News You Can Use:

Education Week, “Under Common Core, Students Learn Words by Learning about the World”: Because “context is key” for vocabulary development, Common Core ELA standards emphasize the process of attaching meaning to words and developing vocabulary in tandem with content understanding, the article reports. “We’re providing them with the basic knowledge about the world that’s going to teach them about unfamiliar things,” says Adrienne Williams, a DC-based first-grade teacher. “Going deep into social studies and science topics, the background knowledge they have to pull from is much more vast.” “The best way to get the largest number of students, especially those students who need our help most, to be able to read complex texts independently and proficiently is to go after knowledge big-time, to go after a topic,” adds David Liben, a content specialist for Student Achievement Partners. A University of Michigan study corroborates the idea that immersion in a subject develops stronger vocabulary. Common Core Standards help by stressing deeper content understanding and the use of complex texts. “I can see these kids retain more,” Williams says.

What It Means: By emphasizing deeper content understanding and integration across subjects, Common Core Standards help student develop stronger and more precise vocabularies. The Common Core calls for the use of 70% non-fiction texts, spread across curriculum, to cultivate contextual knowledge and analytical skills. Similar to the anecdotal evidence from the article, a Scholastic study last year found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the standards reported an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Courier Journal, “Understanding Common Core”: Ted Smith, a Kentucky resident, says much of the opposition to the Common Core is based on misinformation. Noting the standards set a floor that ensures students who meet the benchmarks are prepared for higher levels of learning, Smith writes, “Common Core Standards are comparable to a football end zone…The curricula, teaching plans, teacher’s qualifications, and how the schools operate on a daily basis equate to how the football game is played on the field…You shouldn’t blame the end zones if the teams are lousy.” Separately, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Davidson and Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Robert Silverthorn write that “the higher standards make sense from a national security perspective.” Noting seven in 10 young adults cannot meet basic military entrance requirements, they say, “Military service today demands service members who can reason, collaborate and problem-solve…That’s one reason we support raising standards and expectations…The other reason is that our military families move from state to state frequently, as do many business people, and we want our children to be able to progress in their education when they move, instead of having to repeat subject areas or be so challenged by a lack of preparation they fall behind.”

What It Means: Both letters emphasize important points. Over the past two years, opponents have perpetuated a great deal of misleading information about the Common Core, which has largely distorted public perceptions. The standards set clear, high learning goals for students and gives educators full control of how best to meet them. As Maj. Gens. Davidson and Silverthorn point out, the high academic expectations are important for both military preparedness and military families. Children in military families move on average between 6-9 times during their school years. Having consistent, rigorous education standards better ensure they will not fall behind or sit through material they have already mastered when changing schools.

Ed Source, “Common Core Side Effect: New PE Teachers Allow for Collaboration Time”: One of the tangential impacts of implementation of Common Core Standards has been an increase in physical education activities, which schools are using to compliment and reinforce content and to give teacher more time to collaborate. “This is a win-win,” says Dennis Kurtz, a California assistant superintendent. “The kids are getting physical instruction from people who are experts, and teachers are collaborating.” This month, two Long Island, NY, teachers, Eric Slifstein and Kim Hardwick, wrote that PE classes are helping to reinforce classroom instruction. “By creating better continuity across states, districts and even classrooms, the Common Core is helping educators share best practices and ideas to unlock students’ full potential,” they say. “For many students who struggle with concepts on paper, applying them to physical activity often helps make it ‘click.’”

What It Means: The importance of physical activity for students is well documented, and contrary to claims that rigorous education standards are forcing schools to cut recess and other play time, many are using those opportunities to reinforce classroom learning across subject areas. As Slifstein and Hardwick point out, educators are “creating an atmosphere in which teachers and students can collaborate together to unlock their full potential. Now, as these seeds begin to take root, is not the time to turn back.”


Correcting the Record:

US News & World Report, “Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Stripping Common Core”: On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a compromise bill that augments the state’s review of its academic standards and establishes two committees tasked with providing recommendation about how or whether to make changes. The article states, “The bill calls for the controversial standards to be reviewed and replaced,” and that the committees “will be required to recommend new standards to be fully implemented by the 2017-18 school year.” “What is surprising about the pushback in Tennessee is its position as an early implementation state with a governor and an education commissioner both strongly supportive of the Common Core,” said Kaylan Connally, a policy analyst for the New America Foundation. “For it to be a state with that level of support, if the state were to drop the Common Core, the implications for the larger movement are pretty grim.”

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to the impression given by the article, the bill signed by Gov. Haslam simply calls for a review of the state’s education standards, which other states have done as well. The bill does not require Tennessee to get rid of the Common Core, and the review process may very well keep much or all of the standards. A bill to repeal the standards outright was killed by the legislature, and another that would have allowed districts to adopt inferior standards failed to advance. Gov. Haslam has made clear Tennessee’s commitment to high standards, saying: “One thing we’ve all agreed on is the importance of high standards in Tennessee. This discussion is about making sure we have the best possible standards as we continue to push ahead on the historic progress we’re making in academic achievement.”


On Our Reading List:

Think Progress, “Here’s What Would Actually Happen if Rand Paul Eliminated the Department of Education”: Noting Common Core Standards have been misrepresented as a federal takeover of education, the article examines the impact of Sen. Rand Paul’s proposal to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education. It notes the consequences would include no federal authority to administer $27.13 billion of Pell Grants, little or no oversight of states if they violate civil rights laws, no national check of inequality between low-income and wealth school districts, and inconsistency in education data between states.

Columbus Dispatch, “Bill to Cut Back on State Testing in Schools Overwhelmingly Passes Ohio House”: A wide-ranging bill that would eliminate PARCC tests in Ohio and limit state achievement testing to three hours per year passed the state House by a vote of 92-1 on Wednesday. “Clearly, the implementation of PARCC assessments are not going well and need to be replaced,” said Rep. Andrew Brenner, a co-sponsor of the bill. The Senate Advisory Committee on Testing recommended two weeks ago that the state scale back twice-a-year tests to once a year. The Kasich administration has also called for reducing testing times. State Sen. Peggy Lehner cautioned the reductions could cost the state federal funding. “Some of the ways they’ve described how testing could be limited would be in direct violation of federal requirements,” she said.

NPR, “North Carolina Rethinks Common Core”: State lawmakers in North Carolina appear to be at odds over what it means to “review and replace” the Common Core, as called for by legislation  created last July. Some supporters interpret it as meaning a tweak here and there, the article reports, while others take it to mean fully scrapping the standards. “That’s clearly what we are charged with and the intent of the legislation and of the commission,” says Jeannie Metcalf, a school board member and co-chair of the 11-member commission created to “review and replace” the standards. “Do I believe that the Common Core Standards need to be replaced? Are not good? No. I don’t believe that at all,” said Andre Peek, the other co-chair of the committee. “And I can tell you right now that we’re not going to be used as a tool for some political outcome.”

Education Week, “Louisiana Lawmakers Strike Preliminary Deal over Common Core”: Several Louisiana lawmakers worked out a deal that would leave the state’s Common Core Standards in place, give the state board the authority to develop new standards, and give state lawmakers and the governor authority to reject standards proposed by the state board. The deal would also limit the number of question from PARCC tests that state assessment could use, beginning in the 2015-16 school year. The article notes “there is no clear indication that the governor will sign the legislation.” Superintendent John White said the deal recommits the state board to a review of the standards that it agreed to earlier this year.