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.

As followers of the Common Core debate know all too well, when it comes to the veracity of publishers’ claims of “Common Core alignment,” the most we supporters have been able to offer in the way of advice is: “buyer beware.” You need only know that publishers slapped “Common Core Aligned!” stickers on previously published materials—almost before the standards themselves were finalized and definitely before any serious curriculum reviewing and rewriting could have been done—to realize that teachers were going to be faced with the unenviable task of wading through a morass of materials of varying degrees of quality and alignment in their attempt to find quality, well-aligned materials for their classrooms.

Because there is no agency tasked with trademark enforcement, any company can say its books and resources are Common Core aligned. And publishers seem determined to take advantage of this Wild West environment. Against this backdrop, someone needs to step in as sheriff—a role state departments of education are well suited to fill.

On March 5, the Louisiana Department of Education did just that with their release of a suite of tools aimed at supporting teachers as they align curriculum and instruction to the Common Core. Among those tools is a series of rubrics that leaders and teachers can use to evaluate ELA and math curricula, and tiered ratings of a number of the most popular and widely used CCSS-aligned English and math curricula.

While there are a number of other “alignment” tools teachers can...

For many years, Indiana has been a leader in providing rigorous, content-rich K–12 expectations. But lately, the state seems to be taking worrying and entirely unnecessary steps backward. First, under pressure from Common Core opponents, the Board of Education released updated ELA and math standards that are widely considered a step down from both the CCSS and the Indiana standards they replaced.

And now, the state has adopted history standards that are a far cry from the clear, content-rich U.S. history expectations that earned the Hoosier state a top-tier score in Fordham’s most recent analysis of state U.S. history standards (which I coauthored). While these two standards revisions were not purposefully linked, they demonstrate a worrying pattern: a move away of the kind of specific content standards that earned Indiana a reputation for having standards among the best in the nation.

Last fall, Andrea Neal, a middle-school history teacher and a member of Indiana’s Board of Education, contacted me with concerns about the new drafts then emerging from the state’s Department of Education. Given my role in the 2011 review, she asked the head of the DoE to seek my input. But, she tells me, she was informed the department “would not welcome” such a review. The Education Roundtable, an appointed body that advises the Board of Education on standards, also rejected her suggestion. This month, with the revisions complete and a vote approaching, Neal commissioned my review on her own.

My analysis, unfortunately, fully confirmed...

Student Achievement Partners

The Fordham Institute’s new report Common Core in the Districts paints a vivid picture of four different school districts’ efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards. Each district follows a comprehensive strategy, developed in relation to its own particular portfolio of resources and constraints, and each district has had its own particular successes and failures—but all four share a passionate dedication to the goal. The authors of Common Core in the Districts draw upon these districts’ experiences to make valuable recommendations for educators across the country who are also trying to implement the standards.

The four districts studied intensively by Fordham’s researchers—Kenton County School District in Kentucky; Metropolitan Nashville Public School District in Tennessee; Elementary School District 54 in Schaumberg, Illinois; and Washoe County School District in Nevada—are not alone. At Student Achievement Partners, we have been inspired by our work with educators at the district level.

For example, educators we’ve worked with in Reading, Pennsylvania, discovered that newly purchased reading anthologies didn’t lead students back to the text to search for evidence, nor were the classroom activities sufficiently challenging. The district, however, had recently lost 10 percent of its Title I funds and could little afford new teaching guides at a cost of $400 per classroom. Professional-development director Sue Vaites recounted how the district turned this challenge into an opportunity. Seeing little possibility of new funding, and refusing to use subpar materials, the district and its teachers took charge of creating their own resources. Like educators...

In Ohio’s education circles, much attention of late has been focused on the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, A-to-F school grades, and Ohio’s New Learning Standards (which include the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts). Ohio’s upcoming shift from the Ohio Achievement Assessments (grades 3–8) and Ohio Graduation Test (grade 10) to what’s being referred to as Ohio’s Next Generation of Assessments has, for the most part, flown under the radar.

Ohio’s new state assessments will likely be used for the 2014–15 school year and were developed in order to align with the learning standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010. The assessments will be in math, English language arts, science, and social studies (new for Ohio) and will be administered online—although a paper-and-pencil version will be available the first year. In the primary grades (K–8), students will be tested in math and English language arts in grades 3–8 (as they are now), in science in grades 5 and 8 (as they are now), and in social studies in grades 4 and 6. As for high school, the state will administer end-of-course exams in physical science; biology; Algebras I and II and geometry (or integrated Mathematics 1, 2, and 3); English language arts 1, 2, and 3; American history; and American government.

The Ohio Department of Education will develop the science and social-studies tests, and the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is slated to create the...

Everyone knows that the Common Core State Standards initiative has turned into a political football. But a more apt analogy might be baseball—spring training, to be exact. That’s because, for all the colorful commentary, the Common Core is still in the very earliest phases of implementation. It isn’t yet time to pay much attention to the score; instead, we ought to work out the kinks and improve the fundamentals.

And to be sure, tons of progress is needed before states, districts, and schools are ready for game day. That’s the upshot of Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers, a new in-depth study from our think tank. Along with analysts at the group Education First, we examined initial implementation efforts in four districts that are ahead of the curve: Kenton County (KY), Metro Nashville (TN), Illinois’s School District 54 (Schaumburg and vicinity), and Washoe County (Reno, NV).

Here are three major challenges they are facing and what they are doing to overcome them:

1. In the absence of externally vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving to devise their own—with mixed success.

Curriculum publishers were suspiciously quick to proclaim that what they are selling is aligned with the Common Core, and districts are rightly wary of such claims. It takes time to develop and vet high-quality textbook series and other curriculum. All four districts expressed caution about spending limited dollars on materials that were not truly aligned to the Common Core and are delaying at least...

Bill Porter

Yesterday, Kathleen discussed the relationship between standards and choice, ultimately arguing that these two movements ought to operate as complements, rather than antagonists.

Many critics on the Right reject the intrusion of standards-based reforms from the very basic tenets of economic theory.  A truly free-market approach, they argue, would obviate the need for standards because competition and universal choice would identify excellent and poor schools (and educators) more efficiently and effectively than centrally imposed standards ever could.

This position resonates with free-market purists and conservative education reformers alike (and as an unabashed free marketeer, to me as well). Yet, fidelity to economic principles without a realistic discussion of the world within which they operate is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, even the most ardent Chicago economists would agree—whether regarding education policy, drinking water, or anything in between—that the ideal free market with no distortions is both unattainable and undesirable.  We could reduce rent-seeking behavior and deadweight losses across almost every industry by eliminating things like the FDA, federal antitrust laws, statewide insurance commissions—even state speed limits or (gasp) lawyers.   Eliminating clinical trials would allow large pharmaceutical drug companies to move innovative new compounds quickly to market with minimal cost, and the resulting successes (cured cancer patients) and failures (horrific side effects for the patients who managed to survive substandard drugs) would almost assuredly be closer to the true definition of “efficient” than our current processes.

Similarly, the Constitution secures to inventors exclusive rights to their inventions,...

Just because the label on that pint of ice cream says it’s “fat free” doesn’t mean it won’t expand your waistline—and just because a textbook is labeled “Common Core aligned” doesn’t mean it actually covers the material it’s supposed to. In this new study (which has already garnered some serious attention from the press), USC assistant professor (and alum of Fordham and AEI’s EEPS program) Morgan Polikoff studied seven math textbooks aimed at fourth graders, including their work samples and practice exercises. Polikoff found that the content of the textbooks ranged from 27 percent to 38 percent aligned—dismal results. Further, he found that one-sixth to one-seventh of the material in the Common Core standards was not covered in the analyzed textbooks. However, though these findings highlight important Common Core implementation concerns, we would be remiss if we did not point out a significant methodological issue: Polikoff compared the textbooks and the standards using the Survey of Enacted Curriculum, which—while, granted, one of the very few tools available—doesn’t measure content coherence. What’s more, the analysis assumes equal weight for all standards, though school districts, assessments, and common sense dictate that some should receive greater attention than others. For a more nuanced look, stay tuned for a Fordham review of leading “Common Core” curricular materials in the months ahead.

SOURCE: Morgan S. Polikoff, “How Well Aligned Are Textbooks to the Common Core Standards in Mathematics?” to be presented...

The modern education-reform movement is essentially made up of two distinct but complementary strands: one focuses primarily on raising K–12 academic expectations, particularly for poor and minority students, who have long been held to lower standards than their middle-class and affluent peers. The second is aimed at expanding education choice through various mechanisms, chiefly charter schools and vouchers.

Unfortunately, these reforms have often been pursued in isolation, with advocates pushing for one or the other but not both together. Some even claim that the two strategies are competitors, if not antagonists. But the reality is that, in order to see real progress and avoid the most vexing unintended consequences of either reform pursued alone, each needs the other in order to deliver on its promise. And therein lies a challenge.

Over the past 25 years, both standards-based and choice-based reforms have moved forward, but standards/assessment/accountability has grown faster than choice. Today, it’s fair to say that every public-school student in the country is impacted in one way or another by his or her state’s standards. By comparison, the number of youngsters benefiting from choice programs is much smaller. In 2014, only 16 states offer tax credits to assist with private-school tuition, while just 13 have voucher programs of any kind; and although 43 jurisdictions have...

Lisa Hansel

Having observed, and occasionally weighed in on, the Common Core standards debates, I’m sure of one thing: no one is paying enough attention to the good work educators across the country are doing as they attempt to bring these new standards to life. Journalists, op-ed writers, and bloggers are doing a fine job of gathering quotes from educators to represent pretty much every possible attitude toward the standards, but so far there has been little research or reporting on the day-to-day work of implementation.

So I was heartened to read Fordham’s new report, Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers; it gets inside schools in Kenton County, KY; Metropolitan Nashville, TN; District 54, IL; and Washoe County, NV. Early adopters always face the greatest challenges. It’s much easier to sit back and let others do the hard work—but if everyone had that attitude, nothing would ever be accomplished. These districts should be congratulated for their willingness to lead the way and to serve as case studies for Fordham’s report. No doubt they expect to learn along the way, and our commentary on their work should be in the spirit of helping.

Reading this report, the one way I can help is by encouraging these districts to carefully consider the extent to which they are meeting the academic literacy goals of the standards. As best I can tell...

Aaron Grossman

The recently released Fordham report on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards includes the work of Washoe County, my district. Naturally, a report like this cannot include every detail, and what follows is how my peers and I concluded that reorienting instructional practice, to emphasize building a coherent body of knowledge through content-rich nonfiction, was paramount.

If you can remember way back to the spring of 2011, you will recall that states and districts were developing their first implementation efforts around the CCSS. Popular approaches involved crosswalking previous state standards to the new standards. (e.g., personification was in the fifth-grade Nevada Standards and now could be found in the sixth-grade CCSS); employing the assistance of national experts who could describe strategies and schemes for implementation; and buying from publishers their new “CCSS materials.”.

It was against this backdrop that my colleagues and I in Washoe found a video of David Coleman, one of the contributing authors to the ELA CCSS, emphasizing something entirely different then the aforementioned. Instead of a strategy, a new set of materials, or crosswalking, he suggested that educators focus on the instructional shifts. The first of these encouraged teachers to build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction.

In a particularly provocative moment from the speech, Coleman accurately describes what happens in too many elementary classrooms: the literacy block is extended to account for the reading tests, and because of this, little or no time is left for social studies, history,...

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