Standards, Testing & Accountability

Color us embarrassed. Turns out the haters (and I guess the Mayans) were right. Though this isn’t time for “I told you so.” The Common Core standards and assessments truly have brought on the End of Days. Of course, every human still standing—or, rather, crouching, huddled and scared in their makeshift bomb shelters with nothing but Spam, bottled water, and dial-up Internet to sustain them—already knows this. But we do feel a tad responsible for the whole “annihilation-of-Earth” thing. So, for posterity—and to clear the air (sorry, bad pun, I know the air is filled with Uranium-238)—I offer here a recount of just how we got so horrifically off track. Really, we were just trying to ensure that American kids knew how to read and write.


Oops. Our bad.

It was two weeks ago that The Demise began—and it wasn’t all Fordham’s fault. On that fateful Sunday, the town of Tainted Springs, South Carolina (population: 3), officially banned the Common Core standards. Mayor Leda Price (also the town’s bartender and part-time animal-control...

Harvard University’s Raj Chetty—fresh on the heels of his much-lauded report on teacher value-added measures (VAM)—has unveiled a meatier, more rigorous longitudinal look at VAM. This new study tracks students to age thirty-five and yields some interesting findings. High teacher value-added scores are linked, for example, to students landing college girlfriends/boyfriends by the end of freshman year (and good ones too—athletes, cheerleaders, and the like, not pimply social rejects); being able to do highly advanced yoga poses by the age of twenty-five; moving out of their parents’ basement before thirty; becoming vegans after having children; and running at least one marathon before they hit their mid-life crises. Chetty also evaluated the long-term effects of low-value-added teachers: Their graduates have been shown to hum along loudly—and off-key—to songs later in life. Those taught by teachers in the bottom quartile for two or more years will grow up to be “that guy,” according to Chetty. They stand on the left side of the escalator, tailgate, read US Weekly, watch Toddlers and Tiaras, and like clowns. Teachers matter-doubters: Convinced yet?

Raj Chetty, Revisiting Teacher Value-Added: The Benefits Last a Lifetime (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, March...

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore” ― André Gide

As we’ve said numerous times before, for the vast majority of states, adoption of the Common Core standards was an enormous improvement. (Click for Fordham’s review of each state’s standards and the Common Core.) It’s equally clear that we have an enormous challenge on our hands to ensure that the Common Core is implemented in a way that makes the most of these stronger and more rigorous standards. Change is hard but Common Core, correctly implemented, has the potential to amp up expectations and instruction across American classrooms. 

I’ve already posted about the danger of curriculum publishers co-opting the Common Core to promote their own (relatively unchanged) materials. But there’s a second, and potentially even more troubling challenge that lies ahead: a resistance among teachers to changing their instruction.

As the time comes to start implementing Common Core some teachers are starting to dig in their heels.

Of course, for teachers, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. There has been no shortage of curriculum fads and reforms that have demanded instructional changes and promised improvements,...

This post is drawn from an essay in the March, 2012 edition of Wisconsin Interest.

One hundred years ago, a progressive populist barnstormed the country, delivering fiery speeches and railing against the gold standard. Today another progressive populist barnstorms the country, delivering fiery speeches and railing against academic standards. Meet Alfie Kohn, the William Jennings Bryan of our age.

Kohn's arguments are half-crazy and half-true, which is what makes him so effective—and so maddening.

Like most demagogues, Kohn knows how to tap into his audience’s raw emotions—anger, feelings of powerlessness, and resentment of a ruling elite. In his case, he puts voice to what many educators already believe: That school reform is a corporate plot to turn young people into docile employees; that an obsession with standardized testing is crowding out any real intellectual engagement in our schools; and that teachers have no say over what happens inside their own classrooms.

These arguments are half-crazy and half-true, which is what makes Kohn so effective—and so maddening.

Where Kohn gets it right is in his observation that many American schools are “mindless, soul-killing” institutions, especially the schools serving our most disadvantaged communities. While this...

Paul Gross penned an editorial in yesterday’s Gadfly Weekly on the neglect of evolution in many state standards that’s definitely worth a read. While Dr. Gross notes that science standards are falling short in general,

Particularly dismaying is how rarely state standards indicate that evolution has anything to do with us, Homo sapiens. Even states with thorough coverage of evolution, like Massachusetts, avoid linking that controversial term with ourselves. Only four states—Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Rhode Island—discuss human evolution in their current standards. This isn’t just a Bible Belt issue. Even the bluest of blue states don’t expect their students to know that humans and apes share ancestry.

Despite pressures to upgrade the teaching and learning of “STEM” subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), state standards for science, although often revised, remain, on average, mediocre—undemanding, lacking crucial science content, and chockablock with pedagogical and sociological irrelevancies. That’s the conclusion of Fordham’s most recent review of state science standards to which I contributed. To be sure, there are outliers: A handful of states have done justice to the importance and economic urgency of real science, to the needs of teachers as well as students. But a dreary low-C average for fifty states reveals their continuing failure to deal satisfactorily with standards for K-12 science.

Still There by Kevan, on Flickr
America's state standards continue to disrespect Darwin's contribution to science.
 Photo by Kevan Davis.

There are, of course, multiple reasons for the low marks. Among these, the saddest and least justifiable is what the authors call “Undermining Evolution.”

Evolution science (grown over 150 years far beyond geology and biology) is by no means the whole of natural science. But it...

March (ESEA) Madness?

Mike and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke step outside to debate the place of climate science in standards and whether John Kline’s ESEA proposals stand a chance, while Amber looks at the relative merits of a four-day school week.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week - Download the PDF

Several weeks back, Education First—a national education-policy and strategic-consulting firm—released the first of three reports intended to guide states through the challenges of implementing the Common Core. It focused exclusively on the existence of state implementation plans. Now the second report is out, co-penned by Education First and Achieve, and offering a useful if imperfect rubric and self-assessment tool to help states measure the quality of those plans. (The final installment will report on state progress towards meeting the benchmarks identified in this rubric.) The rubric describes the elements of “exemplary,” “strong,” “emerging,” and “inadequate” plans for state-level standards implementation in a number of realms. Among the most useful elements is an outline of “key instructional shifts” that ELA and math teachers will face as they begin to move instruction to the Common Core (which defines the differences between the CCSS and current state standards better than most of the current “crosswalk comparisons” available from states). And in the teacher-evaluation section, the authors make the important link between targeted professional-development activities and holding educators accountable for CCSS-aligned outcomes. All valuable. But not perfect. For example, the rubric specifically demands that states develop their own curriculum frameworks modeled after...

Save the podcast!

Mike and Janie make the case for keeping the Education Gadfly Show going with witty analysis of Common Core critics, student discipline follies, and the GOP’s education conundrum. Amber delves into teacher dissatisfaction and Chris asks “What’s up with that?” one last time.

Amber's Research Minute

 The MetLife survey of The American Teacher - Download the PDF

What's Up With That?

Teacher's health insurance policy includes free plastic surgery.

Writing last
about the “war against the Common Core,” I suggested that those English language arts and math
standards arrived with four main assets. (In case you’re disinclined to look, they boil down to rigor,
voluntariness, portability, and comparability.)

Let me
now revisit a fifth potential asset, which is also the main reason that
small-government conservatives should favor the Common Core or other
high-quality “national standards": This is the best path toward getting Uncle Sam and
heavy-handed state governments to back off from micro-managing how schools are
run and to return that authority to communities, individual schools, teachers,
and parents.

Uncle Sam I Want You - Poster Illustration
Common Core or other high-quality “national standards” are the best path toward getting Uncle Sam to back off from micro-managing how schools are run.
 Photo by DonkeyHotey.

It’s the path to getting “tight-loose” right in American K-12 education, unlike NCLB, which has
it backward. (I refer to the well-known management doctrine...