Curriculum & Instruction

  • Just got back from a great trip to Kansas City (part of my National Agitation Tour). The Kauffman Foundation is doing very important work (check out these videos), and their team members were terrific hosts. You can scroll through the audience’s take on my book talk here. Per my pushing for the replacement of the failed urban district, Marc Porter Magee, temporarily at the helm of the SS Hess-blog, turns in a good piece about the need for cage-busting leaders to change the system, not just break its rules.
  • Common Core (and assessments!) guru KPM teamed up with Sol Stern on National Review Online to explain to conservatives why the new common standards aren’t to be feared or pilloried. Tom Friedman’s column explains why the U.S. needs tougher standards and expectations, even (especially?) in our more comfortable (complacent?) middle-class communities.
  • If you care about urban schooling, charters, and/or governance reform, you ought to give the latest report from Fordham and Public Impact a read. It looks into charter performance in five cities and offers lots of reason for encouragement and sound advice for improving policy and practice. Its prescription (smart authorizing, closures, replications, strong support environment, etc.) mirrors that of my book. When you combine these lessons with recent findings from CREDO’s many city- and state-focused charter reports, you can’t help but
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The World is Phat

Mike and Kathleen bust some podcast moves, taking on Thomas Friedman over “innovation education,” revamped teacher-evaluation systems whose results look suspiciously last season, and the Atlanta test-fraud scandal. Amber is the mayor of mayoral control.

Amber's Research Minute

Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement: How Mayor-Led Districts Are Improving School and Student Performance by Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, March 2013).

GadflyThe dramatic test-cheating scandal in Atlanta—which has seen the indictment of thirty-five educators, including the former superintendent, for messing with the scores—has fingers pointed every which way. AFT president Randi Weingarten placed the blame squarely on our “excessive focus on quantitative performance measures,” arguing that the incentives make cheating inevitable. We disagree; we respect teachers enough to believe that most will resist wrongdoing, and submit that you don’t fix cheating by refusing to keep score.

Saturday’s New York Times sounded the alarm: The early results from states that have recently overhauled their teacher-evaluation systems have seen very little change, with 97 percent of Florida’s teachers still deemed effective or highly effective, 98 percent of Tennessee’s judged to be “at expectations,” and 98 percent of Michigan’s rated “effective or better.” This is certainly newsworthy (though Ed Week’s Stephen Sawchuk beat the Times to the punch). For our take, listen to this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

Policymakers in the Texas House of Representatives have passed legislation that would reduce the number of required high school courses, as well as the number of statewide end-of-course exams, thereby rolling back the Lone Star State’s present ambitious graduation expectations, damaging the value of students’ high school diplomas, and taking a big step back from college readiness. And we’re not the only ones who think so: Texas’s business leaders do, too....

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The new “Common Core” math and reading standards have come under a firestorm of criticism from tea-party activists and commentators like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin. Beck calls the standards a stealth “leftist indoctrination” plot by the Obama administration. Malkin warns that they will “eliminate American children’s core knowledge base in English, language arts and history.” As education scholars at two right-of-center think tanks, we feel compelled to set the record straight.

English language arts
Photo by susivinh

Here’s what the Common Core State Standards are: They describe what children should know and the skills that they must acquire at each grade level to stay on course toward college- or career-readiness, something that conservatives have long argued for. They were written and adopted by governors—not by the Obama administration—thus preserving state control over K–12 education. And they are much more focused on rigorous back-to-basics content than the vast majority of state standards they replaced.

The Common Core standards are also not a curriculum; it’s up to state and local leaders to choose aligned curricula. The Fordham Institute has carefully examined the new expectations and compared them with existing state standards: They found that for most states, Common Core is a great improvement in rigor and cohesiveness.

For decades, students in different states have been held to...

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Many school leaders and teachers in Ohio are facing the full implementation across all grade levels for the Common Core Curriculum in Ohio - English Language Arts and Literacy next year and in Mathematics the following year.  So, how have schools prepared and what are they doing to make the transition work?

As an authorizer of charter schools in diverse communities across Ohio, we want to hear from our school leaders – to inform and educate us on what is happening in their schools and in their classrooms in regard to the Common Core and PARCC assessments.  Over the next several weeks, we will be reporting back on the following questions:

1. What's your biggest worry? 

2. What do you need to put in place before this all starts?

3. Do you have all the technology needed for testing?

4. What skills do your teachers have that will make this easier?

5. What could ODE do to make sure things go as smoothly as possible?

6. What do you want your parents to know about CC?

We will be posing these questions to the following leaders in Fordham’s portfolio of sponsored schools:

1. Foresta Shope, principal of Sciotoville Elementary Academy

2. Dustin Wood, principal of KIPP:Journey Academy

3. Dr. TJ Wallace, Executive Director of Dayton Leadership Academies

4. Dr. Glenda Brown, superintendent of the Phoenix Community Learning Center

5. Chad Webb, head of school Village Preparatory Academy

6. John Dues, School Director of Columbus Collegiate Academy Main Street Campus

What...

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Enticing our top college graduates to teach in America’s classrooms is a serious challenge, bordering on an epidemic in some of our poorer communities and neighborhoods. According to the 2010 McKinsey reportAttracting and Retaining Top Talent in US Teaching,” just under one in four of our entering teachers come from the top third of their college class. For high-poverty schools even fewer entering teachers (a mere 14 percent) are top third talent.

In the Buckeye State, the Ohio Board of Regents’ data corroborate McKinsey’s finding that neither the best nor brightest are entering Ohio’s classrooms as teachers. According to the Regents, the average composite ACT of an incoming teacher-prep candidate was 22.75, below the average ACT score of the overall incoming freshman class for relatively selective universities. The middle 50 percent of incoming freshman to the Ohio State University, for example, had composite ACT scores between 26 and 30.  

What deters the best and brightest from entering (and staying) in our classrooms is, of course, a complicated issue with many hypotheses: low pay, stressful working conditions, rigid  certification requirements, lack of prestige, and archaic remuneration systems that fail to reward high-performing teachers and backloads benefits are all plausible explanations.

Since 1989 Teach For America (TFA) has worked to improve this bleak human capital situation, and has brought the nation’s top college graduates into a small, but increasing slice of America’s highest need classrooms. In 2012-13, more...

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Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Ohio’s schools will fully implement the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC exams--online assessments aligned to the Common Core. As the Buckeye State draws nearer to lift off for these new academic standards and tests, school districts are ratcheting up their technological infrastructure and capacity.

Consider a few recent examples of how schools are improving their technological infrastructure in advance of the Common Core and the PARCC exams:

  • The Akron Beacon Journal reported that the Akron Public Schools recently approved $300,000 plus in spending to upgrade its computer software and Internet bandwidth. These improvements will ensure that its students are able to take the online PARCC exams.
  • Meanwhile on the other side of the Buckeye State, The Lima News reported that Delphos and Ottawa-Glandorf school districts, both located in rural Northwest Ohio, have purchased new computers to ensure that their students will be able to take the PARCC exams.
  • Finally, in rural Southeast Ohio, The Marietta Times reported that Morgan Local School District has been piloting Thinkgate. Teachers at Morgan Local will use this digital instructional system to provide real-time feedback to students about how well they are progressing toward meeting the learning expectations of the Common Core.  

In addition to these local efforts, the governor’s budget proposal (see page D-180) also takes steps to improve technology as schools transition to the Common Core and the PARCC exams. In the state’s student assessment line-item, the governor proposes...

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Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Ohio’s schools will fully implement the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC exams--online assessments aligned to the Common Core. As the Buckeye State draws nearer to lift off for these new academic standards and tests, school districts are ratcheting up their technological infrastructure and capacity.

Consider a few recent examples of how schools are improving their technological infrastructure in advance of the Common Core and the PARCC exams:

  • The Akron Beacon Journal reported that the Akron Public Schools recently approved $300,000 plus in spending to upgrade its computer software and Internet bandwidth. These improvements will ensure that its students are able to take the online PARCC exams.
  • Meanwhile on the other side of the Buckeye State, The Lima News reported that Delphos and Ottawa-Glandorf school districts, both located in rural Northwest Ohio, have purchased new computers to ensure that their students will be able to take the PARCC exams.
  • Finally, in rural Southeast Ohio, The Marietta Times reported that Morgan Local School District has been piloting Thinkgate. Teachers at Morgan Local will use this digital instructional system to provide real-time feedback to students about how well they are progressing toward meeting the learning expectations of the Common Core.  

In addition to these local efforts, the governor’s budget proposal (see page D-180) also takes steps to improve technology as schools transition to the Common Core and the PARCC exams. In the state’s student assessment line-item, the governor proposes...

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The All-Girl Edition

Dara and Kathleen put on their thinking caps to discuss Common Core implementation, ability grouping, and pre-K absenteeism. Amber joins in for some March Madness dishing—and some tough love for eighth-grade Algebra.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2013 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? by Tom Loveless (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, March 2013)

GadflyIn the latest dust-up over the Common Core, the inclusion of some (arguably) violent, war-themed picture books in New York City’s third-grade English curriculum has some whining that the recommended texts were not vetted properly—and, predictably, claiming that implementation is moving too fast. For straight talk, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

A national database called inBloom that warehouses millions of students’ personal information for school districts has a slightly unfortunate side business: selling realistic-but-fake student data to application developers. According to inBloom, the two sides of its operation are strictly separate—but that hasn’t stopped parent listservs from exploding with the rage of a thousand mothers.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal found that more than 10 percent of New York City’s principals did not issue a single teacher an “unsatisfactory” grade (the city uses a pass/fail system for reviewing job performance). While this may seem like bad news, flip that number around and notice that nearly 90 percent did. For comparison, consider that, according to Education Week, 98 percent of Michigan’s teachers and 97 percent of Florida’s were rated effective or better—and those are states that recently revamped their evaluation systems. New York City is a cage-busting leader in ferreting out bad teachers. Note, too, that if and when personnel decisions are truly devolved to school principals,...

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