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.

Auditor of State Dave Yost released the findings of a special audit of the Columbus City Schools’s 2010–11 records last Tuesday. The audit investigated whether the district manipulated student data—reported for accountability and funding purposes—and what they found was abhorrent. The district was woefully out of compliance, intentionally and deliberately falsifying records to its own advantage. The auditor has referred its findings to city, county, and federal prosecutors. The audit of Columbus City Schools is part of a larger investigation into districts that “scrubbed” student records, with Columbus’s long-simmering data scandal, which first broke in Summer 2012, being the most egregious case.

It is a sorrowful time for Columbus. Our take on the report’s findings and how the city can begin to recover follow below.

Chad Aldis: Glimmers of hope

The Columbus education-data scandal, brought to light by the crackerjack reporting of the Columbus Dispatch, has been unfolding for a year and a half. During that time, there have been hundreds (if not thousands) of column inches devoted to the sordid details—so much so that I expected State Auditor Yost’s report to be little more than a period at the end of a sentence. I was wrong.

Reading through the report and observing public reaction to its findings leaves me feeling angry, appalled, and disgusted.

I’m angry that this could happen. We rely on our schools to educate our students, to look out for their interests, and to prepare them for the future. We don’t expect...

Mr. President: please, please, please, please, please, please don’t mention the Common Core.

The funny thing about eras is that it’s hard to know which one you are in until it is coming to an end. As the fighting among conservatives heats up over the Common Core, the era of standards-driven reform that has defined conservative education policy for the past three decades is brought into sharper relief.

But the approach that President Reagan and his secretary of education Bill Bennett helped set in motion in the 1980s is under increasing assault from a resurgent libertarian movement and the coopting of many of the most popular ideas by a reform-minded Democratic president and his own energetic secretary of education. Is 2014 the year the conservative push for curricular and instructional excellence comes to an end?

Those looking for answers would be wise to track the increasingly acerbic discussion over the Common Core State Standards. What began as a conversation about the quality, content, and rigor of the standards has evolved into an increasingly polarized political debate that is fracturing support for one of the most enduring conservative reforms.

Just last week, University of Arkansas professor and longtime conservative education-policy researcher Jay Greene admitted that his position on standards and accountability has changed. “Simply put,” Greene acknowledge, “I am no longer a supporter of top-down school accountability regimes.” (Though Greene also acknowledged that, “until we have expanded choice further, I see no practical alternative to continuing state testing for schools not subject to meaningful choice accountability.”)

This represents a remarkable shift for...

With all the controversy regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it’s easy to forget that there is another piece to the puzzle: the new standards are surely important and an improvement for most states, but in addition to strong state standards, the assessments aligned to the standards need to be of high quality if the standards are to achieve their aim of graduating students ready for college or a career. This fact sheet from Education First provides state policymakers and education advocates with a wealth of information on the tests being developed by the two leading test consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, as well as the competing test offered by ACT Aspire. The first half of the primer uses a combination of maps, tables, and infographics to systematically present the similarities and differences between the assessments. The compilation of this information into a single, easily readable document should prove to be a valuable resource to anyone looking to learn more about the next generation of assessments being adopted alongside the CCSS. The rest of the document explores a variety of topics, including what constitutes a high quality assessment; how assessment items on each test vary (with examples); the use of assessments for college readiness, admissions, and placement; and factors to consider when evaluating an assessment. Overall, the information in this primer nicely frames the testing options and allows state leaders to move around the assessment...

Our slim new book Knowledge at the Core: Don Hirsch, Core Knowledge, and the Future of the Common Core has three large aims. First, it pays tribute to three decades of scholarship and service to American education by E. D. (Don) Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy (and three other prescient books on education reform) and founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. Second, it restates the case for a sequential, content-rich curriculum for America’s elementary and middle schools. Third, it strives to chart a course for the future, a future in which many more schools embrace Hirsch’s Core Knowledge program—or something akin to it—en route to successful attainment of the Common Core State Standards for English language arts/literacy and mathematics.

Five of the essays included in the volume were first presented at a December 2013 conference in Washington, D.C., cohosted by the Fordham Institute and the Manhattan Institute. Video from that event, and a terrific documentary about Don and his contributions to American education, are available on our website at edexcellence.net/hirsch.

That day left us hopeful—not a word that often comes to mind amidst the rancorous debates now swirling about education in general and the Common Core in particular. Yet Don himself is, by admission, an unwavering optimist; his enthusiasm is as contagious as his ideas are bracing. So in that spirit, let us make the hopeful case that many more of America’s schools are on the precipice of finally embracing those ideas—and thereby boosting their students’ chances of achieving...

As the Common Core debate rages on in blogs and statehouses, educators are getting on with the business of putting these standards into practice. In these three issue briefs, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers direction to charter authorizers navigating the challenges posed by CCSS implementation. The first brief provides a simple introduction to CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments, including a list of questions that authorizers can ask themselves to self-diagnose exactly how the Common Core will affect them and their schools. (For example: “How do my state’s implementation requirements apply to charter schools?” and “Does my state have a federal accountability waiver?”) In the second brief, NACSA stresses the importance of maintaining charter schools’ autonomy during the transition to CCSS and the new assessments: The authors remind authorizers that the Common Core is a set of learning standards, not a curriculum (“Although the framers have developed suggested reading lists, and some states have adopted them as menus for school districts’ convenience, the new standards do not dictate what textbooks or instructional methods schools must use”), and that schools should avail themselves of their freedom to use whatever materials will help their students reach the standard. (Of course, as explained above, that doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Some materials work much better than others, indeed some are apt to defeat the Common Core.) The third (and most extensive) brief digs into maintaining accountability, warning authorizers that school performance may drop significantly with the new tests. NACSA offers...

Lisa Hansel

Pop quiz! Which of the following statements is in the Common Core State Standards?

(a) Through extensive reading of stories, dramas, poems, and myths from diverse cultures and different time periods, students gain literary and cultural knowledge.

(b) By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas.

(c) At a curricular or instructional level, texts—within and across grade levels—need to be selected around topics or themes that systematically develop the knowledge base of students.

(d) Having students listen to informational read-alouds in the early grades helps lay the necessary foundation for students’ reading and understanding of increasingly complex texts on their own in subsequent grades.

(e) All of the above.

The answer is e, all of the above. Knowledge is the key to reading comprehension. It’s the key to college, career, and citizenship readiness. It’s the key to meeting the Common Core standards. (see pages 10 and 33 of the standards—and for even more on building knowledge, see page 6 and Apendix A page 33).

To be even more blunt, the standards require a “content-rich curriculum” (page 6) that is “intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades” (page 10).

If you are a master teacher with a supportive administrator and collaborative colleagues, the standards give...

As the debate over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) rages on in blogs and statehouses nationwide, educators are getting on with the business of putting the standards into practice. In these three issue briefs, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers direction to charter authorizers navigating the challenges posed by CCSS implementation. The first brief provides a simple introduction to CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments, including a list of questions that authorizers can ask themselves to self-diagnose exactly how the Common Core will affect them—e.g., “How do my state’s implementation requirements apply to charter schools?” and “Does my state have a federal accountability waiver?” In the second brief, NACSA stresses the importance of maintaining charter schools’ autonomy during the transition to CCSS and the new assessments: The authors remind the authorizers that the Common Core are a set of learning standards, not a curriculum (“Although the framers have developed suggested reading lists, and some states have adopted them as menus for school districts’ convenience, the new standards do not dictate what textbooks or instructional methods schools must use”), and that schools should avail themselves of their freedom to use whatever materials will help their students reach the standard. The third (and most extensive) brief digs into maintaining accountability, warning authorizers that school performance may drop significantly with the new tests. NACSA offers a host of options from which to choose—such as rating schools using proficiency only, proficiency plus growth, and multiple indicators—but urges authorizers above all...

Two months ago, a group of Catholic university professors signed a letter urging Catholic bishops and diocesan school leaders to reject the Common Core. “We believe that implementing Common Core would be a grave disservice to Catholic education in America,” they argued.

…we are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.

The content of the letter itself is not surprising to anyone following the debate over the CCSS. Indeed, perhaps the most interesting thing about it is how closely it sticks to the typical anti–Common Core talking points we’ve heard over and over again in the past year. The authors repeat the often-cited complaint that algebra is taught too late, point to the (misguided, in my opinion) concern that adopting the CCSS will sideline great literature in English classrooms, and argue that Common Core is aimed not at college readiness but, rather, at “standardized workforce preparation.” In short, the bulk of it looked less like a thoughtful and uniquely Catholic critique of the Core than a hastily composed form letter.

The problem is not that Catholics shouldn’t weigh in on the Common Core debate. Rather, the problem is that authentic Catholic concerns get sidelined when we take our cues from actors who don’t share our interests. And by bringing these political talking points uncritically into...

Yesterday’s column by George Will condemning Common Core is a very bad sign for the standards’ advocates.

I suspect that many Common Core backers on the political left either don’t know much about George Will or reflexively dismiss him because he’s a conservative. As a general matter, that’s a shame, but in this particular case they should pay close attention.

And fast.

Will is trusted implicitly by many on the right for two important reasons. First, he is deeply learned. He is the son of a philosophy professor, earned a graduate degree from Oxford and a PhD from Princeton. He was a university professor and U.S. Senate aide. He has authored more than a dozen books, and he’s won a Pulitzer Prize.

Second, his conservatism is rooted firmly in time-tested principles. His are not knee-jerk politics; they are not spontaneously oppositional to any utterance by a Democrat—he reveres the late former Johnson administration official and liberal U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Nor are his views dependent on Rush Limbaugh’s or Bill O’Reilly’s talking points. He has publicly and harshly criticized prominent Republicans including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Ann Coulter.

Will believes in the virtues of longstanding institutions and the vices of well-meaning but naïve technocrats. He trusts well-regulated markets to more fairly and fluidly distribute capital, goods, and services than government-generated formulas. He is distrustful of an expansive federal government, because its appetite for money and power is voracious and its interventions are too often ineffective and...

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