Curriculum & Instruction

Pause, maybe, but no moratorium

Checker and Kathleen consider Randi Weingarten’s call to suspend testing, pre-K finance jitters, and the fate of the testing consortia. Amber worries about wayward sons.

Amber's Research Minute

Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education by David Autor and Melanie Wasserman (Washington, D.C.: Third Way)

Though few Americans have ever heard of the “Common Core,” it’s causing a ruckus in education circles and turmoil in the Republican Party. Prompted by tea-party activists, a couple of talk-radio hosts and bloggers, a handful of disgruntled academics, and several conservative think tanks, the Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution blasting the Common Core as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.” Several red states that previously adopted it for their schools are on the verge of backing out. Indiana is struggling over exit strategies.

Conservatives and the Common Core
Public education is indisputably the responsibility of states—but that doesn't mean states can't work together
Image by beX out loud.

What, you ask, is this all about?

Thirty years after a blue-ribbon panel declared the United States to be “a nation at risk” due to the weak performance and shoddy results of our public education system, one of the two great reforms to have enveloped that system is the setting of explicit academic standards in core subjects, standards that make clear what math youngsters should know by the end of fifth grade, what reading-and-writing skills they must acquire by tenth grade, and so on. (The other great reform: widespread...

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GadflySnaps to Gov. Jerry Brown for his fierce defense of a weighted-student-funding plan for California’s schools, one that would reform the state’s questionable financing system by directing more—and much more flexible—funds to districts with high numbers of English learners and low-income families. We only hope that, behind the bluster, he’s willing to talk shop with his state Senate; the kids of California need a win.

A new report out of Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research heralded an uproar over pre-K financing: We spend $1,100 less per student than we did 2001, blared the headlines. But before you go building an ark and gathering all your pets onto it, note that preschool enrollment increased from 14 percent of four-year-olds to 28 percent during this period. The money increased, too, just not as fast as the headcount, meaning that per pupil funding edged downward even as total pre-school spending rose. What we’re seeing here is dubious policy, not disappearing dollars: Schools should be targeting these dollars at the neediest kids.

The Florida Senate killed a proposed parent trigger for the state just the way it did last year—in a 20–20 vote, this time with six Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. The bill had been diluted during the legislative session to give school boards the final...

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It’s testing season in New York, which can mean only one thing: It’s open season on Pearson, the corporation everyone loves to hate. But this time, when they crossed a serious line, far too many state leaders and reformers are holding their fire. 

To date, most of the anti-Pearson ire has been focused on a calculation error that led 5,000 New York City students to be incorrectly told that they didn’t qualify for the city’s Gifted and Talented program. Sloppy, no doubt, but not corrupt. (The error has since been corrected, and all qualified students are now eligible.)


In New York State, students whose schools purchased and used Pearson's instructional materials had an enormous advantage over those whose didn't
Photo by comedy_nose

But there is a far more serious transgression that has gotten very little attention, and it’s one that threatens the validity of the English Language Arts (ELA) scores for thousands of New York students and raises serious questions about the overlap between Pearson's curriculum and assessment divisions.

Last week, the New York Post and Daily News reported that the Pearson-developed New York State ELA sixth- and eighth-grade assessments included passages that were also in a Pearson-created, “Common Core–aligned” ELA curriculum. This meant that students in schools that purchased and used instructional materials from Pearson had an enormous advantage over those who didn’t.

Predictably, reform...

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The last couple of weeks have witnessed unremitting and well-coordinated attacks on the Common Core academic standards. States from New Jersey to Michigan to Ohio to Alabama have all been targeted by “a grassroots rebellion” against the Common Core. This rebellion has the backing and encouragement of national pundits such as Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Phyllis Schlafly. It also seems to have considerable cash behind it (though nobody will say from where). The Fordham Institute team has been drawn into the national fray, and in recent weeks we’ve been drawn into the battle in our home state of Ohio. Just yesterday, we had a long conversation/debate with a group that included individuals from Citizens for Objective Public Education (a Phyllis Schlafly inspired group), Tea Party groups, Religious Right groups and hard core local-control groups that believe standards, curriculum and assessments should be set by only your own town’s board of education..

These critics contend, inter alia, that the Common Core:

  • is a national curriculum (critics of the Common Core confuse standards with curriculum);
  • is a takeover of education by the federal government and the beginning of the end of state/local control;
  • requires the mandatory collection of intrusive personal data about kids (including possible retina scans);
  • de-emphasizes handwriting skills;
  • favors “repair manuals” over classic literature; and
  • isn’t nearly as rigorous as current state standards.

Every single one of which assertions is flat wrong. To read more about these debates see here, here and here.

The most peculiar...

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Bill Bennett on the state of American education
Dr. Bennett recently spoke at the Fordham Institute on the state of American education.
Photo by Gage Skidmore

William J. Bennett, former U.S. education secretary (and former NEH chairman, drug czar, widely published author, radio host, and political commentator) recently spoke at the Fordham Institute on the state of American education.

On the thirtieth anniversary of A Nation at Risk (watch our video retrospective on the paper here), Dr. Bennett talked about where we’ve come with NAEP scores and other indicators—with real gains in fourth grade, modest improvement in eighth, and none whatsoever in twelfth. (That’s true of other high school indicators, too.)

Bennett noted, too, that school choice has made great strides, technology is playing a promising (but as yet unfulfilled) role in education, and Americans now know the difference between teachers and teachers unions. Mostly good news—but not all. Our worst subject, he made clear, is history (U.S. history in particular), as well as civics—and offered the excellent work of E.D. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge Foundation as at least a partial solution to this acute problem.

When moderator Chester Finn asked whether the Common Core standards are good for the country (despite some federal entanglement), Bennett answered in the affirmative: “If the standards are good,...

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A Nation At Risk: 30 Years Later

A Nation At Risk: 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results.

Due in large part to this report, we now judge a school by whether its students are learning rather than how much money is going into it, what its programs look like, or its earnest intentions. Education reform today is serious about standards, quality, assessment, accountability and benchmarking—by school, district, state and nation. This is new since 1983 and it’s very important.

Yet we still have many miles to traverse before we sleep. Our students still need to learn far more and our schools need to become far more effective.

To recall the impact of A Nation at Risk these past three decades and to reflect on what lies ahead, watch this short retrospective developed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute: A Nation at Risk: Thirty Years Later.

Wisdom from the land of ten thousand slushy lakes

Mike and MinnCAN’s Daniel Sellers talk Pearson, Common Core dustups, and the President’s pre-K proposal. Amber highlights funding disparities between district and charter schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Education’s Fiscal Cliff, Real or Perceived? by Larry Maloney, Meagan Batdorff, Jay May, and Michelle Terrell (University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, April 2013)

Nearly two years ago, Achieve and the National Research Council (NRC), together with two dozen states, a handful of heavy-hitter foundations, and several other organizations, teamed up to develop a set of K–12, “next generation” science standards for states to consider for adoption. Their hope was to strengthen science education by setting clearer and more rigorous expectations than those that guide instruction in this crucial subject in most states today.

We urge states considering NGSS to exercise caution and patience
At the present time, we urge states considering NGSS to exercise caution and patience.
Image by moominsean.

The NRC initiated the process by developing a “framework” (National Research Council’s Framework for K–12 Education) setting forth the “key ideas and practices in the natural sciences and engineering that all students should be familiar with by the time they graduate from high school.” The Achieve team then embarked on a long process of building K–12 standards based on and faithful to that framework. They released two public drafts, received comments, made revisions, and then, the week before last, unveiled the final version of these “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS).

States are being encouraged to embrace and adopt these standards—and it’s no secret that most would benefit from far stronger standards for science than those they’ve been...

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Mirroring trends in twelfth-grade NAEP scores in other subjects, this second round of economics assessments shows that U.S. high school seniors are, on the whole, no better versed in the subject than they were in 2006. While those scoring at or above “basic” did rise from 79 percent in 2006 to 82 percent in 2012, there were no gains at or above the “proficient” level; the gender gap remains from '06, with boys outscoring girls by six points on average (on a 300-point scale); and private school pupils still best their public school peers by sixteen points. On the better news front, as we have seen in other subjects, Hispanic students’ scores ticked up: Those at or above “basic” increased from 64 to 71 percent over the six-year period, probably because they’re also reading better. Despite the generally gloomy data presented here, it’s a good thing that NAEP continues to assess kids in subjects beyond English and math. To ensure a comprehensive, content-based curriculum for all, we must recognize that all core subjects matter—and monitor our students’ progress in learning them.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Economics 2012 (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, 2013)....

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