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.

In the next school year, field testing of new Common Core assessments will be complete, and states will be faced with the weighty decision about which tests they will use to measure student learning going forward. Two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), are currently developing the leading options for Common Core–aligned assessments. But states in which anti–Common Core sentiment runs deepest have begun to back away from the consortia (to date, four states—Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Utah—have officially withdrawn), leading to consternation among Common Core supporters and joy among detractors. This has left remaining states in a pickle: If additional states withdraw, will the cost of consortia-developed assessments skyrocket as the fixed costs are spread over fewer states? This new report from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center sought out answers—and contains good news for those states choosing to stay the course. After calculating the projected costs for consortia-developed assessments, summarizing key differences between the two, and estimating the costs for non-consortia testing options such as ACT-developed assessments and vendor-developed, state-specific tests, author Matthew Chingos found that price fluctuations that could occur if more states withdraw would be relatively minor. For example, even when considering the possible departure of Florida, PARCC’s second-largest member, the price of PARCC’s tests would only increase by about 60 cents per student. If only the fifteen states currently field testing PARCC were to ultimately adopt the tests, test costs would increase by just $2.50 per...

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Senators and Representatives: It’s an honor to be with you today. My name is Mike Petrilli; I’m the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that also does on-the-ground work in the great state of Ohio. I was honored to serve in the George W. Bush Administration; my boss, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan Administration. Perhaps most importantly, I was raised in the Midwest, in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s great to be back in the heartland. (Go Cardinals!)

As a strong conservative and a strong supporter of the Common Core, I’m here to urge you to stay the course with these standards and with the Smarter Balanced assessments.

Still, unlike some other Common Core supporters, I’m glad that you are holding this hearing and debating the issue of whether Wisconsin should stick with the Common Core. These standards were developed by the states, and to be successful, they need to be owned by the states. Our educators are all too familiar with the “flavor of the month”—reforms that come and go. They are wondering if they should wait this one out too. By having this open debate on the Common Core, you can settle the issue once and for all—and either change course or move full speed ahead.

It’s also true that when states, including Wisconsin, adopted these standards three years ago, there wasn’t nearly enough engagement of parents, teachers, or policymakers. I believe a lot of the resistance...

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In June, NPR wondered if “Michigan Might Provide a Template for States Hoping to Leave Common Core,” but now things seem to have changed. Has Michigan found a winning legislative strategy for keeping the standards?

At the risk of speaking too soon, it's possible that Michigan has struck the right balance to allay concerns (mostly, but not entirely, concerns on the right) about the Common Core with a resolution that just passed the House after modifications were made by the Senate to the original House version. Following a “pause” of the standards that effectively defunded their implementation beginning October 1st, State Representative Tim Kelly sought—and seems to have found—a workable solution. The deal passed via a voice vote (no one officially registers a vote in support or in opposition) in the Senate on October 24 and in the House today. This development should make most proponents happy: A state has successfully defended the standards while—perhaps—calming many of the criticisms.

To be clear, though, Common Core aficionados will not be entirely pleased. For while the standards themselves seem safe for now, whether Michigan will actually administer the Smarter Balanced assessments seems far from certain. The House-approved language directs the State Board of Education and the Education Department staff to issue a report by December 1st that will essentially contain a menu of options relating to student assessments for the Legislature to consider when...

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David M. Steiner

Given the highly favorable reviews and rave blurbs from such diverse figures as former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, one might expect Amanda Ripley's new book on international educational practices, The Smartest Kids in the World, to offer arresting revelations about how to improve America's education system.

Currently, at least as measured by the Program for Student International Assessment (PISA), America's students from each level of family income perform more poorly than students in the most educationally successful countries. Ripley thus sets out to draw lessons from Finland, South Korea, and Poland, which have achieved strong educational gains for their students. Certainly, as we digest—year after year—data on our own students that attests to their middling performance on international comparisons, tragic and persistent learning gaps among different segments of the population, and depressingly high college remediation rates, lessons from the best-performing countries in the world could not be more welcome.

What is thus surprising about Ripley's book is how little it contains that is really news; instead, it serves to remind us in powerful terms that we simply haven't acted on what we already know. Education systems work when

  • Students are challenged with demanding and coherent curricula;
  • Teachers are recruited from the top echelon of college graduates;
  • We tell the truth to students about their performance; and
  • Teachers, students, and parents are all committed to the difficult work of constant educational progress.

I over-simplify, but...

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“In the implementation stage, the project confronts the reality of its institutional setting.” – Paul Berman and Edward W. Pauly, RAND (1975)

In recent months, the Common Core has faced a cascade of criticism that has permeated into Ohio’s statehouse and media. But while the fight to preserve or rescind the Common Core has been waged in the public square, frontline educators are not resting on their laurels as politicos bicker. Rather, many educators are implementing these new, rigorous academic standards in English and math with all due haste.

To learn more about the school-level implementation of the Common Core, I recently caught up with John Dues, the School Director of Columbus Collegiate Academy-Main St. Campus (CCA). Dues is a Teach for America alum who is in his fifth year as CCA’s instructional leader. A grade 6-8 middle school, CCA is part of the Excellent School Network (ESN) and is a Fordham-sponsored charter school. A high-performing school located on the rough-and-tumble east side of the Columbus, it enrolls 235 students, of which 92 percent are economically disadvantaged and 91 percent are black or Hispanic.

During my visit with Dues, I asked a number of questions about his experience implementing the Common Core. What are the everyday realities of executing these new standards within his institutional context? Is it an uphill battle? Business as usual? A wholesale reboot of school and classroom practices? And what...

Drawing on classroom visits, teacher training observations, and interviews with multiple education stakeholders, this special reporting project by the Hechinger Report and the Education Writers Association succeeds in bringing lofty notions of Common Core implementation down to an easily consumable level. In-depth profiles of seven states—New York, Tennessee, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, and Florida—illustrate key successes and challenges that educators are experiencing, teacher perspectives on the standards themselves, and mounting political pushback at the state level as Common Core–implementation efforts accelerate. In addition to the profiles, the report includes a piece on the rationale behind Common Core, a discussion of how the CCSS compare to international standards, an overview of Common Core math and ELA content and controversies, a video in which David Coleman highlights key instructional shifts, and a state-by-state synopsis of how seven states are navigating the transition to Common Core (whew!). Embedded throughout the profiles and articles is information clarifying frequent misconceptions about Common Core. For example, the report stresses that “the Common Core lays out overarching education principles and specific skills students should master in different grade levels,” but is not a federal or state takeover of curriculum decisions. (For more on Common Core controversies, watch the video of our event on the topic this past week.) This is not to say the report presents its observations of Common Core implementation through overly rosy glasses; rather, it offers a realistic view of educator frustrations and hurdles alongside widespread feelings of optimism and the belief...

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The results of New York’s hard-fought, revamped, and supposedly tougher teacher-evaluation system are in: 91.5 percent of teachers were rated either highly effective or effective, 4.4 percent were rated “developing,” and just 1 percent were rated “ineffective.” This appears to be a continuation of a trend: After a huge push for rigorous teacher evaluations tied to achievement, the results are mostly the same. These outcomes are especially interesting when juxtaposed with those from the recently lauded D.C. IMPACT system [link to SR]. Mike Petrilli, unsurprised, notes that the natural local response to top-down mandates is to resist.

A thoughtful article in National Review Online profiled the battle against “progressive education” over the last half century and, in particular, the contributions of E.D. Hirsch Jr. to the cause. It is a must-read for anyone those who wish to understand more clearly the philosophical underpinnings of the education-reform movement.

New York Times op-ed columnist Bill Keller highlighted the move to reform teacher preparation, noting in particular the calls for greater selectivity in admissions (a key point in Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World), better training in content knowledge (as quoted in the article, researcher William Schmidt reckoned that about 60 percent of America’s future middle school math teachers were being trained at “Botswana-level teacher programs”), and the introduction of “sustained, intense classroom experience” into prep programs.

Seven states—Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Washington—will participate in a...

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For almost a year now, many states have been engulfed in a raucous debate about the Common Core State Standards. Mostly the to-and-fro isn’t about the standards themselves, but related issues: The Obama Administration’s role in their adoption, concerns about data privacy, pushback on teacher evaluation reform—the list goes on.

In our view, these issues are distractions from the serious work at hand: implementing solid standards that, by our lights, are better than those they replaced in three-fourths of the states, and more-or-less on par with the rest.

In an effort to nudge the conversation back to the standards and (yes, we know this is crazy!) teaching and learning—and as part of a years-long research effort to track implementation—we’re pleased to present a new Fordham study: Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments.

This report presents the findings of a survey of English language arts (ELA) teachers from Common Core states, asking them to answer questions about the texts their students read and the instructional techniques they use in the classroom. This year’s data are meant to serve as a baseline that shows where we were in the very early stages of CCSS implementation. We plan to do a follow-up study in 2015, whereupon we will comment on whether the instructional shifts have taken hold.

But first, let’s define those instructional...

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Tim Shanahan, Ann Duffett

As forty-six states and the District of Columbia implement the Common Core State Standards, questions abound regarding implementation, including the implications for curriculum and pedagogy. In Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments, researchers analyze what texts English teachers assign their students and the instructional techniques they used in the classroom. This “baseline” study—with a follow-up slated for 2015—shows what the very early stages of CCSS implementation look like:

Most teachers believe that the new standards promise better learning for their students, and an overwhelming majority of teachers say that their schools have already made significant progress toward implementing the standards, including relevant curriculum changes and professional development.

But the findings from this survey also show that, for the most part, the heavy lifting of aligning curriculum and instruction to the rigor of the CCSS still lies ahead:

  • The CCSS emphasize the centrality of texts in the English language arts curriculum. Yet the majority of teachers still report that their lessons are dominated by skills and that they are more likely to try to fit texts to skills than to ground their skills instruction in what is appropriate to the texts they are teaching.
  • The Common Core asks teachers to assign texts that provide language complexity appropriate to the grade level, but significant proportions of teachers—particularly in the elementary grades—are still assigning texts based on students’ present reading prowess.
  • The CCSS call for students to have substantial experience reading informational texts (including literary
  • ...
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Holding schools accountable for student growth in a rigorous manner that doesn’t systemically favor one school over another is a vital policy objective. To this end, the Buckeye State has implemented a sophisticated (though not easily understood) value-added model to rate schools by their impact on student growth over time, while ostensibly holding constant other factors that could impact growth.

In previous blog posts, I looked at the correlation between school-level “overall” value-added index scores and (1) the school’s proportion of economically disadvantaged students and (2) African American students. The correlations are low. Evidently, Ohio’s value-added model does not systemically favor high-wealth, largely white schools over poor, largely minority schools. High-poverty schools, for example, can earn high marks on value-added just the same as high-wealth schools. The school-level value-added results stand in contrast to the state’s raw student achievement component, which disadvantages schools with mostly needy students. 

In this post, I look at the changes that Ohio has made in its value-added system, and what the distribution of the state’s value-added output looks like across schools under these revisions.

RECENT CHANGES

This year Ohio made several changes to the state’s value-added system. Previously, Ohio reported a 1-year value-added index score for schools and districts. This lead to some head-scratching results (see our 2010 analysis of the year-to-year “yo-yo” effect). Evidently, to mitigate this problem, the state reported a 3-year composite average—2010-11 to 2012-13—for schools’ overall value-added scores. In addition, the state reported for the first time...

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