Curriculum & Instruction

Guest Blogger

This is a guest post by Diane Ravitch, in response to "A Pedagogy of Practice" by Kathleen Porter-Magee.

When I say that poor kids should have the same school advantages as rich kids, I am not referring to unstructured classes and open classrooms, to balanced literacy or constructivist math.

I am speaking about classes of 15 students, instead of classes of 25-30. I am speaking about schools that have a program rich in the arts, rather than schools that focus intently on preparing for the next state test of basic skills. I am speaking about schools where children study history and read biographies and trade books, engage in debates, discussions, and projects, not just read banal textbooks. I am speaking about schools that teach science and have working laboratories for experiments and demonstrations. I am speaking about schools that teach great literature and engage vigorously in discussion of controversial topics.

I am speaking about schools that have the resources to keep their facilities up to date and spotless and to provide students with access to current technology.

I am speaking about schools that treasure their teachers, treat them with respect, give them the autonomy to teach as they think best.

I am speaking about schools that view education as a way of thinking and knowing and doing, of schools that seldom if ever administer standardized, multiple-choice tests. I am thinking of schools that have the luxury of teaching children to be thoughtful, independent, responsible,...

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Alfie Kohn's Education Week commentary about the "pedagogy of poverty" has sparked a renewed debate about which kind of education is "best" for poor kids?and whether it's the same as what affluent children get. After describing a curriculum that "consists of a series of separate skills, with more worksheets than real books, more rote practice than exploration of ideas, more memorization (sometimes assisted with chanting and clapping) than thinking," Kohn writes:

Is racism to blame here? Or could it be that, at its core, the corporate version of ?school reform? was never intended to promote thinking?let alone interest in learning?but merely to improve test results? That pressure is highest in the inner cities, where the scores are lowest. And indeed the pedagogy of poverty can sometimes ?work? to raise those scores, but at a huge price. Because the tests measure what matters least, it's possible for the accountability movement to simultaneously narrow the test-score gap and widen the learning gap.

Set aside the ugly and inaccurate caricature that Kohn paints about high performing schools. (For a more accurate depiction, read David Whitman's Sweating the Small Stuff. There's a ton of "thinking" and "learning" going on in the schools he profiles.)

[caption id="attachment_16724" align="alignright" width="531" caption="Students at Columbus Collegiate Academy"][/caption]

The question of whether affluent and disadvantaged kids need a different kind of education?different instructional strategies, different curriculum, maybe even different kinds of teachers?is a serious...

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Liam Julian

Ross Perlin's new book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy?removes the comedy from the tableau of the keen,?fresh-faced intern, set on changing the world yet?so far struggling to change even the toner in the office copy machine. Perlin sees America's millions of interns as a largely illegal army providing menial labor on which government agencies, private companies, and nonprofits rely and for which individual interns earn little to no money or worthwhile experience.

Perlin makes his case in dense chapters exploring the history (short), legality (dubious), and economics (all screwed up) of modern internships. His villains are many and varied. Higher education is one.

Perlin writes about the for-credit internship, which for many universities ?form a significant revenue stream.? Gina Neff, a professor at the University of Washington, tells Perlin, ?It's a dirty little secret? that internships are ?a very cheap way to provide credits . . . cynically, a budget balance? for schools. When a college offers credit to, say, a communications student who interns at a local PR firm, it is able to?pocket tuition dollars without providing any service. In fact, Neff knows of many UW students who have interned at just such a place: ?I read the reports of what students do at this [PR] firm and it makes me cry [a bit dramatic, but whatever]. Here the students are paying good money?paying for four or five credits a quarter to work for this group?and they're being...

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The U.S. didn't triumph over terrorism today but its brave fighting men won a crucial battle when they rid the world of Osama bin Laden. Bravo for them?and may his soul suffer eternal damnation.

This achievement inevitably recalled memories of 9/11 and is bound to cause educators across the land to ask themselves how best to teach their young charges about what happened on that beautiful/dreadful autumn morning and about the terrorism threat that has never ceased.

Allow me to remind one and all that, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Fordham brought out a publication on that exact topic: "September 11: What Our Children Need to Know." You can find it on our website, containing some twenty-three short essays from some of the most thoughtful people I know. I offer it as a valuable resource for teachers and other adults trying to help children (or adults, for that matter) put the events of the past 24 hours into perspective.

Near it on our website, you will also find "Terrorists, Despots and Democracy: What Our Children Need to Know," which Fordham published the following August (2003), containing yet more material for educators (and others) to use in teaching kids about these events and their background.

Please have a look. I just did, and...

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Alfie Kohn is the latest to weigh in on ?the pedagogy of poverty,? as he calls it, with his ?How Education Reform Traps Poor Children? commentary in Education Week ? and he does it as crudely as Joe Nocera did it in the Times the other day (see my Education Unbound*): first by distorting ?the proposals collectively known as `school reform,'? then by ignoring the facts. ?(See the letter to the editor of the Times by teacher Neal Suidan, who says that, ?In the absence of an immediate plan to fix poverty, family structure and school funding, the only place where we can influence the fate of these students is in the classroom. That's where the focus should be.?)

Flypaper's Kathleen Porter-Magee jumped all over Kohn for his ?pedagogical strawman? -- ?in fact, she says, ?the pedagogy that is used and encouraged at the most successful urban charter schools around the country? are actually designed to create the conditions where student thinking and learning can actually happen?? -- and Core Knowledge's Robert Pondiscio did an excellent counterpunch by pointing out that ?a lot more damage [is] being done to low-income urban kids in the name of `authentic learning' and a refusal to acknowledge the cognitive benefits of a knowledge-rich core curriculum.?

Indeed, Kohn sticks the ?pedagogy of poverty? labels on the wrong foreheads.? He confuses cause and effect and, in a typical ruse of rhetoric, blames those trying to fix the problem of...

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This article originally appeared in the April 21 edition of The Education Gadfly newsletter. You can sign up for The Education Gadfly or read an overview of the latest newsletter.

Along with paralysis over the budget (and so much else), there's enduring paralysis on Capitol Hill?over federal education policy. While 2011 has brought a flurry of promising reform activity at the state level, we detect barely a heartbeat in Washington when it comes to updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently NCLB), even though an overhaul is at least four years overdue and just about everyone agrees that it's not working very well.

A year ago, the Obama Administration offered a decent ?blueprint? for reauthorization; but in Congress there are major fissures within each party?and little evidence of desire to cooperate across the aisle. Most commentators agree?and staffers privately admit?that chances are slim for an update before the 2012 elections. Sadly, they are probably right. It's a major abdication of responsibility by our nation's lawmakers.

Click to read our ESEA briefing book

And what makes it especially painful is that there's a pretty obvious path forward, not too different from the Administration's proposal. We sketch it out in a new ESEA reform proposal released this week. It capitalizes on some key realities:

First, NCLB has done a pretty good job of sensitizing the country to the...

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In my interview with outgoing New York education commissioner David Steiner, whose passion for curriculum has been no secret, I asked about curriculum and the common core and I think it is worth excerpting some of our conversation:

EN (Education Next): How do we get teachers to see the need for a rigorous, aligned, and common core curriculum?

DS (David Steiner): Oh, I think that by and large they do.

EN: And who should write such a curriculum?

DS: Well, first of all, when I discuss the idea of a state wide curriculum with the leaders of both the NYSUT and the UFT [teacher unions], they were and are enthusiastic.? They are our partners in this work and I think that the key is the design.

You don't want a kind of French straightjacket, where you say that at 11:15 on Monday morning every 11-year-old is opening the same page of the same text.? That doesn't seem consistent with our traditions, our history, and our culture.? On the other hand, it's true that right now we have a total fragmentation and even within the same large high school, within the same grade, you might have teachers teaching at a very different content level and [different] content itself.

So how do you build a really attractive, flexible curriculum that has modules that could be used, not only for students who are on grade level, but for those who may be a year behind, for the

...
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Liam Julian

A New York Times-Chronicle of Higher Education collaboration yields a story about the lowly undergraduate business department, where slackers slack with impunity. The?unremarkable business school student, the article suggests,?is an unconcerned fellow, missing class or sleeping through it, neglecting his studies, and generally spending his days drinking with buddies and powering through grocery money at his roommate's homemade poker table. And then he graduates with an entirely respectable GPA?a 3.1 or so, ?right in that meaty part of the curve, not showing off, not falling behind,? as George Constanza would say?and goes on to an entirely respectable white-collar job managing this, selling that, or representing the other. The most recent National Survey of Student Engagement, whatever that is, found that business majors ?spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field,? according to the Times-Chronicle piece. They also score less well than any other group on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which tests pupils in writing and reasoning at the start of their freshman year and then again at the end of their sophomore year. And business majors who intend to pursue graduate-level instruction at business school score lower on the GMAT, business school's SAT, than all other majors. Add to this that over 20 percent of the undergraduate degrees issued each year are business degrees, ?making it the most popular field of study,? and the worrying begins.

The article identifies three ?sources of trouble?: first, too many pupils choose their majors by default...

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