Three things (plus one!) to read this weekend

I’ve turned into that person who can only talk about the weather. But bear with me because I think (knock on wood, cross fingers, etc.) that the end is in sight: it’s supposed to be in the 40s next week. So before you know it, I’ll be suggesting things for you to read while on the beach, instead of under a blanket while on the couch. Without further ado, the three – plus one! – things you should read this weekend.

Common Core’s Unintended Consequences? (The Hechinger Report): Teachers in the more than 40 states that have adopted the Common Core standards work are having a hard time finding curriculum materials that are aligned to the new standards. With the traditional sources for these materials coming up short, more and more teachers have been writing a curriculum themselves. The article quotes a stat from the Center on Education Policy that found that in more than 80 percent of districts, at least one source for curriculum materials was local – either from teachers, the district or other districts in state. There are various websites that popped up in recent years to address this growing need, including one – Teachers Pay Teachers – that did $78 million in business in 2014 (an increase of $34 million over the prior year). While it’s not all bad to have teachers more involved in writing the curriculum – it certainly helps them learn more about the standards – some experts worry about creating an expectation that teachers have the time and the background to do this kind of work. Additionally, there’s no guarantee that the teacher-created curriculum and materials are more aligned or better quality than the off-the-shelf options. Finally, such a wide variety of sources for curriculum materials could undercut the goal of the Common Core standards to introduce a common set of expectations.

The Danger of Neglecting Community College (The Boston Globe): Massachusetts is known the world over for its four-year colleges and universities … not everyone realizes the value its two-year colleges can provide. A couple of staggering facts from this story: in states that report graduates’ incomes, 30 percent of associate’s degree holders earn more than their bachelor-holding counterparts; in Massachusetts, which has cut funding for higher education by 37 percent since the start of the recession, the state’s 15 community colleges are currently funded at 2001 levels; and also in Massachusetts, there are currently as many jobs available calling for an associate’s degree as there are requiring a bachelor’s degree. There’s lots more information in this rich and absorbing case, which makes a pretty convincing argument for why community colleges should be a critical part of any college success strategy.

Free Community College: It Works (Inside Higher Ed): President Obama’s free-community-college proposal has been getting a lot of airtime recently. But what you may not know is that at least one of this country’s community colleges started a similar program all the way back in 2007. And guess what? It works. The Tulsa Achieves program at Tulsa (Okla.) Community College pays for three years of tuition, or 63 credits, for all eligible high school graduates in Tulsa County. To remain eligible, students have to maintain a 2.0 GPA, take a student success course and do 40 hours of community service a year. The first year the program was offered, the college doubled the number of first-time freshmen enrolled. And half of that first cohort of students had earned a degree (bachelor’s or associate’s) or certificate by 2014 – a completion rate significantly higher than students not in the program.

Seven Things Every Kid Should Master (The Boston Globe Magazine): I know, I know, normally we stop after three. But I couldn’t resist including this essay by one of my favorite college professors. In this piece, Susan Engel offers another option in the ongoing debate over testing. Instead of viewing the only possibilities as testing or not testing, Engel suggests that we should be more focused on figuring out good ways to test the things we value most. In support of her approach, Engel points to a review she did of more than 300 studies of K-12 academic tests that found no research demonstrating a relationship between the tests and other measures of thinking or life outcomes. All the tests really predicted, she found, was the likelihood of performing similarly on other such tests. It should be noted that Engel is definitely not arguing against testing, but is instead suggesting shifting to a system in which the tests we administer are aligned with and predictive of the kind of outcomes we think are most valuable.