A Problematic Common Core Story & Response From The Hechinger Report

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The Hechinger Report has written a ton of stories about Common Core — most of them quite unobjectionable.

However their latest piece, focused on concerns about incorporating Common Core standards and testing with pre-existing IB (International Baccalaureate) program, has raised some polite but persistent howls from pro-Common Core folks at the Fordham Institute. 

According to an email from Fordham’s Mike Petrilli to Hechinger: “We were surprised that it was so factually incorrect and misleading. Very unusual for Hechinger!”

As you’ll see, there are three specific issues with the Hechinger Report story that have been raised by Fordham — one of which has won a clarifying edit to the piece. A fourth concern about the overall premise of the piece remains unresolved. And one aspect of the Hechinger response raises its own questions. 

The story (Will Common Core undermine an elite college-prep program’s goal of diversity?) explores the intersection of Common Core tests and IB programs, which have expanded in recent years and are attempting to reach a more diverse population of students. 

One issue that’s been raised by Fordham is determining whether the highlighted section below is an example of egregious editorializing by reporter Brenda Iasevoli or a summation of what “others say” about the Common Core tests:

“Yet while educators, like those at Sturgis, say IB’s rigorous curriculum can prepare all students simultaneously for standardized tests, college, and career, others say not so fast. The new Common Core tests still rely heavily on multiple-choice-type questions that don’t reflect the rigor of the IB curriculum or, for that matter, the Common Core standards. This disconnect could be harmful to students in groups that have traditionally underperformed on standardized tests, especially as these tests become the primary tools for measuring student performance.”

Another problematic sentence according to Fordham is highlighted below:

The Common Core tests contain multiple-choice questions and some writing tasks that don’t measure up to the ambitious Common Core education goals with which they are supposed to be aligned. From the perspective of some IB educators, the tests don’t reflect the skills they are teaching every day. If students are taught to question what they’ve learned and reflect on the source of their knowledge, why should they be judged by a test on which they must choose from among several pre-fab answers?”

The initial response from Hechinger’s Sarah Garland: “The grafs you mention are discussing the views of IB educators who are concerned about CCSS and see a disconnect between the CCSS tests and IB.”

Petrilli’s response to Garland: “Yes, but the views of the educators are factually incorrect.”

Garland adds: “The story also includes the perspective of other educators who don’t have issues with the test, including the teachers at Sturgis, the school featured in the piece.”

Subsequently, Garland reported via email that the sentence has been clarified:

“This story has been updated to attribute concerns about the Common Core tests to teachers.”

The new version:  “Teachers worry* the new Common Core tests still rely heavily on multiple-choice-type questions that don’t reflect the rigor of the IB curriculum or, for that matter, the Common Core standards.”

The second sentence remains unchanged, as far as I can tell.  

A third issue raised by Fordham is whether Hechinger has given Carol Burris, one of the educators cited in the piece, an appropriate identification. 

According to Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio, “This piece is harshly critical of Common Core tests… [and] leans heavily on the say-so of Carol Burris… whose strident anti-Common Core advocacy led her to leave her job last year to fight “corporate ed reform” full-time. Maybe Hechinger readers might like to know that?”

In response, Garland notes, “Carol Burris was included in the story because of her perspective as an educator who has led an IB school and become a critic of Common Core, a position made clear by her comments.”

Last but not least — this is an issue that doesn’t come from Fordham — there’s the question of just how widespread concerns are among IB educators when it comes to the Common Core tests (which are getting their second full administration this spring), and if there’s any evidence presented to support the concern that Common Core tests is affecting IB diversification efforts?

According to Iasevoli’s story, “some IB educators said that on close inspection they are just glorified multiple-choice tests.” But there’s no description of how widespread the concerns are, and nobody at Hechinger seems to know. Just two educators who are having issues are given. Two other instances that are cited seem to be doing just fine.

I’ve emailed the national IB association to find if they have gotten large numbers of calls or emails about this, or have taken any position against Common Core tests, and will let you know what they say. 

Meantime, Garland emailed me separately to say that “The conversation [with Fordham] also led me to clarify a previous story – to identify the Fordham Institute as a strong supporter of Common Core.”

But this seems like a double standard, given Garland’s decision not to identify Burris more explicitly, as well as appearing to be petty retribution.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.