“It’s the next big thing.”
That’s a familiar refrain in K-12 education. And the latest big thing may be bigger than all the others: It’s the Common Core education standards that Ohio and 45 other states are now putting in place. And it has public schools across the country sitting on the cusp of a massive change in nearly every aspect of how math and English are taught, learned and tested.
But how does this big thing relate to all the other big things in education that you’ve probably heard about? Here’s a StateImpact survival guide to recent education overhauls.
Common Core State Standards
What is it? States have their own academic standards guiding what students are expected to know in each grade. The Common Core is a cooperative effort by state officials around the country to unify these standards — at least for math and English — in the states that decided to adopt them. This will change much about how teachers teach and how students learn: New curricula, textbooks and tests are being devised to line up with what the Common Core say kids should know. In many states, the standards are more rigorous than what were in place before, which is why supporters of the standards say this “big thing” will eventually produce more high school graduates who are truly ready for college.
Race to the Top
What is it? This is the Obama administration’s “big thing.” States and school districts that adopted Obama’s preferred policies — like designing teacher evaluation systems and using “robust” data systems to track student progress — were given cash grants as an award. Ohio and 17 other states as well as 16 individual school districts were awarded money. Ohio got a $400 million grant to be spent over four years.
How it relates to the Common Core: In their applications for Race to the Top funds, states also got points for adopting “internationally benchmarked academic standards and assessments” — in other words, the Common Core. That motivated many of the states that went on to adopt the new common standards. It also fueled some of the opposition around them. Although a bipartisan coalition of governors and state school officials helped craft the new standards, there’s been a backlash from conservatives who tie the Common Core to Obama.
No Child Left Behind
What is it? This was President George W. Bush’s “big thing.” The federal law passed in 2001 set ambitious goals for schools, particularly around improving outcomes for poor and minority students. NCLB leaned heavily on standardized tests to measure progress and penalize schools deemed “failing.” Recently, the Obama administration granted states waivers from the law’s requirements in exchange for state-developed plans to improve student outcomes and close achievement gaps. The U.S. Department of Education approved Ohio’s application for a waiver in 2012. The approved waiver allowed Ohio to get rid of the goal of having 100-percent of students pass reading and math tests by 2014. Instead, Ohio has set what it sees as more realistic proficiency goals, target funds towards low performing schools, and create new assessment methods for teachers, principals, and schools.
How it relates to the Common Core: Despite the waivers, the philosophies behind NCLB — especially standardized testing and accountability – remain prevalent in K-12 education (see below). The Common Core doesn’t really change any of that, although the Common Core comes at the question of what students should know in a more holistic way. Many of the states that applied for waivers from NCLB pointed to their adoption of the Common Core as a signal of their continued commitment to strong educational standards.
What is it?: This “big thing” manifests itself in states in the form of report cards for schools and school districts. Whether these report cards use A through F letter grades or some other measure, the idea is the same: to use student test scores and other data to show how well schools are doing. Typically, states expect schools to not only perform adequately but improve performance over time. Chronically failing schools typically receive some kind of state intervention and in extreme cases are shut down. In Ohio, low-performing schools must change aspects of how they operate and continually low-performing charter schools must close.
How it relates to Common Core: The Common Core doesn’t change much about the mindset of accountability. But it will likely affect the grades schools get under state accountability systems. That’s because the Common Core comes with the new standardized tests, which are widely expected to be harder than the previous ones. So once the new standards are fully in place and the tests begin, schools may be told they are doing a worse job than some principals, teachers and parents believed.
This post was based on a report by StateImpact Indiana’s Elle Moxley. StateImpact’s education sites in Indiana, Ohio and Florida are collaborating on coverage as states implement the Common Core standards.