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Idaho Statesman, “Raising Expectations Means Raising Student Achievement”: As an elementary teacher with 15 years in the classroom, Christine Cahoon disagrees with more than 40 percent of those in her state of Idaho who believe public schools have gotten worse since implementing Common Core State Standards. “When I first started as an educator, we didn’t adhere to a common set of standards at all,” Cahoon says. “Because of the high-stakes testing, many schools were spending weeks and months drilling kids in preparation for the tests, which took the joy out of both teaching and learning.” Teaching is better with the Common Core because there is a logical progression to learning and “each year builds on the previous year’s learning.” “The changes in my students are remarkable…They have become problem solvers and critical thinkers as well as collaborators…Students are now being exposed to instruction that was once reserved only for advanced learners, and they’re excelling – proving that raising expectations means raising student achievement.” Noting aversion to the Common Core may stem from a distrust of old tests, Cahoon adds that new Smarter Balanced assessments provide a better measure of student readiness. “Once you’ve read the standards, you can better understand how they ensure that students are college- and career-ready when they leave high school.”

What It Means: Like Cahoon, educators overwhelmingly support implementation of Common Core State Standards. A Scholastic study last fall found more than eight in ten teachers who worked closely with the Common Core were enthusiastic about implementation, and more than two-thirds reported an improvement in students’ critical thinking and analytical skills. Cahoon points out that’s because the standards provide a logical progression to learning and put a greater emphasis on conceptual understanding, instead of rote memorization alone. By setting consistently high classroom expectations, the Common Core ensures more students are held to levels that fully prepare them for college and career readiness.

The Flypaper Blog, “The Effectiveness of Instructional Practices for First-Grade Math”: A Pennsylvania State University study that examines which instructional practices are most effective for first-grade math students, including those with math learning difficulties, finds “teacher-directed instruction” and recitation is the most effective method to improve students’ abilities. “Lots of chalkboard instruction, traditional textbook practice problems, and worksheets that went over math skills and concepts were also effective” among students with learning difficulties, writes Fordham Institute’s Amber Northern. Additionally, student-centered instruction, like working on problems with several solutions, peer tutoring, and real-world applicable problems showed to help students. By contrast, practices including “manipulatives, calculators, movement, and music to learn math” were less effective. Northern concludes, “Youngsters who struggle with math simply need their teachers to show them how to do the math and then practice themselves how to do it – a lot.”

What It Means:The study offers a strong validation of the approach to math learning laid out by Common Core State Standards. In addition to traditional math learning techniques like memorization and standard algorithms, the Common Core introduces students to a range of methods to work through problems and thereby develop a deeper conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. That kind of strong foundation sets up students to reach and succeed at higher levels of learning. As Jason Zimba, one of the chief writers of the Common Core math standards, wrote, “The Common Core has every promise of increasing the number of students in our country who actually attain advanced levels of performance. Nothing is being ‘dumbed down’ here.”

Neighborhood Newspapers, “Videos Designed to Show Paulding Parents How Students Learn Math”: Common Core State Standards’ focus on math concepts over just procedure is helping students in Paulding County School District to develop stronger math skills. “In the past two years, we really started seeing the gains,” says Laura Freeman, the district’s math coordinator. Yet, she notes, “A lot of the parents still teach the way they were taught.” To help familiarize parents with the instructional shift, district schools are providing online tutorials to explain the changes. “Instead of counting up on our fingers, we’re putting it on a number line and actually see how to count up by ones,” one teacher says. “It is really teaching the value of the number instead of just following what the teacher says you do by ‘carrying the one.’” The videos give parents access to the same concepts teachers are using. “This opens so many avenues to different methods and ways,” says Freeman. “They have an entry point because they are understanding the ‘why’ behind it.”

What It Means: The tutorial offered by Paulding School District demonstrates efforts educators are taking to introduce parents to instructional changes encouraged by Common Core State Standards. In addition to traditional learning techniques, like memorizing multiplication tables, the standards put a greater emphasis on math concepts to help students better understand what numbers mean. By doing so, the Common Core ensures more students develop strong building blocks to reach higher levels of learning, and to ultimately graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career.


Correcting the Record:

Fox News, “Chris Christie Defends Record as New Jersey Governor”: Defending his record in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie says his decision to reconsider the state’s Common Core standards was based on feedback from teachers and parents. In response to a question of whether it was a politically calculated flip-flop, Gov. Christie says, “You know what Chris Christie did? He listened to the teachers and parents in New Jersey. We tried Common Core for four years…we were not having success…In fact, Common Core was setting us back. It was setting us back because teachers and parents were fighting in their school districts every day because they didn’t agree with the direction it was going in. And so, I gave it a try for four years. Unlike a lot of other people who just knee jerked, reflexively got rid of it. I said, no. Let’s give it a try…[The success New Jersey has had] had nothing to do with Common Core.”

Where They Went Wrong: Gov. Christie’s call for a review of his state’s Common Core standards added him to the list of Republican governors who have shamelessly recanted their past support to curry favor with a small but vocal bloc of constituents. As Karen Nussle wrote recently, the announcement was “toothless” in that “it changes very little about New Jersey’s academic standards,” and it sends a mixed signal to teachers, parents and students. And it may very well prove a bad political gamble, running counter to Gov. Christie’s “tell it like it is” mantra. As one New Jersey teacher opined, Gov. Christie’s “naked ambition and cynical disregard for the consequences of his turnaround” will create greater uncertainty in classrooms.


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Education Week, “Seven States Get NCLB Waiver Renewals, Including Opt-Out Friendly Oregon”: The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it renewed waivers from No Child Left Behind requirements for seven states – Alaska, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee, and Utah. Tennessee’s approval grants it four years of flexibility. Alaska, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey and Oregon will receive three years of flexibility. As requested by Utah’s Office of Education, it will receive a one-year renewal.

New Orleans Advocate, “People Wanting Measurable Progress in Public Schools Ought to Beware of Accountability Coalitions”: Efforts to increase school accountability are in danger because of “an odd alliance of teachers unions and ultraconservatives” that seeks to undermine “standards-based testing,” the editorial board writes. “It’s like two teams constantly swapping jerseys on the field. The spectators are confused, and that’s no accident…Critics of accountability are not exactly in alliance, but for now believe themselves to have a common enemy. People wanting measurable progress in taxpayer-funded schools ought to beware of such a coalition.”