Petrilli talks Common Core

Mike Petrilli of Fordham talks about Common Core standards on C-SPAN.

Russo’s favorite line: Petrilli says Education Secretary Arne Duncan has “some sort of Tourette Syndrome” when he mentions Common Core.”

Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee makes the case for Common Core standards on CNN.

Standards circus: Who’s the clown?

An “ideological circus” is burying the “sensible idea” of common standards in “hysterical claims and fevered accusations,” writes David Brooks. (Beware of mixed metaphors and “descending” circuses.)

“Common Core education standards are being attacked on the right because they are common and on the left because they are core,” according to Brooks. He  sees no legitimate reason to oppose the new standards, which are “clearly superior” to the old ones.

The column amounts to “backseat driving in the clown car,” responds Aaron Barlow in Academe Blog.

Oh, yeah, it’s the loneliness

“What enemies of a Common Core — by any name — have come to fear is really loneliness, writes Jennifer Finney Boylan in a New York Times commentary.

It’s the sadness that comes when we realize that our children have thoughts that we did not give them; needs and desires we do not understand; wisdom and insight that might surpass our own.

. . . For some parents, the primary desire is for our sons and daughters to wind up, more or less, like ourselves. Education, in this model, means handing down shared values of the community to the next generation. Sometimes it can also mean shielding children from aspects of the culture we do not approve of, or fear.

Oh, yeah? responds Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field. It’s not that the standards are vague, unreasonably high or one size fits all. It’s the loneliness.

Yes, it really makes me sad when I hear my children expressing original opinions. And it makes me feel tremendously insecure when they show wisdom and insights that I don’t think I’m capable of.

Beals fears Common Core’s pedagogical biases, she writes in another post.

. . . the bias towards lofty, everyone-can-do-it, one-size-fits-all goals; the bias towards an abstract version of “higher-level thinking” that probably doesn’t exist; the bias towards the supposed virtues of explaining in words one’s reasoning in math problems; the bias towards an abstract, information-aged, multi-media conception of “text”; and finally, via its abstract goals and its leaving up to schools and teachers how to meet these goals, the de facto bias towards the dominant pedagogical philosophies of the Powers that Be in education.

She’s not worried about ideological bias. “It’s harder to indoctrinate kids than many people fear.”

Core in the classroom: Write and cite


Common Core has students writing and citing “textual evidence,” reports Sarah Carr for the Hechinger Report.

BELLE CHASSE, La. — In the early elementary school grades, Zachary Davis and his classmates at Belle Chasse Primary School in  suburban New Orleans wrote almost entirely from personal experience: describing their ideal vacation, trying to convince readers that a longer school year would be a good (or bad) idea, penning a letter about their adventures during summer break.

This year, as a fourth-grader, Zachary writes persuasive essays using “evidence” from nonfiction reading. For example, students “read a description of Louisiana’s Avery Island followed by one of a bayou swamp tour, and then wrote about which destination they would prefer to visit based on examples in the passages.” 

Proponents of the change say an increased emphasis on analytical, evidence-based assignments will better prepare students for the kind of writing they will face in college and the workforce, where few will be asked to describe family vacations or write poems, but they could very well be asked to summarize a research paper or defend a project proposal. Others worry that if schools veer too far in the direction of analytical writing at too young an age, they risk stifling children’s creativity and discouraging students who aren’t strong readers.

The “intense focus on text-based analysis is new,” said Shelley Ritz, principal of Belle Chasse Primary.

The school still teaches creative and narrative writing, but teachers expect new core-aligned tests will require students to write essays based on multiple reading passages. (The state’s transitional exam did just that.)

In keeping with the new standards, Belle Chasse teachers have gone to a 50-50 split between fiction and nonfiction readings. “Kindergarteners might read a non-fiction book about the life cycle of butterflies and moths paired with a fictional one featuring those insects as characters,” writes Carr.

In Zachary’s class, students practiced writing essays for the state exam, but protested when they learned they’d be doing more writing in social studies and science. 

The class had just finished a citizenship unit where they learned how citizens of all ages can contribute ideas to improve their communities. So the students said they wanted to write a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal protesting all the writing required in Louisiana’s public schools these days.

Teacher Mary Beth Newchurch agreed. After all, it was another chance to practice writing.

Indiana pulls out of Common Core

Four years after adopting Common Core standards, Indiana has become the first state to withdraw. However, critics complain the state-designed “college and career readiness” standards are “too similar to Common Core,” reports the Indianapolis Star.

Several states are passing “standards nearly identical to Common Core, but under a different name,” reports the Washington Post. 

An Oklahoma state Senate committee on Monday passed a version that would strip the Common Core name while leaving many or most of the same requirements intact.

Governors are “trying to find a way to walk this fine line by giving voice to the tea party concerns without backing away from higher standards,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Core English in action

At a Florida middle school, the Common Core doesn’t just mean new standards, educators believe. It calls for”a package of teaching techniques – such as students working in small and large groups,” writes John O’Connor on the Hechinger Report.

Dawn Norris plans lessons for her sixth graders, but has given up some control. “It’s up to students to question, challenge and prod each other toward the goal written on the classroom whiteboard.”
A classroom chart explaining the differences between claims, claim evidence and commentary. Hillsborough County schools are teaching the Three Cs as the building blocks of student writing. (Photo: John O'Connor)
Norris breaks the students into groups to write about how different cultures tell the same fairy story.

Two girls discuss Chinye, a West African version of Cinderella.

“And that’s your claim, which is your topic sentence,” one boy tells another. “This is your thesis, the central claim.”

“Supporting ideas with evidence from a text is a central pillar of the Common Core language arts standards,” writes O’Connor.

“In Christina Phillips’ sixth-grade classroom, students learn about the “three C’s – claim, claim evidence and commentary.”

“This pig made his house of bricks,” reads Phillips. “Is that factual evidence from the text? Or is that my opinion?”

“That’s evidence!” a student says.

The 2 little words Obama won’t say

President Obama likes to talk about new education standards, but there are two little words he won’t say, writes Rebecca Klein on the Huffington Post. He never says “Common Core.” She’s got the videos to prove it.

Talking back to Bill Gates

In The Education of Mr. Gates, Ze’ev Wurman, a former Education Department official, responds to Bill Gates’ defense of Common Core standards at the American Enterprise Institute.| 

Gates: So a bunch of governors said, hey, you know, why are we buying these expensive textbooks? Why are they getting so thick? You know, are standards high enough or quality enough? And I think it was the National Governors Association that said we ought to get together on this. A bunch of teachers met with a bunch of experts, and so in reading and writing and math, these knowledge levels were written down.

Wurman: Well, not exactly. Not “teachers met experts.” Rather, a bunch of poorly qualified ed policy “experts” (chosen by Mr. Gates and Marc Tucker) met with testing experts from College Board and ACT and made the decisions. Then they brought in teachers as window dressing to create the image of broad support.

Wurman helped develop California’s standards, which were abandoned in favor of the Common Core. A Silicon Valley engineer, he believes the new math standards will make it difficult for high school students to prepare for STEM majors.

States with math standards least like the Common Core have higher achievement scores, concludes a new Brookings’ report. “Supporters of Common Core argue that strong, effective standards will sweep away such skepticism by producing lasting, significant gains in student learning,” wrote the study’s authors. “So far at least–and it is admittedly the early innings of a long ball game–there are no signs of such an impressive accomplishment.”

Duncan calls for teacher followership

Ed Secretary Arne Duncan’s Teach to Lead initiative is really a call for teacher followership, writes Rick Hess.

. . .  it’s good to see Duncan talking explicitly about the need for teachers to play a leading role in making change happen. Too often, Obama administration officials have seemed to offer teachers banal pats on the head while cheering broad new federal directives.

On the other hand, Duncan went on to blithely tout the administration’s wondrous “series of changes” that’s “raising standards,” changing assessment, and creating new systems for the “support and evaluation of educators.” . . .

Indeed, his call for teacher leadership looked like a call for teachers to help promote the Obama agenda — to shill for the Common Core, celebrate new teacher evaluation systems, and be excited that the feds are here to help.

Pushing for someone else’s agenda is called “following,” not “leading,” Hess concludes.

Does choice create quality?

Accountability doesn’t mean “government-imposed standards and testing” argues an education manifesto signed by leaders of the Cato Institute, the Friedman Foundation, the Heartland Institute, the Center for Education Reform and others. “True accountability” comes from “parents financially empowered to exit schools that fail to meet their child’s needs. Parental choice, coupled with freedom for educators, creates the incentives and opportunities that spur quality.”

Despite his strong bias toward school choice and parental prerogative, Robert Pondiscio is “not quite ready to act upon the argument that choice, not standards, is the best guarantee of excellence, he writes on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

I taught in the lowest-performing school in New York City’s lowest-performing district. There was choice available to the families we served. The original South Bronx KIPP Academy was a few blocks away. There were other charter schools and good Catholic schools, too. In my school, meanwhile, our principal knew all the families by name, spoke fluent Spanish, and parents appreciated that we were respectful and nice to the kids. Our motto was written in big, bold letters on the playground wall: “Job Number One: Keep Everyone Safe!” Job Number Two, directly under it, read “Get a Good Education.”

Those were the de facto standards that arose at my school. One hundred percent of our students were safe. Sixteen percent could read on grade level.

Choice and standards need each other, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee. Not all parents want no-excuses, data-driven instruction.” In Washington, D.C., parents can choose Montessori charters, Catholic charters, Hebrew immersion, Reggio Emilia, No Excuses, and on. “All are held accountable to the same standards, but real innovation is not only possible — it is encouraged and thriving. In fact, that innovation is possible not in spite of the standards but because of them.”

“Having standards to which all publicly funded schools are held accountable doesn’t strike me as an undue burden,” writes Pondiscio.

On This Week in Education, Paul Bruno takes on the faulty logic of the “other people’s children” argument. Reform critics charge reformers push for ideas — such as the “no excuses” model — that they wouldn’t want for their own kids.

. . . it seems plausible that different kids have different educational needs and that the children of prominent reformers are likely to be systematically different than other children, particularly the least-privileged children who tend to be the focus of reform efforts.

That makes sense to me — if low-income parents have a choice of different school models, as in Washington D.C.