News You Can Use:

Christianity Today, “Hispanic Evangelicals Focus on Education, Equity and Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves”: On the occasion of Education Sunday, an annual day of prayer led by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez writes that Biblical guidance to “love the Lord with all our soul, strength and mind – and our neighbors as ourselves” includes “ensuring that our neighbor’s children, as well as our own, have access to a high quality education.” “By not insisting on equitable education options for all students, including high and comparable academic standards, we have failed to love our neighbors as ourselves…Hispanic and faith voters want plans that offer equitable opportunity for all students, no matter where they grow up or attend school.” Rev. Rodriguez says Republican leaders “would be wise” to embrace college- and career-ready education standards and high quality assessments to stop alienating Hispanic voters, “who hold the keys for whomever hopes to assume the nation’s highest office next.” In La Prensa, Denver-based Pastor Rigo Mendez shares the same message: “The Word tells us the Lord has put a calling on the life of every individual, no matter where they are born or the circumstances they are born into… On Education Sunday, my prayer is that our leaders restore high academic expectations for all students – black, white, Hispanic and Asian.” [Translated]

What It Means: On Education Sunday, millions of Latino believers nationwide joined in a day of prayer to seek that all public school children be held to high academic expectations. As both Rev. Rodriguez and Pastor Mendez articulate, the Biblical direction to “love your neighbor as yourself” suggests that all students should be held to classroom expectations that prepare them for college and careers. Most states’ efforts to implement Common Core State Standards and high-quality assessments are a step in the right direction, and lawmakers should continue to resist efforts to turn back on this important work.

Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Honesty Is Best Policy as Georgia Learns Fewer than 40 Percent of Kids on Track in Reading, Math”: Results from assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards are “sobering” – fewer than 40 percent of students are on track in reading and math – but parents are finally getting honest information about how well their students are progressing, write Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio. “As late as 2013, Georgia was reporting that virtually all of its fourth graders were ‘proficient’ in reading, whereas a national assessment put the number at less than thirty percent,” the piece says. “That was an enormous ‘honesty gap’ – among the largest in the country.” The “most important step” to fix the problem is ensuring that students are held to classroom expectations that fully prepare them for higher level work and ultimately for college or a career. “The new standards should help boost college readiness – and college completion – by significantly raising expectations…Parents, in other words, are finally learning the truth.” Petrilli and Pondiscio urge parents to “resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the new standards or the associated tests.” “Virtually all kids aspire to go to college and prepare for a satisfying career. Now, at last, we know if they’re on track to do so.”

What It Means: Petrilli and Pondiscio make a strong argument that college- and career-ready standards and honest assessments are a necessary step for states to begin improving student outcomes. As the Honesty Gap analysis illuminated, for a long time states lowered the bar instead of adequately preparing students for college and careers. Karen Nussle wrote recently that states’ release of initial results from assessments aligned to the Common Core reflect a new chapter to raise classroom expectations to levels that set students on a path of success, and states leading the way, like Kentucky and Tennessee, have achieved some of the biggest academic gains in the country.

Contra Costa Times, “Making the Promise of Common Core Standards Work for All Students”: California teachers Greg Bonaccorsi and Terri Jackson write that educators are “standing up as professionals” to ensure Common Core State Standards create opportunity for students, “regardless of ZIP code or family background.” “The standards emphasize critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which students need to succeed in today’s fast-changing world,” the authors say. Common Core Standards “bring back the flexibility and creativity that teachers have been craving. They encourage and demand collaborative decision-making.” While implementation has been “uneven,” states are undertaking efforts support teachers and “decoupling” initial test results from measures that could hurt students and teachers. “Over time, making this education transformation work means our students will be better prepared for college, careers and citizenship for generations to come.”

What It Means: By setting rigorous, consistent learning goals that provide a clear progression of development, Common Core State Standards help ensure more students will graduate high school fully prepared for college and careers. As Karen Nussle wrote this month, state score releases mark a “new chapter” in the work to reset a higher “baseline of classroom expectations,” and “states are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do in college or a career.” As Bonaccori and Jackson urge, parents should not turn back as these changes start to take root.

Delaware Cape Gazette, “New School Tests Require Thinking, Writing”: As Delaware releases results from Smarter Balanced assessments aligned to high education standards, “parents are applauding” the exams’ requirement that students explain their reasoning. The focus on writing “is a good thing,” the article says. “Writing more means thinking more…If the new test does nothing else, it forces students to think and articulate answers. The initial results show “there’s work to be done before the celebrations begin,” but some strong-performing districts “demonstrate students can and will achieve, even on the new, harder test.” “As a community and a nation, we will not succeed if only high-income students succeed. A healthy economy and a healthy future depend on ensuring the majority of students, regardless of family income, are successful in school and in the jobs that should accompany their school success.”

What It Means: While results from assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards may be a dose of tough medicine, parents are finally getting honest information about how well their child is developing the skills and knowledge to succeed at high levels of learning. Karen Nussle explains, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do in college or a career…This year’s tests establish a starting point to measure achievement going forward. It’s important to remember that getting students over a higher bar will be a gradual process achieved over years, not months.”


Correcting the Record:

Washington Times, “100-Plus Protest Islam in Schools in Bristol, Tennessee”: More than 100 people rallied outside a local middle school in Bristol, Tennessee, on Friday to protest lesson plans that teach about the history of Islam and require students to compare and contrast it to other religions. Participants said they want to see a change to the curriculum. “This is when kids begin developing their own faith and character for the rest of their lives,” said Jane Thomas, a parent in attendance. “To me, it’s a very scary thing.” “This was the first phase, and we hope it will start interest in other towns,” added Patty Kinkead, one of the organizers. Kinkead blamed the state’s Common Core Standards for introducing the lessons. “So the hope is to start a grass-roots movement to make [Gov. Haslam] reconsider,” Kinkead said.

Where They Went Wrong: Many parents have blamed the Common Core State Standards for lesson plans and materials they disagree with, but those decisions are made by local school boards and educators. Common Core State Standards do not dictate what is taught in schools or how teachers lead their classes. Experts have pointed out that efforts to conflate the Common Core with curriculum disrupt constructive discussion about real issues. As former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote, “Common Core leaves the designation, approval, and use of textbooks, worksheets and assignments to local control…If [objectionable] materials are being used in a classroom, they are the product of decisions made by teachers, principals and local school boards. Concerned parents should address their anger at the parties responsible.”


On Our Reading List:

Brookings Institute, “Surprising Conservative Roots of the Common Core: How Conservatives Gave Rise to ‘Obamacore’”: A report published by the Brookings Institution finds that rhetoric alleging conservatives overwhelmingly oppose Common Core State Standards “vastly oversimplifies not just the debate among conservatives…but the rich, conservative roots of the standards themselves.” The report concludes the principles of the Common Core “embody” conservative ideals dating back to President Reagan. “Despite widespread misinformation on the Common Core, the standards tilt heavily toward conservative pedagogical traditions in their rigor, their call for content-rich curriculum, their emphasis on the development of literacy in history, civics, and foundational documents of American democracy, and their expectation that students will use evidence from reading in persuasive writing and class discussion.”

EdSource, “What Parents Need to Know about California’s Common Core-Aligned Tests”: The California Department of Education will release results from the first round of Smarter Balanced assessments on September 9. More than 3 million students in the state took the exams last spring. Districts will have 20 days after receiving the data to provide scores by mail to parents. The article explains several changes on the new tests, including the switch from paper-and-pencil to online, adaptive questions, and requirements on some questions that student explain their answers. “The tests provide parents and teachers more information than the previous tests about where students are excelling and where they are having difficulties,” the article adds. It also provides information about how the tests are scored, how often they are administered, resources for students with extra needs, the impact for teachers and students, and places parents can find support for students.

Washington Post, “Kids Returning to School, Many without Common Core Results”: Most states that participated in the Smarter Balanced or PARCC testing consortiums have yet to return results from the first year of assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards as children begin returning to school. About 12 million students in 29 states and the District of Columbia took tests developed by the two groups. Only seven Smarter Balanced states – CT, ID, WA, OR, MO, WV, and VT – have released scores. The other Smarter Balanced states have announced plans to do so. PARCC is still setting proficiency benchmarks, but will also release scores this fall.