News You Can Use:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Common Core Standards Help Ensure Better Prepared Students”: Bryan Albrecht, a member of the Common Core Validation Committee, writes that five years after Wisconsin adopted and began implementing the Common Core, to “turn back on this important education initiative just as it is taking root would be a mistake, putting the state’s students at a disadvantage and creating uncertainty in classrooms.” “The Common Core Standards provide a rigorous academic framework that, when supported by strong curriculum and effective teaching – which we are seeing – will ensure more students graduate high school prepared for the next step, whatever path they choose,” Albrecht writes. Noting early adopter states like Kentucky and Tennessee have experienced big academic improvements, while states that have tried to replace the standards like South Carolina and Oklahoma have run into problems, Albrecht adds, “It is frustrating to see the misleading information perpetuated by individuals and organizations that would like to return to old models of learning…Understanding the facts about Common Core will strengthen the dialogue between policy-makers and educators.”

What It Means: As a member of the Common Core Validation Committee and president of the Gateway Technical College, Albrecht emphasizes the importance of raising the academic bar for students to ensure they are prepared for college or a career. Evidence from states like Kentucky and Tennessee, early adopters of the Common Core, indicate the standards are helping to improve student outcomes, while states that have gone the opposite direction and by trying to repeal the standards have run into problems coming up with equally rigorous standards. That’s because, as Mike Petrilli wrote in December, “it’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.”

USA Today, “Our View: ‘Jeb!’ Belongs in the Top Tier”: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will formally announce his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination today at Miami Dade College. Gov. Bush has been a longstanding and unapologetic supporter of Common Core State Standards. The editorial board writes, “As tempting as it might be to dismiss [Gov. Bush] as a flawed candidate running a flawed campaign, it would be a mistake for Republicans to do that…Bush is the type of nominee the GOP needs if it wants to win the White House for the first time since 2004…While most of his rivals are trying to stoke the base, Bush is trying to sell the Republican brand to these growing voting blocs…Common Core promotes more rigorous education, and Bush, to his credit, has not given in to conservatives who’ve convinced themselves that the standards are a Washington plot.”

What It Means: Unlike many Republican presidential candidates, Gov. Bush remains resolute in his commitment to the rigorous learning goals laid out by the Common Core. While the standards have become a rallying cry for some conservatives on the far-right, their claims that support for the Common Core will be a litmus test have not materialized. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the standards continue to use them or a similar version. This year, at least a dozen legislatures have voted down bills seeking to repeal the standards, many in the most conservative-leaning states in the country. As Karen Nussle wrote, that’s because opponents, whose criticism has largely been based on misleading information, have been confronted with the facts and the public fundamentally supports high academic expectations for their children.

New Hampshire Union Leader, “Hassan Vetoes Bill that Would Allow Opt-Out of Standardized Testing”: On Friday, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a bill that would have allowed students to more easily opt-out of state assessments and would have required schools to notify parents of their right to have their children refuse tests. “House Bill 603 would conflict with current state educational accountability laws, undercut one of the tools that educators use to evaluate K-12 student progress, and jeopardize federal funding for New Hampshire schools,” Gov. Hassan said in her veto message. “But it is also important to note that the state is not over-relying on these tests as they are not a significant factor in teacher evaluation; they are not used in to determine school funding; and they are not required for a student to graduate.” Jim Roche, president of the state’s Business and Industry Association, added, “[Assessments] provide parents and teachers with information they need to help students be successful…HB 603 sends a message that our state doesn’t value student achievement and educational excellence.”

What It Means: Gov. Hassan’s veto adds New Hampshire to the list of states, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, that have turned back legislation that sought to undercut rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments. Gov. Hassan made clear that strong assessments are one of the most important tools parents and teachers have to measure student development, and opt-out efforts erode the effectiveness of them. Exams designed to measure progress toward high standards help ensure more students will graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career, and that students can get the help they need if they get off that path.

Washington Post, “Principal: Why ‘I Believe All Students Should Have the Same Standards’”: In the eighth open letter between former New York City Principal Carol Burris and Florida Principal Jayne Ellspermann, Ellspermann says, “Where a student lives should not determine educational expectations.” “College and career ready standards must be part of K-12 education. Whether we call those standards Common Core, Florida Standards, or something else, does not matter. The point is that colleges have been telling high schools for years that our graduates are not prepared for college level academics and employers have shared similar concerns,” Ellspermann writes. “If we have the same standards for all students, we create common ground for education. For too long we have had inconsistencies throughout the country, within our states, in our school districts and even within our schools…Instead of focusing on what we expect of our students upon graduation, the discussion of standards has become complicated by political agendas…and a myriad of topics that distract from the original goal, which is to establish benchmarks for student learning.” Noting the Common Core arrived as “a fatigue with testing reached full boil,” the letter says, “There has to be a balance to ensure we can measure learning against standards without losing focus on what we expect from our schools.”

What It Means: Ellspermann makes clear the value of comparable education standards and high-quality assessments to measure their effectiveness for both educators and students. The Common Core creates a baseline of rigorous learning goals, which states can build on further, to ensure students are held to academic expectations that fully prepare them for college or career. By voluntarily adopting the Common Core, states have taken the difficult step of addressing Honesty Gaps, and states that adopted and began implementing the standards early have experienced some of the biggest academic improvements in the country. As the Common Core begins to take root, states should resist pressures to change course or risk creating greater uncertainty for teachers and students.


Correcting the Record:

Washington Post, “Principal: ‘I Cannot Be Part of Reforms that Eat Away at the Moral Fabric of Our Schools”: In the latest in a series of letters between former New York City Principal Carol Burris and Florida Principal Jayne Ellspermann, Burris writes that after working with the Common Core, “Now I believe that variation among states is a strength, not a weakness.” “If there are different models used by different states, we can evaluate the quality and impact of standards, with an eye to improving them,” Burris says. “Common Core will not fix inconsistencies among schools and districts within the same state. The large NAEP gaps among schools in the same state indicate that factors beyond state standards are influencing student performance. The state standards did not create within-state performance gaps… Strategies such as cooperative learning, requiring students to justify their answer with text or reason and other active learning techniques have been known and practiced in good schools for decades…regardless of standards, bad pedagogical practices that do not promote learning, should have been discouraged long before the Common Core.”

Where They Went Wrong: Common Core State Standards were developed by states in response to the patchwork of standards nationwide that allowed for big discrepancies in what was expected in students. With little congruity between classrooms from state to state, or even school district to school district, states were able to inflate student proficiency and other measures of progress – which were made clear by Achieve’s recent Honesty Gap analysis. By creating a rigorous, comparable baseline for states and holding them to it through high-quality assessments, the Common Core and related tests will ensure more students will graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career. Evidence from early adopter states suggest the standards are working, and a Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with the Common Core report an improvement in students’ critical thinking and analytical skills.


On Our Reading List:

US News & World Report“Trust Me, I’m a Curriculum Expert”: Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Fordham Institute, writes that curriculum has “long been something of a blind spot” in efforts to improve education performance. “[Curriculum] doesn’t get much attention, but it should,” Pondiscio says. “In our test-driven, accountability-mad era, we sweat teachers to demonstrate their “value added” but rarely hold up to any meaningful scrutiny the programs they teach or materials they use…Indeed, much of the vitriolic debate over Common Core is at least somewhat misplaced. When you actually look at the standards, they tend to be dry and bland general statements…Far more interesting – and frankly, much more controversial – is the question of what tools teacher should use to meet those standards…The lack of basic data on curriculum and instruction implementation means that from a research perspective, we know almost nothing about what kids do in school all day. Worse, curriculum decisions are usually made at a school or district level, thus teachers might not be any better informed than parents about why a school or district has adopted a particular program.”