Curriculum & Instruction

Guest Blogger

Guest blogger Ze'ev Wurman, an executive with Monolithic 3D, a Silicon Valley startup, has participated in developing California's education standards and assessments in mathematics since the mid-1990s. Between 2007 and 2009 he served as a senior policy adviser with the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.

Paul Gross has done a fabulous job for Fordham distilling the essence of the recently published NRC Science Framework. His review deals with the Framework's content and rigor, as well as with its clarity and specificity. [pullquote]Gross...wisely observes that any good science program is an artful compromise between what is included and what is not.[/pullquote]Gross generally likes what he sees of the former, and wisely observes that any good science program is an artful compromise between what is included and what is not. The Framework also uses another device to clearly limit its expectations?the Boundary Statements that ?make explicit what is not expected of students at a given level.? Gross recognizes that such limitations amount to a matter of choice and illustrates it with the statement from the end of the 6-8 band:

Boundary Statement. In this grade band, the forces and structures within atoms and their role in the forces between atoms are not introduced?nor are the periodic table and the variety of types of chemical bonds.

Gross spends some time discussing the implication of such limits** and, ultimately, concludes ?that is a matter of professional (scientific...

The Education Gadfly

Differentiation, tracking, and the needs of high-achievers are hot topics these days, thanks in part to Fordham's recent study Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. Mike Petrilli kept the conversation going with Kansas City talk radio show host Greg Knapp yesterday morning?listen in here?discussing the study's findings, the decline of gifted education, and the great potential of online courses for exceptional students. ?Today in our schools it's considered elitist even to consider having gifted programs or honors programs, and we've got to push back against that,? said Mike.? Without those challenging classes, Mike warned, ?the high achieving kids stop performing because they're bored to tears."

Representatives from twenty states are hard at work developing Next Generation Science Standards—and using as their starting point the National Research Council’s recently released Framework for K-12 Science Education. This review of that framework, by Paul R. Gross, applauds its content but warns that it could wind up sending standards-writers off track. This appraisal finds much to praise in the Framework but also raises important concerns about a document that may significantly shape K-12 science education in the U.S. for years to come.

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...

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...

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?...

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...

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...

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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