Curriculum & Instruction

Over at The Corner, Victor Davis Hanson wonders why Barack Obama is so worried about teaching students about oppression. He quotes a recent "news source":

He said schools should do a better job of teaching all students African-American history "because that's part of American history," as well as women's struggle for equality, the history of unions, the role of Hispanics in U.S. and other matters that he suggested aren't given enough attention.

"I want us to have a broad-based history" taught in schools, he said, even including more on "the Holocaust as well as other issues of oppression" around the world.

Perhaps Senator Obama missed the news stories about a recent poll of high school students, asking them to name the "most famous" Americans in history, presidents excluded. Here's the list of the top ten, with the percentage who voted for each:

  1. Martin Luther King Jr.: 67%
  2. Rosa Parks: 60%
  3. Harriet Tubman: 44%
  4. Susan B. Anthony: 34%
  5. Benjamin Franklin: 29%
  6. Amelia Earhart: 25%
  7. Oprah Winfrey: 22%
  8. Marilyn Monroe: 19%
  9. Thomas Edison: 18%
  10. Albert Einstein: 16%

Looks like schools are already doing a decent job teaching some of these "underrepresented" groups, after all....

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Too Good to Last: The True Story of Reading First, by Sol Stern, is an in-depth and alarming study of Reading First's betrayal.

President Bush vowed he would "leave no child behind." The centerpiece of his education agenda was Reading First, a new federal program aimed at helping poor children acquire basic reading skills. Under the leadership of White House domestic policy chief Margaret Spellings (then LaMontagne) and with support from Congress, Reading First was to provide funding to primary-reading programs that were based on scientific research. Christopher Doherty became Reading First's new director. His job was to ensure that Reading First schools used only programs that work and shunned those that don't.

Backlash and brouhaha followed. Aggrieved whole-language program proprietors complained bitterly that their wares couldn't be purchased with Reading First funds. They found a receptive ear in the Education Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), a bastion of green eyeshade and Dragnet types who weren't the least bit interested in children learning to read. The OIG launched a witch hunt against Doherty, falsely claiming that he was improperly favoring particular publishers. Despite the lack of evidence and the fact that Doherty was acting with the full knowledge and support of Margaret Spellings, this conscientious and hard-working public servant was forced to resign. Then the administration turned its back on Reading First, allowing the program to be gutted and starved of funding.

This report cites the real scandals of Reading First:

  • An influential "progressive" lawmaker, Rep. David Obey,
  • ...
Jeff Kuhner

Are we rearing a nation of ignorant students? This is the question posed in the latest report, Still at Risk, by Fordham's sister organization, Common Core. Its answer: yes, and we better start doing something about it. Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, one in four said Columbus sailed to the Americas some time after 1750, not in 1492, and-most shocking of all-nearly one in four did not know who Adolf Hitler was. It is an education tragedy that a quarter of U.S. teens have no clue about the most dangerous mass murderer of the 20th century, whose call for a new Aryan racial order resulted in 6 million Jews being thrown into gas ovens and nearly 50 million dead due to his plunging Europe and America into a destructive world war.

The survey results, released at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, demonstrate what Common Core says is the "stunning ignorance" of many teenagers when it comes to history and literature. The organization rightly blames President Bush's education law, No Child Left Behind, for impoverishing public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics. This means that other vital subjects, such as history and literature (as well as art, music, geography and civics)...

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Over the ten years of Fordham's modern existence, we have panned vigorously for gold--curricular gold. This quest has frequently left us disappointed, as our reviews of state standards have consistently shown that expectations for American primary and secondary students are typically weak and watered down. This has been especially the case with high schools. Recently, however, there has been a proliferation in high school students taking courses offering rigorous pre-college curricula. In particular, enrollment in the Advanced Placement (AP) and the International Baccalaureate (IB) programs have skyrocketed.Fordham's latest report, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate: Do They Deserve Gold Star Status?, by Sheila Byrd, examines whether the reputation the programs have for academic excellence is truly deserved. Our expert reviewers looked at the four AP and IB courses most similar to the core content areas in American high schools--English, history, math, and science--and found that, in general, the courses do warrant praise. In a few cases, they deserve gold stars. 

See also: In A Nutshell brief of the report

The Proficiency Illusion" reveals that the tests that states use to measure academic progress under the No Child Left Behind Act are creating a false impression of success, especially in reading and especially in the early grades.

The report, a collaboration of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association, contains several major findings:

  • States are aiming particularly low when it comes to their expectations for younger children, setting
    elementary students up to fail as they progress through their academic careers.
  • The central flaw in NCLB is that it allows each state to set its own definition of what constitutes "proficiency."
  • By mandating that all students reach "proficiency" by 2014, it tempts states to define proficiency downward.
  • Although there has not been a "race to the bottom," with the majority of states dramatically lowering standards under pressure from NCLB, the report did find a "walk to the middle," as some states with high standards saw their expectations drop toward the middle of the pack.
  • In most states, math tests are consistently more difficult to pass than reading tests.
  • Eighth-grade tests are sharply harder to pass in most states than those in earlier grades (even after taking into account obvious differences in subject-matter complexity and children's academic development).

As a result, students may be performing worse in reading, and worse in elementary school, than is readily apparent by looking at passing rates on state tests.

Individual State Reports

The United States is not going to compete with the rest of the world in terms of cheap labor or cheap raw materials. If we are going to compete productively with the rest of the world, it's going to be in terms of creativity and innovation. America has always had a capacity for hard work and stamina, but those qualities of creativity and ingenuity are not being nurtured and fostered by our current educational system.

- Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts

History offers many explanations for why people should acquire a broad, liberal-arts education. Prominent thinkers and leaders over the centuries have expounded on the virtues of such learning. Aristotle said liberal education is necessary if one is to act "nobly." Franklin said it was needed to cultivate "the best capacities" in humans. And Einstein found in liberal learning the locus for imagination.

In the era of No Child Left Behind, however, liberal learning is on the defensive. Federal law mandates academic gains only in reading and math, and its sanctions and interventions are triggered only by failure to make gains in those two areas. States, school districts and individual educators have understandably responded by ramping up the time spent teaching those two sets of core skills and prepping students to take tests in them, to the detriment of "broad" and "liberal" and "arts."

Recent months have brought yet another challenge to liberal learning, as well-meaning business leaders and policy makers, rightly concerned about American...

If you thought whole-language reading instruction had been relegated to the scrap heap of history, think again. Many such programs (proven to be ineffective) are still around, but they're hiding behind phrases like "balanced literacy" in order to win contracts from school districts and avoid public scrutiny. Louisa Moats calls them out in Fordham's new report, Whole-Language High Jinks.

Moats, a psychologist and widely respected authority on early reading, authored a previous Fordham report in October 2000 called Whole Language Lives On. In it, she revealed that what was going on in many classrooms in the name of "balance" or "consensus" was harming students.

Seven years later, such programs still exist-and still try to pull the wool over educators' eyes. Worse, major school systems, including Denver, Salt Lake City, and New York City, continue to adopt them, misled by materials that "talk the talk," touting the five elements of effective reading instruction identified by the National Reading Panel, but which are actually just whole-language programs in disguise.

Two-thirds of schoolchildren in America attend class in states with mediocre (or worse) expectations for what their students should learn. That's just one of the findings of Fordham's The State of State Standards 2006, which evaluates state academic standards. The average state grade is a "C-minus"--the same as six years earlier, even though most states revised their standards since 2000.

Our world is quickly shrinking and becoming evermore interconnected. But is America's K-12 education system preparing students for life in a global village? Unfortunately, it is not. Renowned historian Walter Russell Mead, author of Fordham's The State of State World History Standards 2006, found that thirty-three states deserved D or F grades for their world history standards. States do the worst when it comes to teaching Latin American history. At a time of intense national debate about immigration and assimilation, many states do not seem aware that there are countries and cultures south of the Rio Grande.
 

Science education in America is under attack, with "discovery learning" on one flank and the Discovery Institute on the other. That's the core finding of our just-released comprehensive review of state science standards, the first since 2000. Written by pre-eminent biologist Paul R. Gross, The State of State Science Standards finds that even though the majority of states have reworked, or crafted from scratch, their science standards over the past five years, we're no better off now than before. That's the bad news. The good news is that many of the standards are easily fixed. More involvement by bench scientists, and better editing, could greatly improve what's out there. Plus, there are a number of excellent models to follow (California, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, for example). The public's anxiety about the future of our nation's scientific prowess is palpable—and reasonable. How serious are we in addressing their concerns? To find out, read the report.

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