Federal

Expert Panels Named in Common-Standards Push

By Michele McNeil & Sean Cavanagh — July 01, 2009 4 min read
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The two national organizations coordinating a push for common academic standards today named the 29 people who are deciding what math and language arts skills students will need to know and when, along with the 35 people who will formally critique the group’s work.

The list of those who will write the standards is dominated by three organizations: the Washington-based Achieve Inc., which works on college- and career readiness; the New York City-based College Board, which administers the SAT; and ACT Inc., the Iowa City, Iowa-based organization that administers the college-entrance test of that name.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the two Washington organizations coordinating the effort, had said members of those three groups would take the lead in writing the standards.

See Also

View a complete list of members of the new standards work and feedback groups.

But the 29-member Standards Development Work Group also includes seven other representatives, including two college professors, a retired education consultant, and members from school improvement groups such as the Washington-based America’s Choice.

The CCSSO and NGA also today named 35 members of the feedback groups in math and language arts that will critique the standards work, including experts from the fields of math and language arts who have been critical of the process so far.

The feedback group, which will get its first crack at the standards when early drafts are unveiled this month, is a “Who’s Who” of people in their fields. Among its members: Michigan State University education professor William H. Schmidt, an expert in international comparisons of education systems; Chester E. Finn Jr., the Thomas B. Fordham Institute president and a prolific education reform advocate; and Carol Jago, the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Ambitious Process

All but four states—Alaska, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas—have signed on to the effort to adopt a common set of rigorous standards in math and language arts. (“46 States Agree to Common Academic Standards Effort,” June 10, 2009.)

The states have an ambitious time frame, planning to release their first set of high school exit standards—what students should know to prepare them for college or work—for states to review this month. Grade-by-grade standards, which the organizers are also calling “learning progression standards,” are set to be done in December.

Bringing more urgency to the effort is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s commitment last month to set aside $350 million to help states develop common assessments as a result of the new common standards.

While the working group will meet, deliberate, and work confidentially, drafts of the standards will be available for public scrutiny throughout the process, the CCSSO and NGA say. In addition, the feedback groups are designed to provide “information backed by research” as the standards are developed.

A final step in the standards effort will be the formation of a validation committee of national and international experts that will give a final review to the standards and also validate states’ adoption of the standards. A new Web site, www.corestandards.org, will provide updates on the work.

There have been fierce debates in the areas of both math and language arts about what academic content is most essential and how it should be delivered to students.

In math, for instance, sharp divisions have played out for years about whether teachers should focus on automatic recall of number facts, and computation, or on building students’ broader problem-solving ability—a debate sometimes called the “math wars.” In recent years, however, some experts say there has been an easing of those tensions, as experts have sought to find common ideas on how to deliver a more focused, ordered set of essential math topics to students, particularly in elementary and middle school.

The math feedback group includes experts and scholars with a range of views on how to teach math. For instance, a number of panelists have been critical of some of the strategies offered by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, a 100,000-member professional organization. Yet the feedback panel also includes NCTM’s president, Henry S. Kepner Jr.

Officials from NCTM and the National Council of Teachers of English had recently both voiced concerns about not being included in the Common Core effort. (“Subject Groups Seeking Voice on Standards,” June 17, 2009.)

Mr. Kepner said he was pleased that NCTM would have a place on the advisory panel. He said he and the other members of the Feedback Group could “work together,” despite past disagreements on certain math issues.

“It’s a very encouraging thing,” he said of NCTM’s participation. “I feel we’re going to have a way to have a voice in this. It’s a way to have us be connected.”

But the NCTM president was less certain about how much influence he and members of the Feedback Group would have, given that their role is one of advisers, not decisionmakers.

“I think we’ve got to start out [with] this,” Mr. Kepner said.

Kent Williamson, the executive director of the English-teachers group, took note of the challenges all of the groups face.

“Given the challenges of improving a system of uneven state standards and incorporating emerging research on literacy in the 21st century, these panels face a very difficult task,” he said. “NCTE looks forward to tapping the deep network of expertise among its members to inform this work.”

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A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week

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