Curriculum & Instruction

Education Gadfly Weekly

Opinion + Analysis: 
Opinion
Dear Deborah, I’m glad you brought up the topic of democracy. In future posts, I plan to explore the habits and attributes we hope to inculcate in our youthful, budding citizens, including a commitment to self-sufficiency. But today let’s continue the conversation about democratic governance of our...
Opinion
Thanks to the tireless work of school-choice advocates and wise policymakers, millions of U.S. children and their parents now have education options that were not available to them a few short years ago. But the choice picture is sorely incomplete. Consider: Nine states do not allow charter schools...
Briefly Noted
Journalist and author Amanda Ripley has received well-deserved attention for her book The Smartest Kids in the World —but we’re not sold on her case against high school sports , which headlines this month’s Atlantic . Check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show for an informed debate. On Monday,...
Reviews: 
Paper
Does school accountability boost students’ long-term prospects? That’s the question this new study by David Deming, Sarah Cohodes, Jennifer Jennings, and Christopher Jencks seeks to answer by examining the impact of accountability pressure in the Texas public high schools in the 1990s. (Jennings,...
Paper
We all know the story: the team that's always way back in the standings employs a brilliant new strategy to try to close the gap between itself and the wealthy powerhouses. The strategy works, but only briefly, as the well-off teams quickly steal the winning strategies to maintain their advantage...
Paper
Politics aside, the fate of the Common Core begins and ends with implementation. Particularly during this initial transition, it is critical that educators have sufficient support and guidance to successfully teach these standards. Unfortunately, much existing information focuses on content rather...
Gadfly Studios: 
Podcast
In this week’s podcast, Dara and Brickman tackle Amanda Ripley’s condemnation of the athlete-centric culture in America’s high schools. They also take on GOP governors’ wobbliness on Common Core and the morally bankrupt Philadelphia teacher union. Amber holds us all accountable. Amber's Research...

Dear Deborah,

I’m glad you brought up the topic of democracy. In future posts, I plan to explore the habits and attributes we hope to inculcate in our youthful, budding citizens, including a commitment to self-sufficiency. But today let’s continue the conversation about democratic governance of our public schools.

You and I have more in common than we might want to concede, in that we share a somewhat cynical view of politics. Namely, we see most political actors and institutions as acting out of self-interest. You, and many other liberals, are obsessed with “the rich,” worrying that they will buy elections and promote their own narrow interests (while becoming even richer in the process). I, and many other ed-reformers, am obsessed with the teachers’ unions and other “adult interest groups,” worrying that they will buy elections, run their own candidates, and promote...

Thanks to the tireless work of school-choice advocates and wise policymakers, millions of U.S. children and their parents now have education options that were not available to them a few short years ago. But the choice picture is sorely incomplete. Consider:

  • Nine states do not allow charter schools.
  • Only ten states and the District of Columbia have school-voucher programs, and five of these confine their vouchers to children with disabilities.
  • Just eleven states offer scholarship tax credits for attendance at private schools.
  • ...

Journalist and author Amanda Ripley has received well-deserved attention for her book The Smartest Kids in the World—but we’re not sold on her case against high school sports, which headlines this month’s Atlantic. Check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show for an informed debate.

On Monday, Florida governor Rick Scott issued an executive order...

Does school accountability boost students’ long-term prospects? That’s the question this new study by David Deming, Sarah Cohodes, Jennifer Jennings, and Christopher Jencks seeks to answer by examining the impact of accountability pressure in the Texas public high schools in the 1990s. (Jennings, you might recall, once assumed the moniker “Eduwonkette.”) Most agree that the series of tough policies that the Lone Star State instituted during this era, whereby school performance on state tests was made public and tied to various awards and sanctions, was the foundation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The system had several components: 1) Districts received accountability ratings based on their lowest rated schools, which was intended to pressure them to improve those schools; 2) schools were...

We all know the story: the team that's always way back in the standings employs a brilliant new strategy to try to close the gap between itself and the wealthy powerhouses. The strategy works, but only briefly, as the well-off teams quickly steal the winning strategies to maintain their advantage. No, this isn’t the plot of Moneyball; rather, it’s the plot of Rick Hess and Max Eden’s case study of Douglas County, Colorado. This sprawling, affluent suburb south of Denver has employed reforms typically found in low-income and urban settings. Specifically, the all-reformer, all-conservative school board created a voucher program, adopted a new curriculum, and developed new assessments and teacher-quality initiatives like merit pay. The voucher program, which would have served nearly 500 students if not for a...

Politics aside, the fate of the Common Core begins and ends with implementation. Particularly during this initial transition, it is critical that educators have sufficient support and guidance to successfully teach these standards. Unfortunately, much existing information focuses on content rather than instructional strategy, leaving educators baffled as to how to navigate the shift to Common Core in their own classrooms. Enter the Achievement Network (ANet), a nonprofit serving low-income schools. (Check out Education Next for great background.) Released as part of a collection of Common Core resources published by the Aspen Institute, this paper was informed by substantial on-the-ground work with 460 partner schools in seven states and the District of Columbia. It’s structured around three...

Journalist and author Amanda Ripley has received well-deserved attention for her book The Smartest Kids in the World—but we’re not sold on her case against high school sports, which headlines this month’s Atlantic. Check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show for an informed debate.

On Monday, Florida governor Rick Scott issued an executive order withdrawing the Sunshine State from PARCC. Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker—governors of Louisiana and Wisconsin, respectively—have also expressed “reservations” about the Common Core of late. As Margaret Thatcher would say, “This is no time to go wobbly!” On the brighter side, earlier today, the Michigan House of Representatives voted 85–21 to adopt a resolution authorizing funding for Common Core implementation.

A Wall Street Journal editorial blasted Philadelphia’s teacher union for dragging its feet on Governor Corbett’s proposal to bail out the failing district, which—if accepted—would be conditional on the elimination of teacher seniority rights and basing future pay increases on achievement-based teacher evaluations. (For more on the roots of Philadelphia schools’ sticky financial situation, see Paying the Pension Price in Philadelphia.) In this week’s podcast, Dara urges Philly’s teacher union, and unions everywhere, to take a more active role in pushing teacher quality....

Categories: 

Among the many arguments raging—and more than a little mud-slinging—around the Common Core State Standards, perhaps the most arcane involves the blurry border between academic standards and classroom curricula.

Toni Morrison

Begin with the fact that neither term has a clear definition. Most people hazily understand that standards involve the destination that students ought to reach—i.e., the skills and knowledge (and sometimes habits, attitudes, and practices) that they should have acquired by some point in their educational journey. Often it’s the end of a grade (“by the end of fifth grade, students will know how to multiply and divide whole numbers”), sometimes the completion of a grade band (“by the end of middle school…” or “during ninth and tenth grade”).

Curriculum, on the other hand, is what Ms. Robertson teaches on Tuesday, in week 19, or during the “fourth unit,” and it generally consists of scopes and sequences, actual lessons, textbooks, reading assignments, and such.

Over a stated period of time, curriculum combined with pedagogy, properly applied by teachers and ingested by students, is supposed to result in the attainment of standards.

But it’s blurry. Standards range from vague to specific and from few to numerous. Curriculum ranges all over the place, from a forty-seven-minute lesson to a yearlong, even multi-year scope and sequence.

In general, in the U.S. in 2013, states prescribe standards, at least in core school...

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Education Gadfly Weekly

Opinion + Analysis: 
Opinion
Don’t call me and my friends Chicken Littles or “boys (and girls) who cried wolf.” The sky was beginning to fall down—and the wolf was approaching the lamb—three decades ago when we joined the National Commission on Excellence in Education in warning that the country’s future and the career (and...
Opinion
For the past year, much of the ed-reform world has been concerned about the (seemingly) growing opposition from the right to the Common Core standards. But the closer you look at these critiques of Common Core, the weaker their case appears. Can something as solid as CCSS really be stopped by such...
Reviews: 
Report
This valuable paper from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings sounds an important alarm: “The danger is that grade inflation, the often discussed phenomenon of students receiving higher and higher grades for mediocre academic achievement, has been joined by course inflation. Completing...
Report
Among the provisions of Indiana’s so-called Common Core “pause” legislation was a requirement that the state’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provide an estimate of the cost of implementing these standards and their assessments. The results are in, along with OMB’s conclusion: “Local schools...
Report
This study of Teach For America (TFA) and Teaching Fellows secondary math teachers explores how their students compare to peers taking the same course, in the same school, from teachers who entered the profession through traditional certification programs (or other programs not as rigorous as TFA...
Gadfly Studios: 
Podcast
Mike tries to goad an unflappable Michael Brickman into a fight on New York’s mayoral election, whether school choice is the only path to reform, and whether Arne Duncan is bullying California. Dara does the math on math teachers from TFA and Teaching Fellows. Amber's Research Minute The...

Don’t call me and my friends Chicken Littles or “boys (and girls) who cried wolf.” The sky was beginning to fall down—and the wolf was approaching the lamb—three decades ago when we joined the National Commission on Excellence in Education in warning that the country’s future and the career (and income and social-mobility) prospects of millions of its citizens were in jeopardy due to the weak condition of our education system.

A quarter-century or so later, we face a slack economy, widening income gaps, and diminishing prospects for those who lack a solid education—as well as all manner of other problems that befall...

For the past year, much of the ed-reform world has been concerned about the (seemingly) growing opposition from the right to the Common Core standards. But the closer you look at these critiques of Common Core, the weaker their case appears. Can something as solid as CCSS really be stopped by such an intellectually flimsy attack?

The Pioneer Institute is a leader in the conservative anti–Common Core brigade, launching reports, op-eds, and testimony in a seemingly unending effort to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the standards. They are nothing if not fanatical in their opposition to the Common Core; even when they acknowledge the facts aren’t on their side, they simply refuse to change their story.

Take, for instance, Pioneer’s recently released white paper, written by former Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott and entitled, “...

This valuable paper from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings sounds an important alarm: “The danger is that grade inflation, the often discussed phenomenon of students receiving higher and higher grades for mediocre academic achievement, has been joined by course inflation. Completing advanced math courses does not mean what it once meant because course titles no longer signify the mathematics that students have studied and learned.”

In brief, algebra is indeed an important gatekeeper subject for students to master if they are going to go anywhere at all in math. That’s why there’s been so much pressure from so many directions to get more kids to take Algebra I as early as possible, preferably in eighth grade, and then to make sure they take Algebra II during high school. There is no doubt that enrollments in—and completions of—courses with those labels have...

Among the provisions of Indiana’s so-called Common Core “pause” legislation was a requirement that the state’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provide an estimate of the cost of implementing these standards and their assessments. The results are in, along with OMB’s conclusion: “Local schools had already or were capable of transitioning to new standards with existing levels of funding.” The report examined a number of scenarios for assessment implementation, comparing annual costs for adoption of PARCC tests ($33.2M); Smarter Balanced tests ($31.4M); a hypothetical state-developed, CCSS-aligned assessment ($34.8M plus $23.5M in one-time development costs); and a hypothetical state-developed assessment not aligned to the CCSS ($34.7M plus $19.1M in one-time development costs). Yes, you added correctly: Sticking with the Common Core and its assessments is the cheapest option....

This study of Teach For America (TFA) and Teaching Fellows secondary math teachers explores how their students compare to peers taking the same course, in the same school, from teachers who entered the profession through traditional certification programs (or other programs not as rigorous as TFA or Teaching Fellows). Conducted by Mathematica and the federal Institute of Education Sciences, the report is the first look at this question using random assignment, the gold standard for empirical research: Students in each participating school, 9,000 overall taught by 300 secondary math teachers, were randomly assigned to their instructors. The upshot? First, students who had TFA teachers performed better on end-of-year assessments than students in the comparison classrooms, scoring an average of 0.07 standard deviations higher, which is equivalent to 2.6 additional months of...

This study of Teach For America (TFA) and Teaching Fellows secondary math teachers explores how their students compare to peers taking the same course, in the same school, from teachers who entered the profession through traditional certification programs (or other programs not as rigorous as TFA or Teaching Fellows). Conducted by Mathematica and the federal Institute of Education Sciences, the report is the first look at this question using random assignment, the gold standard for empirical research: Students in each participating school, 9,000 overall taught by 300 secondary math teachers, were randomly assigned to their instructors. The upshot? First, students who had TFA teachers performed better on end-of-year assessments than students in the comparison classrooms, scoring an average of 0.07 standard deviations higher, which is equivalent to 2.6 additional months of school or moving from the 27th to 36th percentile. Second, students who had Teaching Fellows teachers did not do any better or worse than students in comparison classrooms. However, students of novice Teaching Fellows did better than those instructed by novice comparison teachers. To be sure, these findings are not necessarily reflective of the programs alone. They also reflect differences in the people who choose to enter them. Finally, a bit on the characteristics of these teachers: Both TFA and Teaching Fellows have less experience than their peers, are less likely to be minorities, more likely to have graduated from more selective colleges, less likely to be math majors but more likely to score higher on tests of math...

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This valuable paper from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings sounds an important alarm: “The danger is that grade inflation, the often discussed phenomenon of students receiving higher and higher grades for mediocre academic achievement, has been joined by course inflation. Completing advanced math courses does not mean what it once meant because course titles no longer signify the mathematics that students have studied and learned.”

In brief, algebra is indeed an important gatekeeper subject for students to master if they are going to go anywhere at all in math. That’s why there’s been so much pressure from so many directions to get more kids to take Algebra I as early as possible, preferably in eighth grade, and then to make sure they take Algebra II during high school. There is no doubt that enrollments in—and completions of—courses with those labels have risen dramatically. Yet there is mounting evidence—which this paper does an excellent job of aggregating, analyzing and explaining—that the labels no longer signify what they once did and that, while youngsters who have passed such courses may have “credentials,” they have not, in fact, learned much math and are not, in fact, prepared for what follows.

If course completion and teacher grades don’t prove mastery of the subject matter—the knowledge and skills—that the “real world” (mainly employers and college professors) believe is associated with passing such courses, then external monitoring and assessing is required. But Loveless goes to some pains to demonstrate the weakness of most...

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Arne Duncan was right to call attention to 9/11 as an important opportunity for teaching children about the heinous events of that day twelve years ago, about honoring those who perished, and about the value of "coming together" as Americans.

But he missed a terrific opportunity to remind American educators that kids need context and background knowledge if they're to make sense of 9/11—or, frankly, of much else, right down to and including what's going on in Syria today. That calls for a solid, content-centric K–12 curriculum, including lots and lots of history, geography, and civics, the great neglected subjects of the typical "social studies" curriculum. E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge sequence would be a swell place to start.

For the benefit of teachers (and high school/college students) who want to understand 9/11 in context, over the past dozen years we at Fordham have also produced three collections of terrific essays by thoughtful, eminent Americans on how to make sense of those events and what children need to know about them. You (and Secretary Duncan) can find this guidance here, here, and here.

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Prepared for Delivery on August 28, 2013

Chairman Kelly, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank in Washington, DC that also does on the ground work in your neighboring state of Ohio. (No football comments, please!)  At Fordham, we promote high-priority education reforms with a particular focus on standards-based reforms and school choice. I’ve worked in this field myself for many years, including more than a few fruitful go-rounds with you, Mr. Chairman, when you served on Governor John Engler’s staff back in the nineties.

I am glad that you have been holding these hearings and seriously considering whether Michigan should stick with the Common Core academic standards. I know you’ve heard from some folks who hope that you won’t. I hope that you will. Before getting into my eight top reasons, let me lay a few facts on the table regarding the Common Core:

These standards are clear, rigorous, and nationally and internationally benchmarked. They emphasize reading rigorous, high-quality literature in English class, plus nonfiction in history, science, and other courses. They also emphasize the fundamentals of mathematics. Properly taught and successfully learned, they will indeed produce high-school graduates who are ready for college-level courses and modern jobs.

The Common Core effort is and has always been a state-led effort to improve the quality and rigor of K–12 academic standards, an effort in which Michigan leaders have participated. And by adopting and implementing the Common Core, states...

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