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 the Common Core debate rages on in blogs and statehouses, educators are getting on with the business of putting these standards into practice. In these three issue briefs, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers direction to charter authorizers navigating the challenges posed by CCSS implementation. The first brief provides a simple introduction to CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments, including a list of questions that authorizers can ask themselves to self-diagnose exactly how the Common Core will affect them and their schools. (For example: “How do my state’s implementation requirements apply to charter schools?” and “Does my state have a federal accountability waiver?”) In the second brief, NACSA stresses the importance of maintaining charter schools’ autonomy during the transition to CCSS and the new assessments: The authors remind authorizers that the Common Core is a set of learning standards, not a curriculum (“Although the framers have developed suggested reading lists, and some states have adopted them as menus for school districts’ convenience, the new standards do not dictate what textbooks or instructional methods schools must use”), and that schools should avail themselves of their freedom to use whatever materials will help their students reach the standard. (Of course, as explained above, that doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Some materials work much better than others, indeed some are apt to defeat the Common Core.) The third (and most extensive) brief digs into maintaining accountability, warning authorizers that school performance may drop significantly with the new tests. NACSA offers...

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Lisa Hansel

Pop quiz! Which of the following statements is in the Common Core State Standards?

(a) Through extensive reading of stories, dramas, poems, and myths from diverse cultures and different time periods, students gain literary and cultural knowledge.

(b) By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas.

(c) At a curricular or instructional level, texts—within and across grade levels—need to be selected around topics or themes that systematically develop the knowledge base of students.

(d) Having students listen to informational read-alouds in the early grades helps lay the necessary foundation for students’ reading and understanding of increasingly complex texts on their own in subsequent grades.

(e) All of the above.

The answer is e, all of the above. Knowledge is the key to reading comprehension. It’s the key to college, career, and citizenship readiness. It’s the key to meeting the Common Core standards. (see pages 10 and 33 of the standards—and for even more on building knowledge, see page 6 and Apendix A page 33).

To be even more blunt, the standards require a “content-rich curriculum” (page 6) that is “intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades” (page 10).

If you are a master teacher with a supportive administrator and collaborative colleagues, the standards give...

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As the debate over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) rages on in blogs and statehouses nationwide, educators are getting on with the business of putting the standards into practice. In these three issue briefs, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers direction to charter authorizers navigating the challenges posed by CCSS implementation. The first brief provides a simple introduction to CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments, including a list of questions that authorizers can ask themselves to self-diagnose exactly how the Common Core will affect them—e.g., “How do my state’s implementation requirements apply to charter schools?” and “Does my state have a federal accountability waiver?” In the second brief, NACSA stresses the importance of maintaining charter schools’ autonomy during the transition to CCSS and the new assessments: The authors remind the authorizers that the Common Core are a set of learning standards, not a curriculum (“Although the framers have developed suggested reading lists, and some states have adopted them as menus for school districts’ convenience, the new standards do not dictate what textbooks or instructional methods schools must use”), and that schools should avail themselves of their freedom to use whatever materials will help their students reach the standard. The third (and most extensive) brief digs into maintaining accountability, warning authorizers that school performance may drop significantly with the new tests. NACSA offers a host of options from which to choose—such as rating schools using proficiency only, proficiency plus growth, and multiple indicators—but urges authorizers above all...

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Two months ago, a group of Catholic university professors signed a letter urging Catholic bishops and diocesan school leaders to reject the Common Core. “We believe that implementing Common Core would be a grave disservice to Catholic education in America,” they argued.

…we are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.

The content of the letter itself is not surprising to anyone following the debate over the CCSS. Indeed, perhaps the most interesting thing about it is how closely it sticks to the typical anti–Common Core talking points we’ve heard over and over again in the past year. The authors repeat the often-cited complaint that algebra is taught too late, point to the (misguided, in my opinion) concern that adopting the CCSS will sideline great literature in English classrooms, and argue that Common Core is aimed not at college readiness but, rather, at “standardized workforce preparation.” In short, the bulk of it looked less like a thoughtful and uniquely Catholic critique of the Core than a hastily composed form letter.

The problem is not that Catholics shouldn’t weigh in on the Common Core debate. Rather, the problem is that authentic Catholic concerns get sidelined when we take our cues from actors who don’t share our interests. And by bringing these political talking points uncritically into...

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Yesterday’s column by George Will condemning Common Core is a very bad sign for the standards’ advocates.

I suspect that many Common Core backers on the political left either don’t know much about George Will or reflexively dismiss him because he’s a conservative. As a general matter, that’s a shame, but in this particular case they should pay close attention.

And fast.

Will is trusted implicitly by many on the right for two important reasons. First, he is deeply learned. He is the son of a philosophy professor, earned a graduate degree from Oxford and a PhD from Princeton. He was a university professor and U.S. Senate aide. He has authored more than a dozen books, and he’s won a Pulitzer Prize.

Second, his conservatism is rooted firmly in time-tested principles. His are not knee-jerk politics; they are not spontaneously oppositional to any utterance by a Democrat—he reveres the late former Johnson administration official and liberal U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Nor are his views dependent on Rush Limbaugh’s or Bill O’Reilly’s talking points. He has publicly and harshly criticized prominent Republicans including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Ann Coulter.

Will believes in the virtues of longstanding institutions and the vices of well-meaning but naïve technocrats. He trusts well-regulated markets to more fairly and fluidly distribute capital, goods, and services than government-generated formulas. He is distrustful of an expansive federal government, because its appetite for money and power is voracious and its interventions are too often ineffective and...

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There were many important releases and developments this week—invaluable new SIG information from IES, Race to the Top audits, new Brookings “choice index”—and I couldn’t keep up! Those subjects and others will get fuller treatments from me next week. But until then, here are some worthwhile things to read over the weekend.

There has been much talk about the 50-year anniversary of The War on Poverty. Here’s the best stuff I’ve seen: This Gerson column smartly points out the federal government’s successes and failures (and though this superb Brooks column on evolving conservative policy thinking isn’t about The War on Poverty per se, it should be read in conjunction with Gerson’s). This short blurb by Checker Finn is terrific; the first-person narrative is compelling, and for history buffs and those fascinated by the intersection of politics and policy, it offers something special. This very good piece by my old high school friend (now at AEI) Josh Good echoes family-related arguments made by Finn’s mentor a half century ago.

If you care at all about Common Core, this Stephanie Simon article about conservative backlash is an absolute must read. There are several different strands in the piece worth thinking about (including the CCSS-as-a-stepping-stone strategy), but these two sentences speak volumes: “Still, (Common Core) supporters have struggled to counter the critics. They have had trouble even understanding the contours of the smoldering opposition.” As I told TNTP (see fifth paragraph),...

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Earlier this week, AFT president Randi Weingarten came out against the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations, citing recent VAM shortcomings in D.C. and Pittsburgh and launching the catchy slogan, “VAM is a sham.” VAM certainly is not perfect. But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us in this week’s Education Gadfly Show, teachers decades ago were concerned about being capriciously fired by principals who didn’t like them, which in turn led to the movement for a more structured and quantifiable teacher-evaluation system. Does Randi want to go back to favoritism? Or simply no accountability at all?

In a fascinating exposé of the Common Core opposition movement, Politico’s Stephanie Simon describes how a sophisticated group of strategists took a grassroots campaign, mainly populated by “a handful of angry moms,” and is milking it for political gain. With everyone’s questionable motivations out in the open, Gadfly would like to see the debate return to whether the standards are right for kids.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Eric Cantor named school choice as the best hope for the poor to escape cyclical poverty. He took special aim at New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, for planning a moratorium on charter school co-locations in the Big Apple, arguing that this could “devastate the growth of education opportunity in such a competitive real estate market.” Cantor went on to chastise President Obama for (again) refusing to fund the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a successful initiative that...

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There is near consensus that teacher-preparation programs need a facelift. Last summer, the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a withering critique of schools of education, characterizing their programs as “an industry of mediocrity.” Recently, the New York Times editorial board called America’s teacher-training system “abysmal” in comparison to other nations’ preparation programs. When Arthur Levine, former president of the Teachers College at Columbia University, studied teacher-prep programs, he found them to be a “troubled field characterized by curricular confusion, a faculty disconnected from practice, low admission and graduation standards, wide disparities in instructional quality, and weak quality control enforcement.”

Given these well-documented struggles of schools of education—with exceptions of course—you might find it hard to believe that every single teacher-prep program in Ohio, save one, received an “effective” rating from the Board of Regents.

But, let’s dig deeper into the content of the Regents’ second-annual Educator Preparation Performance Report  released this week. The report, required by state law, provides a wealth of information about Ohio’s teacher-prep programs. Here are the three key things to know about the results.

1.The teacher licensure exams: Everyone passes

An astounding 97 percent of Ohio’s teacher candidates achieved the state’s minimum score for passing their subject-matter licensure exam (Praxis II). In some content areas, the passage rate is a remarkable 100 percent. Seriously 100 percent. A closer look, however, indicates that Ohio’s “qualifying scores” are set too low—in fact, they...

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I’ve obviously made up my mind about SIG and other school turnaround efforts.

But I suspect many others are still wondering if turnaround attempts are a sensible strategy for creating more high-quality seats for kids in need. And I’m sure there are lots of folks curious why SIG has shown such paltry results so far.

If you’re in either camp, you really ought to take a look at a new report from A+ Schools and Democrats for Education Reform–Colorado, Colorado's Turnaround Schools 2010 - 2013: Make a Wish. It adds fuel to the fire of my anti-turnaround argument, but it also helps explain why $5 billion in SIG funds are producing so little.

According to the report, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) was virtually indiscriminate when handing out SIG grants. If a school applied, it won. At first, the state was evidently making awards without a rating system or even a scoring rubric. When it finally did develop a system, it didn’t have much of an effect—those seeking funds got awards no matter how flawed their applications or budgets. In year four (2013), CDE again approved 100 percent of requests.

In the report’s words, “Accountability at the state and federal level has taken a backseat to trying to spend the funds quickly and support schools.”

And so the results aren’t surprising. About a quarter of early winners are actually doing worse than they were pre-award. And based on student-growth measures, schools getting these...

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As ESEA waivers change the school-accountability landscape, charter authorizers need to take the opportunity to rethink how we too can measure school progress. Ohio, as part of its Title I waiver, moved to an “A” to “F” rating system for schools, is implementing new standards and assessments, and is providing some flexibility around various reporting requirements. Ohio has also developed a new report card for schools that reports on—among other measures—AP/IB participation rates, student growth in multiple categories, gap closing, honors diplomas, industry credentials, and graduation rates. This revamp at the federal and state levels has, in turn, compelled us at Fordham to reconsider how we structure our own accountability plans for the eleven charter schools we authorize. This tension is captured in our recent report, Remodeled Report Cards, Remaining Challenges.

As per Ohio’s new school report card, the Buckeye State now deploys and reports on a slew of academic measures, including value-added scores for gifted students, students with disabilities, low-income students, and low-performing students. All are part of state accountability. Should they also be part of charter-to-authorizer accountability? Should we hold our charter schools to account for improving their performance on every measure that the state throws into its report card? When it comes to important authorizer decisions about schools—renewing their charters, putting them on probation, or letting them add grades or additional campuses, for example—what matters more: proficiency rates or growth? What about IB and AP passing rates? Graduation rates?

Looking at our authorized...

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