Not Meeting Standards: A Warning Light, Not A Death Sentence

Last week, I complained that Eva Moskowitz and other reformers weren’t being fair when they described schools as “persistently failing” because they didn’t get many of their students to the ambitious levels built into the Common Core. This is how I concluded:

The move to higher standards means that we need to recalibrate our rhetoric and, more importantly, our approach to school accountability. In the low-standards days, it was perfectly legitimate to call out schools that couldn’t get all or most of their students to minimal levels of literacy and numeracy. It simply doesn’t work to similarly defame schools that don’t get all of their students “on track for college and career.” It’s a much higher bar and a much longer road.

But reform critics aren’t any better when it comes to playing games with the new standards. Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss, for example, continue to peddle the notion that the Common Core is developmentally inappropriate because it expects all students to be able to read simple passages by the end of kindergarten. Perhaps without knowing it, they’re making the same mistake as Moskowitz and others: misunderstanding the standards’ aspirational nature.

The core problem is the assumption that, by simply setting standards, policymakers expect “all students” to meet them. That might have been the case in the past, when we set the standards bar at an extremely low level—and yes, it was signaled by NCLB’s crazy declaration that all children would be “proficient” by 2014. But it certainly should not be the case now, or for the foreseeable future.

Here’s what the Common Core is designed to communicate: If your children are meeting the standards, it means they are believed to be on track for college and career readiness by the end of high school—real readiness, the kind that doesn’t require remediation on campus. If they aren’t meeting the standards, it means that they are off track. That doesn’t mean they are “failing,” or even “below average.” But it does mean they need to accelerate their progress if they are likely to be able to take bona fide college courses upon entry or have the best possible shot at a well-paying job.

It’s like learning that your child’s body mass index (BMI) is above the healthy range. If you want him or her to have a long and healthy life, you need to work at bringing it down over time in a proven and safe way. (If below the healthy range, of course, that means bringing it up, and not just with ice cream.)

The BMI isn’t perfect. It doesn’t measure everything that is important about health, or even healthy weight. And it is adjusted over time as researchers learn more. Nor would anyone in public health expect all American kids to attain a BMI in the healthy range anytime soon, if ever. But we do hope to see the population moving in that direction—and there’s ample cause for concern when (as today) so many are moving in the opposite direction.

So to Ravitch and Strauss I say: Please stop claiming that the standards expect “all” students to read by the end of kindergarten. It’s wrong. The standards are simply meant to indicate to parents and educators that kids are “off track” if they haven’t met that milestone yet. It’s a warning light, not a death sentence. Thankfully, kindergartners have plenty of time to catch up. Let’s focus on smart instructional strategies to help them get there.

- Mike Petrilli

This first appeared on Common Core Watch.

New Systems of Schools and Common Enrollment

By 03/25/2015 0 Comments

If cities simply add more choice schools in the absence of changes to the enrollment process, parents can struggle to find information on schools, be forced to fill out widely varying school applications, and then receive a staggered barrage of acceptance and rejection notices.

Behind the Headline: Charter-School Head Says City’s Transfer Kids Can’t Keep Up

By 03/25/2015 1 Comment

When seats open up in charter schools mid-year, should those spots be filled by students on the waiting list, or should they be allowed to remain empty?

Behind the Headline: Has Brookings Lost Its Mind?

By 03/24/2015 0 Comments

Chester E. Finn, Jr. wonders how it is possible that Brookings is allowing Russ Whitehurst to leave his position as the head of the Brown Center on Education Policy

Innovation, Technology, and Rural Schools

By 03/24/2015 1 Comment

Rural superintendent don’t consider teacher recruitment and retention among their biggest challenges…and mixing rural schooling and technology is more complicated than you might think.

Don’t Know Much About History

Some fret that states that make the U.S. citizenship test a graduation requirement may be tacitly encouraging schools to abandon semester-long classes in civics. I’m skeptical.

Behind the Headline: Getting the Balance Right

By 03/23/2015 0 Comments

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, two leaders of the D.C. Public Charter School Board argue that the goal should not be for ALL D.C. schools to become charter schools.

Job Opening at Education Next

By 03/23/2015 0 Comments

We’re hiring a manuscript editor at Education Next.

The Limits of Equity

By 03/20/2015 2 Comments

Some reforms may exacerbate inequality because they don’t help every last needy student. But pursuing equity above all else could jeopardize the gains of some very needy kids.

Eva et al. Flunk the Fairness Test

Some education reformers and media outlets are already using the results of the new, tougher tests to brand schools as “failing” if most of their students don’t meet the higher standards.

Posts by Authors

  • Mark Bauerlein
  • John Chubb
  • Martha Derthick
  • A. Graham Down
  • Joshua Dunn
  • Education Next
  • Williamson Evers
  • Chester E. Finn, Jr.
  • Jay P. Greene
  • James Guthrie
  • Eric Hanushek
  • Bryan Hassel
  • Emily Ayscue Hassel
  • Frederick Hess
  • Paul Hill
  • Michael Horn
  • William Howell
  • Marci Kanstoroom
  • Peter Meyer
  • George Mitchell
  • Paul E. Peterson
  • Michael Petrilli
  • Michael Podgursky
  • Andy Smarick
  • Bill Tucker
  • Herbert Walberg
  • Martin West
  • Blogs

  • Organizations

    Sponsored Results
    About the Blog

    The Ed Next blog aims to provide lively commentary on education news and research and to bring evidence to bear on current education policy debates.

    Our bloggers include editors at Education Next magazine and others who have written for the magazine. Education Next is a quarterly journal of opinion and research about education policy published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and additionally sponsored by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

    The opinions expressed by the Ed Next bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of, Education Next magazine, or its sponsors. is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.


    The Hoover Institution at Stanford University - Ideas Defining a Free Society

    Harvard Kennedy School Program on Educational Policy and Governance

    Thomas Fordham Institute - Advancing Educational Excellence and Education Reform