Curriculum & Instruction

Anti-Common Core Lies
Debunking the lies, half-truths, and misinformation about the Common Core standards
Photo by Tigereon

Note: If you read my post from Tuesday, “A point-by-point rebuttal of today’s anti-Common Core op-ed in the Wall Street Journal,” you can probably skip this one. You’ll be shocked to know that the folks at the Pioneer Institute used many of the same lies, half-truths, and misinformation in both articles. Yet, debunk I must. So here goes.

The Beginning of Common Core's Trouble

When President Obama unveiled his Race to the Top initiative in 2009, the idea was to award $4.35 billion in federal grant money to states to replicate policies that boosted student achievement.  That quickly changed and the federal money was instead used to persuade states to adopt administration-backed nationalized K-12 English and math standards and tests. By last year, most states had adopted the standards, known as Common Core, and it seemed a foregone conclusion that the United States would join countries like France in having a uniform curriculum.

Where to begin? Race to the Top “incentivized” several different reforms, including the adoption of the Common Core, but also the expansion of charter schools, the embrace of rigorous teacher evaluations, and much, much more. As for a “uniform curriculum” (like France!), Jim Stergios...
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The Academic and the Wonk

Can wonky Mike and data-loving Dara come to an agreement on Texas’s education reforms, Illinois’s rebuff of online learning, and a moratorium on Common Core–related stakes? Amber joins the number-cruncher brigade with a study on the effect of career and technical education on math achievement.

Amber's Research Minute

Balancing Career and Technicial Education with Academic Coursework: The Consequences for Mathematics Achievement in High School,” by Robert Bozick and Benjamin Dalton, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

After a sandstorm of education bills swept through the last few weeks of the Lone Star State's eighty-third legislative session, the dust cleared to reveal the passage of five major education bills:

  1. HB 5 rolls back the number of required end-of-course exams from fifteen to five and creates two high school diploma tracks
  2. SB 2 expands the state’s charter school system, increasing the state cap on charter school contracts from 215 to 305 over the next six years
  3. HB 866 will allow students in grades 3–8 who score well in either the third or fifth grade to be excused from certain standardized tests (this one requires federal approval)
  4. HB 2836 limits the number of “benchmark” exams districts can administer in grades 3–8 and orders that the state’s curricular standards be studied by a mandated commission
  5. HB 1926 requires that all districts, beginning in middle school, offer students the option of taking online courses (setting the limit at three per student, per year) and opens the virtual-education market to nonprofits and private companies, to be authorized by the Texas Education Agency

The big battle that was won: As Greg Richmond of NACSA reports, SB 2 is quality legislation that promotes both growth and accountability; in addition to raising the cap on charter contracts, it strengthens the application process and creates a default closure mechanism for failed schools. The big battle that was lost: HB 5 is a major setback. As Checker Finn warned when the...

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Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation last week that places a one-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools outside Chicago and directs a state commission to study the effects and costs of virtual charters. These actions were clearly responses to suburban districts’ angst over the growing presence of K12 Inc. Relatedly, we’re sure that local bookstores favor blocking Amazon.com so that we might “better evaluate and understand” its impact. Is that next up?

Now in its fifth year, Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland—Ohio’s only charter school exclusively serving gifted children—is a haven for over 300 students, drawing K–8 youngsters from forty school districts in and beyond the Cleveland metro area. It's also the subject of a profile by award-winning journalist Ellen Belcher. To read more, visit the Ohio Gadfly Daily.

And now, from Nevada, a riddle about poor school-funding policy: What do you get when you add the third-largest fraction of English-language learner (ELL) students in the nation (a full fifth of Nevada’s 2010–11 student population) to a school-funding formula that doesn’t allot districts any extra state cash to educate said youngsters? Answer: Only 29 percent of the state’s ELL students in the graduating class of 2010–11 made it across the stage with their cohort. Brian Sandoval, the Republican governor of Nevada, has proposed $50 million over two years to go towards ELL programs; the state’s Senate majority leader has countered with $140 million. While money alone won’t solve Nevada’s achievement woes, extra...

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With renewed attention being paid to college and career readiness, many wonder whether career and technical (CTE) courses—formerly known as vocational ed—enhance academic achievement. Using the Educational Longitudinal Study (or ELS) for students attending high school from the 2000–01 to 2003–04 school years (prior to the passage of the latest Perkins reauthorization, the federal program that funds career tech), this new report from RAND and RTI examines the relationship between CTE courses and math achievement. After controlling for selection bias as well as possible, the authors look at both the effect on math achievement for each additional CTE course taken in high school and whether having a higher balance of CTE courses relative to academic courses increases math achievement. The top three findings: First, exposure to CTE is common, with 64 percent of students earning at least two CTE credits and 43 percent earning three or more. Second, the total number of CTE courses taken is unrelated to the number of questions answered correctly on the math assessment, but the more CTE courses one takes, the lower one’s gains at the most advanced levels. And third, all else equal, those who take a mix of CTE and academic courses, those who take mostly CTE courses, and those who take mostly academic courses all have similar predicted scores. In other words, learning gains in math are not compromised when CTE courses are taken at the expense of academic courses. Of course, we must bear in mind that students who take mostly...

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In 1958, over 18,000 U.K. infants (including nearly 1,000 immigrants) joined the National Child Development Study—a longitudinal, population-representative survey. For this study, researchers tracked these youngsters through to age forty-two to determine whether childhood reading and math skills (at age seven) predicted adult socioeconomic success. The initial finding is a nothingburger: “Mathematics and reading ability both had substantial positive associations with adult [socioeconomic status].” But look a little closer! The correlations between adult SES and childhood reading and math know-how were greater than those between adult SES and one’s economic status at birth or one’s intelligence (as measured at age eleven). The methods are weedy but the message is clear and hopeful—socioeconomic status in childhood plays a role in students’ future level of success. But school-based knowledge matters more.

SOURCE: Stuart J. Ritchie and Timothy C. Bates, “Enduring Links From Childhood Mathematics and Reading Achievement to Adult Socioeconomic Status,” Psychological Science 24(5): (May 2013).

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  • Common Core: Fordham’s Emmy Partin hit the airwaves to discuss the Buckeye State’s transition to the Common Core standards in English language arts and math on All Sides with Ann Fisher on WOSU, Ohio’s National Public Radio station. Ida Lieszkovsky, a reporter for StateImpact Ohio and Kelly Kohls, president of the Ohio School Board Leadership Council joined Emmy to inform the public about the new learning standards and to debate their merits. To view the video of the event, please click here.
  • Good school governance: Fordham published Limitless: Education, the Reynoldsburg Way, a short report that profiles Reynoldsburg City School District, a Columbus-area school that serves around 6,000 students. In Limitless, Ellen Belcher, an award-winning journalist and formerly of the Dayton Daily News, interviews school leaders, teachers, and parents to describe how one Ohio district pushes innovation and empowers leaders—all to better meet kids’ needs while maintaining fiscal discipline. If you’re interested in an example of “portfolio management” done well, you’ll want to read this report, which can be downloaded here.
  • Superintendents’ views on education reform: The Buckeye State is in the midst of serious educational reform—from brand-new learning standards to a revamped accountability system to teacher evaluations partly based on students’ test scores. How do district superintendents, who are tasked with implementing these reforms, view them? With a hearty embrace? With a grimace and frown? To read the views and opinions of Ohio’s superintendents (344 out of 614 responded to our survey),
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  • The Columbus Dispatch opines that the “campaign against the Common Core…is misguided and misinformed.” Instead, the Dispatch argues that the Common Core rightly describes “what children should know and be able to do at each grade level.”
  • The Akron Beacon Journal’s chief editorial writer, Laura Ofobike, defuses anti-Common Core hysteria, arguing that the “Common Core is supposed to produce students who graduate from high school equipped to make it in college or a career. How subversive is that?”
  • The Toledo Blade writes in favor of the Common Core (though, under the caveat that literature must remain in schools’ curricula). The Blade argues that the Common Core “promises to enhance the quality of public education” and that it “usefully makes a priority of instruction in critical thinking and basic ideas and concepts, rather than teaching to standardized tests.”
  • Nationally, the New York Times has endorsed the Common Core on grounds that include that they will “help students develop strong reasoning skills earlier than is now common.” Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, writes favorably toward the Common Core in the Washington Post, as has former Florida governor Jeb Bush in the Columbus Dispatch. Finally, Fordham’s president Checker Finn defends the merits of the Common Core in Defining Ideas, a journal published by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
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Blended learning: It’s the talk of the town and perceived favorably, but it hasn’t found widespread use…yet. Fordham’s May 2013 publication Half Empty Half Full: Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reform surveyed 344 of Ohio’s 614 district superintendents: 59 percent of superintendents thought that blended learning would lead to “fundamental improvement.” However, despite the vocal support for blended learning, few superintendents (a mere 5 percent) report that it has achieved “widespread” use in their school district. In fact, 31 percent of superintendents reported that blended learning was of “limited or no use” in their district.

(Blended learning refers to an instructional model that mixes virtual education with traditional face-to-face instruction. The model can vary depending on what instructional model the teacher chooses to implement. Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, identify four blended learning models.)  

Who are the most laggardly of the laggards in terms of using blended learning? It seems, as might be expected, that superintendents of rural districts are the most likely to report little to no use of blended learning. And, importantly, it’s not on account of attitudinal resistance to blended learning from these rural school leaders.

Chart 1 shows that rural superintendents view blended learning favorably—as favorably as their peers in larger, more urban districts. Sixty-one percent of rural superintendents view blended learning favorably, a percentage that mirrors that of urban (61 percent) and suburban superintendents (66 percent), and is considerably higher than small town superintendents (45 percent). 

Chart...

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Petty Little Dictator Disorder
Many of those crusading against the Common Core have been playing fast and loose with the facts.
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons

As I’ve said and written about a million times, there are plenty of reasons to be against the Common Core. As with any public-policy issue, there are pros and cons, upsides and downsides—in short, trade-offs.

Still, many of those crusading against the Common Core have been playing fast and loose with the facts and purposefully spreading misinformation—nobody more than the folks at the Pioneer Institute. This is a shame, because they probably have the best argument against the Common Core, at least in their home state of Massachusetts: The Bay State’s standards were already excellent and already getting results. It should have passed on the Common Core. But because it didn’t, Pioneer seems intent on bringing down the whole enterprise, regardless of how helpful it might be for the other forty-nine states.

In that spirit, let me offer this rebuttal to today’s Wall Street Journal column by Pioneer’s Jamie Gass and Charles Chieppo.

Common Core Education Is Uncommonly Inadequate

The federal intrusion in schools also brings standards that are academic-lite.

By JAMIE GASS AND CHARLES CHIEPPO

Note: Mr. Gass directs the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank where...

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