20 states raise proficiency standards

Twenty states strengthened their student proficiency standards from 2011 to 2013, while eight states weakened standards, according to a study in Education Next.

All the states showing strong improvements have adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the authors note.

There remains a 30-point differential between the percentage of students defined as “proficient” by the average state and the percentage of students considered proficient by NAEP.

In many states, taxpayers have been funding tests that are a “weapon of mass deception,” writes Matthew Ladner. “Regardless of where you stand on the Common Core project, and we’ve beat the horse into hamburger on it here, state tests with the approximate rigor of a My Little Pony coloring book — look Mommy I colored this unicorn blue-I’m PROFICIENT!!! — deserve no one’s support.”

Teachers of the year on Core teaching

The National Network of State Teachers of the Year has released 12 videos of “teachers of the year” discussing how Common Core standards have affected their classrooms.

Here’s Jane Schmidt, Iowa teacher of the year in 2014:

Kindergarten reading: Is it bad for kids?

Teaching reading in kindergarten could be harmful to kids who aren’t ready, argues a new report by Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood. Furthermore, there’s no advantage in learning early, the writers argue.

Common Core State Standards call for children to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding”  by the end of kindergarten. That pressures kindergarten (and some preschool) teachers to use “inappropriate” teaching methods instead of “the active, play-based, experiential learning that we know children need.”

In my day, kids were introduced to Dick, Jane and Sally in first grade. Parents were told not to teach their kids to read earlier, lest they “do it wrong.” (My sister taught me when I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade.)

These days, what used to be the first-grade curriculum is taught in kindergarten and first grade has turned into second grade. That’s great for some kids, not so great for others.

2015 will be ‘brutal’ for Common Core

2015 will be a “brutal” year for Common Core standards, predicts Andy Smarick on Ahead of the Heard. While some think the backlash has peaked, Core defenders have not addressed “conservatives intellectually serious concerns” and keep antagonizing the right, writes Smarick. GOP legislators are more hostile than ever. 

He doesn’t mention it, but many people on the left hate the Core.

“As with all things gigantic and new, there are bound to be significant implementation glitches,” writes Smarick. Test scores will plummet. “Even in a placid political environment, such things would cause angst. In legislative chambers with DEFCON-1 Common-Core bellicosity, they’re the anaconda-squeeze on a hair trigger.”

I think he’s right, but enough states will stick with the Core to show whether it’s a step forward, a leap forward or a pratfall.

The man behind Common Core math

Hechinger’s Sarah Garland profiles Jason Zimba, The Man Behind Common Core Math for NPR.

Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Jason Zimba begins a math tutoring session for his two young daughters with the same ritual. Claire, 4, draws on a worksheet while Abigail, 7, pulls addition problems written on strips of paper out of an old Kleenex box decorated like a piggy bank.

If she gets the answer “lickety-split,” as her dad says, she can check it off. If she doesn’t, the problem goes back in the box, to try the following week.

“I would be sleeping in if I weren’t frustrated,” Zimba says of his Saturday-morning lessons, which he teaches in his pajamas. He feels the math instruction at Abigail’s public elementary school in Manhattan is subpar — even after the school switched to the Common Core State Standards.

And four years after signing off on the final draft of the standards, he spends his weekends trying to make up for what he considers the lackluster curriculum at his daughter’s school, and his weekdays battling the lackluster curriculum and teaching at schools around the country that are struggling to shift to the Common Core.

Zimba met David Coleman, who’d become the man behind Common Core English Language Arts, when they were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford.

Jason Zimba waits for his daughters (Photo: Julienne Schaer for The Hechinger Report)

Jason Zimba waits for his daughters (Photo: Julienne Schaer for The Hechinger Report)

In 1999, they started the Grow Network, which produced reports analyzing test results for districts, including New York City, and states, including California. McGraw-Hill eventually bought the business.

Zimba ended up teaching at Bennington, where Coleman’s mother was president. He started a “quirky math and parenting blog,” writes Garland.

In 2007, Coleman and Zimba wrote a paper for the Carnegie Foundation arguing for clarifying “vast and vague standards.” Two years later, they were picked to lead the standards-writing effort.

The backlash started in 2013, when states started using Core-aligned tests and gained force in 2014, writes Garland.

. . . a dad in North Carolina posted a convoluted “Common Core” question from his son’s second-grade math quiz on Facebook, along with a letter he’d written to the teacher. “I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Engineering which included extensive study in differential equations and other high-math applications,” he wrote. “Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the answer correct.”

Zimba and his colleagues agree it’s a bad problem. But they didn’t write it. Their standards “don’t include lesson plans, or teaching methods,” writes Garland.

They blame the implementation. Standards and tests aren’t enough, Zimba now believes. “I used to think if you got the assessments right, it would virtually be enough,” he says. “In the No Child Left Behind world, everything follows from the test.” Now, he says, “I think it’s curriculum.”

NYC’s would-be teachers flunk literacy test

Teacher trainees have to pass a new literacy exam to teach in New York: One third failed statewide and a majority of would-be teachers failed the literacy test at New York City colleges, reports the New York Post.  

The Academic Literacy Skills exam “measures whether a prospective teacher can understand and analyze reading material and also write competently,” reports the Post.

At a half-dozen City University of New York campuses, half or more failed to make the grade.

CUNY pass rates ranged from 0 at Boricua College in the Bronx to 82 percent passed at Hunter College.

Students who failed can pay a fee to retake the test.

State Education Commissioner John King said New York said many teacher-prep programs need to improve or close. “It’s better to have fewer programs that better prepare teachers than having many schools that have teachers who are unprepared for the classroom,” said King, who’s leaving to be a senior advisor to U.S. Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan.

Most states have not done enough to make sure new teachers will be ready for the higher standards students are expected to achieve, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook.

Teachers who like the Core

Some teachers like Core standards.

How Core literacy could fail

Common Core’s literacy standards could fail because teachers aren’t being given enough time to make them work, says a lead standards writer, Sue Pimentel.

Teachers need time to develop materials and teaching techniques and “to observe and critique each other’s teaching,” she tells Marc Tucker. “The time needed to transform the way students are taught stands in stark contrast to the rush to evaluate teachers based on old assessments that are not aligned to the Common Core.”

“I think it is clear to anyone with a grain of common sense that there should have been a five-year amnesty on consequences for testing when implementing the Common Core,” says Catherine Snow, a Harvard education professor who served on the validation committee.

This would have allowed for developing the aligned materials.  It would have been fairer and smarter to help teachers focus on teaching and learning instead of assessment and accountability.

Teachers have been given a simplified, distorted version of the standards, says Snow.  They’re told: “Give students complex texts and make them close read and then everything will be fine.”

. . . you can’t give 9th grade students, who have been exposed to a completely different educational regime, the texts associated with much more rigorous standards, and expect them to do close reading immediately.  Introduce these tasks in the first grade and build them up instead of imposing a full-blown version on teachers and students who are totally unprepared for it.

Much of the teacher training has come from the top down, says Pimentel.

Too often teachers are corralled into school gymnasia and told either a) they have to do things entirely differently or b) they are doing the Common Core already and no change in practice is necessary.  Neither is true, and neither will work.

“Without some big changes in the way the Common Core is being implemented, this really elegant vision could crash and burn through poor implementation or premature assessment,” concludes Snow. “And then it will be 20 years before anyone gets the courage to try again.”

Have unions flipped on Common Core?

Have the teachers’ unions joined the anti-Core pushback? asks Alexander Russo. The “unions’ rhetoric and tone have changed,” he writes. But it’s not clear that it matters in “concrete substantive ways.”

Before Core-aligned tests were developed, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association were strongly pro-Core. Then the Education Department pushed states to use test scores to evaluate teachers in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers. And it was clear scores on the new tests would be low, at least at first.

ednext_XV_1_russo_fig01-small

“They’re trying to walk a fine line in which they still support the standards but don’t like the way they’ve been implemented,” says Bob Rothman, a Common Core supporter at the Alliance for Excellent Education. “But they haven’t reversed themselves.”

“If the standards go down the tubes because of fear-mongering and misinformation, the NEA is going to look really bad,” one union official explained to Education Week. “Why would anyone take us seriously if we had a seat at the table, and then we turned our backs on the standards?”

But core-haters in the rank and file aren’t satisfied with the union’s stand, writes Russo.

Why do teachers hate Common Core?

What is it teachers truly hate about the Common Core? asks Shawna on The Picture Book Teacher’s Edition.
The Picture Book Teacher's Edition common core

In Why I Want to Give Up Teaching Elizabeth A. Natalie complains that, “In English, emphasis on technology and nonfiction reading makes it more important for students to prepare an electronic presentation on how to make a paper airplane than to learn about moral dilemmas from Natalie Babbitt’s beloved novel Tuck Everlasting.”

Her worth as a teacher will be based on how well her students do on the new Core-aligned exams.

Shawna also links to Robert Pondiscio’s column, What’s Right About Common Core.

It makes sense to have students read more nonfiction, writes Pondiscio. Reading in different genres — “recipes, instructions on how to put something together, a contract, medical news, political views, sales ads and disclaimers, and reasons for or against something” — is a key to functioning in the world.

Pondiscio also says “Broad general knowledge of the world correlates with reading comprehension — the more you know, the more you take from reading.”

Common Core aims to achieve a “knowledge-rich curriculum,” but it’s school districts’ job to develop a curriculum for teachers to teach. “Has your district given you quality content?” asks Shawna.

Do I hate the Common Core Standards or the curriculum (or lack of) my district has given me?”

Do I hate the Common Core Standards, or the data that my district, the state, and the government are requiring me to track?

Do I hate the Common Core Standards, or the fact that I have to teach areas and content in which I am not used to or uncomfortable teaching?

Great teachers “take the standards, the curriculum and what they know is right and they just teach,” concludes Shawna. “They are having meaningful discussions about fiction books, they are using technical vocabulary when reading nonfiction texts, they are talking through different strategies for solving one math problem, and they are showing what they know in their writing and answers.”