News You Can Use:

TNTP Blog, “What Do Parents Think about the Common Core?”: Speaking with local parents, Oakland, California teacher Laura Strait discusses the impact of Common Core Standards on students’ education and whether they have seen changes in their children’s school experience. “Yes, definitely – particularly in math,” says one mother. “He is solving problems I used to attempt in high school…He is a much better critical thinker now and I’ve also noticed that he is doing a lot more reading and writing – which is good. But what I think is most important is that he is beginning to develop his own strategies for solving problems.” “This year, my second grader is really excited about math,” adds another parent. “Often, if we try to solve a problem together, he will get to the answer faster than I do.” Noting most have little understanding about the Common Core, the parents agree “more communication that explains what the Common Core is, exactly what it looks like in the classroom and how it helps our children” would help families better understand classroom changes. “I want to understand the Common Core so I know how my child is performing in school.”

What It Means: By setting consistent, high learning goals for each grade and introducing students to multiple problem-solving methods in addition to traditional techniques, Common Core State Standards help ensure students develop the skills and knowledge to succeed at higher levels of learning. The interview with parents reaffirms the positive outcomes teachers are seeing in classrooms. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core reported an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills, and more than eight in ten continue to support implementation. Similarly, a Teach Plus report found 79% of teacher participants believe new assessments designed to support the Common Core are better than those their states used before.

National Review, “Keeping What Works in No Child Left Behind”: Conservatives who want to use the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind to check the growth of federal education authority “should guard against the impulse to overcorrect,” writes Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners. “It’s easy to forget that the law was a response to 35 years of massive distributions of federal funds that came with entirely too little by way of outcomes.” Noting the demand for federal funding is “limitless” and often “support the status quo,” the piece adds that lawmakers “should continue efforts to scale back NCLB’s federal micromanagement so states can reclaim their role as education leaders and make decisions that meet their students’ needs. But we should also resist the temptation to – or at least be mindful of the significant costs associated with – defining all accountability as micromanagement. Two fates are to be avoided: our conservative successors’ looking back on this NCLB rewrite and asking, ‘How did they not end federal overreach?’ And their looking back and asking, ‘How did they turn this law back into an unaccountable source of billions in federal funds?’”

What It Means: Annual assessments provide parents and teachers with one of the strongest tools to measure student development and give states a yardstick to determine whether policies improve student outcomes. For the first time this year, most states administered new high-quality assessments designed to support the Common Core. By testing to higher academic expectations, these exams provide a more accurate measure of student proficiency and help to close states’ Honesty Gaps. Smarick points out that conservatives should be able to support efforts to reinforce these measures in order to hold states accountable to students and taxpayers.


Correcting the Record:

The Tennessean, “Let’s Fix No Child Left Behind, End Common Core Mandate”: Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, writes that reauthorization of NCLB should reinforce “measurements of academic progress” and “restore to states, school districts, classrooms teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement.” The Every Child Achieves Act “would end the federal mandate on Common Core,” the piece states. “This bill will put an end to the national school board – preventing Washington from telling Tennessee what its academic standards ought to be or how it ought to be fixing its schools or how it ought to be evaluating its teachers…It is the most effective path to advance higher state standards, better teaching and real accountability.” The bill would prohibit federal authorities from incentivizing a particular set of standards, “such as Common Core,” maintain annual testing requirements, and ensure greater state control of how to improve low-performing schools. “Those decisions ought to be made by the Maryville City School Board or the Blount County School Board – not a national school board.”

Where They Went Wrong: The Every Child Achieves Act takes important steps to protect states’ control of education issues and ensure greater school accountability. However, Sen. Alexander’s example of the Common Core as a federal mandate is misplaced. Common Core Standards were developed through a state-led initiative and voluntarily adopted by states. Objective analysis has rejected claims that the Common Core is a federal program or that it dictates what or how teachers lead their class. The Congressional Research Service also clarified that the Department of Education did not “coerce” states into adopting the Common Core. As experts like former Education Secretary Bill Bennett have noted, the Common Core sets high learning goals and gives educators control over how to achieve them, ensuring more students will graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career.


On Our Reading List:

The Oregonian “Common Core: Oregon Students Smash Expectations in Reading, Writing”: Oregon students exceeded expectations at most grade levels on the Smarter Balanced exams, which were administered for the first time this year. State officials had predicted only about a third of students would meet proficiency benchmarks, but about 55 percent of students scored proficient or above in reading and writing, and about 45 percent in math, according to scores released last Thursday. High school math was one bleak spot; only 31 percent of juniors met the proficiency standard. “When we raise the bar and do our part to help our children get there, they will rise to the challenge,” said Toya Fick, director of Stand for Children Oregon of the results.

Associated Press “Washington Students Seem to Find New Tests More Challenging”: Results from the new exams designed to test to higher academic expectations put forth by the Common Core show fewer students in Washington state scored proficient than on the state’s previous test. But a spokesperson for the state Department of Education cautioned against comparing the scores to those from past tests. “It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison,” said Nate Olson. Just over half of students in grades 3-8 met proficiency benchmarks in English language arts, and just under half met the benchmarks in math. “These new tests give educators a clearer picture of how the system is doing and where instructional improvements need to be made,” said state superintendent Randy Dorn.

Ed Source, “Project-Based Learning and Common Core Are a Natural Fit”: Tyler Graff, incoming principal at Claire Lilienthal School in San Francisco, says that project-based learning in which students work on complex problems in teams provides a “natural fit” with the priorities of the Common Core. “At our school, this was one of the core ways we started to address the new standards. What comes to mind first for me are close reading, application of knowledge, and critical thinking,” Graff says. “In project-based learning, students need to research, read, take notes, and synthesize information, exactly what the Common Core asks students to do. In both cases, students need to think critically about and apply knowledge from their learning. This happens in both language arts and mathematics.”