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A Closer Look: What Common Core Polls Really Show

On the surface, poll results released this week seem to indicate that public support for the Common Core State Standards is slipping.

Yet, a closer look at four recent polls tells another story, and alarmingly, that misinformation about the standards is widespread, effecting the outcome of polls, and rendering them inaccurate.

While the PDK/Gallup poll shows 60% of respondents in opposition to Common Core because they believe it will limit teachers’ flexibility in the classroom, EdWeek’s Research Center survey found that 69% of teachers think Common Core standards will improve their instruction and classroom practice. 65% also believe it will improve student learning, and Republican pollster Dave Winston found 62% of teachers approve of their state’s adoption of the Common Core, showing no change from a poll done in March.

The Common Core label is now a polarizing term, but most people do indeed support high standards. When asked if they support high academic standards across states, without mention of “Common Core,” Education Next found support soaring from 53% to 68%.

Proponents of the Common Core State Standards can also learn from these polls that a disconnect still exists between public perception of the standards and what they actually are. Education Next found many respondents believe the Common Core takes away local control and gives it to the federal government. Only a little over a third, 36%, know that adopting Common Core was not a federal mandate, 15% know that the federal government cannot access student data, and less than half understand that curriculum is decided on at the local district level.

Teachers are closest to the action when it comes to Common Core implementation and need our support for smooth and effective implementation of the standards in their classrooms. Their local vantage point of what is happening in schools provides them with a wealth of information, oftentimes more accurate that what can be learned from TV, radio, and news outlets, making them a critical source of information for the general public.

Education and Workforce Preparedness

Our friends at Achieve, Inc. have given us permission to reprint their excellent materials when we see information that will be of interest to the Massachusetts business community.  This commentary focuses on the workforce issues that are of concern to all of us and appeared in Achieve’s Perspective Newsletter yesterday.

The U.S. workforce has undergone significant changes in the past few decades. The development of new, innovative technologies, the shift to a knowledge-based economy, and the growth of the global marketplace mean employers across all industries are putting a higher premium on skilled and educated workers than ever before.

Business leaders understand the importance of qualified talent. According to the 2013 Business Roundtable (BRT) report Taking Action on Education and Workforce Preparedness, “a nation’s capacity to develop a skilled, prepared workforce is inextricably linked to the quality of its education system.” The report suggests that such a workforce is the cornerstone of economic competitiveness.

Yet, during a related survey of BRT members, more than 95 percent of CEOs indicated that their companies have suffered from a lack of qualified talent.  (69% of Massachusetts employers reported difficulty filling jobs in the poll recently conducted for MBAE, Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.)  The report went on to reveal that “the long-term negative impacts of this ‘skills gap’ on workers, families, businesses, governments and the economy are potentially profound and far reaching.”

Additionally, the 2014 Corporate Learning Factbook published by Bersin and Deloitte reports that U.S. spending on corporate training surpassed $70 million last year. More than 70 percent of the companies surveyed cite a “capabilities gap” as the reason for spending on training, and many of the respondents report that a new hire still needs three to five years of experience before becoming a fully productive member of the company.

To help business leaders think more strategically about their support for college and career readiness, Achieve has collaborated with the GE Foundation and AT&T, along with Chevron, the Prudential and Travelers Foundations, and Alcoa to create the Business Center for a College and Career Ready America. Through the Business Center’s suite of featured tools and resources, the site explores college and career readiness in economic terms and examines issues of competitiveness, the skills gap, STEM training, and more through the lens of America’s education-to-workforce pipeline. The Business Center advocates college and career readiness for all students.

You can download the #BizEdu mobile app via Google Play or the Apple Store, and follow the Business Center @Biz4Edu on Twitter. 

Tech Bond Bill to Help Modernize Schools

A bond bill for government technology worth $1 billion, including $38 million for a public school district broadband access improvement grant program, has been approved by the Massachusetts House and Senate and now goes to Governor Patrick for his signature. H 4355 is a vital piece of legislation as Massachusetts public schools catch up to the 21st century. The funding for schools will be a boost to those districts lacking basic broadband access and will help level the playing field with other districts fortunate to have more resources. And while Massachusetts has been a pioneer on many education fronts, overall, the Commonwealth has lagged behind other states in the use of modern technology in schools.

School districts that have yet to decide if they will administer PARCC or MCAS in the coming school year should take note of yesterday’s developments. One concern about the PARCC exam has been access to the technology required to give an online test. While there is a paper-and-pencil version available for at least the 2014-2015 school year, it is expected that all schools will eventually want to gain the benefits of administering the exam entirely online, should the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education vote to sunset MCAS in favor of PARCC next fall. Even if we stay with MCAS, it will be updated to meet modern testing specifications. Online exams are undoubtedly in our future.

The funding, however, which includes a competitive matching grant component, is not just about assessments. It’s about Massachusetts’ commitment to providing the highest quality public education possible. We cannot continue to lead the nation if other states are providing their students with the resources needed to succeed in the 21st century classroom and beyond. Our economy thrives on innovation, much of it driven by constantly changing technology, and we owe it to our public school students to expose them to what they might find in a modern workplace.

Enacting this bill, now on its way to the Governor’s desk, is a step forward for Massachusetts and Massachusetts public education. We thank all the legislators who worked on this bill and applaud the Massachusetts State Senate on their 40-0 vote in favor.

Higher Education’s Role in Standards and Assessments

Each week, the Department of Higher Education issues a weekly digest of news clips that provides updates on what is going on at various campuses around the state.  This week, the digest (subscribe at the DHE website link above) also provided some interesting perspectives on  the Common Core and PARCC.    I thought these items were worth sharing here.  

K-12 TRENDS | A Bird’s-Eye View On Common Core Across The Country – NPR
07/23/2014 – (Audio) With conservative commentator Glenn Beck renewing his fight against the Common Core State Standards, it’s worth taking a bird’s-eye view of the learning benchmarks. Where are they now being implemented, what challenges remain and what does the coming school year have in store?
>> Full Story

K-12 TRENDS | Editorial: Put PARCC to the test – Wellesley Townsman
07/23/2014 – Massachusetts takes considerable pride in the success its public schools have had since the state put in place uniform standards and the MCAS testing regime in 1993. Bay State students have consistently led the nation in academic achievement – though not the world – in the years since. But good teachers don’t use the same lesson plans year after year, and good students don’t slack off because they made honor roll last semester. The MCAS system is over 20 years old, and it was far from perfect to begin with. Consider that the 10th grade MCAS tests, the original “high stakes” tests required for graduation, were designed to determine if the student was capable of doing 10th grade work – not whether he or she was prepared to succeed in college or the workplace.
>> Full Story

K-12 TRENDS | Higher education urged to play more of a role in Common Core – insidehighered
07/22/2014 – The Common Core State Standards Initiative is supposed to prepare K-12 students for higher education — but college and university faculty members and administrators remain largely removed from planning and rolling out these new assessments and standards. So argues a new paper from the New American Foundation, which urges colleges and universities to get involved in the Common Core to ensure the program ends up doing what it was supposed to do.
>> Full Story

K-12 TRENDS | PARCC for Higher Education – PBS Learning Media
June 2014 – (Video) The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of states that have come together to create a high-quality assessment for measuring student progression toward college readiness. The implementation of the PARCC assessments in K-12 education systems has created opportunities for state colleges and universities to build meaningful partnerships with district high schools to promote and increase college access for all students who wish to pursue higher education.
>> Full Story  –   Also, check out the information on the “PARCC for Parents” page

Public Higher Education Fuels Massachusetts Economy

Our public higher education institutions provide exemplary learning opportunities at an affordable cost for their students, but they provide so much more. In a newsletter from the UMASS Economic Development Office, the office cites a recent study released by the UMass Donahue Institute which found that the University of Massachusetts is a key contributor to the state’s overall economy — with an impact of $6.1 billion. The UMASS system has seen growth in construction and spending on research, faculty and students. In addition to campuses in Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and a Medical School in Worcester, the UMass system also operates 75 additional sites across the state.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Producing more than 16,000 graduates a year, most of whom remain in Massachusetts;
  • Conducting about $600 million in sponsored research annually;
  • Generating breakthroughs and discoveries that create new companies and new jobs, and converting our high-quality research into licensing income of about $35 million a year.

Our state universities also assist the state economy in other ways that matter to the business community.  State and community colleges are creating pipelines to college and career.  Springfield Technical Community College recently launched a STEM Starter Academy. At the Academy, recent high school graduates participate in a 7-week intensive hands on experience in STEM at no cost. Students participate in math readiness and engineering introduction courses while earning free college credits. They receive daily tutoring, guidance from STEM Coaches, and participate in on and off campus field trips to hear speakers and work on projects alongside STEM professionals in the field. Students will then use this experience to matriculate to college with a focus on STEM.

Our higher education institutions are not only helping Massachusetts retain graduates, but they are building the pipeline of an educated workforce that will contribute to the state’s economy well after students leave the institution. Students will fill positions in our state’s burgeoning and well-established industries, create companies or conduct research. The impact of our public higher education institutions extends beyond the classroom.

Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education