News You Can Use:

Forbes, “Common Core: Setting the Record Straight”: Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett writes “lies, myths, exaggerations and hysteria” about CCSS have dominated the debate and obscured the real issues. Sec. Bennett addresses recent Fox News coverage of an assignment from a North Carolina high school that allegedly promoted Islamic teachings, pointing out the lesson was from a workbook published nearly a decade before CCSS were developed. “CCSS leaves the designation, approval, and use of textbooks, worksheets and assignments to local control; in most states, that means school districts and teachers,” Sec. Bennett notes. Such “myths and lies spread throughout the media like wildfire, and opponents of the Common Core know they can fan the flames of opposition far more effectively with these sensational and scurrilous accusations rather than engaging in an honest, intellectual policy debate.” These kinds of issues should be raised with local education authorities, Sec. Bennett says. “It is time for integrity and truth in this debate. The issue of honest standards of learning for our children is too important to be buried in an avalanche of misinformation and demonization.”

What It Means: Sec. Bennett has repeatedly pointed out the misleading and faulty information many criticisms of CCSS have been based on. The Standards set high learning goals while leaving control of how those are achieved to local teachers and education boards. Contrary to many of the attacks made against CCSS, textbooks and other materials used are decided at the local and state level, and claims that the Standards push religious or political ideology have repeatedly been dismissed by objective analysis.

Asbury Park Press, “State Education Chief Defends PARCC”: As New Jersey transitions to CCSS-aligned PARCC tests, many parents have received conflicting information about the new exams, writes state education commissioner David Hespe. Parents should demand a more advanced assessment like PARCC, Hespe says, pointing to the fact that 70% of New Jersey students entering community colleges require remediation and old NJASK tests were a “bit of a pushover” (each year several schools had 100% proficiency and in some a third of students received perfect scores). Old tests failed to identify areas where students needed improvement, requiring even more testing. “Parents should have higher expectations of our statewide assessment,” Hespe says. Noting that the exams do not determine student advancement or jeopardize student data, Hespe concludes, “PARCC is the most advanced tool New Jersey education has at its disposal” to measure critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills.

What It Means: Strong assessments are an important tool to ensure high standards fulfill their purpose of preparing students for college or career, and to give parents and teachers an accurate measure of student progress. CCSS-aligned exams like PARCC are designed to provide a better reflection of students’ critical thinking and analytical skills and more constructive feedback to focus classroom instruction and limit time devoted to testing. Hespe makes a strong argument for the value of PARCC exams’ potential to help prepare children for college and careers.

Fresno Bee, “United Way Backs Common Core”: Teachers’ efforts to successfully transition to CCSS is helping to keep students challenged, engaged and in classrooms across California, writes Michael Alexander, president of United Way of Fresno County. “We are a strong proponent of real world learning so students gain the skills and foundation needed to seize opportunities that lie ahead,” Alexander says, noting that nearly 70% of students enter California state colleges in 2010 require remedial coursework. “These statistics can turn around as we give continued to support to our teachers and school districts as they work to implement Common Core, which is critical so all kids have access to a quality education.”

What It Means: Business and civic leaders support CCSS because of the promise the Standards hold to better prepare all students for college or a career. Across the country, the high need for remediation shows that the status quo was failing to adequately equip students with basic skills. CCSS set a high bar to help ensure students develop the critical thinking and reasoning abilities to succeed in a competitive environment.

Cincinnati Enquirer, “Common Core Transforms Math Learning”: Kentucky high school math teacher Laura Cole writes that CCSS are modernizing classroom instruction to help students develop stronger analytic skills necessary to succeed at higher content levels. “If you visit a Kentucky high school math classroom today, including my own…you would see students building their skills using math concepts and questioning each other about different ways of solving math problems,” Cole says. “Instead of having students mirror my examples, they are now experiencing, reasoning, critiquing, questioning, and learning from their peers with my guidance and facilitation.” About nine in 10 teachers say CCSS-aligned lessons help them find effective strategies to teach math content, and 85% say the lessons raise their expectations for student work. “As a teacher, it has been a hard process, but a worthy one because it has shifted my classroom to one where students build on previous understanding and create a foundation of knowledge rather than memorizing facts,” Cole concludes.

What It Means: Teachers who have worked closely with CCSS continue to overwhelming support CCSS implementation, and more than two-thirds report an improvement in students’ ability to use critical thinking and reasoning skills. In Kentucky, one of the earliest states to fully aligned teaching to the Standards, student proficiency rates and college-readiness scores have made some of the biggest improvements in the country.

Arizona Daily Star, “AZ Efforts to Kill Common Core Are Damaging”: Arizona lawmakers’ efforts to replace CCSS with a “to-be-determined set of new standards” could set back students and impede economic development, the editorial board writes. The piece criticizes HB 2190, which would prohibit the state from using CCSS, standards that align with PARCC, or standards that resemble any set used by 20 or more states. It adds the move would put students through the third set of standards in six years. “It’s not a simple or inexpensive process…Determining how the standards are taught – the curriculum – is determined by local school districts.” The pieces notes, “Changing the system now would undo years of work, without any clear reason to do so, other than the belief of some conservatives that Common Core is a ‘federal overreach.’” It concludes, “Throwing our academic standards into question by scrapping four years of work and starting over – again – will add to the sense that Arizona is reactionary, politicizes education and isn’t on a solid path toward improving schools.”

What It Means: Arizona lawmakers’ efforts to repeal the state’s CCSS-aligned standards risk putting students at a disadvantage to appease vocal political critics. Other states like Oklahoma and South Carolina, which have struggled to come up with equally strong standards, show how dangerous such posturing can be. And Indiana, where opponents continue to criticize the state’s standards after repeal, shows opponents won’t be easily placated.


Correcting the Record:

Washington Post, “Poll: Widespread Misperceptions about the Common Core Standards”: A study by Fairleigh Dickinson University found 55% of respondents believe CCSS cover at least two subjects they do not, including areas like sex education, global warming, and evolution. Misperceptions were even greater among those who said they had heard “a lot” about CCSS. Fewer than one in five participants correctly identified the subjects the Standards cover. “People are receiving bad information,” said the Collaborative’s Blair Mann. “There are a million different websites that you can go to that have the ‘truth’ about the Common Core that are just perpetuating these myths.” The findings indicate that CCSS advocates face a major public relations challenge as they seek to bolster support, the article notes.

Where They Went Wrong: The poll underscores the effectiveness and scope of opponents’ efforts to misrepresent CCSS. As Mann and other advocates like Sec. Bill Bennett and Mike Petrilli point out, much of the criticism against the Standards has relied on myths and misinformation to undermine legitimate debate about the value of high education standards. What the poll ignores is parents and voters strongly support rigorous academic expectations, which is part of the reason most states continue to move forward with CCSS.

Associated Press, “Testy over Testing: More Students Snub Standardized Exams”: Backlash to student assessments is escalating as millions of students prepare to take exams aligned to CCSS for the first time this spring, the article reports. It points to several examples (not all CCSS related) in which students and administrators have opted out of tests or encouraged parents to have their children do so. “We cannot live in a bubble. We have to see how our kids are doing compared to the individuals they’re going to be competing with,” said a spokesperson for Philadelphia schools, where teachers at some schools have encouraged parents to withhold their children from exams. The article notes the consequences of opting out of CCSS-aligned exams like PARCC vary by state.

Where They Went Wrong: Student assessments are an important tool to provide parents and teachers guidance about children’s educational progress, and testing requirements have been in place for years. CCSS-aligned exams like PARCC and Smarter Balanced give educators more constructive measures of student progress, which helps inform instruction and allow schools to ultimately devote less time to testing. As New Jersey education commissioner David Hespe notes (see above), CCSS-aligned exams are one of the most effective tools schools have to help improve student outcomes.

Breitbart News, “Rand Paul: Jeb Bush Has ‘Electability Problem’”: In an interview with Breitbart News, Sen. Rand Paul said Gov. Jeb Bush’s support for CCSS will cause problems energizing the base of the Republican Party. “I’d be very worried about his Common Core position because the one thing I noticed about the crowd this morning was the unity and enthusiasm in opposition to Jeb Bush’s position on Common Core,” Sen. Paul said. In response to a question about CCSS at an event in Florida on Saturday, Sen. Paul pointed to a homework question about the Cold War as the “danger of having a national curriculum.” “Comparison statistics is a great idea,” he went on to say. “It just shouldn’t be mandated from Washington.”

Where They Went Wrong: Sen. Paul confuses homework and instructional material, which are decided by local educators, with CCSS. As Sec. Bill Bennett points out (see above) such dishonest conflations are a flimsy attempt to undermine serious debate about high education standards. As recent polling shows, support for CCSS is not the liability for Republican candidates but actually an asset for those who are able to articulate the importance of high education standards.


On Our Reading List:

Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “Can Gifted Education Survive the Common Core?”: As Common Core gathers speed in forty-three states and DC, the Fordham Institute questions what the Standards will mean for high-achieving students in a new brief released today. Chester Finn, Jr., the organization’s president emeritus, writes that most education reform efforts have focused on low-performing students and “generally short-changed” high-achieving students. “It would therefore be a terrible mistake for the new Common Core standards, praiseworthy as we believe they are, to become a justification for even greater neglect.” Today at 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET, the Fordham Institute will host a panel of experts and educators to discuss the impact of CCSS on gifted students and those responsible for their education. Registration and additional information are available here. For questions, please contact Ellen Alpaugh.

Arizona Republic, “’Diane Douglas Slows Her Attack on Common Core”: Arizona superintendent Diane Douglas, who campaigned on an anti-CCSS platform, has throttled back calls for repeal, the article reports. “As we move away from Common Core, it is important to do so in a deliberate fashion so that we stop the pattern of creating new standards only to abolish them every few years,” Douglas said in a statement on Friday. “This endless cycle leaves schools in a constant state of upheaval and causes undue stress for students and teachers.” Douglas has endorsed state Senate bill 2305, which would set up a committee to review the Standards and invite public input to help revise the state’s current CCSS-aligned standards.

Washington Post, “Jindal, Once a Common Core Supporter, Launches Online Petition to Stop It”: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal started an online petition through seeking to gather support to repeal CCSS. The list of signatures isn’t public, and a spokesperson for America Next declined to say how many people have signed, the article reports. It adds conditions to receive RTTT funds, one of Gov. Jindal’s chief criticisms, were known well before he changed his position, and as governor he oversaw Louisiana’s multiple applications for RTTT funds.

Bloomberg, “Jeb Bush Chooses to Be Cross-Examined at CPAC”: To address skepticism from conservatives voters who disagree with his support for CCSS, Gov. Jeb Bush will use his full appearance at CPAC this week to answer question in a Q&A session, the article reports. “How he chooses to handle those topics [CCSS and immigration], and the audience reaction that follows, will be one of the most closely followed story lines of the four-day conference at the National Harbor in Maryland.”

Wall Street Journal, “Gov. Christie Backs State Education Tests”: Despite backing off his support for CCSS, Gov. Chris Christie continues to defend New Jersey’s student assessment aligned to the Standards. “We need to have absolute standards and I believe in making sure that we test,” Gov. Christie said at a fundraising event last week. The article notes educators have said the governor’s recent comments that he has “grave concerns” about CCSS, have caused “confusion and consternation” among educators. “When the governor says these things it’s like pulling the rug out from all of us who have been taking quite a bit of heat doing this work that he previously endorsed,” one superintendent said.

Washington Post, “Gov. Nikki Haley on 2016: A Fan of Bush, Other Governors”: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who oversaw the state’s efforts to replace CCSS, says Gov. Jeb Bush’s support for the Standards will not be a drag on his presidential candidacy. “That’s something that he’ll have to talk about and explain,” Gov. Haley said. But, “I don’t know if that’s going to be as much of a hard cut as some people might think.”

Oregonian, “Portland Teachers Union Resolution Objects to New Smarter Balanced Test”: The Portland Association of Teachers approved a resolution this week opposing new Smarter Balanced assessments. About 70% of the representatives voted in favor of the resolution last Wednesday. “It was even more of a symbol of (what) people honestly feel about this particular issue. Teachers do not support this test,” said Gwen Sullivan, the group’s president. The resolution cites several concerns, including that fewer students are expected to meet proficiency levels and that test score have yet to be determined to be valid or reliable, the article reports.

Denver Post, “Colorado GOP Reverses Course on Academic Standards, Tests”: State Republicans have played a role in every major school-reform effort in Colorado over the past decade, but by opposing CCSS now risk becoming the “party of no” and aligning with teachers unions, writes columnist Eric Gorski. “Republicans are vulnerable here,” the article quotes Mike Petrilli as saying. “They really have to be careful about backing away from their commitment to accountability and to higher standards.” In 2010 the board of education voted to adopt CCSS, and in 2012 the General Assembly vote unanimously to participate in CCSS-aligned testing. The issue didn’t become contentious until the Standards “became political,” the article notes. “I’m hopeful that Republicans aren’t going to turn their back on the bipartisan work we’ve done to build a rigorous and fair accountability system in Colorado,” said Republican state Sen. Michael Johnston.

New York Times, “Don’t Give Up the Gains in Education”: Congress made the right decision when it required states to administer yearly tests to public school students in return for federal aid, the editorial board writes. National test data indicates student achievement has improved, inequality gaps have narrowed, and graduation rates have reached a new high under the requirement. “It would be a grave mistake for Congress to back away from important reforms in its reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act…The states, which bear the direct responsibility for educating the nation’s children, know from experience that this basic policy tool kit is essential for improving schools. Instead of squandering an important opportunity, Congress needs to listen to what they have to say.”