News You Can Use:

PBS Newshour, “How an Underperforming School Rallied to Turn around Test Scores and Conquer the Common Core”: At Jefferson Middle School in Washington, DC, teachers are finding creative ways to energize students around new assessments aligned to the higher standards of the Common Core. Only four years ago, the school was struggling with “low morale and equally low test scores,” the article reports. Principal Natalie Gordon worked with teachers to change curricula and engage students, resulting in double-point gains in math and reading proficiency scores. “Everything is more combined, and it’s really testing their understanding of the concept versus just the skill,” says Latisha Nero, one of the school’s math teachers. Gregory Dohmann, the assistant principal, says that while scores on the more challenging exams may drop initially, they expect sustained growth long-term. “We know that next year, when [students] take PARCC, we’re going to see significant growth, and every year after that, we’re going to see significant growth. So this year is really giving us a baseline.” Nero adds the assessments provide important information for teachers. “If we’re just giving test just to get one score and move on, then that’s more of a concern.”

What It Means: The piece underscores the value that schools and educators place on high-quality assessments and the length to which they are going to ensure the smooth rollout of exams designed to test to the greater rigor of CCSS. In a recent study conducted by Teach Plus, 79% of teacher participants said PARCC exams are a higher-quality assessment than those their state used before, about two-thirds said the tests are well-aligned with what they teach in their classrooms, and 69% believe PARCC does extremely or very well in measuring critical thinking skills.

Michigan Live, “There Is No ‘Common Core Math’ – Only Good and Bad Teaching Materials”: Cathy Kotlarek, an elementary school specialist with Chelsea School District, writes that frustrations over confusing homework problems are not the fault of CCSS but a problem with poor teaching materials. “Some publishers put ‘Common Core Aligned’ stickers on resources they had previously sold, but did not change any of the content,” Kotlarek says. “Other publishers added a few extra lessons or handouts, did not take anything out, and called it Common Core aligned. This produced a problem, because a good, new resource actually takes years, not months, to create.” The piece notes that before textbooks or teachers were blamed for confusing assignments, and it is “laughable” that frustrations are pinned to the Common Core. “Districts choose how to teach the standards and what resources to use while teaching them. Sometimes districts choose a bad resource when that is the only option out there, but the standards are not to blame for that.” Kotlarek concludes, “We need to stop blaming the Common Core State Standards for bad resources. It takes the focus off what is important: our students and preparing them to live in a world in which we did not grow up.”

What It Means: Like Kotlarek, educators and experts have pointed out that confusing homework assignments are endemic of poorly constructed textbooks and materials, not rigorous education standards. Last fall former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote, “Textbook companies have marketed their books disingenuously, leading many parents to believe that under Common Core the government mandates particular textbooks. Also not true.” An Education Week report last year found when teachers have the right resources they strongly believe CCSS will help improve students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Asbury Park Press, “Why My Daughter Will Take the PARCC Test”: Richard McKeon, a New Jersey parent and head of the education program at the Helmsley Charitable Trust, said his daughter will take new PARCC exams because “not all things that are good for our kids make them jump for joy.” “She will take these tests because they provide valuable information,” McKeon says, noting the state’s old high school proficiency exam “was based upon a high school graduate being able to perform at a ninth-grade level.” “PARCC tests are different than the old, multiple-choice tests we grew up with, as they require students to think more deeply, analyze more critically and develop answers that show they understand the material,” the piece states. “Teachers are finally free to focus on teaching – not on test prep.” McKeon adds “the onus for success” can’t rest on teachers alone. “We all have a role to play in ensuring that our children’s education is optimally preparing them for their steps beyond high school.”

What It Means: Strong assessments are an important tool to ensure parents and teachers that students are on track to develop the skills and knowledge to succeed at high levels of learning. Exams designed to support rigorous education standards, like PARCC and Smarter Balanced, provide more constructive, timely information to help identify and address learning needs. And as McKeon points out, because they require students to demonstrate their understanding, they alleviate pressures to teach to the test so educators can devote classroom instruction to learning.

EdSource, “Teachers ‘Need Time with Peers to Dig Deep’ into Common Core Standards”: In the latest installment of a series of interviews about educators’ experiences with CCSS, San Jose School District Superintendent Vincent Matthews says the Standards are boosting students’ “conceptual understanding and critical thinking.” “We believe the floor has been raised with Common Core,” Matthews states. “It’s not all the way where we want to go, but we believe it’s absolutely in the right direction…We see teachers not just asking students to define and recall and match information, but having students infer, predict, estimate. We see a lot more synthesis and investigations – students really having to look at and challenge complex texts.” Noting this transitional year will set a baseline for assessments, Matthews says the goal will be for growth from year to year.

What It Means: After nearly five years of preparation, educators remain strongly supportive of CCSS. A Scholastic poll last fall found more than eight in 10 teachers who have worked closely with the Standards are enthusiastic about implementation, and more than two-thirds report an improvement in students’ ability to use critical thinking and reasoning skills. Another study by Teach Plus found 79% of participants said assessments that support the new college and career ready standards are an improvement over those their states used before.


Correcting the Record:

Breitbart News, “Rand Paul in New Hampshire: State’s Founders Didn’t Want to Live Half Free, or Be Left Half Dead”: At a campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul criticized CCSS as a federal takeover of local education. “We think it is a local issue,” Sen. Paul told reporters. “We actually doubled the size of the Department of Education. We now have warped into No Child Left Behind and Common Core. This is a deep philosophical divide in the party… You hear that response everywhere you go and it is a spontaneous movement that is unhappy about Washington telling them what kind of curriculum they can have in New Hampshire. I’m going to continue to fight it and I think it will be a key issue that ends up differentiating candidates.”

Where They Went Wrong: Sen. Paul has perpetuated distortions about the Common Core to fan concern among voters. As experts like former Sec. Bill Bennett point out, the Standards were created free of any federal involvement, and states that adopted the Standards did so voluntarily. After two national elections all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt CCSS continue to use them or some very similar version. Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli writes that one reason the Standards have shown such resilience is that “it’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core. That’s because Common Core, though not perfect, represents a good-faith effort to incorporate the current evidence of what students need to know and do.”


On Our Reading List:

Fox News, “Gov. Kasich Says a ‘Unifying Message Is Essential’ for 2016”: In response to a question about his support for CCSS during an interview with Fox New’s Megyn Kelly, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said: “What we have in Ohio are high standards for our children with the curriculum to deliver high standards set by school boards. Not by John Kasich, not by Washington. It is locally driven, high standards for our kids and the curriculum developed by local school boards. I can’t think of anything that represents local control more than that.” Asked about a potential presidential campaign, Gov. Kasich responded, “I will make a decision when I think it’s the right time, and based on the right reasons.”

Huntsville Times, “Sponsor of Bill to Repeal Common Core in Alabama Faces Uphill Battle”: State Sen. Rusty Glover said Wednesday he will have a difficult time getting enough votes for the anti-Common Core bill he introduced. The repeal bill has 11 co-sponsors but is at least nine votes short of the number needed to bring it to the floor. “Our chances of getting one or two more are very difficult,” Sen. Glover said. The Senate Education Committee held a two-hour hearing on the bill yesterday, but tabled a vote until next week.

Nevada Appeal, “Nevada Legislature: Bills to Ax Common Core, Claim Federal Land Unlikely to Pass”: Nevada’s Republican Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson said Wednesday a bill seeking to repeal the state’s Common Core standards is not expected to live past the legislative deadline this week. Bills must pass their first committee by Friday to proceed through the legislative session, the article reports. The proposal could still be resurrected as an amendment to other bills.

Des Moines Register, “Trump Meets Tough Audience in Simpson Students”: During a speech at Simpson College on Wednesday, Donald Trump called CCSS a “disaster,” a refrain he has used before. Many students left the event disappointed, the article reports. “I don’t think he really answered [the question],” one student said after. “That was my problem with this entire thing. I think we ask questions and he told great little anecdotes, but he didn’t really get to the questions. He kind of skirted around it.” “He didn’t talk about education that much,” added another, “which shows he’s kind of a one trick pony when it comes to his political run.”