Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.


photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

It’s too soon to guess TIME Magazine’s person of the year, but a clear favorite has emerged for Common Core person of the year: the man, woman, or group that has done the most to advance the adoption and implementation of Common Core State Standards in the U.S. 

Ladies and gentleman, for meritorious service to further the cause of rigorous academic standards and educational excellence, please put your hands together for the governor of the great state of Louisiana, Common Core Man of the Year, Bobby Jindal!”

Jindal, as I’m sure you know, is suing the federal government over Common Core. And for this, he deserves enthusiastic cheers and undying gratitude from supporters of the Common Core State Standards. He has thrown into profound jeopardy the most effective talking point that their opponents have: that the feds forced national standards down the states’ throats and that Uncle Sam is illegally dictating what schools will teach. If this were true, any number of states, districts, or other stakeholders would have been in court ages ago. But they haven’t. The blunt fact of the matter is that this is powerful rhetoric atop an extremely weak legal case—like posting a “beware of dog” sign on your home when you own a beagle puppy.

Jindal’s suit alleges that the Department of Education forced adoption of Common Core through its Race to the Top program, which “required” states to “enter...

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Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared that states with NCLB waivers could wait until the 2015–16 school year to start tying test scores to teacher evaluations. It’s a very welcome bit of reasonableness, widely heralded, that grants overwhelmed states a reprieve and allows steadfast locales to stay the course. Effective implementation of the new Common Core standards is Job One—this is a time to support teachers as they stretch themselves and their students to meet the new, higher expectations. The Secretary’s decision will help.

On Thursday, a North Carolina trial court judge held unconstitutional a state voucher law that allowed public money to pay tuition at private and religious schools. The decision is frustrating for choice proponents—and not just because it leaves hundreds of families in last-minute limbo. Nevertheless, some light shines through. The ruling was based on the lack of regulation and accountability at these schools. Pass a provision requiring them to test kids and report the results, and the legal reasoning disappears. There’s also the imminent appeal.

New York City’s United Federation of Teachers supported a Saturday march against aggressive policing, pitting one city union against another and angering many teachers in the process. It also quite possibly injured their right to free speech. Teachers in NYC can choose not to be a member and avoid dues, but everyone still has to pay agency fees. This means that all teachers support union activities, including political speech...

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Hearings on House Bill 597, the latest attempt to repeal Ohio’s New Learning Standards (which include the Common Core in math and English language arts), started August 18 and will continue this week. We’ve already discussed how similar HB 597 is to the Common Core. This should be a major issue for Common Core opponents—who should be mortified to find the fingerprints of Common Core all over their championed bill—but also for everyone else.  HB 597 doesn’t specifically demand much of Ohio’s to be developed standards, but what it does demand is already in the Common Core. That should leave most of us wondering why we’re even holding these hearings if what proponents want is already in place. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only problem with HB 597. Let’s take a look at some others.

The most troublesome aspect of the bill appears right at the beginning of the changes: It could all but end state oversight of public schools. The bill text reads: “no state funds shall be withheld from a school district or school for failure to adopt or use the state academic content standards or the state assessments.” Basically this means that even if the proponents of HB 597 get what they want, and Ohio goes through the grueling process of forcing teachers and students to abide by three sets of standards in four years, schools face no consequences if they choose to ignore those standards and their accompanying assessments. In other words, school districts...

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photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc

Results from the annual Education Next poll are out this week, and the news is not good for us proponents of the Common Core. Support among the public dropped from 65 percent to 53 percent in just one year (from June 2013 to June 2014); Republicans are now almost evenly split on the issue, with 43 percent in support, and 37 percent opposed. What’s more, the new PDK/Gallup poll (out today) corroborates these trends and offers even worse news, finding that a majority of the public, and three-fourths of Republicans, now oppose the Common Core. Finally, Education Next found that support from teachers plummeted from 76 to 46 percent in just twelve months.

Nobody who has been following the public debate should be particularly surprised, at least when it comes to the overall numbers or those for Republicans. (The results for teachers are another matter; more on that in a bit.) After two punishing years of legislative assaults, Tea Party attacks, implementation controversies, and negative stories in conservative media, it’s a bit of a miracle that the numbers aren’t even worse. (Still, let’s be honest: these numbers are plenty depressing.)

I see two silver linings for those of us who still think the Common Core has great potential to improve American education:

  1. While the Common Core “brand” is
  2. ...
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Hearings began this week for House Bill 597 (HB 597), the latest attempt to repeal Ohio’s New Learning Standards (which includes the Common Core in math and English language arts). The first of several days of proponent testimony began Monday. Sitting in on the hearings has offered me a chance to develop a better understanding of the opposition to the standards, and if it wasn’t clear to me before then it is now: These folks don’t want anything that even resembles the Common Core to be used in Ohio schools.

They could be in for a surprise then, because the language of HB 597 borrows, in some significant ways, from the Common Core. During testimony on the August 18 hearing, Rep. Andy Thompson explained that he wanted to avoid the “sleight of hand” he saw in Indiana, which infamously repealed Common Core only to replace it with standards that were remarkably similar. Judge for yourselves if Ohio’s lawmakers are proposing to break new ground in HB 597 or simply recycling.

...

What House Bill 597 wants

What the Common

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WHAT WOULD HUEY P. LONG DO?
Jindal’s about-face on Common Core has created chaos in Louisiana, the New York Times reports, and turned some allies against him. Says one, “No permanent friends. No permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.” Somewhere, the Kingfish smiles.

PICK ME! PICK ME!
Which U.S. city is the choice and charter capital? New Orleans? New York? Try Miami. This year, half of Miami-Dade students, 56,000 total, are in schools their families picked themselves, says the Miami Herald.

I’LL BET KRUGMAN HAS TENURE
“There’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about,” opines the Times' Frank Bruni.  

I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING
Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio in the New York Daily News on the eye-popping test results posted by Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy.  If she’s got the secret sauce to student achievement, it’s time for it to be bottled and sold.

FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
CSN News trumpets our new report The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don't Teach.  And Gannett Newspapers reminds readers of our review of Common Core, which gave the standards a B+ in English and an A- in math.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS AREN’T
This pro-unschooling article in Outside magazine (naturally) says classroom education “enjoys scant historical precedent.” Bust those kids out of school! Turn ‘em loose in nature!  Know what else has scant historical precedent? Movable type. Penicillin. The internal...

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Results from the annual Education Next poll are out today, and the news is not good for us proponents of the Common Core. Support among the public dropped from 65 percent to 53 percent in just one year (from June 2013 to June 2014); support from teachers plummeted from 76 to 46 percent. Republicans are now almost evenly split on the issue, with 43 percent in support, and 37 percent opposed.

Nobody who has been following the public debate should be particularly surprised, at least when it comes to the overall numbers or those for Republicans. (The results for teachers are another matter; more on that in a bit.) After two punishing years of legislative assaults, Tea Party attacks, implementation controversies, and negative stories in conservative media, it’s a bit of a miracle that the numbers aren’t even worse. (Still, let’s be honest: These numbers are plenty depressing.)

I see two silver linings for those of us who still think the Common Core has great potential to improve American education:

  1. While the Common Core “brand” is damaged, the concept is still popular. Education Next (where I’m an executive editor) ran an experiment, asking half of respondents to provide their views on the “Common Core,” and the other half to respond to a description of the reform without the label. Asked the latter way, support jumps from 53 percent to 68 percent; Republican support in particular bounces way up, eliminating any partisan divide.
  2. Misperceptions are driving down support; fix those
  3. ...
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David Figlio, a researcher at Northwestern University, recently released his seventh-annual evaluation of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The study uses scholarship students’ results on national assessments, like the Stanford Achievement or Iowa Test of Basic Skills, to examine whether they are making year-to-year gains. (Elsewhere in this issue, I review the study in greater detail.) The Sunshine State’s program, which enrolls nearly 60,000 students, is akin to Ohio’s EdChoice and Cleveland scholarship (a.k.a., “voucher”) programs.

One of the study’s findings was particularly striking: Private schools in Florida, especially Catholic ones, appear to have a relatively larger impact on scholarship students’ reading scores than math. Across all schools, Figlio found that voucher students made a 0.1 percentile gain in reading but posted a loss of -0.7 percentiles in math. The overall math-reading difference may or may not be trivial—there is no test of statistical significance across the subject areas. But larger differences in reading-to-math gains appear when gains are disaggregated, for example, by religious affiliation:[1] Consider the large annual gain in reading for voucher students attending a Catholic school (1.98 percentiles) versus the slight loss in math (-0.25). True, the larger reading gains don’t hold across all school types—non-religious schools seem to make a fairly big difference in math—but it does seem like many of Florida’s private schools are having greater success boosting reading scores.[2]

Table 1: Average reading and math gains of Florida scholarship students by...

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THE EVA EMPIRE
Seven of the fifteen top-scoring schools on New York’s math proficiency tests this year were Success Academy charter schools. Richard Whitmire says the stellar results make founder Eva Moskowitz more toxic as she seeks to expand.

DRILL, BABY, DRILL!
More evidence that memorizing basic math facts is good for kids. Healthy children switch from counting to math fact retrieval at 8-9 years old, says this new study.  

SHEEN FADES ON NCLB WAIVERS
Waivers "gave states room to breathe," says Andy Smarick, "but what's left feels extremely messy," he said. Meanwhile, remember not to mention the “w-word” around Petrilli.

WHY THE ATLANTA TESTING SCANDAL MATTERS
The trial raises two big questions, NPR notes: How common is cheating? And what else might be happening in schools as a result of tests?

TRADING HER BROOM FOR A RAKE?
Some teachers say they’ll boycott Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. now that Michelle Rhee has joined the board.

MAKING THE CUT
The New York State Education Department dropped the number of raw points needed to hit proficiency levels in half of this year’s Common Core tests, officials acknowledged to the New York Post.

DON'T READ THAT, READ THIS
Schools are not businesses, opines Berkeley professor David L. Kirp in The New York Times. That’s not an op-ed, responds Neerav...

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Morgan Polikoff

Nearly all American K–12 students are exposed to it every day. It decides, in large part, what students will learn in school and how they will learn it.[1] It is never evaluated for quality in any serious way, but when it is rigorously evaluated, its impact on student achievement is significant.

No, this isn’t another blog about teachers. I’m talking textbooks. We need good textbooks in front of kids just as badly as we need good teachers. However, from a research and policy perspective, improving textbook quality is a lot easier.[2]

A little-noticed report last week in Education Week described a new initiative to be the Consumer Reports of textbooks. A new nonprofit called EdReports plans to post “free online reviews of major textbooks and curricula that purport to be aligned to the Common Core State Standards.” If they’re careful, credible, and diligent, this initiative could turn the lights up on a largely ignored factor in student outcomes that is ripe for analysis and improvement.[3] And it could even blunt some of the more heated criticisms of the Common Core. Here’s why I think EdReports, and textbooks in general, matter:

First, textbooks aren’t people. There is no union seeking to protect the interests of textbooks. They don’t need due process protections, and it’s unlikely that the choice to replace an old textbook with a new one will result in onerous court cases....

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