Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘flypaper’

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.

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Does this flood have a rainbow ending?

In Federal on July 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm

It seems like every ed blog has something to say about Rep. Obey’s EduJobs ammendment. There seems to be a lot of anger. Obviously, this is a direct blow to Obama’s reform plans. Democrats are lining up in opposition to progressive changes to education (or at least ignoring them by voting against them). I think Flypaper’s Stafford Palmieri has an interesting take. She says that the reduction from $3.4 billion to $2.9 billion could actually be a blessing in disguise. Just a few weeks ago, people were lamenting the possible egg on the ED’s face if they had to give some of the money back to the treasury because there aren’t enough states with worthwhile, feasible proposals. Now with less money, they can focus on the stronger applications. In the first round, only two states had strong enough applications to get money. Duncan would need to pick upwards of 15 states in the second round to put another $2.5 billion out there.

What's the big deal about a cloud, silver lining or not?

Mickey Muldoon responds by asking “What if silver lined a harmless cloud?” He poses three questions that I’d like to answer simply:

1. Not considering the cost or effects of a teacher bailout, would cutting the Race to the Top fund by $500M be better overall for American education?

I think this depends on what Duncan would do if he didn’t find enough strong applications. My initial reaction is that cutting money isn’t better. The Ed Department should have the money that it needs to fund the programs that it thinks can work. There’s no way to tell at this point how good the applications are, so who knows whether all of the money is needed? Even though some think that it might make the Education Department look bad to have money and not use it, wouldn’t it seem sensible of them? Everyone is always complaining about waste. The government is spending too much. Why not applaud a decision to only use as much as necessary.

2. If your answer to part (1) is no, then here’s the natural follow-up: is $4.35B the magic number?

I think it’s obvious from my first answer that there isn’t a magical number. We can only know how much to spend on a program after we know what the program involves. What if there were 20 states in round two that learned enough from round one to have proposals worth funding? Maybe more money is needed. It’s probably safe to say that the amount on the table is at least sufficient. Cutting 15% of the rest of the pot ($1 billion has already been earmarked for the assessment competition and round 1) might be OK, but it could also mean cutting a state out that was going to make some progress.

3. If Race to the Top was really worth $4.35B this time around, should it be funded into perpetuity?

If it was worth it, then I think it’s wise to continue it as long as states have work to do, such as getting rid of charter caps and seniority-based layoffs. The proper question is, “Was Race to the Top really worth $4.35 billion?” Compared to the $10 billion that may end up being spent to keep teachers in the classroom regardless of their proficiency, it’s probably going to end up worth it. We can’t really say yet, since we it will take some time to see the results of the changes states make.

Of course, this discussion could end up moot if the bill doesn’t even pass the Senate. We’ll just have to wait and see, since they are on break until next week. In the meantime, I’m going to look at the two applications for Race to the Test. Bill Tucker thinks it may be more important than Race to the Top.

Is California Getting Some Help with RttT?

In California, Federal, LA on May 6, 2010 at 12:36 am

This article in the LA Times suggests that the state of California has recently been told by the federal DOE that it doesn’t need to get full participation from every district for Race to the Top as long as LAUSD (which has more students than half of the states in the US) takes part. There has been a lot of talk recently over whether it is better to have full buy-in from the districts, unions, etc. or to be bold. Duncan has had some frustration with this topic. There has been lots of speculation that because Delaware and Tennessee both had strong union support of their ideas, that was the way to go. However, Duncan has specifically said, “watered-down proposals with lots of consensus won’t win.” This points to an opening up of how the funding works. If it’s true that the strength of the proposal lies in how much reform there is, California has more incentive to target just a few districts that are willing to make greater strides than a large number of districts.

California probably figured it could win the race by shedding some weight.

Andy Smarick isn’t so sure that the article is accurate, though. His contentions are that: 1. Any application would be game if this were true, as long as they meet the data requirements. 2. It doesn’t make sense that the Department of Ed would have given them specific advice, since they are not apt to do that. And 3. It’s the judges that do the scoring, not the Ed Department anyway.

I’m not so sure there’s as big of a problem as Smarick thinks. First of all, if you take a look at the Race to the Top FAQs, question A-4 says that

The State’s applications for funding under Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (Stabilization) program must be approved by the Department prior to the State being awarded a Race to the Top grant.

It doesn’t say anything about not being allowed to make sure your application is legitimate; in fact, it implies the opposite. While the DOE last year said that LAUSD couldn’t apply on its own separate from the state, they never said the state had to have all of its districts in the race for its own application. In fact, if you take a look at section K of the FAQs, it talks about the process for LEAs (local education agencies, usually districts) to sign up (emphasis added):

Participating LEAs must agree to implement all or significant portions of the State’s plan and must enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or other binding agreement with the State that specifies the scope of work that the LEA will implement. The expectation is that participating LEAs will implement significant aspects of the State’s plan…If the State is awarded a Race to the Top grant, its participating LEAs (including those that submitted too late to be included in the application) will have up to 90 days to complete final scopes of work (referred to as Exhibit II in the model MOU). At the conclusion of that period, States will notify LEAs of their final section 14006(c) subgrant.

The implication seems to be that there is no expectation that all districts will comply. There even seems to be an expectation that they won’t and that the funding is based on those that do, rather than what the whole state is doing. So perhaps, the LA Times article wasn’t wrong, so much as misleading. What probably happened is that those in charge of the state’s application asked if they could have a more limited scope, because the population of California is bigger than the 18 smallest states combined. I don’t think that there were necessarily any lengthy negotiations of what they could or could not do. California may have submitted a proposal that was then approved. The author of the Times article also seems a bit unfamiliar with what they’re writing about, making it seem as if the deal with the Department of Ed means that the portions about charter laws and other factors can be glossed over. If anything, with fewer districts, expect the state to have its application more in line with what Duncan et al. want with more loosening of charter laws and tying performance to pay for teachers. The scenario really appears to be a win-win. The districts that participate have a higher chance of winning and the Administration doesn’t have to spend as much money if California wins, while still getting their participation.

Also, can someone please tell Andy Smarick that there are three words that start with ‘t” in Race to the Top, not two?

Update 5/6: It looks like my hunch was right. Edweek says that there was no deal between California and the Department of Ed. Rather than having a deal where California didn’t have to ask any other districts to participate (which the article never actually says, btw), the idea is that there is not a requirement that there be a large number of LEAs participating. There never was in the first place, but there were probably some conversations with Duncan encouraging the state to apply and reassuring them it would be OK. You can read the DOE’s damage control here.