A Bi-Weekly Bulletin of News and
Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 4, Number 7. March 24, 2010
News & Analysis
From the Front Lines
Common Core standards are a smart move for the Buckeye State
Ohio has positioned itself to be among the first states to adopt the “common” academic content standards, created through a state-led process coordinated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. These standards – known as the “Common Core” – were released in draft form (for math and English-language arts) earlier this month, and Ohio has already set about offering technical assistance to guide school districts through the implementation process.
Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have signaled their intent to adopt the voluntary common standards. The aspiration behind common standards is that all American students will receive a high standard of education. The Common Core should make transitions easier for students who move between states and should ensure that high-school graduates from across the country are on equal footing when they enter the workforce or matriculate to college. Ohio’s adoption of the Common Core standards (in conjunction with the existing Ohio Core graduation requirements) would raise minimum expectations and result in more students engaging in rigorous academic work by the time they graduate from high school.
In an analysis released yesterday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute issued grades of “A-” and “B” to the Common Core math and English-language arts drafts respectively. By comparison, in 2006, Ohio’s math standards earned a “D” from Fordham and its English standards garnered a “C.”
Improved academic standards are important to Ohio teachers as well. A recent survey of teachers by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that a majority (71 percent) of teachers in the Buckeye State agree that clearer academic standards would have a “very strong” or “strong impact” on student achievement. Fifty-seven percent of Ohio teachers also responded that common national standards would have a very strong or strong impact on student achievement.
But, for those of us in the Buckeye State, the most important question about the Common Core standards is whether or not they are in fact superior to Ohio’s current standards. In general, we believe they are and here’s why:
They are narrower, and deeper. At 70 and 60 pages respectively, before appendices, the Common Core math and English standards are far shorter in length than Ohio’s standards. They save space by focusing on fewer topics and skill areas, but taking those topics deeper than Ohio’s current “inch deep, mile wide” standards.
For example, an Ohio Department of Education and CCSSO effort to benchmark Ohio’s standards against top international standards found that, in K-8 math, Ohio spreads content topics across more years than peer countries, leading to redundancy and less instructional emphasis on each topic. The Common Core math standards are focused on essential, core math content. The Common Core English-language arts standards emphasize foundational content but go deeper where necessary; for example, by including etymology as it relates to students’ vocabulary development.
They are more specific where it matters. The Common Core academic standards provide a level of detail that is sometimes absent from Ohio’s standards. In math, for example, the Common Core gets to textbook-level specificity when it comes to fractions, clearly stating that by third grade students should understand that fractions are representations of numbers (i.e. points on a number line) and not simply parts of a whole (i.e. slices of pizza). Conversely, Ohio’s math standards fluctuate between clear and specific in one strand, while in another they are overly broad and immeasurable, such as the third-grade math standard for patterns: “Use patterns to make predictions, identify relationships, and solve problems.”
In English-language arts, the Common Core is more specific in what children need to know. For example, kindergartners need to know 25 sight words. Ohio’s standards are far less specific and simply say our five-year olds should be able to “read one-syllable and often-heard words by sight” but offer no guidelines about how many words students should know.
The Common Core standards in math and English-language arts offer students and teachers a better foundation for learning because they are deeper, more specific, and more cogent than Ohio’s current academic content standards. Even the layout of the document is more streamlined and reader-friendly. None of this is surprising, given that the Common Core initiative has benefited mightily from the trial and error of states, and other nations, in developing rigorous academic standards over the last decade.
Teachers should be happy to know that the Common Core standards are not overly prescriptive. They state the skills students should acquire at each grade level, but do not prescribe the content or methods that teachers should use to get children to the standard. For example, while the standards provide an outstanding list of example texts that can be used to help students attain reading skills, no reading lists per se are prescribed. States, local school boards, and individual teachers will still retain control over these decisions.
Adopting the Common Core standards isn’t a sure-fire recipe for academic success. High academic standards don’t automatically translate into stronger student performance. A corresponding, solid curriculum must accompany these standards, as must tests that are properly aligned to them and accurately measure students’ mastery of the standards. And, of course, teachers, parents, and students will still need to do their parts.
Although a strong step forward, the current iterations of the Common Core standards are not perfect. There are issues that ought to be addressed during the upcoming revision process and before the Common Core standards are finalized. Failing that, Ohio must consider its own revisions and additions to the Common Core to address shortcomings. These include:
Looking out for and eliminating curious omissions. While basic number facts are the foundation for mathematics, the Common Core only requires students to memorize addition and multiplication tables, not the corresponding subtraction and division facts. Ohio’s standards indicate second-grade students should be fluent in addition and subtraction facts through 9, and third graders should be fluent in multiplication and division through 10. Students should master these basic facts before moving on to more complicated mathematical concepts.
Assuring standards do not impose a false ceiling. Though the Common Core standards set greater expectations for many Ohio students, the math standards could represent a step backward for some students. Ohio’s current mathematics “program models” include a path that incorporates algebra and geometry into the curriculum in middle and high school. The Common Core mathematics standards “top out” at pre-calculus. Advanced STEM math standards are provided as a guide for students intending to pursue STEM careers, though the fact that they are labeled separately and are not part of the minimum core could prompt educators to ignore them. If Ohio educators do not make full use of the guidance for high school course development contained in the Common Core’s appendix, these standards could lower the curricular ceiling and corresponding expectations for some Ohio students.
Ensuring advancement opportunities for gifted learners. The Common Core standards could benefit from adding content to guide teachers in moving students beyond the minimum standards, including a statement of the need for “continuous progress” to help students move through the standards at an accelerated pace. Specific examples of how content can be differentiated in depth, breadth, and pace to accommodate academically talented students would also help ensure that these standards work to improve achievement for all students.
In general, the Common Core standards represent an improvement over Ohio’s current core academic standards. Experts, state education officials, Ohio teachers, and union representatives alike agree that improved academic standards such as those embodied in the Common Core can positively impact student achievement.
The Common Core standards, the final version of which Ohio’s State Board of Education plans to adopt this summer, will set clearer, higher, and more specific minimum academic expectations for students in the Buckeye State and will put them on a level playing field with their peers across the country. Common standards should allow Ohioans to more accurately gauge how our children are performing compared to students across the country, and should foster collaboration and information-sharing across states to create better curriculum and assessments.
It makes educational and fiscal sense for states to agree to common academic content standards and expectations, especially if the goal is to adequately prepare students for success upon high school graduation. Individual students and our nation as a whole will benefit from more demanding expectations. The process for developing the Common Core thus far has been driven by the states, and in going forward, strong state ownership and investment will be necessary for the effort to flourish. The federal government should continue to stay out of this, especially when it comes to the how (rather than the what) of academic standards. States, districts and individual schools are the best agents for determining the types of pedagogy, instructional programs, etc. that should be deployed to ensure that students master minimum academic standards.
After adopting the Common Core standards, educators in individual states will have the freedom, flexibility, and responsibility to go beyond the standards, devise systems to address individual student needs in less uniform ways, and capitalize on local strengths to raise the achievement of all learners. It is up to Ohio and other partner states to maximize the Common Core’s potential to better prepare our students.
As Gene Wilhoit of the Council of Chief State School Officers told Congress last December, this state-led effort should “ensure that all children regardless of zip code are taught to the same high standards that prepare them for college and career and allow them to compete with their peers around the globe.” Ohio is to be commended for not only embracing them, but also helping with their creation and development.
by Colleen Grady, Jamie Davies O’Leary, Emmy L. Partin, and Terry Ryan,
See the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s full review of the Common Core draft math and English-language arts standards here for content experts’ analyses of the standards’ strengths and weaknesses as well as specific suggestions for improvement. For more on the Buckeye State’s standards, see our most recent review of Ohio’s math and English-language arts standards here.
This article is also available at State of Ohio Education blog.
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Back to Basics: Why "common standards" are good for American education
For five good reasons, conservatives should take seriously the potential of the newly released (in draft form) “common” education standards to strengthen U.S. education.
First, they’re good, solid — indeed very ambitious — academic standards for primary and secondary schooling, at least in the two essential subjects of English and math. Students who attained them would be better off — readier for college, readier to get good jobs, readier to compete in the global economy — than most are today. (An overwhelming majority of states, according to analyses by my own Fordham Institute and other organizations, currently rely on standards that range from mediocre to abysmal.)
Second, they respect basic skills, mathematical computation, the conventions of the English language, good literature, and America’s founding documents. That’s why they’ve been endorsed by the likes of E. D. Hirsch and his Core Knowledge Foundation, and Lynne Munson of Common Core.
Third, they emerged not from the federal government but from a voluntary coming together of (most) states, and the states’ decision whether or not to adopt them will remain voluntary. Each state will determine whether the new standards represent an improvement over what it’s now using.
Fourth, they do not represent a national curriculum — though to gain traction they’ll need to be joined by solid curricula, effective instruction, and quality testing.
Fifth, one little-noted benefit of properly implemented common standards is a better-functioning education marketplace, in which parents will be able to make choices about schools on the basis of more accurate information about how school A’s performance compares with that of school B — not just within communities and states but also when considering a move from state to state. Entrepreneurial school operators (such as KIPP and Edison) will also be better able to gauge and manage school performance in locations across the land.
Of course there are risks, too, four of which bear mentioning:
First, the standards are currently in draft form and subject to comment and revision. One hopes they’ll get even better (and in several key ways they would bear improving), but they could get worse.
Second, federal officials could mess things up by attaching too many inappropriate “strings” to states’ use of these standards. Education Secretary Duncan and President Obama have already dropped worrisome hints. (But of course they can mess things up without these standards, too!)
Third, the long-term governance of these standards — and of the assessments to follow — is unknown. Something more durable will need to be found or created than the consortium of states that produced the present draft. (The Fordham Institute is developing ideas and options for this, and others will surely weigh in as well.)
Fourth, standards alone don’t make for better education. (California, for example, has had impressive academic standards for years, and yet its student performance remains weak.) Standards just describe a desirable destination. Getting there demands good schools, too, with competent teachers, hard-working students, attentive parents, and a solid curriculum.
Still and all, these draft “common core” standards are light years better than we had any right to expect. They appear to be better than the standards most states now rely on. And they represent a vision of well-educated girls and boys that conservatives should applaud. Remember, it’s liberals who believe that people should be held to different standards.
by Chester E. Finn, Jr.
This article originally appeared at National Review Online.
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News & Analysis
Gap still persists between Ohio reading scores and NAEP, proficiency still flat
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) publicly released its 2009 reading scores today, and there will likely be little fanfare in Ohio over the results. The NAEP is a biennial test administered to fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders by the U.S. Department of Education and is frequently billed as “the Nation’s Report Card.” We noted in a previous Ohio Gadfly article that the Buckeye State’s NAEP math results remained stagnant throughout the past decade, and today’s results continue that trend in reading.
The 2009 NAEP scores for Ohio students are virtually the same as in previous years. In 2009, 36 percent of fourth graders and 37 percent of eighth graders were considered proficient or better in reading, compared to 36 percent of both fourth and eighth graders earning a proficient rating in 2007. The graph below illustrates Ohio’s lackluster performance on the NAEP over the past 10 years.
As we also previously noted, Ohio's own measure of student proficiency (the Ohio Achievement Test, or OAT) appears drastically inflated in comparison to the NAEP. According to 2009 OAT results, 72 percent of eighth graders and 82 percent of fourth graders were considered proficient in reading. The graph below highlights the performance gap of Ohio students between NAEP and OAT results.
This gap certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, as The Columbus Dispatch covered this disconnect between state test scores and the NAEP in September 2009. The Fordham Institute also highlighted the differences in the bar that states set for proficiency in the Feburary 2009 report The Accountability Illusion.
Both the stalled achievement in reading according to NAEP scores, and the discrepancy between OAT and NAEP proficiency results continue to highlight the need for the adoption of strong common standards nationally. Higher academic content standards will raise expectations – and presumably achievement—for Buckeye students, and common core standards would enable better comparisons across states.
Many states are moving in this direction. Common Core standards in K-12 English-language arts and math were recently released in draft form. So far they’ve gotten mostly positive reviews, with several states seeking approval for adoption sometime this year. Kentucky wasted no time and voted to approve the standards, acting on a late-stage draft before the public release.
As noted in the article above, common standards alone won’t raise achievement. They must be matched by aligned assessments that can reliably measure students’ mastery of the standards, and educators, parents, and others must do their part, too.
But one thing is for sure – too few Ohio fourth and eighth graders are scoring proficient in reading, and this hasn’t changed much in the last decade. Adopting rigorous common standards is one strategy among a set of reforms necessary to boost student achievement in the Buckeye State.
by Eric Ulas
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From the Front Lines
Columbus Collegiate Academy wins prestigious national award, will share best practices
Columbus Collegiate Academy, one of six charter schools authorized by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, was recently awarded the “silver-gain” EPIC prize by New Leaders for New Schools for dramatic gains in student achievement.
New Leaders for New Schools launched EPIC — the Effective Practice Incentive Community – in 2006 to link principal and teacher incentive pay to the wide-scale sharing of effective educational practices. EPIC works with public schools in Memphis, Denver and the District of Columbia, as well as with charter schools in the National Charter School Consortium. Funded primarily through the federal Teacher Incentive Program (TIF), EPIC gives performance bonuses to school leaders and teachers in partner schools that are driving dramatic student achievement gains, and creates comprehensive case studies of their successes so that others can learn from them.
This open sharing of information among high-performing schools is the one of the most exciting components of the program, according to Andrew Boy, founder and co-director of Columbus Collegiate Academy.
Boy attributes much of his school’s success to borrowing from other top-performers and using what works. “We’re not about reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We’re always looking for best practices.”
Columbus Collegiate Academy, one of just 22 charter school winners nationwide, will share the ingredients of its success via written documents, interviews, and videotapes, all which will be made available via EPIC’s web-based professional development platform to all participating schools.
There is plenty to learn from Columbus Collegiate, whose staff and school leaders led their inaugural class of sixth graders from just 35 percent proficient in reading and 41 percent proficient in math (as fifth graders) to 74 percent proficient in reading and 82 percent proficient in math, on the Ohio Achievement Tests, as sixth graders. These academic gains earned the school local recognition as the highest performing public middle school in Columbus, despite serving a student population that is 95 percent economically disadvantaged.
Columbus Collegiate’s recognition from EPIC places it among some of the nation’s top-performing charter schools; such as YES Prep, KIPP, Green Dot Public Schools, and the Mastery Charter Schools network in Philadelphia.
The best part of how EPIC picks winners, according to Andrew Boy, is how simple and laser-focused their selection process is. “It’s based only on student achievement data. No spin. No application fluff.” EPIC is concerned with one question -- how far did the schools move the needle on student achievement? – and rewards those achieving the most significant gains.
Boy and his staff share that laser focus on raising student achievement, and posted remarkable results despite facing brutal fiscal conditions and myriad other obstacles related to starting a new school in frigid charter environment.
Columbus Collegiate students and parents recognize that their success is unique. “When they do the homework they send home the syllabus and every teacher has their phone number on there and they allow the kids to call them up until 8 o’clock. That is a blessing because me – I went to school just to graduate. This is a very on-hands staff. I’m thankful for this school,” said a parent with two seventh graders at the school.
The work of Columbus Collegiate Academy– and of all the 2010 winning schools – is a reminder that educating needy children to high academic levels is possible. And New Leaders for New Schools’ creation of a platform for best practices and widespread information-sharing might be a model for any district or state hoping to replicate the best practices of high-performing schools.
“CCA is one of the best schools that I’ve been to, so it really means a lot to me… this school will help you with your education more than any other school probably in Columbus, Ohio,” said one Columbus Collegiate sixth grader.
Photo above is of a Columbus Collegiate student; taken by Eric Ulas.
by Jamie Davies O’Leary
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A selection of the best offerings from Flypaper, Fordham's blog.
Update: Can Race to the Top decisions really be politics-free? by Terry Ryan
Almost since the contest was announced, those of us working in Ohio have wondered whether Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's Race to the Top decisions could really be politics-free. You don't have to be a cynic to agree that in the Buckeye State (and likely other states), a battery of forces are paving the way for political horse-trading around RttT funding.... Read the rest of this post here.
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Drew Carey cares, by Tim Hoffine
When asked how he would go about improving Pittsburgh, Frank Lloyd Wright offered a simple solution: “Abandon it.” But that Price-is-Right hosting, Michael Moore look-a-like (minus the baseball hat and hammer-and-sickle) Drew Carey won’t drop the commitment to his hometown Cleveland that easily. Carey recently teamed up with the Reason Foundation to offer solutions for revitalizing his city going bust. Read more here.
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The Online Learning Imperative: A Solution to Three Looming Crises in Education
Alliance for Excellent Education
Bob Wise & Robert Rothman
In this issue brief by the Alliance for Excellent Education, former West Virginia governor Bob Wise makes the case for online learning as a solution to the “perfect storm” brewing within K-12 education. The three major crises pushing us toward our tipping point are: the need for an increasingly skilled workforce contrasted by the U.S.’s lagging college graduation rates; threats to school funding caused by depressed tax revenues at all levels of government; and the shortage of highly-qualified and capable educators.
Wise argues that only by doing more with less will schools and districts successfully navigate these crises, and advocates specifically for embracing technological advances and adapting them for the purposes of K-12 education. Online learning, either entirely virtual or blended teacher-online classrooms, is a significant part of the solution. First, fostering students’ familiarity with cutting-edge technology would prepare them better for success in the 21st century workforce. Second, technology could help streamline the development and implementation of curricula, monitor teacher effectiveness, and track student success in the face of tighter school budgets. Finally, new online models of learning would address the teacher (and budget) shortages faced by some districts by providing a pathway for in-demand teachers of special subjects to teach at many different schools simultaneously.
Wise’s call for online learning is germane to Ohio. The state faces an impending $8 billion dollar budget deficit in 2011. The Buckeye State is also committed to increasing its college graduation rates, and will need an additional 13,600 new teachers by 2014 just to meet Ohio’s class-size reduction mandates in grades K-3.
The question now is whether Ohio can realize the potential of online learning to improve the quality of education while doing more with less. Lawmakers recently discussed schools using online learning to make up for calamity days, which brought to light the need to transition towards blended learning environments. If executed properly, Ohio could turn its current challenges into a golden opportunity. Read the report here.
by Dan Woolf
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Who Benefits From KIPP?
National Bureau of Economic Research
J. Angrist, S. Dynarski, T. Kane, P. Pathak, & C. Walters
This working paper presents findings from a study comparing academic gains between students who won and lost the lottery to attend KIPP Academy Lynn (a KIPP charter school in Lynn, Massachusetts). KIPP Lynn students have significant gains (if you like statistics, one year at KIPP Lynn translates into .35 and .12 standard deviations in math and reading). One year at KIPP Lynn reduced by 10 and eight percentage points (in math and reading, respectively) the probability that students would perform at a “warning level.” There was an equal increase in the probability that students would move up a performance level.
Given what we know about the culture of KIPP schools, i.e. extended school days and years, rigorous behavioral management, such results aren’t totally surprising. But here’s the catch: KIPP Academy Lynn has a high concentration of limited English proficient (LEP) and special education students, subgroups for whom charter schools are frequently criticized for under serving. Further, when the researchers break the data down by subgroups, special education and LEP students at KIPP Lynn achieved greater gains than other students at the school. Contrary to criticisms aimed at charters, it appears that KIPP Lynn serves the “weakest” students the best.
The study only examines one school, but the researchers point out that all KIPP schools employ a similar model; thus, the findings might be generalized across KIPP charters in other states.
In Ohio, charter school quality varies dramatically. For this reason, the Fordham Institute has advocated for heightened charter accountability (in part, through stricter sponsorship contracts) and for lifting charter caps specifically for high-performing charter networks with a track record of success (e.g., KIPP, Building Excellent Schools). Unfortunately, as reported earlier this year, Ohio hasn’t been very hospitable to all-star charter models. This study is another reminder that supporting proven, high-quality charter networks in Ohio is worth the effort. Read it here.
by Jamie Davies O’Leary
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Interesting news from the pod-waves, the blogosphere, and Romania
by Tim Hoffine and Dan Woolf
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Award well deserved
Kudos to Scott Stephens for being recognized by the Education Writers Association for his terrific reporting work in 2009 for Catalyst Ohio!
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GE Lighting is NOT in Cincinnati
In our last issue, Gadfly erroneously reported that GE Lighting is based in Cincinnati, when any student of Ohio history should know that the Lighting & Electrical Institute is housed at the historic Nela Park in Cleveland. And because tarsi make typing tricky, we reported that Richard Stoff of the Ohio Business Roundtable said the state is a leader in "technology-based education" when in fact he said the state leads in "technology-based economic development."
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Nationally and in Ohio, the Thomas
B. Fordham Institute, along with its sister organization the Thomas
B. Fordham Foundation, strives to close America's vexing achievement gaps
by raising standards, strengthening accountability, and expanding high-quality
education options for parents and families. As a charter-school sponsor in Ohio,
the Foundation joins with schools to affirm a relentless commitment to high
expectations for all children, accountability for academic results, and transparency
and organizational integrity, while freeing the schools to operate with minimal
red tape. The Foundation and Institute are neither connected with nor sponsored
by Fordham University.
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