This Sunday’s New York Times piece on Common Core standards, Queens College political-science professor Andrew Hacker and Columbia University adjunct professor Claudia Dreifus contribute greatly to the confusion and misinformation surrounding the issue of learning standards.
The piece conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn. It also confuses assessments, which are tests to determine what students know, with accountability, which are systems of tracking student performance, determining which schools and teachers are succeeding or struggling, and providing support or intervening where necessary.
They open with an anecdote about some parents opting out of a new test in New York City as an indication that Common Core may face a broad national backlash. But the backlash—to the extent it exists—is about testing, not standards.
The authors wrongly suggest that the “uniformity of the standards” is what appeals to Common Core supporters. Actually it is the richness and rigor of the standards that appeals to supporters. The uniformity is a bonus. No one really expected forty-six states to adopt.
In their attempt to portray serious debate around the issue, they quote conservative pundit Glenn Beck (who is paid to stir the pot) to counter conservative education scholars (who are paid to actually think it through and get it right).
They suggest that Tea Party resistance to the
Jay has been the victim of black helicopter-itis
Photo by Marshall Astor on Flickr
Jay Greene's slightly Churchillian recent post conflates two Common Core issues that are better understood if they're kept apart. One involves the role of the federal government vis-a-vis the Common Core, and on this one I really do think Jay is a victim of black helicopter-itis. Of course he's right that Messrs. Obama and Duncan should have kept the Common Core at arm's length. But he's not right that a successful Common Core is inseparable from a more intrusive, controlling federal government. One of the virtues of the American system is how many nation-spanning ventures we have that do not hinge on or get controlled by the federal government: The American Red Cross. The American Cancer Society. The National PTA. The National Association of Manufacturers. One could easily extend this list quite a distance, and so it could and should be with the Common Core.
The other issue, a very different one, is whether common standards are in opposition to school choice, parent control, and such. This is not so much about the Common Core (the multi-state version) as about any sort of academic standards beyond the school's own doing. This goes to the heart of whether
5. The P is for prudence
The most noticeable aspect of PARCC’s response was its the-dog-that-didn’t-bark-ness. I expected, but didn’t get, more discussion of big successes to date.
Maybe they have gobs to peacock about but chose not to, wanting later results to speak for themselves (more on that in #4). People I trust say they are on the way to getting content, alignment, and rigor right. Maybe my questions didn’t set them up to brag about that stuff?
Or maybe my reaction is just a matter of relativity. When compared to SB’s earnest, 3,000-word, front-of-the-classroom response, heck, almost anything would’ve paled.
But maybe my affection for PARCC’s board and team has softened me. A cynic might say PARCC’s limited discussion of wins is a red flag.
I don’t find anything worrisome in PARCC’s response, so I won’t speculate. So I’ll say this: PARCC’s modest response about past activities probably won’t change too many Insiders’ right-track/wrong-track vote in either direction.
4. Confidence about the future
Are their tests going to be on time?
The three-part series of interviews on the nation’s move to Common Core–aligned assessments was as edifying as I could’ve hoped. USED, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced offered meaningful information on the current state of play and clear indications of what’s on the horizon.
I’ve pulled out a “Top Ten Takeaways” from the exchange. Today, we’re posting #10–#6 (they’re in rank order so #1 is most important). Tomorrow, we’ll post #5 - #1.
10. Competition with the testing industry is GAME ON!
In ways subtle and not, the responses sought to differentiate the consortia’s efforts from the testing industry.
It seemed like the Department’s interest was in drawing a line between the old and the new. Why’d they spend $330 million on new tests? Because, USED says, governors and state chiefs asked them to do so.
Why did states make that ask? “Because the market was not meeting their needs.”
According to the feds, the consortia are building “next-generation” tests that “will offer significant improvements directly responsive to the wishes of teachers and other practitioners: they will offer better assessment of critical thinking, through writing and real-world problem solving, and offer more accurate and rapid scoring.”
“We expect the consortia to develop assessment systems that are markedly better than current assessments.”
The implication is that the testing industry had come up short.
SB said its new tests would offer a “quality benefit”; SB’s transparency is “antithetical to the competitive nature of commercial test publishing”; states will now
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.
June 13, 2013
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