News You Can Use:

Aligned, “Working Toward Alignment’: Aligned, the new weekly online journal supported by Student Achievement Partners, aims to help foster collaboration among educators and facilitate smooth implementation of Common Core State Standards. “Because the Common Core is not a curriculum, it presents tremendous opportunity and tough challenges for the design of new instructional materials,” the first entry notes. “Fostering the innovation we hope to see in new instructional materials is going to require collaboration from all the stakeholders – including publishers, school leaders, and classroom teachers. It also demands transparency and agreement about the criteria we use to define what Common Core-alignment means.” “The task [of finding materials properly aligned to Common Core] grew more daunting as we realized that our journey to select new resources would take us through uncharted territory,” writes on teacher on the site. Yet with resources like Student Achievement Partners’ “Instructional Materials Taskforce,” she says teachers in her district now have “access to CCSS in ways that we had not imagined previously.” “As we continue collaborating with our partner districts in deepening our understanding of professional learning, communication, and implementation in relation to selected material, we envision continued positive change.”

What It Means: Though transition to new, more rigorous standards has presented challenges for educators, they remain committed to implementation and are finding resources to support their teaching. A Scholastic study last fall found more than eight in 10 teachers who have worked closely with Common Core are enthusiastic about implementation, and more than two-thirds report an improvement in students’ critical thinking and analytical skills. Resources like Achieve the Core help meet teachers’ needs so they can effectively instigate changes in the classroom.

Arkansas Online, “Common Core Talks Underway”: On Thursday, an Arkansas review committee, tasked with providing recommendations about the state’s Common Core Standards, heard testimony from a panel of educators, including the State’s Teacher of the Year Ouida Newton, Education Commissioner Ken James, university faculty members, and State Department of Education staff. Newton said unlike the state’s old standards, which provided a checklist of skills students had to get through, Common Core State Standards enable educators to teach in-depth. “My teaching has changed drastically and for the better,” she said. “Common Core is not my curriculum. It’s my guide. It raises the expectations I have for student learning.” “These are Arkansas standards and we embrace them,” James added. “They are all standards designed so that our students can compete across state lines.” Gov. Hutchinson has said he expects standards that meet Arkansas needs. “I do expect high standards and high expectations for our students that are transparent and that we can use to measure where we are in reference to the competitive world and other states.”

What It Means: The educators on Thursday’s panel make a strong case for Common Core and underscore the Standards’ impact on classroom learning. Like Newton and James, educators in states across the country continue to overwhelmingly support Common Core State Standards and high-quality assessments. A study by Teach Plus found 79% of teacher participants believe new PARCC exams are better than those their states used before. Another study last fall found more than eight in 10 teachers who have worked closely with Common Core support implementation.

Capitol Hill Times (WA), “State Says Standardized Testing to Get Smarter with New Test”: Students in Seattle Public Schools, as well as in school districts across the state, will take new Smarter Balanced assessments for the first time this year. The exams emphasize “complex thinking, critical reading and evidence-based responses” and require “more sophisticated thinking” and real-life application, the article reports. The article notes the new assessments are a reset from the state’s previous exams, so scores won’t be comparable between the two. “The Smarter Balanced tests measure how well students have mastered the new [Common Core] standards,” a spokesperson for the state superintendent said. Superintendent Randy Dorn discouraged parents from opting out students. “Results from these new tests will tell us if students are on track to be college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school.”

What It Means: Strong assessments are an important tool for parents and educators to ensure students are developing the skills and knowledge to proceed to higher levels of learning. Tests like Smarter Balanced, which are designed to support the higher content of Common Core State Standards, hold students to a level that better ensures they are developing strong fundamental building blocks. By setting rigorous academic expectations, and holding schools accountable to them through high-quality assessments, states will make sure more students are on a college- and career-ready path.

The Californian,  “The Five R’s: A Roar for Common Core”: Education columnist Roberto Robledo writes that in his career of reporting the public focus on critical thinking and problem-solving skills to prepare students for college or a career has never been so strong. A study by Children Now this week found 93% of Californians say critical thinking and problem solving should be a top priority for schools, and 85% believed raising education standards will help students become more competitive. In California, “local educators are rolling with the punches in the installation of Common Core and preparing students and parents alike for learning in the 21st Century,” Robledo says. “Elementary educators are talking with middle school and high school educators, who are talking with community college and state university people.” The piece notes students must be better prepared to meet the demands of a competitive workforce. “As any business owner will tell you, the lack of skilled, job-ready applicants can drag down productivity…Make no mistake: The pre-K to 12th grade education system is the foundation of a thriving economy. And the Common Core standards are the new building blocks.”

What It Means: As Robledo points out, today’s competitive economy requires students develop a strong set of fundamental knowledge and skills. By setting rigorous, consistent learning goals, Common Core State Standards help ensure more students will develop those abilities, and ultimately graduate high school college- and career-ready. A study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with Common Core reported an improvement in their students’ critical thinking and reasoning abilities.


Correcting the Record:

Jackson Clarion Ledger, “Constitution Violated with Common Core”: Robert Holland, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, writes that the implementation process of Common Core “violated the U.S. Constitution and specific laws prohibiting federal meddling in curricula.” Holland points to a circuit court judge’s decision that Missouri’s participation in the Smarter Balanced testing consortia constituted an interstate commercial agreement, which requires Congressional approval. “That is just one of the numerous legal challenges that CC could face,” the letter states, claiming the U.S. Education Department used “federal stimulus money to buy states’ CC participation” and “essentially rewriting federal law to keep states in the enforcement web.” “Common Core opponents ought not overlook the judiciary as a source of relief from this ill-conceived movement to nationalize education,” Holland concludes.

Where They Went Wrong: Holland’s letter fans concerns about federal overreach even though experts and objective analysis have repeatedly dismissed such accusations. Claims that the Standards violate the Constitution amount to little more than backdoor tactics to subvert high, comparable education standards. Common Core State Standards enable teachers to better collaborate across schools and state lines to unlock students’ full potential. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Standards continue to implement them or some nearly identical version because, as the Collaborative’s Karen Nussle wrote, the public fundamentally supports rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments.


On Our Reading List:

Politico, “Insiders: Jeb Bush’s Number 1 Problem in Iowa”: Nine in 10 Republican “insiders” from early voting states believe Gov. Jeb Bush’s support for Common Core will hurt his presidential bid, but only a small minority believe it will prove fatal, according to a weekly Politico survey. On a zero to 10 scale, 10 being “disqualifying,” the average response was that Bush’s support for Common Core State Standards was a 6. “This is the number-one issue Bush faces in Iowa with caucus-goers,” said one Iowa operative. But the people who are angriest about the issue are the least likely to vote for Bush anyway, the article says. It notes this week the Collaborative began airing TV spots featuring former Sec. Bill Bennett to bolster support for the Standards. A Marist poll found 57% of Iowa’s Republican electorate said they could accept a candidate who supports Common Core.

USA Today,  “Bryant Vetoes Common Core Bill; Reeves Criticizes Move”: On Thursday, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant vetoed a bill that called for review of the state’s Common Core standards but stopped short of requiring the state board of education to adopt the review committee’s recommendations. Gov. Bryant said the bill doesn’t guarantee the Standards won’t be used in Missouri schools. “I remain firmly committed to ending Common Core in Mississippi,” Gov. Bryant said. “This bill does not accomplish that goal, and I cannot in good conscience sign it into law.”

Newark Star-Ledger, “Christie Warns Parents Opting Out of PARCC Could Trigger Reduced Services, Higher Local Taxes”: On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cautioned parents against opting students out of PARCC assessments, saying refusals could force “ramifications out of my control.” “Penalties that occur for opting out of testing aren’t just state penalties – they’re federal penalties,” Gov. Christie said. “Federal money is connected to that testing.” “There’s nothing I can do to stop you,” he added, “but then don’t complain later that you’re not getting the money that you used to.”

Chalkbeat Colorado, “Modest Testing Reduction Bill Advances in Senate”: On Thursday, a bipartisan bill to reduce state testing won preliminary approval in the Colorado Senate. The legislation calls for one set of English and math tests in high school, along with the ACT, and would create greater flexibility for districts to use their own tests. Another bill, SB 15-233, which sought to get rid of Common Core State Standards and withdraw the state from PARCC testing, was sent from the Senate floor back to committee, where it will likely die, the article reports.