New York Times Columnist Gets It Mostly Right On Common Core. Mostly.

In her recent New York Times op-ed, “The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students”, Diane Ravitch describes the effects of Common Core as compared to its promise. I do agree with much of what she says there, about the way Common Core was a rush job funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation money — and, incidentally, written by ill-qualified authors — and the way it was sold as a panacea that will “improve achievement and reduce the gaps between rich and poor, and black and white.” And I do agree with her when she attributes the recent sharp drop on NAEP achievement to Common Core — after all, it is difficult to see any other national level educational change in recent years that could have produced such a broad and sharp dip in achievement across the nation.

Yet her unqualified attribution of “poverty and racial segregation” as “the main causes” of poor student achievement caught me short. Surely she must be wrong. If poverty and racial segregation were the causes of, rather than correlated with, poor achievement, then we would never see racially segregated but academically successful schools, or successful schools with largely poor kids. A few successful and disadvantaged kids? Sure. But there is no way schools with hundreds of such kids can beat statistical odds against success if poverty — or segregation — are the causes of poor achievement.

Yet such schools do exist! We have numerous examples of effectively segregated schools, and of high-poverty schools, that bring their students to high achievement, and they typically do this without significantly different expenditure per student. Continue Reading

Common Core’s Promise of “College-Readiness” Proves Empty

Photo credit: Terrapin Flyer via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A small kerfuffle has broken out among education reformers about what level of proficiency is sufficient to be deemed “college-ready.” The original promoters of Common Core pointed to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test and its performance levels — “basic,” “proficient” or “advanced” — and created a sense of crisis by showing the small percentage of American students who reached the “proficient” level. Declaring this to be a national scandal, they sold Common Core as the solution.

But a few days back, Tom Loveless, of Brookings, published an interesting piece in which he suggested the shaky underpinnings of the “proficiency” argument.  After explaining the experimental nature of NAEP’s performance levels and the cut-scores — the achievement necessary to reach any of them — Loveless went on to argue that meeting a “proficient” level is much … much! … above what can be reasonably called a “grade-level performance.” More specifically, Loveless used the evidence that even the highest-achieving country in the world — Singapore — would have more than a quarter of its students fail to reach such level, and even very high-achieving countries such as Japan, Belgium or Finland would have half of their students fail to reach such level. In fact, even among American students who have taken calculus, some 30 percent would fail to reach NAEP proficiency, and a whopping 69 percent among those who have taken pre-calculus would fail to reach it. Hence, Loveless concludes, treating NAEP’s “proficient” as an expected grade-level performance is, as he politely puts it, “uninformed,” “def[ies] reason” and “refute[s] common sense.”

Indeed, how else could one put it when more than two-thirds of students taking pre-calculus, the highest expected math course in high school (calculus is taken for college credit), fail on this measure? Continue Reading