Curriculum & Instruction

Everyone knows that the Common Core State Standards initiative has turned into a political football. But a more apt analogy might be baseball—spring training, to be exact. That’s because, for all the colorful commentary, the Common Core is still in the very earliest phases of implementation. It isn’t yet time to pay much attention to the score; instead, we ought to work out the kinks and improve the fundamentals.

And to be sure, tons of progress is needed before states, districts, and schools are ready for game day. That’s the upshot of Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers, a new in-depth study from our think tank. Along with analysts at the group Education First, we examined initial implementation efforts in four districts that are ahead of the curve: Kenton County (KY), Metro Nashville (TN), Illinois’s School District 54 (Schaumburg and vicinity), and Washoe County (Reno, NV).

Here are three major challenges they are facing and what they are doing to overcome them:

1. In the absence of externally vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving to devise their own—with mixed success.

Curriculum publishers were suspiciously quick to proclaim that what they are selling is aligned with the Common Core, and districts are rightly wary of such claims. It takes time to develop and vet high-quality textbook series and other curriculum. All four districts expressed caution about spending limited dollars on materials that were not truly aligned to the Common Core and are delaying at least...

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Perhaps New York mayor Bill de Blasio is starting to see that attacking charter schools is a better Democratic-primary strategy than governing philosophy. This turn of events can be illustrated by his appearance earlier this week on...

Just because the label on that pint of ice cream says it’s “fat free” doesn’t mean it won’t expand your waistline—and just because a textbook is labeled “Common Core aligned” doesn’t mean it actually covers the material it’s supposed to. In this new study (which has already garnered some...

Research has repeatedly found that being a firstborn can come with advantages—they tend to be natural leaders, have higher IQ’s...

“Grit” is a hot new buzzword—and what some believe to be the key to whether a student succeeds. But this study takes a slightly different tack, demonstrating a link between a teacher’s grit and her effectiveness and longevity in the classroom. The authors determined the “grittiness” of...

Just because the label on that pint of ice cream says it’s “fat free” doesn’t mean it won’t expand your waistline—and just because a textbook is labeled “Common Core aligned” doesn’t mean it actually covers the material it’s supposed to. In this new study (which has already garnered some serious attention from the press), USC assistant professor (and alum of Fordham and AEI’s EEPS program) Morgan Polikoff studied seven math textbooks aimed at fourth graders, including their work samples and practice exercises. Polikoff found that the content of the textbooks ranged from 27 percent to 38 percent aligned—dismal results. Further, he found that one-sixth to one-seventh of the material in the Common Core standards was not covered in the analyzed textbooks. However, though these findings highlight important Common Core implementation concerns, we would be remiss if we did not point out a significant methodological issue: Polikoff compared the textbooks and the standards using the Survey of Enacted Curriculum, which—while, granted, one of the very few tools available—doesn’t measure content coherence. What’s more, the analysis assumes equal weight for all standards, though school districts, assessments, and common sense dictate that some should receive greater attention than others. For a more nuanced look, stay tuned for a Fordham review of leading “Common Core” curricular materials in the months ahead.

SOURCE: Morgan S. Polikoff, “How Well Aligned Are Textbooks to the Common Core Standards in Mathematics?” to be presented...

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Common Core in the Districts: An Overview

Common Core in the Districts: An Overview

Preparation is key to any successful team’s run to the playoffs and a World Series championship. Spring training gets players in game shape. Teams play exhibition games, trying out prospects and going through different scenarios to be as prepared as possible before the season gets underway.

Similarly, the implementation of the Common Core standards is underway in 45 states and, in a lot of ways, these states are also in Spring training.  With key resources still to come—especially the aligned assessments and curriculum-- districts and schools are in an early, preliminary phase. But they’re getting ready for the big season nonetheless. Here’s how:

They’re leaning on their General Managers and coaches. Teachers and principals are leading the charge of the Common Core Standards in their communities. The vision for Common Core implementation is communicated by this group and shared with students, parents, the community, and others—all who will be impacted by these rigorous, new standards. If the GM and coaches believe in the vision, the players and the fans will too.

They are also running through various game-day scenarios.

First, in the absence of externally-vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving—with mixed success—to devise their own. Second, high-quality CCSS-aligned professional development is crucial but districts have to have the expertise to do it right. .

Spring training allows players to refine skills and give coaches a chance to set the vision. In the same way, during implementation, leaders must lock onto the Common Core Standards as the linchpin of instruction, professional learning and accountability in their buildings. They  need to be squarely focused on winning a championship, or in this case, ensuring that the standards are implemented with fidelity.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Bob Feller said, “Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day, and that's the way baseball is.”

Today IS a new opportunity. Learn how to build on the success of real teachers in real districts as they attempt in earnest to put the Common Core State Standards into practice in their classrooms day in and day out . Read our latest report Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Adopters.

We’ve got a game to win. Let’s “PLAY BALL!”

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I vividly remember a seventh-grade English teacher telling our class, with great solemnity, “Small minds use big words.”

For years, this guided my writing.

Until I figured out how wrong, how profoundly wrong, she had been.

And that’s why I’m so concerned about the new SAT’s approach to vocabulary—namely cutting “obscure” and “arcane” words. According to the Times,The SAT’s rarefied vocabulary challenges will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, like ‘empirical’ and ‘synthesis.’”

Over the last 25 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that maximizing the words at one’s disposal is indispensable for two reasons.

First, words enable us to explain, and an infinitely complex world requires an expansive vocabulary so we can be clear and precise.

Jane Austen is known for her extensive vocabulary, which can cause eye rolling: “blowsy,” “solicitude,” “diffident,” “abstruse,” and “licentiousness.”

But as I read her books, dictionary always nearby, I found that every single time she used an unfamiliar word, it was because that word was exactly right; it captured the nuance she intended to convey.

For example, in one famous case, she might’ve used “shy” but chose “diffident” instead.

Why?...

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“Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”: this clichéd adage, often found on motivational posters, actually has something worthwhile to say. Sometimes where we set goals determines where we end up, even if the goal is seldom met. A forthcoming American Educational Research Journal study applies this proverbial wisdom to content coverage in Kindergarten. Focusing on math and reading, researchers examine whether replacing “basic” content (content mastered by 50 percent or more of incoming Kindergarten students) with “advanced” content (mastered by less than 50 percent) leads to greater academic gains, as measured by assessments administered in the fall and spring of Kindergarten. The answer? Yes. And this holds regardless of the child’s childcare experiences prior to Kindergarten (i.e., center-based care, Head Start, or “other”). The researchers conclude that lackluster content coverage in Kindergarten helps explain the fading benefits of pre-school. Basically, Kindergarten teachers spend too much time on “basic content” that, by definition, most of the students already know, especially those that attended center-based pre-K programs. Kindergarten is simply too easy. When teachers instead focus more on teaching students advanced content, every student benefits, even students who didn’t attend pre-K. These teachers are shooting for the moon, while the others are only aiming for the clouds. Sounds like it’s time to order more motivational posters for the nation’s Kindergarten classrooms.

SOURCE: Amy Claessens, Mimi Engel, and F. Chris Curran, “Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects,” American Educational Research...

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Dara and the Following

Dara’s taste in TV shows is questionable, but her ed-policy knowledge is not. She and Michelle dish on Common Core implementation, student-data privacy, and marketing in schools. Amber gets pensive about pensions.

Amber's Research Minute

Missouri Charter Schools and Teacher Pension Plans: How Well Do Existing Pension Plans Serve Charter and Urban Teachers? by Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, Michael Podgursky, and P. Brett Xiang, (Kansas City, MO: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, February 2014).

The fancy-footwork edition

Mike welcomes Ohio's Chad to the podcast to disparage teacher tenure, anguish over the charter assault in Gotham, and debate the realities for charter schools in rural areas. Amber finds value in growth measures.

Amber's Research Minute

Choosing the Right Growth Measure,” by Mark Ehlert, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons and Michael Podgursky, Education Next 14(2).

The Student and the Stopwatch: How much time is spent on testing in American schools?

The Student and the Stopwatch

In this era of results-based academic accountability, teachers and their students spend class time taking—and preparing for—standardized tests. But just how much time? An inordinate amount? Does it vary by locale? What is the ideal amount of prep time? What are the policy implications for districts and states? The curricular and instructional implications? And what are the consequences for children, especially disadvantaged students?
 
JOIN THE DISCUSSION ON THE FORDHAM LIVE PAGE
 
In the largest study of its kind, Teach Plus brings empirical evidence to the table with its new report, The Student and the Stopwatch: How Much Time is Spent on Testing in American Schools? The report examines district- and state-required testing in more than thirty urban and suburban districts nationwide, featuring input from more than 300 teachers.
 
Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Teach Plus for a discussion on time-on-testing in American classrooms.
 
Panel I
 
Joseph Espinosa - Instructional Coach, First Street Elementary, Los Angeles, California
Joe Gramelspacher - Math Teacher, Crispus Attucks High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Christina Lear - English and Journalism Teacher, Herron High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Dr. Joy Singleton Stevens - Third-Grade Teacher, Double Tree Montessori School, Memphis, Tennessee
 
Panel I Moderator
Alice Johnson Cain - Vice President for Policy, Teach Plus
 
Panel II
Celine Coggins - CEO and Founder, Teach Plus
Dave Driscoll - Chair, National Assessment Governing Board
Andy Rotherham - Co-founder and Partner, Bellwether Education Partners
 
Panel II Moderator
Michael J. Petrilli - Executive Vice President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Michelle and Brickman take over the podcast, discussing “controlled choice” (and declaring their allegiances to either #TeamMike or #TeamChecker), Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school-choice legislation, and teacher-protection laws in California. Amber reads into English-language-arts instruction.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 104 (Washington, D.C.: CALDER and AIR, January 2014).

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