News You Can Use:

New York Times, “Cradle to Ivory Tower”: Citing an America Achieves study that finds 70 percent of parents worry their child’s chances of achieving a middle-class lifestyle would be diminished if K-12 education does not become more challenging, columnist Frank Bruni writes: “They’re right. We need to raise standards. That’s in fact what Common Core is ideally about.” He adds, “High standards without monitoring and accountability are no standards at all.” Bruni says President Obama’s focus on making college affordable for more students is “late in the game” because it ignores that the K-12 system does not adequately prepare high school graduates for higher level challenges. “The goal is to lift children from all income groups up — and to maximize their chances of success with higher education…Poverty may well make educational advancement much harder, but doesn’t prohibit it. If we take the right steps — including more aggressive recruitment and rewarding of exemplary teachers and the continued implementation of higher standards — we can help kids at every rung of the economic ladder.”

What It Means: By gradually allowing academic expectations to fall, education systems for too long have failed to fully prepare students for college-level work or a good career. More than 50 percent of college-bound high-school graduates require remediation. A recent study found 90 percent of high-school teachers believed their students left their classrooms ready for college-level work, but only 26 percent of university professors said those same students arrived on campus prepared. CCSS raises expectations at every grade level so students develop the skills and knowledge to more seamlessly step into college or a competitive job.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, “New House Education Committee Chairman Wants Less ‘Toxic’ Talks about the Common Core”: Discussing his priorities for the next legislative session, Ohio’s new House Education Committee chairman, state Rep. Bill Hayes, will allow bills to reconsider CCSS but is concerned debate has become “so toxic.” “We’re just going to have to deal with it. I’m not going to shy away from it,” he said. “So many people don’t even understand what we’re talking about.” After reading through the Standards, Rep. Hayes disagrees with critics who call them “dumbed down.” “I can’t see that,” he noted. “We need to come together and take a reasonable approach.”

What It Means: Rep. Hayes’ sensible approach to high education standards stands in contrast to impulsive political moves that have created problems for states like South Carolina & Oklahoma, which risk putting students at a disadvantage after struggling to come up with equally rigorous standards. As Hayes points out, much of the opposition to CCSS is based on faulty or incomplete information. More than two-thirds of parents support high standards, and teachers who work closely with CCSS continue to overwhelmingly support their implementation.


Correcting the Record:

Long Island Press, “L.I. Teacher Refuses to Administer Common Core Tests, Urges Other to Join Her”: Beth Dimino, an eighth grade teacher in New York, opted out of administering CCSS-aligned tests saying, “I believe that giving these tests to my students makes me culpable in the abuse of children and I can no longer do that.” The district superintendent supports Dimino’s decision. “I will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking,” Dimino wrote in a letter to the state schools chancellor. “I have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.” Dimino added that she believes CCSS-aligned tests do not provide an accurate assessment of student progress and called them a “rigged game.”

Where They Went Wrong: CCSS-aligned tests are designed to give educators and parents more constructive guidance on a student’s true mastery of the skills and knowledge necessary to complete a path that prepares them for college or a career. Unlike previous assessments, CCSS-aligned exams require students to demonstrate their thinking, reducing incentives to “teach to the test” and providing a better analysis of students’ understanding. Unlike Dimino, most teachers who have worked closely with the Standards say they have seen an improvement in their students’ ability to use critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Huffington Post, “An Open Letter to Lamar Alexander”: In an open letter encouraging Senate HELP Committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander to limit the federal role in determining student testing, Diane Ravitch inaccurately claims CCSS will “most assuredly exert control over the curriculum and program of instruction. The federal tests will determine what is taught.” Ravitch goes on to say, “[T]he federal role today is taking on responsibilities that belong to states and local districts.”

Where They Went Wrong: Echoing the “George Will argument,” Ravitch contends CCSS will impact what is included on assessments and thereby determine what is taught in classrooms. Mike Petrilli and Michael Brickman pointed out standards of any kind put parameters around what is taught, but the U.S. has employed standardized tests (NAEP) and common college entrance exams for more than 20 years and is no closer to a standardized curriculum than before. As Chester Finn wrote, by putting a greater emphasis on the “ends” (preparing students for college and careers) and leaving the “how” (teaching methods and materials) CCSS provide educators greater autonomy and flexibility.



On Our Reading List:

Politico, “Hill Fight on No Child Left Behind Looms”: The Senate HELP Committee will begin discussions today on the role of testing and accountability in schools, setting up what some experts believe could be “the most dramatic congressional fight over education in more than a decade.” The federal role in determining state education policy is likely to emerge as a point of contention. Committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander said he wants to work across the aisle to produce a bill updating NCLB in the early months of this year, but the article notes observers anticipate doing so “will be onerous.” In a recent speech, Sec. Arne Duncan said the Obama Administration intends to keep testing requirements and the authority for federal authorities to intervene in low-performing schools.

Wisconsin State Journal, “Cost of Common Core Tests Millions More than Expected”: CCSS-aligned testing in Wisconsin over the next two years is expected cost $7.2 million more than initially projected. The state’s Department of Public Instruction requested $17.9 million for the 2015-16 school year and $18.5 million for 2016-17, about $3.26 million and $3.96 million more than is already allotted. “The numbers could change because the budget request is based on an ‘intent agreement’ that DPI entered into with the test’s vendor, Educational Testing Service,” the article reports. Gov. Scott Walker’s office did not comment on whether he supports the funding, saying he would review the budget.          

Capital New York, “Poll: Nearly Half of Voters Oppose Common Core”: A monthly Siena Research poll found 49% of respondents say implementation of CCSS in New York should be stopped; 33% said it should continue. The results indicate the margins widen in New York City’s suburbs and the upstate areas.

Brookings Institute, “Why Annual Statewide Testing Is Critical to Judging School Quality”: Tracking “roughly a decade” of student-level records from public schools in Florida and North Carolina, Matthew Chingos and Martin West conclude, “Policymakers thus face a stark choice: require annual testing or settle for low-quality and potentially misleading information on school quality.”