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.

David Figlio, a researcher at Northwestern University, recently released his seventh-annual evaluation of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The study uses scholarship students’ results on national assessments, like the Stanford Achievement or Iowa Test of Basic Skills, to examine whether they are making year-to-year gains. (Elsewhere in this issue, I review the study in greater detail.) The Sunshine State’s program, which enrolls nearly 60,000 students, is akin to Ohio’s EdChoice and Cleveland scholarship (a.k.a., “voucher”) programs.

One of the study’s findings was particularly striking: Private schools in Florida, especially Catholic ones, appear to have a relatively larger impact on scholarship students’ reading scores than math. Across all schools, Figlio found that voucher students made a 0.1 percentile gain in reading but posted a loss of -0.7 percentiles in math. The overall math-reading difference may or may not be trivial—there is no test of statistical significance across the subject areas. But larger differences in reading-to-math gains appear when gains are disaggregated, for example, by religious affiliation:[1] Consider the large annual gain in reading for voucher students attending a Catholic school (1.98 percentiles) versus the slight loss in math (-0.25). True, the larger...

THE EVA EMPIRE
Seven of the fifteen top-scoring schools on New York’s math proficiency tests this year were Success Academy charter schools. Richard Whitmire says the stellar results make founder Eva Moskowitz more toxic as she seeks to expand.

DRILL, BABY, DRILL!
More evidence that memorizing basic math facts is good for kids. Healthy children switch from counting to math fact retrieval at 8-9 years old, says this new study.  

SHEEN FADES ON NCLB WAIVERS
Waivers "gave states room to breathe," says Andy Smarick, "but what's left feels extremely messy," he said. Meanwhile, remember not to mention the “w-word” around Petrilli.

WHY THE ATLANTA TESTING SCANDAL MATTERS
The trial raises two big questions, NPR notes: How common is cheating? And what else might be happening in schools as a result of tests?

TRADING HER BROOM FOR A RAKE?
Some teachers say they’ll boycott Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. now that Michelle Rhee has joined the board.

MAKING THE CUT
The New York State Education Department dropped the number of raw points...

Morgan Polikoff

Nearly all American K–12 students are exposed to it every day. It decides, in large part, what students will learn in school and how they will learn it.[1] It is never evaluated for quality in any serious way, but when it is rigorously evaluated, its impact on student achievement is significant.

No, this isn’t another blog about teachers. I’m talking textbooks. We need good textbooks in front of kids just as badly as we need good teachers. However, from a research and policy perspective, improving textbook quality is a lot easier.[2]

A little-noticed report last week in Education Week described a new initiative to be the Consumer Reports of textbooks. A new nonprofit called EdReports plans to post “free online reviews of major textbooks and curricula that purport to be aligned to the Common Core State Standards.” If they’re careful, credible, and diligent, this initiative could turn the lights up on a largely ignored factor in student outcomes that is ripe for analysis and improvement.[3] And it could even blunt some of the more heated criticisms of the Common Core. Here’s why I...

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...

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’,”...

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...

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...

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,
  • ...

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...

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...

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