Curriculum & Instruction

Of the many dumb ways to close budget holes, perhaps the one most worthy of the title "self-inflicted wound" is the move to reduce the number of extra-curricular activities offered to students (or to pass along the costs to families in the form of fees).

I can't prove it, but I strongly suspect that one of the reasons American kids do so well in life (starting entrepreneurial companies, embracing a spirit of optimism, creating wealth, etc.)--even though they score poorly on international tests--is because of what they pick up from sports, theater, band, student council, and the like. These activities are perfectly designed to teach "the most important things," as David Brooks describes them in his column today, like character, and how to build relationships.

Over the past few decades, we have tended to define human capital in the narrow way, emphasizing I.Q., degrees, and professional skills. Those are all important, obviously, but this research illuminates a range of deeper talents, which span reason and emotion and make a hash of both categories:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one's own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

I can only imagine that when...

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Today, education leaders from across the nation (including our own Checker Finn) came together to endorse the idea of creating a national, voluntary, common curriculum that would be designed to supplement the national, voluntary, Common Core ELA and math standards. (See here and here for more.) While well-intentioned, shifting the focus right now to a national curriculum?no matter how voluntary?is a mistake.

That's not to say that teachers aren't going to need rigorous and thorough curricula to help them effectively teach to the standards. They are.

Rather, it's a question of what is the proper role of the state in CCSS implementation. And unless the state wants to get in the business of policing schools' proper implementation of a curriculum?whether that ?curriculum? is as detailed as a script or as general as a pacing guide?they would do better to focus the lion's share of their time and attention elsewhere. Namely, on ensuring that there are rigorous, CCSS-aligned summative state assessments in all core content areas.

The easy answer is of course to say that's already being taken care of. Most states have joined one of two consortia and the work on those CCSS-aligned assessments is already well underway.

But there is still much assessment work that needs to be done. For starters, between now and when the consortia-created assessments are ready for prime-time, states be tweaking their existing assessment blueprints to ensure that essential content is being properly prioritized across the grades.

What's...

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Last week, the National Endowment of the Arts released a new analysis showing a sharp decline in participation in arts education nationwide, with particularly bad news for African-Americans and Hispanics. Here's how Ed Week's excellent Curriculum Matters blog covered it:

Fewer American children are getting access to arts education, whether at school or elsewhere, according to a new analysis of federal data issued by the National Endowment for the Arts. What's especially alarming is that the overall decline is only part of the story: The drop is apparently most severe for African-Americans and Hispanics.

The research, part of a broader look at arts participation by U.S. adults, finds that fewer 18-year-olds surveyed in 2008 reported receiving any arts education in childhood than did those surveyed in 1982, dropping from about 65 percent to 50 percent. The report also includes survey data in 1992 and 2002, and each successive time the overall figure was lower.

The analysis includes a slightly broader pool of adults surveyed in breaking down the results by race and ethnicity, including those ages 18 to 24. Here, the data are most stark. Just 26 percent of African-Americans surveyed in 2008 reported receiving any arts education in childhood, a huge drop from the 51 percent who reported as much in 1982.

"We've moved from a half to a quarter of all African-Americans," Sunil Iyengar, the director of research and analysis at the endowment, told me. "It's now 26 percent. ... You're talking about

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Just when I thought we were making progress in devising a national core curriculum, everyone is already talking about tests based on the Common Core, which is still in its infancy.?

In New York State, the Regents recently entertained a proposal to replace their Regents Exams with tests developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).? Those are the folks representing 26 states which educate 60 percent of our K--12 students.?

Rick Hess weighed in last week with an essay wondering whether the common core was ?running off the rails already.?? Hess's worries derive from a recent symposium on ?through-course assessment? that was attended by ?a slew of heavy-hitters from the world of assessment and test development,??including PARCC.

What surprised Hess, as he writes, was ?a seeming disregard for the policy or practical impact of this whole enterprise.?? One problem is that there are laws prohibiting?the use of?federal funds to develop curricula.? Then there's the money problem: who's going to pay for the new assessments?? As mentioned before (here), Rick also has questions about how a national curriculum will impact the experimentation values of the charter school movement.

All of this suggests?a larger problem:? while we? inch toward a common curriculum, we are getting bogged down?in a distracting?debate on state autonomy while?the standards and testing industry is zooming ahead, already writing tests based on standards -- and no curriculum. ???????

As Catherine Gewertz at Education...

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It's been over two years since I stood in front of a class of high schoolers, explaining the formula for the area of a triangle and what pacifism looks like in practice (I taught at a pull-out special-education school, and my courseload was more varied than that of my students). It almost feels like another lifetime. But lately, as reports come in of teacher-union supporters threatening individuals and vandalizing their property, or engaging in angry, mob-like protests over states' proposed education bills, memories of my tenure at my small urban high school in Boston come flooding back.

I get that teachers are angry at the potential of losing tenure, losing benefits, losing pensions. And that they feel threatened when, after ten, fifteen, or even twenty years in the classroom, someone is just now thinking about coming along to tell them how good they are at their jobs. (As a novice teacher, I simultaneously yearned for and desperately feared that feedback?the feedback that would both make me a better teacher and remind me that, despite my efforts, the long hours, and the stress, I could be doing better.)

But then I remember how much angrier I got when I had to cover another teacher's Friday class every other week when she systematically called in ?sick.? And how annoyed I was when a veteran teacher retired mid way through October, forcing the district to assign a long-term sub for her Algebra classes for the next eight months). And...

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One of the biggest problems with most states' U.S. history standards is their liberal bias. So found historians Sheldon and Jeremy Stern in their new Fordham study, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011.

In 2003, at the time of the last Fordham review, many state U.S. history standards were plagued by overtly left-wing political tendentiousness and ideological indoctrination. There has been some retreat from such open bias since then. Nonetheless, more recent standards provide abundant evidence that political correctness remains alive in American classrooms. Lists of specific examples are routinely little more than diversity-driven checklists of historically marginalized groups. North Dakota, in one typical case, offers this slanted, chronologically muddled, and historically nonsensical selection of famous Americans in the early grades: ?George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, C?sar Ch?vez, [and] Sacagawea.?

Also widespread in state history standards is politically correct ?presentism??encouraging students to judge the past by present-day moral and political standards, rather than to comprehend past actions, decisions, and motives in the context of their times. Several states, for example, prod students to fault the revolutionary generation for denying full equality to women and blacks?without explaining that in the context of the late eighteenth century, the idea of government based even on the votes of white, property owning males was itself radical and untested.

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Foreword by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee

Presidents’ Day 2011 has come and gone, but George Washington would be dismayed by the findings of this new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Reviewers evaluated state standards for U.S. history in grades K-12. What they found is discouraging: Twenty-eight states—a majority—deserve D or F grades for their academic standards in this key subject. The average grade across all states is a dismal D. Among the few bright spots, South Carolina earns a straight A for its standards and six other jurisdictions—Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia—garner A-minuses. (The National Assessment's "framework" for U.S. history also fares well.) Read on to learn how your state scored.

 
Liam Julian

Harvard's Graduate School of Education released today?a report, Pathways to Prosperity, which, to judge by the heft of those who contributed to the document's ?Advance Praise? page (e.g., Joel Klein, Phil Bredesen) and by the U.S. Secretary of Education's presence at the report's Washington, D.C., unveiling, is a big-ish deal. So what does?the thing?say? That the ?college for all? goal, pushed most recently and publicly by President Obama, is unreachable and also,?in establishing, deliberately or otherwise, college completion as the singularly desirable educational outcome, harmful.

Our current system places far too much emphasis on a single pathway to success: attending and graduating from a four-year college after completing an academic program of study in high school. Yet as we've seen, only 30 percent of young adults successfully complete this preferred pathway, despite decades of efforts to raise the numbers. And too many of them graduate from college without a clear conception of the career they want to pursue, let alone a pathway for getting there.

These are not original thoughts. Nonetheless they are thoughts worth repeating, and the report one worth reading. Among?its virtues?is that it is a silo of relevant facts, including details about how other countries have built career and technical education programs, for better and worse. Amending America's educational system and especially its high schools such that pupils who are not enlivened by Shakespeare or Euclid can still flourish seems sensible; and unlike other proposed adjustments to the K-12 system it is not...

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