Curriculum & Instruction

Adding fuel to a small but growing anti-Common Core fire, Andrew Porter penned an op-ed in Education Week this week that questioned the value and rigor of the Common Core ELA and math standards. He explains:

I hoped that new national curriculum standards would be better than the state standards they replaced, and that new student assessments would be better, too.

I wish I could say that our progress toward common-core standards has fulfilled my hopes. Instead, it seems to me that the common-core movement is turning into a lost opportunity.

His critique of the Common Core is grounded in a study that he and a team of U Penn researchers conducted that compared the both the topics covered and the ?cognitive demand? of the Common Core standards with the state standards they are going to replace. (According to Porter and his team, there are five categories of cognitive demand: memorize; perform procedures; demonstrate understanding; conjecture, generalize, prove; and solve non-routine problems. All objectives from the state and Common Core English Language Arts and math standards are grouped under one of these headings.)

Before even diving into a discussion of the substance of their analysis, the metric that Porter et al use is problematic. The researchers dive immediately into the weeds by dividing content into different topics and categorizing each objective under different headings. And, by doing so, Porter and his team lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Take, for example, a common...

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Excuse the pun, but here we go again.? News out of New York is that Gotham's public schools will ?mandate sex education? (how not to have sex, why not to have it, or to have it safely, whatever).? The city's schools don't have a history curriculum or science curriculum or math curriculum, but? by golly, they shall have Sex Education 101, 2, 3, etc. (I exaggerate, but not by much).

In fact, the most telling line in Fernando Santos' and Anna Phillips' front page New York Times story this morning is buried inside the paper, a third of the way through:

It is also unusual because the city does not often tell schools what to teach.

What is it about sex?? For some reason schools chancellor Dennis Walcott feels ?a responsibility? to impose sex education, as he tells the Times. So, why doesn't he feel the same responsibility about literature, mathematics, geography, art, music, science?

From the Times we learn that ?high schools in New York have been distributing condoms for more than 20 years.?? But wait, the next sentence reads, ?In the new sex-education classes, teachers will describe how to use them.?

You can't make this stuff up.

Unfortunately, teen pregnancy is an important subject that is rarely treated properly; i.e. as a symptom, not a disease.? Symptom of what?? Most of the subtext of the Times story assumes that teen pregnancy is caused by a deficit of knowledge about sex -- you...

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Every so often educators and reformers think, if we're educating kids for the future, we need to do a better job of adapting our education system to meet the needs of tomorrow. That our education systems needs to, in some sense, ?get with the times? so that we can better serve our students today.

The latest argument to that effect comes from a book (Now You See It) written by Cathy N. Davidson and related blog post from Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times. In her piece, Heffernan argues:

??fully 65 percent of today's grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn't been invented yet?For those two-thirds of grade-school kids, if for no one else, it's high time we redesigned American education.?

And so, because today's students will be doing things that we can't imagine, we need to rethink the kinds of work we're assigning today. Including research papers, which Heffernan argues have outlived their usefulness:

Teachers and professors regularly ask students to write papers. Semester after semester, year after year, ?papers? are styled as the highest form of writing. And semester after semester, teachers and professors are freshly appalled when they turn up terrible.

Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form

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The debates surrounding Ohio’s biennial budget and other education-related legislation during the first half of 2011 were intense, and it’s no wonder. The state headed into the year facing a historic deficit, federal stimulus money was vanishing, and school districts were preparing for draconian cuts. Meanwhile, despite decades of reform efforts and increases in school funding, Ohio’s academic performance has remained largely stagnant, with barely one-third of the state’s students scoring proficient or better in either math or reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Achievement gaps continued to yawn between black and white students and between disadvantaged youngsters and their better-off peers.

 Revised considerably by the General Assembly, Governor Kasich’s budget plan (House Bill 153), a 5,000-page document that both funded the Buckeye State through fiscal year 2013 and included dozens of education-policy changes, was signed into law on June 30. The Ohio House and Senate were also engaged during the spring in passing other legislation that impacts schools.

It’s time to take stock. To what extent have Ohio’s leaders met the challenges and opportunities before them in K-12 education? What needs to happen next?

Jeff Smink's New York Times essay, ?This is Your Brain on Summer,? about summer learning loss, makes me think of my childhood summers in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley, where I am now vacationing. ?Our summers then (a few decades ago) began in late May, when we were let out of school to help bring in the local strawberry crop.? I can't recall if there was an age limit, but seven-years-old was not too early to begin your summer job, especially if you had older brothers and sisters to lift you aboard the flatbed trucks (or the idled yellow school buses chartered by some of the farmers). ?It helped that some of the same people who worked in the schools were there to chaperone our endeavors -- these were field trips with a purpose. Our mother was up at 4:30, making sack lunches, would wake us at 5, feed us our Cheerios or pancakes, and hot chocolate, and hustle us out the door by 5:30 to meet the truck (or bus), a half mile away. ?We worked the fields, generally, four to six hours a day, four or five days a week for four to six weeks.? We had fun ? and made some money. After the strawberries were harvested, the taller kids among us ? those who could reach five foot high ? would help bring in the string bean crop.? That took you through August. ?Back to school in September.

Smink, the vice president for policy for...

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It is encouraging news, from Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute, that New York City's three-year-old pilot project testing the content rich Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum in ten low-income schools has proved so far, as the Daily News headline has it, ?a brilliant experiment in reading.?

According to Stern,

On a battery of reading tests, the kindergartners in the Core Knowledge program had achieved gains five times greater than those of students in the control group. The second-year study showed that the Core Knowledge kids made reading gains twice as great as those of students in the control group.

This is no surprise to fans of E.D. Hirsch, whose research over the last 25 years (from Cultural Literacy (1987) to The Making of Americans (2010)), has shown that teaching children a wide-ranging but comprehensive content heavy curriculum actually improves reading more than teaching reading skills does.? As Robert Pondiscio of the Core Knowledge Foundation explains it,

Two large (and largely overlooked) problems remain at the root of the reading crisis:? a lack of a coherent elementary school curriculum, and a stubborn insistence on teaching and testing reading comprehension as a how-to ?skill.?? Comprehension is highly correlated with general knowledge?the more you know, the greater your ability to read, write, speak and listen with fluency and comprehension.? Thus an essential component of reading comprehension instruction must be a focused commitment to build broad background knowledge in a coherent manner from the earliest days of schools?precisely what

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The Republican presidential field is beginning to take shape, and candidates and maybe-candidates are figuring out where they stand and what to say. Sooner or later, they will need to say something about education. May we suggest a few talking points? Or, better yet, a potential speech for a GOP candidate?

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[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Photo by Josh Berglund 19"][/caption]

Folks, you know that our education system is tattered. Some of it is fine, but too much is mediocre or worse. Once the envy of the world, American schools are losing ground to those in Europe and Asia. Today, many countries are out-teaching, out-learning, and out-hustling our schools?????????and doing it for a fraction of the cost.

Meanwhile, failed education systems in our cities worsen the odds that the next generation will climb out of poverty into decent jobs and a shot at the American dream. And as much as many of us prefer not to notice, way too many of our suburban schools are just getting by. They may not be dropout factories, but they're not preparing anywhere near enough of their pupils to revive our economy, strengthen our culture, and lead our future.

Turning this situation around has been the work of education reform for the past two decades. We've spent a lot of money on it. We've had any number of schemes and plans and laws and pilot programs. And we've seen some modest success. Graduation...

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