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October 16, 2014

New CPE report examines what’s behind new literacy standards

BeyondFiction_slider3 We gave you something to watch earlier this week with the release of our newest video, Making Time, now we’re giving you something to read.

Much like our video, Beyond Fiction: The Importance of Reading for Information, is concise but packed with data and analysis on a really concerning trend in the American populace: we’re good at reading for pleasure and entertainment but not so good at reading for information. What exactly do we mean by reading for information?

It’s everything from being able to read and understand a newspaper article (which about 30 million American adults can’t do) to being able to decipher a street map (which some 27 million American adults can’t do).  We don’t mean to pick on the adults here, but international surveys conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, show we get progressively worse at informational literacy the older we get.

Just four countries ranked higher than the US when it came to fourth-graders’ ability to acquire and use information. In contrast, 14 countries ranked higher than our 15-year-olds in terms of their ability to acquire and use information. Not good. But new standards, particularly the ones touted by Common Core, aim to fix this disparity by expanding and restructuring the way literature is taught. So, take a moment to dig into our latest study which, yes, is a form of informational text.  Aren’t you smart! – Naomi Dillon

June 11, 2014

Common Core no longer OK in Sooner state

Oklahoma just became the latest state to jettison the Common Core standards that they adopted in 2010. The Sooner State joins Indiana and South Carolina which have also experienced grassroots opposition to the college- and career-ready standards, leading them to opt out of a nationwide effort they had not too long ago voluntarily opted into.

Interestingly— and unlike her Indiana and South Carolina colleagues— Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin was a public supporter of the standards who spoke in their favor as recently as January of this year at a meeting of the National Governors Association. But the bill, which passed with overwhelming support from both chambers of the Oklahoma legislature, had the backing of a vocal group of parents and small-government conservatives who saw the effort as a sign of federal over-reach. On June 5, Gov. Fallin signed HB3399 into law.

The Oklahoma opt-out differs from Indiana and South Carolina in another way. The latter two states both called for the development of new college- and career-ready standards to eventually replace the Common Core, which will continue to be used in the interim. In contrast, Oklahoma’s law calls for the immediate repeal of the Common Core. The state will revert back to the PASS standards they were using prior to 2010 until the replacements are finalized sometime in 2016.

A report by the Oklahoma Business Education Coalition and the Fordham Foundation calculated the total costs of writing new standards, assessments, and training to run upwards to $125 million. On top of that are the interim costs related to reverting to old standards while schools await the new. The authors wrote:

A harder cost to quantify is the impact repeal will have within the classroom…. [F]or nearly four years, teachers and students have been preparing for the Common Core Standards. A sudden departure from that course will create greater uncertainty in curriculum planning, and inevitably introduce several shifts as schools readjust to PASS standards and then again to new standards in two years. While some teachers might remember PASS standards from prior years, many newer teachers will have little to no exposure to these standards.

Clearly from our point of view, providing a sound public education to every child is the most important responsibility state and local governments have to fulfill. Each state therefore needs to consider standards from its own context and come to its own decisions. It’s not only appropriate for states to re-examine the standards they hold their schools to, it’s something they should do periodically.

So it’s entirely reasonable for states to have second thoughts about the Common Core, especially if they now believe they rushed into the relationship. But they should also be extra careful in deciding what to do about it. For one, there are some very practical costs involved, as the Oklahoma report points out. Over 40 states have spent the last three to four years retooling their school programs to align with the Common Core. That’s a large investment that should not be easily disregarded.

There are educational considerations, too. Putting aside for a moment how states and their public may view the federal role in Common Core, they should examine the standards on their own merits. There is a lot in the substance to be commended: the emphasis on using evidence, reading and writing in the subject areas, and the articulation of mathematical reasoning are just a few.

The first matter for public discussion then is, do these standards represent what we want for our students? I’m not at all sure this conversation happened in a lot of states, even though it should have. But it’s not too late to have it now. If the answer is “yes,” the Common Core can at least be on the table when the state develops its own standards even if the state wants to bail on the national effort. But if the answer is “no,” the state faces the challenge to define standards that will prepare all students for college and careers — standards that will likely need to be higher than what the state had before.  — Patte Barth

October 31, 2013

Valid concerns, invalid cause

I certainly understand Katie Hurly’s concern that her daughter is getting stressed out in school in only the 1st grade. No parent wants to see their child overwhelmed by school, especially at such a young age. However, I can’t validate her argument that the new Common Core of State Standards (Common Core) are the root cause to the five reasons this psychotherapist and parenting expert insists is ruining childhood. While she may have some valid concerns about the practices conducted within her daughter’s school, attributing those practices to the Common Core is a reach— at best. Let’s take a look at each of her five arguments:

Increased Stress

Katie is right— when teachers feel stressed, students internalize it and get stressed themselves. But the reasons she believes teachers are more stressed now than ever before—increased stakes on testing and teacher evaluations—have an indirect connection to the Common Core. The stakes on testing are connected to federal and state accountability systems that measure how well students are meeting standards; how much stakes these accountability systems put on the tests is independent from the standards they are testing. Furthermore, new policies to evaluate teachers based on their students’ achievement are also independent of the Common Core. As CPE’s recent report on state evaluation policies shows, teachers are being evaluated on how much growth their students make from year to year and not the percentage of students who met the standards.

Creativity is Dead

I hear this criticism often and it is the most surprising to me. Reason being, the Common Core was developed to enhance creativity and problem solving skills, not kill them. A major criticism of previous state standards were that they relied too heavily on rote memorization skills and did almost nothing to enhance creativity and problem solving skills. It is debatable whether the Common Core does enough to enhance these skills but there is no evidence that it is killing them.

Inadequate Time to Socialize

First of all, as CPE’s report Time Out: Is recess in danger? shows there is little evidence beyond anecdotal that recess is disappearing from our nation’s schools. There is evidence that a small proportion of districts are reducing recess time but as our report shows just about every elementary school still provides time for recess. Furthermore, with few states having implemented the Common Core last school year it is nearly impossible to determine if the Common Core had any impact on recess. While parents should definitely ensure their child has time to exercise and socialize at school, there is no evidence they are not.

Poor Eating Habits and Insufficient Exercise

I find this particular concern to be quite a stretch. First, I don’t know of any data that shows most students get 15 to 20 minutes for lunch and Katie provides no evidence this is the case beyond hearsay. Even so, I remember my mom complaining I didn’t have enough time for lunch when I was in elementary school back in the 1980’s. So this criticism is nothing new and has nothing to do with the Common Core. Again, not that it isn’t a valid concern or isn’t happening in some schools but to claim the Common Core is the culprit is a real stretch.  With the increasing pressure placed on schools to improve student achievement some principals may look to add more instructional time by trimming lunch or eliminating physical education but there is no evidence this is happening on any measurable scale.

No Time to Decompress

Every example of overworked kids Katie provides has been heard well before the Common Core was even considered. Parents have had these concerns for awhile and they are certainly true for some students. But it should also be pointed out this is far from a problem for a great number of students, especially our most disadvantaged students. A look at actual data shows too much homework is not a problem for most students in the United States. Certainly there are a number of students spending an inordinate amount of time on homework and other activities but it is far from a national epidemic and no evidence the Common Core has any impact on students being overworked.

This isn’t to single out Katie’s concerns. I have heard similar concerns from many other people as well. Just as Katie does, many people associate their concerns about what is going on in their public schools to the Common Core. That is why CPE has just released a FAQ about the Common Core every parent should check out. Armed with accurate information, parents can better advocate for improving their child’s education. –Jim Hull

Filed under: Common Core,CPE,Homework,Parents,Public education,standards,Testing — Jim Hull @ 2:07 pm

October 30, 2013

Nothing but the FAQ’s: Common Core

CPE_CommonCore_SliderAs many of you know, CPE has written extensively about the Common Core, even dedicating an entire page to these new standards.

Still, with so much information— and disinformation— swirling around the CCSS, we understand how all of it can be very confusing.

It’s for this reason we felt compelled to create a fact sheet, a clear no-nonsense document that gets at the heart of what these new benchmarks are and aren’t. No spin, just facts— what you’ve come to expect from CPE.

September 25, 2013

Benefits of state-designed curricular resources

TeacherIn late August, Texas State Senator Dan Patrick stood before the Texas Board of Education and argued against state-designed lesson plans. One of the central concerns of Senator Patrick and his growing mass of supporters was that state-aligned lesson plans, assessments and curricular tools from the TEKs Resource System (TEKs), Texas’ curriculum-management network, contained anti-American and anti-Christian values. Senator Patrick made the case that these flaws encouraged children to challenge family traditions that many Texan’s subscribed to. The senator also feared that TEKs materials were imposing centralized, common core related policies, which stripped local school districts of their autonomy. Whether or not Senator Patrick’s arguments are valid, what’s troubling is that he and his supporters haven’t acknowledged the general merits of state-developed resources or the state standards they uphold. As such, it is both timely and vital to explore two critical merits and their relevance to public education leaders.

1. Don’t set standards without thoroughly explaining them

Although, many policymakers are leery of centralized, state control over education, few argue for the complete dismantling of state education standards. Even Senator Patrick seems to agree with some form of academic commonality between districts. So, if most people generally agree that Texas, and all states, should spend time, money and human capital choosing standards then state officials surely must create measures to help schools hold students to those standards. To phrase this point as a question, does it make sense to place effort into setting expectations for curricula without ensuring that teachers understand those expectations and know how to apply them to their lessons? After all, curricular standards are purposefully written with brevity and broadness so that teachers have flexibility when designing individual lessons. While expert teachers may thrive with that freedom and require little support connecting standards to their curricula, inexperienced teachers do not possess the pedagogical experience to reach the same conclusions. But even with veteran educators, state-designed materials cross the bridge between standards and lessons so that all educators catch a glimpse of what’s expected on the ground level.

2. New teachers need curricular resources from experienced teachers

Hovering around 50%, it’s no secret that teacher attrition rates are a major issue in U.S. public schools. An article from the Huffington Post reminds Americans that a lack of quality resources and support is a major contributor to the large number of teachers that leave the workforce. Considering this, policymakers must acknowledge that, aside from political disputes about specific messages, new teachers need to know how veterans lesson plan. More specifically, beginners must learn how to take a broad, complex topic and separate it into monthly, weekly, daily and moment-to-moment components that are logically sequenced, aligned to state standards and challenging for students. Since state curriculum developers are proven educators, their eye for lesson planning should not be overlooked by new teachers even if the message behind particular lessons is disagreeable. Materials from other experts should be given equal consideration so that new teachers can hone their particular teaching style from a variety of quality resources.

Taking a step back, its important for education leaders and parents to acknowledge that support for some level of state standards necessitates an explanation of those standards at the school level from experienced educators. When clarity of those expectations is provided, parents can take solace in the added support and guidance that it provides to new teachers as they learn how to explain material. Political debates about content messages should, of course, not be ignored. However, they should include the general merits of states assisting districts in lesson plan sharing and support. – Jordan Belton

Filed under: CPE,instruction,standards — Jordan Belton @ 10:55 am

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