Last week, Apple launched two programs for the iPad that it hopes will transform the textbook industry in the same way the iPod transformed the music industry. The first, iBooks 2, will make media-rich electronic textbooks available for purchase on the iPad at a fraction of the cost of a hard-copy text. (Currently, all titles are available for $14.99 or less.) The second, iBooks Author, allows anyone to create textbooks for free using an iMac, and to publish them to iBooks immediately.
There were many skeptics who, when the iPod was launched a decade ago, believed it would have only a negligible impact on the way people listened to music. Helping those folks eat their words has become something of a cottage industry on the web. Just yesterday, tech blogger and Apple enthusiast John Gruber gleefully documented all of the people who underestimated the appeal of the iPhone and iPad and contrasted them with Apple’s just-announced record-breaking sales for both products.
And so, I’m loathe to doubt the transformative power of the iPad in the world of education. After all, if anyone can transform the textbook industry, it’s Apple. As someone who spent many years writing instructional materials for schools and trying to find my way around the many deficiencies of the current crop of textbooks, I welcome the creative destruction it
Last week on the Core Knowledge blog, Robert Pondiscio called for the end of seven classroom practices that don’t work. Four of the seven practices dealt with standards- and data-driven instruction—or, really, the bastardization of standards- and data-driven instruction. The crux of Pondiscio’s argument is right on the money: Standards-driven instruction is only as good as the standards and assessments that are used to drive instruction, and reading standards (and/or assessments) that prioritize empty reading skills over content are sure to steer our teachers wrong.
Unfortunately, Pondiscio’s post distracts from that point by deriding some practices that, when done well, can be used to powerfully drive student achievement.
Take, for example, data-driven instruction. Pondiscio is right that “using data in half-baked or simplistic ways” is going to do very little to drive student learning. But the answer is not to abandon data-driven instruction writ large, but rather to encourage teachers to use data thoughtfully and purposefully. There aren’t nearly enough examples (or quality PD purveyors) that demonstrate how this can be done and done well. We need more.
There is no question that test prep is virtually useless.
Similarly, Pondiscio derides both “dumb test prep” and “reciting lesson aim and standard.” There is no question that test prep is virtually useless. In fact, the fact that test prep is used so widely, but that reading scores have remained essentially flat for more than a decade, should help demonstrate just how ineffective it is. Why it is still the go-to method for preparing students for state tests is beyond me.
By contrast, the practice of organizing lessons
Last week, a report was released by Education First and the EPE Research Center entitled Preparing for Change. The report is the first in a series of three that will look at whether states have developed Common Core implementation plans that address three areas of CCSS implementation:
- Developing a plan for teacher professional development,
- planning to align/revamp state-created curricular and instructional materials, and
- making changes to teacher evaluation systems.
Many CCSS supporters cheered at the report’s main finding, which indicated that all but one state—Wyoming—“reported having developed some type of formal implementation plan for transitioning to the new, common standards.” There is cause for excitement—this is a clear indication that states are taking CCSS implementation seriously and that they are working to reorient their education systems to the new standards.
That said, while developing implementation plans is an important first step, it’s far more critical to ensure that those plans are worth following—that they properly identify the gaps in teacher knowledge and skill so that they can target state-led PD efforts, for example, and that they prioritize the essential components of the CCSS in state-created curricular and instructional materials. This report doesn’t get into these questions of quality—though Education First and EPE will release two follow-up reports in the coming months that address the quality of the state plans. The first will include a rubric against which state plans will be judged, and the second will be a report of state progress against the benchmarks outlined in
Over the past decade, education reform advocates on both the state and national level have demonstrated an almost single-minded focus on various “structural reforms”: setting standards, adopting assessments, establishing clear accountability for results, providing school leaders greater autonomy and flexibility, injecting greater competition and choice into school funding systems, etc. But, by focusing on structural reforms over getting classroom-level curriculum and instruction right, are reformers missing the boat?
Beverly Jobrack thinks so. In fact, she’s written a book— The Tyranny of theTextbook: An Insider Exposes How Educational Materials Undermine Reform—that argues, essentially, that it’s curriculum, not structural reform, that has the greatest potential to drive student achievement.
Standards alone will do little to drive student achievement if they’re not meaningfully implemented.
Jobrack has a point—as we’ve long said here at Fordham, standards alone will do little to drive student achievement if they’re not meaningfully implemented (via, among other things, a thoughtfully designed curriculum). In fact, few state and national education reformers would disagree with Jobrack about the importance of curriculum and instruction in driving student achievement. So why do so few actually take up the fight for curriculum and instructional changes?
One big challenge is the belief of many reformers—including Jobrack herself—that curricular and instructional policy should not be set centrally. After all, if you have to drive change one school at a time, you lose all the leverage provided by state and federal policy. And this is where Jobrack’s argument and policy recommendations start to break down. While Jobrack does highlight the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of statewide textbook adoption policy, she doesn’t offer much in the way of
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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