Curriculum & Instruction

Guest Blogger

Guest blogger J. Martin Rochester is the Curators' Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the author of ten books on international politics and law. In addition, he has written on k-16 education issues, including?Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids, and the Attack on Excellence (Encounter Books, 2002).

Allow me to comment on the growing problem of computers in college classrooms. At my university and other universities, increasingly professors are banning laptops in class, even as many K-12 schools, particularly high schools, are becoming laptop-based.[pullquote]There is a fundamental disconnect, then, ?between the use of technology in precollegiate education and in higher education.[/pullquote]?There is a fundamental disconnect, then, ?between the use of technology in precollegiate education and in higher education. Students tend to arrive on campus considering it an entitlement to open their laptop in class, only to discover that their professor tells them to put it away. I am on the side of those professors who find laptops an intrusion into the classroom, for reasons that relate to broader concerns about the future of education. What's the problem?

First, can anyone deny that today's students seem attached to their laptops, as well as cell phones, iPads, and other electronic?devices, as life support systems, wasting myriad hours in endless chatter and other diversions? While it is true that all of us, including myself, have become heavily involved in, if not addicted

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As a journalist for the better part of 30 years (not counting the samizdat paper I wrote and published (on my dad's mimeograph machine) in my high school seminary), I worship our first amendment.? And as a student of the French Revolution and its pre-guillotine press, I'm also a big fan of Monsieur Voltaire and his famous utterance, to the effect, `I may disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right say it.'

Does this mean I believe in an unfettered web in our schools, the subject of an interesting report by Winnie Hu in today's New York Times?

Well, I think I would agree with William Fitzhugh, the respected editor of The Concord Review, who told Hu,? ?I think students should have unfettered access to the library."

In other words, we have a much huger problem than the kind of Internet censorship that Banned Websites Awareness Day seems to be worried about.? A glance at school curricula, summer reading lists, or what pass as textbooks these days, indicate that our educators are already doing a pretty good job of censorship, keeping children from THE BEST of what our civilization has produced over the last couple thousand years.? I often quote from Pat Conroy's My Losing Season, wherein an English teacher answered the budding writer's question about what he should read: ?The great books, Mr. Conroy, and nothing but the great books. There isn't time for anything else.?

What's a...

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Last week, Fordham released a groundbreaking new study on high-achieving students, titled Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. In a series of Flypaper posts that followed, we examined the report's main findings: First, that three in five high-achieving students remain that way over time; second, that most students coming in and out of the 90th percentile never fall below the 70th percentile overall; and third, that high achievers maintain the same pace as middle and low achievers over time in math, but grow more slowly than middle and low achievers in reading.

For those readers interested in more nuanced findings, I encourage you to poke around the report's data gallery, hosted by the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association. Through the data gallery, you can break down these findings by grade range, subject, year, and even demographics?gender, ethnicity, poverty status, and location.

The future of our country rests on the shoulders of those high achievers in our schools today. While this study suggests that they are not in short supply, it also demonstrates that we could expand our pool of high achievers by identifying and supporting students with potential?many of those students above the 70th percentile overall?and by intervening before other students fall out of the high-achieving ranks. While this study has shed new light on the progress, missteps, and success of our nation's high flyers, it begs the...

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You can read Sam Wang and Sandra Aaamodt's ?Delay Kindergarten at Your Child's Peril? essay in today's New York Times for what the two neuroscientists have to say about the development of young brains ? ??Indeed, a 4-year-old's brain uses more energy than it ever will again? ? or you can use it as a cautionary tale about our dumbed down education system.

There is plenty of good science here about the question at hand, but I was especially struck by this line:

?children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability.

Aside from what it says about sending your kids to school too late or too early, the statement opens up a Pandora's box of issues for educators and education policymakers. At least, it should cause them to ask some pretty existential questions, especially whenever they hear phrases such as ??child-centered classrooms,? ?customized learning,? and ?individual education plans.?? Exactly who determines an individual child's ability, let alone what ?the limits? of that ability are? And does determining a child's ability in fact predetermine it?? The authors do not even touch the question of the standard by which we measure ability -- can we customize and standardize at the same time?? And, perhaps most importantly, what does it mean, as the authors say about the little ones, that ?school makes children smarter??? What!?? Don't Wan and Aamodt know that school is supposed to make kids ?life-long learners,? not smart? And haven't they heard of poverty?...

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Fordham's new report released on Tuesday, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students, examines individual high-achieving students to find whether the same students remain high-achieving throughout their school years, or whether the high-achieving ranks see lots of turnover. Over the last two days, we've examined two main findings: First, that three in five high-achieving students remain that way over time; and second, that most students coming in and out of the 90th percentile never fall below the 70th percentile overall.

As a group, however, high achievers will by definition always perform better than the vast majority of their peers. But do they further outpace their low- and middle-achieving students each year? Or do those students gain ground on high achievers? (Here we define high achievers as those at or above the 90th percentile; middle achievers as those between the 45th and 54th percentiles, inclusive; and low achievers as those below the 10th percentile.)

The answer: High flyers grew academically at similar rates to low and middle achievers in math, but grew at slightly slower rates than low and middle achievers in reading.

In other words, the gaps between low, middle, and high achievers remained relatively stable over time in math. But in reading, the gaps shrank between high achievers and their low and middle counterparts...

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The Obama administration's new waiver plan (officially here, and covered extensively here, here, and here?and elsewhere, I'm sure) doesn't officially repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, but it is tantamount to making large-scale amendments to it. Which it does unilaterally, without even a thumbs-up from Congress.

Though the specific conditions that the White House and Secretary Duncan are attaching to statewide ?flexibility waivers? are consistent with the Administration's long-standing ?blueprint? for reauthorizing NCLB, and also happen to be conditions that I think generally have merit, they amount to changing the law, not just waiving it. This raises Constitutional as well as statutory issues?though the administration's response, not surprisingly or implausibly, is that ?if a do-nothing Congress won't act to solve problems, we'll solve them ourselves as best we can.?

Yet the changes themselves?at least their timing and high-profile release?are motivated at least as much by election-year political considerations as by policy. This is not the first example, and surely won't be the last, of appealing to key constituencies by undoing, suspending, or waiving government practices that they find onerous and unpleasant. Consider the non-deportation of illegal aliens who haven't committed crimes. Hispanic (and other immigrant) voters will surely applaud this move and likely thank the administration in November 2012.

Today's announcements mean that teachers and parents (and school-board members and administrators) will also breathe...

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Yesterday, we looked at the first finding of Fordham's new groundbreaking study, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students, which examines the achievement of individual high-performing students?or ?high flyers??over time. The report found that a majority of high flyers?nearly three in five?maintained their altitude across grades. The converse, of course, is that around 30 to 50 percent (depending on grade range and subject) of initial high achievers ?lost altitude? (earning them the designation of ?Descenders?). But the high-achieving pool did not shrink with the loss of the Descenders. On the contrary, it grew, thanks to an influx of students ascending into the high-achieving ranks (earning them the designation of ?Late Bloomers.?

These trends beg the question: For those students who ?lose altitude? over time, how far do they fall? And for those who climb into the top tier, how did they perform academically in earlier grades?

The answer: The majority of students who attained high-flyer status at one point in time did not stray far from it.

In other words, most of the students who entered or exited the 90th percentile did so from not far below it. As Figure 2 shows, in elementary/middle school math, the average student who fell below the 90th percentile by eighth grade only fell as far as the 77th percentile. And the average student...

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Yesterday, Fordham released a groundbreaking study examining the achievement of individual high-performing students?or ?high flyers??over time. While accountability systems today have placed primary emphasis on the performance of low-achieving students, scant research has examined the progress of high achievers. This new study begins to fill that void by investigating whether high achievers remain that way over time; whether those students who fall out of the high-achieving ranks fall far below; and whether high achievers demonstrate more progress over time than their middle- and low-achieving peers.

Before we dive into the first of those questions, a little background on the methodology. We tracked two cohorts of students over time: an elementary/middle school group from third to eighth grades, and a middle/high school group from sixth to tenth grades. In each group, we defined high-achieving students as those who ranked at or above the 90th percentile, based on an external norm. In other words, the study sample (comprising the two cohorts) and the normed sample were separate, meaning that more or less than 10 percent of the students in the study could perform at or above the 90th normed percentile. We examined student performance in math and reading.

Now, the first question: Do high achievers remain high-achieving over time?

The answer: A majority of high flyers remain that way over time, but substantial numbers ?lose altitude.? As shown in...

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"Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first study to examine the performance of America’s highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and “leaving no child behind” coming at the expense of our “talented tenth”—and America’s future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.

What people are saying

"This study is important, very important!" - Jim Bohannon The Jim Bohannon Show

"This report attempts to answer the critical and largely-neglected question of how high-performing students are faring in the NCLB-era classroom. The findings speak to the messy and inconvenient reality that individual students’ abilities are not fixed, nor their development predictable. For better and worse, changes in a learner’s academic achievement occur both because and in spite of what and how he or she is taught." - Jessica Hockett is an education consultant and Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) faculty member specializing in differentiated instruction, curriculum design for academically diverse classrooms, and education for...

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