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Brown Center Report: Common Core, Homework and Shanghai’s Success

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The third installment of the Brown Center Report on Public Education is out from the Brookings Institution, and author Tom Loveless provides plenty of food for thought in three key areas: the potential effectiveness of the new Common Core State Standards; whether American students are being saddled with  significantly more homework; and an examination of Shanghai’s reputation for producing some of the best 15-year-old math students in the world.

Let’s start with the Common Core, which have been mired in controversy in recent months. According to Loveless, states with existing grade-level expectations that closely mirror the new Common Core standards haven’t had higher-than-average growth on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics since 2009.

On the upside for the Common Core, the states that were furthest along in actually implementing them did see gains on the NAEP in math, albeit small ones. I found that particularly interesting given the results of  a recent nationwide survey of more than 20,000 teachers. The survey – conducted by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – found that the further along a state was in implementing the Common Core, the more likely teachers in that state were to say they believed it would have a positive effect on student achievement.

In the Brookings report, Loveless challenges the notion that Shanghai’s math students are significantly ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to achievement, based on their performance on the international PISA exam. At issue in part is whether Shanghai’s exclusion of some immigrant students (who don’t automatically qualify for access to public education in the province where they live due to China’s complex policies) is unfairly skewing the results. Loveless also concludes that the administration of the PISA exam in Shanghai highlights serious deficiencies in educational equity and access.

Loveless raised this issue last fall. Andreas Schleicher, who oversees PISA for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) wrote in an online post in December that critics of the exam’s Shanghai results are basing their judgments on outdated assumptions or outright misinformation about the student sample from the province. In an op-ed published in Education Week, also in December, Schleicher and Marc Tucker (president of the National Center on Education and Economy) joined forces to rebut Loveless’ conclusions.
It’s an important debate, and it’s just one example of why context is so critical in conversations about international comparisons. For more on that issue, check out my prior post on interpreting PISA results.

You can read the full Brookings report here. For a nice wrap-up of the findings on homework, check out this story from The Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits. The key takeaway: Loveless says it doesn’t appear that homework loads for students have soared in recent years, which runs contrary to conventional wisdom.