Curriculum & Instruction

This publication reports the results of the first two (of five) studies of a multifaceted research investigation of the state of high-achieving students in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.

Part 1: An Analysis of NAEP Data, authored by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, examines achievement trends for high-achieving students (defined, like low-achieving students, by their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) since the early 1990s and, in more detail, since 2000.

Part 2: Results from a National Teacher Survey, authored by Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett of Farkas Duffett Research Group, reports on teachers' own views of how schools are serving high-achieving pupils in the NCLB era.

Related Resources

Slideshow presentation of the findings

Mike discusses the report on Fordham Factor

In A Nutshell brief of the report

Tom Loveless responds to this review of the study.

 Video coverage of our panel event on the report:

High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.

5:30 - Tom Loveless, Brookings Institution
19:05 - Steve Farkas, Farkas Duffett Research Group
33:25 - Josh Wyner, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
41:15 - Ross Wiener, Education Trust
48:30 - Question & Answer

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Over at the "ELL Advocates" blog, whole language apologist Stephen Krashen makes a lame attempt to poke holes in Sol Stern's recent Fordham report, Too Good to Last: The True Story of Reading First. In particular, he takes issue with Stern's claim that the Golden State's adoption of whole language reading in 1987 led to California's disastrous, bottom of the barrel NAEP performance in 1992. Krashen is right about one point: The '92 NAEP was the first to break out results state-by-state, so it's impossible to know whether California's scores "plummeted," as Stern argues. But then Krashen goes on to make a fool of himself. First, he offers this stunning piece of revisionist history:

Whole language, according to (urban) legend, was introduced by the 1987 Framework committee, which I was a member of. The 1987 Framework committee never mentioned whole language. We recommended that language arts be literature-based, hardly a revolutionary idea. Phonics was never forbidden.

This is ridiculous; of course California adopted whole language reading in 1987. For the definitive history of this episode, see here. Then Krashen goes on to argue:

Of great interest, and rarely noted, is that fact that California still ranks at the bottom of the US. NAEP scores released 2007 show that California is still in the basement, in a virtual tie for last place with Mississippi and Louisiana. Dumping whole language did not improve things.

But if dumping whole language did not improve things, why...

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Liam Julian

For the same reason I'm opposed to sex-ed class in schools, I'm opposed to clubs like this. A parent sends his students to a public school to receive a rigorous education in the core curriculum. Parents should not be forced to send their children to public schools that allow controversial subjects--unrelated to science, math, geography, etc.--to be a part of the school environment. Such subjects distract from what needs to be occurring in classrooms and often isn't: learning.

UPDATE:

Will Okun, who teaches school in Chicago, blogs at the New York Times:

I do not understand why society and parents rely on our much criticized, overcrowded and under-funded schools to teach children about such important issues as abstinence and safe sex?

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The New York Times reports today that Idaho will set aside somewhere from $200,000 to $600,000 to fund a pilot program that will make chess education available to all second- and third-graders. The state will use a curriculum called First Move, which was developed by the Seattle-based nonprofit Foundation for Chess.

Third-grade teacher Deborah McCoy has already started teaching chess in her classroom and is quite pleased with the results. "So many kids spend their time plugged into video games, iPods, television and so they are more isolated," she said. "They learn give and take in chess. There are courtesies that you follow. It has been really beneficial for them."

You'd have to guess she's mostly right about the benefits, though one wonders if it's the state's place to be experimenting like this with curricula. Once you start offering funding for niche subjects you risk opening the floodgates to every other hobbyist-lobbyist in the state.

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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...

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