Posts Tagged ‘Common Core’
October 30th, 2015 at 12:29 pm
The Nation’s Report Card, Common Core, and Stagnating Schools
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The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (a.k.a. “the Nation’s Report Card”) is out this week, and the news “isn’t great.” For the first time in 25 years, fourth and eighth grade math scores have fallen and reading scores remained flat.

Specifically, 39 percent of fourth graders and 32 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or better in math, while only 35 percent of U.S. fourth graders and 33 percent of eighth graders scored at “proficient” or better in reading.

Seven years into an administration that has made unprecedented inroads into state and local educational policymaking decisions, it could be we’re starting to see the effects.

The NAEP is a good test. The National Center for Educational Statistics, which administers the program, takes samples from all 50 states and 20 major metros. Tests are quick — they only run about an hour. And students are anonymous. The idea is to get the most accurate picture possible of what students are or are not learning, with a special focus on the black-white achievement gap.

Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute notes the racial subgroup scores aren’t very good, either. “Math and reading scores for white and black fourth- and eighth-graders remained the same or dropped since 2013,” he writes. Meantime, “reading scores rose for Hispanic fourth graders but dropped in eighth grade; and eighth grade math and reading scores for Asian students, who are the top performers in the nation, dropped.”

Departing Education Secretary Arne Duncan this week surmised that disappointing results likely have something to do with states’ difficult transition into the Common Core State Standards.

“Big change never happens overnight,” Duncan said. “I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”

Duncan’s critics on the left are having none of that. They believe the NAEP scores vindicate their long-held view that testing and accountability are ruining education.

“The news isn’t good for those who think standardized test scores tell us something significant about student achievement,” writes the Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss, who has rarely encountered a teachers’ union talking point she hasn’t parroted.

She even takes a swipe at the NAEP tests, which are nothing like the “high-stakes tests” left-liberal critics loathe. “It is seen by many as a high-quality test,” she writes, “though it has many critics, too, some of whom say that the NAEP definition of’ ‘proficiency’ is unnaturally high, and that the test cannot measure many of the qualities students must develop to be successful.”

Oh, please. NAEP is very good at testing knowledge. If you want to understand the depth of civic ignorance in our republic, for example, peruse the past 15 years of results from the NAEP civics and U.S. history tests.

In any event, the teachers union critics are happy to point out how Duncan just two years ago was crediting the Common Core for boosting NAEP scores in a handful of states. Now he’s saying, whoops, maybe not.

“Considering that the rationale for the Common Core State Standards initiative was low NAEP proficiency rates, it would appear that the solution of tough standards and tough tests is not the great path forward after all,” writes Carol Burris, who along with Diane Ravitch founded the pro-teachers union Network for Public Education.

It cannot be that simple — or so ideologically pat. As the Wall Street Journal editorializes:

Perhaps what’s most depressing about the latest results is that progress has ceased even in education reform leaders like Tennessee, Indiana and Florida that have loosened teacher tenure protections and expanded school choice. Yet this may be evidence that a falling tide can strand all boats.

One of the few exceptions this year was Chicago where eighth-grade proficiency in math increased to 25% from 20%. Over the last two years Chicago has closed its achievement gap with other large public city school districts. Mayor Rahm Emanuel deserves credit for expanding charter schools as well as imposing a longer school day and more rigorous teacher evaluations.

Cleveland’s school district has also made modest strides. In 2012 Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a law allowing the district to base teacher layoffs on performance rather than seniority. The law also rewarded highly rated teachers with better pay.

Mr. Duncan, who is leaving in December, last week gave unions a parting gift by proposing to cap standardized testing at 2% of classroom time. Yet it’s possible that the anti-testing fever that has swept the nation in the last two years may have contributed to the lousy NAEP results. (Emphasis added.)

Michael Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggests the stagnant economy also may be playing a role in stagnating scores:

What might be going on? It could certainly be something happening inside our schools. Maybe the transition to the Common Core is causing disruption and growing pains (or worse), and those are reflected in these data. Maybe the political debate over standards, testing, and teacher evaluations has caused uncertainty in the classroom or discouraged kids from trying as hard. Maybe Arne Duncan’s waivers relieved the pressure on schools to boost achievement, and they consequently took their foot off the gas. Some states will explain that they altered the portions of English language learners and students with special needs who were excused from NAEP testing. All plausible.

But it’s also plausible that these trends reflect something going on outside of schools—namely, the economic condition of our country and our communities. As I argued the other day, the Great Recession and its aftermath could have acted as a stiff headwind. As schools face more challenging demographics—partly because of the decades-long surge in immigration, but also because of the economic dislocation facing many students and their families—they have to work harder just to stand still.

All possible! But it’s worth digging a little more deeply into the role Common Core may be playing in what students are learning and how. For the moment, however, Peggy Carr of the National Center for Education Statistics has offers a sound word of caution: “One downturn does not a trend make.” Let’s see what the scores look like in 2017.

October 6th, 2015 at 4:42 pm
Obama’s Real Education Legacy
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Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute has a enlightening critical essay on Barack Obama’s “real education legacy” in the latest issue of National Affairs. The essay couldn’t be more timely, coming on the heels of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement last week that he plans to leave his post at the end of the year.

Hess writes:

Despite the soaring rhetoric and heady promises . . .  education reform during Obama’s tenure has disappointed in practice. Oddly enough, some of the president’s critics on the right have missed this and have maintained that, on education, his policy has been uniquely sound. New York Times columnist David Brooks declared that “Obama has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency,” and suggested that Obama’s approach to education reform constituted a model for “health care, transportation, energy [and] environmental policy.”

In fact, Obama’s presidency has proven deeply divisive in nearly every area of policy, from health care to government spending to the environment. And those who have been disconcerted by the Obama administration’s faults in other areas — its abuse of executive discretion, its dramatic expansion of the federal government, and its exacerbation of identity politics and the culture wars — will find that education has not been spared. Despite all the promises of a “post-partisan” presidency, Obama has pursued a polarizing, bureaucratized, and Washington-centric education agenda while exploiting and then draining a substantial reservoir of bipartisan goodwill.

While it does little good to merely gripe about bad policies and squandered opportunities for reform, setting the record straight is crucial. Our understanding of the Obama era in education will color how we regard the promises of presidential candidates and inform our expectations for future Congressional and executive policymaking. Accounting for the lessons of the last seven years is especially vital given education’s substantive and symbolic import and its centrality for any national figure intent on promoting opportunity. Ultimately, the Obama years have illustrated that how presidents tackle education may matter as much as whether they do.

In particular, Hess looks at how the Education Department bungled Race to the Top and the ham-handed rollout of the Common Core standards. Do read the whole thing.

October 2nd, 2015 at 12:18 pm
Arne Duncan Takes His Leave
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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Friday announced he would be stepping down after seven years of service to the Obama administration. In a letter to department employees, Duncan said he wished to return to Chicago to be with his family. Duncan’s wife and two children moved back to their hometown earlier this year. He plans to leave by the end of the year.

President Obama has already selected John B. King, Jr., the current deputy secretary of education, to replace Duncan.

Duncan’s announcement is a bit out of the blue. From the Washington Post:

Even after Duncan’s family relocated to Chicago at the end of the summer, and their home in Arlington was put up for sale, Duncan insisted that he would stay until the end of the Obama administration.

In an interview with The Washington Post in June, Duncan said he planned to stay put because he felt he had a long list of unfinished business and felt an urgency to keep pushing toward unmet goals. He called his job the dream of a lifetime. “I still pinch myself some days,” he said.

Duncan’s announcement came as a surprise, even to some people who are close to him. Just two days ago, after a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Duncan artfully declined to answer when he was asked whether he planned to stay until the end of the administration’s second term.

Duncan’s tenure at the Education Department was a curious one. Conservatives in Congress weren’t fans, which could be expected. But the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers denounced him regularly, as well. Last year, he rejected calls by the NEA and AFT to resign. The NEA’s resolution blamed Duncan for a “failed education agenda” of policies that “undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.” The AFT, meantime, demanded — among other things — that Duncan do away with the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top “test and punish” model, and replace it with a “support and improve” system.

Yet in most respects, Duncan has acted as any down-the-line Democrat would. He has opposed every meaningful effort to rein in federal education spending. He opposed Congress’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, for all the wrong reasons.

Along with President Obama, Duncan used Race to the Top — a $4.35 billion grant competition that was included as part of the $787 billion stimulus in 2009 — as a way to strong-arm states into adopting the Common Core standards.

And, of course, he opposes school choice. As I wrote in July:

Although it’s true that Duncan has supported charter schools throughout his tenure at CPS and the U.S. Department of Education, he is no friend of public school choice.

Last week, when the House of Representatives passed HR 5 to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, Duncan made a point of denouncing the bill’s “Title I portability,” which would allow a portion of federal dollars to follow low-income students to the public school of their choice.

Again, this isn’t even a question of sending tax dollars to private schools, which most Democrats and a fair number of libertarian-leaning Republicans oppose. Duncan labors under the widespread misapprehension, born of a career spent toiling in the government-school bureaucracy, that tax dollars are best distributed to institutions. Institutions are wise. Individuals are not. (Never mind individuals run those institutions.)

To change the way the federal government funds school districts would mean to deny special interests their due. But Duncan says Title I funding portability would be “devastating” to poor children—as if poor children and poor school districts are synonymous.

Duncan will leave office with “a long list” of items left undone. But insofar as the federal education apparatus has expanded to heretofore unimagined powers, Arne Duncan has been a smashing success. And the republic is much poorer for it.

June 12th, 2014 at 7:05 pm
The Liberal Case Against Common Core

Diane Ravitch is calling on fellow liberals to oppose Common Core.

The NYU education policy expert wants Congress to investigate how Bill Gates bought off various groups to support his Common Core initiative, and whether Gates colluded with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to ram through implementation.

First, consider who wrote Common Core.

“The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry,” Ravitch writes at the Huffington Post.

Not only this, but “No attempt was made to have a pilot testing of the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and students. The standards do not permit any means to challenge, correct, or revise them.”

Ravitch then reminds her liberal readers why state and local control matters. “Until now, in education, the American idea has been that no single authority has all the answers. Local boards are best equipped to handle local problems. States set state policy, in keeping with the concept that states are ‘laboratories of democracy,’ where new ideas can evolve and prove themselves.”

Ravitch’s commentary is just the latest in a long line of bipartisan populist backlash over the top-down imposition of Common Core. Voters don’t have much of an opportunity strike back at the elites who are pushing this, but they can remove politicians who support the switch.

As Ravitch’s piece shows, opposition to Common Core is quickly becoming a rallying cry on both the right and the left.

Let’s hope it continues.

November 19th, 2013 at 5:50 pm
Common Core Could Spark Another Tea Party Election

Add Education Secretary Arne Duncan as the latest Obama administration official to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease.

Late last week the face of the controversial Common Core curriculum standards tried to dismiss opposition in terms of race, class and gender. Categorizing opponents as “white suburban moms,” Duncan said bad performance on new standardized tests is the culprit.

“All of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought… and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan told a group of superintendents.

It’s pretty clear from his statements that Secretary Duncan doesn’t have a clue how deep and wide Common Core’s problems run.

Even though all but four states have adopted the Common Core State Standards – which seek to nationalize math and language arts curriculum from kindergarten to 12th grade – grassroots opposition is bipartisan and fierce.

“Catholic scholars say the standards aren’t rigorous enough. Early childhood experts say they demand too much. Liberals complain the Common Core opens the door to excessive testing. Conservatives complain it opens the door to federal influence in local schools. Teachers don’t like the new textbooks. Parent’s don’t like the new homework,” reports Politico.

Those in Washington, D.C. who live to dictate rules to the rest of the country should take notice. It sounds like the Tea Party’s ranks may be getting reinforcements just in time for the next election.

November 15th, 2013 at 1:19 pm
Podcast: Battle Continues in Education over Common Core
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In an interview with CFIF, Michael Brickman, National Policy Director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, discusses Common Core, the national education curriculum adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, and the impact of Common Core on American competitiveness.

Listen to the interview here.

April 18th, 2012 at 2:15 pm
More on Hijacking of Common Core Education Standards

In my column just up today at this site, one item I mention is the administration’s hijacking of the Common Core educational standards. Well, here’s a WSJ video interview just out, with Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, that discusses the issue at length. Well worth viewing.

February 28th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
More on Common Core (Nationalized Education: Yuck)

Last week I wrote this column here, arguing that the Common Core education standards are, predictably, being misused by the Obama adminstration in a dangerous way. Key line: “Control of educational content by the national government risks creating a national system of indoctrination, without local recourse to diversity of thought.”  Today at the Weekly Standard comes this report along the same lines. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is trying to repeal her state’s participation in Common Core: “Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states,” Haley wrote. “Our children deserve swift action and the passage of a clean resolution that will allow our state to reclaim control of and responsibility for educating South Carolinians.”

It is now a hot topic here in Alabama. I served as MC for a candidates’ forum last night at the University of Mobile, and the hottest dispute involved just this issue, which is the central battle in a state school board race. I was interviewed on it here.

And at Education Week, Rick Hess also blasts Obama’s end run around federal law on this issue:

Prominent Common Core proponents have been telling Duncan’s team, literally for years, that its ham-handed tactics were doing more harm than good. It’s ludicrous for Duncan to pretend otherwise. Race to the Top, the administration’s “ESEA blueprint,” and the waivers all reward the adoption of Common Core, while RTT included $330 million to develop Common Core assessments–funds that, with little concern for the niceties of statutory prohibitions, are helping to develop curricular and instructional “materials.”

Three takeaways: First, given the likelihood that this administration will have five more years to run, but may never reclaim unified control of Congress, there will be increasing temptations for the administration to bypass Congress and rule by fiat. The prospect of an endless series of state’s petitioning to amend their waiver and RTT plans means we’re already closer to this state of affairs than I’d have thought possible a year ago. This is bad for democratic government; for education policy; and for students, teachers, and schools.

Conservatives have every reason to fight back against this administration’s lawless centralization of education.