Curriculum & Instruction

Mike the Squish

Is Mike going soft on accountability? Are private schools doomed? And why on earth is anyone still majoring in journalism? We ask, you decide.

Amber's Research Minute

Voice of the Graduate by McKinsey & Company, May 2013

This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli will be debating Deborah Meier through mid-June.

Confusion never stops 
Closing walls and ticking clocks 
Gonna come back and take you home 
I could not stop that you now know

Come out upon my seas 
Cursed missed opportunities 
Am I a part of the cure? 
Or am I part of the disease?

-Coldplay, "Clocks," A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002

Folks on both sides: Are you part of the cure or the disease?
Is everything for which reformers fight actually making things worse?
Photo by ToniVC

Dear Deborah,

I am haunted by the title of your last post: “The Testing Obsession Widens the Gap.”

Could this possibly be true? Is test-based school reform reducing opportunity for America's neediest children? Is everything for which we school reformers fight actually making things worse? Am I a part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?

"It's OK to ask: 'What if I'm wrong?'" you wrote last week. So let me ask it. It wouldn't be the first time. A year ago, for example, I explored the "test-score hypothesis"—a line of reasoning, undergirding much of the reform movement, that says...

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GadflyThe D.C. charter board has rejected the application for the proposed One World Public Charter School, whose high-status organizers include a former Sidwell Friends principal—due in part to “multiple grammatical and spelling errors” in the application. The board also rejected six other applications while okaying just two: a Montessori elementary and an adult-education program, both of which had been turned down in previous years and came back with stronger applications. Hat tip to the D.C. charter board for showing us how quality authorizing is done.

The online-education provider Khan Academy—with a little help from a $2.2 million Helmsley grant—has announced a plan to develop online, Common Core–aligned math tools for teachers and students. Hat tip number two!

After a bit of competition from within the ranks, the always-controversial Karen Lewis has been reelected to lead the Chicago Teachers Union. You get the champagne, we’ll get the party hats, and CTU will break out the celebratory lawsuits.

On Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that three more states—Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia—will be granted NCLB waivers, bringing the tally to thirty-seven. This is another win for Hawaii, which (finally) eked out a teacher-contract deal just last month—and which just might get to keep its Race to the Top dollars, too. In the meantime, seven states remain in “waiver...

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The following is the text of Kathleen Porter-Magee's testimony to the Wisconsin State Legislature's Committee on Education, delivered on May 22, 2013.

My name is Kathleen Porter-Magee; I’m a senior director and Bernard Lee Schwartz policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that also leads ground-level work in the great state of Ohio. We support a variety of education reforms, with a particular focus on school choice and standards- and accountability-driven reform. In addition to my own policy work, I’ve spent several years working to implement rigorous standards in urban Catholic and public charter school classrooms. Fordham’s president, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan Administration, and its executive vice president, Mike Petrilli, served under George W. Bush. Both are also affiliated with the Hoover Institution in California.

I’m honored to be with you here today, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk to you about what I believe is one of the most important education initiatives of the past decade: the development and adoption of the Common Core State Standards.

I hope to help explain why the Common Core holds such promise, to demystify what the standards are all about, and to debunk some of the most common myths and misconceptions.

For nearly two decades, state standards have been a cornerstone of our modern education system. State governments have long set minimum expectations for each grade level or grade band across all grades, K through 12. These are...

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Audit this, baby!

While discussing UFT pandering, Algebra 2 mandates, and Common Core consortia, Mike and Andy try very, very hard not to say the two magic words that rain down the wrath of the IRS (hint: they begin with T and P). Amber sorts through teacher sorting—but can she really do it in under a minute? Listen to find out!

Amber's Research Minute

Systematic Sorting: Teacher Characteristics and Class Assignments,” by Demetra Kalogrides, Susanna Loeb, and Tara Béteille, Sociology of Education 86(2): 103–123 (2013)

GadflyWhen a Michigan House committee approved a measure that would allow students to skip Algebra 2 if they instead take a technical-education course, the Wolverine State became the latest to question the necessity of that much-debated high school course. Last month, Florida created two paths to a high school diploma, one of which excludes Algebra 2 altogether. The arguments in favor of such moves are persuasive—but what will this mean for Common Core, which requires all students to meet math objectives that include the substance of Algebra 2? This is certainly a matter to watch.

The UFT hosted a veritable panderpalooza last weekend, featuring five Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City taking turns praising the union and blasting charter schools in a shameless effort to win the union’s support. Dennis Walcott, the city’s schools chancellor, announced that he was “appalled” at their remarks. Still, while Gadfly finds such events distasteful, he cannot claim to be surprised when New York politicians resume their traditional habits.

Two excellent Wall Street Journal opinion pieces got down to the core of why conservatives ought to support the Common Core. Edward Frenkel and Hung-Hsi Wu, both professors of mathematics, praised the Core for setting tough benchmarks in that key subject. Sol Stern and Joel Klein commended the standards...

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Our second installment of the testing-consortia series is a conversation with Smarter Balanced. Formed and federally funded in 2010, the consortium boasts an expert staff and set of advisory committees. Its members include the nation’s largest state, one of the first Race to the Top winners, and a number of states attempting to advance nation-leading reforms.

After my ominous prediction about the consortia’s fates, Smarter Balanced quickly responded in private. Their counter was both courteous and forceful. I was impressed by the initial case they made, and I’m very glad that they swiftly agreed to participate in this public Q&A.

Could you please briefly describe the process (including the challenges) of creating “next-generation” assessments aligned with new standards via a multi-state consortium?

The process Smarter Balanced is using is very similar to the processes that states have been using for over a decade to create assessments for NCLB accountability. Using a widely regarded conceptual approach called Evidence-Centered Design, and working in partnership with an array of private sector companies, work groups comprising assessment leadership from Smarter Balanced states have developed the various components necessary for a next-generation assessment system. Among the major elements are:

  • IT architecture and open-source software to deliver, score and report on assessments
  • Content and item specifications and a test blueprint to govern the content and format of the assessment
  • Accommodations and accessibility features and policies
  • Achievement-level descriptors, college content-readiness policy and plans for standard-setting
  • Reporting system design
  • Validity
  • ...
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Today marks the inaugural installment of By the Company It Keeps, an interview series with some of education reform’s most important contributors.

We’re launching with a three-day conversation with the primary players in the nation’s progression toward new, common assessments. Tomorrow, we’ll hear from Smarter Balanced, and Wednesday’s anchor leg will be run by the United States Department of Education.

But today, we have PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, one of two consortia of states funded by the federal government to develop “next-generation” assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

Its governing board is comprised of some of the nation’s most prominent state chiefs, and it is supported by Achieve, a national nonprofit known for its “college- and career-ready agenda.” While working for the New Jersey Department of Education, a PARCC member, I got to know and admire its leadership and staff. Those relationships and my participation in various PARCC meetings and activities contributed greatly to my appreciation for the enormous complexity of assessment and the critical role of the testing consortia.

So with no further ado: PARCC.

Could you describe the process (including the many challenges) of creating “next-generation” assessments aligned with new standards via a multi-state consortium?

It is a rigorous process that requires 22 states to work together every day to drive towards consensus about a range of policies and assessment practices that support a positive and strong learning environment for every student. States...

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On Monday, we kick off By the Company It Keeps in what I think is an exciting and important way.  (It’s also going to be out of the norm, but more on that below.)

Three very influential organizations working on one of our field’s most important topics participated in a revealing Q&A.

I’ve been writing about the Common Core–aligned testing consortia for some time now, occasionally raising concerns about how things were progressing and what that meant for the future of high-quality assessments and the standards themselves.

Then a couple weeks ago, I wrote a short piece raising the ante, in effect wondering if we had reached a serious turning point. Independently, Checker, reading the same tealeaves, wrote a longer, more detailed piece drawing the same conclusion.

In short, we both suggested that an exodus from the consortia might be on the horizon.

Whether you’re a CCSS supporter or opponent, this should matter to you.  Assessments are an essential part of meaningful standards-and-accountability systems. Their results tell us a whole lot about our schools, districts, teachers, and kids. And they are expensive.

These assessments are particularly important. They are supposed to be aligned with new common standards. They are supposed to be “next generation.” They are supposed to generate data that can be compared across states. They are supposed to give us a true reading on our students’ college- and career-readiness. They are being created by consortia of states. And the federal government has...

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Dear Deborah,

Thanks for inviting me to join you on your blog. Even though we disagree on many issues, I have great respect for you and the work you've done in your career.

As I write this, I'm returning from the Education Writers Association annual conference, held this year at Stanford. I spoke on a panel about the "opportunity gap" with professors Sean Reardon and Prudence Carter. Reardon, as you know, recently published a fascinating but sobering study about the growing income achievement gap. (ASCD's Educational Leadership has an accessible version of the study available online.) And Carter co-edited the new volume, Closing the Opportunity Gap.

What Professor Reardon's research shows is that, over the last 60 years, the achievement gap between the nation's poorest and richest students has widened dramatically. That's true of both test scores and college attainment.

Opportunity gap
It's not that poor children are falling behind the middle class. It's that the richest students are breaking away from everybody else.
Photo by John-Morgan

This finding is not surprising for people who have been paying attention, but what is surprising is where the gap lies. It's not that poor children are falling behind the middle class—they're not. It's that the richest students are breaking away from everybody else.

Why is this happening? Here...

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