In the 1990s, much of the fireworks in the education policy debate centered around a “reading war” where supporters of whole language squared off against the forces of phonics. Now, in the Common Core era, I predict a similar firestorm is on the horizon. Only this time, the debate will not be about how to teach students to read in the first place, but rather how to help them build knowledge and improve comprehension over time. More specifically: It’s about how to choose the books you are asking students to read. And the outcome of this debate could go a long way towards deciding the long-term impact of CCSS ELA standards.
"What to read?" will become the next debate in education policy.
Photo by Duncan Harris
There are two camps in debate over how to select and assign texts. The first is what I’ll call the “Just Right” or “Goldilocks” books approach. The second I will call the “Grade Appropriate” approach.
The prevailing view among many educators in the United States today is that the best way to improve student reading comprehension is to assign lots books that are “just right” for individual students. The theory is that every student has three reading levels: an independent reading level (what the student can read without
As the Texas Board of Education weighs revisions to the state's math standards, it must also consider strong criticism from the business community and the media over the proposed changes. Fordham's new review of the draft math standards, by W. Stephen Wilson, adds another reason for the board to think twice before approving the changes. As Wilson writes,
The new standards are an improvement. Some content that was previously missing from the [existing] standards has been included, the standards remain clear and well organized, and the high school content remains strong.
Unfortunately, Texas has overcorrected its minimalist problem by adding too many standards—many of which descend inappropriately into pedagogy—and including a lot of unnecessary repetition. Worse, the new draft standards overemphasize process, and arithmetic is not given suitable priority.
By going it alone, Texas had hoped to do better than the Common Core. Unfortunately, it missed the mark. Check out to full report to learn more.
Guest bloggers Kate Walsh and Arthur McKee are the president and managing director of teacher preparation studies, respectively, at the National Council on Teacher Quality. This post was originally published on NCTQ's Pretty Darn Quick blog.
You might not expect us to champion this great new report from Brookings, but we are. Russ Whitehurst and his new colleague, former Harvard professor Matt Chingos, not only decry the nation's excessive focus on teacher quality—at the expense of curriculum—but also provide some neat evidence of the cost of that imbalance to student performance.
Source: "Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core," by Matthew M. Chingos and Grover J. Whitehurst, (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2012).
One might quibble over the source of data for this little chart, given that the big impact from a better curriculum is derived from just a single study (though a very good one), but we think their point is still valid. Curriculum can and does move student performance. To quote the authors: "To focus education reform policy on selecting and retaining effective teacher while ignoring the role of instructional materials is to pay too much attention to the aspects of teacher quality that are set in stone and too little attention to ways that the
Is it intellectually inconsistent to promote common standards while advocating for school choice?
Bruce Baker—Rutgers professor by day, anti-reform gadfly by night—thinks so, and took Fordham to task for either inconsistency between its goals or harboring a “weird, warped agenda.” He explains:
Collectively what we have here is a massive effort on the one hand, to require traditional public school districts to adopt a common curriculum and ultimately to adopt common assessments for evaluating student success on that curriculum and then force those districts to evaluate, retain and/or dismiss their teachers based on student assessment data, while on the other hand, expanding publicly financed subsidies for more children to attend schools that would not be required to do these things (in many cases, for example, relieving charter schools from teacher evaluation requirements).
This is a helpful way to frame it because I think Baker has gotten it precisely wrong.
Adopting common standards does not mean forcing a common curriculum on all schools.
For starters, adopting common standards does not mean forcing a common curriculum on all schools. And the difference between standards and curriculum is more than mere semantics. Standards define a baseline set of knowledge and skills that all students should learn. How students should learn that content—the curriculum—is up to the district/school/teacher to decide. And suggesting that holding all schools to the same standards somehow limits “any potential for real innovation,” as Bruce does, is misguided. Innovation stems not from different schools defining different ends, but instead
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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