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 ESEA waivers change the school-accountability landscape, charter authorizers need to take the opportunity to rethink how we too can measure school progress. Ohio, as part of its Title I waiver, moved to an “A” to “F” rating system for schools, is implementing new standards and assessments, and is providing some flexibility around various reporting requirements. Ohio has also developed a new report card for schools that reports on—among other measures—AP/IB participation rates, student growth in multiple categories, gap closing, honors diplomas, industry credentials, and graduation rates. This revamp at the federal and state levels has, in turn, compelled us at Fordham to reconsider how we structure our own accountability plans for the eleven charter schools we authorize. This tension is captured in our recent report, Remodeled Report Cards, Remaining Challenges.

As per Ohio’s new school report card, the Buckeye State now deploys and reports on a slew of academic measures, including value-added scores for gifted students, students with disabilities, low-income students, and low-performing students. All are part of state accountability. Should they also be part of charter-to-authorizer accountability? Should we hold our charter schools to account for improving their performance on every measure that the state throws into its report card? When it comes to important authorizer decisions about schools—renewing their charters, putting them on probation, or letting them add grades or additional campuses, for example—what matters more: proficiency rates or growth? What about IB and AP passing rates? Graduation rates?

Looking at our authorized...

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As Rick Hess and Michael McShane stress in their recent volume Common Core Meets Education Reform, it is foolhardy not to consider how the Common Core standards fit into the broader education-reform agenda. How these competing reforms and policies will impact one another remains to be seen.

In this final blog post on how states are handling accountability in the transition to the Common Core, we focus on one such external factor: ESEA waivers. To date, the vast majority of states have received permission to adjust their accountability systems and gain flexibility from NCLB’s stringent “adequate-yearly-progress” requirements. But how do existing accountability provisions affect Common Core implementation across our small sample of states?

Though ESEA waivers were granted to give states additional flexibility, states are now finding themselves locked into a set of new, yet still restrictive, federal policies.

States that adopted the Common Core and applied for ESEA waivers are now finding themselves in a difficult place. While most states have adopted more rigorous academic standards, they remain accountable to prior waiver commitments to improve student achievement and instructional quality. The U.S. Department of Education has permitted waiver states to postpone using student achievement to evaluate educators and make high-stakes personnel decisions, but whether the Department will be as flexible with other aspects of accountability remains unclear.

One example of the tension created by changing accountability inputs is that most states use student learning as a gauge of teacher performance. However, as states begin to implement CCSS, many...

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As Ohio transitions to a next-generation accountability system, educators must come to terms with student-growth models. Within the past year, the Buckeye State has introduced three new indicators of school performance that gauge the academic growth of student subgroups. These new indicators stand alongside a school’s growth performance for all of its tested students. Furthermore, the state now requires districts to implement principal and teacher evaluations, half of which are presently based on student-growth measures.

In view of the growing use of student growth in accountability, Ohio’s policymakers and educators should consult A Practitioner’s Guide to Growth Models. The authors of this must-read report provide a clear description of the seven growth models available—from the very rudimentary to the extraordinarily complex—and helpfully contrast the various models from both a statistical and applied perspective.

Of the seven growth models presented, there are two models that states are incorporating into their accountability systems: student-growth percentiles, or SGP (used in Colorado and Massachusetts, for example), and value-added, or VAM (used in Ohio and Pennsylvania). The key takeaways from this report are as follows:

VAM asks a different policy question than SGP.

According to the report, SGP does two things well—it describes and predicts student growth. Growth description unpacks “how much growth” a student group has made (e.g., classroom or school), while growth prediction gets at “growth to where” (i.e., to a proficiency standard) for a group of students. VAM, on the other hand, neither describes nor...

As 2013 draws to a close, let us turn our attention to the five top education issues that will make waves in Ohio in 2014.

Before we begin the countdown, it’s worth noting that many of these topics are going to look familiar to education-policy wonks for two reasons. First, 2014 is an election year. Historically, there has been less legislative activity during election years, so we probably won’t see a lot of new initiatives. Second, while 2013 was a busy policy year chock full of significant changes, there are still important initiatives that can be best described as unfinished business. Ohio leaders are likely to go back and try to finish what they started.

Without further ado, here are the top five education topics that will hit your radar in the new year.

5. Student data privacy

Concerns about student data privacy have taken center stage as an issue related to the Common Core State Standards. This concern has generated standalone legislation to strengthen Ohio’s data-privacy laws. House Education Vice Chair Andy Brenner has led this effort by sponsoring House Bill 181. The bill prevents the State Board of Education or the Department of Education from releasing or requiring the release of a student’s personally identifiable information to the federal government or to a multi-state test consortium, puts forth specific guidelines for and limitations upon the release of student information, and requires the annual disclosure of any approved student information releases made the prior year. Rep. Brenner shepherded...

This is the third post on how a handful of states are approaching accountability during the transition to the Common Core State Standards. We’ve learned that most are putting high-stakes accountability on hold and are treading carefully when it comes to assessments.

But real implementation occurs at the school and classroom level. So what do state officials say about their efforts to prepare educators to teach to the new standards?

They express conviction that teachers are being adequately prepared to teach the new standards (no surprise!). Yet the quality and effectiveness of Common Core trainings and professional development is unclear (ditto!).

In our interviews, stakeholders frequently referenced state-sponsored and state-recommended professional-development opportunities, trainings, and resources for teachers. They expressed confidence that teachers were being prepared adequately through these offerings. Yet missing was any discussion of whether and how states are assessing the effectiveness of these offerings. And if the quality of these supports is unclear, so is overall educator readiness.

In Massachusetts, for instance, officials stressed that educators were heavily involved in efforts to revise the state’s standards, curriculum, and assessments, all of which meld the Common Core and the state’s prior content standards. As was the case in other states, officials pointed to the copious support and training sessions made available to teachers and instructional leaders. They reported favorable responses from educators but nil about the quality of the trainings and resources. Fortunately, since Massachusetts’s prior standards are comparable in rigor to the Common Core...

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Arbitrary caps on the number of charter schools or charter school students are still bad ideas. At Fordham, we've consistently said so and kept a watchful eye on the fights to remove them. The idea hardly even belongs in conversations about education policy and, instead, represents a kind of education politics that comes about as part of the sometimes-ugly deal making necessary to enact or preserve reform. 

Charter school caps and an unhealthy emphasis on market share go hand in hand. A study out this week from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that a majority of students in both New Orleans (79 percent) and Detroit (51 percent) are in charter schools. Additionally, the District of Columbia continues to inch closer, with 43 percent of its students in charters during the last school year. While this may be seen as good news, especially given that all three cities have charter sectors that outperform their district counterparts, even those cities have individual charter schools that shouldn't be operating. Part of the reason the debate over ideas like school choice can be so contentious is that when one side says charter schools in a given city are great and the other side says they are terrible, both are right—because each sector (traditional, charter, and private) in every city has both strong and weak exemplars.

A cap restricts charter school growth and is blind to quality. While it's pretty straightforward to recognize that a cap might prevent a quality charter school from expanding, the reality is likely even more destructive. If...

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I can’t tell you how much I like the annual charter school “market-share” report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. It’s my favorite annual publication. They document how chartering has grown over the last year in major cities and show fascinating facts like which cities have the largest charter market shares, which cities’ market shares are growing fastest, and more. So much here to explore, but the biggest eye-popper is that we now have two cities in which charters are the majority school sector—NOLA and Detroit. Andy Eduwonk hosted a conference on charters in Charlottesville, VA, in 2003, and several pre-read papers contemplated a day far into the future when a city might have 10 percent of their kids attending charters. Today, there are 135 such cities. And in 32 cities, 20 percent of public school kids are in charters. The Urban School System of the Future is coming.

Bain & Company has an interesting paper out on districts’ pitiful performance in preparing principals. Big headline: A majority of schools fail to systematically develop their high-quality teachers into high-potential leaders (some districts and a number of CMOs are much better, but they are the outliers). Common roadblocks include a lack of encouragement for teachers to pursue these roles and infrequent feedback and coaching. The report frequently notes how other fields and sectors thoughtfully build succession plans—so why haven’t we done it in K–12? Something to ponder.

As in the U.S.,...

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The Common Core—the state’s new academic content standards for math and English language arts—has lit a fiery debate across Ohio. Vocal skeptics raise questions such as: Will the state lose its sovereignty in how students are educated? Will curricula become too “narrow”? Will technical manuals replace literary stalwarts like Hawthorne and Twain? Will schools have to assess students ad infinitum?

These are certainly legitimate concerns to raise. But amidst these worries—and in each instance, I might add that the concern is probably exaggerated—a larger question looms: How can Ohio secure its long-term economic prosperity?

Simple. To invest in the development of our children’s knowledge and skills.

The Common Core standards are such an investment. The Common Core places Ohio’s K-12 schools on a firmer foundation to build up its supply of human capital—human knowledge, skills, habits, and creativity taken together—the sine qua non for a robust economy.

Consider the standards themselves. The English language arts standards expect students to read texts closely[1] and to understand the nuances of how authors’ use the English language.[2] They require high-school students to draw on multiple texts to support their written analyses.[3] I think most  would agree that diligent reading skills, a command of language and vocabulary, and using textual evident to support a written conclusion are fundamental abilities for success in college or a demanding job.

Meanwhile, the math standards expect students to be able to interpret the equation y...

Long before the Common Core State Standards were on anyone’s radar, the “reading wars” raged furiously. They began as a fight about the best way to teach children how to read in the early grades, and the camps were divided between advocates of “whole language” and “phonics.” Today, the battles continue, though the issues have grown increasingly complicated and their implications extend well beyond the early grades and the phonics/whole-language divide.

Recent debates over reading instruction in the Common Core era have included skirmishes among three helpful—and ultimately complementary—approaches: “close reading,” “knowledge first,” and “skills and strategies.” All three of these are miles better than a fourth (but increasingly popular) approach: “just right texts.”

Let’s examine them.

Close Reading

One flashpoint in the reading debate emerged in 2011, after a lead author of the Common Core ELA standards, David Coleman, challenged teachers with a new vision for reading instruction. It entailed ratcheting up the complexity of texts that students read—something the Common Core explicitly demands—and encouraging students to plunge directly into the text itself, rather than spending time pre-teaching background content and vocabulary (an approach about which the standards themselves are silent). This version of close reading focuses on three things: (1) selecting appropriately complex texts that are worthy of close reading and analysis, (2) sequencing texts thoughtfully, with an eye toward building student content knowledge and vocabulary, and (3) guiding students through the text carefully with thoughtfully developed, text-dependent questions that encourage readers to return to the author’s words...

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Mayor Bloomberg is justifiably proud of the big gains New York City made in boosting the high-school graduation rate on his watch, with about two-thirds of students now graduating in four years, up from half a decade ago. This appears to be the result of a whirlwind of creative efforts, including expanding educational options for teenagers via the creation of hundreds of brand-new high schools.

Yet Mayor Mike’s good work for big kids is matched by lackluster results for the city’s younger students. Eighth-grade reading scores, for instance, barely budged from 2003 to 2011, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2013 scores are due out next week).

Perhaps this is one reason that de Blasio wants to expand the city’s pre-K offerings. In theory, giving low-income students a head start at age four will help them become better readers and better learners.

But de Blasio needs to come to grips with a simple truth: Any gains provided by a massive new investment in preschool will quickly fade away if he doesn’t also tackle New York City’s mediocre elementary schools.

What makes them mediocre? It’s the curriculum, stupid — or the lack thereof. When Bloomberg and Joel Klein exploded on the scene in the early 2000s, they were famously agnostic about what kids actually learn in the classroom day to day. To Klein’s credit, he eventually came to see the errors of his ways, and in his last years as chancellor he embraced the Core Knowledge program—a coherent, content-rich curriculum that is a model for...

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