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 Education Gladfly

Despite years of high-octane headlines, neither opponents nor proponents of the Common Core State Standards have managed to nail down the 42 percent of the population that tells pollsters they are still “unsure” about where they stand on this controversial topic. Are you one of the 42 percent? Use this tool to find out where you should land on the issue!

Kessington A. Bennett Waldorf IV

Photo credit: Me at 6" by Chris Gladis is licensed under  CC BY-ND 2.0.

For years, so-called “no excuses” charter schools have cultivated student perseverance, grit, and “growth mindsets” in the belief that such traits are essential to adult success. The theory seemed right, but it turns out to be completely wrong. New research indicates that the planet’s richest and most powerful denizens demonstrate altogether different character traits: arrogance, zealotry, self-promotion, narcissism, and an unwavering willingness to run roughshod over others.

This startling but unimpeachable analysis arose from recently uncovered videos of Stanford’s famous “marshmallow experiment.” In one riveting 1979 clip, three-year-old Travis arches an eyebrow when a marshmallow is placed on the table in front of him. When asked if he can wait for ten minutes before eating it, he snaps, “Do I look like a poopy-face? I wouldn’t wait 10 minutes for an entire #$&% bag of marshmallows. I specifically said white truffles!” The child then throws the marshmallow at the cowering researcher and storms out of camera range. Offscreen, he’s then heard demanding a black car. “And I damn well better not be kept waiting,” he wails. “You idiots have already made me late for Mommy and Me Yoga!”

Researchers at the time classified children like this one as having poor self-control and labeled them as marshmallow-test #fails. In 2012, however, an aging former member of Walter Mischel’s team was channel surfing and found herself transfixed by a guest on CNBC’s Squawk Box. It was Travis, whose mobile transportation app had since made him a billionaire. When she and other...

Robin Sparkles

Recent visitors to a local D.C. high school were greeted with a remarkable sight—a room full of high school seniors silently reading classic literature. The featured book was Emoji-Dick, a line-by-line translation of Herman Melville’s celebrated novel into emoji, the picture symbols now ubiquitous in modern digital communications. Unfortunately, A Nation at Risk, Again: Emoji Illiteracy in the Twenty-First Century claims that this classroom is the exception, not the rule. The timely report reveals a number of dire findings, but worst of all is the revelation that, according to researchers, an astoundingly low 62 percent of American students were proficient in ELA (Emoji Language Arts)—a full thirty-seven points behind their Japanese peers.

According to authors, most American students can’t grasp such basic distinctions  as when to use the “smiling face with heart-shaped eyes” versus the “face throwing a kiss.” These same kids are also frequently the target of online bullying. “Our only comfort regarding these students is that their emoji illiteracy actually shields them from understanding the vast majority of these aggressive online attacks,” says Mike Petrilli, education reformer and cyber bullying expert.

On the bright side, the people behind the Common Core recognize the need for improved emoji instruction and are set to roll out rigorous new ELA standards within the year. These standards will include important skills like “proper sentence punctuation with pizza emojis” and “using context clues to interpret or infer emoji meanings in literature.” Of course, it remains to be seen whether opponents of the current standards will try to sabotage new materials. But at least there’s some hope that this grim situation will soon improve. ...

Xavier Zinn

Clearly undeterred—and perhaps even spurred onward—by the backlash over its recent interventions in schools’ disciplinary practices and access to advanced courses, the Education Department’s proactive Office for Civil Rights is again moving into new territory: student lockers and alphabetical order. In the first instance, government enforcers have determined that high schoolers often have bigger lockers than second graders and now threaten punitive action if any school system does not give every student access to an equally capacious locker. Even more draconian is the fate awaiting districts in which little kids presently have “cubbies” rather than proper lockers.

As for alphabetical order, OCR has surfaced two problems that outrage their sense of fairness. It seems that teachers and schools routinely sort and categorize their students by the beginning letters of their surnames, which means that, 93 percent of the time,the Aarons and Adamses go first, while the Youngners and Zimmermans are relegated to lives at the end of the line. This blatant discrimination must be rectified. On some occasions, and perhaps half the time, the last must be first.

The second OCR issue is more nuanced. Teachers who attempt to treat kids fairly by occasionally instituting reverse alphabetical order are causing other kinds of problems, so saith the agency. Some early-alphabeters are said to suffer emotional scarring, while others lash out in tantrums, disrupting classroom learning. Meanwhile, the Ys and Zs are at risk of panic attacks due to being “put on the spot” by the sudden reversal. That’s not a reason to stop reversing. It’s a sign that culpable districts must provide appropriate emotional counseling to all affected. And teachers should opt for random-number generators or abolish all ordering...

George Feeny

Three years ago, we came out with a “kindergarten canon” of the best books for your early readers. In light of the Common Core, however, we now recognize that the list lacks rigor and, most lamentably, informational options. There will be no more mollycoddling of students—even those just setting foot in schoolhouses. Though not from any standard Common Core list, these books are the best of those that align closely with the kindergarten standards. (How closely is anyone’s best guess.) I’m sure you and your young’uns will enjoy them as much as I do with my kids. War and Peace

While they probably won’t finish reading this epic before starting the third grade (if ever), this classic includes romance, war, death, abortion, and just about every human emotion your little guy or gal has no idea about. They’ll be learning about Russia—perfect knowledge-building for when Czar Putin ascends to power—both while reading the book and during the nightmares that are sure to follow. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Float on down the river with Huck and Jim and immediately transport your child back in time. While banned for years, this book is now age-appropriate thanks to the Common Core, and promises to take them on a journey rife with inappropriate language and juvenile delinquency. The Magna Carta

So much for not focusing enough on informational texts. They’ll learn about knights and rights and get a snapshot of the document our liberties and freedom derive from. Truly...

Misunderstanding Common Core’s aspirational nature.
Michael J. Petrilli

An open letter to the candidates.
Tim Shanahan

It takes more than a "gut feeling" to know how a school is doing

Not meeting high standards ≠ “failing.”
Michael J. Petrilli

A great resource fact-checks textbooks’ “Common Core-aligned” claims.
Victoria Sears