News You Can Use:

USA Today, “Jeb Bush & Mike Huckabee Need to Talk Immigration, Education”: Ahead of the NHCLC Summit in Houston, which will feature former Govs. Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez writes that where Republican presidential candidates stand on immigration and education reform will largely determine whether they are able to secure the Hispanic and evangelical vote. “Our faith requires us to honor the imago dei in every person, enabling each to fulfill the potential God has given them,” Rev. Rodriguez says, “which is why I support non-federal education standards which can be compared across states…While everyone seems engulfed in a debate over the semantics of the term Common Core, we need a common sense solution to address the educational disparity in America. The patchwork of academic standards across states has not been adequately preparing high school graduates for career or college.” Noting as much as 40% of college students require some remediation, Rev. Rodriguez adds, “High academic benchmarks are the path to a high-quality education; individual district and school curricula are the steps on that path.”

What It Means: Rev. Rodriguez makes clear the importance of high, comparable education standards to ensure students of all backgrounds are held to expectations that prepare them for college and a career. By setting rigorous, consistent learning goals for all students, Common Core State Standards ensure more students will graduate high school fully prepared for the next step, regardless of where they grow up or go to school. Contrary to critics’ claims that Common Core would be a political liability for conservative leaders, Rev. Rodriguez points out that support for high academic expectations is a requisite to winning evangelical and Hispanic voters, the latter of which is the fastest growing demographic in the country.

Inside Higher Ed, “Common Core Gets Its Footing”: Colleges, which before have largely remained on the sidelines of debate about Common Core State Standards and related tests, are beginning to endorse the Standards. Four Delaware colleges announced they would begin using scores from Smarter Balanced assessments to determine placement, joining over 100 California colleges, 10 in Hawaii, 24 in Oregon, 49 in Washington and six in South Dakota. Colleges in Colorado and Illinois are using PARCC exams for the same purpose. “In the past, most state tests had no linkage to higher education. Smarter Balanced has worked with states and higher education to give meaning to high school exams,” said Tony Alpert, executive director of Smarter Balanced. “PARCC provides another avenue for students to demonstrate college readiness, and it can give feedback to students about where they are with respect to skills they need early in their high school career,” said Rhonda Epper, chief student academic affairs officer for the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The article notes only 9.5% of two-year students and 35.1% of students at four-year schools in remediation complete a degree within three or six years.

What It Means: Common Core State Standards and high-quality assessments are designed to ensure that students are fully prepared for college or a career upon graduating high school. Across the country, college systems are beginning to use both as a measure of student preparedness, helping to identify and address learning needs before students incur costly remediation. That is a strong endorsement of the standards, and will create greater partnership between secondary and post-secondary education systems.

Concord Monitor, “A Background in Communications Is Helpful in Deciphering the Anti-Smarter Balanced Message”: Changes engendered by the transition to Common Core State Standards and high-quality exams that support the standards may be challenging, but “different does not equal wrong,” writes Lee Laughlin, a New Hampshire parent. Noting that opposition has relied heavily on “anti-education prose” and “herd mentality” encouraging students to opt-out of tests, Laughlin says new assessments to give teachers another tool to measure student development. “Are Common Core and Smarter Balanced perfect? Far from it. Are they an improvement? From what I’m reading, I think so,” Laughlin says.

What It Means: Much of the debate about Common Core has been based on misleading and often flat-out false information, which has drowned out constructive dialogue. Laughlin makes a good point that new assessments are designed to provide educators and parents with an honest measure of how well their children are developing the skills and knowledge to succeed at higher levels of learning. Resources like the Collaborative’s Fact Checker and the Alliance for Better Classrooms’ website, Unicorns Are Not Real, aim to clarify much of this false information. Further. a Teach Plus study found that 79% of teacher participants said new PARCC exams were an improvement over the old tests their states used, and a Scholastic study last fall 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.

Ed Surge, “Three Keys to Kentucky’s Common Core Success”: One of the best examples of Common Core success comes from Kentucky, an early adopter where after an initial drop in test scores “educators in the state have managed to bring up test scores almost across the board.” The article identifies three factors to the state’s success: communication, alignment and support. “In Kentucky, unlike many states, the decision to implement the Common Core came not only from the governor and state education office, but from the state legislature as well,” the article notes. “Because of the General Assembly’s support from the beginning, implementation in Kentucky was marked by nearly universal buy-in that few other states have enjoyed.” Kentucky also launched “leadership networks” to help integrate the Standards within each district and sought support from educators. Finally, schools effectively communicated changes to parents and students and “took creative approaches to make this happen.” “Communicating a common vision, creating cross-district leadership teams to align the standards with content, and supporting teachers as they work to integrate the standards into their instruction – these are some of the key lessons that states and school systems can learn from Kentucky’s Common Core success.”

What It Means: Kentucky, the first state to adopt Common Core State Standards and align teaching to those standards, has demonstrated some of the biggest academic gains in the country. Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said last year, that the improvements show beyond a doubt that “what we’re doing is working.” The article underscores that by following a similar approach, other states can replicate the same success and ensure the standards serve to help prepare more students to be fully college and career ready.

Christian Science Monitor, “Texas A&M Professor Fails Entire Class: Is This a Millennials Problem?”: Irwin Horwitz, a professor at Texas A&M Galveston, notified his entire Strategic Management class they would receive failing grades citing student incompetency as young adults preparing to enter the real world. “It became apparent that they couldn’t do some of the most simple and basic things they should have been able to do,” Horwitz said. The article notes that many students arrive on campus “lacking the ability to engage in close reading, critical thinking, and deconstructing of math problems.” A Bentley University study reported about two-thirds of employers think job preparedness among millennials is a problem, giving them a C or worse on the career preparedness.

What It Means: While extreme, Prof. Horwitz’s example underscores the lack of preparedness many college- and career-bound students demonstrate. By setting rigorous expectations, Common Core State Standards ensure that more students will graduate fully prepared to competently step into college or a career. Shanna Peeples, recipient of the Teacher of the Year Award, noted, “[Teachers] want standards, we want discrete skills that are identifiable, we want every kid to be able to read and write at a high level.”


Correcting the Record:

Huffington Post,  “Set Up to Fail: High Stakes Testing in Public Schools”: New rigorous student assessments set up both students and teachers to fail, writes Stacey Steinberg, a Florida parent and attorney. Expressing concerns that exams ignore socioeconomic factors, like whether a child comes from a low-income household, Steinberg says, “Our flawed standardized testing model sets even the most talented teachers up to fail.” She adds that “corporations, not teachers, created the tests,” which Steinberg says jeopardize “innovation and creativity.” “Important subjects like history, art and music drop from the curriculum as these subjects are not covered by the common core curriculum,” the piece claims. “Assets like empathy and patience work against our best teachers who know their performance review will be based on how much and how quickly your student is able to learn.” Steinberg concludes, “Let’s change course and set students, teachers, administrators, and parents up for success.”

Where They Went Wrong: The Common Core is a set of standards – or academic benchmarks – for students to meet in math and English Language Arts, not a curriculum and does not dictate which subjects are taught in schools. High-quality assessments are one of the strongest tools educators and parents have to ensure their children are on track to develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed at higher levels of learning. Contrary to Steinberg’s claim Common Core State Standards and exams that support them limit teachers and students, the standards provide a more logical progression of learning and help teachers identify and address learning needs. A study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core State Standards reported an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills, and a Teach Plus study this year found 79% of teacher participants said new PARCC exams are better than those their states used before.


On Our Reading List:

Arizona Republic, “Education Board to Review Common Core”: This week the Arizona State Board of Education voted 9-1 to create a 17-member committee to review the state’s Common Core standards. While it has been reported that this review must take place before the end of this school year, the review board actually has until the end of the 2015-2016 school year to make recommendations. Last month Gov. Doug Ducey asked the board to review the state’s standards and revise those that don’t make sense. During the legislative session lawmakers rejected a bill that would have gotten rid of the Common Core aligned standards.

Riverside Press Enterprise, “More Students Graduating, Fewer Dropping Out”: Data released yesterday indicate that graduation rates are climbing and dropout rates are falling in Riverside County School District in California. The county’s graduation rate grew to 85.1%, a 7.4 point increase over 2010, while the number of students who dropped out fell to 9.4%, a 5.7 point decrease. “This is more evidence that the dramatic changes taking place in our schools are gradually helping improve teaching and learning in every classroom,” said State Superintendent Tom Torlakson.