Early Common Core testing will be a jarring wake-up call — what then?

Neerav Kingsland expects Common Core to deliver a rude awakening.


Neerav Kingsland expects Common Core to deliver a rude awakening.

Here’s a prediction: When Louisiana students first take high-stakes exams aligned with the Common Core curriculum, no more than three out of every 10 children will achieve proficiency. How do we know? Students in Kentucky and New York have already taken these tests. And the results have been dismal. Louisiana students will fare no differently.

The poor results will leave policy makers with three options.

One option is to just rip the band-aid off and call it like it is. Label 70 percent of students as failing; rate most teachers as unsatisfactory, and grade nearly all schools with an “F.” There is some merit to this approach. It could force us to confront a tough reality: Our students, our teachers, and our schools are not achieving at nationally or internationally competitive levels.

Another option is to just ditch the Common Core. Policy makers could use public outcry as grounds to abandon the higher standards. There is a reasonable argument for this approach: Perhaps we’d be better off to just keep things as they are. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and Louisiana — while a relatively poor state — still boasts living standards that most nations would envy. Why force change when none is needed? Passing tests is not the be-all and end-all of a meaningful education.

The third option is to report the performance data accurately but to delay accountability. Under this option, we could keep the rigorous standards but not immediately implement higher stakes for students, teachers, and schools. There is merit to this approach as well. It could force us to confront the facts but not penalize students and educators for failing to meet the new expectations immediately. It could also give teachers time to improve their practice as they adjust to the new standards.

State Superintendent John White has proposed we take the third approach.

Is this the right path forward?

I think so.

Immediately labeling the vast majority of students, teachers and schools as failing has two major risks. First, severe upfront sanctions could reverse the current educator support for the new standards. Right now, the majority of teachers support the Common Core. However, if we are not realistic about what it will take to implement these standards, educators will rightly lose faith. We are asking a lot of educators, and we should honor the work that will be required to make these ambitious instructional changes. Moreover, immediate sanctions may also result in significant political blowback that could derail the entire Common Core project.

Abandoning the Common Core project also seems unwise. While I am open to the idea that not every student needs to master calculus to lead a meaningful life, rigorous instruction is an important foundation for lifelong success. Moreover, other countries such as Poland and Vietnam have demonstrated that children in poverty can pass rigorous assessments. Yes, it will require more work, but meeting these new standards is a feasible goal. Other students in worse circumstances have proven it.

So I think the superintendent’s plan is the right one. Let’s make the standards high. Let’s clearly tell students, families, and educators how they are performing. Absolute data transparency must be provided from the outset. But let’s phase in accountability in a manner that honors the idea that it may take a decade to fully achieve the results we desire. The new standards will require new ways of teaching, and it will take educators time to master the new expectations.

That said, the superintendent’s plan carries one major risk: Accountability delayed could turn into accountability denied.

Gradually phasing in accountability over a decade will require annual acts of political courage. This will not be easy. The calls for watered-down accountability will be strong and they will come from influential politicians.

Will we have the fortitude to stay the course?

I don’t know. Ultimately, in a democracy, we will get the educational system that we want. In the end, our state’s educational future will not be determined by John White. It will be determined by the thousands of families and educators who make-up our public-education system. Over the long run, educational values will drive educational policies.

So what will we do when our children initially fall short of the new expectations?

My hope is that Louisiana educators and families will say this: We got knocked down but we didn’t get knocked out. We failed at first. But we’re willing to work harder. And we know that with hard work we can compete with any city, state, or country in the world.

Is this how our state will respond?

Time will tell. But I hope so.

Author’s note: Neerav Kingsland, a graduate of Tulane University and the Yale Law School, is chief executive officer of New Schools for New Orleans, a dominant force in the restructuring of the city’s public education system since Hurricane Katrina.

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  • scotchirish

    The shock and awe might be less had more, and more transparent, truth been told over the years. The use of cut points (pass/fail/mastery/needs improvement etc.) rather than percentiles or standard deviations allowing national or international comparison, is condescending and obfuscatory at best.

  • Kimberly Kunst Domangue

    An opinion written by an executive officer of a charter school organization is at best biased. Especially when it comes to trying to garner favor from our Teach for America state superintendent, who has worked to strip the traditional public schools of resources and support.

    I truly believe that those who actively oppose traditional public schools DO NOT have the Louisiana citizenry’s best interests at heart. Why do I believe this? Please consider the following:
    1) Charter schools have selective admissions: A poor family w/out internet usually will not be aware of application deadlines or be left out of the application document loop; 2) Charter schools do not provide services for special needs learners- these children are either counseled out of the admissions process or if enrolled encouraged to leave; 3) Traditional public schools lose thousands of dollars for each child who leaves for a charter school, thereby negatively impacting the services of those who remain in the traditional public schools (Think “Economies of Scale”); 4) Charter management companies rob our young people of teaching jobs here in their home state, as companies like ” Charter USA use their website to hire out-of-state individuals who may or may not be adequately trained to teach the population they will serve; 5) Charter management companies have wielded resources to influence school board elections and have been given liberties to operate in places where elected school board members have informed BESE and the mgt companies they are unwelcome.

    Back to the original article? Given that charter schools are not held to the same standards (not even the Common Core), any entity supporting or involved in the promotion of charter schools in LA remains uninformed of the essentials of the conversation among professional educators.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Dianne Ravitch is a former Assistant United States Secretary of Education and a historian of American education. Here is her critique of Common Core;

  • scotchirish

    We have to pass it to see what’s in it.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Scotchirish, if I buy a car, I get to test drive it first. If I buy a house, I get to have it inspected. But Louisiana committed itself to Common Core on the strength of two signatures–Bobby Jindal and John White–and even they didn’t know what was in it when they signed on.

  • scotchirish

    Thanks. I was agreeing with you. It was paraphrasing Pelosi because CC was adopted in the same way, more or less, that Congress passed Obamacare, IMO. I expect similar results.

  • edpolicy

    1) Most charters are not selective (some selective schools were grandfathered in after Katrina). Information is a barrier, but most charters advertise and recruit heavily in neighborhoods where “poor families” live. Charters demographics are typically not much different than the surrounding system. 2) Charters do provide these services. Some not as well as others, but the two outcomes you suggest are not the complete picture. 3) Public schools still get the same amount of money they’ve always received for each child they educate. 4) Charter schools, like all schools, seek to hire the best available candidates. If a local teacher is competent, they will be hired. 5) Not sure what you’re saying here. Local boards can accept a charter, or deny it. BESE can approve a charter once it’s been denied by the local board.

  • Gus

    I challenge that the results will indicate that the teachers and schools are failing. Do low scores necessarily mean that the failing students have poor teachers? That hasn’t been my experience. If LA fired all of its current teachers and replaced them with the so-called “best” teachers from around the country, do you think that the test results would change? If that’s the case, then why doesn’t NSNO pay top dollar, and hire those teachers to teach in our schools now? If it’s that easy, then why aren’t charter schools getting great results? Not results better than pre-Katrina schools, but the kind of results that a Massachusetts school would be proud to have. Didn’t a NSNO-run McDonogh school just shut down? How does Mr. Kingsland explain that failure? Bad teachers?

  • scotchirish

    To some extent, teachers are being hoist on their own petard. There has been a drumbeat for years that teachers should be more highly paid because they have so much influence on outcomes. The largely misguided reform movement is partly based on that (probably false) premise.

  • nickelndime

    Well of course, Mr. KIngsland supports the third option, and so does Mr. White. This will give them more time (delay) to siphon more public money and rob more students and their families of what should be rightfully available to them (a competitive education delivered by qualified, cetified teachers – not TFA or whomever else these nonprofits have brought into these substanadrd schools). And regarding Mr. Kingsland (of whom I can think of no kind or encouraging words), he has been around for quite some time at New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) under the tutelage of founder Sarah Usdin, who is a sitting Orleans Parish School Board member and who has already done enough damage in one year to render the local board, useless and lame. How convenient! What a gameplan! Mr. Kingsland keeps Ms. Usdin’s chair warm (and collects even more money) while she is on “leave.” Ms. Usdin may have taken a leave from NSNO to go to the OPSB, but if anyone is so naive as to think she is not involved in NSNO and its policies and decisions AND then votes as an OPSB member (and unduly influences the other 3 – Marshall, Jr., Bloom, Koppel (Hello! conflict of interest), then I have property in the Bywater area for sale (right now before the Commission votes on Monday 02.17.2014) to approve demolishing structures to make way for the “big box” CVS pharmacy whose plan was booted out of Marigny.

  • nickelndime

    John McDonogh Sr. High School CEO, Steve Barr (formerly of Green Dot) probably got federal money through the joint efforts of the State-RSD and NSNO, but Mr. Barr’s nonprofit is not one and the same as NSNO. RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard maintains that the school will close at the end of the year for “repairs” (and has nothing to do with Mr. Barr’s poor record at the school – academically and financially). At one point, Mr. Barr even spoke of getting money from Stephen Rosenthal, and the school was having a problem meeting payroll). But think again! Stated simply, the power players are making room for some other (local) power players to take control of the school and the easiest way to do this is to “buy” a year so the public can forget what they are doing – once again. The same trick works over and over again, and nobody seems to catch on. Now, if somebody wants to do some really good investigative reporting, they might want to find out who these power players are, and they might want to start around Esplanade Avenue.

  • Kimberly Kunst Domangue

    1) Charters ARE selective in who they recruit/ actively engage for enrollment and WHERE they locate. 2) Charter schools often contract with public schools for speech and other “pull-put services. 3) Public schools in LA must pay $4k per child (approx) to the charter mgt companies, even if the child transferred from a private/parochial school. 4) Correct , the perceived “most qualified candidate” will be hired: Given the out-of-state bias against those “poorly educated” in LA, I think there may be a bias there. 5) BESE has the legal right at this point to overturn a local school board’s decision against allowing a particular charter to operate; however, it is not necessarily prudent. Perhaps a change in policy re this is well-overdue?

  • nickelndime

    Here is a CHARTER RIDDLE: Why is THE NET CHARTER HIGH SCHOOL, governed by Educators for Quality Alternatives, which has a 2013 School Perofmance Score (SPS) of 9.1 and a Letter Grade of “F,” NOT even on a watch list (monitored) by the RSD? Elizabeth Ostberg, the principal/CEO says the school is in great shape. But Ms. Ostberg does not even hold a teaching license (currnet or expired) according to the LDOE (Louisiana Department of Eduication). John McDonogh High School, which has a 9.3 2013 SPS and a “T” (that’s Thank You for not disclosing our true letter grade) will close for building repairs for one year. HELP! I keep sliding off of my chair.