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.

Resources:

Our many standards-based blog posts are listed below.


Fordham’s experts on standards-based reforms:


Arne Duncan was right to call attention to 9/11 as an important opportunity for teaching children about the heinous events of that day twelve years ago, about honoring those who perished, and about the value of "coming together" as Americans.

But he missed a terrific opportunity to remind American educators that kids need context and background knowledge if they're to make sense of 9/11—or, frankly, of much else, right down to and including what's going on in Syria today. That calls for a solid, content-centric K–12 curriculum, including lots and lots of history, geography, and civics, the great neglected subjects of the typical "social studies" curriculum. E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge sequence would be a swell place to start.

For the benefit of teachers (and high school/college students) who want to understand 9/11 in context, over the past dozen years we at Fordham have also produced three collections of terrific essays by thoughtful, eminent Americans on how to make sense of those events and what children need to know about them. You (and Secretary Duncan) can find this guidance here, here, and here....

 
 

As many states move toward full implementation of the Common Core State Standards this school year, discussions have been heating up about their merit. To no one’s surprise here at Fordham, we have found ourselves in the thick of things as a strong conservative voice in favor of these more rigorous standards. Misinformation and myths abound, so we’ve found it necessary to jump into the conversation and make some clarifications. Here are a few highlights of our recent efforts to share our view that the Common Core are a big win for conservatives:

  • In several red states (including Alabama, Idaho, and South Carolina), Checker and Mike urged policy makers not to abandon the Common Core. The pair cite several conservative arguments in support of the core: fiscal responsibility, accountability, school choice, competitiveness, innovation, and traditional education values.
  • Amber Winkler reacts to this viral video on Fox and Friends, calling these and other misinterpretations of the solid Common Core “a bunch of hooey!
  • In a lively debate with radio host Rich Girard, Mike strikes down
  • ...
 
 

So far, I am leery of both sets of official tests for the Common Core, at least in English language arts (ELA). They could endanger the promise of the Common Core. In recent years, the promise of NCLB was vitiated when test prep for reading-comprehension tests usurped the teaching of science, literature, history, civics, and the arts—the very subjects needed for good reading comprehension.

In an earlier Huffington Post blog, I wrote that if students learned science, literature, history, civics, and the arts, they would do very well on the new Common Core reading tests—whatever those tests turned out to be. To my distress, many teachers commented that no, they were still going to do test prep, as any sensible teacher should, because their job and income depended on their students’ scores on the reading tests.

The first thing I’d want to do if I were younger would be to launch an effective court challenge to value-added teacher evaluations on the basis of test scores in reading comprehension. In the domain of reading comprehension, the value-added approach to teacher evaluation is unsound both technically and in its curriculum-narrowing effects. The connection between job ratings and tests in ELA...

 
 

The Washington Post (and many others) roundly decried the Department of Justice’s petition to disallow Louisiana from awarding vouchers to students in public schools under federal desegregation orders. Surely it’s folly to block students (mainly black and all poor) from escaping failing schools to which they would otherwise be condemned—and it’s outrageous to claim that this is good for civil rights. As 90 percent of the kids benefiting from Louisiana’s voucher program are African American, Gadfly cannot help but suspect political motives. We join the chorus: Shame on the Department of Justice for standing between disadvantaged children and their education dreams.

Massachusetts, with the nation’s highest-performing school system, models the power of comprehensive standards-based reform. As noted by the New York Times, the Bay State’s standards—like the Common Core—refrain from prescribing curriculum and pedagogy, meaning that teachers decide how to get their pupils across the finish line. There’s far more to the Massachusetts story, of course, including a higher bar, more money, charter schools, individual student-level accountability and tougher requirements to enter teaching. But it’s a story worth telling and retelling.

As the time...

The recently released Appendix C, intended to clarify key choices made by writers of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), addresses College and Career Readiness. It is lengthy and rich in self-praise and in repetition of claims made earlier in the evolution of the NGSS and their initiating Framework. The handling of one subhead—addressing mathematics and the alignment of these standards with the Common Core (CC) standards for mathematics—is a miniature of the Appendix as a whole: pious declarations of purpose for not-quite-compliant products. Our discussion below will serve as a critique of the whole.

Science Education
The slighting of mathematics in the actual NGSS standards does increasing mischief as grade level rises.
Photo by LianaAn

This section of the Appendix is entitled, “The Importance of Mathematics for College Readiness in Science.” The historic association of mathematics with science and science education is lauded and given robust support. An understanding is implicit throughout: that content-relevant mathematics is emphasized in the NGSS and aligned with the Common Core math standards. This section of the Appendix makes the observation that...

 
 

For many years, my son Ted has been principal of the elementary grades of a K–12 public charter school in Massachusetts. It uses the Core Knowledge Sequence (a grade-by-grade outline of essential content) as a primary tool for developing its curriculum. His school ranks in the top-performing group of schools in the nation’s top-performing state. Needless to say, the school has long followed the rightly admired Massachusetts standards. Indeed, the Massachusetts standards are so good that some of the most vocal opponents of CCSS are claiming that the Common Core State Standards will represent a watering down. But Ted’s school justifies a very different inference. His Core Knowledge–based curriculum is consistent with both the Massachusetts standards and the CCSS. How so? It’s because both sets of standards set rigorous goals but don’t specify content for each grade level. In the course of actual implementation, therefore, a school can simultaneously fulfill both the Massachusetts standards and the CCSS, as Ted’s school so effectively does. 

This fall, Ted’s daughter, Cleo, will be teaching in a school in the Bronx, assigned to teach the American Revolution to seventh-grade public school students. Though hugely competent, she panicked and called me: “O my gosh. Granddad, are there any teaching guides for this?”...

 
 
Common Core
 

When I’m asked if I support the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I give an emphatic “yes.” They constitute the first multi-state plan to give substance and coherence to what is taught in the public schools. They encourage the systematic development of knowledge in K–5. They break the craven silence about the critical importance of specific content in the early grades. They offer an example (the human body) of how knowledge ought to be built systematically across grades. They state,

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. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.

That principle of building coherent, cumulative content animates the most effective school systems in the world, and for good reason: The systematic development of student knowledge from the earliest grades in history, literature, science, and the arts is essential to...

 
 
Suzanne Tacheny Kubach

For the broader public, the idea that reading and math standards should be the same across the country is so sensible that to make the case for the Common Core, you sometimes first have to explain that common standards don’t already exist. When people outside education hear that they don’t, the usual response is, “Well, that’s just silly!” Yet across the country, the fight over this common sense idea is burning dollars by the millions.

What’s going on? Through the more than two decades it took for states to create their own standards, then work together to create the Common Core, none of us talked about what matters most to parents. We’ve sold the policies to institutional insiders, but really haven’t engaged the broader public. Over all that time, we’ve created a professional vocabulary that’s so dense that we’ve totally obscured an idea that should be infinitely sellable. We make the pitch by talking all about the importance of accountability systems, evaluation systems, improved assessments—all things that cause the public to yawn.  

To understand why we aren’t connecting, let’s look first at the one segment of the public with whom the prevailing case for standards works. Phrases such as ...

 
 

The dominant approach to public education for most of our nation’s history was for local districts to offer standard-issue schools, mainly neighborhood-based and essentially identical, that reflected some version of the community’s general preferences and values. Because those preferences differed somewhat from place to place, public schools differed somewhat, too. Schools might be a bit more “traditional” in more conservative suburbs and rural communities, a tad more “progressive” in liberal urban locales. But in any given community, there was usually just one flavor for everybody. (Even the exceptions were broadly standardized. For example, there might be a “vocational high school” in the community.) If you didn’t like it, you chose a private school or you moved—kind of like Henry Ford’s approach to car colors.

Today, however, families across much of the country can choose among multiple public-school options. These may include charter schools; magnet schools with various specialized or advanced programs; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) schools; career or college-preparatory academies; other neighborhood schools (via intra- and sometimes inter-district choice); and even virtual schools. Some cities—New Orleans and Denver may be the best examples—are pursuing “portfolio” approaches, offering a variety of school options throughout their communities. And...

 
 

Prepared for Delivery on August 28, 2013

Chairman Kelly, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank in Washington, DC that also does on the ground work in your neighboring state of Ohio. (No football comments, please!)  At Fordham, we promote high-priority education reforms with a particular focus on standards-based reforms and school choice. I’ve worked in this field myself for many years, including more than a few fruitful go-rounds with you, Mr. Chairman, when you served on Governor John Engler’s staff back in the nineties.

I am glad that you have been holding these hearings and seriously considering whether Michigan should stick with the Common Core academic standards. I know you’ve heard from some folks who hope that you won’t. I hope that you will. Before getting into my eight top reasons, let me lay a few facts on the table regarding the Common Core:

These standards are clear, rigorous, and nationally and internationally benchmarked. They emphasize reading rigorous, high-quality literature in English class, plus nonfiction in history, science, and other courses. They also emphasize the fundamentals of mathematics. Properly taught and successfully learned, they will indeed produce...

 
 

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