Look Beyond the Politics of the Common Core

Recent polling on Common Core highlights the growing politicization of the standards and how their portrayal in the media has damaged and undercut sectors of public support.

But let’s be careful not to confuse a brand issue with a substance concern. When you remove the politicization around the Common Core and talk of the basic need and desire for high academic standards, much of the public remains committed to that goal. (Education Next reports 68 percent support for high, consistent standards when the name “Common Core” is dropped from the descriptor.) Despite what last month’s PDK/Gallup polling might have you believe, the majority of U.S. citizens are not shying away from the obvious need to raise standards of achievement; instead, they are acknowledging that wide variations in academic rigor across communities and states undermines our nation’s long-term strength and prosperity.

The best way to build on this widespread agreement and turn back the down-trending implied within those polling results is to re-double our efforts by supporting quality implementation of the standards. Much of the steep decline in teacher support for the Common Core is connected to a lack of quality support, as well as premature connections between student assessment results and teacher evaluation. Some states, and most recently the U.S. Department of Education, have adjusted their implementation timelines, giving educators more time to transition to the higher standards before being judged on them.

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Credit: PBS NewsHour

Like most other professionals, teachers want to be held accountable for outcomes and skills that they have received reasonable time to master. (Sixty-two percent of educators in a recent ASCD SmartBrief poll said the use of Common Core-aligned assessment results for accountability purposes should be delayed two years or fewer; 74 percent said three years or fewer.) In high-poverty and inner-city schools, teachers and leaders are also embracing the Common Core as just the leverage point they need to increase learning and opportunity for some of our most vulnerable young people.

Similarly, when families have the opportunity to see how the standards connect to their child’s learning, there is far more openness to the potential the standards represent. At an Open School night last spring, the parents around me were uneasy about the demands of the Common Core. One veteran third-grade teacher spoke about the differences in the depth of student understanding under the new standards and how they would have helped her own children’s struggle with calculus in high school. Another teacher explained that teaching more non-fiction would not mean jettisoning beloved childhood literature like Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach, but giving children time to read about topics in science that held their interest. Almost instantly, the anxiety in the room evaporated. Parents from all economic levels were encouraged by the fact that their children were being prepared to meet a higher level of expectation from teachers — who were also committed to keep learning creative and active for their students.

These are the kinds of conversations that are happening at the local level, but of which we never hear of in the polls. They are also the kinds of conversations that spread awareness, rather than incite fear. And these will help create the conditions for success that gives educators, parents, and students the confidence that — despite the nay-sayers — higher academic standards are, in fact, worth our efforts.

We’re Sure to Get Somewhere

I used the phrase “down a rabbit hole” in a Huffington Post column this week about the need for a rich, coherent curriculum to close achievement gaps.

My assumption was that readers would recognize the reference to Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That is the book in which a young girl falls into a rabbit hole and encounters a confusing fantasy world populated with a White Rabbit, a Mad Hatter, and a Cheshire Cat, among others — all of whom are iconic literary figures. Anyone who doesn’t recognize those characters and at least vaguely understand what they represent is bound to miss the meaning of many conversations and stories. Continue reading

Don’t Forget the Importance of Breakfast This Back-to-School Season

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As adults, we’re told of the importance of starting our days with breakfast — to get our metabolism going, to give us energy, to help us focus. Not surprisingly, these reasons apply to children as well, but far too many of them come to school hungry, which can make it difficult for them stay on task.

Children who start their day with breakfast at school, on the other hand, demonstrate higher achievement, better attendance, fewer behavior problems, and an improved diet. Children who don’t are at a disadvantage, which is why the School Breakfast Program is so important. In light of back-to-school time, we’d like to highlight a few resources that illustrate the impact of school breakfast and the ongoing efforts to deliver it to more students nationally: Continue reading

Help on the Way?

A recent poll by the Education Week Research Center reaffirms what other polls have shown — that teachers are well aware that the textbooks and materials they are expected to use do not line up with the standards they are expected to satisfy.

That was true when there were 50 different state standards, and it remains true now that 43 states have adopted the Common Core. Continue reading

Vote for Ed Trust at SXSWedu 2015!

Every March, Austin, Texas is abuzz with the SXSWedu® Conference & Festival. It brings together educators, advocates, journalists, and others to engage in and collaborate on various education issues. The best part? SXSWedu asks for community input to decide the programming for the conference. So, Ed Trust needs your help! Let’s make sure there are substantive panels about equity in education, led by the Ed Trust team.

SXSWeduClick to read more about our sessions below, and be sure to give them a “thumbs up” so that they’re included during SXSWedu 2015: Continue reading

Helping the Rich Get Richer — At Every Level

School funding in America is unequal. As a nation, we spend less in the places with the highest percentages of low-income students — not just in states and districts, but also in the specific schools they attend. It’s hard to imagine any additional inequity built into this system, but a new analysis suggests that there is — funding disparities actually exist between classrooms within the same school. Continue reading

A Teacher Who Saw the Tragedy of Harsh and Arbitrary Discipline

I’ve been rereading Up the Down Staircase, the 1964 classic tale of a dysfunctional urban high school, and one of the points that struck me is that one of the students worst served by the school was Italian-American.

In all the current discussions about achievement gaps among ethnic groups, it is often forgotten that back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Italian-American students — particularly boys — were often marginalized and expected to drop out of school before graduation. Continue reading