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Standards that Matter

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Advocates hope that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative will lead to deeper learning by students – that the standards will result in students learning not only academic content, but how to think critically, work collaboratively, communicate effectively and more. And they recognize that for this to happen, classroom instruction has to change.

Many assume that new assessments aligned to the Common Core will serve as a key lever in its implementation, driving changes in instructional practice. But is that a reasonable assumption? Do large-scale assessment systems influence instruction?

While common sense and popular opinion hold that yes, they do, the research base on the issue is surprisingly thin. But in summarizing the little there is, New Assessments, Better Instruction?, a RAND literature review commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation, confirms what we already knew – testing does indeed influence instructional practice, particularly when high-stakes are attached to it.

The review (which included available research on high-stakes testing and performance assessment in U.S. public education, assessment in international settings, formative assessment, military and ...

After spending a day at Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) in Vermont, I’m considering how my career path could overlap with living in this district. It isn’t likely, but my point is that I want my future hypothetical children to go to exactly this kind of school – and as a resident, I would want my local tax dollars to support this type of institution and all the amazing professionals that educate and care for the students in it.

BAMS is a public school serving 276 7th and 8th grade students, 46% on free and reduced lunch.  A long-time family friend is a science teacher at BAMS, and we’ve had some great conversations about education during my time working with the Learning First Alliance (LFA).  I was eager to visit his school, so he helped me connect with Principal Ingrid Christo. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed into the school and encouraged to sit in on meetings and classes and talk to people.  The entire day – full from start to finish – exemplified the best qualities that we should all look for in our neighborhood school.

What is it about BAMS that makes it feel so special? It starts with an overarching philosophy which results in a combination of exemplar outcomes: there is a building-wide commitment to ...

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are one of the most important education initiatives of our time. While historically each state had its own academic standards, which varied widely in quality, under the Common Core students in the 45 adopting states (plus the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity) will be held to the same internationally-benchmarked educational standards.

These standards were developed with input from educators and other experts in math and English/Language Arts, and educators continue to support them. A recent survey from the National Education Association showed more than 75% of their members (teachers, administrators, support staff and other education professionals) support the standards either wholeheartedly or with some reservations, tracking closely with results from an earlier American Federation of Teachers’ poll finding that 75% of teachers surveyed support the Common Core. Even more recently, a preview of the 2013 Primary Sources project highlighting 20,000 teachers’ thoughts on the Common Core shows that overall, 73% those who teach math, English language arts (ELA), science and/or social studies in Common Core states are enthusiastic about the implementation of the standards in their classrooms.

But the general public is another story. The 2013 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools found that prior to taking the poll, only 38% of respondents had heard of ...

By Mary Pat King, Director of Programs and Partnerships, National PTA

Earlier today, I conducted a focus group of one – my son – a kindergartener who wants to be a teacher when he grows up. Why? Because “I love teachers.” While his favorite time in the school day is “Let’s Move” time on the patio, he also loves science, math, computer time and music. Why? Through science, “If you don’t know how something works, you can learn.” For math it’s simple, “I like to solve problems.” On the computer, “I can play games;” games that he doesn’t realize are educational and enrich the lessons he learned earlier in the day. And music, well that’s no surprise as he and his friends get together regularly for “Crazy Band” practice.

Many people – including teachers – have told me, “Your son is going to be an engineer.” I can see that – he is constantly building things using all sorts of random household items and masking tape – lots of masking tape. But I can also see him becoming a science teacher, a software developer, or maybe even a rockstar.  After all, he’s in kindergarten and we daydream about every possibility.

But one thing is for sure – my son is excited by STEM subjects, as well as the arts. To support his success in school and life, we plan to nurture both, seeking opportunities for him to exercise his left and right brain. Already, our teachers have suggested we ...

One of the greatest challenges that the education community faces in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is ensuring that the education workforce is ready to help students succeed under these new, higher standards.

Facing this challenge requires providing the current workforce with high-quality professional learning opportunities, something we talk about a great deal at the national level. But it also requires preparing new educators to enter classrooms ready to teach under the CCSS, something we talk about very little. How are the higher-education institutions that train the vast majority of our nation’s teachers working to ensure the successful implementation of the Common Core?

To help answer this question, we contacted Linda McKee, Director of the Teacher Preparation and Certification Program at Tulane University. McKee is currently serving as the president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (an affiliate of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AACTE) and as the president of Louisiana Learning Forward. She collaborated with two of her colleagues at Tulane – Holly Bell, Coordinator for Assessment & Accreditation and an early childhood education faculty member, and James Kilbane, a professor for secondary education in math and science – in responding to several questions on how university-based teacher preparation programs in general, and Tulane in particular, are preparing educators to teach in the age of the Common Core.

Public School Insights (PSI): As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, you see firsthand the products of the nation’s high schools. Do you think that the Common Core will help ensure students are better prepared for college or career? Why or why not?

McKee, Bell, and Kilbane: The Common Core (CC) is more rigorous than we have previously seen in Louisiana, and if implemented correctly, the new standards could make a difference. We desperately need to make a difference in students’ learning to think. The difficulty with the CC lies in educators understanding the aims of the standards and being able to implement them with fidelity. The Common Core standards represent a dramatic change from the specialty area standards that most states had developed and were testing. The challenge is that those standards were not being met, so we question if the CC standards will be met any better without ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

Every Thursday night, I teach an American high school graduate how to read. Kita and I have worked together for two hours a week almost every week for 3½ years. That means that she has invested roughly 350 hours of face-to-face time with me plus a roughly equal number of hours at home in preparation for our tutoring sessions.

700 hours over three years. By any measure, that is a huge investment of time. After this intense effort, at age 36, Kita now reads at about a 5th-grade level. She’s made tremendous progress, but she still has enormous gaps in her knowledge because of all the years that she couldn’t read. But that hasn’t stopped her from making progress in her retail career. When the store that employed her was sold two years ago, she was on a short list of employees who were rehired immediately by the new owner. Since then, she’s had increasing responsibility, and now she’s part of a formal management training program.

Why promote someone who struggles to read? Because she has so-called noncognitive skills in abundance. She is punctual and faithful to her commitments. She is responsible. She is courteous but courageous about ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

At the beginning of her teaching career, my daughter shared with me that she would never want to be a "staff developer." She told me how people were not happy with the staff development required by the school system. They wanted time to work in their schools and with their colleagues to study their curriculum, plan their lessons, and problem solve around situations facing their school and their students.

What she was expressing was precisely the definition of effective professional learning. That was five years ago and she was in her second week of her first year of teaching. Today, her job is, indeed, staff developer. She serves as a master teacher in a Title 1 elementary school. While the challenges are different and often require additional resources, what her colleagues want for their students is no different than what other educators around the world desire. ...

By Jim Dunn, APR, Past President of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)/Current Communication Consultant

The battle lines seem to be drawn concerning Common Core State Standards.

On one side are the likes of media personalities Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, billionaires Charles and David Koch, the Republican National Committee, the Tea Party, and a whole bevy of angry people who feel like their country has taken a very wrong turn.

On the other side of the debate, and solidly pro-Common Core, are seventy-plus percent of teachers nationwide, conservative political leaders such as former Republican Governor Jeb Bush, 45 state boards of education, the National Chamber of Commerce and a horde of bewildered education advocates who thought their country, at last, was going to improve K-12 education.

Boards of education, superintendents and school communications professionals now are caught squarely in the middle of an intense political/ideological battle that could derail years of thoughtful efforts to improve U.S. education. The grassroots consortium of professionals who led the development of Common Core standards – from superintendents to teachers to national education experts – believed they were on track to deliver a K-12 education model that would ensure every United States high school graduate is able to ...

When you think of the PTA, you might picture parents getting together to put on a fall carnival or bake cookies for teacher appreciation week. And while the National PTA does encourage teacher appreciation (and has a great Pinterest board dedicated to the topic), the organization is about so much more.

The overall purpose of the PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. The national organization prides itself on being a powerful voice for children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education, working in cooperation with many national education, health, safety and child advocacy groups and federal agencies on behalf of every child.

Otha Thornton was installed as President of the National PTA in June 2013, making history as the first African-American male to lead the organization. He recently took the time to tell us about himself and his views on education, as well as how the PTA is gearing up to address the challenges facing public education.

Public School Insights (PSI): It’s been widely noted that you are the first African American male president in the National PTA’s history. What do you think is the significance of that?

Thornton: It demonstrates that PTA, as an Association, transcends race. The founders did not start PTA as a segregated Association, but due to our southern states and their laws earlier in our country’s history, the National Congress of Colored Parents was formed in 1911 by Selena Sloan Butler to address the needs of black children. The two Congresses combined in 1971 to form the National PTA with the shared mission that all children of all races need advocates to ...

By Helen Soule, Executive Director, Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Dana Elementary School is surrounded by apple orchards in the rural community of Hendersonville, North Carolina. Many of the families work in agriculture, and eighty percent of the students attending Dana qualify for free or reduced lunch.  “Having those demographics has never stopped us from wanting to have high expectations for our students,” says Principal Kelly Schofield. “And we really just have always felt…that if any students in the state can do it, then so can ours, and we can achieve.  Our goal has always been to find the framework, find the curriculum, find the instructional strategies that work for our population of students.”

For Schofield and her colleagues, the skills, content and teaching strategies outlined in the Framework for 21st Century Learning are essential to their shared success. “It’s the way we live in school everyday,” she says. “It is our culture; it’s how we talk, it’s how we act.” For students like Tom Walter, this framework translates into collaborative, project-based learning enhanced by technology—like a recent social studies class in which he built a documentary film project on immigration with a team of his fellow fifth graders. For teachers ...

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