National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses why his organization supports the Common Core, dispelling myths and sharing resources to help parents learn more and support successful implementation of the standards.
Standards that Matter
We all know that reading and math standardized test scores do not truly represent how good a school is. But thanks to No Child Left Behind (NCLB - the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA), that is just about all we consider when judging a school’s performance. Under current accountability systems, whether a school promotes civic-mindedness, good physical health or social or behavioral outcomes like self-regulating behavior or an ability to work in teams – or any of the other outcomes that society expects of its public schools – doesn’t actually count towards anything.
So of course, schools focus their efforts on the things that matter. Research confirms that since implementation of No Child Left Behind, curriculum in many places has narrowed. Schools are spending more time teaching basic reading and math at the expense of the arts, social studies, physical education and science.
We at the Learning First Alliance have long called for a broader approach to assessment and school accountability. Individually, many of our member organizations do as well. So we were very privileged to have the opportunity to co-host, with the Sandler Foundation, an event to release a new report by RAND Education that examined expanded measures of school performance.
In this report, RAND examined what measures of school performance that states currently use in accountability systems, trends outside the accountability context in ...
All of us can agree that the United States needs to carefully examine our efforts in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) with an eye towards improving rigor, expanding reach and ensuring that more of our students are both interested and proficient in these subjects. Certainly, from an economic health and employment standpoint, we should all be concerned with raising the bar on STEM standards while nurturing the effectiveness of the professionals who teach these subjects. However, agreeing on the “what” that needs to be done is always easier than agreement on the “how” to get the job done. ...
Yesterday I had the extremely good fortune to be in the audience for President Obama’s remarks on education. It was my first time being so close to a President, an experience that was much more exciting than I expected it to be. Of course, it helped that this President is extremely charismatic. And when he bounded off stage to start shaking hands with the students and others in the audience, his enthusiasm was catching, regardless of whether you agreed with his policy positions or not. Though to be honest, I did agree with many of the points he made in this speech.
For example, the President pointed out (as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did last week) that more than 80% of public schools could be labeled as failing for not meeting their goals under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) this year. But we (the broad we – the public, politicians and education community alike) know that 80% of schools aren’t failing. And when you look at which schools would be labeled as ...
Earlier this week the MetLife Foundation released the first of two reports from its 27th annual Survey of the American Teacher. The survey, which in addition to middle and high school teachers included student, parent and business executive (aka potential employer) respondents, examines “the importance of being college- and career-ready, what the preparation includes and what it may take to get there.”
Postsecondary education is being seen as a necessity - both executives (77%) and students (84%) strongy agree that there will be few or no career opportunities for students who do have some education beyond high school. And not surprisingly, there is broad agreement among stakeholders that all students should graduate high school ready for college and a career. There were, though, differences in how high a priority this should be – less than half of executives think it must be done, compared to 73% of parents.
What I found particularly interesting - and what I think could have important policy implications for schools, districts, states and the federal government - were the areas of consensus, and divergence, in what being college- and career- ready means.
Teachers, parents, students and executives all overwhelmingly agree that problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, the ability to write clearly and ...
One strategy I’m using to get up-to-speed in my position as the new executive director at the Learning First Alliance (LFA) is to delve into the LFA member publications that land on my desk almost daily. It is true that each publication is a wealth of thoughtful articles that examine the challenges and rewards professional public educators across the nation deal with on a regular basis. I’m reminded that some of my favorite thought-leaders continue to seek new information, explore alternate approaches, and share their observations in ways that remind me that we know a good deal about how to make schooling better, we just lack the will or if not that, the systems thinking approach that could help us do what we know will make us better.
An example of that reality is the article authored by Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University and supporter of teachers par excellent, in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of the American Educator, published by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Dr. Darling-Hammond’s article “Soaring Systems” looks at three nations’ public education system, each of whom started with very little and purposefully built highly productive and equitable systems in the space of only two to three decades. Before considering what those three countries, Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, did to ...
A recent Slate article asked, “What do the best classrooms in the world look like?” Their answer: Surprisingly low-tech.
To find these classrooms, the author looked to Finland and South Korea, both of which perform better than the United States on international standardized assessments without really utilizing technology in the classroom. She points to KIPP charter schools, claiming them among the most effective in the nation, and explains how one KIPP school uses technology--to make teachers' lives easier, not to engage students.
It’s not that this piece is wrong, exactly. Having never been to South Korea, Finland or the KIPP school featured here, I can’t speak to their use of technology in education. But I have problems with the assumption on which the author seems to rely: That these schools are the best in the world, and the ideal model for reform efforts.
Actually, what she claims, after mentioning how these classrooms look like those of 1989 or 1959, is that “the most innovative schools around the world do not tend to be the ones with the most innovative technology inside them.” Now, I agree that innovative doesn't need to mean technology, but ...
On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting. There was only one item of business: Signing the Constitution of the United States of America. Henceforth, September 17 came to be known as Constitution Day.
The Constitution established the framework for a government. A government dependent on its people for survival. So it seems fitting on this day in history to consider American students' performance in civics.
The most recent results available from National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP) test in civics are from 2006 (the test was administered in 2010, but the results have not yet been released). On that test, we learned that about two out of every three American students at grades 4 (73%), 8 (70%) and 12 (66%) have at least a basic knowledge of civics.* That does not sound TOO bad, though it is certainly concerning that a third of our high school seniors do not have even a basic sense of civics--and these are the students who make it to twelfth grade. ...
Back in 1965, UNESCO proclaimed September 8 to be International Literacy Day. The goal? To highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and society. I’ll try to link to some of the reports being released today as they come out.
Just learning this occasion exists reminded me of a post of Robert Pondiscio’s that I saw recently on the Core Knowledge Blog, which referred to a post on Mark Bauerlein’s blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education that commented on an article that Pondiscio wrote with E.D. Hirsch earlier this year. (You’ve got to love the internet.)
The article doesn’t necessary embrace the international spirit of today, but it hits literacy on the head.
To be fully literate is to have the communicative power of language at your command—to read, write, listen and speak with understanding.
The Pondiscio/Hirsch article argues that reading is not a transferable skill, at least not entirely. A child may be able to master “decoding” but needs domain-specific content knowledge to fully comprehend what he or she is reading. And it argues that our current testing and accountability system for our public schools results in time wasted on reading strategies rather than imparting the knowledge that will allow our children to become truly literate, especially in low-income schools where children don't always get background knowledge from ...
The first paragraph of Education Next’s Grading Schools: Can Citizens Tell a Good School When They See One? discusses the widespread availability of school standardized test score data. Reading that, I thought I knew what the article would be about. Citizens judging schools based on test scores alone, rather than more meaningful measures. It resonated with me, because the same day I read the article, I had fallen prey to that trap. I was talking about a really great school...and talking only about its test scores. Someone called me on it. I could have mentioned the amazing parent engagement at the school. Or discussed how students at this school--over 90% of whom receive free or reduced price lunch--collected money to send to relief efforts in Haiti. In imparting such citizenship to its students, this school must be doing something right. I know all this, about this school and many others. But I still talk mainly about test scores. We do need to look beyond test scores in determining a school’s quality, but do most citizens actually do so?
Of course, by the end of the second paragraph I knew that was not what this article was about. Instead, it described a study that looked at whether citizens judge school quality based on performance data, or whether indicators such as the racial or class makeup of the school sway their perspective. An entirely different question, but also very interesting.
So I read the article. And while I am not sure I entirely trust their methodology, I am somewhat heartened to learn that citizens do judge the quality of their schools based on student proficiency rates in core academic subjects, not racial demographics. They do ...
The big education story these days is the chilling effect of higher cut scores on New York State tests. The miracle in New York City seemed a bit less miraculous after after the state raised the bar. Most of the sniping among pundits and wonks has focused on the extent to which the new standard undermines the claims of New York City's school reformers. But I think the story raises even bigger questions. For example:
Where Have the Media Been for so Long?
Cut scores have by all accounts been low since 2006, but, as late as 2009, only a few newspapers had addressed that fact. Critics like Diane Ravitch had raised the issue for years. In August of 2009, teacher Diana Senechal showed that students could guess their way to a passing score. Only in September did the New York Times cover that story--and their story didn't mention Senechal.
By the time the Times ran the story, state board Chancellor Merryl Tisch was already on the case. She had the real courage to declare the cut scores bogus and call for a higher standard.
But in this case, the fourth estate lagged behind. Given how heated and political the school reform debate has become, and how ready parties on all sides are to make grand claims about success or failure, that's bad news.
Why Do We Have Such a High Tolerance for Data that Obscure as Much as they Reveal?
The answer to that question is easy: politics. When so much of the debate is driven by ideology, PR and even fear, you can't expect truth-tellers to get rewarded. Those whose jobs depend on the scores point out problems at their own peril. Those who stake their political ...
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