Standards, Testing, & Accountability

The COMMENTARY blog is my absolute favorite, so I was more than a little crestfallen when I read Seth Mandel’s recent entry. “Wherever you stand on the Common Core,” he declared, “it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.”

Mandel is right that the debates have unmistakable parallels. But, as he acknowledges, “none of this is to suggest that the Common Core is nearly the disaster–or constitutionally suspect power grab–that ObamaCare is.”

Lest that point get lost, let me reiterate the vast differences between ObamaCare and the Common Core when it comes to federal involvement.

ObamaCare is a federal program through and through. Created by an act of Congress, it puts federal bureaucrats in charge of one-sixth of the economy, overrules state regulatory bodies (regarding insurance and much else), involves a massive redistribution of public and private dollars, and excludes any sort of “opt out” provision for states. (Thanks to the Supreme Court, states can refuse the Medicaid expansion, but they are stuck with everything else.)

The contrast with the Common Core could not be starker. This was an initiative launched by the governors and state school leaders well before Barack Obama was even a serious contender for the presidency, much less seated in the White House. It had momentum prior to the 2008 election as state policymakers...

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Morgan Polikoff

Of all the current political threats to the Common Core, the most dangerous is the brewing backlash from the teachers' unions. To be sure, the GOP-Tea Party rebellion against federal intrusion is also threatening and holds the possibility of leading to repeal in several states. However, I don't view that threat as particularly solvable—there's no policy tweak or line of argument that would convince those folks to change their minds in any major way. In contrast, the threat from teachers and the unions is relatively easily solved.

Both major unions have been vocal advocates of the Common Core so far, including conducting polls showing most teachers support the standards and building partnerships with tech companies to spur implementation. However, there are signs that support is wavering. In particular, Randi Weingarten (head of AFT) has been treading an increasingly fine line on Common Core—supportive of the standards, but also saying their implementation is 'far worse' than the Obamacare rollout and bashing teacher-evaluation policies in the same breath as she critiques Common Core. (Just yesterday, the NEA’s Dennis Van Roekel piled on with harsh words of his own.)

Let's be clear—the growing union pushback is to some extent about teacher evaluation. (How much one thinks it's really about evaluation probably depends on where one stands on the unions more generally.) But there is no inherent reason why Common Core and new teacher-evaluation policies have to be linked with one another. One need not have common standards to redesign teacher evaluation, and vice versa. The major unforced...

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Joe Wilhoft

I began my career as an inner-city elementary teacher because I was dedicated to helping students succeed. Listening to them and helping them improve to meet their goals was at the heart of my work. Today, as the executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, I feel that passion more deeply than at any point in my career. This is a big moment for our schools—a moment in which we can deliver a system of tools that will help teachers and parents truly understand where students are excelling and more clearly identify where they need help.

We will not—and cannot—create a world-class assessment system in isolation. We have the privilege of working with educators and experts across our member states to craft an assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards that will measure where students are on their path to success. These new assessments will provide an “academic checkup” by measuring real-world skills like critical thinking and problem solving. In addition, they will provide information during the year to give teachers and parents a clearer picture of where students are succeeding and where they need help.

More than 2,000 educators across our member states have contributed to building the assessment system, with more than 500 teachers doing the painstaking work of writing and reviewing assessment questions and performance tasks. Our member states and their educators have done an incredible job of keeping the needs of students at the center of our work, and we have learned together...

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Oops, he did it again. Eric Owens, the infamous Daily Caller “reporter” who has never seen a silly math problem he wasn’t willing to ascribe to the Common Core (the truth be damned!), has published yet another howler deploring a math problem purportedly of Common Core lineage. But this time he trades his trademark dishonesty for mathematical ignorance.

This flawed “front-end estimation” method wasn’t invented by the people behind Common Core. The concept—which refers to the correct answer to an addition problem as merely “reasonable” and allows students to be off by over 22 percent in their estimation—has been around for decades.

At the same time, the methodology is aligned with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which attempts to standardize various K–12 curricula around the country.

This math lesson is just one more in the constantly burgeoning inventory of hideous Common Core math problems.

Being mathematically ignorant myself, I asked Jason Zimba, a lead author of the Common Core standards, if the standards do in fact promote this approach. Here’s what he had to say:

State standards have always set expectations for estimating the results of computations. Here for example was one of the previous California standards from grade 3:

“Use estimation to verify the reasonableness of calculated results.”

And here was one of the previous Indiana standards from grade 2:

“Use estimation to decide whether answers are reasonable in addition problems.”

And here was one of the previous Massachusetts standards from grade

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If you want to understand why supporters of the Common Core are frustrated—OK, exasperated—by some of our opponents’ seemingly unlimited willingness to engage in dishonest debate, consider this latest episode.

On Monday, EAG News published an article entitled, “Common Core math question for sixth graders: Was the 2000 election ‘fair’?

Would you ever consider the question ‘Whom do you want to be president?’ to be asked of your third grader during a math class (or any class)?

Would you expect your fourth grader to be asked to create a chart of presidents along with their political persuasions? Or, how about a discussion on whether the 2000 presidential election resulted in a “fair” outcome? Or, what if the teacher for your sixth grader was advised to “be prepared” to discuss the “politically charged” 2000 election - all during math.

Common Core aligned, of course.

This was picked up by the Daily Caller’s Eric Owens on Wednesday, who piled on via his article, “Common Core MATH lesson plans attack Reagan, list Lincoln’s religion as ‘liberal’”

Another week has gone by and, like clockwork, some more hilariously awful Common Core math lessons have oozed out of the woodwork.

And the story jumped to cable news this morning on a Fox segment, “Common Core lesson lists Abraham Lincoln as a liberal.”

So this is pretty damning for the Common Core, right?

Wrong.

Let’s...

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Mike welcomes Ohio's Chad to the podcast to disparage teacher tenure, anguish over the charter assault in Gotham, and debate the realities for charter schools in rural areas. Amber finds value in growth measures. Amber's Research Minute “ Choosing the Right Growth Measure ,” by Mark Ehlert, Cory...
Michelle and Brickman take over the podcast, discussing “controlled choice” (and declaring their allegiances to either #TeamMike or #TeamChecker), Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school-choice legislation, and teacher-protection laws in California. Amber reads into English-language-arts instruction. Amber's...

The funny thing about eras is that it’s hard to know which one you are in until it is coming to an end. As the fighting among conservatives heats up over the Common Core, the era of standards-driven reform that has defined conservative education policy for the past three decades is brought into sharper relief.

But the approach that President Reagan and his secretary of education Bill Bennett helped set in motion in the 1980s is under increasing assault from a resurgent libertarian movement and the coopting of many of the most popular ideas by a reform-minded Democratic president and his own energetic secretary of education. Is 2014 the year the conservative push for curricular and instructional excellence comes to an end?

Those looking for answers would be wise to track the increasingly acerbic discussion over the Common Core State Standards. What began as a conversation about the quality, content, and rigor of the standards has evolved into an increasingly polarized political debate that is fracturing support for one of the most enduring conservative reforms.

Just last week, University of Arkansas professor and longtime conservative education-policy researcher Jay Greene admitted that his position on standards and accountability has changed. “Simply put,” Greene acknowledge, “I am no longer a supporter of top-down school accountability regimes.” (Though Greene also acknowledged that, “until we have expanded choice further, I see no practical alternative to continuing state testing for schools not subject to meaningful choice accountability.”)

This represents a remarkable shift for...

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