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Newswire: February 5, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 5

NON CREDO. In Italian, it means “I don’t believe.” In education reformeeze, it means “I don’t believe CREDO.” I’m sorry, we don’t. It’s not personal. Education research is, like most things, an area upon which reasonable people can disagree. But we can no longer sit back and see the media reports on a research document which obscures and ignores critical factors in student learning and have it declared “fact,” particularly when kids lives are at stake. Read about the work by CREDO and the Center’s continuing analysis.

NY STATE OF MIND. From the leading education reform org in New York state comes this sad roll out of facts in a recent tweet #UpstateLeftBehind Graduation rates for Big 5 districts: 46% in Rochester, 49% in Syracuse, 54% in Buffalo, 61% in Yonkers, 61% in NYC. The suggestion of the new report by the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability is that it is time to free students from failing schools with a new approach to educational equity.

LAWS MATTER. Strong laws result in stronger schools, and weak laws tend to beget weak schools. This is the conclusion of the 14th Annual Charter School Laws Across the States: Ranking and Scorecard by The Center for Education Reform. But wait, it’s not the only one out there, and there is growing confusion in the field as to what constitutes sound charter school policy. Legislators from Mississippi to Montana are grappling with new laws, and lawmakers from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma are working on how best to improve their laws. While roads and paths to reform vary, there can be no question that holding up Maine as a model and Michigan as not, is not helpful to the movement. Some clarification on the national charter rankings is in order.

YOU CUT ME TO THE QUICK. The Cut-Score controversy is cutting many a thoughtful policy person to the quick, and the latest is none-other than Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn. Assuming you wanted it to be something, the Common Core is nothing without meaningful assessments, and those tests require a cut score, the level at which one is deemed proficient, and not, in certain areas. Years ago, states created high standards, and expected students to demonstrate proficiency by getting correct the vast majority of the questions. Then the 90% was lowered to 80%, to 70%, and finally in at least one case, 65% was all a tenth grader needed to demonstrate proficiency before moving on! The pesky political establishment got the better of state standards, which is what precipitated NCLB. Now Common Core is designed to rise above it all, level the playing field for all states, and create a new standard. But what good is a standard that can be fudged. Thus Finn writes: “The tests in use from Kindergarten through eleventh grade need to have passing scores that denote true readiness for the next grade and that cumulate to ‘college and career readiness’…”

That’s a daunting challenge for any test maker, but it’s further complicated by widespread fears of soaring failure rates and their political consequences, as well as by Arne Duncan’s stipulation (in the federal grants that underwrite the assessment-development process) that the states belonging to each consortium must reach consensus on those passing scores (in government jargon, “common achievement standards”). All this means, in effect, that Oregon and West Virginia (both members of the “Smarter Balanced” consortium) must agree on “how good is good enough” for their students, as must Arkansas and Massachusetts (both members of PARCC). Can that really happen?

Finn asks other questions, too: “As the U.S. education world eagerly awaits more information about the new assessments that two consortia of states are developing to accompany the Common Core standards, dozens of perplexing and important questions have arisen: Once the federal grants run out, how will these activities be financed? What will it cost states and districts to participate? Who will govern and manage these massive testing programs? What about the technology infrastructure? The list goes on.” Yes it does, good sir. Indeed it does.

A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS. The erudite Sandra Stotsky is best known for her contributions to standards on English and literature throughout the states, in teaching teachers and leading the research on what makes for effective teaching of English. So it’s perhaps worth knowing that Stotsky is one of the few to point out another limitation of the Common Core before we go farther down this road. The most recent is knowing that most states signed up for it before ever seeing it, and even now, it’s not clear the content is the rigor that was once expected. In a speech given recently, she says:

“No reporters, state board members, parents, and other commentators on Common Core’s standards have paid more than cursory attention to what the architects of Common Core’s ELA standards suggest are “exemplars” of the informational texts high school teachers of other subjects are supposed to use in order to increase instruction in informational reading in their classes.

“The lack of attention to this facet of Appendix B is unfortunate. It’s time to ask some questions about the kinds of informational texts the architects of Common Core think high school history, math, and science teachers should teach and then to consider what these teachers can actually teach, given their training, the academic level of their students, and the relevance of texts like these to their courses. When we do ask some questions, we find that the informational texts suggested as examples for high school teachers in Appendix B help us to see more clearly the damage these federal reading standards are doing to the entire school curriculum.”

A voice in the wilderness no more. Read it for yourself, and weep.