Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘Common Core’

The Obligatory Race to the Top Update

In California, Federal on July 27, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Well, there are lots of things going on in education these days, despite school being out for most of the country. The number one story of course, has been federal spending on education and specifically, Race to the Top. Well, specifics on the Race have been quiet for a bit, but the DOE just announced that there are 19 finalists for Round Two. Even though there are more states that are finalists than not (17 losing out), this seems to be about the number expected. Michele McNeil and Lesli Maxwell actually correctly predicted 17 of them. Only Arizona and Hawaii were surprises to them. Arizona made an incredible improvement, considering they were 40th the first time. I suppose requiring teachers not to have accents didn’t hurt their chances. The number of finalists is no surprise, though. In the first round, there were 15 finalists with only two winners. This time, Secretary Duncan said he expects 10-15 winners.

While the announcement is positive, Ed Sector’s Rob Manwaring questions the timing. Because the deadline for adopting the Common Core is August 2nd, states who are not finalists may have less reason to make moves to put them in place. He points out that of the eight states that applied for RttT and haven’t adopted the Common Core yet, only California is a finalist. That means Alabama, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington have all lost the incentive of Race to the Top. As the head of one of the test consortia, I’d expect Washington to go ahead and adopt the standards anyway, but what about the others? Perhaps, they’ll have second thoughts now. Money is a big draw. New York’s Board of Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, said she’d love for New York to be able to do what they’ve proposed in their application, but doesn’t think it can happen without the money from the federal government. Of course, Duncan is playing the line that all the states should do what they propose, whether or not they get the money, but lots of states are having budget problems. New York’s budget is four months late. California has been cutting and cutting and still having incredible problems.

The Hechinger Report’s Justin Snider has a list of who he thinks will win. (Hint: not too many big states). If California, New York, and Florida were all to win, that would take up half of the money left. Don’t think that the DOE isn’t thinking politically in this one. They’ll make sure the states that win are not only the ones with the best shots of enacting their reforms, but the ones that will have the most political impact, too. A win for California or New York would be great for those states, but Florida is much more of a swing state. Will that affect the winners? Hopefully not, but you can’t rule it out.

Updates: Liz Willen from Hechinger has a great analysis of the changes Arizona made to go from 40th to a finalist.

Common Core: Setting the Standard

In Federal on July 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm

It seems like I should slow down and do a little more editing on these posts. Apologies to “the” Heather Zavadsky and Mr. Michael Winerip. I’ll take my time with this one today, even though it’s pretty exciting.

The Education Gadfly reports that the Fordham Institute just released its comparison of the Common Core standards to each state’s standards. The brief description says that the standards are better than 37 states in ELA and 39 in math. I find that a little misleading, though. Those numbers only count those states that scored worse. There are only six states with better ELA scores and five with better math scores. What’s more, the scores are based on two factors: content and rigor (worth 7 points) and clarity and specificity (worth 3). The Common Core standards were designed with flexibility in mind. They receive a 2/3 in both ELA and math, mainly because they are only politically viable that way. For example, the report says the ELA standards “would be more helpful to teachers if they attended as systematically to content as they do to skills.” Clearly, if they were specific in literature content, it would be more of a hurdle to get states to agree to them. The most legitimate problems seem to be in high school math, where “the presentation is disjointed and mathematical coherence suffers.” However, both ELA and math get high marks in content and rigor. ELA is 6/7; only California, Indiana, DC, and Massachusetts are better. In math, they get a perfect 7/7. Hard to beat that. You can see the list of state scores here.

So this begs the question, is it worth it for states to adopt the new standards? For all but those four, I don’t see any reason not to. Aside from being equivalent if not better standards than virtually every state, having unified standards adds strength to comparability. It also reduces costs. Every child in the US could potentially take the same exams, so instead of designing 51 different tests, those states that join could the movement could all have the same one. I don’t know about you, but I find this extremely exciting. Standards and assessment could be revolutionized. Of course, standards are not the end of the story. Strong assessments and curricula designed around the standards are necessary to ensure that they are implemented most effectively. This is why I have said the “Race to the Test” is so important.

As for DC and the three states that had better ELA standards? I suppose it’s hard to recommend telling them to dumb down their standards. There should be a lot of thought that goes into whether it’s worthwhile. If the standards are only marginally different, it may be positive in the long-run, due to the benefits of shared resources. Two of those, DC and Massachusetts, will be voting this week on whether to join, so we’ll see what they think soon. Twenty-seven states already have and another dozen or so are expected in the next two weeks before the August 2 deadline. Perhaps those that adopt and want to improve on the standards could include additional standards and clarification for any vagueness involved in the current ones. If you’re interested, here’s a map of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards that will be updated when new states join. Below is the map of the current ones as of  this posting.

As of today (7/21), 27 states have adopted the Common Core and another dozen or so are expected in the next few weeks.

UPDATE: The Massachusetts Board of Education voted unanimously to  the Common Core movement. DC is up next.

Good As Gold?

In Federal on July 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm

We’ve all heard that Massachusetts is head and shoulders above other states when it comes to their standards. It is generally accepted that they have the most rigorous standards in the country. Their state board of education said as much in March when it came to adopting the Common Core standards – they were too weak and would be a downgrade from Massachusetts current standards. Thus, it comes as a surprise to find that Massachusetts’s Commissioner of Secondary and Elementary Education, Mitchell Chester, has endorsed the new standards and recommended that the state adopt them. Initially, Chester was wary of them. He worried that they would be a downgrade. Now, after spending time analyzing them, he says they’re better than even Massachusetts’s high standards. He’s not the only one, either. Today, two former MA Education Commissioners have put their weight behind the switch. Robert Antonucci and David Driscoll called the standards “an advancement over our already strong Massachusetts standards.”

The kicker is the timing. The Board of Elementary Education is meeting tomorrow to discuss whether to adopt the Common Core with a vote due on Wednesday. What seemed like a long-shot after the release of the preliminary draft of the standards seems to have gained traction with the view that the bar was raised with the final version in June. Last year, if you would have asked most experts, they would have thought Massachusetts would’ve stuck with their plan, maintaining the system because of its effectiveness. The state has consistently topped the country in its NAEP scores and even ranks high globally. There are some calling the decision to switch to the new standards foolish, but there is a good chance the first step toward adopting the Common Core standards will be occur this week.

If the state whose standards are considered the gold standard joins the Common Core movement, will it set the bar? (Oh, I kill myself)

If Massachusetts decides to go through with the adoption, there will be little for any state to say in the matter. With the clear leader joining the pack, states like Virginia will have a hard time arguing that their standards are too good to be “downgraded.”

Why Oh Wyoming?

In Federal on July 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Now, I’m really confused. Remember a few days ago when I said Wyoming was one of those states? The ones that are so local-control centered that they will never take part in a national initiative like Race to the Test? Well, yesterday to my surprise, Wyoming announced they are adopting the Common Core Standards. The AP reported that state schools superintendent Jim McBride called the Core Standards, “a significant improvement over the standards that we currently have in Wyoming.” The Wyoming Education Department said they were a state-led effort, which is probably the reason they were OK with adopting them. They don’t have to tell people they’re bending to Washington if it’s a “state-led” initiative. The Core Standards reportedly start math earlier and are more rigorous in English than Wyoming’s current ones. Wyoming is now the 14th state to adopt the Common Core.

Wyoming. Famous for... um... low population density?

Is this a turning point, either for Wyoming or Common Core? I’m still having trouble reading Wyoming. I’m not sure whether they’ll join either of the assessment consortia. Common sense would say “yes”, since they will now need new state tests. PAWS will no longer be applicable (yes, that’s the actual name of their state assessment). But common sense doesn’t always guide political decisions. Whether or not Wyoming does anything further to join the fray, I do think this is big news for Common Core. It’s hard to think states, even ones with decent standards, won’t start wondering how Wyoming could possibly be more progressive than them (outside of Alaska and Texas, that is). I predict that within the next month or two, we will see the majority of states signing on, perhaps as many as 40 or 45 by the end of the year. The standards are out in public now and decision makers can clearly see whether their standards measure up. So can their constituents. It’s also an easy financial decision to make. Why spend tens millions of dollars paying Pearson to develop tests for you when you can just adapt ones that other states are already making? R&D is already being done. All you need to do is pay people to reassure yourselves that the legwork was done well.