In a 2000 campaign speech, George W. Bush famously said:
Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less—the soft bigotry of low expectations.
It turns out that there are also some pretty deep, possibly unconscious, biases at work that manifest themselves through the way we praise students.
It was a powerful turn of phrase that ended up emerging as the signature phrase of Bush’s reform agenda. There has been evidence around for some time that students of color or those from disadvantaged backgrounds have not been exposed to the same rigorous content as their white, middle class and affluent peers. But it turns out that there are also some pretty deep, possibly unconscious, biases at work that go beyond exposure to rigorous content and that manifest themselves through the way we praise students.
For a new study recently published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Rutgers-Newark psychology professor Kent D. Harber and his team gave a poorly written essay to 113 white middle and high school teachers. The teachers were told that the essay was written by a black, a white, or a Latino student and that their feedback would be given directly to the student to help him/her improve. According to one article:
The results showed that the teachers displayed a “positive feedback bias.” The teachers provided more praise and less criticism if they thought that the student who wrote the
An independent task force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security brought together by the Council on Foreign Relations released a report in March that found that "the United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role."
These findings may be disconcerting, but they're not new. Politicians, policymakers, educators, parents, and even students have long understood that far too many American students leave high school without having mastered the essential knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and on the job.
There is no shortage of reforms put forth by earnest education advocates eager to improve student achievement. But who is right?
Of course, there is no shortage of reforms put forth by earnest education advocates eager to improve student achievement. Many believe that small classes are our best route to closing the achievement gap. Others feel similarly about setting clear and rigorous standards. And still others push for accountability reforms that use results from assessments to hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable.
Who is right?
There is a saying among high performing schools that there is no 100 percent solution to helping students learn. Instead, there are a hundred 1 percent solutions that add up to big results.
The same is true in the world of education policy. Our best hope to improve student achievement is to find the right mix of policies that,
Several years ago, Grover “Russ” Whitehurst did a study that looked at whether there was a link between high quality standards and student achievement. Drawing upon rankings of standards done by Fordham and the AFT, he found no relationship between the strength of a state’s standards and their student achievement results.
Common Core supporters would do well to keep the champagne on ice.
Whitehurst’s study has emerged as the rallying cry of Common Core skeptics, with fellow Brookings scholar Tom Loveless using it to argue that the implementation of the Common Core doesn’t matter and won’t make a different in improving student reading or math achievement.
There is one small problem: The Whitehurst study doesn’t address Common Core standards because they didn’t exist when he did his research.
Enter Dr. William Schmidt, an education professor at Michigan State University. Rather than resurrecting the Whitehurst study—or the Fordham evaluations of state standards—Schmidt did his own original analysis. And the findings from this study seem to suggest that Loveless—and anyone else trotting Whitehurst out to undermine the Common Core—may have gotten things exactly wrong.
The difference between the studies is critical to the debate over the CCSS. In short, while Whitehurst relied on Fordham's and the AFT's appraisals of state standards, Schmidt used his own original analysis to get much more directly to the question at hand: Will the particular changes Common Core is likely to usher in make a difference? He looked at every state’s existing or previous
On Monday, I wondered aloud whether the debate among policy elites over the value of the Common Core had become nihilistic. Yesterday, Terry Ryan, Fordham's VP for Ohio programs and policy, confirmed that, at least in the heartland, the discussions among practitioners about the value and potential of the Common Core was far more optimistic and productive. Terry described how Ohio educators, interviewed by journalist Ellen Belcher for a forthcoming report, view the transition to and the potential of the new expectations:
The educators in Ohio interviewed by Belcher, the people on the frontlines of our schools who work daily with our kids, see the move towards the Common Core as a positive. But, they worry seriously about the implementation challenges, and they fear that somehow our political leadership class will screw all of this up and turn a good into something bad. Or, as one Cleveland educator remarked, “the Common Core is the right work we should be doing as a country.” “But let’s not make this the metric system of our time…and all of sudden stop.” This is thoughtful guidance from someone actually doing the work.
Common sense, increasingly scarce in the public debate around the Common Core among talking heads and the chattering class, still prevails in the heartland. I take some solace in this fact and I hope others do as well.
The entire post is worth a read. It’s a helpful reminder of the importance of
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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