Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.

As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-entrance test of the same name, judges only one-quarter of its test-takers to be fully ready for college-level academics, and the College Board is not much cheerier. In releasing SAT results for the 1.6 million members of the high school class of 2013 who took the test, the board estimated that just 43 percent met its benchmark for college and career readiness—a score of 1550 or better (out of 2400), which translates to a 65 percent chance of having a B-minus (or better) GPA during the freshman year in college.

And that’s among those who stick it out and graduate from high school. Millions of young people drop out. School discipline remains appalling, with gangs, metal detectors, and violence the norm in many places.

The basic institutional structures for high school that former Harvard president James B. Conant described and recommended in an influential 1959 book remain pretty much unchanged a half-century later. The rest of the world has not...

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Last Wednesday, the House Education Committee heard sponsor testimony on House Bill 237, legislation that would repeal the Common Core State Standards in Ohio. For those unaware, the Common Core is a set of academic standards that the State Board of Education voluntarily adopted for English and math in June 2010. The standards replace Ohio’s old, outgoing, and clearly inferior academic standards.

In front of a packed house, the 18-member committee heard testimony from the bill sponsor, Rep. Andy Thompson. Among the reasons cited for halting the new standards included concerns about the loss of local control of schools, doubts about the rigor of the standards, and worries about the process by which the standards were adopted.

Representative Andy Thompson (far right) testifies at the House Education Committee (October 9, 2013). Photo by Jeff Murray.

But the House Education Committee chair, Rep. Gerald Stebelton, put to rest these fears. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Stebelton referred to the positive feedback he’s hearing from many educators, remarking, “all of the educators and superintendents I’ve talked to think this is the best thing to happen to education in Ohio in years, because it gets rid of some of the fluff, focuses on real solid basics and has a structure that builds on itself each year.” In addition, he supplied the education committee with a myth-busting document that should ease the mind of the most hardened skeptic.

With this hearing, the anti-Common Core movement...

The latest in a series of anti–Common Core scare tactics came from Michelle Malkin yesterday, when she implored,

It is not easy to stand up and challenge sovereignty-undermining, curriculum-usurping, privacy-sabotaging education orthodoxy, especially when it is plied by a toxic alliance of both Big Government and Big Business interests. But if we don’t do it, who will?

The post goes on to share stories from parents who complain that local principals have refused to listen to their anti-CCSS complaints and that they’ve had “gag orders” put on them when they’ve tried to question “what the Common Core is doing to our children.”

The specific criticisms mostly point to assignments that children are bringing home from school. Earlier this year, for instance, two Indianapolis moms launched a campaign against the standards in their home state of Indiana. According to an NRO article written in May, “Heather [Crossin] suddenly noticed a sharp decline in the math homework her eight-year-old daughter was bringing home from Catholic school.”

Crossin explained,

Instead of many arithmetic problems, the homework would contain only three or four questions, and two of those would be “explain your answer.” Like, “One bridge is 412 feet long and the other bridge is 206 feet long. Which bridge is longer? How do you know?”

Last month, an article on TownHall.com showed a truly confusing math question that was part of a supposedly Common Core–aligned math program. In short order, it spread like wildfire through social media. And parents...

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The colossal urban district is now more legend than reality, at least for Ohio’s city schools. While some may lament the decline of Ohio’s big-city districts, might not the “downsizing” of the traditional district present a terrific opportunity to do education differently?

Consider the two charts below. The first chart shows the K-12 enrollment of these eight districts at four points in time: 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010. The second chart displays the percentage of white students enrolled in these 8 districts for these same four years. For illustration the enrollment numbers for Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton (Fordham’s hometown) are displayed.

K-12 student enrollment, Ohio Big 8 Districts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

% White students, Ohio Big 8 Districts

Source: Ohio Department of Education, Enrollment Data. Note: Numbers and percentages displayed for Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton

These charts make two clear points.

  1. Ohio’s urban school districts have contracted significantly. In 1980 Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s enrollment topped 85,000 students; 30 years later, it enrolled just 43,000 students. Similarly, Dayton Public Schools has experienced a steep enrollment decline, from nearly 33,000 students in 1980 to just 14,000 students in 2010.
  2. Student enrollment has become less white. As of 2010, all 8 districts enrolled less than 50 percent white students (in 1980, four of them--Canton, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Columbus--were majority white). Cleveland
  3. ...
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We have continued to talk with educators about the implementation for the Common Core Curriculum and PARCC assessments. (Please click on the following links to read our interviews with Chad Webb, former principal of Village Prep Academy: Woodland Hills Campus, and Judy Hennessey of DECA.) We’ve been asking how they and their schools have prepared for the Common Core and what could potentially hinder a smooth transition.

Today’s interview is with Foresta Shope, the founding principal of Sciotoville Elementary Academy (SEA), a K-6 elementary school in rural southwestern Ohio. SEA was created in 2008 by community members and families standing together with a common goal and commitment to the children of the town of Sciotoville and its surrounding areas. Foresta is a believer in using data to improve instruction practices and education outcomes.

Below are the questions and excerpts from our conversation with Foresta.

Q: What's your biggest worry about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)?  

As an instructional leader, my biggest worry is maintaining positive staff morale. There are so many changes occurring simultaneously in education. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that we are here for the kids and we need to seek alternatives to improve teaching and learning so that we may grow as educators. All key stakeholders must have a shared vision of the end result.

Q: What do you need to put in place before this all starts? 

We have successfully implemented the CCSS at the K-2 level this year. We had to...

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) recently issued a set of principles for the new Common Core–aligned tests. The document sent a pointed message to the Department of Education: “Dear Mr. Secretary: We got this.”

An initial read of the document reveals that the chiefs smartly emphasized the states’ role in Common Core and common assessments. This is important, given the prominent and growing narrative that both are creatures of a meddling Uncle Sam. But the principles and accompanying press release do something even more noteworthy: They cleverly offer the feds a way out of a serious, looming jam.

But first things first: CCSSO’s action is the kind of sharp, forward-looking, politically savvy tactic that has been sorely missing from the national implementation strategy of these new standards and assessments. To date, implementation has meant mostly in-the-weeds, behind-the-scenes transition work by SEAs and districts and advocates publicly condescending to anyone with the temerity to question Common Core or common assessments. That combination has led to soft political support for Common Core overall and a good bit of antagonism, especially on the right.

Put in this unfortunate context, CCSSO’s gambit comes across as highly sophisticated. As Common Core–aligned tests begin to roll out over the next year, the Department plans to use a peer-review process to ensure that the tests are high quality and aligned to tough standards. The Department has good intentions here. I’ve been hand wringing for months about the splintering of the testing consortia and...

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Last week, Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli—Fordham’s dynamic duo—joined a Cato Institute debate on Common Core, going up against Neal McCluskey of Cato and Emmett McGroaty of the American Principles Project.

Here are the key arguments that Checker and Mike made in defense of the Common Core:

Politics

In his opening remarks, Checker explained that “most of the discussion about the Common Core isn’t actually about education or about what kids learn; it’s about politics.” Indeed, Common Core has become the ball in a political kickball game. Many, perhaps most, Common Core critics have not read the standards themselves, nor do they want to engage in a debate over whether students are learning the rigorous content and skills they need to be prepared for what lies ahead.

Quality

State standards are not new. Prior to the Common Core, each state set academic standards for English language arts and math. But those standards were vague or low-level. Worse, the tests that states used to judge proficiency tested low-level knowledge and skills and had unacceptably low proficiency cut scores. The Common Core are clear and rigorous. That they are common is less important than the fact that they are high quality.

Improved outcomes

No Child Left Behind—and state testing programs before it—demonstrated that we could boost the achievement of the lowest performing kids by setting a low bar and demanding that schools help our most disadvantaged students get over it. Now we are embarked on a more ambitious project: to better align...

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In a prior post, I looked at the relationship between the Buckeye State’s value-added index scores and the state’s measure of poverty. Value-added scores are Ohio’s estimate, using a statistical method, of a school’s contribution to their students’ learning over the course of a school year. In this post, I examine the relationship between a school’s racial composition and its value-added score.

First, by selecting race as a variable that may influence school-level impacts on education, I’m not implying that kids of an African descent versus European versus Hispanic versus Asian have any inherent advantage. However, race (specifically, a school’s percentage of black students) could capture the impact of many untracked variables in the state’s education data, including the following factors:

  • In Ohio, 74 percent of black children come from a single-parent family compared to 28 percent of white children;
  • 58 percent of Ohio’s black children live in families where no parent has a full-time, year-round job, compared to just 27 percent of white children;
  • 50 percent of Ohio’s black children come from families living below the federal poverty level ($23,000 per year for a family of four), compared to 17 percent of white children;
  • 43 percent of black males (national data) have seen someone shot by age 18.

These bleak statistics surely factor into the lower achievement scores for black vis-à-vis white children. (To see the racial achievement gap in Ohio, see figures 3.5 and 3.6 in our 2012-13 Report Card analysis.)

But,...

As a Relinquisher, I’m weary of broad government mandates. I believe educators should run schools, parents should choose amongst these schools, and government should hold schools accountable for performance and equity.

So what to make of the Common Core—which will be the broadest combination of federal- or state-initiated regulatory overhaul that we’ve seen in decades?

Admittedly, it took me a while to sort through my competing impulses. But here’s the path I followed:

Skepticism: The research on standards

1.    There’s very little evidence that higher standards lead to higher achievement. As Tom Loveless notes, states with better standards do not show more growth on NAEP.

2.    There’s also a financial, political, and labor-opportunity cost to working on standards over other things more directly related to Relinquishment (charter expansion, human-capital pipelines, etc).

Pragmatic hope: The research, logic of assessments

1.    All states have standards, and experts seem to agree that the Common Core standards are better than most existing state standards—so if we’re going to have standards, we might as well make them higher quality.

2.    Why? Because I think this standards shift will include something that has not consistently happened under the NCLB standards shift: assessments will become more rigorous.

3.    Great standards can sit on shelves. Great assessments must be dealt with—and there is some evidence that increasing rigor of assessments in fourth-grade math and reading (by raising cut scores) is correlated to achievement gains. While causation is difficult to prove, this finding...

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Politics aside, the fate of the Common Core begins and ends with implementation. Particularly during this initial transition, it is critical that educators have sufficient support and guidance to successfully teach these standards. Unfortunately, much existing information focuses on content rather than instructional strategy, leaving educators baffled as to how to navigate the shift to Common Core in their own classrooms. Enter the Achievement Network (ANet), a nonprofit serving low-income schools. (Check out Education Next for great background.) Released as part of a collection of Common Core resources published by the Aspen Institute, this paper was informed by substantial on-the-ground work with 460 partner schools in seven states and the District of Columbia. It’s structured around three rubrics: one for “Leader Actions,” one for “Teacher Actions,” and one for “School Structures.” Each is designed to help on-the-ground educators diagnose their school’s current practices and details how to shift from basic to innovative practices in key areas. The report includes specific strategies ranging from how leaders can help teachers understand and plan from the new standards to how to improve teachers’ analysis and use of student data. For example, school leaders are urged to work closely with teachers to set goals based on individual students’ growth potential and to assist them in selecting one or two priority standards and instructional shifts on which to focus. The guide also includes sample questions upon which leaders can frame school-level discussions and provides case studies as examples of how other schools and...

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