The new “Common Core” math and reading standards have come under a firestorm of criticism from tea-party activists and commentators like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin. Beck calls the standards a stealth “leftist indoctrination” plot by the Obama administration. Malkin warns that they will “eliminate American children’s core knowledge base in English, language arts and history.” As education scholars at two right-of-center think tanks, we feel compelled to set the record straight.
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Here’s what the Common Core State Standards are: They describe what children should know and the skills that they must acquire at each grade level to stay on course toward college- or career-readiness, something that conservatives have long argued for. They were written and adopted by governors—not by the Obama administration—thus preserving state control over K–12 education. And they are much more focused on rigorous back-to-basics content than the vast majority of state standards they replaced.
The Common Core standards are also not a curriculum; it’s up to state and local leaders to choose aligned curricula. The Fordham Institute has carefully examined the new expectations and compared them with existing state standards: They found that for most states, Common Core is a great improvement in rigor and cohesiveness.
For decades, students in
Systems over substance: Why top-down teacher evaluation reforms are unlikely to boost student achievement
Thanks in part to the requirements of the Federal Race to the Top program, since 2010 states and districts across the country have adopted teacher evaluation systems that use student achievement as part of the assessment of individual teachers’ performance. Given the amount of energy and political capital the education-reform community has put into developing, negotiating, and implementing these plans, you would think it’s a sure fire way to boost student achievement. Unfortunately, the top-down nature of these changes may very well be undercutting any chance they have to make a real difference for kids.
Top-down systems that bypass or undermine school leaders rarely produce excellence in the classroom.
The problem is not about the details of these evaluation systems—although clearly some are better than others—but rather who should be in the driver’s seat in making the decisions about how to hire, fire, and evaluate teachers. And the reality is that teacher-evaluation reforms are unlikely to succeed for reasons education reformers should know well: Top-down systems that bypass or undermine school leaders rarely produce excellence in the classroom.
It wasn’t that long ago that education reform was driven forward by a commitment to freeing determined principals who had a vision for excellence from the constraints that prevented them from developing the teams and practices they needed to drive school-wide change. Today, by contrast, reformers seem to have lost faith in the transformative power of school leadership and are now pushing teacher-quality reforms directly
This post was a part of our April Fool's Day edition of The Gladfly! Please don't think we're serious about this.
Napoleon had his Waterloo. Harding had his Teapot Dome. And now the Gates Foundation has its ?conflict of interest? clause. Let's back up. For more than a year, education groups, states, and local districts have been busily updating curricula, altering assessment blueprints, and writing new state tests as they ready themselves for implementation of the new Common Core state standards. Yet in March, the Gates Foundation completely sidelined all efforts by introducing a ?conflict of interest? policy that prevents any grantee from discussing the work of a fellow grantee publicly or privately. As soon as Gates made the decision public, all work on Common Core standards implementation promptly ground to a halt. When asked about the consequences of the new policy, Stefanie Sanford said, ?Huh. Interesting.? She later when on to reassure grantees by explaining that Gates has created a National Commission that will look into the policy and its ramifications. A report on their findings and recommendations is due out this summer.
In related news, the Liberty Institute released a report today praising the conflict of interest policy. ?At last,? the release said, ?a Gates policy recommendation we can get behind!?
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
May 23, 2013
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