Standards, Testing & Accountability

Anyone who's been following the debate over national standards knows that two weeks ago, the National Governors Association (NGA) together with the Council of Chief State Schools Officers (CCSSO) released the much-anticipated public draft of the K-12 math and English language arts (ELA) Common Core State Standards.[quote]

These standards had already garnered a lot of attention even before this draft was released, with people weighing in with praise and criticism about the details of the standards themselves, about what rigorous, college-readiness standards should look like, and about whether states should even have (voluntary) common standards.

Today, thanks to our expert reviewers???Sheila Byrd Carmichael for ELA and W. Stephen Wilson and Gabrielle Martino for math???we are releasing our appraisal of these standards.

While there are certainly ways to improve these drafts, which are detailed in the reviews, our experts believe that these are rigorous college-readiness standards that would raise expectations in math and ELA classrooms across the country.

On the math side, while some tweaks are needed, particularly to the organization of the high school expectations, our reviewers found rigorous, internationally-competitive standards that earn an impressive A-.

On the ELA side, the draft standards earn a solid B. And with some clarification of vague standards and the addition of more references to specific content that students must know in order to demonstrate mastery of the essential college-readiness skills outlined by the draft, these standards have the potential to be top notch.


Guest Blogger

Race to the Top finalists are starting to make their presentations today. As a service to the U.S. Department of Education, Flypaper reader Ron Tomalis suggests these ten questions that might be asked of each state delegation. Tomalis was an Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education in the first term of the George W. Bush Administration, and now serves as a director at Dutko Worldwide.

1.???????????? If you don't get 100% of the funding requested, how will you modify your proposals???What programs are on the chopping block; which aspects will receive priority funding?

2.???????????? How will you hold your school districts accountable for full implementation? What penalties will you have for lack of implementation at the local level? How will you police implementation??? Do you have metrics in place to constantly monitor both implementation and outcomes?

3.???????????? The Federal Government could make an investment of several hundred million dollars in your state. Specifically, for that amount of money, how far will the academic needle move in 3 years? 5 years?

4.???????????? Reform initiatives have come and gone, with limited amount of success. What makes your plan under this application different??? And more importantly, how is it different than things your state has done over the last decade??? Are you asking for funding for drastically different initiatives?

5.???????????? Will private school students benefit from RttT funding? If so, how? If not, why not?

6.???????????? Every state education system??has strengths...

The Education Gadfly

Just why are the Common Core standards good for American education? In today's National Review Online, Checker Finn comes up with five good reasons, starting with this one:

First, they're good, solid ??? indeed very ambitious ??? academic standards for primary and secondary schooling, at least in the two essential subjects of English and math. Students who attained them would be better off ??? readier for college, readier to get good jobs, readier to compete in the global economy ??? than most are today. (An overwhelming majority of states, according to analyses by my own Fordham Institute and other organizations, currently rely on standards that range from mediocre to abysmal.)

You can read more at NRO.

Several governors are signaling that their states like their own academic standards better than the Common Core drafts and aren't going to make the change. This, actually, is a good thing, at least for now. It signals that they're examining their own standards and taking Common Core seriously and beginning to make comparisons. (Later this year, Fordham will do the same--for every state.) Nobody should hastily or blindly change their standards. It's way too important a decision. Common Core isn't likely to make sense everywhere, at least not everywhere at the same time. Some states will observe others before deciding. This is inevitable and unreprehensible. What would be reprehensible would be for states to reject Common Core because they don't have what it takes--and it'll take a lot--to implement these new standards in a conscientious way. Of course some states--one cannot avoid California in this context--already have good standards that they don't conscientiously implement.

--Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Here at the Fordham office, the draft Common Core standards has not only brought an air of excitement, but also a nostalgic trip down memory lane. The illustrative texts included in the English Language Arts appendix are strong examples of what students should be learning from kindergarten to high school graduation. But instructional merit aside, they're also great books. Oh, to be a kid again???

Frog and Toad Together (K-1) by Arnold Lobel: Who didn't love this endearing amphibian duo? In kindergarten, they were the greatest pair since Bert and Ernie. And back before cars had TV screens, they had the added bonus of portability.

Charlotte's Web (2-3) by E. B. White: Some book. A classic at any age, so good that even obvious questions such as ???How did the spider learn to spell???? are overshadowed by an engrossing?? plot and an enduring friendship.

Tuck Everlasting (4-5) by Natalie Babbitt: Right about the time that you first realize you're eventually going to grow up, this book gives you hope that you can stay a kid forever. Or maybe that's just how we around the office remember it now???

A Wrinkle in Time (6-8) by Madeleine L'Engle: No explanation needed. If you haven't read this book, go find it immediately.

The Odyssey (9-10) by Homer: ??OK, we'll be honest, no one has nostalgic memories of slogging through The Odyssey the first time around; instead, it...

Most of the Fordham office was over at the AEI-Fordham event yesterday for Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. (If you missed our live tweeting, you can watch the event video here.) The event's moderator, Rick Hess, has (as promised) now posted his response to Ravitch's book. The headline? Ravitch and Duncan are making the same mistake about choice and accountability.

Choice and accountability, explains Hess, are not supposed to improve teaching and learning, curriculum, or achievement. They are supposed to create an environment where we can improve teaching and learning, curriculum, and achievement. And posing it--or condemning it--as the former will only create more disappointment when we all see, yet again, our favorite choice and accountability techniques not fulfilling their promises. Read the rest of this very thoughtful piece here.

--Stafford Palmieri

I haven't closely examined the new draft??"Common Core" math standards (and am??in any case shy about judging them, having myself forgotten the difference between cosines and tangents), but the??draft "reading/language arts/literacy" standards are pretty darned impressive. Some of what makes them impressive, however, is buried deep in their infrastructure and won't necessarily be obvious on first inspection. At least it wasn't to me. Not until one of the drafters walked me through them did I grasp what they've built here.

Besides doing justice to the "skill side" of English/language arts (from early reading on up through sophisticated writing), they've taken language "conventions" and content seriously--and cumulatively--in a dozen ways. They've devised deft ways of incorporating literature (including means by which monitors of??state/district curricula can gauge the quality and rigor of what students are actually asked to read). They've delicately balanced between "traditional" and "modern" approaches, between "basic" and "21st Century" skills, etc. They've imaginatively incorporated the reading sides of science and history as well as English per se. They've supplied plenty of compelling examples of what kids at various levels should be reading. And they haven't overpromised. Indeed, they state plainly at the very start that proper implementation of these standards hinges on also??having a topnotch curriculum in place.

During the three-week comment period that starts today, Fordham's experts and many others will pore over these (and the math standards). Grumps will inevitably be sounded from many directions. Nobody can say what will then happen. But...

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is seeking to close a troubled charter school sponsor (aka authorizer), the Cleveland-based Ashe Culture Center, Inc.

This blazes new territory for the nation's charter school program. While there have been many charter school closures over the years, there are no instances where a state has actually stepped in to close a sponsor. In fact, Ohio, Minnesota, and Missouri are the only states that give the state department of education the authority to revoke a charter school sponsor's right to authorize schools. (In most other states, authorizers are brought into being via statute, and they can only be decommissioned by the legislature. Ohio's General Assembly, for example, fired the State Board of Education as a charter school sponsor in 2003.)

According to press accounts the department wants to close Ashe for ???????not properly overseeing the spending of taxpayer money.??????? Specifically, Ashe has sponsored two schools that the state auditor has deemed ???????unauditable.??????? According to an investigation by the state auditor, the sponsor's chief executive officer took payments from a school where his wife ???????? a member of the school's governing board ???????? approved said payments to the sponsor. Considering the sponsor is supposed to represent the interests of the state ???????? including ensuring tax dollars are actually spent on the educational needs of children ???????? this seems an obvious conflict of interest.

Ashe's sponsored schools also have a woeful academic track record. Over two-thirds (67 percent) of Ashe-sponsored...

Having spent four years working in New Jersey, I was happy to hear the announcement this week that New Jersey Governor-elect Christie selected a school choice advocate (Bret Schundler) to serve as state education commissioner.

I am no expert on New Jersey education or politics. My limited perception of Garden State education is shaped largely by my experience as a TFA teacher in Camden City elementary classrooms and in various tutoring sessions with high schoolers in Trenton. But one doesn't need expertise to realize that children in cities like Camden, Trenton, and Newark are grossly underserved by the public school system, or that spending more money (without more accountability, and major systemic changes to the way schools and districts run) won't necessarily improve outcomes.

New Jersey spends more than any other state on education per pupil yet has little to show for it in the way of student achievement. (To get a sense of the crisis, check out the trailer for The Cartel, a documentary by journalist Bob Bowden exposing the corruption and wasteful spending that makes New Jersey a poster child for what is wrong with public education [mismanagement, strong unions preventing reform, inexcusable achievement gaps despite constant spending increases]).

Bret Schundler is a supporter of charter schools, differentiated teacher pay, and tax credits to fund scholarships for K-12 private schools, reforms that the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) is sure to continue fighting tooth and nail....

The annual ???????Quality Counts??????? report by Education Week, out today, ranks Ohio's education system as the 5th best in the nation. Some of their ratings are overly generous and it's easy to rank high among a low-to mediocre-performing pack, but all in all the Buckeye State should be proud of the improvements it's made to its public schools over the past 10 or 15 years. The report is based on the education provisions in place this school year, not the yet-to-be-implemented components of Governor Strickland's education reform plan, which makes me wonder, once again, why the governor felt compelled to completely overhaul an already decent school system (instead of following our advice to build on what was already in place)?

--Emmy Partin