Curriculum & Instruction

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.

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....

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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.

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,...

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....

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....

What (Ed-Reformer) Parents Want

What (ed-reformer) parents want

What (ed-reformer) parents want. Read What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs and take the quiz to see if you fall into one of our parent categories.

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...

Reform School: Tim Kitts

Reform School: Tim Kitts

Tim Kitts of Florida's Bay Haven Charter Academy explains his "plus" model of school improvement, and the axes of curriculum and department structures.

Embracing the Common Core

Embracing the Common Core - Panel Discussion

Panelists Include:

Stan Heffner - Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction
Michael Cohen - President of Achieve, Inc.
Steve Dackin, superintendent of Reynoldsburg City Schools
Eric Gordon, CEO of Cleveland Metropolitan Schools
Debe Terhar, president of the State Board of Education
Deb Tully, director of professionals issues for the Ohio Federation of Teachers

Moderated by Chester E. Finn Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Embracing the Common Core

Embracing the Common Core - Q&A

Panelists Include:

Stan Heffner - Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction
Michael Cohen - President of Achieve, Inc.
Steve Dackin, superintendent of Reynoldsburg City Schools
Eric Gordon, CEO of Cleveland Metropolitan Schools
Debe Terhar, president of the State Board of Education
Deb Tully, director of professionals issues for the Ohio Federation of Teachers

Moderated by Chester E. Finn Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

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