News You Can Use:

Huntsville Times, “Retired Army General Calls Common Core Standards Essential for Military Readiness”: Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Curran says Common Core State Standards are “a critical force for future military readiness.” Noting that one in five high school students in Alabama do not graduate on time, Curran says, “28 percent of those who do graduate and try to join the military cannot enlist because of low scores on the military’s entrance exam. This is an alarming, direct indication that too many of today’s high school graduates do not have the skills the military needs.” Common Core helps address this problem by “ensuring that more students are college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school. This makes it far more likely they will qualify for military service if that is the path they choose. But they do not tell teachers how to teach or specify a curriculum…these decisions are left up to schools and teachers.” Lt. Gen. Curran concludes, “I hope our state lawmakers will act on common sense for the common good of students in protecting these standards. Retreating now will make it all the more difficult to prepare our youth to succeed in a world that demands a high standards of performance.”

What It Means: CCSS are important for both military readiness and military families. As Lt. Gen. Curran points out, nationwide about a quarter of high school graduates cannot pass the basic military entrance exam. By holding students to high academic learning goals, CCSS help ensure more students will graduate with the skills to succeed in the military, college or a career. For military families, who move on average 6-9 times during a child’s K-12 career, Common Core State Standards provide greater consistency so students face less of a risk of falling behind or relearning material when transition to a new classroom.

CORElaborate, “Flight? Fight? Or Shift Gears?”: Despite initial concerns about how her students would fare on new assessments designed to test to the more rigorous content of Common Core and how scores might be used to evaluate her teaching, Emily Wojciechowicz, a high-school English teacher, says: “In the end, our focus on the standards and our focus on creating authentic, quality learning experiences is what will benefits our kids the most in their lives.” Noting that states have long employed education standards, Wojciechowicz adds, “I don’t see something to fight about there…Our goal is still what it has always been: to make sure that every kid, every day, in every class has quality learning experiences that will help them on their way to being college and career ready.” Common Core State Standards, Wojciechowicz says, “can keep making learning better and keep helping kids grow.” “That is the message I choose to take to my colleagues. Keep doing it!”

What It Means: Although the rigorous content of the Common Core State Standards present challenges for both students and teachers, educators continue to strongly support implementation of the Standards. A Scholastic study last fall found more than eight in 10 teachers say implementation is going well, and more than two-thirds reported an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills under the standards.

Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal, “Commissioner: Test Identifies Districts Needing Help”: Maine’s Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin defends the state’s assessments as a tool to identify and support under-performing school districts. “We don’t know where the teaching is good, bad and otherwise,” Desjardin says. “I need to make sure the kids in Fort Kent, Lewiston and Kittery are getting the same opportunities for a quality education. The only way I know how, and it’s not perfect, that they’re getting the same opportunity is if they all take the same tests and I compare their answers.” Opt-out efforts could “invalidate the data,” Desjardin says, eroding the ability to “say with reliability these are the schools we need to send help to.” Bill Webster, superintendent of the Lewiston School District, agrees that opting-out “is a real disservice” that ultimately hurts students.

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the few tools educators have to identify learning needs, both on an individual and district level, so they can address them. Assessments that test to the higher content of Common Core State Standards provide constructive feedback, and because they require students to demonstrate their understanding, these exams reduce pressures to teach to the test. A Teach Plus study found 79% of teacher participants said new assessments designed to support Common Core are better than those that their states used before.


Correcting the Record:

Politico, “The New Hampshire GOP Summit: 6 Takeaways”: Following a Republican Party summit in New Hampshire this weekend, James Hohmann and Cate Martel write, “the fight for the nomination is unusually fluid.” Among six takeaways from the events, the article says, “Common Core is toxic with the GOP base – and Jeb Bush finally realizes it.” Several formally-announced presidential candidates used the weekend to criticize the standards. “We need to repeal every word of Common Core,” said Sen. Ted Cruz. “A lot of politicians say they’re against Common Core,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal. “I’m actually in federal court right now suing President Obama and suing Arne Duncan…to stop it.” “I’m very cautious about the federal government’s role in establishing curriculum standards…They ultimately turn it into a stick and force you to do it,” Sen. Marco Rubio said. “Common Core is every bit as problematic as Obamacare,” said former Gov. Rick Perry. The article adds that former Gov. Jeb Bush, a strong supporter of the Common Core State Standards, has “changed his tone” by saying, “We don’t need the federal government involved in this at all.”

Where They Went Wrong: In an effort to court a small but vocal faction of the base, some GOP leaders have fanned concerns that Common Core State Standards represent a federal takeover of local education. Expertseducators and objective analysis have repeatedly rejected these claims, pointing out that the Standards were created without federal involvement and voluntarily adopted by states. And while some have described Common Core as a litmus test for candidates, polling indicates support for the Standards could be a political asset for leaders, like Gov. Bush who has steadfastly supported the Common Core State Standards while calling for a limited federal role in education. A recent LSU poll found more than two-thirds of the public support high, comparable education standards.

NPR, “Anti-Test ‘Opt-Out’ Movement Makes a Wave in New York State”: Efforts to encourage parents to opt their children out of state assessments are having a big impact in New York, where about 175,000 students refused to participate in state exams. The “federally mandated test” and the “adoption of Common Core State Standards has really brought things to a head,” the article states. “I feel like tests in New York state and across the country have gotten out of control,” said one parent. “They’re wasting teachers’ time and kids’ time. It’s robbing teachers of the chance to be creative in ways that they want to be and can be.” Calling opt-outs “civil disobedience,” the article notes children “as young as 11 or 12” are getting involved. “The irony is that even as parents are raising such a ruckus, there’s a draft bill in the Senate right now that would remove a lot of the federal high stakes from tests and could turn the temperature down on testing nationwide,” the author adds.

Where They Went Wrong: The article incorrectly implies that the Common Core-aligned exam that New York students are taking is federally mandated. Federal law mandates that students take exams in math and English Language Arts in grades 3-8 and once in high school – it does not mandate that students take a particular test, a decision left up to state policymakers. Strong assessments are an important tool to give parents and teachers an accurate measure of student development and to identify and address learning needs before they become problematic. As teachers have pointed out, opt-out efforts undermine school accountability and risk putting students at a disadvantage.


On Our Reading List:

Wall Street Journal, “Bill Bennett Defends Common Core in Iowa TV Ad”: The Collaborative for Student Success launched a television ad in Iowa this week in which former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett emphasizes the importance of Common Core State Standards. “High standards are worth fighting for,” Sec. Bennett says. “That’s why so many conservatives are taking a fresh look at Common Core.” “There’s an enormous amount of confusion around Common Core,” said Karen Nussle. “The fact is rigorous standards that are comparable across state lines, coupled with increased accountability, is conservative reform with roots dating back to Ronald Reagan. It’s important that Republicans not allow this issue to be hijacked.” The full video is available here.

NCTM Daily News, “Briars Calls on Teachers to Engage Parents”: At the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ 66th Delegate Assembly last week, NCTM President Diane Briars called on educators to continue to work with parents to help educate them about the importance of Common Core State Standards. “We need to be working with parents who don’t know much about the Common Core,” Briars said. “We need to explain to them how important it is that their child understands what we are teaching to them. They deserve a world-class education.”

Post Star (NY), “Consider Common Core on Its Own Merits”: Despite an imperfect rollout, “we should not ignore the worthwhile intent of Common Core,” writes Emily Aierstok, a New York middle school teacher. “The Common Core standards were developed to ensure that students at each grade level, nationwide, would have certain skills and grasp certain concepts in math and English,” Aierstok says. “We don’t begrudge the teachers their position, whether its anti-Common Core or anti-evaluation. But we question the wisdom and fairness of enlisting students in their cause as the teachers union has done by encouraging families to have their children sit out the tests.” She concludes, “Teaching Common Core is not about teaching to a test, but about developing deep knowledge of a subject that can be applied to many questions.”

Christian Science Monitor,  “Applause for No Child Left Behind Rewrite, but Concerns Remain”: Last week the Senate HELP committee moved forward the Every Child Achieve Act, a rewrite of NCLB, which would keep intact annual assessment requirements but allow states to set their own accountability systems. “[The] consensus is this: Continue the law’s important measure of academic progess of students but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement,” said HELP Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander. The article notes the compromise means that “few policy groups are fully satisfied with the bill in its current form,” and debate in the full Senate is likely to “spark some partisan fireworks.”