News You Can Use:

New Hampshire Union Leader, “Former Education Secretary Touts Common Core”: During a visit to New Hampshire, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett defended the Common Core State Standards as an important tool to ensure that states hold students to consistently high expectations. An “unlikely spokesman,” according to the article, Sec. Bennett explained that in the absence of comparable standards, states lowered the bar for students and inflated measures of readiness. He cited evidence in which states reported much higher proficiency rates than those found on national tests. In Georgia, for example, 95 percent of fourth-graders were deemed proficient by state tests, but only 35 percent reached proficiency benchmarks on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In New Hampshire, such “honesty gaps” cost families and taxpayers about $16 million annually in the form of college remediation. “We need to get real standards in place for students across the country, so we can stop being the dumb asses of the industrial world,” Sec. Bennett said. Of new assessments aligned to higher standards, he added, “It’s a new benchmark. You can’t compare it to the old test. The scores will come up over time. The doctor owes you the truth, and so do we.”

What It Means: The Honesty Gap analysis made clear that for a long time states lowered classroom expectations and inflated measures of readiness to paint rosy but less than accurate measures of how well prepared students were for high levels of learning. As a result, many students passed through the system, only to get to college or the workforce to find they were underprepared. By adopting Common Core State Standards and high-quality assessments, most states have started to correct the problem. As a result, parents are getting better information and early adopter states have started to improve classroom performance. As states release scores from new assessments, they should resist calls to return to old models of education.

Slate, “Four Teachers Explain How Common Core Changed Their Job”: An interview with several teachers from across the country about the impact of Common Core State Standards notes a common thread from respondents: “At a moment when the standards are quickly becoming a punching bag on the campaign trail, the teachers whose jobs are affected by Common Core take a very different view than the one we hear most on cable news.” “At first we felt angry, thinking, students can’t do this,” explains Valerie Lake, a middle-school teacher in New York. “But in actuality they can do more than we often think they can…The Common Core Standards are actually a great tool for teachers to get students to where they need to be.” Karen Babbitt, a Massachusetts middle-school teacher agrees. “With Common Core, we’re asking students to really take what the text says and really think about it.” “We’re seeing, slowly, students are being able to get closer and closer to meeting the Common Core State Standards,” says Sharon Look, a Hawaii elementary teacher. “Let’s focus on the positive movement forward.” “Every day I’m trying to find different ways of approaching the material so [students] can actually get it,” says Jose Vilson, a math teacher in New York. “If they’re empowered to learn the math, then they do a much better job than if I’m telling them directly what it means.”

What It Means: These teachers’ responses demonstrate the overwhelming support educators continue to show for the Common Core. Despite targeted political attacks, teachers by and large express that the standards empower greater content learning and deeper understanding of material. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in student’s critical thinking and reasoning skills, and more than 80 percent said they are enthusiastic about implementation. As students are held to higher expectations, more states are likely to see gains in student performance.

New York Daily News, “Right On, Chancellor: Carmen Fariña Speaks the Truth about Common Core Standards”: Describing the Common Core State Standards as “crucial to preparing students to learn the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college and careers,” the New York Daily News editorial boards applauds New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña for supporting them and related student assessments. On Tuesday, Fariña said, “I don’t believe in opting out. The message is, ‘You’re not ready.’ The message is, ‘You’re not accountable.’” Noting the Common Core is “under siege by accountability-spooked teachers unions,” and “getting far less stalwart support than necessary” from state leaders, the editorial concludes: “Stay strong, chancellor.”

What It Means: High-quality student assessments are one of the strongest tools that parents and educators have to ensure their kids are developing the skills and knowledge to succeed at high levels of learning. Opt-out efforts undermine the accuracy and usefulness of tests. That in turn impedes teachers and parents from identifying and addressing learning needs and getting students the support they need to ensure they are on a path of college- and career-readiness. As Karen Nussle explains, high standards and assessments “effectively mark a reset to the 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.”


Correcting the Record:

Breitbart News, “Seventh Graders in Tennessee Made to Recite ‘Allah Is the Only God’ in Public School”: Parents in Tennessee were alarmed over a world history project that required students at Spring Hill Middle School to write, “Allah is the only god,” as part of an assignment on the Five Pillars of Islam. “This is a seventh grade state standard, and will be on the TCAP,” said one parent. “I didn’t have a problem with the history of Islam being taught, but to go so far as to make my child write the Shahada is unacceptable.” Another parent, Brandee Porterfield, said she was upset because Christianity is not required by the state’s education standards. Students “are not going to learn any other religion, doctrines or creeds…So for the students to have to memorize this prayer, it does seem like it is indoctrination,” she said.

Where They Went Wrong: Parents should be aware of what their children learn in school, but Common Core State Standards do not determine what is taught in classrooms, as the article implies. As a set of standards, the Common Core simply lays out what students should know and be able to do at specific points during their academic career. The curriculum, which dictates what is taught in order to get students to meet those standards, is decided by state and local educators. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett explains, “If Islamic vocabulary lessons were truly endemic to Common Core, I would be outraged as well. However, it is not. This charge against the Common Core is a bold-faced lie…If such 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:

Learning First Alliance, “Let’s Talk Data”: On September 22, the Learning First Alliance will host a webinar, “Let’s Talk Data: What Common Core Test Results Tell Us about Teaching and Learning.” The event will feature Aimee Guidera, CEO of the Data Quality Campaign, Michael Kirst, chair of the California State Board of Education, and Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools. Panelists will discuss how information from new assessments can improve classroom teaching and learning. More information is available here. On September 24, the Alliance will also host a Twitter town hall meeting, “#CCSSdata: Using Common Core Data to Help Students and Teachers Grow.” Follow @LearningFirst and @BobFarrace and use #CCSSdata to participate.

Associated Press, “Wisconsin Announces Replacement for Troubled Badger Exam”: On Thursday, Wisconsin education officials announced their selection of a vendor to produce a shorter, cheaper replacement for the Badger Exam, the test aligned to the state’s Common Core standards. The State Department of Public Instruction signed a letter of intent with Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corporation to produce the new Wisconsin Forward Exam. Local educators will be involved in developing questions, and officials will require the test be shorter than the Badger Exam, which took as much as four and a half hours. The deal will tentatively cost $63 million over 10 years.

West Virginia Metro News, “Common Core Debated in Kanawha County”: The West Virginia Department of Education held an open house in South Charleston on Thursday for local citizens to address concerns with the state’s Common Core standards. “We’re asking community members if they have questions or want points of clarity,” said Department spokeswoman Kristin Anderson. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there. And when you get down to brass tacks and look at the standards, they are very high standards.” West Virginia released results from assessments aligned to its Common Core standards last month. “Assessment scores, especially in math, weren’t where we want them to be,” Anderson said. “Now that the standards are in place and we have these high standards, we hope to see student achievement increase.”