Curriculum & Instruction

GadflyIn the latest dust-up over the Common Core, the inclusion of some (arguably) violent, war-themed picture books in New York City’s third-grade English curriculum has some whining that the recommended texts were not vetted properly—and, predictably, claiming that implementation is moving too fast. For straight talk, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

A national database called inBloom that warehouses millions of students’ personal information for school districts has a slightly unfortunate side business: selling realistic-but-fake student data to application developers. According to inBloom, the two sides of its operation are strictly separate—but that hasn’t stopped parent listservs from exploding with the rage of a thousand mothers.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal found that more than 10 percent of New York City’s principals did not issue a single teacher an “unsatisfactory” grade (the city uses a pass/fail system for reviewing job performance). While this may seem like bad news, flip that number around and notice that nearly 90 percent did. For comparison, consider that, according to Education Week, 98 percent of Michigan’s teachers and 97 percent of Florida’s were rated effective or better—and those are states that recently revamped their evaluation systems. New York City is a cage-busting leader in ferreting out bad teachers. Note, too, that if and when personnel decisions are truly devolved to school principals,...


From left: Marty Bowe, Bill Hayes, Carol Lockhart, Ann Sheldon, Checker Finn and Jennifer Smith Richards

Why are so many gifted students in Ohio not receiving education services catered to their needs?  How can we support them to reach their full potential?  These were the questions asked at today’s Educating Our Brightest event, hosted by the Fordham Institute and the Ohio Association for Gifted Children.

Fordham's Checker Finn kicked off the event with a recap of the Institute’s studies of the impact of No Child Left Behind on gifted students (hint: it’s not good).  He then presented findings from his recent book, Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools (of which Ohio has four). He was quick to point out that these students don’t serve a different population of students than their peers, nor do their teachers necessarily have different or higher credentials.

After Checker’s presentation, a panel, moderated by the Columbus Dispatch’s Jennifer Smith Richards, talked about the state of gifted education in Ohio and how to improve it.  Here’s a recap of their comments:

Ann Sheldon, Executive Director, Ohio Association for Gifted Children:  Ann pointed out there has been a tremendous decline in gifted services in Ohio over the past decade.  Currently just 18 percent of gifted students received specialized gifted services in our state. Ohio needs more gifted-specific schools as part of the solution.

Carol Lockhart, Principal,...

  • The U.S. Department of Education just announced more SIG money going out the door. At a TBFI event late last year, the Department and I tussled about the results to date, which showed that more than a third of participating schools (already among the lowest performing in the nation) had gotten worse despite this multi-BILLION dollar program. I sadly predicted these grim results several years ago—not because I’m clairvoyant but because stacks of research over decades showed that turnarounds aren’t a reliable or scalable strategy for generating more high-quality seats. But the Department remains bullish; the release says, “Early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools.”

    Many of us are looking forward to thoroughly analyzing the program’s effects, but we’ve been in a holding pattern. The Department still hasn’t released school-level results from Year 1 yet (even though those tests were given two years ago), and we’ve not yet received any results from Year 2 (even though those tests were given a year ago). Forgive the quick snark, but maybe we just have to wait until close of business on the Friday before Thanksgiving week again to get results.

  • If you follow the common-assessments consortia, make sure to read this post by Catherine Gewertz about PARCC’s and SB’s plans to maintain financial sustainability when federal dollars run out. This is just one of the many, many, many reasons to fret about Common Core–aligned tests. Need more?
  • ...
Wondering what Congress should be doing about pre-K, why Boston has switched to a new school-assignment system, or why an Alabama judge doesn’t seem to care about the separation of powers? Mike and Daniela are, too! Amber talks tenure reform—and Mike has a great new show to pitch Donald Trump.

In both our role as researchers and as a charter school authorizer we have come to appreciate over-and-over again the critical importance of school leaders in making schools great. Yet, there is no harder job than running a successful school building for high-poverty students; nor a more important job. There are school leaders across the state and the nation who do it day-in and day-out, and too few get recognized for their great work. We are fortunate that some of these leaders work in schools that Fordham sponsors and it is our privilege to tell a little bit of their stories and the impact they are having on students in Ohio.

This Q&A with Chad Webb, the head of school for Village Preparatory School-Woodland Hill campus, is the fifth of our seven-part series on school leadership. (Please see our Q&A with Dr. Glenda Brown, Andy Boy, Dr. Judy Hennessey, and Hannah Powell Tuney.) Village Prep is part of the Breakthrough network of charter schools. Breakthrough operates the highest-performing charters in Cleveland—and, according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), are some of the finest charter schools in the nation.

*  *  *  *

Chad Webb doesn’t think kindergarteners are too young to start thinking about college. At his Village Preparatory School-Woodland Hills Campus in Cleveland, each of the school’s six classrooms is named after a college, most after the teacher’s alma mater.

On Fridays, the school’s students in grades...


In New Jersey, the state department of education released draft regulations for a new teacher evaluation system. The slide deck they used to describe the plan is superb. Among other things, the package includes rules governing the use of student performance data, including “student growth percentiles” (SGP). I was with the department when this all was just a set of ideas nearly three years ago. Since then, the state has moved forward slowly but steadily—see the timeline on slide 4—rolling out a smart, fair plan. I’m proud of my old team.

PARCC, one of two testing consortia associated with Common Core, released a bevy of materials last week (Education Week writes it up here). The group’s website now has a wide array of resources available, including item and task prototypes, explanations of design features and policies for students with disabilities, and an over-arching guidance document. The consortia are reaching a pivotal moment: states need to budget and make decisions about sunsetting current tests. This release was probably timed (wisely) to give member states confidence that PARCC is on schedule. As I’ve written previously, should states have any doubts about the quality, cost, or punctuality of these assessments, we may see a wave of states pulling out, like Alabama did not long ago.

Philadelphia’s district is closing 23 schools. Why? “More than a quarter of the district’s 195,000 seats are empty.” I hope...


There is tension inherent in being a conservative education reformer.

On the one hand, I’m a strident advocate for grand change. For example, my book is about ridding ourselves of traditional urban school districts. I strongly support charters and vouchers. I believe in overhauling teacher evaluation systems and much of the policy architecture they undergird (preparation, credentialing, compensation, tenure, etc.). I’ve written recently about my growing belief that SEAs are outdated.

There is often invisible but incalculable value in institutions and practices that have survived the test of time.

I firmly believe that these reforms are in the best interest of kids, especially disadvantaged boys and girls.  But I suspect these views get encouragement from my right-of-center worldview: that government programs are generally clumsy and expensive and often have regrettable and far-reaching unintended consequences; that it’s wise to hold entities accountable for achieving results by using measurable performance indicators that inform consequences; and that markets are generally efficient, nimble, and responsive to consumer needs and create space for the kinds of entrepreneurial activity that generate continuous improvement.

But the other half of my conservatism means I generally believe in preserving things that have been around for a while. As I wrote in this piece about prudent school-closure policies, there is often invisible but incalculable value in institutions and practices that have survived the test of time.

Even if they seem weathered on the outside, below their surfaces can dwell vast, unseen virtues. And like the roots...

Mike and Dara talk about Louisiana’s ed-reform disappointment, anticipate the effect of big money in L.A. (or not), and plan for the Snowquester that wasn’t. Amber puts her teacher hat back on with a study on student ability grouping.

A shoddily constructed stool, no matter the quality of wood used or the care given to whittling its parts, will not stand. And so it is with Common Core implementation: No matter the strength of the standards (and their linked assessments and accountability systems), they will collapse if not implemented with fidelity at the state, district, school, and classroom levels. Unfortunately, these two survey reports from EPE’s research shop (one done in collaboration with Education First) elicit little confidence that this is happening. The first, a survey of 600 teachers, found that while most are aware of the content within the CCSS ELA standards (92 percent) and math standards (78 percent), only 33 percent believe their schools are primed to implement them in both subjects—and an even smaller percentage believe that their districts and states are prepared. The second survey asked state departments of education how far they’ve come in creating plans for CCSS implementation in the following three categories: teacher professional development, assessment alignment, and curricular-materials alignment. And on these fronts, we learn that only twenty-one states have, as of yet, constructed fully developed plans for all three (note that the report evaluates neither the strength of these plans nor the states’ adherence to their timetables). The take-home message: Common Core supporters need to keep hammering away at these implementation issues.

EPE Research Center, Findings from a National Survey of Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core (Bethesda, MD: EPE Research Center, 2013).
William Porter, et...


This post is adapted from comments delivered at the Manhattan Institute’s Curriculum Counts! event.

If Common Core is really going to "change everything," we must focus on what these standards mean for teaching and learning.
Photo by horizontal.integration

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of school reform: systemic reform and classroom-level reform.

Systemic reforms are those aimed at reimagining school systems, and they include things like charter schools, vouchers, portfolio districts, and even accountability and some systemic teacher-evaluation policies. Classroom-level reforms, by contrast, are those aimed at actually changing what happens in the classroom. They focus, for example, on changing what is taught, how it is taught, or even how student mastery of essential content and skills is measured.

Over the past decade, education reformers have focused the lion’s share of our attention on systemic reform—to the point where conversations about Common Core implementation are often even dominated by how the standards will impact things like state accountability, teacher evaluation, certification, and on.

Of course, those are all important. But if Common Core is really going to “change everything,” we need first and foremost to focus on what these new standards mean for teaching and learning.

Yet, in many ways, the classroom is a black box to systemic reformers. While many leaders have made it their business...