Curriculum & Instruction

Leaking all of our education-reform secrets

Mike and Kathleen catch the whistleblower spirit, giving the goods on NGSS, sparring over ability grouping, and decrying the latest Common Core distraction. Amber goes easy on Ed Sector.

Amber's Research Minute

The New State Achievement Gap: How Federal Waivers Could Make It Worse—Or Better by John Chubb and Constance Clark (Washington, D.C.: Education Sector, June 2013).

GadflyAccording to the Times, ability grouping is back, after being unfairly stigmatized in the late 1980s and 1990s by misguided ideologues. We hope it’s true, because such grouping enables teachers to tailor their instruction to individual students appropriately—and can be used to match learning styles as well as achievement levels. (Free speech endures at Fordham, however, and not everyone concurs.)

Following school-board squabbles and the subsequent implementation of a new but compromised governance structure (by which the county executive appoints the district CEO and three school-board members), the Prince George’s County public schools have a new board chairman: NEA Director of Teacher Quality Segun Eubanks. We know and respect Eubanks and wish him the best of luck—but can’t help but smirk. What a classic case of the union sitting on both sides of the negotiating table.

To help close its $304 million budget deficit (brought on in large part by skyrocketing pension costs), the school district of Philadelphia announced that it has pink-slipped 3,783 employees: 676 teachers, 283 counselors, 127 assistant principals, and 1,202 noontime aides—a move that Superintendent Hite called “nothing less than catastrophic.” We hate to say, “I told you so”…...

Assessing the Educational Data MovementWhen it comes to using data for education policy and reform, two factions emerge: modern Luddites who fear the mechanization of schooling and tech-savvy number crunchers who tend to believe that data will solve all of education’s woes. This book by IT pro Philip Piety deftly weaves between the factions and offers a valuable read for teachers, administrators, and policymakers looking to work productively with educational data without becoming overwhelmed. Piety divides it into three sections. The first lays out the history of the educational-data “movement” and the current debate surrounding value-added measures and testing. The second discusses best practices in and applications of administrative infrastructures—which include data systems about teaching methods and students. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program created a powerful research tool and a nexus of information crucial to federal, state, and local policy goals. The third examines how data can be helpful to the “technical core”—that is, students, teachers, materials, and classrooms. Even more helpful, the author showcases how Teach For America and KIPP use metrics innovatively to, among other things, improve instruction.

SOURCE: Philip J. Piety, Assessing the Educational Data Movement (New York, NY: Teachers College, Colombia University, 2013)....

In the midst of a blooming field of research on how to serve high-achieving minority and lower-income youngsters, this report from Education Trust plants a welcome bud. Noting that the sturdiest predictor of college success is the richness of a student’s course of study in high school, and concerned about how few minority and low-income students opt to take challenging Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the authors set out to understand the extent of these inequities—and what can be done to reverse the trend. After determining that 71 percent of all U.S. high schools in 2009–10 had at least one student take an AP examination, providing 91 percent of all students with some AP access, they outlined the extent of the gap: 6 percent of African American students take AP courses, compared with 11.9 percent of white students and 25.1 percent of Asians; similarly, 5.5 percent of low-income students take AP courses, versus 15.6 percent of all other students. The authors go on to recommend a number of actions that district and high school educators can take, from simply expanding awareness among underrepresented student groups to creating a network of supports for students taking advanced courses. But while most of these proposals seem reasonable, the recommendation that schools ensure that their barriers to AP enrollment are not too “rigid” stuck out like a sore green thumb. While there are plenty of qualified and underrepresented students who never enroll and ought to be encouraged to do...

This week’s Fordham-conferred grade of C on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will be worn as a badge of honor by some misguided souls in the science-education world, but it will be a disappointment to many. We know and regret that. Having carefully reviewed the standards, however, using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—the considered judgment of our expert review team is that NGSS is not the cure the country needs for its abysmal performance in science.

Yes, they’re better than the standards that many states are currently using—indeed, at least a little better than half the states and clearly superior to sixteen of them. On the other hand, five states (plus D.C.) earned grades of A or A- from our reviewers. So did the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks. Another seven states earned B’s. Check out the map and table below.

How do state science standards compare with the NGSS?

Yes, students and teachers in a bunch of states would be somewhat better off if their curriculum, instruction, and assessments were geared to NGSS rather than their abysmal present standards. But they’d be far better off if they Xeroxed (and faithfully implemented) South Carolina’s excellent science standards or if they constructed new ones around the commendable assessment frameworks of TIMSS...

For nearly thirty years—at least since Bill Bennett’s tenure as secretary of education and Lamar Alexander’s as governor of Tennessee—education-minded conservatives at both national and state levels have embraced a two-part school reform strategy, focused equally on rigorous standards and parental choice. Recent events have frayed that coalition, but it’s not too late to stitch it back together.

The history of education reform
The 1970s left education in shambles.
Photo by ajari

First, a bit of history: In the 1970s, U.S. education policy was all about “equity,” inclusion, and funding and its reformist zeal came from the left, save for noble but isolated exceptions such as Milton Friedman.

Few deny that the equity agenda did some good, especially for disabled and minority youngsters, but the concomitant neglect of academic achievement proved costly. Though the College Board didn’t acknowledge it until 1975, SAT scores had peaked a decade earlier and were in free fall. Every newspaper seemed to bring word of another teacher strike. Adult authority was in decline, goofy curricular schemes were ascendant—and Jimmy Carter decided that his top education priority would be creation of a new federal agency to reward the NEA for its support in the ‘76 election.

In the blunt words of chronicler Tom Toch (then with U.S. News, now with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of...

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) school board will vote tomorrow night to approve the hiring of up to nine Teach For America (TFA) members. These new hires will begin teaching in fall 2013, and will be the first year in which TFA teachers are placed in CMSD classrooms. During the past school year, fifty TFA teachers were placed in Cleveland-area charter schools and another 34 TFA teachers taught in the Dayton and Cincinnati areas. The past school year, 2012-13, was the first year TFA operated in Ohio.

This is more encouraging reform news for Cleveland, whose school system has and continues to struggle mightily. Within the past month, the Cleveland Teachers Union and the Board of Education agreed to a new teachers’ contract that, most significantly, stripped away the seniority- and college-credit-based salary schedule and replaced it with a “differentiated compensation” system that awards salary bumps mostly based on how a teacher performs on the state’s new teacher evaluation rating system. This change was required as part of Ohio's recently-enacted law, House Bill 525 (cf., Ohio Revised Code section 3311.78).

The new contract also changes lay-off rules so that performance is now the dominant criteria, rather than seniority, and also calls for 40 minutes of additional instructional time. Cleveland’s teachers will also receive a 4 percent raise in the first year of the contract and a $1,500 bonus when they enter the new compensation system.

Finally, a new 15-mill levy, passed last November, will inject roughly $85 million into the...

Peter Cunningham

This Sunday’s New York Times piece on Common Core standards, Queens College political-science professor Andrew Hacker and Columbia University adjunct professor Claudia Dreifus contribute greatly to the confusion and misinformation surrounding the issue of learning standards.

The piece conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn. It also confuses assessments, which are tests to determine what students know, with accountability, which are systems of tracking student performance, determining which schools and teachers are succeeding or struggling, and providing support or intervening where necessary.

They open with an anecdote about some parents opting out of a new test in New York City as an indication that Common Core may face a broad national backlash. But the backlash—to the extent it exists—is about testing, not standards.

The authors wrongly suggest that the “uniformity of the standards” is what appeals to Common Core supporters. Actually it is the richness and rigor of the standards that appeals to supporters. The uniformity is a bonus. No one really expected forty-six states to adopt.

In their attempt to portray serious debate around the issue, they quote conservative pundit Glenn Beck (who is paid to stir the pot) to counter conservative education scholars (who are paid to actually think it through and get it right).

They suggest that Tea Party resistance to the Common Core comes from the...

Peter Cunningham

This Sunday’s New York Times piece on Common Core standards, Queens College political-science professor Andrew Hacker and Columbia University adjunct professor Claudia Dreifus contribute greatly to the confusion and misinformation surrounding the issue of learning standards.

The piece conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn. It also confuses assessments, which are tests to determine what students know, with accountability, which are systems of tracking student performance, determining which schools and teachers are succeeding or struggling, and providing support or intervening where necessary.

They open with an anecdote about some parents opting out of a new test in New York City as an indication that Common Core may face a broad national backlash. But the backlash—to the extent it exists—is about testing, not standards.

The authors wrongly suggest that the “uniformity of the standards” is what appeals to Common Core supporters. Actually it is the richness and rigor of the standards that appeals to supporters. The uniformity is a bonus. No one really expected forty-six states to adopt.

In their attempt to portray serious debate around the issue, they quote conservative pundit Glenn Beck (who is paid to stir the pot) to counter conservative education scholars (who are paid to actually think it through and get it right).

They suggest that Tea Party resistance to the Common Core comes from the...

Student outcomes do matter
Deborah's vision is beautiful—but does it work?
Photo by scottwills

This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli is debating Deborah Meier through mid-June.

Dear Deborah,

Your last post was amazing—one of the most coherent, cogent articulations of a reform alternative that I've ever read.

I was particularly moved by this passage:

We need quiet places and noisy places, places full of books and computers and others full of paint and clay. We need adults with the freedom to make spontaneous decisions—shifting the conversation in response to one of those "wonderful moments" and deviating from any designed curriculum. Teachers need the time to mull over what they have learned from student work (written as well as observed) and collegial time to expand their repertoires. We need feedback from trusted and competent colleagues. We need time for families and teachers to engage in serious conversations. We need settings where it seems reasonable that kids might see the school's adults as powerful and interesting people who are having a good time.

It reminded me why I loved your books when I was studying at the University of Michigan's education school twenty years ago—and why you and your ideas are so beloved today. This is a joyous,...

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