As the great Yogi Berra is reported as saying, it’s like deja vu all over again!
First it was common core standards. Then common core assessments. Today, the Al Shanker Institute started talking about common core curriculum. But instead of calling for a true national curriculum, the logical next step in the common core movement, they call for curriculum, defined as a “sequential set of guidelines in the core academic disciplines.” is it too bold to ask for someone, anyone to come out and call for a national curriculum?
For the past three years, Eduflack has touted the role the states (and localities) play in true school improvement. As “interesting” as the federal role is with its carrot/stick approach, the real work is happening at the SEA/LEA level. That was the case during the NCLB era, and it is certainly the case as we move into the College- and Career-Readiness Act era (OK, we need a catchy acronym for what EdSec Duncan and company are dreaming up for ESEA.) Real change, real improvement, and real decisions are ultimately found in our state capitals.
Today, the 112th Congress officially takes its seat. Anyone who watched the November elections realizes that a major change in philosophy takes the gavel in Washington, riding on the momentum of the “Tea Party” movement.
Two-thirds of states have now signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative, pledging to adopt the K-12 English/language arts and math standards framework officially released in final form by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers back in June.
Without doubt, CCSSI is a necessary step forward in our national school improvement effort. One, singular set of academic standards is a non-negotiable if we are to truly improve our performance on national assessments such as NAEP and if we are to make ourselves more competitive on international benchmarks such as PISA and TIMSS. CCSS offer the promise that, in the near future, we will actually know the answer to the question, what should a fourth grader know when it comes to math? Or what does it mean to be ELA proficient in the 7th grade. Doesn’t matter what state or district a student is in (unless they happen to reside in Texas or Virginia), standards will soon actually be standard.
As states are moving to formally adopt the CCSS, the federal government is already beginning the process of developing the assessments that will accompany such standards. In the coming weeks, we should hear about hundreds of millions of dollars being sent to various consortia to develop a standard assessment to go with the standards. But an important question remains. How do we move these K-12 standards frameworks into real instruction?
Often, school improvement efforts get bogged down in this question. We offer up a “great idea” but have little notion of how to operationalize it. So those great ideas wither on the vine. We all sign onto the concept, but we never fully put it into practice.
Last week, a comprehensive set of K-12 ELA “curriculum maps” were released for public review and comment. The maps are a product of Common Core (which despite the name is not actually a part of or affiliated with CCSSI). According to the folks at Common Core (a group Eduflack has been fortunate to work with):
Common Core’s Curriculum Maps in English Language Arts were written by public school teachers for public school teachers. The maps translate the new Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten through 12th grade into unit maps that teachers can use to plan their year, craft their own more detailed curriculum, and create lesson plans. The maps are flexible and adaptable, yet they address every standard in the CCSS. Any teacher, school, or district that chooses to follow the Common Core maps can be confident that they are adhering to the standards. Even the topics the maps introduce grow out of and expand upon the “exemplar” texts recommended in the CCSS. And because they are free the maps will save school districts millions in curriculum development costs. The draft maps are available for public comment until September 17.
There has been a great deal swirling around the blogsphere the past week on these Curriculum Maps. One thing seems certain. Like CCSSI itself, these Maps are a necessary first step toward moving the standards into real instruction. Do they answer each and every question one has about implementing CCSS? Of course not. But it does put us on a real path toward teaching English according to what is expected from CCSS. And it does so on a platform that was constructed on the standards themselves (rather than being tailored from old, existing materials or simply claiming alignment even if one is not there).
Perhaps most importantly, though, is that these standards were “written by public school teachers for public school teachers.” We’ve been hearing a great deal, of late, about how most education improvement efforts seem to exclude teachers from the process. We bring them the final product, asking them to implement, but we don’t give them any practical input into the development. These Common Core Curriculum Maps seem different. Educators developed and reviewed these drafts. Teachers are now being asked to provide public comment and input on the drafts. And those teacher inputs will be factored in before the Maps go final later this fall.
Such maps only live up to their potential, though, if folks provide valuable feedback and actionable recommendations. Both the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation processes were strengthened because of a robust public comment period. Same goes for the Common Core State Standards themselves, which went through comprehensive review and public comment before we saw the final product in early June.
So for all of those who worry how to implement the standards, now is the time to offer public comment. For all of those who worry that teachers have been ignored in the school reform process, now is the time to offer public comment. For all of those who have first-hand, real classroom experience to provide, now is the time to offer public comment. And for those who want to improve both teaching and learning, particularly in ELA, now is the time to offer public comment.
As the first to market, these Common Core Curriculum Maps have the potential of wielding significant impact on the future of instruction in our public school classrooms. If we are going to start from the strongest footing possible, we need teachers and administrators and policymakers and the like to take the time to review the maps and offer their views on how to strengthen the recommendations and improve the tools that will be provided the educators throughout the nation.
When are lower student achievement scores a good thing? That seems to be the question thrown about up in New York City this past week, where Big Apple officials have been grappling with the reality that city students’ performance on the state’s math and reading proficiency tests fell after a newer (and harder) exam was put into place.
As always, it is most fun to read the evolution of such stories in the New York Post, which first reported on the plunge, and then editotrialized on the issue twice — first on Thursday praising the new “truth-telling” and then again today, condemning the United Federation of Teachers for jumping on the test score drop to “discredit all education standards.”
It should be no secret that state standards — and the tests that measure those standards — have been a problem for some time. Since the introduction of NCLB, we’ve witnessed states lowering their standards so that they could continue to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress,” regularly reducing the bar so the number of students hitting proficient increased year after year after year. In this educational shell game, it meant reducing the standards again and again to keep up.
The NY Post refers to the problem as “junk tests” but the real issue seems to be the standards behind them. Tests are only as good as what we are expected to measure. Garbage in, garbage out. Did anyone really believe that more than three-quarters of NY students were proficient in reading and math? Of course not. But New York State’s definition of proficient and a common sense definition of the same are quite different. How else do you explain such strong proficiency numbers at a time when half of students require remediation?
One can’t fault the NYC DOE for playing the hands it has been dealt. When taking the old state proficiency exam, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein posted some long-term gains. Year on year, test scores increased. That is progress. Now that they have a new test aligned to new standards, the game starts anew. These scores serve as the year one baseline. Next year, we expect to see gains. And the year after that, more of the same. Rince and repeat.
But those looking to discredit the improvements in NYC based on this one test are going to be sorely mistaken. Just take a look at the other measures around us. On the NAEP exam, the Nation’s Report Card which offers one standard measure for all students across the nation, NYC has seen gains in student achievement (while the rest of New York state has remained flat). And as Eduflack wrote earlier this year, Chancellor Klein has shown real improvement on high school graduation rates. So at a time when the teachers’ unions are calling for multiple measures to evaluate teachers, we are seeing that multiple measures support claims of NYC schools improvement.
Ultimately, while this makes for some lovely rhetorical skirmishes in the city that never sleeps, it doesn’t negate a very simple truth. Over the last decade, NYC schools have come a long way. But they still have a long way to go. At no point do I remember hearing Klein declare mission accomplished. Progress has been made, but there is still much to do, particularly in addressing achievement gap issues in New York. The new test provides a clearer, stronger view of the challenges before NY educators. And the pending adoption and implementation of Common Core standards offers a clearer picture of where one has to go.
Instead of using the latest round of test scores to throw recent reforms out the window, improvements on measures such as NAEP and grad rates should show what is possible, and the growing need to redouble current reform efforts. If anything, these scores demonstrate that more must be done.
In recent months, we have been hearing a great deal about how individual states’ academic standards measure up to the Common Core. Both Texas and Virginia have proudly proclaimed that their state standards are far superior to the proposed shared standards, and as a result they have refused to pursue Race to the Top and to sign onto Common Core Standards. When California agreed to Common Core in principle last year, it did so only after proclaiming that the Golden State had the best standards in the union, and Common Core could cut out the middle man and just adopt California standards. And this week in Massachusetts, many are trying to delay the adoption of Common Core, believing that the Bay State’s standards are better than where NGA and CCSSO landed earlier this year.
Well now the Fordham Institute has weighed in, offering up a state-by-state analysis of how current state standards measure up to the Common Core. And what do they say?
* Overall, the math Common Core is stronger than the ELA Common Core. With math, 39 states’ standards are inferior. With reading, 37 states’ standards are inferior (but three are superior).
* Texas scores an A- compared to the reading Common Core, but only a C on math.
* Virginia scores a B+ on math and a C on ELA
* Massachusetts posts an A- on math and a B+ on ELA
Some of the more “interesting” findings:
* Washington, DC scores an A for both its current ELA and math standards. Who knew that Michelle Rhee and company could claim they have the best standards in the nation, better than Massachusetts or the rest?
* Indiana and California also scored As in both categories. So according to Fordham, Cali, DC, and Indiana are the tops. How many would get that right on Jeopardy?
* And some of the laggards? Montana earned dual Fs. Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin earned and F and a D each. Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Rhode Island come in with Ds. See any surprises in those lists?
How about our two Race to the Top Phase I winners? Tennessee picked up an A- on ELA and a C on math. Delaware an F on ELA and an B on math.
What does all of this tell us? We still have a lot of work to do. I don’t think that anyone truly believes that the strongest academic standards in the nation belong to Washington, DC. Nor do we see the worst standards coming from states in New England or the Northeast.
Fordham is offering up a great deal of food for thought here. If anything, it shows why we need that common yardstick by which to measure student performance for all. But I suspect this is just the first in a long list of analyses, points, crosspoints, and other discussions of standards, common standards, and what is to come.
For weeks now, we have been hearing about states that have decided they will not pursue Race to the Top, Part II. Over at Politics K-12 , Michele McNeil has a dozen or so states that either have decided not to apply or are dangerously close to not applying before next Tuesday’s drop-dead date for the final taste of the $4 billion pot.
This shouldn’t be surprising. More than 40 states put in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of work and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to prepare their Phase I apps. Two states, Delaware and Tennessee, won in the early round. Those remaining states were left with detailed judges’ scores to help guide a redo due June 1. But some states simply don’t have the stomach for it, offering a host of reasons not to pursue.
Perhaps one of the most interesting reasons for declining was offered yesterday by Eduflack’s home state of Virginia. According to the Washington Post, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is not entering the Race because of the Common Core Standards. The chief executive of the Old Dominion claims that Virginia’s current academic standards are “much superior” and he doesn’t see the need of tinkering with 15 years of work to establish the current Standards of Learning.
I understand a state like Massachusetts, which is known for having some of the top performance standards in the nation to be wary of common core, but Virginia, really? When discussions turn to state standards and the leaders and laggards, one really hears about Virginia’s SOLs being at the top of the class.
Earlier this month, Eduflack wrote about the dangers of states that have reduced their standards to show performance gains on AYP. Unfortunately, we see far too many states that tout impressive records of student acheivement on their state exams and measured against their state standards, only to see that performance plummet when compared to a common yardstick like NAEP.
So let’s take another look at the data offered by Gary Phillips, a vice president at American Institutes for Research and the former acting commissioner at NCES. How does Virginia stack up? According to the SOLs, 82 percent of fourth graders in Virginia were proficient in math. But when we look at the NAEP scores, that number drops to the low 40s. It is even worse for eighth grade math, where the SOLs put proficiency at 79, but NAEP puts it under 40.
Why is this important? The NAEP is a common measure. It lets Virginia see where it stacks up compared to other states. And the numbers there are startling. In fourth grade, we are in the middle of the pack, far behind states like Massachusetts, South Carolina, Missouri, Washington, Vermont, and New Hampshire. By eighth grade, Virginia is near the bottom of the pack in such performance, only posting better numbers that seven states.
Is that really “much superior?” Are we really declaring “mission accomplished” when we are mediocre at fourth grade and drop to the bottom quartile by eighth grade? The bar we’ve set on academic standards is … at least we are better than Oklahoma?
By now, most in national education policy circles realize we are transitioning from the era of AYP to the era of college/career ready. Instead of using middle school reading and math proficiency as our yardstick, we will soon be using the college- and career-ready common core standards to determine if states, districts, and schools are truly making progress toward student achievement.
Over at National Journal’s Education Experts Blog, they’ve been spending the week discussing EdSec Arne Duncan’s Blueprint for ESEA Reauthorization. Lots of interesting opinion here, from Sandy Kress’ significant disappointment to Michael Lomax’ support to real concerns about the “5 percent rule” to a general feeling that lack of details is a good thing in planning legislative policy.
But this morning, your NJ ring leader Eliza Kligman broke a bit from protocol and posted an anonymous comment from a reader in South Carolina. (For those who don’t realize the participant list for the Education Experts Blog is a virtual who’s who. There are MANY in the chattering class who desperately want to be added to the list, but haven’t yet. And to focus on these experts, National Journal doesn’t allow readers to post comments to the blog. A general concept that usually means the kiss of death for a blog, but seems to work for National Journal.)
But I digress. This reader raised an important question with regard to the next generation of ESEA and our intent of getting every child in the United States “college ready.” In fact, the comment is a little more pointed, with the reader stating, “if everyone is highly technically trained or college educated who is going to check out my groceries, cut down the dead tree in my back yard, tow my car when it breaks down, or take my money when I buy gas at the convenience store? If you think the illegal alien problem is bad now, just wait until all of us middle class soon-to-be-elderly are told we have to pay highly skilled wages tot he guy who cuts our grass.”
While SC is mixing and matching a wide range of policy issues that shouldn’t be joined together (such as who is worthy of earning highly skilled wages and the immigration issue), he does start to touch on an interesting point. But Eduflack would ask a more important question — does being college ready mean that every student should actually attend college?
In today’s global economy, just about everyone who holds a full-time job likely needs the sort of knowledge and skills that would be deemed “college- and career-ready.” That guy fixing his car is most likely ASE certified and needs to be well versed in computers, math, and other subjects to successfully repair what are now four-wheeled computers with AC and a killer sound system. The guy cutting the tree now needs to know ecology and life sciences and hopefully some math to generate accurate invoices. And regardless of the job, we want everyone to be literate with some level of social skill. So the fear expressed by SC and many, many others is a bit of a straw man.
It opens the larger question, though. As a nation, though, we have set a national goal to have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by the year 2020. Why? Is it more important for someone to hold a diploma or a good-paying job? What is the measure of a successful nation? A strong economy? A robust workforce? Or the total worth of outstanding student loans?
I don’t mean to be negative here, but Eduflack has long believed we are selling students a bill of goods by telling them everyone should go to college. First off, when we say college, most mean four-year degrees (and that’s even how that national goal is being measured). But what about the knowledge and skills that are earned through community college programs and career and technical education programs? What about military service, where four years of Army training may be far more beneficial than a BA in the liberal arts? What about those whose passion is pursuing a trade, or the true entrepreneurs who are itching to open a business and pursue their passion? Are all of those pursuits worth less because they don’t come attached to a four-year degree?
When Eduflack got into this discussion a few years ago, it generated an ongoing offline debate with a liberal arts professor from a college in the Pacific Northwest. He regularly called me a complete idiot, saying I completely missed the point. The role of college, he would say, is not to prepare kids for career, it was to broaden their minds and open them up to new experiences.
The ESEA Blueprint is correct is seeking to ensure that all those who graduate from U.S. high schools are ready for either college or career. But we need to have a much deeper discussion of who should go to college, why they should pursue postsecondary education, and what the expected return on investment is for such a pursuit. In an era where an aspiring college student can drop more than $200,000 to earn a BA from a private liberal arts institution, ROI becomes an important topic — for lenders, potential employers, and the students themselves.
After months of anticipation, we finally have the official blueprint for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act form the Obama Administration. The plan was teased in some news articles yesterday (Saturday) morning and was previewed during President Barack Obama’s weekly radio address on Saturday morning. The official plan, found here, was officially released on Saturday evening at 8 p.m.
- College and Career-Ready Students — Raising standards for all students, better assessments, a complete education (meaning a well-rounded curriculum beyond the common core standards)
- Great Teachers and Leaders in Every School — Effective teachers and principals, our best teachers and leaders where they are needed the most, and strengthening teacher and leadership preparation and recruitment.
- Equity and Opportunity for All Students — Rigorous and fair accountability for all students, meeting the needs of diverse learners, and greater equity.
- Raise the Bar and Reward Excellence — Fostering a Race to the Top, supporting effective school choice, and promoting a culture of college readiness and success.
- Promoting Innovation and Continuous Improvement — Fostering innovation and accelerating success, supporting recognizing and rewarding local innovations, and supporting student success.
been shared with the at large chattering class. We’re being asked to buy into big ideas, with specific dollars, programs, and line items available on a need-to-know basis at a later date.