Curriculum & Instruction

Of the many theories that have overtaken educational policy and practice, few have been as influential as the belief that every child learns in his or her own way (see Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind:The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983, which set the ?one size fits all? world on fire).? Just as ?rote memorization? has been booted from school houses, so ?customized learning? has become a battle cry for modern pedagogical movements like child-centered classrooms, schools of one, individualized instruction, ad infinitum, so to speak..... ? As Mike Petrilli wrote in his Education Next piece on differentiated instruction earlier this year,

The greatest challenge facing America's schools today isn't the budget crisis, or standardized testing, or ?teacher quality.? It's the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom.

Thanks to a wonderful report by Patti Neighmond in today's Morning Edition (National Public Radio), we may get back on the path of common sense in our approach to the "enormous variation" challenge.? Reports Neighmond, a new meta-study (a study of studies), by University of South Florida psychologist Doug Rohrer, suggests that that there's no scientific evidence to show that? the learning style movement has done anything for student learning.? Rohrer tells Neighmond,

We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these [learning style practices]?? and until such evidence exists we don't recommend that they be used.

Wow.

No doubt, we'll hear from...

If you step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy ?debate,? and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular ?coherence,? and the lack thereof in our nation's schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America's trademark dynamism inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite directions, they might best work in concert. [quote]

Let's start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David Cohen's Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America's teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about what's expected of them. Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from classroom expectations, and never ending ?reform? pulls up the roots of promising efforts before they are given time to flower.

The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the opportunity to work as professionals in environments of trust, clarity, and common purpose. (Japan envy yesterday, Finland envy today?) The members of this camp praise national standards, a national (or at least statewide) curriculum that gathers the best thinking about how to reach these standards and shares this thinking with...

Last June, the Wyoming Board of Education adopted the Common Core, making the Equality State one of the first states to do so. And implementation of the core standards has begun in earnest, with teachers around the state beginning to align their curriculum and instruction to the new standards.

Now it seems like Wyoming lawmakers are beginning to question the Board's decision and have actually told districts to ?slow down implementing standards not yet adopted.? (See here.)

In short, it seems that last year's adoption decision by the State Board did little more than include the Common Core ELA and math standards ?in the next revision of the Wyoming Content and Performance Standards,? which is currently underway. And those standards are still being vetted and changes can still be made through the end of this year. (See here for more.) And now lawmakers are starting to get cold feet and they're trying to decide whether the challenge the adoption decision writ large.

What's more, even if Wyoming does move forward the Common Core ELA and math standards, there is still some question about whether the state will opt to administer the assessments developed by one of the national assessment consortia, or whether it will opt to go it alone. (Wyoming joined the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) as a participating state, but has not yet fully committed to implement the assessment system.) Superintendent of Public Instruction, Cindy Hill, assures that "the Common Core standards will...

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...

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...

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

...

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?

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