Curriculum & Instruction

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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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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Today's Times (unless you read it online yesterday or the day before), covers some fertile educational ground in three important arenas.

A Little Shakespeare in Welding Class, Please! The deep recession has exposed a few education ribs in the nation's torso the last couple of years. And Motoko Rich has an excellent report about the impact budget cutbacks are having on the technical and trade schools.

The administration has proposed a 20 percent reduction in its fiscal 2012 budgdet for career and technical education, to a little more than $1 billion, even as it seeks to increase overall education funding by 11 percent.

The silver lining ? and best part of the story -- is toward the end, when Rich addresses the problem, as she writes, that ?the skills that employers most frequently say are in shortest supply are critical thinking, the ability to work in teams and communication, not specialized training.? ??She cites a Pioneer Institute study pointing out that manuals for many of these trade jobs, like plumbing and auto mechanics, require Grade 14 reading level and that more technical schools are realizing that even kids destined for blue-collar and busted-knuckle jobs should know how to read and write.

On the Avenue Seeing Benno Schmidt with hard-hat in hand does not mean that the former president of Yale is opening a trade school ? especially when he's standing next to education entrepreneur Chris Whittle and media executive Alan Greenberg.? What...

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Laurent Rigal

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For six years, Prince George's County Public Schools, a Maryland district just outside our nation's capital, has aggressively recruited foreign teachers (predominantly from the Philippines) to teach in PG County in order to help the district address its desperate need of Highly Qualified teachers (NCLB-style) in difficult-to-staff areas like science, math, and special education. And the recruiting paid off: Hundreds of foreign national teachers answered the call, in a large part because of the opportunity (heavily underlined by PGCPS recruiters) that a H1-B visa (or ?work visa?) could lead in the long term to a permanent resident status (or ?green card?). Put aside for a moment the problem with attracting teachers via the lure of a potential ?green card? (something the district can in no way ensure). The biggest issue with the program?and why it fell under investigation by the Department of Labor?is that it charged would-be teachers thousands of dollars in illegal fees (for visa processing, placement, attorneys fees, etc.). The Department of Labor called the practice a ?violations of willful nature.?

This DOL investigation (which wrapped up yesterday when PGCPS dropped its appeal) found quite the rat's nest at the program's core. To start, the overseas hiring practices of PG County, while well-intentioned, were completely ill-managed. More importantly, though, PGCPS has effectively condemned hundred of teachers to not only lose their jobs but to also lose their...

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This is getting to be an old story (see here and here), but it's an important one. Yesterday's release of a report on the three-year-old Atlanta schools test cheating scandal seems to confirm our worst fears:? it was widespread, which means it was systemic, involving 44 schools and 178 teachers. According to Kim Severson, writing in today's New York Times*, ?a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in the district, which led to a conspiracy of silence.?**? Said Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who released the report, ?There will be consequences.?

Let's hope so. No doubt, the case will fan the flames of the high-stakes testing fires. Are we putting too much pressure on teachers to ?perform?? And their administrators? Apparently, even one-time National Superintendent of the Year Beverly Hall is implicated. (As Severson reports, she just retired and? ?left Tuesday for a Hawaiian vacation.?) How do you explain systemic cheating?

As I opined last February, ?the range and depth of the problem, especially given the improbability of a conspiracy, is troubling.? Lacking a conspiracy, we are left with an explanation of?moral and ethical breakdown of epidemic proportions. And the question: how is the virus spread??

I'm not sure if the? "conspiracy of silence" proves me wrong, but there are things that can be done?including putting people in jail?and I would hope that Governor Deal is serious about consequences.

By the same token, our policymakers need to take a close look at...

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It is hard to read the Declaration of Independence without being moved by the document's plainspoken audacity, especially recalling that it wasn't then a "document," but a rather blunt call to arms.? And while we tend to focus on the sublime words?"when in the course of human events" and "self-evident" truths?of its first and second sentences, the manifesto's list of the King's ?repeated injuries and usurpations? never ceases to amaze me.? Every year I choose a different favorite complaint. This time, in part because of the aggravations seen by some in the Common Core and the ESEA reauthorization,? it is this: "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."

Those guys were brilliant?and brave.

The crisis now before us is that we are creating citizens who won't remember the revolutionaries and what they did, much less appreciate the reasons for the revolution. We know that only 17 percent of our eighth graders scored at or above proficient on the 2010 NAEP history test. (It is somewhat reassuring, perhaps, that 62 percent of them were able to identify the Declaration as the source of "we hold these truths to be self-evident.") But Fordham took us into the heart of darkness earlier this year with its report, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011, documenting the sorry state of our schools' approach to the teaching of history. Wrote Checker Finn and...

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I stewed most of the week about how to respond to Deborah Meier's recent Bridging Differences post on ?college for all.?? She's against it, of course. She thinks the movement is another piece of the right-wing, high-stakes testing, corporate behemoth conspiracy.? And I had a high-brow response almost ready to go (see College for All, Please! Part 2, coming soon) ? until yesterday morning, when I picked up my New York Times and read (in the new ?Sunday Review? section) David Leonhardt's masterful KO of the silly notion that we shouldn't encourage kids to go to college: Even for Cashiers, College Pays Off. As Whitney Tilson would say Stop the Presses!!!? ?The graphics alone (compiled from the Center on Education and the Work Force at Georgetown) should take your breath away:

  • A dishwasher with a college degree earns 83% more than a dishwasher with no college
  • A cashier with a college degree, 56% more
  • A plumber, 39%

Etcetera.

Writes Leonhardt:

The most unfortunate part of the case against college is that it encourages children, parents and schools to aim low.

Why should we even be arguing about this?

Leonhardt quotes David Autor, an M.I.T. economist, saying rather bluntly, ?Sending more young Americans to college is not a panacea?. Not sending them to college would be a disaster.?

Unfortunately, that disaster, aided and abetted by smart people like Deborah Meier, is already upon us.? (Full disclosure:? Ms. Meier is a...

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There are two stories in today's New York Times that merit some consideration. One is an essay about a sperm donor and the other is a pop history quiz (sorry, test-haters, it's multiple choice). ?What the two have in common is 12th-grade.? The essay writer, one Colton Wooten, we are told, ?graduated from Leesville Road High School* this month.?? And the Times test is taken from the infamous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) history exam that got so much press this past week (see here and here).

Start with the test. As the headline asks, ?Are You as Smart as a 12th Grader??? Well, my guess is that the average adult American is probably as smart as the average 12th-grader, considering that only 12 percent of the NAEP sample of seniors were proficient in the history test.? But the questions are not easy ? everyone remember what the Ordinance of Nullification was? ? and the test, however golden a standard,? is probably a better measure of the nation's curriculum anarchy than of student knowledge.? (See my post on the national obsession with putting the assessment cart before the curriculum horse.)

Mr. Wooten's essay illustrates a different set of challenges for our schools; most specifically, how do you teach writing?? The young man's op-ed essay is wonderfully constructed and shows a mastery of the topic and of the writing craft that is far more mature than the standard 12th-grade fare I've read.

I

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Guest Blogger

The following, by Peter Wehner, originally appeared on the Commentary Magazine blog.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2010 ?report card? on the command of history our fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders have. The results are not encouraging. Over all, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam. (NAEP defines three achievement levels for each test: ?basic? denotes partial mastery of a subject; ?proficient? represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and ?advanced? means superior performance.)

The tests were given last spring to a representative sample of 7,000 fourth graders, 11,800 eighth graders, and 12,400 12th graders nationwide, with history being one of eight subjects covered by NAEP (the others are math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography, and economics). The nation's eighth graders posted gains in American history achievement compared with four years ago, while at the fourth and twelfth grades, we saw no statistically significant changes since 2006.

It turns out history is the worst subject for American students (economics is the best). For examples, most fourth graders are unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and few high school seniors were able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War. Diane Ravitch, an education expert, drew special attention to the low scores for high school seniors....

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