Curriculum & Instruction

Pretty much everybody favors better “civics education” in
our schools and colleges. Pretty much everybody who thinks about such matters
is alarmed that barely a quarter of U.S. school kids were at or above the
“proficient” level on the 2010 NAEP assessment of civics—and that achievement
at the twelfth-grade level is slipping even though just about all
students “take civics” in high school. Almost everyone has encountered ample
examples of students (and adults!) who cannot answer the most rudimentary
questions about how the government is organized, what “separation of powers” or
“checks and balances” means, how many senators their states have (much less their
names), and more.

is, indeed, a modern platitude that “we must do something to improve Americans’
knowledge of civics and government.”

there is a problem in civics education, a sort of dividing line, about which
there is far less agreement across society. On one side, we find an emphasis on
infusing kids with basic knowledge about government, an understanding of the
merits (as well as the shortcomings) of American democracy, and a sense of what

Earlier this week, the National Center
for Science Education—an organization devoted to “defending the teaching of
evolution and climate science”—launched a new initiative to promote the
teaching of climate change in schools. But they didn't settle for conveying the
solid scientific fact that the climate (almost everywhere) is indeed changing.
They want causality and they enter into policy, politics and civic
. In the Center's formulation, schools should teach children that,
while “climate has changed in the past…now it is changing because humans have
become a force of nature and are altering the flow of matter and energy on the
planet.” What's more, climate change needs to be taught in schools so that
“future citizens to be able to make scientifically informed decisions about the
consequences of climate change.”

But can we really equate people who question evolution with
those who question the science behind what causes (and what, if anything, might
ameliorate) climate change? According to
NCSE’s executive director, Eugenie Scott, “Both [groups] are making a pedagogical argument, that it is somehow
good pedagogy, good critical thinking, for students to learn both. That...

the past decade, education reform advocates on both the state and national
level have demonstrated an almost single-minded focus on various “structural
reforms”: setting standards, adopting assessments, establishing clear
accountability for results, providing school leaders greater autonomy and
flexibility, injecting greater competition and choice into school funding
systems, etc. But, by focusing on structural reforms over getting
classroom-level curriculum and instruction right, are reformers missing the

Jobrack thinks so. In fact, she’s written a book— The Tyranny of theTextbook: An Insider Exposes How Educational Materials Undermine Reform—that
argues, essentially, that it’s curriculum, not structural reform, that has the
greatest potential to drive student achievement.

Standards alone will do little
to drive student achievement if they’re not meaningfully implemented.

has a point—as we’ve long said here at Fordham, standards alone will do little
to drive student achievement if they’re not meaningfully implemented (via,
among other things, a thoughtfully designed curriculum). In fact, few state and
national education reformers would disagree with Jobrack about the importance
of curriculum and instruction in driving student achievement. So why do so few

Hearken back to junior high
and high school for a moment.  What “historical documents” were you taught
in social studies and American history classes?  The U.S. Constitution?
Your state’s constitution?  What about the Declaration of Independence or
the Federalist Papers?  The Northwest Ordinance (especially if you grew up
in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota)?

My entire K-12 education
was in Ohio public schools.  When it came to history, I didn’t take any
electives or special courses beyond whatever was required for me to earn a
diploma.  Yet, I was taught all of these important historical texts,
multiple times, from seventh grade through twelfth.  So I was surprised to
see bills moving through the Ohio legislature that would require
schools to teach what I thought were standard fare for Ohio’s students. In
fact, at first blush it seemed implausible to me that many schools weren’t
already doing so.

My husband, also an Ohio
public school alum (from a quote-unquote better district than I attended), had
a different reaction when I told him about the legislation. He guessed at least
two-thirds of students...

all the excitement in the buildup to the New
Hampshire primary, one important educational
development seems to have gotten overshadowed. Last week, a New Hampshire law allowing parents to demand
alternatives to curricular materials that they find objectionable took effect.
It could have far reaching consequences not just in the Granite State but—if it
catches on—for schools across the country.

the law (which was passed over the governor’s veto) requires all districts to
adopt a policy that:

“…include[s] a provision requiring the parent or legal guardian
to notify the school principal or designee in writing of the specific material
to which they object and a provision requiring an alternative agreed upon by
the school district and the parent, at the parent’s expense, sufficient to
enable the child to meet state requirements for education in the particular
subject area.”
Do parents not have a right to
ask that assignments not insult their beliefs and teachings?

a post on Curriculum Matters last week, Erik Robelen explained
that New Hampshire Governor John Lynch “said the measure was too vague...

iPod Sad Face
Photo by Joel Washing

Two months ago, Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of the
release of the iPod. Sunday, we will “celebrate” the 10th birthday of NCLB.

The iPod is universally seen as a game changer—something
that not only transformed the way we listen to music, but that changed the
music industry itself.

Few would say the same about the transformative power of

Yet, what if the iPod hadn’t evolved in the ten years since
its initial release? What if, after Steve Jobs released the 2001 version—the
first-generation iPod—the different divisions at Apple couldn’t come to
agreement about how it should evolve?

As one tech-expert explained:

[The iPod] debuted in the fall of 2001 as a Mac-only,
FireWire-only $399 digital audio player with a tiny black-and-white display and
5 GB hard disk. The iTunes Store didn’t exist until April 2003. The Windows
version of iTunes didn’t appear until October 2003—two years after the iPod

A reader from the Raleigh News & Observer wrote in when
the blog launched earlier this week to let me know about a program that could
be useful to classroom teachers looking to get great materials for free.

News in Education (NIE) is a program sponsored by many
newspapers around the country that provides access to free newspaper content (either electronically or with physical
papers in some cases) to K-12 teachers for use in their classrooms. The
classroom materials seem to vary in quality, but many offer lessons drawn from
newspaper content in disciplines from reading and social studies to math and
science, and in any case the free newspaper access is valuable in and of itself.

If you're an educator or school leader, check out the
Newspaper Association of America Foundation's page on NIE programs
for a list of papers near you offering the resource. Looks like a great way to
get timely reading material and other resources for the classroom for a song.
Thanks to reader Courtney Clark of the N&O
for the tip!...

I believe that the right combination of rigorous standards, effective assessments, and strong implementation can transform teaching and drive outstanding student achievement.

But we have a long road ahead to reach that goal. The quality of state standards has been all over the map and implementation of those standards has been mixed at best. Now that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core, states have a chance to reboot and to get standards- and assessment-driven reform right.

To get there we will have to find the right answers to some key questions. How do we ensure the assessment consortia develop the rigorous assessments we need? Will state-driven professional development be focused where it needs to be? Will states focus too much on mandating curricular and instructional materials? Not enough? And, most importantly, will district leaders and teachers embrace the new standards and drive the classroom-level changes we need? Here, I hope to explore these questions and more.

But first a few answers about how I ended up as editor of Common Core Watch: I’m a Connecticut-based education policy analyst who’s been committed to and working in education for 15 years. I...

If you’re to believe the rhetoric around Common Core, these new college- and career-ready standards are poised to usher in major education changes—changes that will help better prepare American students for the rigors of university coursework and the workplace.

On the other hand, if you’re to read individual states’ own descriptions of the differences between the Common Core and existing ELA and math standards, the changes seem far less dramatic.

Since they have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), nearly every state has undertaken some kind of review that compared existing ELA and math standards to the CCSS. And, almost without exception, these comparisons found near-perfect alignment between the CCSS and state ELA and math standards.

A Tennessee’s curriculum and assessment “crosswalk,” for example, found that “97 percent of the CCSS ELA standards have a match in Tennessee’s ELA standards, with 90 percent being rated an excellent or good match.” On the math side, Tennessee found that there are “no grade-level difference[s] in Kindergarten and only a 1 percent difference in 1st grade…” Similar comparisons by state departments of education around the country have found similar levels of alignment. (This despite the fact that our own...

Statewide textbook adoption distorts the market, entices extremist groups to hijack the curriculum, enriches the textbook cartel, and papers the land with mediocre instructional materials that cannot fulfill their important education mission. This recent Fordham report recommends that legislators and governors in adoption states should eliminate the process, letting individual districts, schools, and teachers choose textbooks themselves. Read it now on