News You Can Use:

Newark Star-Ledger, “Ignore Christie’s Political Bluster on Common Core”: Gov. Chris Christie’s reversal on Common Core “has created mass confusion in the educational trenches in New Jersey,” uprooting educators’ work over the past five years without providing “any concrete problem with the standards.” “He didn’t actually order anyone to stop teaching by those standards, or to halt the curriculum and training programs based on them. It gets more bizarre still. He said the students would continue to take PARCC tests, which are designed to assess their mastery of these standards. What sense does that make if the standards are flawed?” Noting any review would yield standards “nearly identical to Common Core,” the editorial points out, “These standards have been embraced by 40 states, and are supported by a broad coalition. In New Jersey, the standards were endorsed by groups representing teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, the state Chamber of Commerce – and until recently, with enthusiasm by Christie himself. That kind of consensus is beyond rare in education.” It concludes, “Let’s face it: He has lost his bearings since he decided to run for president. For the sake of New Jersey students, educators should simply ignore him until this fever breaks.”

What It Means: The editorial underscores the political motivation of Gov. Christie’s decision, which stands in direct contradiction to his reputation as the guy who “tells it like it is.” Asked for proof the standards aren’t working, Gov. Christie provided none, and evidence suggests that higher standards and high-quality assessments are helping states, including New Jersey, to close Honesty Gaps. As the editorial makes clear, the decision makes no substantive policy changes, serving only to create greater uncertainty for teachers, students and parents. As Karen Nussle writes, one of Gov. Christie’s chief strengths was his political courage, and “that seems to no longer be the case.”

The Economist, “Putting a Cork in Common Core”: Despite a need for rigorous, comparable education standards, Gov. Chris Christie’s Common Core reversal, and those of other prominent Republican leaders that once endorsed the standards, is “hardly shocking.” Yet, much of what these leaders have done is offer little more than rhetoric, the article says. “Few have offered a sound alternative. Indeed, while Mr. Christie and others claim they are ditching Common Core, a closer look reveals that this is not quite the case. For all Mr. Christie’s rhetoric, it seems he has no intention of getting rid of the exams testing Common-Core knowledge. Other states, such as Arizona and Florida, have simply rebranded Common Core in order to embrace the reforms without the political baggage.” Before, many states kept standards low “to ensure decent exam results,” but the “Common Core aims to smooth over these differences and raise the quality of education for everyone.”

What It Means: Beyond rhetoric, most critics of the Common Core have failed to offer any kind of alternative to improve student outcomes, opting instead to return to old broken models of education that inadequately prepared students for college or a career. At the same time, states that have implemented the standards and new assessments have begun to close Honesty Gaps and are showing improvements on performance measures. Kentucky and Tennessee, both early adopters of the Common Core, have experienced some of the biggest academic gains in the country. Decisions like Gov. Christie’s in New Jersey put political ambitions ahead of student interests.

District Administration, “Special Education Tactics Aide Common Core Success”: Universal Design for Learning, a curriculum framework developed for special education students, is helping classrooms nationwide to implement the Common Core – and demonstrates how different states are approaching curriculum to be used in implementing the more rigorous standards. The approach, which addresses individual learning needs, provides multiple ways of accessing information and demonstrating understanding. “When one is planning for a learning experience, be it a lesson or unit or meeting, one expects there will be a range of variability in the backgrounds, cultural experiences, content knowledge and engagement of your students,” explains Grace Meo. “We need to recognize the variability of all learners.” The goal of UDL is to allow students to express understanding in multiple ways, for example, through traditional papers or testing, or audio or digital presentations. “If it works for kids with special needs, it will work for all kids,” says Christine Fax-Huckaby, a special education teacher.

What It Means: In addition to traditional learning techniques, like memorization and standard algorithms, the Common Core introduces students to multiple problem-solving methods to build stronger conceptual understanding. In school districts across the country, teachers are utilizing frameworks like UDL to develop curricula and lesson plans that meet individual student needs and help ensure that all students have the support they need to meet high learning goals. By helping develop strong fundamental skills, teachers ensure more students will get on a track that fully prepares them for college or a career.


Correcting the Record:

St. Louis Post Dispatch, “Missouri Legislature Throws Common Core Test Out the Window”: The Missouri Legislature directed the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to sever ties with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The provision is part of an appropriations bill signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, which eliminates $4.2 million the department needs to pay for next year’s exams. “The money taken out was an absolute frontal attack of the perception of Common Core,” said Peter Herschend, president of the State Board of Education. “It will drive us to four separate testing systems over four years.” The provision provides the department with $7 million to develop new state tests, which will be administered within nine months. “We still don’t have an answer as far as how we’re going to manage,” said Sharon Helwig, assistant commissioner at the Missouri Department of Education.

Where They Went Wrong: Assessments are one of the strongest tools for parents and teachers to ensure students are developing the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed at higher levels of learning. The decision to get rid of Smarter Balanced tests introduces greater uncertainty in classrooms by subjecting students and teachers to four different tests in the same number of years. The state voluntarily adopted Smarter Balanced assessments, and must now ensure that the state’s students have assessments of equal quality – a tall task given the short window of time to develop new exams.


On Our Reading List:

Real Clear Politics, “Can Christie Turn Flip-Flops into Assets?”: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has built a political image as a leader willing to tell “the truth even when pandering might win political points,” but his recent announcement to review and amend his state’s Common Core Standards seems to contradict that reputation. “Christie is confronting a problem many other first-time presidential candidates have already faced, or soon will: reconciling his past policy positions with the current political landscape,” the article notes. “He’s trying to fish in waters where there are no fish to catch,” said one Republican advisor.

The Hill, “Report: Jindal to Announce Plans in Late June”: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will make a “major announcement” on June 24 about whether he will launch a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “For some time now, my wife Supriya and I have been thinking and praying about whether to run for the Presidency of our great nation. I’m pleased to say that we will announce our final decision on June 24th in New Orleans,” Gov. Jindal said in a statement. “If I decide to announce on June 24th that I will seek the Republican nomination for President, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction. We don’t need just small changes, we need a dramatically different path.”

Education Week, “The Five Stages of Common Core on the Standards’ Fifth Anniversary”: As states near the five year mark since the Common Core State Standards were developed and adopted, Ed Week’s Catherine Gewertz describes five stages of the implementation process. “For the cheerleaders, the stages seemed to be jubilation, realization, humility, exhaustion, and cautious optimism. That is to say: Many teachers and policymakers were happy to have what they considered a superior set of academic expectations, with the potential of working across states to create good teaching materials, strategies and tests…For the critics, it went more like this: outrage, criticism, politicization, mobilization, and stagnation…Once state lawmakers got wind of what their state boards’ adoptions meant, common core became a football in many statehouses across the country.”