Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Welcome to the new Common Core kerfuffle.

Recently, School Achievement Partners, the nonprofit created by the authors of the Common Core standards (CCSS), featured a set of “model” close-reading lessons focused on the Gettysburg Address that were initially published in 2011.

The backlash against the approach to close reading outlined in the Gettysburg lesson was fast and furious. Are these the kinds of lessons that should be touchstones in American classrooms? Or are they more what you try to ward off by wearing garlic around your neck?

I first heard of the lessons not from an educator but from a Lincoln scholar. (We take Mr. Lincoln seriously here in Illinois). This colleague sent me a link to a recent post published on Valerie Strauss’s The Answer Sheet blog with a note that said, simply: “I hope the linked story from the Washington Post is inaccurate.”

Strauss’s post focused mainly on the fact that the Gettysburg Address lesson encouraged teachers to read the speech “cold,” without giving students historical context and without engaging in pre-reading. The post suggested that such an approach was “odd” and “baffling.”

Of course, like most things in education and in the increasingly politicized debate over the Common Core, the reality is far more complicated.

These lessons raise at least two important issues about reading instruction and the Common Core. First, whether there is—or should be—a difference between...

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The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released a study that seeks to better understand the decision-making processes of parents who send their children to private schools. The authors hypothesize that if state and local governments empower parents to choose the schools of their choice, a “spontaneous education order”—a state in which parents seek information about schools and in which schools make available the necessary information without public officials’ intentional intervention—will arise. Accountability, they speculate, will take care of itself.

To test this theory, they use survey data from 754 parents whose children received scholarships through the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program (GOAL). The survey sought to identify the factors involved in parents’ decisions and the types of data that informed those decisions.

GOAL was established in 2008 under Georgia’s Education Expense Credit Program. Under the law, taxpayers may receive a state income tax credit for contributions made to qualified “Student Scholarship Organizations” (SSOs). SSOs use these funds to award private school scholarships to families.

The law places no limits on recipients’ household incomes (i.e., it’s not “means-tested” for low-income families), and in fact the average adjusted gross income of recipient families was $51,923, slightly higher than the state’s 2012 median income. Scholarship recipients are approximately 60 percent white, 25 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 10 percent unknown/other.

Of the 2,685 families who had at least one child receiving a GOAL scholarship in 2013, only 754 provided complete data (a response rate of 28 percent). Survey respondents were...

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It seems the largest battle in education policy today centers on the question of whether or not the Obama administration cheerleading for the Common Core State Standards, a state-led initiative, represents an existential threat to federalism. Serious Common Core supporters concede that the federal government (unwisely) dangled incentives for swift state adoption of the standards, while pointing out that the vast majority of instructional decisions will now, as before, remain with local school boards and educators. On the other hand, serious opponents admit as much but worry that locals will have to make significant changes to meet these higher targets and say it is only a matter of time before we see a proposal for a national curriculum. I, for one, think even casual observation of the current debate over standards shows the possibility of a national curriculum to be so remote as to make it not worth discussing, except to say that if it were proposed, many Common Core supporters (myself included) would strongly oppose it.

The “federal overreach” argument used by Common Core opponents is quite perplexing, not only because some claims are so wildly exaggerated, but also because they all but ignore (and thereby excuse) actual and obvious examples of overreach with much larger potential consequences for federalism. If the Common Core debate is truly just a principled stand for states’ rights, why haven’t we heard a word about the specific requirements on school turnaround or teacher quality within the Race to the Top competition? Where was the conservative backlash against the clear disrespect shown to...

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It often seems that when wonks, researchers, and legislators get together to talk education reform, they exclude one group of stakeholders—a group for whom these reforms mean the most and upon whom their success depends: teachers. In this new book, TeachPlus founders Celine Coggins, Heather Peske, and Kate McGovern offer a corrective: a series of short essays written by their Teaching Policy Fellows cohort that illustrate the work being done on the ground to advance reform. The book is divided into seven sections, each covering a different policy issue: using data in schools, ensuring fair access to quality teachers, measuring teacher effectiveness, creating a performance-driven profession, engaging early-career teachers in union politics, building school leadership that enables great instruction, and improving the status of the profession. What is most striking about these stories is their genuine call-to-action narrative: Having been identified as highly effective teachers, these men and women know exactly how much of a difference putting the right teacher in the right classroom can make. All education stakeholders would be wise to learn from these experts.

SOURCE: Celine Coggins, Heather G. Peske, and Kate McGovern (eds.), Learning from the Experts: Teacher Leaders on Solving America’s Education Challenges (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2013).

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The sharp-shooters edition

Michelle and Dara discuss class sizes, the new Youth CareerConnect program, and why the DOJ is backing away from its attack on Louisana’s school-voucher program. Amber gets wonky with cross-district effects on teacher-bargaining contracts.

Amber's Research Minute

My End of the Bargain: Are There Cross-District Effects in Teacher Contract Provisions?, by Dan Goldhaber, Lesley Lavery, and Roddy Theobald, CEDR Working Paper 2012-2.2 (Seattle, WA: Center for Education Data and Research, 2012).

The following is the text of testimony on NGSS delivered by Kathleen Porter-Magee to the D.C. Board of Education on November 20, 2013.

My name is Kathleen Porter-Magee; I’m a Bernard Lee Schwartz policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education-policy think tank here in Washington, D.C., that also leads ground-level work in the state of Ohio. We support a variety of education reforms, with a particular focus on school choice and standards- and accountability-driven reform. In addition to my own policy work, I’ve spent several years working to implement rigorous standards in urban Catholic and charter school classrooms.

I’m honored to be with you here today, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk to you about the District of Columbia’s science standards as you weigh the decision to stay the course or adopt the Next Generation Science Standards.

Let me preface this by saying that we at the Fordham Institute have been broadly supportive of the Common Core State Standards. We believe the Common Core standards, which outline what students should know and be able to do in English language arts and math, are clearer and more rigorous than the vast majority of ELA and math standards they’ve replaced.

But let me also say that our support for the Common Core stems first and foremost from their quality. Of course, there are benefits to adopting a set of common standards. In ELA and math, for instance, teachers in states that have adopted similar...

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Recently, 2013 NAEP results were made public, and, as is typical for such bi-annual releases, there was lots of excitement, somberness, and everything in between. Enter the always smart, always temperamentally sound Tom Loveless, who sought to simmer down the hyping of some states’ scores. Talk of statistical significance and p-values is Greek to some, but Loveless’ accessible explanation and color-coded charts will have you saying both, “A-ha!” and “Well, that’s not what I’d been told.” Here’s the upshot: Yes, some states did quite well, but both the number of such states and the extent of their gains have been oversold. (And, no, Tom, we don’t think you’re a skunk at a picnic.)

Emily Richmond from The Educated Reporter writes up an excellent summary of TBFI’s new report on teacher effective vs. class size. In short, getting kids in front of more effective teachers is valuable even if it means making those classrooms more crowded. Sad finding: Schools are not currently putting more kids in the best teachers’ classrooms; instead, they just evenly distribute the number of students among teachers. This report is classic Fordham: Ask an interesting question, the answer to which could quickly influence policy, get sharp people to study it, then package the findings in an accessible report.

It’s a day of the week, so Rick Hess has a new book out! This time, it’s with my boy Mike McShane, and it’s about Common Core...

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Stefanie Sanford

This post is adapted from comments prepared by Stefanie Sanford for the Manhattan Institute event on Civic Education and the Common Core.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be.” It was his strong belief in education as the bedrock of democracy that made Jefferson one of our earliest and strongest champions of public education.

In later writings, he elaborated that among the core functions of this education system should be to ensure that each student understands “his duties to his neighbors and country” and will “discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either.” He concluded, “The qualifications for self-government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”

The Problem

We are gathered here for today’s conversation because of a growing concern that our schools have failed this basic test. As the invitation warned, “Most high-school students are unacquainted with the Gettysburg Address. Many cannot even identify the century in which the Civil War was fought.”

Results from the 2010 civics test showed fewer than a quarter of all students scoring at or above proficiency in eighth or twelfth grade. In U.S. history, the results are even worse: only 18 percent of eighth graders and 13 percent of twelfth graders scored at or above proficient.

Worse still, only 1 percent of eighth...

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It’s silly season for the Common Core debate, and I’m not referring to the latest outlandish claims from folks on the far right. It appears that Common Core Dystopia Disorder has infected some of our usually rational...

Ever wonder what separates a charter school sponsor (aka authorizer) from a non-profit governing board? A charter management organization (CMO) from an education management organization (EMO)? With so many characters treading the boards of Ohio's charter school stage, even Gadfly needs a little...

The D.C. Charter Board recently released its annual ranking of charter schools in the nation’s capital, showing that one-third of the schools it sponsors deserve a top-performing, or Tier 1, status. Five schools attained Tier 1 status for the first time this year, bringing the total number of...

While the Common Core has hogged the national spotlight of late, standards-based reform is just one of many improvement strategies coursing through our nation’s schools and classrooms today. But will educators’ and policymakers’ obsession with the Common Core hinder the rest of the reform agenda...

No matter what side of the ed-policy debate you fall into, getting effective teachers in front of disadvantaged students is a priority for almost everyone. Yet this new study from  Mathematica and AIR highlights just how far we are from ensuring that lower-income kids have access to the same...

The Philanthropy Roundtable's generally praiseworthy magazine hits a number of topical education-policy issues in its Fall 2013 issue. The first profiles Eli and Edythe Broad's...

The early holidays edition

After lamenting the fact that Hanukkah this year falls before black Friday, Dara and Brickman tackle Friedman’s argument against voucher-school accountability, the D.C. Charter Board’s updated rankings, and the brand-new pre-K bill. Amber gets jazzed about last-minute Christmas shopping—and an evaluation of the Reading Recovery program.

Amber's Research Minute

Evaluation of the i3 Scale-up of Reading Recovery by Henry May, et al., (New York: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, August 2013).

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