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Common Core

  • The Purpose And Potential Impact Of The Common Core

    Written on May 19, 2015

    I think it makes sense to have clear, high standards for what students should know and be able to do, and so I am generally a supporter of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). That said, I’m not comfortable with the way CCSS is being advertised as a means for boosting student achievement (i.e., test scores), nor the frequency with which I have heard speculation about whether and when the CCSS will generate a “bump” in NAEP scores.

    To be clear, I think it is plausible to argue that, to the degree that the new standards can help improve the coherence and breadth/depth of the content students must learn, they may lead to some improvement over the long term – for example, by minimizing the degree to which student mobility disrupts learning or by enabling the adoption of coherent learning progressions across grade levels. It remains to be seen whether the standards, as implemented, can be helpful in attaining these goals.

    The standards themselves, after all, only discuss the level and kind of learning that students should be pursuing at a given point in their education. They do not say what particular content should be taught when (curricular frameworks), how it should be taught (instructional materials), who will be doing the teaching and with what professional development, or what resources will be made available to teachers and students. And these are the primary drivers of productivity improvements. Saying how high the bar should be raised (or what it should consist of) is important, but outcomes are determined by whether or not the tools are available with which to accomplish that raising. The purpose of having better or higher standards is just that – better or higher standards. If you're relying on immediate test-based gratification due solely to CCSS, you're confusing a road map with how to get to your destination.

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  • Fixing Our Broken System Of Testing And Accountability: The Reauthorization Of ESEA

    Written on January 21, 2015

    ** Reprinted here in the Washington Post

    Our guest author today is Stephen Lazar, a founding teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, where he teaches Social Studies. A National Board certified teacher, he blogs at Outside the Cave. Stephen is also one of the organizers of Insightful Social Studies, a grass roots campaign of teachers to reform the newly proposed New York State Social Studies standards. The following is Steve’s testimony this morning in front of the Senate HELP committee’s hearing on ESEA reauthorization.

    Sen. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Patty Murray and distinguished members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, it is my honor to testify before you today on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and to share with you the perspective of a classroom teacher on how the ESEA should address the issue of testing and assessment.

    I am a proud New York City public high school teacher. Currently, I teach both English and U.S. history to 11th-grade students at Harvest Collegiate High School in Manhattan, a school I helped found with a group of teachers three years ago. I also serve as our dean of Academic Progress, overseeing our school’s assessment system and supporting student learning schoolwide. My students, who are listening to us now—and who I need to remind to study for their test tomorrow—represent the full diversity of New York City. Over 70 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch; 75 percent are black and/or Latino; 25 percent have special education needs; and the overwhelming majority are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

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  • The Common Core And Failing Schools

    Written on September 23, 2014

    In observing all the recent controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I have noticed that one of the frequent criticisms from one of the anti-CCSS camps, particularly since the first rounds of results from CCSS-aligned tests have started to be released, is that the standards are going to be used to label more schools as “failing," and thus ramp up the test-based accountability regime in U.S. public education.

    As someone who is very receptive to a sensible, well-designed dose of test-based accountability, but sees so little of it in current policy, I am more than sympathetic to concerns about the proliferation and misuse of high-stakes testing. On the other hand, anti-CCSS arguments that focus on testing or testing results are not really arguments against the standards per se. They also strike me as ironic, as they are based on the same flawed assumptions that critics of high-stakes testing should be opposing.

    Standards themselves are about students. They dictate what students should know at different points in their progression through the K-12 system. Testing whether students meet those standards makes sense, but how we use those test results is not dictated by the standards. Nor do standards require us to set bars for “proficient," “advanced," etc., using the tests.

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  • Contrarians At The Gates

    Written on June 19, 2014

    Unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t have a negative view of the Gates Foundation's education programs. Although I will admit that part of me is uneasy with the sheer amount of resources (and influence) they wield, and there are a few areas where I don’t see eye-to-eye with their ideas (or grantees), I agree with them on a great many things, and I think that some of their efforts, such as the Measuring Effective Teachers project, are important and beneficial (even if I found their packaging of the MET results a bit overblown).

    But I feel obliged to say that I am particularly impressed with their recent announcement of support for a two-year delay on attaching stakes to the results of new assessments aligned with the Common Core. Granted, much of this is due to the fact that I think this is the correct policy decision (see my opinion piece with Morgan Polikoff). Independent of that, however, I think it took intellectual and political courage for them to take this stance, given their efforts toward new teacher evaluations that include test-based productivity measures.

    The announcement was guaranteed to please almost nobody.

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  • "Show Me What Democracy Looks Like"

    Written on April 29, 2014

    Our guest author today is John McCrann, a Math teacher and experiential educator at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City. John is a member of the America Achieves Fellowship, Youth Opportunities Program, and Teacher Leader Study Group. He tweets at @JohnTroutMcCran.

    New York City’s third through eighth graders are in the middle of state tests, and many of our city’s citizens have taken strong positions on the value (or lack thereof) of these assessments.  The protests, arguments and activism surrounding these tests remind me of a day when I was a substitute civics teacher during summer school.  “I need help," Charlotte said as she approached my desk, “what is democracy?"

    On that day, my mind flashed to a scene I witnessed outside the White House in the spring of 2003.  On one side of the fence, protestors shouted: “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”  On the other side worked an administration who had invaded another country in an effort to “expand democracy." Passionate, bright people on both sides of that fence believed in the idea that Charlotte was asking about, but came to very different conclusions about how to enact the concept. 

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  • More Effective, Less Expensive, Still Controversial: Maximizing Vocabulary Growth In Early Childhood

    Written on December 16, 2013

    Our guest author today is Lisa Hansel, communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers.

    With all the chatter in 2013 (thanks in part to President Obama) about expanding access to high-quality early childhood education, I have high hopes for America’s children finally getting the strong foundation of knowledge and vocabulary they need to do well in—and enjoy—school.

    When children arrive in kindergarten with a broad vocabulary and a love of books, both of which come from being engaged in conversations with caregivers daily and being read to frequently, they are well prepared for learning to read and write. Just as important, their language comprehension makes learning through teacher read-alouds and conversations relatively easy. The narrower the children’s vocabulary and the fewer experiences they’ve had with books, the tougher the climb to come. Sadly, far too many children don’t make the climb; they mentally dropout in middle school, and are physically adrift soon thereafter.

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  • The Promise Of The Common Core

    Written on September 16, 2013

    In recent months, the Common Core has come under increasing criticism from a number of different quarters.

    An op-ed in the New York Times’ Week in Review is emblematic of the best of this disapproving sentiment. Yet even it mixes together fundamental misconceptions about the entire Common Core project with legitimate issues of inadequate preparation for teachers and students and poor implementation by state education departments and districts. The Common Core is described as a “radical curriculum” that was introduced with “hardly any public discussion." We are told that it is a “one size fits all” approach, built upon a standardized script that teachers must use for instruction. Finally, it is suggested that the Common Core is a “game that has been so prearranged that many, if not most, of the players will fail."

    This is the Common Core seen through the prism of a fun house mirror. In truth, the Common Core is neither “radical” nor a “curriculum," but a set of grade level performance standards for student achievement in the core academic disciplines of English Language Arts and Mathematics.* Indeed, one of the more telling criticisms of the implementation of the Common Core is that in all too many states, districts and schools, these standards have not been developed into curricula which teachers could readily use in their classrooms.

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  • What Some Call Delay Is At Times Just Good Policy Making

    Written on June 21, 2013

    U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced that states will be given the option to postpone using the results of their new teacher evaluations for high-stakes decisions during the phase-in of the new Common Core-aligned assessments. The reaction from some advocates was swift condemnation – calling the decision little more than a “delay” and a “victory for the status quo."

    We hear these kinds of arguments frequently in education. The idea is that change must be as rapid as possible, because “kids can’t wait." I can understand and appreciate the urgency underlying these sentiments. Policy change in education (as in other arenas) can sometimes be painfully slow, and what seem likes small roadblocks can turn out to be massive, permanent obstacles.

    I will not repeat my views regarding the substance of Secretary Duncan’s decision – see this op-ed by Morgan Polikoff and myself. I would, however, like to make one very quick point about these “we need change right now because students can’t wait” arguments: Sometimes, what is called “delay” is actually better described as good policy making, and kids can wait for good policy making.

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  • On Teacher Evaluation: Slow Down And Get It Right

    Written on May 20, 2013

    ** Reprinted here in the Washington Post

    The following is written by Morgan S. Polikoff and Matthew Di Carlo. Morgan is Assistant Professor in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

    One of the primary policy levers now being employed in states and districts nationwide is teacher evaluation reform. Well-designed evaluations, which should include measures that capture both teacher practice and student learning, have great potential to inform and improve the performance of teachers and, thus, students. Furthermore, most everyone agrees that the previous systems were largely pro forma, failed to provide useful feedback, and needed replacement.

    The attitude among many policymakers and advocates is that we must implement these systems and begin using them rapidly for decisions about teachers, while design flaws can be fixed later. Such urgency is undoubtedly influenced by the history of slow, incremental progress in education policy. However, we believe this attitude to be imprudent.

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  • Can The Common Core Standards Reverse The “Rising Tide Of Mediocrity”?

    Written on April 25, 2013

    Our guest author today is Lisa Hansel, communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers.

    Spring 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of two landmark publications. One, an essay by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., in The American Scholar titled "Cultural Literacy," sparked a small but steadily growing movement dedicated to educational excellence and equity. The other, A Nation at Risk, set off a firestorm by conveying fundamental truths about the inequities in our educational system with prose so melodramatic they have proven unforgettable.

    In the 80s, only one leader seemed to fully grasp the importance of both of these publications: Albert Shanker. Shanker, then-president of the American Federation of Teachers, was prominent partly due to his position, and largely due to the force of his intellect. He saw that schools were in trouble. He agreed that, as stated in A Nation at Risk, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments."

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