News You Can Use:

Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “A Common Core Check-Up: Not Dead Yet”: Aided by a “highly misleading” New York Times article, Common Core opponents have pushed the idea that the decision in Massachusetts to pursue a hybrid assessment instead of PARCC alone is evidence Common Core is on the outs. “I’m sorry, haters, but Common Core isn’t dead yet,” writes Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute. “Indeed, there’s every reason to believe that MCAS 2.0 is going to look much the same as PARCC 1.0. This is akin to a state dropping the ‘Common Core’ label but keeping nearly all of the standards.” Petrilli goes on to note that Common Core State Standards are achieving their purpose, including: Improving states’ academic expectations (they are intact in nearly every state that initially adopted them, even if rebranded); Raising quality of student assessments in math and English; Aligning proficiency targets with college- and career-readiness; Improving classroom instruction, and; Allowing for greater comparison across states and districts. “The standards are still very much alive…[It’s] a mixed picture for sure—but hardly a description of a patient ready for life support.”

What It Means: For years, opponents have predicted states were on the cusp of abandoning Common Core State Standards en masse. Yet today all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the standards, Oklahoma, continue to implement them or a very similar set of learning goals. As Petrilli points out, opponents have distorted reports about the decision in Massachusetts to develop a hybrid test, even though Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has reiterated multiple times the state will continue to make PARCC material a “substantial component” of its tests and will continue to implement Common Core State Standards. Like Petrilli, Louisiana State Superintendent John White explains that Common Core State Standards are achieving their mission. “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline…That is a fantastic success.”

CORElaborate, “Conceptual Math Understanding through Number Lines”: Common Core State Standards better ensure that all students have the support they need to succeed at high levels of learning, writes Alisa Louie, a teacher in Washington State. The Common Core “has helped ensure that students have a conceptual understanding of topics before using algorithms, tricks or shortcuts.” Using a lesson on rounding decimals as an example, Louie explains changes to her instruction that get beyond memorizing rules to better understand the “why” of problems. “The conceptual understanding of numbers on a number line is essential to all math content, across all elementary grades…The use of anchor numbers gave my students the background knowledge they needed to cognitively reason with mathematical problems.” Louie concludes, “These standards require me to use place value charts, manipulatives, and classroom discussion in grades K-5 to really help my students grow as math students. Now I know I’m helping ALL of my kiddos on their journey!”

What It Means: Common Core State Standards encourage teachers and students to use multiple problem-solving approaches in order to develop a broader conceptual understanding of math mechanics. Make no mistake, the standards require kids to know all their math facts, just as their parents learned. For example, in early grades, they are expected to learn their addition and subtraction facts and to be able to complete them quickly and accurately. But, as a Collaborative for Student Success blog explains, “It’s important for kids to learn multiple approaches to solving math problems so that they can choose the approach that works best for them and so that they develop a full understanding of the concepts before they move on to more challenging levels.”

Correcting the Record:

Somerville Courier News, “Jack Curtis: Let Teachers Teach”: Discussing efforts to raise academic expectation in New Jersey, Jack Curtis, a longtime teacher in the state, says PARCC assessments are not “the answer to New Jersey’s education problems.” “Every educator I have known and worked with in my 46 years as an educator has been concerned with raising the bar in all aspects of education,” Curtis says. But, “you don’t want unintended consequences because you raised the bar to unreachable heights…The people who construct these tests are ivory tower folks who have no idea what it’s like being in a classroom teaching 10-year-olds. And the questions they construct show their lack of real classroom experience.” Curtis adds that before implementing the Common Core “each school district in New Jersey was free to create their own curriculum and course of study for each subject,” although most changes have been “unremarkable and are fairly innocuous.”

Where They Went Wrong: High-quality assessments are one of the most important tools parents and teachers have to accurately measure student development and to get students the support they need. A recent study by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) found that in side-by-side comparisons to several states’ old tests, many of the country’s top teachers overwhelmingly support PARCC and Smarter Balanced. And while Curtis implies that New Jersey teachers and school districts are no longer able to create their own curriculum, this is simply not true. Common Core is a set of standards that lay out a pathway to ensure that students are college- and career-ready by the time they leave high school; Common Core does not dictate how teachers should teach the material, and encourages the creativity we have seen in many schools and districts.

NC State News, “Five Questions on Common Core with Lance Fusarelli”: In an interview with Lance Fusarelli, head of the Department of Educational Leadership at North Carolina State University, Fusarelli says federal authorities incentivized states to adopt Common Core State Standards and the results have been “dizzying” for educators. The standards create a “de facto national curriculum and national tests” and constitute “federal overreach and intrusion into an issue of states’ rights.” “The time teachers had to implement the Common Core was insufficient, which produced a significant level of anxiety and stress for teachers, adversely impacting in the short term both their personal lives and their professional identity.” Fusarelli notes, “Any new change next year will be yet another educational disruption for teachers, forcing them to adapt to yet another new curriculum and to realign testing to that curriculum.”

Where They Went Wrong: States voluntarily adopted Common Core State Standards and continue to implement them voluntarily. They were not coerced into it by federal authorities, as Fusarelli suggests. Common Core State Standards were developed before the Race to the Top program was announced; adopting college- and career-ready education standards accounted for less than 10 percent of states’ applications for federal funds; and several states that were never awarded RTTT funds continue to implement the Common Core. In actuality, states continue to refine and build on the Common Core framework, exactly as it was designed. Fusarelli is right that teachers need adequate support, and across the country states are providing resources to ensure educators are able to help students meet rigorous academic expectations.

One News Now, “For Minority Students, Common Core Fails to Score”: Test results in California, Kentucky and New York show achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers is growing under Common Core State Standards, according to a report by the American Principles Project. Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at APP, says low-income students and students of color require “structure,” which Common Core State Standards do not foster. “So in that sense it’s not really surprising that we would see these results.” “The results…strongly suggest that Common Core is hurting the very students it was supposed to elevate,” Robbins wrote earlier this fall. “The Common Core scheme will require increasing levels of fraud to hide its failure. The students who suffer the most will be the students who face the most obstacles as it is. This is nothing short of a national scandal.”

Where They Went Wrong: Kellogg’s article makes numerous assertions without any factual basis. Common Core State Standards are designed to ensure that all students are held to academic expectations that fully prepare them for college and careers. In an op-ed endorsing the Common Core, National Urban League president Marc Morial wrote that the standards “will help bridge the achievement gap by leveling the playing field so that all students, regardless of race, geography or income, have an equal shot at gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.” Erika McConduit-Diggs, president of the Urban League of New Orleans, adds Common Core State Standards are “particularly important to help close the achievement gaps in majority-minority school districts, where students have long gotten less than they deserve, both in resources and in our expectations.” And former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson wrote earlier this year, Common Core State Standards will ensure “our Latino youths will be more prepared for college and ready to reap the benefits of an advanced degree.”

On Our Reading List:

Associated Press“House to Vote on No Child Left Behind Rewrite”: Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to vote Wednesday on a bill to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act. A vote in the Senate could come next week. The legislation seeks to return more control of education issues to states and limit the authority of the U.S. Department of Education to tell schools how to improve. The bill maintains annual testing requirements and prohibits federal authorities from incentivizing states to use specific education standards.

New Orleans Advocate“BESE Approves Policy to Not Punish Schools Where Students Skipped Common Core Tests”: On Tuesday, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a plan that would exempt the roughly 5,000 students who skipped state assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards from penalties. “I believe the department has come up with the favorite proposal for all parties concerned,” said Michael Faulk, superintendent of Central Community Schools District. For schools where more than 10 percent of students skipped tests, letter grades for the 2013-14 will be used in place of those for the past year. The policy will be in place for one year.