“Children Lose Out” was the title of an editorial penned by The Salt Lake Tribune in response to last week’s State Board of Education decision to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Nationally, Common Core (CCSS) advocates worry that this move will not only hurt Utah’s kids, but also that it represents a weakening of support for the new expectations, and they worry that it could fuel even more anti-CCSS fire across the country.
On the other hand, if Utah education leaders seize this moment as an opportunity to prove both that the CCSS is truly a state-lead initiative and to show how a state can take the reins to ensure that the aligned assessments are clear and rigorous and to give teachers the implementation tools they need, this move could do more to garner support for CCSS implementation than either consortium has done to date.
The reality is that, more than two years after the release of the final version of the CCSS, SBAC and the other assessment consortium, PARCC, have released scant information about what their assessments will look like—and how (if at all) they’ll differ from the mediocre tests we have now. Nor have they given teachers the information they need to guide lesson planning and instruction. Given the pressure that states are feeling to develop implementation plans, and that teachers are feeling to quickly align their practice to the new expectations, this lack of information
Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman—together with their colleagues at the Heinemann publishing house—have just released a new book entitled Pathways to the Common Core. The book sounds like a useful resource that ELA teachers can use to figure out how to align their instruction to the new standards. Unfortunately, it misses the mark. Part ideological co-opting of the Common Core (CCSS) and part defense of existing—and poorly aligned—materials produced by Heinemann, the book is the leading edge of an all-out effort to ensure that adoption of the new standards requires very few changes on the part of some of the leading voices—and biggest publishing houses—in education.
On page one, the authors explain the book’s mission:
Pathways to the Common Core will help you and your colleagues teach in ways that will bring your students to the Common Core State Standards’ level of work in literacy. This book will illuminate both the standards themselves and the pathways you can take to achieve those ambitious expectations. It will help you understand what is written and implied in the standards and help you grasp the coherence and central messages of them….
…Pathways to the Common Core is written for teachers, literacy coaches, and school leaders who want to grasp what the standards say and imply—as well as what they do not say—deeply enough that they can join
Since the release of the Common Core state math standards two year ago, math textbook writers and publishers have fallen over themselves to release new or “updated” curriculum resources that they declare to be “aligned” with the new expectations. Unfortunately, until recently there have been scant resources available to educators seeking to determine whether any of these ballyhooed instructional materials have truly been aligned with the content and rigor of the new expectations.
The criteria are clear, readable, and user-friendly.
Enter the lead authors of the CCSSM and their just-released “K-8 Publishers Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” While ostensibly aimed at publishers earnestly struggling to align their resources with CCSSM, the ten criteria (and accompanying rubric) can also be used by math teachers, department heads, instructional specialists, principals, and superintendents who are wading through and trying to judge the quality and alignment of materials for their schools and classrooms. They can, in fact, be treated as a “buyer’s guide” that helps show which publishers have made the necessary changes for this big shift in math education. And here is hoping that is one way they get used.
The criteria are clear, readable, and user-friendly. For instance, one of the most critical aspects of the standards is their focus on essential content. “Focus,” the criteria explain, “requires that we significantly narrow the scope of content in each grade so that students more deeply experience that which remains.” To that
Terry Ryan of Fordham's Ohio team recently returned from the GE Foundation's Summer Business and Education Summit and provided a fascinating recap of the diverse groups rallying around the Common Core effort. Here are a few of the highlights:
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the [Common Core implementation] challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2014-15 that many communities, schools and families are in for a rude awakening... He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and they’re going to be running fast.”
The need for higher standards was brought home by business leaders:
During breakout sessions business leaders from some of the largest, most innovative and successful companies in the world – General Electric, IBM, Boeing, Disney World, Apple Inc., and Intel – lamented that they had good jobs in American factories and offices they couldn’t fill because they couldn’t find candidates with the required math and science skills to do the work.
Terry also recounts the remarks by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and CCSS architect David Coleman. It's worth a read.
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.
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