News You Can Use:

Los Angeles Times, “Parents Brush Up on Students’ Math at Rosemont Middle School”: More than 100 parents participated in a “math night” at Rosemont Middle School in Los Angeles on Tuesday. The evening was the fourth outreach session Glendale School District officials have hosted to help familiarize parents with changes in math instruction happening through Common Core State Standards. “We’re not trying to fill [students] with facts. We’re trying to help them think,” Matt Hamo, a district math coach, told parents, explaining changes prioritize “computational fluency.” “It seems simple, but for so long, we’ve been giving kids numbers without meaning,” added Traci Taylor, a Rosemont teacher. “That’s what the Common Core’s done. It’s built the foundation and given them the time to learn what numbers mean.” “They want these concepts to be fluent for the kids, not only to memorize it,” said Sarita Murillo, a parent in attendance. “I think that is progress.”

What It Means: School districts across the country are providing outreach to parents to help them become familiar with changes to instruction happening as schools implement Common Core State Standards. In addition to traditional learning techniques, the Common Core introduces students to multiple problem-solving methods in order to build conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. A recent analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success notes, “Math education today is designed to help all children, regardless of their background, develop a stronger understanding of math, so they are prepared for college-level coursework and, if they choose, advanced careers in science, technology and engineering.”

Arizona Republic, “Nix Common Core? Sit in a College Class First”: Common Core State Standards are important in a mobile society to ensure students are prepared for college and careers no matter where they grow up or go to school, writes Carmela Arnhold, a community college teacher in Phoenix, AZ. “Disparity in [students’] preparation, knowledge and experience is challenging, not to mention expensive, for students and instructors alike.” Students’ readiness often depends on where they come from, and “Arizona ranks with those states in the bottom 10,” the letter states. While Arizona State Superintendent Diane Douglas was elected to office “on a pledge to ‘stop Common Core,’” repealing the standards would put students at a disadvantage and make it difficult “attracting businesses looking for more than sunshine.”

What It Means: Prior to Common Core State Standards, the patchwork of academic expectations nationwide often created large discrepancies in how well prepared for college and careers students were based on where they grew up or attended school. By setting high, consistent learning goals for all students, Common Core State Standards better ensure students will graduate high school ready for college- and career-level work. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Salon, “Ten Conspiracy Theories that Have Slowly Invaded American Politics”: Fed largely by small but vocal groups of activists, mischaracterizations of the Common Core State Standards have permeated the national dialogue. The standards have been accused of pushing political and religious doctrines, indoctrinating young people into “the homosexual lifestyle,” and even being “anti-Christian, anti-Catholic and anti-American.” “In actuality, the Common Core is a set of standards for math and language arts/literacy,” the article notes. “It does not mandate any particular curriculum or readings.” The most prominent misrepresentation is that Common Core State Standards represent a federal takeover of public education. But states voluntarily adopted the standards “in a bid to improve the competitiveness of the American workforce.”

What It Means: Unable to find fault with Common Core State Standards on content and merit, critics have often perpetuated misleading or downright false information to stir opposition. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote this year, “Lies, myths, exaggerations and hysteria about what the Common Core means and does have dominated the ‘debate’ and the real issues have been obscured…It is time for integrity and truth in this debate. The issue of honest standards of learning for our children is too important to be buried in an avalanche of misinformation and demonization.”

Correcting the Record:

The Atlantic, “Explaining Your Math: Unnecessary at Best, Encumbering at Worst”: Changes in math under Common Core State Standards are based on the assumption that if a student understands a concept, he or she can explain it, but that premise is not always practical or helpful, write Katharine Beals and Barry Garelick. In some cases “the amount of work required for explanation turns a straightforward problem into a long managerial task that is concerned more with pedagogy than with content.” For some students the “process of explanation” does not enhance problem solving ability, and is actually unnecessary and tedious. “Mandatory demonstrations of ‘mathematical understanding,’ in other words, can impede the ‘doing’ of actual math,” which can be particularly problematic for students whose verbal skills lag behind their math skills. “At best, verbal explanations beyond ‘showing the work’ may be superfluous; at worst they short-change certain students and encumber the mathematics for everyone.”

Where They Went Wrong: Common Core State Standards require kids to know all their math facts, just as their parents learned. In the earliest grades, they are expected to learn their addition and subtraction facts and to be able to complete them quickly and accurately. In addition to these math problem-solving techniques, like algorithms and memorization, Common Core State Standards introduce students to approaches that require they explain their reasoning to help build a stronger conceptual understanding of math mechanics. As one expert explains, “What math teachers have realized is that kids who relied on memorization, algorithms, and calculators had a really hard time understanding math as they got older.” By helping students grasp the why, approaches encouraged by the Common Core develop strong basic skills necessary to succeed at high levels of learning. Where before students would memorize procedures which might only apply within a very specific context, instruction is now focused on understanding the nuts and bolts so students are able to apply learning to a range of real-world settings.

Breitbart News, “Parents of Gifted Kids Protest Dumbing Down of Curriculum with Common Core”: Parents in San Francisco urged the city school board to restore programs and courses for gifted and high-achieving students and accused the district of dumbing down instruction to focus on low-performing students. Whether to offer Algebra I in middle school was a point of contention, but local officials say classes now infuse algebra into middle-school classes and students can still reach calculus in high school. Susan Berry, author of the article, cites outspoken critic Ze’ev Wurman, who says “at most” Common Core State Standards prepare students for “community and four-year, non-selective colleges.” The piece also quotes James Milgram as saying, “Common Core does not come close to the rhetoric that surrounds it.” The situation “demonstrates the main idea is not to provide individualized instruction to students based on their abilities,” Berry concludes, but “to allow lower functioning students the opportunity to ‘catch up’ to same-age peers with higher abilities – who remain stagnant while that happens.”

Where They Went Wrong: Common Core State Standards set rigorous learning goals for all students to ensure kids get and stay on a path of college and career readiness from an early age. The standards are demonstrably stronger than those most states used before, according to research by the Thomas Fordham Institute. Even Milgram, an outspoken critic of the Common Core, said, “The reality is that they are better than 85 or 90 percent of state standards they replaced. Not a little better. A lot better.” In fact, Common Core State Standards provide a clear progression of learning that ensures students are able to reach high levels of math and English that prepares them for college and careers.

Breitbart News, “Donald Trump: ‘I Would Close the Loopholes’ in Federal Privacy Law to Prevent Student Data Mining”: During a campaign event in New Hampshire, Donald Trump criticized Common Core State Standards and said he would “close all” areas of student privacy. “You have to have privacy. So I’d close all of it. But, most of all, I’d get everything out of Washington, ‘cause that’s where it’s all emanating from.” Trump added, “You could have local education, with local people, and local schools, and you don’t have a problem. But some bureaucrat in Washington just wants to make money. I didn’t know Common Core was so complicated.” The article says, “The federal structure now incentivizes states to build identical – and therefore sharable – data systems, enabling a de facto national database” of student information.

Where They Went Wrong: Common Core State Standards have no impact on how or the type of student data states collect. The standards contain no requirements for student data collection, and if states were to abolish the Common Core, data collection would still take place without any collection or reporting changes. Contrary to Trump’s explanation, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) explicitly protects the privacy of student records, and FERPA remains unchanged by states’ academic standards. Additionally, states have their own laws to govern how and when student data may be reported, which the Common Core does not alter.

Washington Times, “Common Core’s Double Whammy”: The correlation between states’ use of Common Core State Standards and their results from the latest NAEP assessments indicates a “degradation in performance: direct and indirect, a double whammy,” writes David Anderson, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute. “What’s clearest is that Common Core has not brought any improvements in the important subjects of mathematics and reading. In fact, the presence of this unfortunate ‘experiment’ correlates with performance degradation in both subjects. Less clear, but likely, is the fact that states which have formally participated in Common Core have fared worse than those not doing so. And it appears the ‘infection’ has spread to states not officially adopting and using these so-called standards.”

Where They Went Wrong: While good for stirring concern, Anderson’s conclusion is off point, as he seems to admit: “We do not yet have firm statistical proof of what we are about to say.” Analysis by Brooking Institute’s Thomas Kane concludes that differences in scores between states that adopted Common Core and those that did not was so negligible it would not explain a drop, and accommodating for those changes “the majority of the decline would have remained.” Kane surmises, “Given the combination of high standards and use of many more open-ended items on PARCC and SBAC…perhaps we will see an acceleration of progress of student achievement.” Others, like Sarah Lubienski of the University of Illinois, posit that discrepancies between what’s taught in classroom and what appears on NAEP tests is likely responsible for a decline in scores.

On Our Reading List:

Hechinger Report, “Common Core Testing Showdown in Massachusetts”: Next Tuesday, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote which standardized test the state will use next year. “The Board has three options: completely switch to PARCC, keep the old MCAS or develop a new MCAS,” and will likely consider several factors, like content, cost and time spent on testing. “In fact, doing a hybrid of the two [PARCC and MCAS] is probably going to get us to an even higher level,” James Peyser, the State Secretary of Education, said Wednesday. “In order to maintain [our position of leadership], we really need to control our standards, control our assessments, and make sure we are on the cutting edge and the leading edge of both.”

Associated Press, “New Hampshire to Release First Results from Common Core-Aligned Tests”: The New Hampshire Department of Education will release scores on Thursday from the first administration of Smarter Balanced assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards. State education officials said the tests add increased rigor that establishes a new baseline for academic progress, and cautioned against comparing to previous years.

Communities in Schools, “Poll: Public Education, Poverty Is a Top Priority”: A study by Public Opinion Strategies and Communities in Schools of 1,200 likely voters finds that education issues are a top priority in the current election cycle. Sixty-eight percent of respondents say improving K-12 public education should be a top priority for the next president, and 76 percent believe it should be a priority for all children to get a good education, no matter their economic status. Only about a third of participants, 36 percent, said they have heard presidential candidates talk about education issues.