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.

“In the implementation stage, the project confronts the reality of its institutional setting.” – Paul Berman and Edward W. Pauly, RAND (1975)

In recent months, the Common Core has faced a cascade of criticism that has permeated into Ohio’s statehouse and media. But while the fight to preserve or rescind the Common Core has been waged in the public square, frontline educators are not resting on their laurels as politicos bicker. Rather, many educators are implementing these new, rigorous academic standards in English and math with all due haste.

To learn more about the school-level implementation of the Common Core, I recently caught up with John Dues, the School Director of Columbus Collegiate Academy-Main St. Campus (CCA). Dues is a Teach for America alum who is in his fifth year as CCA’s instructional leader. A grade 6-8 middle school, CCA is part of the Excellent School Network (ESN) and is a Fordham-sponsored charter school. A high-performing school located on the rough-and-tumble east side of the Columbus, it enrolls 235 students, of which 92 percent are economically disadvantaged and 91 percent are black or Hispanic.

During my visit with Dues, I asked a number of questions about his experience implementing the Common Core. What are the everyday realities of executing these new standards within his institutional context? Is it an uphill battle? Business as usual? A wholesale reboot of school and classroom practices? And what...

Drawing on classroom visits, teacher training observations, and interviews with multiple education stakeholders, this special reporting project by the Hechinger Report and the Education Writers Association succeeds in bringing lofty notions of Common Core implementation down to an easily consumable level. In-depth profiles of seven states—New York, Tennessee, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, and Florida—illustrate key successes and challenges that educators are experiencing, teacher perspectives on the standards themselves, and mounting political pushback at the state level as Common Core–implementation efforts accelerate. In addition to the profiles, the report includes a piece on the rationale behind Common Core, a discussion of how the CCSS compare to international standards, an overview of Common Core math and ELA content and controversies, a video in which David Coleman highlights key instructional shifts, and a state-by-state synopsis of how seven states are navigating the transition to Common Core (whew!). Embedded throughout the profiles and articles is information clarifying frequent misconceptions about Common Core. For example, the report stresses that “the Common Core lays out overarching education principles and specific skills students should master in different grade levels,” but is not a federal or state takeover of curriculum decisions. (For more on Common Core controversies, watch the video of our event on the topic this past week.) This is not to say the report presents its observations of Common Core implementation through overly rosy glasses; rather, it offers a realistic view of educator frustrations and hurdles alongside widespread feelings of optimism and the belief...

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The results of New York’s hard-fought, revamped, and supposedly tougher teacher-evaluation system are in: 91.5 percent of teachers were rated either highly effective or effective, 4.4 percent were rated “developing,” and just 1 percent were rated “ineffective.” This appears to be a continuation of a trend: After a huge push for rigorous teacher evaluations tied to achievement, the results are mostly the same. These outcomes are especially interesting when juxtaposed with those from the recently lauded D.C. IMPACT system [link to SR]. Mike Petrilli, unsurprised, notes that the natural local response to top-down mandates is to resist.

A thoughtful article in National Review Online profiled the battle against “progressive education” over the last half century and, in particular, the contributions of E.D. Hirsch Jr. to the cause. It is a must-read for anyone those who wish to understand more clearly the philosophical underpinnings of the education-reform movement.

New York Times op-ed columnist Bill Keller highlighted the move to reform teacher preparation, noting in particular the calls for greater selectivity in admissions (a key point in Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World), better training in content knowledge (as quoted in the article, researcher William Schmidt reckoned that about 60 percent of America’s future middle school math teachers were being trained at “Botswana-level teacher programs”), and the introduction of “sustained, intense classroom experience” into prep programs.

Seven states—Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Washington—will participate in a...

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For almost a year now, many states have been engulfed in a raucous debate about the Common Core State Standards. Mostly the to-and-fro isn’t about the standards themselves, but related issues: The Obama Administration’s role in their adoption, concerns about data privacy, pushback on teacher evaluation reform—the list goes on.

In our view, these issues are distractions from the serious work at hand: implementing solid standards that, by our lights, are better than those they replaced in three-fourths of the states, and more-or-less on par with the rest.

In an effort to nudge the conversation back to the standards and (yes, we know this is crazy!) teaching and learning—and as part of a years-long research effort to track implementation—we’re pleased to present a new Fordham study: Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments.

This report presents the findings of a survey of English language arts (ELA) teachers from Common Core states, asking them to answer questions about the texts their students read and the instructional techniques they use in the classroom. This year’s data are meant to serve as a baseline that shows where we were in the very early stages of CCSS implementation. We plan to do a follow-up study in 2015, whereupon we will comment on whether the instructional shifts have taken hold.

But first, let’s define those instructional...

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Tim Shanahan, Ann Duffett

As forty-six states and the District of Columbia implement the Common Core State Standards, questions abound regarding implementation, including the implications for curriculum and pedagogy. In Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments, researchers analyze what texts English teachers assign their students and the instructional techniques they used in the classroom. This “baseline” study—with a follow-up slated for 2015—shows what the very early stages of CCSS implementation look like:

Most teachers believe that the new standards promise better learning for their students, and an overwhelming majority of teachers say that their schools have already made significant progress toward implementing the standards, including relevant curriculum changes and professional development.

But the findings from this survey also show that, for the most part, the heavy lifting of aligning curriculum and instruction to the rigor of the CCSS still lies ahead:

  • The CCSS emphasize the centrality of texts in the English language arts curriculum. Yet the majority of teachers still report that their lessons are dominated by skills and that they are more likely to try to fit texts to skills than to ground their skills instruction in what is appropriate to the texts they are teaching.
  • The Common Core asks teachers to assign texts that provide language complexity appropriate to the grade level, but significant proportions of teachers—particularly in the elementary grades—are still assigning texts based on students’ present reading prowess.
  • The CCSS call for students to have substantial experience reading informational texts (including literary
  • ...
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Holding schools accountable for student growth in a rigorous manner that doesn’t systemically favor one school over another is a vital policy objective. To this end, the Buckeye State has implemented a sophisticated (though not easily understood) value-added model to rate schools by their impact on student growth over time, while ostensibly holding constant other factors that could impact growth.

In previous blog posts, I looked at the correlation between school-level “overall” value-added index scores and (1) the school’s proportion of economically disadvantaged students and (2) African American students. The correlations are low. Evidently, Ohio’s value-added model does not systemically favor high-wealth, largely white schools over poor, largely minority schools. High-poverty schools, for example, can earn high marks on value-added just the same as high-wealth schools. The school-level value-added results stand in contrast to the state’s raw student achievement component, which disadvantages schools with mostly needy students. 

In this post, I look at the changes that Ohio has made in its value-added system, and what the distribution of the state’s value-added output looks like across schools under these revisions.

RECENT CHANGES

This year Ohio made several changes to the state’s value-added system. Previously, Ohio reported a 1-year value-added index score for schools and districts. This lead to some head-scratching results (see our 2010 analysis of the year-to-year “yo-yo” effect). Evidently, to mitigate this problem, the state reported a 3-year composite average—2010-11 to 2012-13—for schools’ overall value-added scores. In addition, the state reported for the first time...

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For some time now, I’ve been impressed by Tennessee’s Common Core implementation efforts. I even interviewed Emily Barton from the state’s department of education for By the Company It Keeps for this very reason (well, and because she’s generally exceptional).

Two recent documents along these lines are worth noting. The SEA released a short piece called “20 Things Every Tennessee Teacher Should Know about the PARCC Assessments.” It’s far more than your typical glossy communications piece. It actually has some serious content that should both inform educators and give confidence to leaders in the state that the SEA is on its game.

But even more importantly, it’ll probably help the state’s efforts to cool whatever anti–Common Core or anti-common-assessments sentiment that’s simmering. The document shows that PARCC is a serious effort to gauge kids’ progress toward college and career readiness.

I was happy they sent this along because part of my handwringing about PARCC’s troubles has been that it has felt like there’s been next to no active advocacy for common testing. To the extent the reform community’s talked about the consortia, it’s usually been reactive—pushing back against opposition. Documents like this (and I’m hoping other PARCC states have similar ones or produce them) can help the cause.

The other document is a pretty thorough—though user-friendly—analysis of TN’s 2013 writing test results. This might seem like a marginal contribution, but give it a look. It discusses major findings and their implications, provides recommendations for...

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The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly schools until the teacher union agreed to major concessions, including a pay cut. But on Wednesday afternoon—with the union unwavering and civil-rights groups beginning to circle (and after the tragic death of young girl from asthma at a school that, due to budget cuts, did not have a nurse)—Corbett relented, arguing that he was satisfied with the other reforms made by the district. Which was probably the right call.

We know this much: Moody’s investment analysts don’t much care for parental choice, but they are concerned about the credit-worthiness of school districts. The latest Moody’s report shows that as charter schools gain public school market share in cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C., they’re putting financial stress on their local school systems, which have ended up with...

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The following post was adapted from a talk delivered by Kathleen Porter-Magee at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Thank you, Dr. Reyes and also, thanks to Reverend Rodriguez for the invitation to speak. I’m honored to be with you here today.

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to express our sincere gratitude to Reverend Rodriguez for standing up in support of the Common Core, particularly at a time when it is politically more expedient to do the opposite. His support for these new standards and the promise they hold for the Latino and faith communities shows real courage and leadership, and your willingness as a group to start what we hope will be a long conversation is much appreciated.

As Dr. Reyes mentioned, I recently joined the College Board as the senior advisor for policy and instruction. But I’ve spent the past 17 years working both on the ground level, in schools as a teacher and network administrator in both Catholic and urban charter schools, and at the 30,000-foot level working to translate lessons from great classrooms and great schools to policy.

But before I dive in, I’d like to tell you a little about who I am and why I’m here.

I come from a traditional Irish Catholic family, where faith and religion were a big part of our family. Today is actually my grandmother’s 96th birthday. She was born in Hell’s Kitchen in New York before women won the right to vote and...

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As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-entrance test of the same name, judges only one-quarter of its test-takers to be fully ready for college-level academics, and the College Board is not much cheerier. In releasing SAT results for the 1.6 million members of the high school class of 2013 who took the test, the board estimated that just 43 percent met its benchmark for college and career readiness—a score of 1550 or better (out of 2400), which translates to a 65 percent chance of having a B-minus (or better) GPA during the freshman year in college.

And that’s among those who stick it out and graduate from high school. Millions of young people drop out. School discipline remains appalling, with gangs, metal detectors, and violence the norm in many places.

The basic institutional structures for high school that former Harvard president James B. Conant described and recommended in an influential 1959 book remain pretty much unchanged a half-century later. The rest of the world has not been idle, however....

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