Next Generation School Districts


Reposted from the Center on Reinventing Public Education:

Every sector of the U.S. economy is working on ways to deliver services in a more customized manner. If all goes well, education is headed in the same direction. Personalized learning and globally benchmarked academic standards (a.k.a. Common Core) are the focus of most major school districts and charter school networks. Educators and parents know students must be better prepared to think deeply about complex problems and to have skills that are relevant for jobs that haven’t yet been created. Promising school models are showing what’s possible, but innovation in the classroom only takes you so far. Twenty-first century learning practices demand twenty-first century systems.

This paper goes deep into the question of which system policies are most likely to get in the way of implementing personalized learning at scale. We work outward from the school to define the new capacities and functions districts need to develop. We make the case that districts are currently unwittingly hostile to school-level innovation. For that to change, they must aggressively work to change the incentives, policies, and structures so that they encourage and free up schools to innovate.

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Read the paper here. [PDF]

How Social Media Impacts the Politics of Education

Reposted from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education:


We live amidst an increasingly dense technology-fueled network of social interactions that connects us to people, information, ideas, and events which together inform and shape our understanding of the world around us. In the last decade, technology has enabled an exponential growth of these social networks. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are engines of a massive communication system in which a single idea can be shared with thousands of people in an instant. Twitter, in particular, represents a compelling resource because it has become a kind of “central nervous system” of the Internet, connecting policymakers, journalists, advocacy groups, professionals, and the general public in the same social space. Twitter users can share a variety of media including news, opinions, web links, and conversations in a publicly accessible forum.

In this project we use Twitter to analyze the intense debate surrounding the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core has become a flashpoint at the nexus of education politics and policy, fueled by ardent social media activists. To explore this phenomenon, this innovative and interactive website examines the Common Core debate through the lens of the influential social media site Twitter. Using a social network perspective that examines the relationships among actors, we focus on the most highly used Twitter hashtag about the Common Core: #commoncore. The central question of our investigation is: How are social media-enabled social networks changing the discourse in American politics that produces and sustains social policy?

This interactive website utilizes a two dimensional approach to tell the story of the Common Core debate on Twitter. The website is organized horizontally across major categories of the story: a Prologue, four Acts (the Social Network, Players, Chatter, Motivations), and an Epilogue – each of which goes increasingly deeper into the #commoncore story. Each of these major categories also contains different sub-stories, or sections, that unfurl vertically underneath them. The figure below depicts the organization of the website. Take a look to familiarize yourself with the architecture and then start exploring!

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Download the Project Report [PDF]

Download the Project Methodology [PDF]

Visit the Consortium for Policy Research in Education site

Annual Testing, Common Core Hot-Button Issues in NCLB Debate


Reposted from U.S. News & World Report:

Outnumbered by Republicans, Democratic lawmakers are jockeying to get their views heard as Congress moves ahead on revising the much-maligned No Child Left Behind education law. With votes anticipated in the House and Senate, House Democrats plan their own Capitol Hill forum on Thursday for changing the law — a protest of Republicans’ handling of the issue.

In the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, came out against a provision in a draft bill circulated by the panel’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that would allow federal dollars to follow low-income students to a different public school. Annual testing requirements, Common Core standards and school choice expansion are all hot-button issues wrapped into the debate. Both sides heartily agree that the landmark law needs to be fixed, but tension centers on the level of federal involvement in classifying and fixing schools.

Complicating the issue, allegiances don’t clearly fall along party lines. Among Republicans, for example, some members want to essentially eliminate the federal role in education, but GOP-friendly business groups side with civil rights groups in support of a strong federal role. Teachers’ unions, historically aligned with Democrats, have criticized the Obama administration’s handling of education policy as having too much of an emphasis on testing.

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Common Core Standards in Action


Reposted from Education Safari:

Friday afternoon,  I had an end of first trimester parent-teacher conference with my 2nd grader’s teacher, Mrs. W. I have mentioned Mrs. W. before, in my blog post about Common Core Standards back in October. She is a veteran teacher of more than 25 years. Her husband, now retired, begs her every summer to retire with him so that they can do more traveling together. Mrs. W.  loves teaching way too much. They do travel in the summer, but when the fall rolls around, poor Mr. W. has to go find a project to tinker with or something to do.

I’m really amazed at the progress my youngest child is making. It is very different from the standard that his older brother experienced at the same grade level. Instead of filling in the blanks for reading comprehension, or answering  a question in a single phrase, he writes entire sentences that give the reader comprehensive information.  Mrs. W. instructs them to “P.Q.A. – put the question in the answer.” That means, find the keywords inside the initial question and use that to build your answer sentence.

Mrs. W. is not in the least intimidated by Common Core standards in her classroom. She went over some of the weekly tests with me to illustrate the new standards at this grade level, and I thought I would share some of those illustrations here…

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Meet the Man Behind Common Core Math


Reposted from NPR ED:

When Jason Zimba was first hired to help write a new set of K-12 math standards in 2009, the groups behind the Common Core — including representatives from 48 states — set very ambitious goals. The tough new guidelines would match the expectations set for students in higher-performing rivals like Singapore and South Korea. The standards would not only catapult American students ahead of other developed nations but would also help close the gaps between low-income students in the U.S. and their wealthier counterparts.

The Common Core would drive publishers and test-makers to create better curricula and better tests and push school districts and teachers to aim for excellence, not just basic proficiency, for their students. And the guidelines would arm every principal, teacher and parent with the knowledge of exactly what it takes to get into college and succeed.

The champions of the Common Core — including organizations like the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers — expected the task to be difficult. Overhauling textbooks would take a lot of time, and training teachers would take even more. But the bipartisan groundswell of opposition to the standards took them by surprise.

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The Yoda Model – How to Invigorate Students Through Rigor


Reposted from the CORElaborate blog:

One of my favorite teachable moments is a scene in The Empire Strikes Back. Jedi Master Yoda orders his young student Luke Skywalker to “use the force” to lift his X-wing fighter out of the swamps of Dagobah. After unsuccessfully freeing his spaceship, Luke says in exasperation “you want the impossible.” Then, the pint-sized Yoda does what Luke believes is unachievable – he lifts the X-wing out of the water. “I don’t believe it!” Luke says in shock. Yoda sternly replies, “That, is why you fail.”

When I saw this scene as a kid I was in awe of Yoda. How could such a little guy lift something so massive? But, now as a seasoned educator, my gaze focuses on Luke’s reaction. Why does he fail? Was the task too difficult, or was he unprepared for the rigor that Yoda expected of him?

This scene crossed my mind while I attended a recent Common Core training in my district. The trainer, 2014 PSESD Regional Teacher of the Year Amy Abrams, made a differentiation between why something is “difficult” for students vs. how teachers make content “rigorous” for their learners. Abrams said “difficult” was an idea or concept that is way beyond the comprehension or the developmental level of students. “Rigor,” on the other hand, is laying the foundation for students to tackle challenging work that is a step beyond their intellectual level. Perhaps my co-worker Hilari Anderson summed it up best, “rigor is invigorating, while hard is debilitating.”

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What “College & Career Ready” Really Means


Reposted from Inside Higher Ed:

While the Common Core State Standards look good in theory, as long as they are yoked to standardized assessments, we will not have students that are truly college and career ready. High stakes standardized tests conducted on computers, with essays graded by algorithm, actively work against the development of the traits that are necessary for college success.

The most successful students in my class would look at a question on a standardized test, and instead of trying to figure out the right answer, they would ask why they’re being asked this question. They should be able to examine the assumptions behind the choice of question, to analyze the possible biases underneath it. They should be able to consider half a dozen alternate ways the question could be asked. They should be able to take a stab at writing a better question.

CCSS literature says they want to help students think critically, except that to adopt these standards and the testing that must accompany them is to enforce compliance, rather than encourage students to develop critical thinking. This mania for assessment is crowding out much more important experiences when it comes to student development. Curriculum and teaching strategies solely designed to prepare students for standardized assessments actually destroys students’ ability to self-regulate. Taken to the extreme, as in the “no-excuses” schools, we get students that can only act out of fear of punishment from authorities, or a short term bribe.

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Common Standards, Fractured Tests


Reposted from the New York Times:

Despite some defections and political hand-wringing, 42 states are still signed on for the mathematics part of the Common Core standards, which specify the skills that should be mastered in kindergarten through high school. The plan for common testing, however, has fractured.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) has dwindled to 12 states plus the District of Columbia. New York, a member of PARCC, will continue to use its own Common Core-inspired test. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has 21 states participating, but four members will not use the tests, at least not this school year. A survey by Education Week found that less than half of public school students would take either test this year.

Even with the fracturing, millions of students will take the brand-new PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests next spring. New Jersey is all-in with PARCC, and judging from my observations at back-to-school night, many, many parents have no idea what is coming. So I sat down and took the practice version of PARCC’s fourth-grade math test to see what my daughter would be facing. (Smarter Balanced also offers sample tests.)

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Common Core: 43 States Continue the Work


Reposted from the Education Commission of the States:

“This brief provides a sampling of state legislative activity and executive branch action around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) through Sept. 1, 2014. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list; rather, it is narrowly focused on the single issue of state affirmation, modification or replacement of the Common Core.

State legislatures ultimately are responsible for establishing academic standards in nearly all states. Most legislatures then task state boards of education or departments of education with adopting and implementing the standards. However, a number of legislatures have recently added steps, such as waiting periods for public comment, that state education leaders must follow. At this point, 46 state legislatures have convened in 2014 and 38 have adjourned for the year.

Concerns about the Common Core — whether arising from worries about data privacy or anxiety over control of classroom content — have drawn widespread media attention. It should be noted that the vast majority of states adopting the Common Core continue to support the effort.”

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Status Update: Common Core, K12 and Higher Education

UVA rotunda

Reposted from New America Ed Central:

“Most attention to the Common Core State Standards has focused understandably on the continued political backlash against the standards and the status of implementation in schools. As we look ahead to next spring when students will take assessments that indicate whether they are on track to college and career readiness, we have seen some attention begin to focus on the role of higher education in the development and implementation of the standards (see New America’s report, “Common Core Goes to College,” and a recent story from Hechinger Report). Unfortunately, the takeaway from these sources and others is that higher education has mostly been watching from the sidelines and that it has been difficult in many places for K-12 and higher education to overcome decades of entrenched habits and work productively together.

It would be easy to conclude that greater cooperation (and improved alignment) between K–12 and higher education is “mission impossible,” given the differences in structure and culture between the two sectors. But I have been deeply involved in efforts to create greater academic alignment between K-12 and higher education for almost a decade—first at the American Council on Education (ACE) and now at the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium—and I see more reasons for optimism than pessimism. Here’s why…”

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