Curriculum & Instruction

Now what?

Checker and Mike autopsy the Chicago teachers’ strike and wonder why students at top schools have the cheating bug. Amber looks at why kids jst cn’t seam to rite.

Amber's Research Minute

National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011 (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, 2012).

A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.

The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012.

The Windy City is the moment's education show pony, but the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead.

While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school...

Perhaps the most seductive trap in all of education reform is the idea of replication, a.k.a. “scaling.” A charter school is high achieving? Turn it into a CMO! A curriculum is achieving big results? Bring it into every classroom in its district! An instructional strategy is clicking with teachers? Take it nationwide! In theory, this makes sense, best practices and all that. We should multiply success and shun failure. If something is working, why not replicate it?

copier
Copying success doesn't always lead to success.
Photo by Andre W.

Too often, though, replication falls short of these high expectations. It ends up more like an old-fashioned Xerox, where each new copy is a little fainter and blurrier than the one that came before.

In education, the Xerox effect often stems from a shift in focus. In the high achieving schools and classrooms so many seek to copy, teachers and leaders work together with their eyes firmly trained on the goal of improving student achievement. In replication schools, however,...

Tom English

Guest blogger Tom English is husband of a teacher, father of two, sacristan, and freelance writer. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

In a September 5, 2012, issue of the Portland [Oregon] Tribune an article titled “Schools beat the drum for equity” is nominally about equity in education but could just as easily be a story about the racial inequities of peanut-butter sandwiches and noontime drum classes for black and Latino boys.

Peanut-butter sandwiches are racist, the story explains, because not all cultures have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their food pyramid; specifically, the Somali and Hispanic cultures. The noontime drum classes are racist because they are targeted to black and Latino boys even though the principal says no one has been turned away, irate parents’ comments to the contrary.

The principal of Harvey Scott K-8 School in Portland is the real focus of the article. Verenice Guiterrez is working hard to make sure that there is equity in education in her school and to improve education for students of color. She is doing so by following the guidelines of the Portland Public Schools, specifically of a program designed by consultant Glenn Singleton to eliminate racial educational disparity...

Martin R. West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has authored a new study focusing on the pros and cons of state policies that require retention of third-grade students who do not test sufficiently proficient in reading. Such a policy has been in place in Florida since 2003 and that policy has been used as the basis for similar efforts in other states, including Ohio which this year passed and signed into law Senate Bill 316. This law will require third graders to read at a state minimum standard to advance to fourth grade.

These policies rest upon a number of studies that show that proficient reading is the bedrock of all other learning going forward, and that a lack of reading proficiency at this critical stage of learning development leads to lower outcomes over the long-haul (e.g., higher intervention needs and increased dropout rates). West adds to this literature by examining the educational path of Florida students who were retained in third grade in 2003 over the ensuing six years to determine what impact the retention had on those students’ academic advancement.

West finds a significant short-term achievement boost in reading in the first two...

“Using analytics, we discovered when it’s drizzling outside, people eat more cake.”

You might’ve seen this IBM commercial: the quaint European bakery, the soothing narrator’s voice, and the iconic IBM-blue letterboxing. The message is simple—use data analytics and improve performance (oh, and by the way, IBM is pretty darn good at data).

In his review of schools’ use of technology and data, Darrell West of the Brookings Institution poses an IBM-style question to schools: what are you doing to utilize data to improve performance? West hints that, really, there is no excuse for schools not to use data. In fact, according to West, schools should use data, and that yes, there are multiple ways that schools can use data.

West enumerates a laundry-list of research on classroom technology. One pathway that technology can improve classroom performance is in reducing the teacher-student feedback loop. Students, for example, can take informal, online assessments that give teachers on-the-spot results, so they can take immediate interventions in a student’s education.

Selling technology as a solution for classroom management will likely be the next step in the more-widespread implementation of technology. And like a good sales pitch, West’s report provides evidence, ideas, and suggestions...

We Don’t Need No Education” by Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, in yesterday’s New York Times is a succinct, and mostly compelling, argument for giving all our children a solid liberal arts education beyond high school.

Shouldn’t every American citizen have a right to the best education we can deliver?

Though I’m not sure that taking out after the “instrumentalist rhetoric” of recent reports like that of the Council on Foreign Relations (U.S. Education Reform and National Security) is appropriate, Roth is right to question those who wonder “why people destined for low-paying jobs should bother to pursue their education beyond high school, much less study philosophy, literature and history.” I have written about the subject before (here, here, and here) because, as Roth argues, it’s important. It’s an education policy issue that, played out in the trenches, is very much a social justice issue, if not a moral one—and, I would argue, very much a national security issue. This was the point of my post on Earl Shorris’s Roberto Clemente program for the poor; that the poor deserve a good education too. As Shorris wrote:

If the multigenerational poor are to...

Perhaps the most seductive trap in all of education reform is the idea of replication. A charter school is high achieving? Turn it into a CMO! A curriculum is achieving big results? Bring it to every classroom in its district! An instructional strategy is clicking with teachers? Take it nationwide! In theory, this makes sense. We should, after all, learn from the best, and if something is working, why not replicate it?

copier
Copying success doesn't always lead to success.
Photo by Andre W.

Too often, though, replication falls short of these high expectations. It ends up more like an old-fashioned Xerox, where each new copy is a little worse than the one that came before.

In education, the Xerox effect often stems from a shift in focus. In the high achieving schools and classrooms so many seek to copy, teachers and leaders work together with their eyes firmly focused on the goal of improving student achievement. In replication schools, however, that focus is too often diverted from...

“No excuses” charter schools have shown themselves to be immensely successful at educating low-income and minority students. But how successful have they been at preparing these youngsters for the rigors of college? This American RadioWorks documentary profiles the YES Prep charter network in Houston, which is wrestling with that exact question. YES Prep runs eleven sixth through twelfth grade schools, serving 7,000 students in Space City. The charter network boasts a 100 percent four-year college-acceptance rate—but only a 40 percent college-graduation rate, which has YES Prep staffers confused. Their students all take AP courses—and pass them at rates over double the national average. The school's curricula seems like it should prepare graduates for college. YES Prep staffers are now investigating the role that “grit”—the willingness to work harder and longer than most others would consider rational—may play in determining college success. They found, for example, that those who most struggled in their YES Prep schools fared the best when they got to college, showing that academic perseverance may matter more than innate smarts. Documentarian Emily Hanford also reminds us, however, that these students may have also succeeded because they were able—and knew how—to find and receive help on a...

The premise of Paul Tough’s excellent new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character—that cognitive ability matters, but character traits like tenacity, curiosity, and optimism matter more—is a strong challenge to my long-held notion that, when students struggle, whether in high school or college, much of that is attributable to their lack of academic preparedness. How Children Succeed largely argues otherwise, but there is a brief but fascinating account late in the book that suggests we shouldn’t be too quick to worship at the altar of grit alone.

playing black
Is school just like chess? Perhaps not. 
Photo by Adam Raoof.

The first half of Tough’s book unpacks clinical research that demonstrates the importance of parents protecting children from adversity in the first years of life. But it is the ability to persist in difficult tasks that ultimately seems to lead to success. Tough’s book, broadly speaking, makes the case that, insofar...

Pages