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Second Thoughts About Common Standards

Lawmakers in Wyoming are having some doubts, it seems, about the state’s adoption of the common standards.

According to the Casper Star-Tribune, members of a new legislative committee expressed concern recently that the state could lose control of education decisions if it sticks with the common core.

The committee didn’t take any action to get in the way of standards implementation, but it left open the possibility that it might.

It’s interesting that state legislators in Wyoming weren’t concerned with what was in the standards, but instead were concerned about the process by which they were adopted. (The news report says the issue was that they weren’t “vetted by legislative committees.”)

We’ve reported about some rumblings of discontent about the common standards in a few other state legislatures, but so far none has gotten traction.

Since state boards of education are the entities that have power in most states to adopt academic standards, legislatures are typically not part of that process. If state legislatures decide they don’t cotton to their state boards’ decisions, though, they could certainly get in the way of common-standards implementation.

We’ve already heard a steady stream of argument in the edu-policy sphere that the common standards represent an intrusion of federal government into local education decisions (because Race to the Top money encouraged states to adopt the standards). And now that the contest for the Republican presidential nomination is heating up, that sort of rhetoric is getting a higher profile.

I’m wondering how this will play out in state legislatures, as lawmakers who haven’t been part of the common-standards discussions start to get wind of them and form their opinions.

—Catherine Gewertz

| Views | SPUTNIK

What Would Evidence-Based Policy Look Like?

Is evidence-based policy an oxymoron? Is it possible to have evidence serve as a guide rather than merely as a justification for policy?

I think there are two ways in which evidence can play a key role in school improvement.

The first is that evidence can help us identify high-leverage problems that, if solved, would reduce a large percentage of the variance betweengood and bad outcomes for kids.

Imagine if, instead of spending billions of dollars on a thousand different efforts, we concentrated policy on making sure that students master reading early, have successful transitions to high school, and stay in school. After all, evidence from a 2010 study by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation points to the “make or break” nature of mastering reading by grade 3 for future educational development; ACT provides evidence that the level of academic achievement attained by 8th graders “has a larger impact on their college and career readiness by the time they graduate than anything that happens academically in high school”; and the Baltimore-based Everyone Graduates Center describes the devastating consequences that dropping out of high school has on both individuals and society.

Second, policymakers can insist that we judge proposed solutions against proof that they can get the job done. Policymakers should not care whether it is charters, vouchers, homeschooling, non-union or unionized schools, reading programs, or professional development that achieves the desired goal. They should only care about demonstrated results.

I was struck several years ago while reading Polio: An American Story how, led by science and the commitments of policy leaders, our entire nation was mobilized in a multi-decade effort to eradicate the dreaded disease. Even Lucy and Desi and other celebrities of the 1950s were engaged in the cause. Imagine if evidence-based policy could similarly mobilize our entire nation to accomplish a few critical educational outcomes. What would our education system look like then?

—Steve Fleischman

Vol. 31, Issue 05, Page 11

Published in Print: September 28, 2011, as Blogs of the Week
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