Common Core

Natalie Wexler

Standardized tests are commonly blamed for narrowing the school curriculum to reading and math. That’s one reason Congress is considering changes in the law that could lead states to put less emphasis on test scores. But even if we abolished standardized tests tomorrow, a majority of elementary schools would continue to pay scant attention to subjects like history and science.

Consider this: In 1977, twenty-five years before No Child Left Behind ushered in the era of high-stakes testing, elementary school teachers spent only about fifty minutes each day on science and social studies combined. True, in 2012, they spent even less time on those subjects—but only by about ten minutes.

The root cause of today’s narrow elementary curriculum isn’t testing, although that has exacerbated the trend. It’s a longstanding pedagogical notion that the best way to teach kids reading comprehension is by giving them skills—strategies like “finding the main idea”—rather than instilling knowledge about things like the Civil War or human biology.

Many elementary students spend hours practicing skills-based strategies, reading a book about zebras one day and a story about wizards the next.

That’s a problem for all students:...

On Wednesday, the American Federation for Children sponsored and cohosted with the Seventy Four a first-of-its-kind summit at which six Republican presidential candidates talked about American education. They discussed hot-button K–12 education issues—Common Core, teachers’ unions, school choice—but struggled to name the exact role a president should play in that arena.

“A president can do many things; it doesn’t mean it should,” former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said.

Most candidates questioned the purpose of the Department of Education and favored state control of schools. Fiorina said the amount of money flowing through Washington does not correlate with student improvements.

“The federal government is the last place in the world I want holding states and local school districts accountable,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But when pressed by Seventy Four editor-in-chief and summit host Campbell Brown, candidates agreed that presidential influence is the most useful tool for a president to move the needle on education.

“The bully pulpit needs to be used,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said. “This is crisis. Hundreds of thousands of kids can’t get jobs because of the skills gap….This has got to be the highest priority for the next president of...



The poll results that Education Next released yesterday carry mildly glum news for just about every education reformer in the land, as public support has diminished at least a bit for most initiatives on their agendas: merit pay, charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits, Common Core, and even ending teacher tenure. That dimming enthusiasm for change is apt to dominate coverage of the survey findings and the debates that follow.

Yet two other big-picture tendencies are also visible in these data, and it strikes me that they matter more over the long run than any one year’s blips around particular reform ideas.

First, when it comes to fundamental principles and practices regarding K–12 education, the American public is generally pretty sensible and steadfast. More on this below.

Second, when it comes to important basic facts regarding that very same K–12 education system, the American public is stunningly ignorant. This is especially true on the fiscal side. Poll respondents underestimated by half how much money is spent per pupil in their local schools. They’re...

Joe Anderson and Kelly James

As we move into the 2015–16 school year, the standards and assessments landscape is continuing to shift. State legislative and executive actions over the past year have resulted in changes to how, when, and—in some cases—if districts and schools will implement Common Core standards and aligned assessments. Education First’s Common Core and Assessments Status Maps detail these changes, looking back over the last year and forward to the next.

The good news: An overwhelming majority of states (forty-four, plus the District of Columbia) will continue to implement Common Core next year—this despite dozens of bills in nearly thirty states to delay or repeal it. Policymakers are sticking with higher expectations for all kids because educators, parents, and students tell them that the standards are improving instruction in classrooms across the nation. Yes, ten states are reviewing their standards (a best practice that was in place well before Common Core); but as we know from Indiana’s experience, most of them will continue with either the Core or standards that closely resemble it. States from Louisiana to New Jersey are finding that their reviews help them build on the standards rather than tearing them apart. Only Oklahoma is determined to go it alone. With so much...

The GOP had its first 2016 presidential debate last night, featuring the top ten hopefuls by recent poll numbers. Moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier asked tough questions, managed time well, and gave every candidate an opportunity to shine. Florida Senator Rubio seemed to be the consensus winner, and Ohio Governor John Kasich was arguably the runner up. Donald Trump was also there. Education, on the other hand, made a disappointingly brief appearance.

In our education policy primer for the event, Kevin Mahnken and I predicted that moderators would ask about higher education, Common Core, and nothing else. We batted two-for-three.

Fifty minutes into the debate, Twitter alit with eduwonk enthusiasm when Bret Baier, amidst boos from the audience, finally asked former Florida Governor Jeb Bush about the Republican lightning rod known as Common Core. “Governor Bush, you are one of the few people on this stage who advocates for Common Core education standards, reading and math. A lot of people on this stage vigorously oppose federal involvement in education. They think it should all be handled locally. President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, has said that most of the criticism...

At last, Judgment Day is upon us. Though it seems like only yesterday Fordham was hailing the results of the 2014 midterm elections, we’re now in the swing of a full-fledged presidential campaign. And tonight marks an important milestone on the road to the nuclear codes: the first primary debate. Since the Hillary Clinton steamroller seems poised to make inequality-decrying jelly out of her Democratic rivals, let's direct our attention to the Republican contenders and their thoughts on education.

We make our scene in fair Ohio, cradle of Republican presidents of old. Quicken Loans Arena will host ten men concentrating very hard on not using the phrase “self-deportation”:

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
  • Wisconsin Governor Paul Walker
  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio
  • Kentucky Senator Rand Paul
  • Texas Senator Ted Cruz
  • Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee
  • Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson
  • Ohio Governor John Kasich
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
  • Renowned author, entrepreneur, and humanitarian Donald Trump

The arena, home to the Cleveland Cavaliers and therefore the site of much uproarious futility, will sadly not host a repeat self-immolation by former Texas Governor Rick Perry. That’s because tonight’s ten hopefuls have been...

Robert Schwartz

Let’s begin with some data. Fewer than 33 percent of young people succeed in attaining a four-year degree by age twenty-five. If you disaggregate by income, only about 15 percent in the bottom third of the distribution attain a degree. In the bottom quintile, it’s half that. If you look at graduation rates among those who enroll, only about 30 percent in the bottom two income quintiles complete within six years. The economic returns of “some college” (i.e., those who drop out with no degree or occupational certificate) are no different than for those with only a high school diploma.

Finally, nearly half of those young people who attain a four-year degree are struggling in this labor market: 44 percent are underemployed, working in jobs that historically have not required a four-year degree, or working part-time while seeking full time employment. Meanwhile, there is rising evidence that those with two-year technical degrees (AAS) are out-earning average young BA holders.

It’s no longer a matter only of how much education you have, but what skills you have acquired and how well they match up with what the economy requires.

While it obviously should be a critical national priority...

John Kasich announced today that he’s running for president. The current governor of Ohio is the sixteenth Republican to join the crowded GOP primary, dwarfing the five-person field on the other side of the aisle. He’s also the twenty-first subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Kasich entered politics in the late 1970s, when he was elected to the Ohio Senate. He moved on to the House of Representatives in 1983, representing the state’s Twelfth Congressional District until 2001. After taking a break from public life, he returned to take Ohio’s helm in 2011. During his time as the state’s sixty-ninth governor, Kasich has made education a priority, and his efforts have produced some positive results. Here’s a sampling of his views:

1. Common Core: “[The idea behind the standards was for] students in every state to be given the opportunity to compete with every other student….I want kids to jump higher….I’m going to make sure, at least in my state, that standards are high and local control is maintained….Now, some may call that Common Core. I don’t really know, but I’m telling you the way it is in my...

  • Sure, you might die for your kids…but would how long would you sleep outside for them? That’s the question one Cincinnati dad had to answer when it was time to enroll his children in a coveted local school. The Fairview-Clifton German Language School, one of a handful of the city’s high-performing magnet schools, awards most of its kindergarten seats on a first-come, first-served basis rather than doing so exclusively via lottery. The result is a prolonged, nightmarish waiting game (on school grounds!) that now stretches over two weeks, with parents camping in tents and braving sub-freezing temperatures for a chance at one of a few dozen slots. The pageant of endurance is great for Fairview-Clifton, which ultimately selects it students from the most dedicated families in the city; but it’s terrible for parents who lack the resources to take time off work and pull a Grizzly Adams on behalf of their children. Going forward, the city (and every city) needs to offer more high-quality kindergarten seats. Until then, they should at least end this pathetic spectacle.
  • Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton drew a lot of headlines for her economic speech on Monday, predominantly for embracing liberal
  • ...

Scott Walker announced today that he’s running for president. The governor of Wisconsin is the fifteenth Republican candidate and the twentieth overall. He’s also the latest subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Walker has been involved in state politics for over twenty-two years. He was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1993 to 2002, when he was elected executive of Milwaukee County. After serving in that office for eight years, he took the helm as governor in 2011. During his tenure, Walker has focused heavily on education reform—and hasn’t shied away from controversial decisions. Here’s a sampling of his stances:

1. Teacher tenure and pay: “In 2011, we changed that broken system in Wisconsin. Today, the requirements for seniority and tenure are gone. Schools can hire based on merit and pay based on performance. That means they can keep the best and the brightest in the classroom.” June 2015.

2. School choice: “[W]e increased the number of quality education choices all over Wisconsin. Over the past four years, we expanded the number of charter schools, lifted the limits on virtual schools, and provided more help for families choosing to...