News You Can Use:

Hechinger Report, “New Mexico Fights to Get Out of Last Place with Aggressive Policies that Some Educators Worry Could Harm Students”: Ranked near the bottom of most academic performance ratings and near the top for child poverty, New Mexico has gone further than most states to embrace high-profile reform efforts, including implementation of the Common Core and high-quality assessments. “The state has linked the new Common Core Standards with new exams and ramped up the stakes for teachers and schools, making it an extreme test case for a set of ideas promoted by education reformers,” the article states. The impact on teachers has varied, with some reporting big changes and others only small ones. “Our kids can’t wait for another day or another year,” one teacher says. “What’s exciting and engaging is knowing that as they transition out of high school we have committed to having our students truly prepared for college and the workforce.” State Superintendent Hanna Skandera adds, “Each year is precious in how they are prepared from one year to the next, but I also think it’s important to be thoughtful, and make sure that we have an equitable system that takes into account that we are raising the bar, so we’re going to do this over a three-year period.”

What It Means: Recognizing that old models of education were inadequately preparing students for college or careers – a reality emphasized by Achieve’s recent Honesty Gap analysis – New Mexico has set to correcting the problem by implementing rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments. As Karen Nussle pointed out recently, now is not the time for states like New Mexico to get “politically weak-kneed or bullied into turning back.”

Lewiston Sun Journal, “Fayette Central School Recognized for High Performance”: Fayette Central School in Maine was recognized as one of the state’s high-performing schools by the State Department of Education. In 2005 only 50 percent of students were proficient in reading and just a third in math. “We knew we had to do better and staff rose to the challenge,” says Principal Ann Pike. “The scores really opened my eyes to the need for improvement.” Pike attributes the turnaround in large part to the implementation of Common Core Standards and high-quality assessments to support them. “It paid off,” Pike says. “Fayette Central School staff felt as ready as they could be for the new Smarter Balanced Assessments knowing the results will provide more new avenues for learning for both staff and students.”

What It Means: Success in schools like Fayette Central demonstrates the potential of Common Core Standards to help improve student outcomes. In states like Kentucky and Tennessee, early adopters of the standards, students have made some of the biggest academic gains in the country, including steady gains in proficiency rates and college-readiness scores. As Achieve’s recent Honesty Gap analysis indicates, most states have undertaken similar efforts to hold students to meaningful academic expectations by implementing rigorous standards and high-quality assessments. There is evidence it is working; a Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the standards reported an improvement in their students’ critical thinking and analytical skills.


Correcting the Record:

Huntsville Times, “Repeal Common Core: Martin Luther King’s Niece’s Plea to Alabama Lawmakers”: Alveda King, niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and a former Georgia legislator, penned an open letter to Alabama lawmakers on May 22 calling for the repeal of the Common Core. The letter asks lawmakers to find “more creative solutions” to the “one-size-fits-all Common Core curriculum.” “Mounting research indicates that Common Core will do more harm than good; hurting most those least able to pull themselves up out of the current educational environment of much and more…By design, Common Core treats every child as a statistic to be measured by standardized tests.” Citing a statement from the Chicago Teachers’ Union, King says Common Core will sort students by race, income and achievement level. “If teachers are told to expect less from minorities, they are likely to get less,” the letter states. It continues: “Will our students be indoctrinated against the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enshrined in our Constitution?…By design, Common Core will only add to this decline.”

Where They Went Wrong: Alveda King’s position on the Common Core perpetuates many misinformed criticisms and advocates ideas that would put at-risk students at a greater disadvantage. Common Core State Standards set high learning goals for all students, regardless of race, family income, or where they grow up, to ensure they are held to expectations that prepare them for college or a career. Far from the national curriculum King describes, the standards retain local control of classroom decisions, so teachers are able to tailor lessons to children’s needs and to identify and address learning needs. As 12 national civil rights groups wrote earlier this month, without rigorous standards and high-quality tests, disparities were swept under the rug and achievement gaps were ignored.

NBC News, “Everything You Didn’t Know about Common Core”: Calling Common Core a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates and comparing it to Obamacare and the IRS, the article says claims of “high-stakes testing, a government takeover of education, weird math and more” are all “only partially true.” While noting that teachers generally believe the standards will better prepare students for college or careers, the article says criticism identifies that the standards are “very difficult for the average person to understand.” It adds that “Republican presidential hopefuls have run away from Common Core even though most supported it in the past.”

Where They Went Wrong: The article reinforces the claim that support for the Common Core is a litmus test for conservatives, when in fact the last election cycle and the current legislative session indicate otherwise. In the 2014 elections, the standards played a decisive role in only four races, and in three of those the candidate most supportive won. At least 12 incumbent governors who support the Common Core won reelection, most by healthy margins. This year, at least a dozen legislatures, many in the most conservative-leaning states, have voted down bills to repeal the standards. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt Common Core continue to use the standards or some similar version. Term “new math” is also a misnomer. The math strategies suggested under Common Core have been employed in high-performing schools across the country for decades. In addition to traditional problem-solving procedures and techniques, like memorization and standard algorithms, Common Core State Standards emphasize multiple methods to help students develop a better conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. Such practices enable students to develop stronger building blocks that will help them succeed at higher levels of learning.


On Our Reading List:

Times Picayune, “Education Department Unveils Common Core Review Committee Picks”: As the Common Core compromise legislation moves forward in Louisiana, the State Department of Education announced its nominees for the committee tasked with reviewing the education standards. Most of the names are “unfamiliar,” the article says, but Superintendent John White praised the list, calling the picks “professionals with first-rate records of serving Louisiana students.” The article includes a full list of the nominees.

Associated Press, “Arkansas Panel Concludes Testimony on Education Policies”: An Arkansas panel tasked with reviewing the state’s education standards and assessments concluded nearly a week of testimony from educators and others in Little Rock. The Governor’s Council on Common Core Review will conduct four more stops on the “listening tour” before submitting its findings and recommendations. Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked for an initial report by early summer and a finalized report by the fall. “What I’d like to do is basically be ready to close it out as soon as the last listening tour stop is over,” said Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin.

Newsday, “MaryEllen Elia Appointed New State Education Commissioner in New York”: On Tuesday, former Florida schools official MaryEllen Elia was appointed as New York State’s new education commissioner. Elia, 66, who will take over July 6, becomes the state’s first female education commissioner and will replace John King, Jr., who left last year for a federal position. Elia has said she supports Common Core State Standards but understands why some teachers oppose tying evaluations for student assessment scores. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have accountability, but right now what we have to do is change the negative stance to a positive approach….to shift the conversation from ‘What do we need to do to get rid of teachers?’ but ‘What can we do to support teachers,” Elia said.