Standards, Testing & Accountability

The Common Core State Standards Initiative landed in our
midst with four great assets:

  • Its content-and-skill expectations for grades
    K-12 in English and math are, by almost
    everyone’s reckoning, about as rigorous as the best state-specific academic
    standards and superior to most.
  • It was developed outside the federal government,
    voluntarily by states, using private dollars. (The related assessments are
    another matter.) And both standards and assessments remain voluntary for
  • It opens the way, for the first time, to comparing
    student, school and district performance across the land on a credible, common
    metric—and gauging their achievement against that of youngsters in other
    countries on our shrinking and ever-more-competitive planet.
  • Besides comparability, it brings the possibility
    that families moving around our highly mobile society will be able to enroll
    their kids seamlessly in schools that are teaching the same things at the same
    grade levels.
Ever since it landed, the Common Core has been the
object of ceaseless attacks from multiple directions.

Ever since it landed, however, the Common Core has been the
object of ceaseless attacks from multiple directions. The number...

The Pioneer Institute is no friend of the
Common Core—which needs to be remembered when reading its latest missive.
Released last week, this report claims that it will cost the nation $15.8
billion to implement the new standards over a seven-year period, with the lion’s
share of those costs incurred during the first year. (Worse, the authors further
remind readers that this is, at best, a “midrange” estimate.) The Institute projects
a $10 million-plus invoice per school
for professional development, technology, and textbooks and instructional
materials in the first year alone—a number that strikes us as radically
inflated, to put it kindly. To be sure, implementing the Common Core well will bring
costs: Aligning materials, instruction, and assessments with new standards
cannot be done on the cheap if it’s going to be done well. But Pioneer’s
estimates are misleading. Not every dollar spent on CCSS will be “new money.” (It’s
not as if we’re spending zip on professional development, textbooks, and the
rest currently.) Nor do states need to follow the tired blueprint we’ve...

the birth of the No
Child Left Behind Act
more than a decade ago, state and
local education officials have not kept quiet their disdain for the federal
law. So when President Obama announced in September that his administration
would offer states freedom from components of the law it is no surprise that
states around the country jumped on the chance. Ten states (Colorado, Florida,
Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota,
and Oklahoma) have already been granted waivers from the Obama Administration
with the understanding that they must demonstrate how they will prepare
children for college and careers by setting new academic targets to improve
achievement among all students, reward high-performing schools, and help those
that are falling behind.

is one of 26 states, along with the District of Columbia that applied for a
second-round waiver. If approved (and most observers believe it will be), what
will the waiver mean for the Buckeye State? What changes will it bring about in
the coming months and years? The chart below breaks down some of the biggest
changes and...

month, Fordham released the State of State Science Standards
. The first
State of State Science Standards report was released in 1998; it was revisited
in 2005 (and again this year). While the national average remained the same in
2012 as it did in 2005 (a dismal C), some states changed grades drastically. Kansas
moved from an F to a B, and Colorado, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and
West Virginia dropped from Bs to Ds.

study’s methodology worked like this: experts in different scientific fields
evaluated all 50 states’ and the District of Columbia’s science standards. The
grading falls into two parts. The first score is on a scale from 0-7 that
analyzes the “content and rigor” of each state’s science standards; the second
score is on a scale from 0-3 that analyzes the “clarity and specificity” of
each state’s standards. These two grades are combined to give the state an
overall number grade (up to 10) and then converted into a letter grade (A
through F). California and D.C. tied for first place, both with 10 out of 10

From where I sit, a member of the local school board and
head of our board’s curriculum committee, I appreciate what No Child Left
Behind and Race to the Top have meant for our district: forcing accountability
on a school district that pushes inexorably against it. And I see the Common
Core as promising us a curriculum where none has ever existed.

The Common
Core promises us a curriculum where none has ever existed.

Sure, we have plenty to worry about when it comes to the
role of the federal government in our lives. The current cover story in the Economist is about an “Over-regulated
America,” smothered by a wave of “red tape” that may crush the life out of
America’s economy. It sure seems to have already crushed much of the life out
of America’s public education system.

Coming at the question from a different direction, David
recently suggested that the United States is just as freighted by central
government as the Europe is; we just do it differently—and not so well. Our
economic briar patch, says Brooks, is in the tax code.


Pioneer Institute—no friends of the Common Core to begin with—released a report
this week claiming that it will cost the nation $16 billion to implement the
new standards. (If you read the full text, the authors frequently note that
this is, in their opinion, a wild underestimate.)

astronomical estimate is not entirely surprising. If you want to scare
cash-strapped states away from moving forward with their Common Core plans,
it’s not hard to attach a frighteningly large price tag to implementation.
After all, the purpose of standards is to create the foundation upon which the
entire education system is built. So, obviously, changing standards must mean
knocking down the house, re-pouring the foundation, and starting again.

Concrete Housing Construction in Chile
Implementing Common Core doesn't necessarily mean knocking down the house and starting from scratch.
Photo by Concrete Forms.


not quite.

implementing the Common Core will...



Mike Petrilli and Ty Eberhardt discuss the soft spots in President Obama's education record.

For a more in depth view at the president's education record, please read the article on Education Next.

It’s Rick-sanity!

From Lin-sanity to charter school discipline, Mike and Rick take on political correctness in this week’s podcast. Amber breaks down the recent Brown Center report and Chris defends Michael Jackson’s dance moves.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education

Download the PDF

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

‘Billie Jean’ dance move a show stopper - 9 year-old boy suspended for performing Michael Jackson dance move.


Few education analysts are as
knowledgeable and provocative as the Brookings Institution’s Tom Loveless, and
many denizens of the policy sphere look forward to his annual Brown Center Report on American Education.
This year’s edition is no disappointment. As in earlier years, it tackles three
big topics and manages to be provocative—and out of the mainstream—on all

But it’s real easy to misinterpret
its message and misconstrue its policy implications.

Topic I has been read as saying
that “the
Common Core standards won’t raise student achievement
.” Of course they won’t,
not all by themselves. Standards merely describe the desired destination of the
education journey; they don’t get us there. As Kathleen Porter-Magee has
carefully pointed out
on Fordham’s Common Core Watch blog, to achieve their
potential, these standards must be well and fully implemented and joined to
quality assessments, accountability systems, and much more. It’s possible to
have good standards and low achievement (look at California and D.C.) and...

According to Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute, “The Common Core will have little to no effect on student achievement.” 

Standards—no matter how clear or
how rigorous—are not a panacea.

prove this, he draws on research from 2009 conducted by his colleague,
Russ Whitehurst. Essentially, Whitehurst found that the quality of state
standards (as judged by our own Fordham analyses as well as analyses
conducted by the AFT) did not correlate with state NAEP scores. More
specifically, he found that “states with weak content standards score
about the same on NAEP as those with strong standards.”


What Loveless conveniently ignores is the second—and arguably more
significant—element of Whitehurst’s research. In short, Whitehurst
“concluded that the effects of curriculum on student achievement
are larger, more certain, and less expensive than the effects of popular
reforms such as common standards…” (Emphasis added.)

point is that setting standards alone does very little, but that a
thoughtfully and faithfully implemented rigorous curricula can move the
achievement needle, sometimes dramatically.

one could chose to pit those two policy advancements against it each