon:         When it comes to teachers of non-core subjects.

Robert:            Can you define that for us, meaning?

Brandon:         Meaning teachers who instruct classes that aren’t tested on Tennessee’s standardized test, so things like world languages or fine arts or gym.

Robert:            Hey, gym was a core subject for me. Just saying.

Brandon:         I love dodgeball, yeah.

For these folks or for all teachers there, their annual evaluation where they’re given a 1 through a 5 with 5 being the best is based half on observation and essentially half on something based on test scores. For these core folks, the science teachers for example, their test scores are primarily based on how their kids do on that subject on the standardized test. Those subjects right there, yeah. For the non-core folks, they don’t have these test scores.

Robert:            Ok.

Brandon:         For them, the bulk of this almost half is composed of school-wide performance. What the state does is it sees how well all the students in that school does on all of the subjects on the standardized test. Then they assign them essentially that score.

Robert:            In other words, the gym teacher is being scored on how the entire school does on reading tests.

Brandon:         Right. Say it’s the best gym teacher in the whole world, right? He’s at a school where all of the students there did really poorly in a given year on every subject and on every test.

Robert:            Yeah.

Brandon:         He would essentially be given a 1 and his overall score would drop to I don’t know, a 3.

Robert:            Yes. That’s just goofy.

Brandon:         It’s absurd.

Robert:            Ok. Wait a minute, this means you’re taking the side of the teacher’s union here.

Brandon:         Here, yeah. I mean I’m all for kind of learning-based evaluations when they’re done smartly. Here though, if this is anything for learning-based evaluation, it harms them.

Robert:            Let’s think about this. Here, this is your first Gadfly podcast and right out of the box, you’re going soft on accountability.

Brandon:         No, I’m going smart on accountability.

Robert:            Nicely put.

Brandon:         Right.

Robert:            All right. That’s all the time we have for this segment. Now, it’s time for Amber’s Research Minute.

                        Hey, Amber, how are you today?

Amber:            Hey, Robert, doing great, thanks.

Robert:            Good. Did you watch the Grammy’s?

Amber:            I watched a little bit of the Grammy’s, just a slice.

Robert:            All right. We were referring to Mr. Wright here as the Beck of education reform.

Amber:            Yes. Kanye might not appreciate that, but yes, I think Beck was a deserved winner.

Robert:            Was he? I have to confess, I did not hear his album.

Amber:            Yes.

Brandon:         I’m not sure anyone did. I'm just kidding.

Amber:            I just heard he plays 16 instruments and writes all the songs, so like all right, that’s worthy.

Robert:            At least 2 or 3 people who were given out the award must have heard the album and maybe they just decided they didn’t like Beyoncé.

Amber:            That’s right. She’s won.

Robert:            Look, it’s Kanye West. He’s going to come in here.

Amber:            I know, but she’s sort of over awarded, right, from what I gather.

Brandon:         Her album though was from what I hear was pretty groundbreaking.

Amber:            Oh, really.

Brandon:         Yeah.

Amber:            She’s the one that shows her backside a lot, right?

Robert:            That’s Kanye’s wife.

Amber:            Both of them I believe are backsiders.

Robert:            We’re digging ourselves in much, much too deep of a hole here. Amber, help us out here. What do you got there?

Amber:            We got a new study out. It’s in the latest issue of Gifted Education Quarterly which is kind of a neat journal. We haven’t looked at that one lately. It examines the long-term impact on young adults of skipping a grade, otherwise known as acceleration on subsequent academic outcomes. The analyst used a database called NELS and that tracks a nationally representative cohort of students in 1988 when they were in grade 8. That tracks these kids through high school and then at 2 and 8 years out after high school, so we’re going through year 2000.

                        A variety of high school outcome data were collected like the PSAT scores, the SAT, the ACT scores, their GPA, their college aspirations. Then in college, they looked at the selectivity of the institution, the GPA for every year they were in college, and whether or not they attained a degree, so pretty good robust data sources. All students who had ever skipped a grade prior to eighth grade comprise acceleration group. Ok, it’s kind of a good factoid. The sample included kids who range from grade 9 to age 13 in eighth grade, so it’s a broad range.

                        The students were then matched with a set of older non-accelerated eighth grade peers from the same database. They matched them on gender, race, class, and eighth grade achievement.

Robert:            Ok.

Amber:            Then they look after the match to make sure the matches were good and they basically said that the accelerated and non-accelerated group were identical on those variables. Ok. They’ve put some thought into a comparison group because that’s really important, right?

Robert:            Sure.

Amber:            Key findings; accelerated students who scored significantly higher on the math sections of the PSAT, SAT, and most of the ACT; they also earned higher grades in high school. Once at college, accelerated kids also earned higher grades in their second year and overall. I don’t know what happened in the first year. It’s a little strange.

                        Both groups were admitted to similarly selective colleges and both had similar rates of graduate degree completion. Though accelerated kids were slightly more likely to attain a bachelor’s degree.

                        Finally, accelerated students also took more accelerated courses and advanced courses and participated more often in various educational opportunities. I mean the bottom line is I mean most people would agree that accelerated kids by virtue of being accelerated have something different about them, right.

Robert:            Sure, right.

Amber:            They’re potentially more self-motivated. I think the findings sort of bear that out because you find that accelerated kids keep doing stuff that accelerates them. It’s sort of like a cycle. That’s a good thing, right?

Robert:            Maybe this was beyond the scope of the study, but no social issues. In other words, a lot of times, parents get concerned when their kids have the opportunity to be accelerated. They don’t want to be the youngest kid in their class.

Amber:            That’s right. They did not look at that at all. It was completely quant study, but yeah.

Robert:            Didn’t seem to have any ill-effect.

Amber:            Right. I mean apparently, who knows whether these kids were joked on or I mean certainly, there could be some social consequences, right, to sort of being the youngest in the class or maybe it’s the opposite way and kids are like wild, this kid’s really bright or whatever.

Robert:            Right.

Amber:            Academically, right, it looks no negative effects if only positive or in some cases, no effect at all. Yeah, I mean I think it was a well done study. I mean I think like most of these studies, we can’t get at what the “it is” that might be driving some of these impacts. I mean they do their best they can to measure on all the observables, but there’s a whole set of unobservable stuff that’s not being measured. Still, it was a reasonable comparison group. These kids overall performed just well on these various robust measures.

Robert:            How common is acceleration?

Amber:            Yeah. It’s a great question. It was 1% on NELS database.

Robert:            Oh, wow, very small.

Amber:            Yeah, very small. They had a question there where they were asking parents whether their child had been accelerated when they found that those data were less reliable than just looking at the age of their kids and where they should be respective of their grade level. Yeah, not too many, I mean I feel like I mean my experience in schools, I just didn’t see this too often. Did you guys see it in your own?

Robert:            You see the opposite quite often where kids were retained, but they were not accelerated, sure.

Amber:            Yeah.

Brandon:         It probably seems to depend on whether a state or a district allows this, right? It seems like from this states that don’t or districts that don't should.

Robert:            There’s no good reason not to.

Amber:            Yeah. That’s right. It’s a good point and I know we’re doing a gifted study on state policies and you’re making me wonder how much of this is actually in or not in the state law in terms of whether they’re allowed to do this. You’d think it’d be one of those things that state law would be silent about or definitely encouraged. Can’t imagine why they want to prohibit this.

Robert:            Or at least open it up to a lot more kids. We’ve spent a lot of time in this podcast and then our blog’s talking about differentiation. This is one way to do it, right, to the accelerated kids.

Amber:            Yeah. That’s right.

Robert:            It’s a challenge, good. Thanks, Amber. That’s all the time we have for this week’s Gadfly Show. Till next week.

Brandon:         I’m Brandon Wright.

Robert:            I’m Robert Pondiscio for The Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Speaker 1:       The Education Gadfly Show is a production of The Thomas B. Fordham Institute located in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit us online at

Almost every article and column written about the nascent GOP presidential campaign mentions Tea Party opposition to immigration reform and the Common Core—and most candidates’ efforts to align themselves with the Republican base on these two issues. (A Google News search turns up more than 11,000 hits for “Common Core” and “immigration” and “Republican.”)

When it comes to immigration reform, it’s easy to understand what the hard-right candidates oppose: any form of amnesty for people who entered the country illegally.

But what does it mean when Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul, or Bobby Jindal says he “opposes” the Common Core? Reporters* might ask them:

  1. Do you mean that you oppose the Common Core standards themselves? All of them? Even the ones related to addition and subtraction? Phonics? Studying the nation’s founding documents? Or just some of them? Which ones, in particular, do you oppose? Have you actually read the standards?
  2. Or do you mean that you oppose the role that the federal government played in coercing states to adopt the Common Core? Fair enough, but don’t you share that exact same position with every Republican in Congress and every other Republican running for president, including Jeb
  3. ...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at RegBlog.

Most public policy issues fit roughly into one of three categories. The first contains fundamental matters of principle—what we generally call “social issues,” such as abortion, gay marriage, and gun rights. The second bucket includes topics that are more technical in nature: how to make various systems or sectors work better. Here we might put nuts-and-bolts issues like infrastructure or procurement reform. The third category is for issues that have elements of the first two, both fundamental matters of principle and technocratic questions of implementation. Health care reform certainly belongs there.

Category three is also where education reform in general, and Common Core in particular, belongs. There are clear matters of principle: Should all American children have equal access to challenging coursework? Do states have the right, perhaps even the responsibility, to set standards for their public schools, or should all such control remain with local school boards, educators, or parents? But technical questions are important too: Are the standards high enough? Are the tests properly aligned with them—and also psychometrically valid and reliable? Who is responsible for helping schools develop the capacity to teach to the new...