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.

Increasingly, the conversation about Common Core is dominated by politics and controversy. It has become so loud and shrill that it’s easy to forget that across the country are countless superintendents, principals, and teachers who are seizing the opportunity to challenge themselves to change the way they work to provide a better education for their students.

I remain as optimistic about the promise of the Common Core as I was when I first reviewed the standards four years ago. I believe that ultimately Common Core will succeed or fail based not on what politicians say but, rather, based on what teachers and school leaders do. That’s why I’m proud to take on a new opportunity to bring the Common Core—combined with the power of Core Knowledge—to a network of urban Catholic schools as its superintendent.

In March 2013, the Archdiocese of New York signed a landmark deal with the Partnership for Inner-City Education to support six inner-city Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx. This is the first time that an independent organization has been given the opportunity to manage a set of schools in the Archdiocese of New York, and the agreement builds upon the...

For all of the talk about how different reading instruction is meant to be in the Common Core era, and for all of the hand wringing over the critical “instructional shifts” embedded in the new literacy standards, a glimpse at the world of classroom implementation reveals that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thanks to a combination of inertia, self-interested publishers, and leaders who prefer to see reading taught the way it’s been taught for years, Common Core-aligned reading instruction runs the risk of becoming a repackaged version of the ubiquitous balanced literacy we’ve seen in schools for decades.

This issue came into sharp relief last month, when the New York Times reported that New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has been counseling schools to continue using the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project as the foundation of their literacy instruction. This is a repudiation of the guidance given to City schools by Fariña’s own Department of Education just last year, when the Teachers College project was conspicuously missing from a list of recommended, CCSS-aligned literacy programs.

It was just the latest sign that despite all of the discussion about...

Alan J. Borsuk

Here’s a suggestion for something to include in Wisconsin-specific education standards for Wisconsin children:

By the end of first grade, children will know that two Badgers plus two Badgers equals four Badgers.

You want Indiana-specific standards for Indiana kids? By the end of first grade, children will know that two Hoosiers plus two Hoosiers equals four Hoosiers.

North Carolina standards for North Carolina kids? You got it—two Tar Heels plus two Tar Heels equals four Tar Heels.

What kind of silliness is this? Best as I can see, it’s about the level of silliness the whole discussion of education expectations for our children is reaching, both in Wisconsin and across the nation.

With Governor Scott Walker’s one-sentence statement on Thursday that he wants the legislature to repeal Wisconsin’s involvement in the Common Core standards movement, we have crossed onto turf where chaos in education policy is likely to reign for the coming school year.

At the same time, I bet we’re also on the way, in the long run, to changing very little when it comes to state standards for what kids should learn. I say that because states that have announced they are going to set their own...

In a related post, we examined the relationships between eighth-grade proficiency in reading and mathematics, high-school graduation rates, and college remediation-free rates. Broadly speaking, we established that school districts’ test scores, as measured by student proficiency, correlate to high school graduation and college remediation-free rates. In this post, we take a more in depth look at the link between proficiency and remediation.

Consider Figure 1, which represents each Ohio school district’s eighth-grade proficiency and remediation data as a point on the graph. Proficiency data from 2007-08 are coupled with remediation data for first-time college students beginning in fall 2012 in order to compare a somewhat similar cohort of college-going students. (It is important to note that the actual cohort for any particular district would not be the same from 2008 to 2012, as student mobility between districts (or states) is not accounted for, nor are dropouts or grade retentions included. Additionally, remediation only applies to college-going students. These factors change the composition of the cohort.)

It is reasonable to expect that a district with higher proficiency would tend to have a lower remediation rate—success on standardized tests should provide some indication that students are on-track to mastering the skills...

Tom Vander Ark

NOTE: This is a repost of a blog that originally appeared on the Getting Smart website on July 16, 2014.

Accountability is a gift. We don’t often think of it that way but, done right, it’s a bargain that provides autonomy, resources, and supports in return for a commitment to a set of desired outcomes. That’s how it’s supposed to work with your kids; that’s how it’s supposed to work with schools. At work accountability provides role and goal clarity like when your boss explains, “Here’s what I expect and how I’ll support you; if you don’t achieve desired results, here’s how the situation will be remedied.

The University of Toledo and and its designee to authorize schools, The Ohio Council of Community Schools (OCCS), hosted a  school leaders conference today to discuss the next generation of accountability. As the Fordham Institute Ohio staff noted, there were a number of changes made to Ohio testing and accountability system in the last session including accountability provisions.  Following is a discussion of how accountability should work–from students to universities–with a few comments about where Ohio is on the curve.

Outcomes. Let’s start with the question, “Accountable for what?”  I’ve...

One of the great misconceptions in education is that the reform movement is monolithic. There have always been competing camps, often defined on ideological grounds. Conservatives and libertarians tend to stress school choice, for example; liberals are much more comfortable with an intrusive federal role.

But the divisions feel more rigid today than at any other time that I can recall, the rivalries more heated. This is a big problem, one we need to get a handle on lest school reform go the way of Syria, with rival factions spending more time clobbering each other than fighting a common foe.

I was reminded of this on Friday, when I had the honor to speak to the nation’s state superintendents. During a panel session on the Common Core, I made an off-hand comment that riled several of those in attendance. “Let’s be careful about the happy talk,” I said, “about Common Core and teacher evaluations peacefully coexisting.” I went on, “It’s not hard to understand why teachers are nervous when we tell them that we expect them to teach to new, higher standards but that their heads are on the chopping block if they don’t succeed.” We should allow...

Articles of the week from the Education Gadfly

Whither the NEA?
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | July 9, 2014 | Flypaper

On school discipline, let’s not repeat all our old mistakes
Michael Petrilli, @MichaelPetrilli | July 8, 2014 | Flypaper

Teachers, the Common Core, and the freedom to teach
Jessica Poiner, @jpoiner17 | July 7, 2014 | Ohio Gadfly Daily

Vergara, Harris, and the fate of the teacher unions
Andy Smarick, @smarick | July 7, 2014 | Flypaper

Fordham in the news

Public schools like KIPP are most powerful as a “direct retort to people who say we must first end poverty before we can do anything to improve education.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | New York Post | July 9, 2014

"Our research suggests, however, that better hiring practices alone are only part of the solution. Districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role."
Lacking Leaders report | StateImpact Ohio | July 7, 2014

Sweet Tweets

I’ve...

Common Core watchers out there have probably heard this one before: All the teachers I know hate the Common Core.

There are undoubtedly some teachers who dislike the Common Core, but recent polls suggest that most teachers support the new standards. During my three years of teaching (completed a month ago), most of my colleagues and I liked the Common Core. One reason we supported the new standards was because they gave us more freedom. Detractors claim that standards tell teachers how to teach. But I taught Common Core after teaching Tennessee’s state standards, and while Common Core did give me expectations for what my students should know and be able to do by the end of the year (just like the previous standards did), it allowed me to decide what and how to teach.

Let’s consider, for example, the first literature standard for ninth graders (the grade I taught), which states, “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.” Most would agree that using evidence to support the analysis of a text is crucial. Students ought to know how to cite evidence instead...

Bad ideas in education are like horror movie monsters. You think you’ve killed them, but they refuse to stay dead.

A generation ago, the infamous “reading wars” pitted phonics-based instruction in the early grades against “whole language,” which emphasized reading for meaning instead of spelling, grammar, and sounding words out.

In 1997, the National Reading Panel was tasked to settle the fight once and for all. Phonics won. That should have been the end of it, but whole language never really died. It morphed, grew a new head called “balanced literacy,” and lived on. In New York City, it grew even stronger.

Finally, last year, there was hope: Balanced literacy was left for dead yet when the city Education Department recommended two reading programs for elementary schools as they prepare to meet the rigorous new Common Core State Standards in English: New York State’s Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum and Pearson’s ReadyGen.

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project—the balanced-literacy program developed by Prof. Lucy Calkins, which had dominated city classrooms for more than a decade—notably failed to make the cut.

Why? Under the shift to Common Core standards, reading programs are explicitly expected to teach strong foundational skills, including...

Last week, I had the privilege to speak in front of a group of education journalists convened by the Poynter Institute and the Education Writers Association about identifying strengths and weaknesses in curriculum.

This is a heavy lift for journalists. It’s simply asking too much for even the most seasoned education reporters to develop a discerning eye for curriculum; it’s not their job, and it makes their job covering the instructional shifts taking place under Common Core uphill work.

I referred my listeners to a recent NPR effort to get “super-specific about what makes a good Common Core–aligned lesson.” The reporter enlisted the aid of Kate Gerson, who works with EngageNY, a New York State Education Department’s web site. She’s one of the leaders of New York State’s transition to Common Core; NPR asked her to walk through a supposedly exemplary ninth-grade lesson—a close reading of a short story by Karen Russell entitled, “St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised By Wolves.”

Great idea! I’m all for reporting that sheds light on Common Core. I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with Russell or this particular story, but no matter. Standards are not curriculum. Common Core isn’t top-down and lock step....

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