News You Can Use:

Christian Post, “Why Parents Should ‘Opt-In’ for Tests that Make Schools Better”: Across the country schools are implementing rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments, making a big departure from the days when many students were lost because the system did not hold them to high enough expectations, writes Dr. Antipas Harris. “That is wonderful! This better prepares young people for college and careers. A quality education enhances one’s life in general,” Dr. Harris says. “These new assessment tools are serving as an ethical barometer to unearth a moral problem in the system. Christians should value the exposure of poor education systems that hurt young minds and will certainly cripple their future…Families and educators are finally getting an honest evaluation of how well young people are learning.” While parents are right to be concerned about over-testing, and policymaker should “weed out” those that are unnecessary, high-quality assessments “are too valuable for parents to forego,” especially for minority and disadvantaged families. “As with any meaningful change, there will be temptations to renege on this important work. It will take courage for policymakers to ‘tell it like it is.’” But, “honest education assessments are one of the strongest ways to help our young people to reach their potential…That kind of accountability aligns with a divine call for systemic integrity and communal accountability.”

What It Means: For a long time, states inflated measures of student readiness by lowering the academic bar for students. As a result, many students were told they were ready for higher levels of learning, even though they were not—a reality made clear by the Honesty Gap analysis. As Dr. Harris articulates, parents and policymakers share an ethical obligation to ensure all students are held to levels that fully equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, and high-quality assessments are one of the most important tools to begin achieving that goal. Earlier this year, Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, wrote that while the results of assessments aligned to college- and career-ready expectations have been “sobering,” parents should “resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or the associated tests.”

Washington Post, “On the Fence about Common Core: Brilliant New Approach or Another Fad?”: Columnist Jay Mathews writes, based on his grandson’s experience with Common Core State Standards, that it is encouraging that schools will hold students to higher academic expectations. “Common Core test results help expose states that dumb down their curriculums,” which could become more frequent under the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act. Citing an exchange between former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Matthews adds, “When the governor complained that the standards were intruding on state prerogatives, Bennett said parents had a right to know how their state compared with others.” “I would love to see classes teach writing in the exciting way I learned – writing for publication,” Matthews adds. But, “What I have heard about Ben’s lessons so far encourages me. He has done much more writing than I did at that age. His only complaint is that the arithmetic so far has dealt only with numbers under 10. He will get more digits soon.” Mathews also asks for feedback from readers about their experience with Common Core State Standards (share your thoughts with him here).

What It Means: Evidence from classrooms indicates Common Core State Standards are helping more students achieve to high levels by setting rigorous academic expectations. States leading implementation, like Kentucky and Tennessee, have achieve some of the biggest educational gains in the country, and studies show teachers who work closely with the Common Core have seen improvements in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. By turning back on these efforts, as some advocates argue, states would put students at a disadvantage and allow states to lower the bar for students.

Buffalo News, “Reforms to the Common Core Learning Standards Look Worthy, as Long as Expectations Remain High”: The recommendations from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force “do not stray from the goal of higher standards” and “should not be interpreted as a capitulation, rather an adjustment aimed at improving outcomes,” the editorial board writes. While the rollout of the new standards and assessments “was less than perfect,” the task force’s recommendations seek greater input from stakeholders, more transparency and limitation in how student assessments are used in teacher evaluations. “The most important message in the task force report is the renewed commitment to adopting and maintaining higher standards,” said Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York Board of Regents. “Unless adults expect students to meet high standards, many of them won’t, even though they have the ability,” the editorial concludes. “To succeed in an increasingly competitive international job market, New York’s students need to be prepared. That’s what the Common Core Learning Standards were about, and it’s what they must remain about.”

What It Means: The Common Core Task Force report makes clear that Common Core State Standards should serve as the baseline for any changes to the state’s academic expectations. The editorial makes a strong case that as such the state’s standards will continue to emphasize the skills and knowledge students need to succeed at high levels of learning, and ultimately in college or a career. As Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, wrote late last year, “It’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core,” because the standards incorporate the best evidence of what students need to get and stay on a path of college- and career-readiness.

Baltimore Sun, “Don’t Shoot the PARCC Messenger”: Maryland, like most states implementing Common Core State Standards, has reached a “critical milestone” by administering assessments aligned to college- and career-ready expectations, and now is no time to turn back, write Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio of the Fordham Institute. “Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning and taxpayers are entitled to know if the money we spend on schools is being used wisely.” But for a long time states “juked the stats” by using inconsistent proficiency definitions, creating huge Honesty Gaps. More than half of Maryland community college students require remediation. “The new standards should help to boost college readiness – and college completion – by significantly raising expectations…But we shouldn’t be surprised that Maryland found that fewer than half of its students are ‘on track’ for college…Parents, in other words, are finally learning the truth.” Parents should resist the call of those who want to “use this moment of truth to attack the new, higher standards or the associated, more honest tests. They may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers a much more honest assessment of how our children are doing.”

What It Means: As Petrilli and Pondiscio point out, assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards provide parents and educators with accurate information about how well students are developing the skills and knowledge they need to succeed at higher levels of learning. Rather than use the change to attack higher academic expectations, the public should embrace the fact that schools are holding students to levels that set them up for success. In a recent memo Karen Nussle explains, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do,” and for “parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.”

Correcting the Record:

Christian Post, “Republican Congress Thwarts Americans, Passes Obama-Backed Education Bill”: Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act will have “pretty much the opposite effect” of returning control to states, writes Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. The ESSA “lays out particular requirements for state standards and uses code language throughout that gives the federal government the tools to pressure the states to stick with Common Core…It maintains the federally dictated testing regimen and requires states to implement assessments that are expensive, that have been proven to be ineffective and unworkable.” The fact the bill was supported by pro-Common Core groups and signed by the President is evidence the passage will result in further federal involvement in education, the piece adds. “We’re still waiting for a candidate to offer full-voiced leadership on the education crisis (which is a constitutional crisis) in our country. Who will lead the ‘Repeal ESSA’ campaign?”

Where They Went Wrong: The Every Student Succeeds Act explicitly limits federal intrusion in education issues. Congressman John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called the bill a “huge win for conservatives.” “The federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt. If states want to use Common Core, it is not the place of the federal government to tell them they cannot do that.” In a recent memo, Karen Nussle adds that the legislation “forever ends what has long been an Achilles Heel of Common Core: federal entanglement through Race to the Top and secretarial waivers in state decisions surrounding the adoption of standards and the selection of aligned assessments.” Yet, some activists, like Robbins, continue to lament the law because it does not specifically ban Common Core State Standards, even though doing so would require the kind of intervention they so adamantly oppose.

Charleston Gazette Mail, “Lawmakers Pushing for More Common Core Changes”: Several West Virginia lawmakers are not satisfied with proposed changes to the state’s education standards and will recommend additional alterations today during a meeting with Mike Green, president of the State Board of Education. “Some of the changes in the proposed standards are a step in the right direction,” State Rep. Amanda Pasdon says. “We would like some additional changes to be considered.” State Speaker of the House Tim Armstead says the changes in the proposed standards aren’t “substantial,” and that new standards could be improved by incorporating content from other states. A spokesperson for Senate President Bill Cole adds, “If [the proposed standards] are Common Core by another name, he will move to repeal them and replace them with West Virginia standards that work for West Virginia.” The State Board of Education will vote Thursday on approving the proposed new standards.

Where They Went Wrong: States like West Virginia voluntarily adopted the Common Core because the standards hold all students to high academic expectations based on the best evidence of what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college. Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, wrote late last year, “It’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core” because the standards represent “a good-faith effort” to incorporate the skills and knowledge students need and the “milestones younger students need to pass to reach those goals.” By seeking to implement distinctly different standards because of an aversion to the term “Common Core,” West Virginia lawmakers risk putting students at a disadvantage and creating greater uncertainty in classrooms.

Dunkirk Observer, “Common Core Strangles Learning”: Common Core State Standards are “very tight lesson plans broken down to five minute intervals,” which leave teachers no room to address student needs, Marie Tomlinson, a New York resident, writes. “There is no room for an individual approach to problem solving…The curriculum leaves no room for different learning styles or for creative teaching.” Problems are unnecessarily confusing, Tomlinson adds, “as though they wanted to make it harder to learn.” “There are two reasons the 1 percent want this: 1) an educated work force makes poor slaves, and 2) they want to break the teachers union.” Schools should focus more on music, arts and sciences, which the piece says Common Core State Standards have edged out. “When we choose to depend on test scores we cheat our children of the joy of learning.”

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to Tomlinson’s suggestion that Common Core State Standards limit creativity and flexibility in the classroom, educators overwhelmingly support rigorous academic expectations that emphasize the skills and knowledge students need. Mike Lerchenfeldt, a Michigan teacher, explains that Common Core State Standards provide “a directional pacing guide that provides teachers the freedom to be flexible and creative with their instruction.” “These standards encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills in order to obtain deeper levels of understanding rather than rote memorization….The critical thinking skills students develop in our classrooms are essential for a successful career.” A blog by the Collaborative for Student Success notes that changes under Common Core State Standards are intended to help all students develop strong analytical and independent thinking skills by introducing a range of problem-solving methods. That hardly seems like the rigid instruction Tomlinson suggests.

On Our Reading List:

EdSource, “Getting It Right: Four Key Areas in Effective Common Core Implementation”: A study by Sacramento State’s EdInsights Center shows there is a “strong sense of optimism among both policymakers and educators” and “widespread support” for Common Core State Standards across California, but Michael Moody, founder of the Insight Education Group, says “initiative fatigue” is setting in. “It’s clearly a crucial time to shift the focus from planning and transitioning to implementing the Common Core State Standards,” Moody writes. The piece provides four areas for policymakers to focus attention to improve implementation: connect the Common Core to all systems; give teachers the support they need; focus on assessing student progress, not testing; and, look for teaching and learning in the classroom.