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.


Our many standards-based blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s experts on standards-based reforms:

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...

“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.” This is carved into a massive stone wall on the FDR memorial in Washington, but it could have been the preface to this slender, timely, punchy book by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann. These authors make a persuasive case for improving the academic achievement of U.S. students—and thus America’s human resources—so that the nation thrives well into the future. Schools are where human capital gets built, they argue, and the acquisition of essential skills is better measured by standardized tests than by years spent in class. Equating 2009 NAEP data with 2011 PISA scores, the authors found that just 32 percent of U.S. students were proficient in math, earning a ranking of thirty-second in the world. More than half of Korean and Finnish students were proficient, while Shanghai topped the list with 75 percent. U.S. schools aren’t even educating their top students well: Just 7 percent scored at the advanced level in math. But they also highlight a few bright spots in this dark cloud. In Massachusetts, with its strong standards and commensurate accountability measures, 51 percent of students were proficient and 15 percent advanced in...

Back in June, we at Fordham released a critical review of the final Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As we explained at the time,

…using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—our considered judgment is that NGSS deserves a C.

Our review team felt that these new standards fell short in a number of critical areas. Far too much essential science content was either missing entirely or merely implied. Science practices, while essential to K-12 science learning, were given undue prominence. And the inclusion of “assessment boundaries” meant to limit test development would like place an unintended but undesirable ceiling on the curriculum that students would learn at each grade level.

Besides all of that, our expert team was disappointed by what they found, and didn’t find, by way of math, especially in relation to physics and chemistry. “In reality,” they said,

there is virtually no mathematics, even at the high school level, where it is essential to the learning of physics and chemistry. Rather, the standards seem to assiduously dodge the mathematical demands inherent in the subjects covered....

Back-to-school season is officially upon us and for many families that means new school supplies and backpacks and recalling where they stashed the warmer clothes. But if you're a public opinion pollster, back-to-school means it's time to dust off your old education surveys and see if anything’s changed from last year.

With three polls released this week (AP-NORC, PDK/Gallup, and Education Next),  trying to draw broad conclusions can be tricky given what, at times, seem to be fairly contradictory answers from the public. Some commentators have focused on what the data seem to show regarding hot-button policy issues such as testing or vouchers.  But that’s only the tip of the survey iceberg. Consider also:

Common Core: This one is pretty easy to sort out across the rival polls: If you ask an American about the Common Core, chances are they will tell you they haven't heard of it. If they claim otherwise, there’s a good chance they are either lying or severely misinformed. 

That’s not a knock on the standards themselves or their backers. John Q. Public will learn more as CCSS morphs from a wonky D.C. political issue to an active reshaper of their local schools and...

My name is Kathleen Porter-Magee; I’m a senior director and Bernard Lee Schwartz policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., that also leads ground-level work in the great state of Ohio. We support a variety of education reforms, with a particular focus on school choice and standards- and accountability-driven reform. In addition to my own policy work, I’ve spent several years working to implement rigorous standards in urban Catholic and charter school classrooms. Fordham’s president, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan Administration, and its executive vice president, Mike Petrilli, served under George W. Bush.

I’m honored to be with you here today and am grateful for the opportunity to talk to you about what I believe is one of the most important education initiatives of the past decade: the development, adoption, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

I hope to help explain why the Common Core hold such promise, to demystify what the standards are all about, and to debunk some of the most common myths and misconceptions. But before we decide whether the CCSS is the right choice for Indiana students, it’s important to understand four facts:

1.  ...