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:

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been a long-time, energetic, enthusiastic defender of the Common Core standards. That’s because those of us at the Fordham Institute believe these academic standards to be much stronger, in a variety of ways, than what preceded them in most states. They aren’t perfect, but they represent an ambitious, good-faith effort to identify the knowledge and skills kids need in order to be on track—from kindergarten through high school—for college and/or a remunerative career. And when it comes to math, the standards in the early grades are particularly strong, focused as they are on basic arithmetic and “math facts.”

That said, certain elements of the standards have been driving parents crazy.

So it was probably only a matter of time until my karma caught up with me. And so it happened the other day: My third-grader came home from his (Common Core-teaching) public school and asked, with eight-year-old exasperation, “Why do I have to explain my answer in math class? I just know it.”

I decided to turn to the Google gods for an answer—a suggestion of a script I might use to help him understand why it’s important to...

Ohio’s report card release showed a slight narrowing of the “honesty gap”—the difference between the state’s own proficiency rate and proficiency rates as defined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP proficiency standard has been long considered stringent—and one that can be tied to college and career readiness. When states report inflated state proficiency rates relative to NAEP, they may label their students “proficient” but they overstate to the public the number of students who are meeting high academic standards.

The chart below displays Ohio’s three-year trend in proficiency on fourth and eighth grade math and reading exams, compared to the fraction of Buckeye students who met proficiency on the latest round of NAEP. The red arrows show the disparity between NAEP proficiency and the 2015-16 state proficiency rates.

Chart 1: Ohio’s proficiency rates 2013-14 to 2015-16 versus Ohio’s 2015 NAEP proficiency

As you can see, Ohio narrowed its honesty gap by lifting its proficiency standard significantly in 2014-15 with the replacement of the Ohio Achievement Assessments and its implementation of PARCC. (The higher PARCC standards meant lower proficiency...

School report cards offer important view of student achievement -
ritical that schools be given continuity moving forward

The Ohio Department of Education today released school report cards for the 2015-16 school year. After a couple tumultuous years, today’s traditional fall report card release reflects a return to normalcy. This year also marked the first year of administration for next-generation exams developed jointly by Ohio educators and the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

“This year’s state testing and report card cycle represents a huge improvement from last year,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Last year’s controversy made it easy to forget the simple yet critical role state assessments and school report cards play. They are, quite simply, necessary, annual checkups to see how well schools are preparing students for college or career.”

“The state tests are designed to measure the extent to which our children are learning so that our students can compete with students around the country and around the globe,” said Andy Boy, Founder and CEO of United Schools Network, a group of high-performing charter schools in Columbus....

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Many years after the adoption of new academic standards in most states, frustrated teachers and administrators across the country still decry the dearth of Common Core-aligned curricular materials. One survey conducted by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) in 2014 found that 90 percent of surveyed districts reported having major or minor problems finding such resources. More recent studies conducted by Morgan Polikoff and Bill Schmidt also conclude that the majority of textbooks marketed as being aligned with Common Core actually have “substantial alignment problems.”

In response to this persistent lack of high-quality, standards-aligned materials, organizations such as EdReports and agencies like the Louisiana Department of Education have begun providing educators with free, independent reviews of curricular resources. Other groups have developed rubrics and evaluation tools intended to help state, district, and school leaders vet the quality and alignment of textbooks, units, and lesson plans (including EQuIPIMET, and Student Achievement Partners’ “Publishers’ Criteria”). Even Amazon has entered the curricular stage, recently announcing the launch of a ...

According to this report from the Center for American Progress, high school seniors are more likely to read young adult staples like The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent than Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Hamlet. As surprises go, this is roughly the equivalent of learning that Americans choose beer and chicken wings over quinoa and kale smoothies. The trouble is that this lightweight fare (the inevitable result of student self-selection) leaves students ill-prepared for the rigors of college reading.

There is “a stark gap between the complexity of texts that high school students are reading and of those that they will confront in college and their careers,” notes Melissa Lazarin, the report’s author and a CAP senior policy advisor. “Students reading at the average level of high school texts…may be comfortable with as little as 5 percent of university-level texts and with only one-quarter of the texts that they would encounter in the military or the workplace.” Common Core was supposed to help close these gaps, so what’s happening? The new standards are giving students “regular practice with complex and grade-level appropriate texts, using more informational texts, and practicing more evidence-based writing,” she observes. They are also “influencing the way teachers approach instruction.” But despite these encouraging signs,...

Jennifer Bay-Williams

The Fordham Institute’s recent study, Common Core Math in the K-8 Classroom: Results from a National Teacher Survey, took a close look at how educators are implementing the Common Core math standards in classrooms across the nation. Using focus groups and a survey of teachers, Ann Duffett, David Griffith, and I gleaned valuable insights that ranged from good to bad to ugly. As we approach the forthcoming school year and 150,000 teachers prepare to teach math to students from kindergarten through eighth grade, it’s worth taking stock of what we’ve learned.

Let’s start with the good. With few exceptions, educators are very knowledgeable about what content is considered “grade-level” for the grades they teach, and they are prioritizing content that the standards designate as “critical areas.” Teachers are also paying closer attention to applications, student use of language in the math classroom, and increased use of the number line. Across CCSS states, rigor, consistency, and cohesion in K–8 mathematics has increased—a very good (and necessary) thing!

Teachers are also spending more time collaborating, especially with their grade-level colleagues. Working together leads to better curriculum design (e.g., how much time to spend on a particular topic), better instruction, and more consistency across teachers...

One of my greatest failures in my first year as a teacher was my inadequate communication with parents. Upon reflection, I can see that that this failure arose from many sources. Most obviously, I lacked experience and the kind of relationships that come from spending years working in the same community. That’s not to mention the discomfort I felt when calling low-income parents during dinner hours, often to tell them that their children were misbehaving. Which led to procrastination (to be clear, this was all on me). To make things more difficult, many of the families I served lacked email addresses. As much as I’d like to say I did everything I could, it wouldn’t be the truth. Then again, you can always do more. That’s the soul-crushing thing about teaching.

If you’ve never been a teacher, it’s almost impossible to understand the time demands of the job. But here’s how I put it when I’m trying to make the point: Remember the last presentation you made for work, and all the time and effort you put into preparing for it (organizing the handouts, putting together the slideshow, rehearsing your introduction)? Now imagine that you must give three such presentations on the...

Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, is the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate, running alongside Donald Trump. The duo will face off in November against Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and William Weld.

Here are some of Pence’s views on education.

1. Charter schools: “We want to eliminate low income and location as barriers to receiving a quality education, and public charter schools are an essential element of achieving that objective.” July 2015.

2. Vouchers: “This is a school that has greatly benefited by our educational voucher program, opening doors of opportunity to kids that might not otherwise be able to enjoy the kind of education they have here. We've increased our investment in our traditional public schools, we've raised the foundation under our charter schools, and we've lifted the cap on our voucher program." (Said while visiting St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School.) May 2015.

3. School accountability: “We grade our children every week, and we can grade our schools every year, but those grades should fairly reflect the efforts of our students and teachers as we transition to higher standards and a new exam.” ...

As a chubby girl at Treakle Elementary School (Mom said it was just “baby fat”), one thing I remember having to do was memorize my times tables. My well-meaning Dad and I sat at our kitchen table after dinner as he called out multiplication problems to me at lightning speed: six times six, twelve times eleven, eight times nine, ten times three. On and on it went. When I got one wrong (aargh!), he went back to it again (and again). Unnerving, to be sure, but I felt great pride at (eventually) memorizing the entire lot and I relished the ritual that Dad and I shared as Mom finished the dishes and my near-teen sister chatted forever on the phone.

I’ve since learned that not all teachers, kids, and parents are as smitten with memorizing fundamental math facts. Yes, some are adamant that kids must memorize the basics or they’ll fall ever farther behind. But others are just as convinced that memorization in elementary school damages youngsters academically and emotionally, stunting their genuine understanding of math concepts and leaving them frustrated, stressed, and math-averse.

Part of the rationale for academic standards is to standardize essential elements of...

In 2010, when the final Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were unveiled, our content experts found them worthy of praise, awarding the math standards an A-minus and the English language arts standards a B-plus. That meant that CCSS was “clearly superior” to the standards in the vast majority of states—and that the vast majority of American children would be better off if their schools taught them the content and skills they set forth.

Since then, we’ve remained steadfast in our belief that the standards, if adequately implemented and supported, could improve the educational trajectories and life prospects of all students. Yet our earnest, unequivocal support of the CCSS does not mean that we’re wearing rose-colored glasses. In fact, we’ve not been shy at all about exposing implementation warts over the last six years.

Our latest study, Common Core Math in the K-8 Classroom: Results from a National Teacher Survey, also doesn’t pull any punches. It seeks to offer relevant, honest, and—we hope—practical findings on CCSS implementation. We examined whether teachers responsible for elementary and middle school math instruction in Common Core states have changed what and how they teach—and whether they’re seeing improvements in students’ math understanding as a result. (This...