Curriculum & Instruction

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  • Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. sees headwinds ahead for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia, the organizations that are developing assessments aligned to the Common Core.
  • Mike Petrilli urges the Republican National Committee to rescind their draft resolution rejecting the Common Core.
  • Terry Ryan and the rest of the Fordham Ohio gang debunk the fabrications and hyperbole swirling in Ohio from those who oppose the Common Core.
  • Emmy Partin debates the Common Core—in a manner worthy of the setting—with a panel of Ohio elected officials and advocates.
  • Read all this, but still sure what’s going on with the Common Core? See our FAQ on the Common Core here!

Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) earns attention from national media

  • DECA’s principal Dave Taylor joins the Huffington Post to discuss what makes DECA special for its students. Check out the video here. And, be sure to congratulate DECA for its bronze medal awarded by U.S. News and World Report.
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This prediction will puzzle, upset, and maybe infuriate a great many readers—and, of course, it could turn out to be wrong—but enough clues, tips, tidbits, and intuitions have converged in recent weeks that I feel obligated to make it:

Common Core assessment consortia to be replaced?
Will PARCC and Smarter Balanced be eclipsed by longer-established, fleeter-footed testing firms like the College Board and ACT?
Image by Benjamin Chun.

I expect that PARCC and Smarter Balanced (the two federally subsidized consortia of states that are developing new assessments meant to be aligned with Common Core standards) will fade away, eclipsed and supplanted by long-established yet fleet-footed testing firms that already possess the infrastructure, relationships, and durability that give them huge advantages in the competition for state and district business.

In particular, I predict (as does Andy Smarick) that the new ACT-Aspire assessment system, which is supposed to be ready for use in 2014 (a full year earlier than either of the consortium products) and which some states are considering as their new assessment vehicle, will be joined by kindred products to be developed and marketed by the College Board. And the two of them will dominate the market for new Common Core assessments.

One straw in the wind: Alabama’s announcement last week that...

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The last few weeks in Ohio have seen a torrent of anti-Common Core literature, comments, blogs, and letters aimed at lawmakers and state board of education members. Much of this chatter has been perpetrated by two organizations with a lot to say and claims to make. See here and here. Such critics and criticisms need a response, and in the following we provide rebuttals to four widely circulated fabrications about the Common Core.

It is well known that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been a long-time champion of high academic standards and aligned assessments. We are also supporters of the Common Core standards in English language arts and mathematics, mainly because they are superior to what Ohio and most other states currently have in place for their schools.

There is no doubt that the Common Core and the PARCC assessments aligned to them will face challenges in the coming months and years ( e.g. preparing all teachers, getting the necessary technology in place, developing pacing guides). But, despite the challenges superintendents, school principals, and teachers are remarkably supportive of the Common Core in Ohio and across the country. For example, Fordham recently surveyed Ohio’s superintendents (344 of the state’s 614 superintendents – a 56 percent response rate), and discovered that 81 percent of the respondents believe that five years from now the Common Core standards “will be widely and routinely in use in Ohio.” Only one in ten say it “will have faded away by then.”...

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Clearing the air

Dara and Daniela fume over the RNC’s Common Core action, consider the implications of Alabama’s move to the ACT, and clear the air over Florida’s teacher-evaluation mess. Amber probes Caroline Hoxby’s plan to close the college-admissions information gap facing high-achieving, low-income youngsters.

Amber's Research Minute

Expanding College Opportunities for High-Achieving, Low Income Students by Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner (Stanford, CA: Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 2013).

Count us as among those surprised and alarmed by the Republican National Committee’s ill-considered decision to adopt a resolution decrying the Common Core standards as a “nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.” There’s little doubt that this action will bestow a degree of legitimacy upon the anti-standards coalition—and put pressure on Republican governors and legislators to fall in line.

Which is something approaching tragedy. It was Republicans, even conservatives, who first blazed the trail toward higher standards and rigorous accountability in education—the likes of Ronald Reagan, Bill Bennett, Lamar Alexander, and Jeb Bush. To cede this ground to Democrats is an enormous policy and political mistake.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Common Core standards are worth supporting because they’re educationally solid. They are rigorous, they are traditional—one might even say they are “conservative.” They expect students to know their math facts, to read the nation’s founding documents, and to evaluate evidence and come to independent judgments. In all of these ways, they are miles better than three-quarters of the state standards they replaced—standards that hardly deserved the name and that often pushed the left-wing drivel that Common Core haters say they abhor.

No, they’re not perfect. They can be undermined by curriculum directors who assign teeny-bopper romances, sports bios, and car-repair manuals instead of the good stuff. (So can every single set of state...

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This prediction will puzzle, upset, and maybe infuriate a great many readers—and, of course, it could turn out to be wrong—but enough clues, tips, tidbits, and intuitions have converged in recent weeks that I feel obligated to make it:

Common Core assessment consortia to be replaced?
Will PARCC and Smarter Balanced be eclipsed by longer-established, fleeter-footed testing firms like the College Board and ACT?
Image by Benjamin Chun.

I expect that PARCC and Smarter Balanced (the two federally subsidized consortia of states that are developing new assessments meant to be aligned with Common Core standards) will fade away, eclipsed and supplanted by long-established yet fleet-footed testing firms that already possess the infrastructure, relationships, and durability that give them huge advantages in the competition for state and district business.

In particular, I predict (as does Andy Smarick) that the new ACT-Aspire assessment system, which is supposed to be ready for use in 2014 (a full year earlier than either of the consortium products) and which some states are considering as their new assessment vehicle, will be joined by kindred products to be developed and marketed by the College Board. And the two of them will dominate the market for new Common Core assessments.

One straw in the wind: Alabama’s announcement last week that...

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GadflyThe National Education Association is suing Florida for its teacher-evaluation policy; specifically, the fact that the Sunshine State engages in the shady practice of evaluating teachers based on students or subjects that they don’t teach. Florida state superintendent Tony Bennett noted that there is currently a law under consideration that would call for “evaluating teachers only on the students and subjects they teach”; this should certainly pass.

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, for the second time in as many years, killed his own voucher proposal when it became clear that his state’s legislators were interested in taking it to scale. The Wall Street Journal, in a scathing rebuke, accused Haslam of cynically trying to “appease unions while claiming to support school choice.” That’s about right—and as foolish a move by a Republican official to throttle choice as is the RNC’s assault on standards.

On Tuesday, New York students completed their first day of new Common Core–aligned tests, after controversy over whether they had been taught the necessary content (a legitimate beef) and a blitz of advertisements from the NYC education department forewarning parents about lower test scores to come. That last action made sense; too bad the ads are misleading about the Common Core’s intent.

After the GED was redesigned to reflect the Common Core standards, it had double the passing points (one to...

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I think there’s now a one in three chance that we’ll look back in a year and say that this story was the beginning of the end of the Common Core testing consortia.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced were designed to serve as the cornerstone of the new standards: They were to ensure that the new standards were actually taught, that we collectively set the expectations bar at college- and career-readiness, that states lost the incentive to lower their cut scores, and so on.

Alabama’s decision to drop out of both consortia and choose a battery of ACT exams is enormous. This is the “Plan B” that many states—concerned about the reliability and cost of the consortia-developed tests—have been looking for. It enables a state to remain committed to tough standards and rigorous assessments without putting all of their eggs in the basket of a fragile multi-state entity.

From this point forward, more and more states may reason that ACT is likelier to have its tests ready to go come spring 2015 at a price that is certain and without all of the potential problems inherent in a multi-state procurement-practice-policy initiative.

Translation: There’s a nontrivial chance that we’re about to see an exodus from PARCC and SB. If that happens, the implications will be profound and the questions numerous.

How many and which states remain? Will the consortia be financially sustainable? Will we be able to compare state results? Do states also start to fragment when it comes to...

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During construction of the continental railroads in the 1860s, workers dug from both ends to tunnel through the Rocky Mountains. When they met in the middle, the tunnel was finished and the trains could roll. This is how America became a great continental power. This image of the tunnel bored from two directions is an apt metaphor for what needs to happen with Governor Kasich’s biennial budget proposal (House Bill 59) and the very different plan emerging from the Ohio House this week.

Governor Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” plan has three main things going for it. First, it actually tries to target children and the schools they actually attend as the loci of public funding, as opposed to just spreading money across school districts. Traditionally, school funding has been about simply spreading the money around so far more districts feel like winners than losers. The House version does this by reducing the number of districts receiving no new money from nearly 400 to 175. But in doing so the House version loses some of the worthy Kasich reforms. 

Specifically, Kasich’s plan proposed reducing one-size fits all spending restrictions by removing a number of minimum operating standards.  This would free up educators but the House puts those standards back in place. They mandate practices like assignment of personnel and the use of specific instructional materials (especially odd considering the speed at which blended learning is spreading across the state). The House version also requires fixed staffing ratios...

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