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.

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 high flyers to twenty-three among sixty-eight that were ranked (at least four schools dropped from Tier 1 status to Tier 2 this year). Most schools were in the middle, and eight dwelled at the bottom, where they risk getting shut down. Still, hurrah for the progress the Board can claim. And hurrah for D.C. kids, who can enjoy the fruits of this endeavor.

The fourth round of the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) initiative has concluded with twenty-five applicants in the winner’s circle. Seven are validation grants (larger awards for ideas with the strongest evidence base) and eighteen are development grants (smaller awards aimed at supporting up-and-coming ideas). The grantees ranged from teacher-collaboration ideas to ed-tech groups, from proposals creating free Common Core instructional resources for teachers to parental-engagement plans. For a take on a past grantee, the Reading Recovery program, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

On Wednesday, Rep. George Miller and Sen. Tom Harkin introduced legislation in the House and Senate to expand access to pre-K programs for four-year-olds. The bill largely adheres to President Obama’s proposal (states will have to promise to link pre-K data to K–12, provide state-funded Kindergarten, and ensure that early-education teachers have bachelor’s degrees)....

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It’s been a long and twisty road since the Common Core State Standards were first released in June 2010. What began more than three years ago as a highly technical debate over the details of the expectations themselves has evolved into a far-reaching philosophical and political debate over the value of setting K–12 academic standards at all.

After two decades of broad bipartisan agreement in the education-reform community on the importance of standards as part of a comprehensive approach to improving our schools, many opponents—bolstered by the work of analysts such as Tom Loveless, Russ Whitehurst, and Eric Hanushek—now oppose the Common Core on grounds that standards don’t really matter anyway, so it isn’t worth expending political capital on a bruising fight to install new ones.

The drumbeat began even before the Common Core standards were finalized, in October 2009, when Russ Whitehurst published a paper in October 2009 challenging the importance of state standards. In brief, Whitehurst compared the “effect sizes” of a variety of reforms—on charter schools, standards, preschool, teacher quality, and curriculum—and found that curriculum had a greater impact than any other reform. He also found that there was no statistically significant correlation between the quality of a state’s standards, as judged by the grades that Fordham assigned, and that state’s student achievement, as measured by NAEP. Rick Hanushek ran a similar analysis using standards ratings...

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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 and levelheaded friends in the think-tank community, too.

Jay Greene, I’m talking first and foremost about you. Jay thinks he’s found a smoking gun, proof that we supporters of the Common Core, especially those of us at Fordham, have been dishonest when we’ve claimed that the standards don’t “prescribe” a particular curriculum, because of a recent report in which we fret that educators aren’t embracing the “instructional shifts” promoted by the Common Core:

Common Core doesn’t dictate curriculum or pedagogy Checker assured us, it only requires that “everybody’s schools use the same academic targets and metrics to track their academic performance” and “then those schools can and should be freed up to ‘run themselves’ in the ways that matter most: budget, staffing, curriculum, schedule, and more.”

Also,

These were the promises the Fordham folks made when they were courting us on adopting Common Core, but now that we’re married, they’ve changed their tune. No longer do they bring us flowers, write love-poems, or assure us that Common Core in no way dictates how schools should teach or what they should teach — their pedagogy and curriculum. Instead, Fordham and their friends are now judging schools on whether they are properly implementing ”instructional shifts—ways in which...

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The Common Core, Ohio’s new learning standards in English language arts and math, has been under fire. To the naysayers who are still fuming over the implementation of these standards, they might want to consider the drivel that the Common Core seeks to leave behind.

This 9th grade writing assignment appears on the West Virginia Department of Education’s website. (Note, the other samples aren’t much better!)

DIRECTIONS:  Read the passage and prompt and type a composition in the box below.

PASSAGE: Extreme Weather

Many areas have begun to experience extreme weather conditions throughout the year. The winter might be filled with many days of cold temperatures and massive amounts of snow, while the summer might have several days of 100-degree temperatures and little precipitation.

In the winter, many people want nothing more than to find some way of staying cozy and warm. In the summer, people want to try to get outside and find a way to avoid the sweltering temperatures and oppressive heat.

PROMPT: Choose one day, either in the winter or summer, in which you imagine such extreme weather. Write an essay in which you vividly describe this day. What sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures do you encounter on this day? How do you escape from the extreme weather of the day you chose?

Sigh. Ninth grade students ought to read richer texts than this morass of muck. “Cozy and warm”? Is this high-school-level language? “In the summer, people want to...

This second annual report on Common Core implementation in forty-eight of the country’s largest urban districts covers a range of topics: professional development, strategies for measuring and collecting data, communication efforts, and the inclusion of ELL students and students with special needs. The survey found that districts are struggling to handle special populations and integrate technology in the classroom and that implementation is lagging, particularly at the middle and high school levels. But not all is gloomy; the results also show promising trends. Nearly all districts reported that CCSS will be fully implemented by the 2014–15 school year, and about half said the standards will be fully implemented by the end of this year, indicating that districts are rolling along, and perhaps even speeding up, their implementation plans. While the authors of the report acknowledge that districts have improved by leaps and bounds since last year’s survey, they reiterate that there is much ground left to cover.

SOURCE: Moses Palacios, et al., Implementing the Common Core State Standards: Year Two Progress Report from the Great City Schools (Washington, D.C.: Council of the Great City Schools, October 2013).
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I’m a big fan of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). They do great work to help charter authorizers significantly improve their practices. I speak from firsthand experience—they partnered with the charter office at the New Jersey Department of Education while I was there and substantially improved our work.

But NACSA is more than a provider of technical assistance. In important ways, they help advance reform thinking. The latest example is their excellent recent report on accountability for “alternative” charter schools (or “alternative education campuses”—AECs). Such schools serve very high-risk student populations, including those in the juvenile justice system, with substance abuse problems, who are persistently truant, and more. Accordingly, these schools often fail to perform well on standard measures of student achievement, making it difficult for authorizers to fairly and accurately assess their performance. AECs disproportionately fail to make AYP and are disproportionately represented in states’ bottom 5 percent of schools.

But it might be the case that, despite low test scores, lots of AECs are doing great work. For these schools, because they’ve been identified for attention via state accountability systems, they’re unnecessarily subjected to intrusive state interventions. Currently, only seven states have sought to remedy this situation, creating separate accountability systems for alternative schools. But the ball is most certainly in the court of state governments.

Since states are creating their own new accountability systems via ESEA waivers, they must tackle this issue if AECs are to...

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In the debate over Common Core, there may be only one certainty: Both advocates and opponents spend inordinate amounts of time trying to undermine their opponents by pointing to the perceived underhanded and manipulative actions of their foes. The hope, I suppose, is that if you can undermine the credibility of your opponents, you can win the day—facts be damned.

Unfortunately, by trying to make the conversation about intentions rather than about facts, important debates can be easily overlooked or obscured.

Take Jay Greene’s latest blog post, “Fordham and CC Backers Need To Get Their Stories Straight.” In it, Greene argues that we at Fordham were being inconsistent—perhaps even disingenuous—in our description of what Common Core standards are and are not. On the one hand, Greene argues, we’ve said that Common Core do not prescribe curriculum. But, he goes on,

“[those were] the promises the Fordham folks made when they were courting us on adopting Common Core, but now that we’re married, they’ve changed their tune … No longer do they bring us flowers, write love-poems, or assure us that Common Core in no way dictates how schools should teach or what they should teach—their pedagogy and curriculum.”

It's an odd line of argument, particularly given the simple and straightforward position Fordham has taken on this subject from before the existence of the Common Core. In short, we have always said that the only way for rigorous standards to lead to higher achievement is for state and...

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William McCallum

Who I am and why I decided to work on the Common Core State Standards

I am a university-distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Arizona. My doctorate in mathematics is from Harvard University, and I have been a fellow at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkeley and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In addition to mathematics research and university teaching, I have been involved in K–12 education for 20 years. For my work in this area, I was honored to receive the National Science Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars in 2005 and the American Mathematical Society’s Award for Award for Distinguished Public Service in 2012. I have come to be known in the mathematics and mathematics education communities as someone who can be trusted to care both about the rigor of the mathematics curriculum and about how children learn.

When I was asked to work on the standards, I decided to use that trust, knowledge, and experience to the utmost, to help build a world where all people know, use, and enjoy mathematics. I saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve our children’s prospects for college and career, to give them the sort of mathematics education they deserve and need in order to prosper. Our children are no less capable than the children of other countries; they can meet high standards and they deserve the opportunity to do so.

How the standards were written

The Common

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In the next school year, field testing of new Common Core assessments will be complete, and states will be faced with the weighty decision about which tests they will use to measure student learning going forward. Two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), are currently developing the leading options for Common Core–aligned assessments. But states in which anti–Common Core sentiment runs deepest have begun to back away from the consortia (to date, four states—Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Utah—have officially withdrawn), leading to consternation among Common Core supporters and joy among detractors. This has left remaining states in a pickle: If additional states withdraw, will the cost of consortia-developed assessments skyrocket as the fixed costs are spread over fewer states? This new report from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center sought out answers—and contains good news for those states choosing to stay the course. After calculating the projected costs for consortia-developed assessments, summarizing key differences between the two, and estimating the costs for non-consortia testing options such as ACT-developed assessments and vendor-developed, state-specific tests, author Matthew Chingos found that price fluctuations that could occur if more states withdraw would be relatively minor. For example, even when considering the possible departure of Florida, PARCC’s second-largest member, the price of PARCC’s tests would only increase by about 60 cents per student. If only the fifteen states currently field testing PARCC were to ultimately adopt the tests, test costs would increase by just $2.50 per...

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Senators and Representatives: It’s an honor to be with you today. My name is Mike Petrilli; I’m the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that also does on-the-ground work in the great state of Ohio. I was honored to serve in the George W. Bush Administration; my boss, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan Administration. Perhaps most importantly, I was raised in the Midwest, in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s great to be back in the heartland. (Go Cardinals!)

As a strong conservative and a strong supporter of the Common Core, I’m here to urge you to stay the course with these standards and with the Smarter Balanced assessments.

Still, unlike some other Common Core supporters, I’m glad that you are holding this hearing and debating the issue of whether Wisconsin should stick with the Common Core. These standards were developed by the states, and to be successful, they need to be owned by the states. Our educators are all too familiar with the “flavor of the month”—reforms that come and go. They are wondering if they should wait this one out too. By having this open debate on the Common Core, you can settle the issue once and for all—and either change course or move full speed ahead.

It’s also true that when states, including Wisconsin, adopted these standards three years ago, there wasn’t nearly enough engagement of parents, teachers, or policymakers. I believe a lot of the resistance...

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