News You Can Use:

The Seventy Four, “Governor Hutchinson, Please Save Common Core in Arkansas”: Jennifer Garner and Ouida Newton, Arkansas teachers with more than 60 years combined experience, write, “The Common Core State Standards are the high-quality academic benchmarks the students of Arkansas need to prepare them to be successful after graduating from high school.” Noting that the standard ensure that students develop problem solving, teamwork and communication skills, the authors say the Common Core is helping their students apply information to real-world situations. “Common Core does not dictate what we do in our classrooms. It does, however, guide our instruction… No longer do we expect students to just be able to accomplish the basics. We are expecting more.” A review committee will provide recommendations for the state later this year. “We hope that those in charge of the final decision will recognize that the high academic standards we are utilizing right now in our classrooms are benefitting the students of Arkansas,” Garner and Newton conclude.

What It Means: Garner and Newton emphasize what countless teachers in states across the country are experiencing: that by setting high, consistent learning goals, Common Core State Standards are helping to improve instruction and produce better student outcomes. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core have seen an improvement in students’ critical thinking skills. As the Honesty Gap analysis made clear, leaders should not turn back on the good work states have begun to provide a more honest measure of student readiness and to improve classroom performance.

Arizona Republic, “Who Struggles with Common Core Math? Parents”: While Common Core math standards’ emphasis on content understand may be unfamiliar to some parents, schools in Arizona are reaching out to help them better understand the shift in instruction. “Just watching them solving it differently than I was taught has been hard,” explains one parent. But after learning more, parents are seeing the value of introducing students to multiple techniques and problem-solving methods. “I’ve come to really like what the new standards are emphasizing – concepts rather than just memorization,” says another parent. “With the old system, students memorized a procedure but had no underlying sense of why they were doing it,” explains a local teacher. “For many people it didn’t work.” Another teacher, a skeptic at first, adds, “Under the old standards, we taught multiplication one way. With the new standards, we taught several different ways. Having more than one way to solve the problem helped more kids master the skill quicker.”

What It Means: In addition to traditional math approaches, like memorization and standard algorithms, Common Core State Standards introduce students to a range of problem-solving methods to help develop a stronger conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. While these new approaches may at first seem foreign to individuals who learned math under old models, as the article demonstrates, parents largely support these new tactics once familiar with them. A Scholastic study last year found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Forbes, “Expect Education to Be Big Issue in 2016 Presidential Campaign, Survey Shows”: A poll by Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice finds that education is the second most important issue on the mind of voters, trailing only the economy and jobs. Seventeen percent of respondents said education is the biggest issue facing the country, compared with 31 percent who put the economy first. The study found an overwhelming majority – 85 percent – of families send their children to public schools, even though only 36 percent said they would make public schools their first choice. While 60 percent said K-12 education is on the wrong track, half of respondents support Common Core State Standards.

What It Means: The Friedman Foundation poll reinforces the fact that education issues will play a major role in the next election and that despite targeted attacks over the past years, voters continue to support Common Core State Standards. One reason is that the public fundamentally believes in academic expectations that fully prepare students for college and career.


Correcting the Record:

Deseret News, “Obama Has You Cornered with K-12 Test Data”: JaKell Sullivan, a member of the grassroots parents organization Return to Parental Rights, writes that the Race to the Top (RTT) Initiative has wrested control over K-12 education by “aligning most testing to Common Core ‘college and career ready’ standards’,” making it “impossible” for states to exit Common Core. “Race to the Top was designed to push children into personalized learning programs that can assess personal beliefs in real-time,” Sullivan says. “The end goal is to get all children online and into personalized learning and competency-based programs where teachers’ teaching and students’ learning can be controlled from pre-K through higher education.” The piece claims PISA and NAEP are being turned into “high-stakes Common Core test[s]” and that state assessments are being designed to “track students’ attitudes, values and beliefs.” “The effect of this final play in the testing game will be that every child’s student login will operate like a Social Security number on steroids” and “teachers are being controlled, manipulated and pushed out by the test data.” Sullivan concludes that “parents can and should rise up to preserve our history and heritage.”

Where They Went Wrong: Unlike the federal scheme Sullivan describes, Common Core State Standards were voluntarily adopted by states to improve student outcomes, and states continue to refine and build on them further. Contrary to Sullivan’s claims, assessments aligned to the Common Core do not track or record any data aside from what is required by the federal government under FERPA, and certainly do not track “students’ attitudes, values and beliefs.” The sole purpose of the new, high-quality assessments is to understand how students are progressing towards college- and career-readiness in English Language Arts and Math.


On Our Reading List:

NJ Spotlight, “Senate Democrats Craft Nonbinding Resolution for PARCC Testing Opt-Outs”: Last week, the Democrat-controlled New Jersey State Senate passed a nonbinding resolution urging Gov. Christie and his administration to set guidelines by this fall for districts to address families that want their children to sit out of state assessments. The resolution does not set guidelines, but says the State Department of Education should not punish students and families who choose not to participate in tests. “The guidelines should prohibit a school district from taking punitive action against a students including, but not limited to, the adoption of a sit and stare policy,” the resolution states. “The consistent thing we heard across the state was the need for a standardized policy for test-takers,” said State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, chief sponsor of the resolution.

Newark Star-Ledger, “How to Be Part of the New Jersey’s Common Core Review”: Following the state’s announcement that it will review its Common Core-aligned education standards, the New Jersey Department of Education is accepting applications from to teachers to sit on the review committees. Applications are due to through the department’s website by July 31. All teachers can apply for the committees, but only those nominated by their districts can serve on the committee that will make final recommendations. Parents, school board members, experts and administrators will also have the opportunity to serve. “We will not be tearing down and starting over,” said assistant education commissioner Kimberly Harrington earlier this month of the process.