Standards, Testing & Accountability

For the last couple of years?ever since the nation's governors and state superintendents started working on common academic standards in reading and math?conservative education analysts have engaged in a spirited but polite debate about the wisdom of this development. The last month has seen the discourse turn nastier, with charges and counter-charges, name-calling, and quasi-apocalyptic warnings about federal bureaucrats wanting to ?control your children's minds.? Particularly at issue in this latest round of recriminations is Uncle Sam's role in all of this; are we witnessing a federal take-over of our schools? A push for a federally-controlled national curriculum for all public schools? [quote]

Some of these concerns are not entirely unfounded; the Obama Administration and other supporters of the move to ?common? national standards (my organization among them) have made some unforced errors that have helped to fuel the paranoia. But for conservatives worried about federal interference in our schools, this debate is mostly a sideshow. What should really keep them up at night are the myriad proposals for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act that would push Washington's hand ever deeper into the day-to-day operations of America's schools?proposals that are coming from both sides of the political aisle.

Before diving into the No Child Left Behind debate, let's mitigate some key concerns about a ?national curriculum? with a review of the facts.

The effort to get states to agree to common standards started well before the 2008 election, with the Council...

Last year, many marveled at how quickly states moved to adopt the Common Core State Standards. Just over a month after the final draft of the standards were released, more than half of the states had adopted them. Barely five months later, 43 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the standards. (Most state standards adoption processes take far longer and incite much more debate.)

Common Core supporters heralded the speedy adoption as a testament to how hard the NGA and CCSSO worked to get input and garner support for the standards. (They did.) But I now wonder whether the lack of debate is more a reflection of the fact that some interested parties may not have known exactly what they signed themselves up for.

Take, for example, the National Education Association. After reading an article published in NEA Today last week, I am certain that Senior Policy Analyst Barbara Kapinus and I are seeing two very different versions of the Common Core standards. In her version, Kapinus explains that implementation of the standards would encourage ?real world? over ?knowledge based? learning.

?Rather than reading drills, we'll ask students to apply reading skills in a broader, ?real world' context.?

So gone are the days of summary book reports ? students will have to analyze the story rather than rehash the plot???

To my eyes, that looks like a gross mischaracterization of how these standards should be implemented. Not least of which because the second...

William Shakespeare penned the famous line in Henry the Sixth: ?The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers,? setting off a wave of lawyer jokes that continues 400 years later.

Had Shakespeare had the opportunity to witness the infighting and special interest politics of state textbook adoption processes, he might have found a better target for his ire.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Florida lawmakers have introduced a bill that includes, among other things, a provision that would change the state's textbook adoption process.

The [provision] would replace the state's formal review committees?which include lay citizens, teachers, teacher supervisors and a school board member?with a trio of subject-matter experts appointed by the state education commissioner.

School districts would appoint teachers and content supervisors to rate the practical usability of the texts recommended by the state's experts.

Opponents of the bill??Tea Party? conservatives chief among them?are outraged.

"'We the People' should have a say on what textbooks OUR CHILDREN read," Tea Party activist Shari Krass wrote recently in a letter to Scott.

Krass and activists like her believe some texts used by Florida schools are slanted to favor Islam over Judaism and Christianity?

?"This legislation 'ties our hands'?where we will be restricted in our ability to influence our children's education," she wrote.

Of course, battles over textbook adoption seem, on some level, beside the point. If a state has set clear expectations for what students should know and be able to do,...

According to the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now (MinnCAN), the Minnesota House and Senate just passed a sweeping education policy bill that included, among other things, a provision that would prohibit the Commissioner of Education from adoption "common standards." (Click here for more.)

The governor has until midnight tomorrow to veto the bill. If he doesn't, the Minnesota Commissioner will not be able to adopt common standards in any other content area, no matter how good those standards may be. That means, for example, that when the state's math standards are up for revision in 2015, the Commissioner will not even be able to consider adopting the Common Core math standards even though, according to our math reviewers, those standards are stronger than what the state has in place today. It also means that future Commissioners would be prohibited from even considering adopting common standards in any other subject, no matter how good they may be.

The governor is expected to veto the bill. If he does, it would go into special session. What happens from there is anyone's guess.

--Kathleen Porter-Magee

The ???counter-manifesto??? released this week in opposition to national testing and a national curriculum is full of half-truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men. But it was signed by a lot of serious people and deserves a serious response. [quote]

First, let us dispatch some silliness. To the best of our knowledge, and based on all evidence that we're aware of, neither the signers of the Shanker Institute manifesto, nor leaders in the Obama/Duncan Education Department, advocate a ???nationalized curriculum??? that would ???undermine control of public school curriculum and instruction at the local and state level??? and ???transfer control to an elephantine, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy.??? Nor is anybody calling for ???a one-size fits all, centrally controlled curriculum for every K-12 subject.??? We certainly wouldn't support such a policy???and can understand why the conservative luminaries who signed the counter-manifesto wouldn't want it, either. As parents, grandparents, charter-school authorizers, and champions of school choice in almost all its forms, we believe deeply in the importance of schools having the freedom to shape their own unique educational approaches.

So let us be clear: While the assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards will be mandatory (for schools and districts in states that choose to use them), the use of any common curricular materials will be purely voluntary. We don't see any evidence to indicate otherwise.

We also find curious the attack line, penned by Jay Greene, that ???centralization of education is bad for everyone except the...

I received a lot of responses to the ?Pedagogy of Practice? post I wrote the other day. Many were positive. Among the more critical was Diane Ravitch, whose responses on Twitter and Flypaper indicated that I was misrepresenting and distorting her views.

In this post, I'm going to try to explain why I believe the characterization of her position is accurate and why it matters to this larger debate.

My post on Wednesday was focused not on particular curricular preferences, as Diane's response seems to suggest, but rather on the idea that we are overcomplicating the debate about closing the achievement gap. Ultimately the achievement gap is rooted in a ?practice gap,? where disadvantaged students have been exposed to far less content (reading, vocabulary, etc.) than their peers. Urban education organizations (KIPP, AF, Uncommon, TFA, etc.) make tough decisions everyday that are focused on trying to maximize every moment in the school day in an attempt to close that gap.

This process of maximizing every moment (what I called ?a pedagogy of practice?) creates a distinct sense of urgency that permeates the school culture. And that culture is not often shared by schools without this driving mission to close the achievement gap. (It doesn't need to be.) This theory of action and the school models it encourages is not without its critics, which is why it is worthy of debate.

I assume that the quote that Diane thought distorted her views was the only...

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is a new name in education circles, but not to me. Having lived in the state my whole life, I proudly supported him from the days his popular, ?One Tough Nerd,? ads started popping on TV in early 2010. In the August primaries he pulled a shocking upset and went on to win the general election by a landslide. But since taking office, his efforts to erase deficits through drastic budget cuts have left him a villainous figure to many Michiganders. These are many of the same people you hear decrying his new education plan. By introducing these reforms while trimming the state's K-12 education budget by 4%, Snyder is hoping to do more with less. Personally, I couldn't be more in favor of the breath of fresh air he's blowing into the Michigan education system, but there's a lot more at play.

Snyder's plans, while promising, will take time to enact; schools, on the other hand, must act on his budget restrictions immediately. In Michigan, a state where union membership is mandatory for public school teachers, archaic ?last hired ? first fired? policies are still controlling who gets laid off. By not addressing collective bargaining, Snyder's education cutbacks will end up dealing an unintended blow: the jobs of young teachers. I know this because it could have been me. When I joined Fordham last fall, I passed up an offer to teach civics and history at a public high school...

Catherine Gewertz reports today that New Hampshire Republicans have introduced a bill that would, it seems, all but undo the State Board of Education's decision to adopt the Common Core last July. She explains:

If approved, the measure would require the state legislature, called the "general court" in New Hampshire, to approve any changes the state board of education makes in academic standards. It specifies that the common standards, approved by the state board last July 8, "shall not be adopted" without the general court's consent. Both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature are controlled by Republicans, but the state's governor is a Democrat.

It seems strange to require legislative approval for something that doesn't seem to have needed it before, but one presumes they know what they're doing.

Either way, this is a terrible sign for Common Core implementation in New Hampshire. And it comes on the heels of eerily similar bills in Minnesota and Texas. (Of course, the MN and Texas bills explicitly forbid adoption of ?common? and ?national? standards.) And it also makes me wonder how many other states have groups working to unravel Common Core adoption before implementation has even begun?

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