News You Can Use:

Center for American Progress, “Teacher Leadership: The Pathway to Common Core Success”: A new report by the Center for American Progress examines school districts throughout the country that have taken collaborative approaches to provide educators with a voice in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. “With all of the political posturing, it’s easy to lose focus on and pay little heed to the voices of the people most affected by the standards – teachers and students,” a summary notes. “While the Common Core may continue to be litigated in state houses throughout the country and while national politicians may use it as a political wedge, teachers are hard at [work] implementing the standards each day. As such, teachers’ voices on Common Core implementation are vitally important to its success.” The report finds districts and unions across the country have been working together to involve teachers in meaningful ways, which have “taken on new importance with the rollout of the Common Core.”

What It Means: As the CAP report highlights, political debate over Common Core has largely drowned out teacher and student voices. The study demonstrates how educators are assuming leadership of implementation and overseeing decisions to put the standards into practice. The CAP report adds to the evidence that educators who work closely with Common Core State Standards continue to strongly support implementation and are seeing improvements in student outcomes through them.

Washington Post, “A Former Disc Jockey, Pet Sitter and Journalist Becomes Teacher of the Year”: A profile of Shanna Peeples, who was named the 2015 Teacher of the Year, notes that while from Texas, which did not adopt Common Core State Standards, she supports high education standards. “Our standards in Texas – more than 90 percent overlap with the Common Core,” Peeples said. “What gets lost in all this debate is that standards are a good thing. We want standards, we want discrete skills that are identifiable, we want every kid to be able to read and write at a high level. Everyone wants that for their kids. Standards are kind of like the floor. I don’t understand sometimes why people get very upset about it.”

What It Means: High academic standards and rigorous assessments that hold schools accountable to them are important to ensure more students graduate high school prepared for college or a career. Peeples, whose state doesn’t use Common Core, recognizes the value of rigorous standards. A Scholastic study last fall found more than eight in 10 teachers who have worked closely with Common Core State Standards support implementation and more than two-thirds report an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Center for Teaching Quality, “I Think They Can; I Think I Can”: Acknowledging concerns that Common Core State Standards ask a lot of young students, Tricia Ebner, a middle school language arts teachers, writes that children achieve to the expectations teachers hold for them. Citing examples both as a teacher and parent, Ebner says, “I’ve seen some ‘little engine that could’ moments when it comes to the standards.” “Why hadn’t I been challenging my students with these kinds of assignments in the past?” Ebner adds. “What limitations are we putting on our students and ourselves? How often do we say, ‘They can’t do that,’ rather than saying, ‘Let’s find out what the can do?’”

What It Means: Common Core holds students to high academic expectations even at early grades to better ensure they are on track to develop the skills and knowledge needed for high levels of learning. Yet, as Ebner points out, the standards are not developmentally inappropriate; they set ambitious goals to help students achieve their full potential. A Scholastic study last year found more than two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with Common Core State Standards report an improvement in their students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.


Correcting the Record:

Washington Post, “Does the Common Core Help Boost Reading Comprehension?”: In the latest of a series of five entries by Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, he writes that Common Core State Standards’ approach to reading comprehension “makes sense, but the aim seems unlikely to be met.” “Once a child can decode fluently, prior knowledge – that is, the reader’s knowledge of the topic of the text – is the main driver of comprehension,” the piece states. To develop such background understanding, schools should have broad curricula, Willingham says. “Sadly, the available evidence indicates that curriculum in American schools are narrow…These two facts – background knowledge is crucial to reading comprehension, and most elementary curricula are insufficiently focused on building background knowledge – are behind the emphasis on knowledge-building in the Common Core standards.” The piece concludes, “Including 50 percent non-fiction is a good idea, but that mandate will fulfill its intended function much more effectively if the tests are logically sequenced.”

Where They Went Wrong: Unlike old education models, which included little logical sequencing in learning, Common Core State Standards provide clear, progressive learning goals to help students develop strong building blocks to ensure success at higher levels. Willingham suggests standards should dictate what’s included in curricula. Common Core ensures that educators retain control of how and what is taught, so they can address learning needs and make sure students are progressing at a pace that prepares them for higher level content.


On Our Reading List:

CBS Denver, “Feds Send Warning to Colorado Lawmakers Regarding Standardized Testing Bill”: A letter to Colorado lawmakers from the U.S. Department of Education cautioned that if more than five-percent of students in schools opt out of state tests the state could lose $400 million in funding. “So technically they could, down the road, have situation where only the 10 or 20 percent of the smart kids show up for the test. And it basically makes the accountability measures worthless in that no one is really going to believe any data that just has the 10 or 20 percent of the kids that enjoy taking the tests, because do well at them, take the test,” said Rep. Kevin Priola.

Education Week, “Florida’s Biggest District Cuts Nearly All End-of-Course Exams”: Miami-Dade School District, the largest district in Florida and the fifth-largest in the country, decided last Thursday to drop all but 10 of the 300 end-of-year exams that used to be a state requirement. Earlier this month Gov. Rick Scott signed a law giving districts more power over testing requirements.

Fordham Institute Flypaper Blog, “Marco Rubio Quotes about Education”: The first in a series examining what presidential candidates have said about education issues look at Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Of Common Core State Standards, Rubio has said, “I don’t care what anybody tells you…Those standards will eventually be used to force on states policies the federal government wants.” And, “Common Core started out as a well-intentioned effort to develop more rigorous curriculum standards…However, it is increasingly being used by the Obama administration to turn the Department of Education into what is effectively a national school board.”

Vox, “American Students Might Be Better at Math than You Think”: In response to a New York Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof, which notes that American students rank worse in math than reading on international scales, Vox’s Libby Nelson says “American students, on average, do pretty well in comparison.” The reason Nelson argues is Kristof cherry-picked questions that U.S. students did poorly on rather than the test as a whole. Nelson points out comparisons should use tests measure students’ ability to apply math. “They should be able to actually use what they’ve learned as adults. So some reforms, including the Common Core and Singapore’s math curriculum, are aimed at helping students understand why math works the way it does.”