Curriculum & Instruction

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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Ohio’s bright-eyed freshmen aren’t ready for college coursework. That’s the story from the Ohio Board of Regents, which reports that 40 percent of Ohio’s college freshman at public colleges and universities take remedial (high-school level) coursework in either math or English. Moreover, 14 percent of incoming freshman are required by their colleges to take both a remedial math and English class.

These are staggering numbers, with massive implications for students and taxpayers. For students who take a remedial course, Complete College America found that only 35 percent graduate in six years. This compares to 56 percent of all students. Similarly, the Ohio State University found that students who took remedial coursework graduated at a rate 30 points lower than their non-remedial peers. With these dismal results in mind, remedial coursework largely wastes the $130 million per year Ohio spends to support remedial education.

The chart below takes a closer look at the remediation rates for incoming freshman who attend an Ohio public college or university, by the public high school from which they graduated. The performance index generally indicates the quality of the high school. The chart shows three things:

  • As expected, higher-performing schools tend to have lower remediation rates;
  • A small portion of Ohio high schools have remarkably high remediation rates—above 70 and 80 percent—and four schools break the 90 percent mark;
  • A modest-sized section of high-performing high schools also have high remediation rates. This is unexpected—and indicates that remediation is a problem for students
  • ...
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In a previous review, I examined The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Index of Essential Practices 2012 which discusses how states are doing in accomplishing the “essential practices” for charter school authorizing. Ohio sponsors performed well, even though they met some difficulty reaching higher marks because of Ohio’s charter school law. One of the critiques I had was that these essential practices were self-reported and did not fully unpack the policy implications for these authorizers and the states where they work. Recently, however, NACSA released an accompanying report called The State of Charter School Authorizing 2012 that elaborates on the Index by attaching policy recommendations for both authorizers and states. This report, using authorizer demographics and survey data from authorizers, shows that charter school authorizers and states can better serve their charter schools and hold them to higher accountability standards. NACSA finds that the authorizers are performing well on the index but still suffer challenges in closing schools, hiring experts, and working with state laws. Based on the survey findings, NACSA recommends the following for charter school authorizers and the state lawmakers:

  • Authorizers need to develop strong policies for both replication and closure of charters;
  • Authorizers must invest in human capital development to increase both the quantity and quality of charter school educators; and
  • State policy makers must work with charter authorizers to develop stronger measures of school accountability.

Even though the report finds that authorizers are moving in the right direction with details like...

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  • Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. sees headwinds ahead for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia, the organizations that are developing assessments aligned to the Common Core.
  • Mike Petrilli urges the Republican National Committee to rescind their draft resolution rejecting the Common Core.
  • Terry Ryan and the rest of the Fordham Ohio gang debunk the fabrications and hyperbole swirling in Ohio from those who oppose the Common Core.
  • Emmy Partin debates the Common Core—in a manner worthy of the setting—with a panel of Ohio elected officials and advocates.
  • Read all this, but still sure what’s going on with the Common Core? See our FAQ on the Common Core here!

Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) earns attention from national media

  • DECA’s principal Dave Taylor joins the Huffington Post to discuss what makes DECA special for its students. Check out the video here. And, be sure to congratulate DECA for its bronze medal awarded by U.S. News and World Report.
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