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Thompson: Common Core Will Double Dropout Rate, Says Carnegie Corporation*

How did I miss it? The single most important study on Common Core implementation was published by the Carnegie Corporation in 2013, but its key finding has been ignored.

Hat tip to Tom Hoffman and Larry Ferlazzo for showcasing the evidence that is so unnerving.

Carnegie’s Leah Hamilton and Anne Mackinnon, in Opportunity by Design, and the McKinsey Group estimate that the implementation of Common Core (without first establishing a level of systematic supports that would clearly be impossible) would double the nation’s dropout rate.

Even if Common Core was implemented only by top-quartile teachers – who “'move’ student performance at the rate of 1.25 grade levels per year” – the best teachers “cannot possibly meet the demand to raise student achievement to Common Core levels.”

School reformers have long misused multi-colored graphs by the McKinsey Group to argue that improved teacher quality could drive school improvement. So, it is doubly important that Carnegie commissioned McKinsey to use the reformers’ data “to test whether or not it might be possible to avoid large drops in graduation rates using human capital strate­gies alone.”

A year ago, Carnegie and McKinsey concluded, “The short answer is no: even coordinated, rapid, and highly effective efforts to improve high school teaching would leave millions of students achieving be­low the level needed for graduation and college success as defined by the Common Core.”

They determined that the six-year dropout rate would double from 15% to 30%. If, as Carnegie projects, the four-year graduation rate drops from 75% to 53%, that would be a blow that Common Core probably couldn’t survive.

And, what about high-poverty urban school systems, where the graduation rates have slowly risen to 65% or so? Surely, their graduation rates would drop even further. Even if they declined by the national average of 30%, the outcry should be deafening. 

The goal of Carnegie “Challenge” research papers is “to lift up ideas and issues in a way that we hope will elevate them to the nation’s agenda.” So, why has this all-important finding not influenced the debate over the Common Core agenda?

Apparently, Carnegie seeks to focus on the positive. If, over the last few years, systems had focused on building personalized learning environments and if states had invested unlimited billions of dollars on high-poverty schools, Common Core might not have become a trainwreck. If New York City’s “Small Schools” (generously funded by the Gates Foundation and others) had actually served the “same kids” as students in large failing high schools, in theory the same expensive methods could have eased the transition to Common Core.

It is now 2014, however, and high-poverty schools across the nation have yet to receive a blank check and the freedom to stop the education malpractice of teaching to the bubble-in test. I suspect that the Carnegie Corporation doesn’t want to explicitly criticize the Gates Foundation’s commitment to test-driven accountability. But, surely it doesn’t anticipate a happy ending to Common Core implementation and testing in 2015. – JT(@drjohnthompson) 

*Correction: The previous version of this post incorrectly referred to the Carnegie Foundation, not the Carnegie Corporation.   



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FUNDING EQUITY always was and always will be the first step to school reform. Period.

That common core report was from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, NOT the Carnegie Foundation.

I've only scanned the report, but I don't understand the mechanism by which the CCSS are supposed to double dropout rates. To graduate students aren't "held to the standards", they just need some combination of passing grades in the relevant courses and adequate performance on exit exams. Graduation standards, in other words, aren't the CCSS, they're teachers' standards and exit exam standards, both of which are bars that can be relatively easily adjusted to graduate the desired number of students.

Way more students graduate *now* than are "college & career ready" (or whatever). Why would that change under the CCSS?

First common core is not the tests-that would be NCLB. When New York State mandated all students must pass five Regents exams to graduate the same concern rippled across the state and the apologists cried "unfair to poor students." Graduation rates now are the highest they have been in NYS, poor students included, even with the higher expectations; debunking that perpetual myth. We can hold students and teachers accountable in K-12 or we can let industry do it by not hiring all the "happy idiots" we will have graduated or colleges do it by forcing students to drop out, but not before going into debt due to tuition. Bubble tests are not the answer, but until local schools can prove through evidence their students are prepared for college and career, then policy makers will look for the most cost effective measurement tool available. Common Core is a reaction, a reaction to an economy that lacks the skilled workforce to grow. Schools have not changed in 100 years, and until we can prove we are the answer to providing a skilled workforce for all jobs, then policy makers will intervene in many painful ways.

As I read the excellent study, tests are only a part of the issue. The bigger problem is that reformers spout off "Expectations! Expectations!" and the kids see the new stuff and drop out. Reading between the lines, I bet kids will start really dropping out, mentally at least, in 8th and 9th grade.

And, reformers won't even recognize they're gone.

If done properly, (which of course means without stakes attached to tests) kids with low skills would benefit from the higher standards, encouraging more engaging instruction with critical thinking. But, not all kids can make the transition at the same rate. and few districts will invest anything close to the resources necessary for the supports necessary for the transition.

I wish nonteachers would consider this. We've used educational malpractice to train kids to read simple, direct sentences, in short paragraphs, and guess at the simple answer. We need to teach kids who have had up to 10 to 11 years of that bubble-in malpractice to unlearn habits and be open to learning how to make sense of complex convoluted sentences in complicated paragraphs.

The rate that can be accomplished is determined by the rate at which teachers rebuild the kids' confidence after setbacks.

That confidence-building, motivation, and reassurance should be job #1, but its largely ignored. Fearful educators can't properly coach kids to higher levels. That would take the team expensive efforts described by Carnegie.

Of course, that explains why it won't be possible to set fair cut scores or use these results in value-added models. All kids can do it. But, more affluent, higher-skilled kids will do it faster. Cut scores valid for the transition with low-skilled students would be impossibly low politically. On the other hand, cut scores are likely to be set (real world) by politicians without many poor children of color in their districts.

As James Heckman shows, grad rates have soared only if you count GEDs but they've stagnated otherwise. Policy-makers usually don't know that. They often buy this silliness about "High Expectations!" (which by the way, Carnegie refutes)The new GED could wipe out most of the graduation gains.

Again, the doubling is an average. It could be far worse in urban districts. My district's rate doubled as the state began the transition and before the new tests counted. The fear rolled down on the kids, who (predictably) dropped out. But when large numbers of poor children of color land on the streets, as long as you can "juke the stats," how many reformers or policy-makers notice it?

John - The entirety of their argument is, basically, if twice as many students are considered "below grade level" when they enter HS, twice as many students will drop out for academic reasons.

That's crude, to say the least. Changing the standards doesn't actually change the distribution of abilities with which kids enter HS, so kids' perceptions of their abilities *relative to their peers* will probably remain mostly unchanged. If more kids start dropping out for academic reasons, that's probably because their perceptions of their abilities would change *relative to school and classroom standards*. But why should that change much?

A certain percentage of kids drop out for academic reasons now largely because teachers and schools are comfortable pushing that fraction of kids out of HS by giving them work of a certain difficulty. But there's no reason to think teachers are suddenly going to raise their standards so suddenly and dramatically that twice as many kids get overwhelmed and quit.

In other words, you seem to be assuming that teachers, schools, and states are basically robots who don't have the programming or ability to adjust *other* factors when the standards go up. (Note that the report technically does *not* assume this, since it stipulates that their numbers only apply if there is "no improved support" for students. This is an obfuscatory way for them to admit that the dropout rate will not, in practice, double.)

In reality, educators and policy makers will handle things exactly as they do now: they will lower the practical bars for students until they are comfortable that not *too* many kids are being pushed out of school. That's why kids who are "below grade level" graduate now, and it's why they will almost certainly continue to graduate at very similar rates under the CCSS. (My guess is that the dropout rate is due for a bump anyway since we're at an all-time high and the economy is improving. That's probably inevitable with or without the CCSS.)

How many kids are already on the streets without a diploma due to the fearful transition to Common Core?
Nobody knows.
In what bizarro world will accurate data move up the chain of command?
Real world, emotion trumps all. If adults can't handle this change, how will kids?

The strength of their methodology is that it is based on patterns that have long recurred. Human patterns.

The type of supports that Carnegie seeks are hugely expensive. They won't magically appear. If adequate supports were coming, we'd seen signs of it. I would have loved to support Common Core but they've complete mishandled it and, as usual, kids will pay for their slapdash experiment.

I agree with you John that Common Core will double dropout rates in the schools.Stanford professor James Milgram argues that the Common Core math standards do not command international respect and will not prepare students for STEM careers. If the state keeps hiding the exams from public scrutiny, then parents and educators have a right to doubt their pedagogical value.

There are other issues. The Race to the Top program awarded New York $700 million on the condition that the state adopts a value added modeling teacher evaluation system, in this case, APPR. Put plainly -- the state may now fire teachers if test scores are low. That creates incredible pressure to teach to the test.
Additionally, English language learners must also take the tests, regardless of how well they can understand them, and teachers in impoverished school districts are more likely to be punished, despite taking on harder assignments. In the words of noted education scholar Diane Ravitch: VAM is a sham.


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