Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: Let the implementation begin!
of the Common Core State Standards has upped the quality of most states’
English language arts and math expectations. But, for them to positively impact
student achievement, we must get implementation right. This is a rare opportunity:
States have set the bar higher. Now it’s time to jump.
effective implementation is hardly inevitable. Consider the lackluster results
witnessed in several states that adopted strong standards in the 1990s, only to
see them ignored.
some states, such as California and Indiana, this was because the assessments
to which the standards were tied weren’t strong enough, or they weren’t tied to
a meaningful state accountability system. In other states, teachers had limited
access to high-quality curricular and instructional resources that were
properly aligned to their state’s standards. These challenges have caused many
to question the potential of standards-driven reforms; to wonder whether we
need to focus our attentions elsewhere.
This is a rare opportunity: States have set the bar higher. Now it’s time to jump.
is, however, evidence that, done right, standards-driven reform holds enormous
promise. In Massachusetts, for instance, a combination of rigorous standards
and assessments and thoughtful state-level implementation has catapulted its
students to the top of national and international assessments. In fact, since
Massachusetts adopted its standards in 1993, the state has seen its achievement
levels rise precipitously: from a 23 percent fourth-grade proficiency rate on
the NAEP math test in 1992 to a 57 percent proficient rate in 2009. That same
year, Massachusetts students outperformed every state on the fourth- and eighth-grade
reading and math NAEP, with a greater proportion of students performing at both
the proficient and advanced levels.
states flesh out their plans to implement the Common Core standards over the
next several years, what pieces are most essential to put into place? Here are
five questions state officials and reform advocates ought to be asking
What is the role of the state in providing curricular and instructional
resources for teachers?
agrees that teachers need access to rigorous materials aligned to the
standards. But who is best positioned to provide those resources to teachers?
And to what extent should the state coordinate—or even mandate—scope and
sequences, curriculum, or instructional resources? States have attacked this
question very differently. Some states (such as Connecticut and Illinois) have
focused on providing assessment frameworks and/or blueprints that help clarify
how each standard will be assessed at each grade level and help teachers set
priorities and plan instruction that is aligned to the state assessment. Other
states (like Virginia and Massachusetts) have gone a step further and developed
“curriculum frameworks” that not only identify priorities but also give
teachers models of how they might teach the standards. And still others (thinking
Texas and California on this one) have linked a list of approved textbooks or
curriculum resources for teachers. As we look towards Common Core
implementation, states will need to decide how heavily they’ll want to
prescribe—or even recommend—curriculum and instructional resources.
What is the role of the state in identifying professional development needs and
states have some role in training new teachers—either in setting certification
requirements, mandating a subject-area or other test, or creating guidelines
for state schools of education. But to what extent should they get involved
with professional development for existing and veteran teachers? Should state
departments of education actually provide training to teachers and
principals? Should they play a role in “approving” professional-development
providers? Or should these decisions be devolved to district and school
leaders? It may seem like a no-brainer that states should play some role in
professional development—after all, all teachers will need some level of
training to implement the new standards effectively. But any state-led or
state-approved professional-development activity will necessarily be a blunt
instrument that cannot meet the needs of all teachers. How can states ensure
that professional development opportunities are sufficiently varied so that
they can be tailored to meet the needs of a variety of teachers?
What is the role of the state in student assessment?
ushered in a requirement that states develop or adopt summative assessments for
students in key grades (in third through eighth grade and once in high school). But to
what extent should the state provide interim or formative assessments that help
teachers track student mastery of standards over time? To date, few states have
gone beyond developing summative assessments, but both assessment consortia (PARCC
and SBAC) will be developing interim and/or formative assessment tools for
teachers. Should states mandate their use? And, if they do, what impact will
these decisions have on curriculum flexibility and planning for all schools,
including charter and other schools of choice?
What role should the state play in helping struggling schools?
the most thoughtful implementation policies will suffer if implementation practice
isn’t done right. Every state has some schools with weak leaders,
ineffective teachers, or both. What is the role of the state in helping schools
that are struggling to meet achievement targets on their own? Should states
mandate curriculum and/or summative and formative assessment tools for
struggling schools even when they don’t for others? Or, should state policies
focus on turnarounds and takeovers?
What role should standards and assessment play in district, school, and teacher
Both of the Common Core assessment
consortia have committed to developing assessments whose results will be valid
for use in teacher and school-leader evaluations. But to what extent should
state policies dictate how student achievement should be used in teacher
evaluations? How long should teachers be given to adjust to the new standards
in these evaluation systems? And what impact do these policies have on the
ability of school and district leaders to make hiring and firing decisions
are undoubtedly a host of additional implementation challenges that states will
face over the next year and beyond. But addressing these big-picture questions
is the first step towards setting states up for successful standards
implementation. It will be a long and bumpy road. But the view at the end will
be well worth the voyage.
This piece was originally
published (in a slightly different form) as one of a
series of policy briefs written for the PIE-Net annual summit. The other briefs
News Analysis: Michigan's ed school's on the Ball
UMich takes a hammer to the
walls of the ivory tower.
(Photo by The Fixer)
According to Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of
Michigan’s education school: “Teacher training in this country is in deep
trouble.” Gadfly—and myriad other smart policymakers, education shops, and
concerned citizens—couldn’t agree more. But Ball goes one further: This week,
she’s unveiled TeachingWorks, a wing of the UMich ed school that will focus on
“raising the standard for practice as a classroom teacher by transforming how
teachers are prepared and supported.” While details of the initiative are still
fuzzy, the skills that Ball seems to be pushing into education-school curricula—teaching
educators to communicate with parents and manage small group
work effectively—are a welcome change from the typical blather about Piaget and
Paulo Freire. And the nineteen specific skills distilled by TeachingWorks should
help bring some order to the unruly and cacophonous court of teacher
preparation. If more education schools sign on to the initiative, we might even
be looking at the beginnings of “common core” teaching standards. How novel.
News Analysis: Better late than never
There’s reason for (cautious) optimism that one
of the most obstinate holdouts against school choice may finally be coming
around. Washington State’s PTA recently added support of charter schools to its agenda,
giving reform advocates an invaluable ally in the marathon struggle to bring
charters to the Evergreen State. Having the parents on board, sadly, does not
guarantee that students in Seattle and Spokane will enjoy the opportunity to
choose from a vibrant array of public education options. Washington is the most
populous and intransigent of the nine states that still prohibit charter
schools, having resisted attempts at reform for nearing two decades. The unions
used the state’s initiative process to defeat pushes for charter schools in
1996 and 2004, the latter time rejecting a bill supported by both the
legislature and governor. Still, the growth of organizations in the region
committed to changing the status quo (Gates anyone?), combined with pressures for
cost-effective solutions during a budget crunch, may give the charters the
momentum they need. Parent Teacher Associations have often been leery of
charters—perhaps a function of “T” overly influencing “P”—so it’s doubly
heartening to see a PTA stepping up for school choice in a state where it’s needed
News Analysis: Up with pencils, up with books!
Scorners of digital-learning initiatives have
found a few powerful and unlikely allies. At the Waldorf School of the
Peninsula, set deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, children of higher-ups from
Google, Apple, and eBay learn through creative, hands-on tasks. There is not
one computer or smartboard or tablet to be found. And School of the Peninsula
isn’t alone in its methods; nationwide, there are over 160 Waldorf schools
(most but not all of them private). While digital instruction surely works for
some, others find comfort and success in a more holistic and physically
engaging classroom. To which Gadfly says: Great! We’d never think to ask all
parents to ascribe to the same religion, sign their children up for the same
extracurricular activities, or feed them like meals. Prescribing one educational
model for all families would be equally as foolish. Different strokes…
News Analysis: Lessons from the Land of the Morning Calm
Too many college graduates?
What a terrible problem to have.
(Photo by John Walker)
An omen of what’s to come in the U.S.? The South
Korean government has launched an initiative pushing students away from the
traditional four-year college-degree program: With a 60 percent college
completion rate—Obama’s target college-completion rate for 2020, remember—South
Korea’s economy isn’t able to absorb all degree-bearers into relevant,
educationally appropriate positions. Instead of a utopia of educated people,
the country lists almost 40 percent of its university grads as unemployed. The
government is also rethinking what it would mean to re-up the respect-level of
the high school diploma, a certification that carries little weight in the
country today. And South Korea isn’t alone: Other countries like Japan have
also increased their vocational-school options for students in these tough
economic times, and are seeing higher employment rates and happier employers
for it. Graduates of Japan’s vocational colleges can expect about twenty job
offers each upon graduation, say school officials. These Asian Tigers might be
on to something.
“In South Korea, too many college grads, too few jobs,” by
Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post, October 24, 2011.
“With workplace training, Japan’s Kosen colleges bridge ‘skills
gap’,” by Blaine Harden, The Hechinger Report, October 16, 2011.
Review: State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies
By Daniela Fairchild
Given recent sea changes to teacher-evaluation-policy—thirty-two
states have updated policies in the last three years with much
of this movement occurring in 2011—the National Council on Teacher Quality
offers up this teaser to its annual State
Teacher Policy Yearbook. It offers a comprehensive appraisal of each
state’s teacher-evaluation policies, and also explains what eighteen states with
the most ambitious evaluation plans (some Race to the Top winners, others not)
are up to, ranking each against NCTQ’s ten elements of comprehensive teacher
policy. What’s most interesting about the paper are the early lessons it draws
from these states’ initiatives. As the authors explain, “teacher effectiveness
measures don’t have to be perfect to be useful.” They should, however, include
classroom observations, entail third-party evaluations, and incorporate
student-growth measures for non-tested subjects. And they don’t need to be the
same for teachers of all grades and all subjects. Two words: Read it.
Review: The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature
years ago, Julian Betts and Emily Tang surveyed the charter-effect
literature, finding “large-scale heterogeneity in program efficacy”: Some
schools outperformed their district peers while others floundered in
comparison—though the overall effect of charters was still positive. This
updated meta-analysis of charter-effect studies shows that little has changed
since 2008. Evaluating all experimental (lottery-comparison) or student-growth studies,
the authors find favorable charter-school effects (even when studies of KIPP
schools were scrubbed from the dataset) for elementary and middle school math.
(The effect on elementary and middle school reading is also positive, but not
significantly so; those on high school reading and math are minimal.) And for
other factors, like attendance rates and behavior, charter effects are
significantly positive. Further delineating the studies, Betts and Tang find
urban charters to be more able to lift student achievement than their suburban
peers—especially schools in Boston and New York. Yet, even with three years’
more data in hand, the authors caveat their findings: The research landscape is
still sparse, they explain, with studies limited by sample size, geographic narrowness,
and a disproportionate focus on the KIPP schools. To really understand the
variance of charter-school success, it will be imperative to undertake
school-level research meant to ID specific successful practices. Still, to
those who continue to insist that charter schools “don’t work” we say: “You’re
Review: Redefining Teacher Pensions: Strategically Defined Benefits for New Teacher and Fiscal Sustainability for All
Cast a net into the sea of folks eager to reform
teacher-pension plans and you’ll draw up quite an eclectic catch—from those with
a goal of increasing the financial stability of state education budgets to
those who wish to ensure equity in teacher-workforce distribution. Just as
Fordham’s recent “Halting a Runaway
Train” report exemplifies the former, this Center for American
Progress paper speaks to the latter. In it, author Raegen Miller explains that
“teacher pension policy should help attract to teaching especially promising
college-graduates and career-changers” and well as “encourage especially
effective teachers…to work in the schools with the greatest need.” To reach
these ends, Miller offers three recommendations. The first two—amend state
constitutions to rigorously scrutinize any benefit-enhancing legislation and
amend ESEA to withhold states’ Title I funding if they fail to contribute to
their pension systems—are meant to ensure that teachers continue to receive
benefits under current defined-benefits plans. The third—implement a
cash-balance defined-benefit pension plan—would draw more promising talent to
the teaching profession, as it would ensure a steady accrual of pension wealth,
distributed evenly over a person’s years of service. It would also allow
teachers to move across state lines (perhaps to needier schools) without pension
penalty. States fishing for new pension-plan options, but unable to go whole
hog for 401(k) style options, would be wise to tap the cash-benefit-plan
fishing hole. This paper can show the way.
Review: Odd Man Out: How Government Supports Private Sector Innovation, Except in Education
For too long, the federal government has babied education,
shielding it from the wholesome effects of private-sector competition. In fact,
John Bailey explains in this AEI brief, if American education is going to
improve, a sizeable portion of the funds showered on public and nonprofit education
providers should be rerouted to
for-profit businesses. American education should be an “ecosystem of various
providers and consumers” and should be supported by private-sector-friendly
policies like regulation waivers and results-based incentives. To articulate
this point, Bailey draws on examples from the energy, space, and healthcare
sectors: From turning over the design and construction of space shuttles to
paying healthcare providers for switching to electronic records, Bailey
showcases smooth-operating public-private partnerships—and casts education as far
behind the curve. But his analogies aren’t perfect. Most concerning is the
specter of Solyndra and similar examples of waste that lurk in various
pages of the paper, surfacing periodically as uncomfortable reminders that the
government often struggles to regulate and incentivize without skewing or
perverting markets. So while Bailey’s argument is strong and his examples
interesting, the devil will be in the details: Check back with AEI in upcoming
months as it adds further installments in the Private Enterprise in American Education report series.
From The Web
Flypaper's Finest: Postcard from China: Waking up to the needs of all students
Winkler, Fordham’s VP for research, is currently traveling around China as a senior
fellow with the Global Education Policy Fellowship Program (GEPFP).
She’ll be passing along her observations on education in the People’s Republic
with periodic “Postcards from China.”
days in bustling, smoggy Beijing and one thing is clear: The Chinese appear to
have woken up to the needs of all of their students, not just their best and
We met with officials yesterday from the Beijing
Institute of Educational Sciences. Funded by the Chinese government, the
Institute operates sixteen research hubs across the country, each with a focus
such as basic education, vocational education, curriculum development, etc.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: The Other Achievement Gap
mania,” as Rick Hess calls it, leading to bad policy? Rick and Ulrich Boser of
the Center for American Progress offer a point-counterpoint on the issue.
Briefly Noted: ED giveth and ED taketh away?
- Participants in last
week’s Race to the Top panel at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (including
our own Mike Petrilli) asked
a provocative question: Should ED take back money from RTTT-winning
states that fail to deliver on their promises?
- Crystal Eastman once said,
“a good deal of tyranny goes by the name of protection.” In a historical
tour de force, Myron
Magnet outlines the creeping tyranny of our government—led mostly by
the courts—in the name of protection, eminent domain, and school equality.
His education example: New Jersey’s Abbott
decisions. Chilling, and well worth the read.
- Think of them as a
PTA 2.0: Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for
Children are all mobilizing parents against the education
establishment—something your grandmother’s parent organization knew
- In a win for the unions,
digital education, and the
students of Missouri (yes, you read it right, all three), the Show Me
State’s governor repealed
its knee-jerk ban on Facebook communication between teachers and their
- As various states and
districts attempt to mend our tattered teacher-evaluation system, the
folks at iNACOL have sewn together their own original
set of teaching standards for digital educators. Those looking to
revamp teacher-training programs would be wise to take note.
- Manhattan’s elite private high
schools (at least a few of them) are ebbing
homework responsibilities for their students; the burnout levels, they
say, are just too high. Vicki
Abbels would be proud. So would South
Korea. Amy Chua, not
AP headline reads: “SAT
Hires Former FBI Boss to Review Test Scruity.” Cheaters, look alive.
College Board isn’t messing around on this one anymore.
Announcement: Rethinking education governance
It’s easy enough to lament our education
system’s antiquated and oft counterproductive governance arrangement. But where
do we go from here? To think through these thorny issues—and come to some
concrete policy conclusions—Fordham has teamed up with the Center for American
Progress. Join us—and our bold and forward-thinking cast of panelists—on December
1 for an all-day conference as we tackle the “what next” question. For a full
schedule and list of panelists, and to register, click
Announcement: Internships never seemed so good
Calling all up-and-coming eduwonks: Fordham is
now hiring our winter/spring interns. And we’ve got a menu of options. If
you’re a savvy thinker and a witty writer with a background in qualitative or
quantitative research, try our research internship. If you’re a creative technophile,
let us recommend our new-media internship. We’ve got something for everyone. Check out the
job descriptions here.
Announcement: All in the family
The pivotal role that families play in a child’s
education is unmistakable. Determining the appropriate federal, state, and
local involvement to ensure that engagement is what muddies the waters. To help
offer some clarity, YEP-DC is hosting a panel of engaged actors (including
Colorado’s Michael Bennett) on November 2, from 6:00 to 8:30PM. The group will explore
best practices and evaluate smart policies, while thinking through how to bring
them to scale. RSVP
Fordham's featured publication: Now What? Imperatives and Options for Common Core Implementation and Governance
This Fordham Institute publication pushes folks
to think about what comes next in the journey to common education standards and
tests. Most states have adopted the “Common Core” English language arts and
math standards, and most are also working on common assessments. But…now what?
The standards won’t implement themselves, but unless they are adopted in the
classroom, nothing much will change. What implementation tasks are most urgent?
What should be done across state lines? What should be left to individual
states, districts, and private markets? Perhaps most perplexing, who will
govern and “own” these standards and tests ten or twenty years from now? This
report frames three possible models for governing this implementation
process. In the end, as you’ll see, the authors recommend a step-by-step approach
to coordinate implementation of the Common Core. Read
on to find out more.