Hess: The Common Core Kool-Aid

220px-Kool_Aid_ManRick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute wrote that the Common Core State Standards may be an impetus toward education reform, not actually bring the reform itself.

He first said supporters have drunk the kool-aid:

In a number of conversations this week over at Jeb Bush’s annual edu-fest, at AEI, and around DC, I was struck by the degree to which the Common Core seems to have become Dr. Pendergast’s miracle cure for everything that ails you (seemingly including heat blisters). The exchanges were eerily reminiscent of the run-up to Waiting for Superman, when smart, enthusiastic people kept telling me how everything was about to change–how suburban voters would wake up and leap on the reform bandwagon. And it reminds me more than a little of conversations had earlier this decade or back in the ’90s about how NCLB, school choice, or site-based management were going to change everything as well.

…I don’t think standards themselves matter all that much–all the action is in the stuff that follows; and I’ve seen a remarkable dearth of attention to how the Common Core will complement or clash with other key elements of the “reform” agenda (like charter schooling, new teacher evaluation systems, and school accountability).

Every time I ask about these things, I get watery, vague reassurances. Meanwhile, when I ask how exactly the Common Core is going to change teaching and learning, I’m mostly told that it’s going to finally shine a harsh light on the quality of suburban schools, shocking those families and voters into action.

Read the rest… Thoughts?

Textbooks Shot Down in Louisiana

textbookWe’ve been warning you the the Common Core was going to drive textbooks and curriculum.  Here’s proof.

From the EdWeek Blog Curriculum Matters:

Louisiana is poised to reject every math and reading textbook submitted by publishers in its most recent adoption cycle, citing concerns that the materials are not fully aligned to the Common Core State Standards’ expectations, state officials announced today.

Though the Pelican State isn’t the first to deal with a textbook-adoption process colliding with the common core, it does appear to be the first time alignment has been cited as a key factor in eschewing an endorsement.

Superintendent John White said in an interview that state reviewers found that the textbooks generally didn’t adequately match the skills measured in preliminary tasks unveiled by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of the two testing consortia designing exams aligned to the common standards.

The decision would effectively delay state adoption of K-2 math textbooks and K-5 English/language arts for several years.

“It’s no one’s fault; there no logical reason to expect a publisher to be ready for an assessment that is two years from being completed,” White said.

Let School Districts Decide

A Governor who believes local control is important – what a novel concept!

From The Texas Tribune:

Gov. Rick Perry is expressing his support for letting school districts themselves choose whether to implement a rule that requires new state assessments to count for 15 percent of high school students’ final grades.

In a written statement Thursday — the first time the governor has publicly weighed in on the issue —  Perry praised legislation filed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, that would leave the decision up to local school districts. He also asked Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to defer the state’s rollout of the rule until the next school year.

“While we must continue to adhere to our state’s accountability system, we must also recognize the importance of local control,” Perry said in the letter to Williams. “That is why I am asking you to defer until the 2013-14 school year the requirement that an end-of-course assessment count as 15 percent of a student’s final course grade.”

Brookings: Student Testing Costs States $1.7 Billion a Year

testsA new study by Matthew Chingos of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution shows that states will be spending $1.7 Billion a year in assessments.  We are still not sure how the Common Core State Standards assessments will be sustained after the federal funding for their development runs out in 2014 prior to the assessments implementation.  There is still a lack of transparency about how much these tests will costs.

From the executive summary:

The Common Core effort has prompted concerns about the cost of implementing the new standards and assessments, especially in states that have historically spent very little on their tests. Unfortunately, there is little comprehensive up-to-date information on the costs of assessment systems currently in place throughout the country. This report seeks to fill this void by providing the most current, comprehensive evidence on state-level costs of assessment systems, based on new data gathered from state contracts with testing vendors.

We find that the 45 states from which we obtained data spend a combined $669 million per year on their primary assessment contracts, or $27 per pupil in grades 3-9, with six testing vendors accounting for 89 percent of this total. Per-pupil spending varies significantly across states, with Oregon ($13 per student), Georgia ($14), and California ($16) among the lowest-spending states, and Massachusetts ($64), Delaware ($73), and Hawaii ($105) among the highest spending. We find that larger states tend to spend substantially less, per student, than smaller states, which is not surprising given that larger states save on fixed costs like test development by spreading them over more students and may have more bargaining power.

We estimate that states nationwide spend upwards of roughly $1.7 billion on assessments each year, after adjusting the $669 million figure to (1) account for the fact that six percent of students are located in states for which we were unable to obtain data, (2) reflect spending on assessments not included in states’ primary assessment contracts, and (3) include state-level spending on assessment-related activities that are not contracted out.

…Collaborating to form assessment consortia is not a new idea, and is in fact the strategy being pursued by nearly all of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards. Our model cannot be used to estimate the cost of the tests being developed by the Common Core consortia because they include innovative features not part of most existing systems and because they are substantially larger (in terms of students covered) than any existing state assessment system. But our model does suggest that these consortia will create opportunities to realize significant cost savings, all else equal, compared to the current model of most states going it alone.

A study recently conducted by the Pioneer Institute, American Principles Project and the Pacific Research Institute of California put a $16 Billion dollar price tag on the implementation of the Common Core.  The estimated a cost of $1.24 Billion for assessments.  While Brookings is explaining away the cost of the assessments as being relatively small in comparison to the whole of education spending this is just a smallest part of Common Core spending.  The lion’s share will be in the area of technology – which Pioneer estimates being $6.87 billion spent by the states.  Professional development is next with a $5.26 Billion price tag.  They anticipated textbooks and instructional materials to run states about $2.47.

Here’s the Brookings Report embedded below.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems

Arne Duncan’s Second Term Agenda Unfolds

And he’s doubling down on the Common Core State Standards, as well as common assessments and teacher assessments.  In his speech to Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education Summit EdWeek reports:

In remarks at the two-day forum in Washington of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, run by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Duncan said he has an “ambitious” second-term agenda that includes holding the line on initiatives he started during his first four years. He cited specifically the tough road ahead for common standards, common tests, and teacher evaluations.

“Do we have the courage to stay the course there?” he asked during his 30 minutes of remarks, which included a question-and-answer session.

Is courage the right word for what they want to do?  The good news is at least he’s anticipating push back.

371 Applications Received for District-Level Race to the Top

The U.S. Department of Education received 371 applications from 1189 school districts all racing to the trough to receive a slice of the $383 million pot.  Unlike last time the district-level Race to the Top required union officials to agree to the school district’s reform plan.  Which pretty much guarantees it’ll be worthless.

Jackie Zubrzycki pointed out that just because the union officials signed off it doesn’t mean the union members are happy.

A number of districts had trouble getting their unions to sign off on the Race to the Top proposals, which I wrote about for this week’s issue of Education Week. (You can find more details about those squabbles here.) Two California districts, Glendale and Los Angeles, submitted applications anyway. The requirement for union sign-off was new to this iteration of the competition, and may have been a lesson learned from previous federal grant programs, including Race to the Top: When unions don’t agree to grant requirements beforehand, programs sometimes don’t get implemented as intended.

In an interesting twist, in the Central Unified school district in California, the union’s president Gaye Lewis signed off on the district’s application—and then stepped down because the union’s members were upset with the decision.

Of course, some districts also didn’t apply for reasons unrelated to unions. Burlington, Vt., superintendent Jeanne Collins said that her district had simply decided that “jumping through the hoops” and spending time and money on the complicated application was not worth it. And some districts where there’s been notable district-union contention—Chicago, for example—did submit applications with union sign-off.

The Superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District, Jonathan Raymond, gave a sharp critique of the program in a recent column.

I would argue that Race to the Top is hardly innovative – government using “carrot and stick” incentives to spur change is a centuries-old concept.  In fact, I would go a step further: Race to the Top’s heavy-handed, top-down mandates create division and derision within the public education community at precisely a time all sides should be coming together…

…Meanwhile, school districts that are making real, tangible strides to increase student learning are left behind in this “race.” In Sacramento City Unified, we are turning around seven low-performing schools (called Priority Schools) through research-proven strategies for raising student achievement. Six of the seven schools have shown dramatic increases in student achievement and dramatic improvements in school culture and climate. These strategies include relevant professional development for principals and teachers; collaborative teacher planning time; data analysis and inquiry; and building strong family and community engagement. With federal funding, we could take this pilot program to scale statewide. California districts could build on each other’s successes and the gains of districts across the country. This is exactly what federal dollars should be spent on.

Yet Race to the Top’s scripted approach effectively discounts these reforms because they do not fit into the neat categories created by the prescriptive program. Moreover, forcing school districts to compete for badly needed resources is like offering a starving man food but only if he agrees to whatever strings may be attached. This is certainly the choice that school districts like ours face in California.

Those are interesting objections.  He also objects to teacher evaluations being linked to assessments.  I’ve stated my opposition before and would like to reiterate that this program bypasses states.  Christel Swasey today reminded me that this program could push schools in states that rejected the Common Core, like Texas, to embrace the Common Core.  Federal involvement in education should be extremely limited (if not non-existent) and they should be dealing with states, not bypassing them to accomplish their goals.

After all of this time and effort is spent only 15-25 grants will be awarded of $5-40 Million each.

Rush, Race Ahead With Subpar Standards

Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, and John B. King, Jr., the commissioner of the New York State Education Department wrote an op/ed for SchoolBook.  They said we shouldn’t slow down the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, but implement it faster.

They write:

The Common Core standards were developed by asking leaders in higher education and America’s business community a simple question: what skills do students need to bring with them on their first day of class or work? What do they need to succeed? The Common Core was mapped backwards from college and career success to lay out what students should know and be able to do at every stage of their K-12 academic career. The Common Core rests on a foundation of research on the keys to student success in reading, writing, and mathematics – and was internationally benchmarked against the academic expectations of our competitor nations. Supported by the National Governor’s Association, the AFT, the NEA, the National PTA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s leading higher education association, and countless others, the Common Core is the best roadmap we have to plot a course for success for our students….

…In recent weeks we have heard calls to slow down the Common Core and the shifts in instruction the Common Core requires — like the ability to read complex fiction and non-fiction texts, to write effectively using evidence, and to apply math problem solving skills. And in some school districts across the state there have been calls to delay implementing an evaluation system that will finally provide all educators with meaningful feedback.

Unfortunately, our students can’t wait. The reality is our students are already accountable for the skills embedded in the Common Core. They’re held accountable on the first day on a college campus, or the first day on a job, when their professors or their employers expect them to have those skills.

They paint a rosy picture of the Common Core’s ELA and Math Standards, but there is much room for debate on whether these standards will be helpful.  How to you help kids with the ability to read complex fiction when 70% of the reading material is informational texts?  Kids learn about literature by actually reading good literature, not by reading about it.  How can we help kids apply math problem skills with such an unhealthy focus on mental math and by ignoring the process needed to solve equations?

Why the rush to apply standards which are subpar compared to numerous states’ previous standards?  Why the blind faith in something that was never field tested?  Why the focus on college/career for kids in elementary schools who should be focused on just learning the basics?

We can’t slow down and actually have a conversation and debate about these standards, especially since state legislatures and the people were bypassed in the process?

Wyoming Proves that Common Core is a Federal-Led Initiative

Common Core State Standards advocates typically make an argument that the development of the Common Core was state-led since it came out of the National Governors Association and Council for Chief State School Officers.  They seem to neglect the fact that these are trade organizations not states and that state legislatures were bypassed as different state departments of education or state school boards said yes to the Common Core. 

Can we now agree that the Common Core has been at least federalized?  Case in point – Wyoming.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that the state of Wyoming is facing a fine from the Federal government:

A recent report on the Wyoming Department of Education’s work on a statewide educational accountability system noted delays and lack of compliance in preparing state assessment tests.

The department has been slow to complete contracts and work to align existing state assessments to new requirements, according to the report. The state also faces a fine because the state Education Department has made no progress to gain federal approval to replace the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students with the ACT for 11th-grade students…

… Notably, the department has struggled to establish a writing test, dubbed Students Assessment of Writing Skills. Problems with aligning SAWS with the national Common Core State Standards and accountability act requirements substantially delayed the test’s construction, liaisons said in the presentation. Wyoming adopted the Common Core standards in April.

The National Center for Improvement of Educational Assessment, a firm the state hired to help with accountability work, and an LSO liaison had provided guidance in May for the SAWS alignment.

But in September, WDE officials sought to start the writing assessment one year later than the accountability act requires. WDE officials implied the delay was necessary because the act didn’t match Common Core standards for third-grade writing.

WDE officials eventually continued work on the fifth- and seventh-grade SAWS without further direction from the board or the consultant firm. Those tests, according to the report, do meet state and national requirements, but it questioned the availability of those tests in spring 2013.

The third-grade SAWS still does not include some required components, and WDE’s plans for the exam continue to be noncompliant, according to the report…

…Lack of progress to gain federal permission to switch the tests followed initial contract delays.

In July, the select committee authorized consultants to help the department “aggressively” pursue approval from the federal department, which called for alignment studies and a peer review after an initial request. The department has accomplished no tasks toward that goal, according to the report.

“It appears that WDE is almost working against approval of the ACT instead of vigorously trying to advocate for this system,” the consultant firm concluded.

That consultant, Scott Marion of the National Center for Improvement of Educational Assessment, told legislators he’s seen few cases where states made changes without federal approval, and they were penalized about $60,000.

Let’s be clear that the Common Core is a federal-led, not a state-led effort.  If that were not the case Wyoming would not be facing a fine and they would not have to get approval from the Feds.  To continue to say the Common Core is a state-led effort is simply ridiculous.

Common Core Math Standards Making the Simple Complicated

mathBarry Garelick wrote at The Atlantic about the Common Core Math Standards.  Basically he says that kids are required not to just learn how to make a calculations, but also how to explain why they are doing so.  The standards actually elevate this above learning how to solve math problems.  Garelick points out a couple of emails he has received as anecdotal evidence that the implementation of the standards are falling flat.

The first email was from a parent:

They implemented Common Core this year in our school system in Tennessee. I have a third grader who loved math and got A’s in math until this year, where he struggles to get a C. He struggles with “explaining” how he got his answer after using “mental math.” In fact, I had no idea how to explain it! It’s math 2+2=4. I can’t explain it, it just is.

The second from a teacher…

I am teaching the traditional algorithm this year to my third graders, but was told next year with Common Core I will not be allowed to. They should use mental math, and other strategies, to add. Crazy! I am so outraged that I have decided my child is NOT going to public schools until Common Core falls flat.

Garelick then goes on to explain why the Common Core Math Standards complicate math needlessly for students:

Many of these standards require that students to be able to explain why a particular procedure works. It’s not enough for a student to be able to divide one fraction by another. He or she must also “use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that (2/3) ÷ (3/4) = 8/9, because 3/4 of 8/9 is 2/3.”

It’s an odd pedagogical agenda, based on a belief that conceptual understanding must come before practical skills can be mastered. As this thinking goes, students must be able to explain the “why” of a procedure. Otherwise, solving a math problem becomes a “mere calculation” and the student is viewed as not having true understanding.

This approach not only complicates the simplest of math problems; it also leads to delays. Under the Common Core Standards, students will not learn traditional methods of adding and subtracting double and triple digit numbers until fourth grade. (Currently, most schools teach these skills two years earlier.) The standard method for two and three digit multiplication is delayed until fifth grade; the standard method for long division until sixth. In the meantime, the students learn alternative strategies that are far less efficient, but that presumably help them “understand” the conceptual underpinnings.

Be sure to read his whole article.

The Tony Bennett Ouster Debate Continues

The debate continues.  You may remember Matthew Ladner called anti-common core activists in Indiana a bunch of yahoos since they helped defeat incumbent Republican Tony Bennett in the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction race.  Erin Tuttle, who for a “yahoo” writes quite well :), wrote in the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette:

The Bennett fiasco brought an exceptionally nasty rebuke from Matthew Ladner, policy adviser to Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Opponents of Common Core, Ladner wrote at a popular blog, “have revealed themselves to be unsophisticated ya-hoos (sic).” A little further on, Ladner repeats the thought if not his own spelling by referring to “right-wing Hoosier yayhoos (sic).” In explaining Bennett’s loss, Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute was more civil in his disdain for Indiana voters. He advocates for this “reform agenda” but recognizes the truth that it does “not appeal to middle-class and suburban voters.”

Elitists just don’t believe in the American Experiment. Ladner, like Bennett, doesn’t want to listen to the people because he has no faith in them. That skepticism makes them look elsewhere.

It’s no surprise that at the root of it all, Bennett, Hess and Bush are all funded, or otherwise connected to groups funded by, the same elitists who spawned Obama’s reform agenda. But on any one issue, you can’t have two masters. You can’t look to the federal government and the people of Indiana. That’s where federalism comes in.

Now the Indiana legislature and Gov.-elect Mike Pence have a choice to make. Will they look to the people or will they look to Washington and the special interests?

As for Ladner and his ilk, I note that long ago, the British disdainfully called the patriots “Yankee Doodles,” and they mocked George Washington as an ignoramus. So go ahead. Call me a yahoo. But if you paint my portrait, make sure you show me holding the Declaration of Independence in one hand and the Constitution in the other.

Matthew Ladner responded to her article:

Now the writer also makes her case against Tony along the way. “With the advent of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind in 2001, followed by President Obama’s Race to the Top, Common Core and NCLB waiver programs, we have been under constant pressure to surrender education decision-making to Washington and its trade association partners. Every aspect of voter disdain can be traced to the requirements imposed by federal programs such as the Race to the Top Fund Assessment Grant and the NCLB waiver.”

So the people of Indiana rose up in long-suffering anger regarding federal interference in schools and chose to take it out on Tony Bennett. This is plausible if we take “the people” to mean “the writer” but not so much otherwise.

Tony didn’t have anything to do with NCLB, and Indiana pulled out of the Race to the Top competition. I’d be willing to wager by left big-toe that if we administered a survey to the Indiana public and asked them to explain the elements of Indiana’s NCLB waiver that all but a small percentage would likely reply “what NCLB waiver?”  or something similar. People are rational actors and the vast majority of them won’t make time in their lives to learn anything more about NCLB waivers than studying Mayan hieroglyphs absent some good reason to do so. I’m also willing to bet that the new Superintendent will lose her real or imagined federalist fervor and choose not to nullify the waiver so as to have almost every public school in Indiana facing NCLB sanctions.

 A few points to make here in response to Matthew Ladner.

  1. Indiana is a Race to the Top grantee as a member of the PARCCS. asessment consortium which was awarded a RTTT Fund Assessment grant.   You can read their MOU right here (pg. 284).
  2. Bennett’s request for a NCLB waiver while your average person may not have known about the waiver they certainly didn’t like the results.
  3. If Glenda Ritz abandons Federalism she can then be voted out as well.  Also Laudner seems to forget that with Governor-Elect Pence in place and with Indiana having a Republican legislature it is unlikely that any reforms initiated will be undone, especially if it means more Federal regulations – not that the NCLB waiver didn’t come with Federal strings attached.
  4. Insiders recently polled have a different take on the meaning of Tony Bennett’s defeat than Matthew Ladner does.