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.

As legislatures wind down their spring sessions nationwide, Oklahoma is one of the few remaining states with an ongoing, unresolved debate over the Common Core State Standards. Unfortunately, it appears that the Sooner State may follow Indiana’s route and repeal the standards. As the Oklahoman points out in a powerful editorial today, that won’t solve any political problems for Oklahoma Republicans; the Tea Party opponents of the Common Core in Indiana are madder than ever.

But those political considerations are far from the best reasons for Oklahoma to stand strong and not revert back to its old standards (which is what local Common Core opponents are suggesting). The most important factor is that those old standards, while relatively solid, had significant shortcomings—shortcomings that make them incompatible with college and career readiness:

  1. Few objectives were devoted to informational texts. This is a problem for two reasons. First, informational texts—otherwise known as nonfiction—allow students to gain important content knowledge that will allow them to become proficient readers. It’s this focus on content knowledge that is one reason we at the Fordham Institute (and Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch, Jr.) are such strong supporters of the Common Core. Second, research demonstrates that many students struggle in college because they have not had enough exposure to informational texts in the K–12 system; addressing that preparation gap is a major goal (and positive feature) of the Common Core. What’s more, Oklahoma’s old standards were neither detailed enough about the literary genres students should
  2. ...

As anyone in education knows, the Common Core debate has become heavily politicized over the past year. What that means is that the true education issues at stake—for instance, whether the standards for English and math are challenging enough or, conversely, age appropriate—are taking a backseat to arguments over macropolitics and ideology.

Opponents on the right like to label the Common Core as “ObamaCore” and joke that schools were promised, “If you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum.”

As a conservative supporter of the Common Core who has racked up thousands of frequent-flier miles traveling to legislative hearings in state capitals nationwide, I find this fear of centralized control a misplaced, even willful false alarm sounded by people with other political agendas. To be sure, I don’t want the federal government meddling in curriculum issues and can point to many examples where Washington regulations—on matters of spending, “highly-qualified teachers,” and student discipline—have done more harm than good. I’m relieved the federal role in the Common Core has been relatively small.

Yet the history of education reform in the United States makes clear that efforts to foist top-down changes on the nation’s schools never get anywhere quickly and never produce real uniformity. Invariably, they’re met, for better or worse, with resistance and confusion—or, to say it more positively, with adaptation and customization.

The Common Core issue will prove no different. It won’t lead to...

Michael Brickman appeared on Fox News’ “Happening Now” to talk about standards and the Common Core with Joy Pullmann. Michael calls out anti–Common Core groups who offer false choices on standards vs. school choice, have no plan for the day after Common Core, and want standards that don’t require our students to read Shakespeare or our founding documents. Watch the segment to see Michael set the record straight.

A couple of years ago, Fordham held a contest to determine the most reformed state in the land. To almost no one’s surprise, Indiana—under the leadership of Governor Mitch Daniels and State Superintendent Tony Bennett—raced to victory. Indiana was held up as a model of education reform, and we encouraged other states to follow its path. Today, we again ask you to look to Indiana—but for precisely the opposite reason.

Hoosier State legislators, like those in Ohio, have come under increasing pressure from a small, vocal set of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) critics urging the state to repeal their adoption of the standards. Indiana acceded to their demands as Governor Mike Pence signed legislation on March 24 making Indiana the only state in the nation to formally withdraw its participation in the CCSS. And in what happened next, there are lessons to be learned for Ohio legislators who think there are political or educational benefits associated with exiting the CCSS.

First, states need to have standards in place, but good standards take time to develop. Indiana’s crash course in standards-writing over the past couple of months, aimed at having new standards in place this fall, has left almost everyone disappointed and frustrated. Critics of Indiana’s go-it-alone approach have suggested that the changes were nothing more than a rebranding of the CCSS. Educators, meanwhile, are also feeling the pressure: the Republic quoted Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Keith Gambill as saying, “Any delay past that time...

Like a dog that finally catches the bus he'd been chasing forever, what happens when opponents of the Common Core State Standards finally succeed in getting a state's policymakers to "repeal" the education initiative? Early signs from Indiana and elsewhere suggest that the opponents' stated goals are likely to get run over.

We acknowledge, of course, that Common Core critics aren't monolithic, even on the right. Libertarians want states to reject standards, testing and accountability overall; conservative opponents urge states to move to what they see as "higher" standards. Both factions would like to remove the taint of federal influence from state-based reform. (On that point, we concur.) On the left, the National Education Association sees an opportunity to push back against a policy it never liked in the first place. The union is using the standards as an excise to call for a moratorium on teacher evaluations as states move to Common Core–aligned tests. Still others worry about the standards being "too hard." (On these points, we do not concur).

So how's it going? Indiana has hit the reverse button hardest, enacting a bill that requires the state board of education to adopt revised standards. Oklahoma seems on the brink of doing much the same thing. No state is rejecting standards and testing entirely. That is partially because they would lose hundreds of millions of dollars of federal education funding and partially because few lawmakers trust the education system to do right by all kids once it's free from external...

Bright and early yesterday morning, Mike Petrilli joined Steven Scully at C-SPAN to talk Common Core. The good news? The conspiracy theorists weren’t watching—or maybe they had their calls screened out. (Though Mike still had to correct the record on curriculum, the federal role, and teacher input.) The best moment? Where Mike says our secretary of education has “some sort of Tourette Syndrome" when he mentions Common Core.

As the drumbeat to roll back the Common Core State Standards gets louder, some people are starting to question the value and purpose of academic standards in the first place. Do states really need to set expectations for what all students should learn? Are state standardized tests necessary? Why not return to an age when Americans simply trusted their children's teachers to craft curricula and appraise student progress?

Good questions, but perhaps more wishful than informed. Teachers should indeed be in charge of classroom instruction, but quality standards are an important piece of a comprehensive effort to boost student achievement. That effort also depends on quality assessments, clear information for parents and teachers to find out whether students have mastered the knowledge and skills they need, and some way to hold schools accountable for meeting the needs of the students they serve.

To read more, head to CNN.com

How is Common Core implementation faring, four years after these challenging standards were unveiled and embraced? Education Week attempts to answer this with an investigative report covering the key challenges that states and districts face: politics, assessments, teacher preparation, spending, curricula, accommodations, and tests for the severely disabled. Ed Week concludes that the next year will be critical for the success of the standards. The first three topics—political pushback, assessments, and teacher prep—seem especially vital. The growing resistance to the standards has been well publicized. Ed Week reports, however, that the battle lines are constantly changing and the ultimate effect this will have on implementation is necessarily unclear. Equally important is this year’s rollout of new assessments from the two consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Field-testing is underway, and a number of the compromises they have made—due primarily to time and resource constraints—cause many to wonder how well the final products will compare to the consortia’s initial promises to the Department of Education that funded them. At the same time, the status of teacher preparation is a big question mark, both in terms of ed schools and on-the-job professional development. The former aren’t sure what to do with the Common Core, while on-the-job training is spotty. To be sure, this special report is “data-lite”: like much investigative reporting, the authors focus on a handful of local examples (as did our recent look at district-level implementation). The national picture remains far from clear. And the Common Core remains very much...

Laura McGiffert Slover

More than one million students. Sixteen thousand schools. Nearly 10,000 test items. This spring is a critical milestone, as PARCC states make history by participating in field tests. More than the numbers, however, the successful field tests mark a huge shift in how we do testing in this country.

PARCC states are creating tests worth taking, made up of texts worth reading and problems worth solving. They are designed to give teachers information and tools they can use to customize teaching and learning for each student, and give students test questions and tasks that are meaningful –the kind that great teachers routinely ask students. As a former teacher, I know that good testing, the kind that measures students’ ability to apply concepts, isn’t a loss of instructional time – it’s an opportunity to learn. That’s what we are aiming for with PARCC – learning experiences, not just memorizing facts and filling in bubbles.

The PARCC assessments mark the end of “test prep.” Good instruction will be the only way to truly prepare students for the assessments. Memorization, drill and test-taking strategies will no longer siphon time from instruction. As students work through well-constructed problems, they are asked to draw upon what they’ve learned and apply it to solve problems. Results will help teachers assist kids who are struggling and help identify those who are well on their way toward demonstrating the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the next grades and in whichever pathways they choose after high school....

South Carolina has taken today’s testing drama to new heights. A few years back, the governor, chief, and state board chair all agreed to have the Palmetto State become a governing board member of the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing consortia. But as other states withdrew and new testing options emerged, the state legislature no longer saw participation in a consortium as necessary. So several bills have been filed to force an SBAC departure. The state chief, hoping to find accord with the legislature, recommended that the state board vote to willingly withdraw. The board voted against. Now the state chief has discovered the he has the power to withdraw without the state board’s blessing. Read this letter from the chief to the board. Remarkable stuff.

Indiana is now the latest state to release disappointing results from a new teacher-evaluation system. Though many of us hoped the Widget Effect would disappear, it’s becoming clear that changing statutes and regulations are only a small part of the equation.  

In Tennessee, it’s been tough reform sledding of late. The state’s cutting-edge policy on tying certification to value-added scores is no more. Now it looks like the state may back out of PARCC and issue an RFP for future tests. On the upside, new charter-school legislation is making its way to the governor’s desk; it would enable the state board of education to authorize charter schools rejected by local school districts. Of course,...

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