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.

Can’t get enough Common Core? The Center on Education Policy’s got you covered with this hefty compendium of over sixty CCSS-focused studies, including several from Fordham. CEP summarizes each, providing brief overviews of the focus, the findings, and the methodology (only methodologically sound studies were chosen). It’s handy one-stop shopping, covering a wide range of Common Core–related topics. Want to know whether the standards are likely to be effective? William Schmidt and Richard Houang’s study concluded that states with math standards most similar to the Common Core made greater gains on NAEP, and the Brown Center for Education Policy’s follow-up, which saw “no clear trends” in student achievement with regard to the adoption of standards, still found that “states with the strongest implementation of the CCSS had the highest achievement gains on NAEP between 2009 and 2013.” Curious whether students were college-and-career-ready before the standards? Check out the 2010 ACT study, which found that a measly one-third of students were ready for life after high school. Other topics addressed by the studies include Core-related teacher training, state and district implementation, and assessment adoption. The biggest take-way is that, so far, the Common Core holds up remarkably well to rigorous academic research.

SOURCE: A Compendium of Research on the Common Core State Standards (Washington, D.C.: Center for Education Policy, August 2014)....

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With the release last week of half of the test questions from the most recent round of New York State Common Core ELA/Literacy and math tests, we can now begin to see if the tests are, as one New York principal insisted last spring, “confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards.”

Do the charges stick? After a quick analysis of the released items, on the charge of “confusing,” I find the tests (at least somewhat) guilty. Not well aligned with the Common Core standards? Not guilty. Developmentally inappropriate? That charge should never have been brought in the first place.

Calling Common Core “developmentally inappropriate” has become something of a blanket criticism, but it’s largely irrelevant. University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham has repeatedly cautioned against invoking the idea of developmental stages to draw strong conclusions about what children are ready for. “Hard” and “developmentally inappropriate” are not synonyms.

Critics are on firmer footing describing some test items as confusing. The first passage on the fifth-grade reading test was “My Grandma Talley,” a short story by Nadine Oduor that makes frequent use of vernacular language. Unfamiliar words like “frettin’,” “lotta” (a lot of), and “doodlebug” and idiomatic language like “wet behind the ears” could easily trip up young readers. Dialect is not the same as the archaic language typically found in historical documents, which have been heavily signaled as important under Common Core.

Following the passage, one question asks...

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Representative Andy Thompson and Speaker Pro Tempore Matt Huffman have introduced new legislation to repeal the Common Core, and hearings start today (Monday, August 18). But they’re not telling you the whole story. Read on to find out what they don’t want you to know and why their reasoning doesn’t make sense. 

[All opponent statements are direct quotes from this press conference]

1. Ohio was ahead of the game in wanting change: It began reviewing its academic standards back in 2007—long before governors and state superintendents started to talk about creating Common Core.

What opponents said:

[We] want to make sure Ohio is in the driver’s seat in this process.

The truth: By the time the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) started work on replacing state standards that were sorely lacking, the Buckeye state had already begun to respond to educator concerns about Ohio’s standards. In fact, the Ohio Department of Education conducted an international benchmarking study in 2008 (published in 2009) that laid out some guiding principles for revised Ohio standards—principles that Ohio stuck to when they started considering the Common Core.

2. Ohio played a significant role in crafting and revising the Common Core.

What opponents said:

Ohio’s kind of been […] tied to the railroad tracks here on this mission.

...
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Monday’s Politico story on the messaging battle over the Common Core has kicked up another round of recriminations, particularly on the Right. What particularly caught my eye was my good friend Rick Hess’s allegation that supporters of the Core (myself among them) were expressing hubris and vanity because we’ve decided that we need our arguments to be more “emotional.”

Ugh. Those are two qualities I certainly don’t want to be associated with. This might be a good time to step back—sans emotion—and take stock of where we’re at.

Get another cup of coffee; this is going to be a long one. I plan to tackle three big topics:

  1. Who’s winning?
  2. Which concerns about the Common Core do I see as legitimate?
  3. How can we supporters of the Core respond constructively to those concerns?

Who’s winning?

The current narrative—pushed by Politico and other media outlets—is that the anti–Common Core forces have momentum on their side. Glenn Beck is making money from movie-ticket and book sales. Republican governors are running scared. Red states are starting to topple.

This is all true, and there’s little doubt that in the “air war” over the Common Core—especially in the conservative media—we’re getting our butts kicked. Furthermore, when it comes to grassroots organizing, the tea-party groups (like FreedomWorks) are much more effective. They have the energy, the passion, and the ground troops.

Which makes it all the more remarkable...

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Daniel Navin

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post was first published on the United States Chamber of Commerce’s website on Wednesday, July 23, 2014, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Ohio has had statewide learning standards in mathematics and English Language Arts in the past, but these standards were not rigorous and not aligned with the demands of college and the workplace. The outcome was low academic expectations which resulted in too many students not being college ready, and a short supply of graduates with the basic abilities needed for success in the workplace, including critical thinking and problem solving skills.

The dismal statistics below underscore to a significant extent the reality of the “quality of education” in Ohio:

  • Just 27% of Ohio fourth graders were proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, compared to 83% who were deemed proficient on the state’s reading exam;
  • 31% of Ohio’s 2013 high school graduates who took the ACT exam met none of the college-ready benchmarks;
  • 41% of Ohio public high school students entering college must take at least one remedial course in English or math; and,
  • Nationally, more than 1 in 5 high school graduates do not meet the meet the minimum academic standards required for Army enlistment, as measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

With the intent of reversing those trends of mediocrity (or worse), Ohio passed House Bill 1, which directed the State Board...

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I’m looking forward to Elizabeth Green’s forthcoming book Building a Better Teacher. A sneak preview will run in the New York Times magazine this weekend and already is up on the website.

The lengthy Times’ excerpt tells the story of a teacher who fell in love with novel ways of teaching math that were pioneered by reformers in the United States and adopted in his native Japan, reportedly to great success. But when Akihiko Takahashi came to our country years later, he was surprised and saddened to learn American classrooms were not the hotbeds of innovation he expected. “It wasn’t the first time that Americans had dreamed up a better way to teach math and then failed to implement it,” Green writes.

I’ll set aside for now the question of whether or not those methods (such as “reform math” championed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) are superior. But Green’s next paragraph leapt from the page:

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

This observation, that poor teacher preparation turns everything to garbage, strikes me as the skeleton key that unlocks so much of our failure to make and sustain gains in American education, regardless of grade, setting, subject,...

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The Partnership for Inner-City Education announced today that Kathleen Porter-Magee has been named its superintendent and chief academic officer. This is such a terrific match, and I’m completely thrilled for everyone involved.

The Partnership is one of a growing number of organizations that are, collectively, brightening the future of urban Catholic schooling after years of steady decline. For 50 years, inner-city Catholic schools have been shutting their doors, primarily for financial reasons, despite an extensive body of academic research showing how valuable they can be for low-income kids and communities.

To address issues of financial sustainability and academic performance, a handful of organizations are reimagining the governance and operations of Catholic schools, borrowing the highly successful network structure from charter-management organizations. The Partnership, which has supported Catholic schools in New York City for more than 20 years, signed a landmark agreement with the Archdiocese in 2013, giving the organization authority over six schools in Harlem and the South Bronx. They are now, like Cristo Rey, a group of Catholic schools functioning as a unit but outside the traditional diocesan and parish system.

The Partnership couldn’t have found a better leader than Kathleen (who writes about her new gig here). She has a great deal of Catholic schools experience, having started her career as a Catholic school teacher and later working in the office of education at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. She also served as an executive with...

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 Partnership’s 20-year track record and unwavering commitment to inner-city Catholic education. This is a team of principals, teachers, and leaders who are dedicated to charting a new course for urban Catholic education. I'm proud to join them.

On a personal note, this is also bit of a homecoming for me....

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 how the Common Core is going to “change everything,” the message that’s getting to the field is, “This, too, shall pass.”

That message isn’t always delivered so clearly, though. While Fariña may have been unusually direct in her guidance to Gotham schools, the messages being sent elsewhere are far...

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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 standards are generally coming up with new plans that actually change little. That’s for two reasons.

  1. The Common Core standards are not perfect, but they’re really pretty sound (and there is wide agreement they’re a lot better than what Wisconsin had before). Any serious-minded group, regardless of politics, would agree
  2. ...
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