Curriculum & Instruction

Pre-Kindergarten funding is in a precarious position. Over the last two years, more than $90 million has been trimmed from pre-K programs. And, as ARRA wells run dry, more cuts to this $5.5 billion enterprise are on the way. This while enrollment continues to creep up. That’s the news from this tenth yearbook by the National Institute for Early Education Research which, despite its name, must be counted as an advocacy outfit. The briefing is chockablock with statistics on enrollment, length of school day, class-size requirements, and more. But it tells us little about quality or efficiency, such as just how much bang are we getting for our preschool buck? (While the report does comment on pre-K quality, the metrics it uses are wholly input based; states that spend more on pre-K programming rank higher in quality.) As resources become ever scarcer throughout our education system, a rethink of how we fund preschool—and how we measure its quality and gauge its efficacy—is long past due.

W. Steven Barnett, Megan E. Carolan, Jen Fitzgerald, and James H. Squires, The State of Preschool 2011 (Newark, NJ: National Institute...

The pineapple and the gadfly

Standardized testing, school closures, and a pineapple: Rick and Janie cover it all this week, while Amber wonders whether weighted-student funding made a difference in Hartford after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Funding a Better Education: conclusions from the first three years of student-based budgeting in hartford

States experimenting with online learning—and struggling with how this new delivery system will alter such familiar practices as seat-time requirements—would be wise to check out recent doings in the Granite State. This book offers a tutorial. Since 2008-09, New Hampshire high school students have been able to work with educators to create personalized learning plans—with course credit awarded for mastery, not time in class. Such credits can be earned year round through internships, online courses, overseas travel, or brick-and-mortar classes. Mentor educators set course-competency guidelines (based on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge levels), track progress, and conduct final assessments. Authors Fred Bramante (former New Hampshire Board of Education chair) and Rose Colby (former principal) offer a deep dive into the NH model—explaining the expected benefits to this policy change, including cost savings, increased curricular offerings, and a lower drop-out rate. (Remarkably, New Hampshire has seen an almost 20 percentage-point decrease in its dropout rate since 2008.)  Still, there are a few gaps. Notably, the authors don’t duly justify the rigor of their quality-control metrics for ensuring true mastery—the lynchpin for ensuring that New Hampshire’s program hasn’t, and doesn’t, devolve...

Billions of dollars are being spent to increase learning time in struggling schools through Extended Learning Time (ELT). “ELT,” which the  U.S. Department of Education defines as the use of a longer school day, week, or year, is a key component of the School Improvement Grant program aimed at turning around failing public schools. But is the way to improve low-performing schools simply to add more time in school A recent report by Education Sector, Off The Clock: What More Time Can (And Can’t) Do For School Turnarounds, attempts to answer that question by looking at how schools are actually using their extra learning time. The report states that roughly 1,000 public schools around the nation are now operating with extended learning schedules, and at least 60 percent of those are charter schools.

ELT takes three major forms:

  • Adding time to the school day: Schools anywhere from 180 additional minutes per week to 90 new minutes per day.
  • Expanding time outside of school: This model relies on a community partner or external provider to offer additional learning hours outside of the school on Saturdays or during the summer.
  • Changing the way schools use time: The goal here is simple:
  • ...

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released Arts Education In Public Elementary and Secondary Schools1999-2000 and 2009-10, a report detailing the status of arts education in K-12 schools, the third study of its kind. This report builds on topics covered in the two prior reports: extent to which students received instruction in the arts, facilities and resources available for arts education, and preparation and instruction practices of art specialists and non-classroom teachers. The study also added new categories that were not discussed in the prior reports: the availability of curriculum-based art education activities outside of regular school hours and the presence of school-community partnerships in the arts. A total of 3,400 school participated in the current survey, including both district and charter schools.

The report compares the 1999-2000 school year data to the current data, in other words, pre-recession data versus post-recession data. In secondary schools, the only arts subject to increase in availability was music, with 91 percent of public schools offering courses in 2008-2009 (only 90 percent did so in 1999-2000.) Availability of courses in visual arts, dance, and drama/theatre all decreased from the 1999-2000 school year. In elementary schools, the numbers are worse. Schools...

Streeeeetching the school dollar

Mike and Adam talk space shuttles, vouchers, and how districts can make the most of tight budgets on this week’s podcast, while Amber explains what special ed looks like in the Bay State.

Amber's Research Minute

Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Download the PDF

This latest missive from Brookings’s Brown Center on Education Policy hits hard from paragraph one: It questions the priorities of education policymakers and offers sharp, actionable recommendations for how to realign them. According to authors Matt Chingos and Russ Whitehurst, “There is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning—effects that rival in size those that are associated with differences in teacher effectiveness.” But few focus adequately on strengthening and evaluating instructional materials, instead dispensing far too much energy on the “context” of education (including governance arrangements, collective-bargaining agreements, and teacher-evaluation systems). This omission is even more onerous in the Common Core era: Without rigorous instructional materials linked to those new standards, they will not likely lead to noteworthy student improvement. To remedy this, Chingos and Whitehurst offer sound recommendations geared to various stakeholders: First, state education agencies should collect and report data on their districts’ instructional materials. To make this happen, national foundations should provide seed funding, the National Center for Education Statistics should offer guidance, and the Data Quality Campaign should act as watchdog. Second, the National Governors Association and...

In the 1990s, much of the fireworks in the education policy debate centered around a “reading war” where supporters of whole language squared off against the forces of phonics. Now, in the Common Core era, I predict a similar firestorm is on the horizon. Only this time, the debate will not be about how to teach students to read in the first place, but rather how to help them build knowledge and improve comprehension over time. More specifically: It’s about how to choose the books you are asking students to read. And the outcome of this debate could go a long way towards deciding the long-term impact of CCSS ELA standards.

Books
"What to read?" will become the next debate in education policy.
 Photo by Duncan Harris

There are two camps in debate over how to select and assign texts. The first is what I’ll call the “Just Right” or “Goldilocks” books approach. The second I will call the “Grade Appropriate” approach.

The prevailing view among many educators in the United States...

Guest bloggers Kate Walsh and Arthur McKee are the president and managing director of teacher preparation studies, respectively, at the National Council on Teacher Quality. This post was originally published on NCTQ's Pretty Darn Quick blog.

You might not expect us to champion this great new report from Brookings, but we are. Russ Whitehurst and his new colleague, former Harvard professor Matt Chingos, not only decry the nation's excessive focus on teacher quality—at the expense of curriculum—but also provide some neat evidence of the cost of that imbalance to student performance.

Brookings
Source: "Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core," by Matthew M. Chingos and Grover J. Whitehurst, (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2012).

One might quibble over the source of data for this little chart, given that the big impact from a better curriculum is derived from just a single study (though a very good one), but we think their point is still valid. Curriculum can and does move student performance. To quote the authors:...

The Education Gadfly Podstagram

Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.

Amber's Research Minute

Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit

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