Curriculum & Instruction

This latest missive from Brookings’s Brown Center on Education Policy hits hard from paragraph one: It questions the priorities of education policymakers and offers sharp, actionable recommendations for how to realign them. According to authors Matt Chingos and Russ Whitehurst, “There is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning—effects that rival in size those that are associated with differences in teacher effectiveness.” But few focus adequately on strengthening and evaluating instructional materials, instead dispensing far too much energy on the “context” of education (including governance arrangements, collective-bargaining agreements, and teacher-evaluation systems). This omission is even more onerous in the Common Core era: Without rigorous instructional materials linked to those new standards, they will not likely lead to noteworthy student improvement. To remedy this, Chingos and Whitehurst offer sound recommendations geared to various stakeholders: First, state education agencies should collect and report data on their districts’ instructional materials. To make this happen, national foundations should provide seed funding, the National Center for Education Statistics should offer guidance, and the Data Quality Campaign should act as watchdog. Second, the National Governors Association and...

In the 1990s, much of the fireworks in the education policy debate centered around a “reading war” where supporters of whole language squared off against the forces of phonics. Now, in the Common Core era, I predict a similar firestorm is on the horizon. Only this time, the debate will not be about how to teach students to read in the first place, but rather how to help them build knowledge and improve comprehension over time. More specifically: It’s about how to choose the books you are asking students to read. And the outcome of this debate could go a long way towards deciding the long-term impact of CCSS ELA standards.

"What to read?" will become the next debate in education policy.
 Photo by Duncan Harris

There are two camps in debate over how to select and assign texts. The first is what I’ll call the “Just Right” or “Goldilocks” books approach. The second I will call the “Grade Appropriate” approach.

The prevailing view among many educators in the United States...

Guest bloggers Kate Walsh and Arthur McKee are the president and managing director of teacher preparation studies, respectively, at the National Council on Teacher Quality. This post was originally published on NCTQ's Pretty Darn Quick blog.

You might not expect us to champion this great new report from Brookings, but we are. Russ Whitehurst and his new colleague, former Harvard professor Matt Chingos, not only decry the nation's excessive focus on teacher quality—at the expense of curriculum—but also provide some neat evidence of the cost of that imbalance to student performance.

Source: "Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core," by Matthew M. Chingos and Grover J. Whitehurst, (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2012).

One might quibble over the source of data for this little chart, given that the big impact from a better curriculum is derived from just a single study (though a very good one), but we think their point is still valid. Curriculum can and does move student performance. To quote the authors:...

The Education Gadfly Podstagram

Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.

Amber's Research Minute

Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit

A teacher friend of mine showed me the new issue of the American Educator, the American Federation of Teachers publication that bills itself as “a quarterly journal of education research and ideas.” He wanted me to read the cover story, called “Lead the Way: the Case for Fully Guided Instruction.” The research, by Richard Clark, Paul Kirschner, and John Sweller, has been around for a while, but that’s the astounding thing: not only has their research been around, but they argue, quite persuasively, that “[d]ecades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance.”

As a school board member I confess to deep and continuous agita over the the system’s inability to do the right thing.

I will not pretend to be an expert on teaching, but as a school board member I confess to deep and continuous agita over the system’s inability to do the right thing; rather, its amazing ability to deny reality, which is the prime directive for institutional entropy. (It is not just the reality of good research that is ignored, it’s the reality of crumbling schools and generations of untaught children.)...

I am pretty good at math. Unsurprisingly, the story about why I am good at math has a lot to do with a few exceptional teachers I had growing up in a small coal-mining town in Illinois.

One in particular was Mr. Nagrodski, my high-school math team coach, who seemed to conjure talented mathematicians out of thin air. In the late 80s, he pushed for a major acceleration in the junior-high math curriculum in our district so that more kids were ready for tough math classes in high school. He convinced the district to let him teach those tough math classes, which hadn't been offered before he arrived. As a result, his teams won state math competitions year after year after year—and not incidentally, turned out far more talented students of mathematics than anyone would have guessed could come from a little town of four thousand. (Among many other accolades, Mr. Nagrodski, was profiled in Fortune magazine back in 1991 as one of “25 Who Help the U.S. Win.")

By the time I was a middle schooler gearing up for Mr. Nagrodski's infamously difficult math team practices, roughly half of my class of 75 or so kids had been identified as...

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

Jester Slim

Following the lead of the Council on Foreign Relations, a task force convened by the National Fructose Association and the American Academy of Confectioners and co-chaired by Rosanne Barr and Willy Wonka has issued a path-breaking report on American education—recommending use of some bold (and necessary) change-agents. The panel laid out a savory strategy of rewards-based learning: U.S. schools should serve more sweets both during lunch and at snack time. Students who score above average on exams should be rewarded with Snickers bars (or M&Ms for those sad-sacks with peanut allergies). Earning an A makes your candy bar king-sized. They observed that sugary foods boost energy levels as well as kids’ motivation to learn. During a press call held on the date of report release, the task force brushed off questions about Type 2 diabetes as “fabrications and scaremongering from the same people who brought us Obamacare.” Insinuations that this program of “treat giving” closely resembled tactics for training puppies were also poo-pooed.

Peter Griffin, Eric Cartman, Yogi Bear, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus, They'll Swallow More Learning if You Sugar-coat It (Topeka, KS: National Fructose Association; McAllen, TX: American Academy of Confectioners, April...

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore” ― André Gide

As we’ve said numerous times before, for the vast majority of states, adoption of the Common Core standards was an enormous improvement. (Click for Fordham’s review of each state’s standards and the Common Core.) It’s equally clear that we have an enormous challenge on our hands to ensure that the Common Core is implemented in a way that makes the most of these stronger and more rigorous standards. Change is hard but Common Core, correctly implemented, has the potential to amp up expectations and instruction across American classrooms. 

I’ve already posted about the danger of curriculum publishers co-opting the Common Core to promote their own (relatively unchanged) materials. But there’s a second, and potentially even more troubling challenge that lies ahead: a resistance among teachers to changing their instruction.

As the time comes to start implementing Common Core some teachers are starting to dig in their heels.

Of course, for teachers, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. There has been no shortage of curriculum fads and reforms that have demanded instructional changes and promised improvements,...

In January, with the release of our analysis of state K-12 science standards, we reported that the state of state science standards was very poor—the overall national average was a very low C, and 26 states earned a D or F. This news was unwelcome, if also unsurprising.

But, as many people already know, a group of 26 states have teamed up with Achieve to do for science what the NGA and CCSSO did for ELA and math—to create a rigorous set of common standards that states would have the option to adopt as their own.

Whether those standards will be worth adoption remains an open question, but insiders tell us that we can expect the first public draft to be released for comment later this spring.

Our advice to the drafters of these “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS) was to look to the model state standards—to places like D.C., California, and Massachusetts—to inform their work. But what about the most commonly used national international benchmarks for science achievement—the NAEP, PISA, TIMSS, and ACT? The results from these assessments are often used to describe how well (or how poorly) states and nations are doing in science education. But are...