Curriculum & Instruction

Whew, I just finished reading Secretary Duncan's??meaty address to the faculty and students at Teachers College at Columbia University. It's a fairly brave speech by Education Secretary standards (despite the fact that he defines great teaching as "a daily fight for social justice").

Duncan calls out weak teacher prep programs and pushes them to better measure their success based on teacher outcomes:

....Simply put, incoming [college] freshmen don't know the content because too often they have been taught by teachers who don't know the content well. ......Now the fact is that states, districts, and the federal government are also culpable for the persistence of weak teacher preparation programs. Most states routinely approve teacher education programs, and licensing exams typically measure basic skills and subject matter knowledge with paper-and-pencil tests without any real-world assessment of classroom readiness. Local mentoring programs for new teachers are poorly funded and often poorly organized at the district level.

Less than a handful of states and districts carefully track the performance of teachers to their teacher preparation programs to identify which programs are producing well-prepared teachers-and which programs are not turning out effective teachers. We should be studying and copying the practices of effective teacher preparation programs-and encouraging the lowest-performers to shape up or shut down.

...... Right now, Louisiana is the only state in the nation that tracks the effectiveness of its teacher preparation programs. Every state in the nation should be doing the same-and, as I said,

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Eric Ulas

Video is now available from our recent event, World-Class Academic Standards for Ohio, which was held October 5 in Columbus, Ohio.

What do state and national experts make of the "Common Core" standards effort??? How can states go about crafting top-flight standards??? How will the Buckeye State respond to the Common Core effort and a recent legislative mandate to upgrade its standards? ??Click on the links below to find out.

Opening Speaker:

Why World-Class Standards?

David Driscoll, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education

Panel Sessions:

Current Efforts to Create National (???Common???) Standards

Michael Cohen, Achieve Inc.

Gene Wilhoit, Council of Chief State School Officers

Chester E. Finn, Jr., Thomas B. Fordham Institute, moderator

Highlighting the Efforts of Top Performing States??

David Driscoll, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education

Stan Jones, former Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education

Sue Pimentel, StandardsWork

Bruno Manno, Annie E. Casey Foundation, moderator

Moving Forward in Ohio

Deborah Delisle, Ohio Department of Education

Eric...

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In the Fordham Institute's latest report--Stars By Which to Navigate? Scanning National and International Education Standards in 2009--expert reviewers appraised the Common Core drafts, which outline college and career readiness standards in reading, writing, speaking and listening, and in math. These draft standards were made public on September 21 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. This report goes further however--Fordham's reviewers also evaluate the reading/writing and math frameworks that undergird the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA). How strong are these well-known models? This report presents their findings.

The Education Gadfly

The Fordham Institute's newest report???-Stars By Which to Navigate? Scanning National and International Education Standards in 2009--reviews the ???Common Core??? draft standards in math and reading/writing/communications (these drafts were made public on September 21). Our subject-content experts confer ???B??? grades on these drafts; the effort is off to a good start! Are there things to improve? You betcha. As for other influential barometers and benchmarks of educational performance, our reviews also examine the reading/writing and math frameworks behind NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA. Check out the report to find out which ones shine brightly and which ones are dull.

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Ohio is on board with the NGA/CCSSO Common Core State Standards Initiative, ostensibly agreeing to adopt 85 percent of the standards that result from the effort.???? But in remarks to the Columbus Dispatch yesterday following our academic standards conference, a state education department staffer explained why that won't actually happen:

Along with 47 other states, Ohio has helped write a set of common standards that are research-based and benchmarked to top performing countries, and could be adopted anywhere in the nation. But the state won't use those, instead revamping its existing standards, Associate Superintendent Stan Heffner said.

The common standards won't be finalized until January and, by law, Ohio must adopt new ones for English, math, science and social studies by June 30. It's not enough time, Heffner said, and they'll be too different from the academic content the state currently believes is important.

What's the Buckeye State to do????? Should the state board of education risk non-compliance with state law and wait for the Common Core work to be finished????? Should state lawmakers revisit the law and extend the deadline for updating the standards????? Are other states in similar predicaments????? If so, what becomes of the Common Core Initiative?...

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A Core Knowledge blog this week criticizes the concept of "learning styles" and educators' acceptance of this "unquestioned dogma." Specifically under critique is Michelle Rhee, whose DC Public Schools Teaching and Learning Framework includes the targeting of multiple learning styles among qualities of good teaching. The blog references Dan Willingham (a cognitive psychologist whose views on 21st??century skills I greatly admire), who authored a guest post also calling out Rhee for her acceptance of such scientifically invalid theories.

I'm not a neuroscientist--this isn't hyperbole...Willingham really is a neuroscientist--and I won't even pretend to have opinions regarding the scientific legitimacy of Rhee's focus on "learning styles." But, as a former teacher and TFA alum (a program that believes in paying attention to student learning modalities; also, possibly where Rhee first heard these terms) I still think Rhee's suggestion to consider learning styles when delivering instruction is a valid one.

Willingham contends that the theory that kids learn better when taught according to their learning styles just doesn't hold water (I don't disagree with this point). But he also says:

Some lessons click with one child and not with another, but not because of an enduring bias or predisposition in the way the child learns. The lesson clicks or doesn't because of the knowledge the child brought to the lesson, his interests, or other factors.

He admits that whether a child "gets it" or not depends on the student's background knowledge and interests. When...

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Our friends at the State of Ohio Education blog rightly call Ohio's recent move to eliminate social studies tests in grades five and eight a "short-sighted decision," not just because a basic understanding of history, geography, civics, and current events is critical, but because Ohio students happen to be doing poorly in these subjects. Barely half of eighth graders and 61 percent of fifth graders passed the social studies assessments last year. Gov. Strickland is being criticized for allowing budget concerns to drive the decision to drop the exams (along with abandoning writing tests in grades four and seven), a move that will save $4.4 million dollars.

States are not required by NCLB to test social studies. But Ohio's decision to eliminate these tests is foolish on several fronts. First, Ohio can't fully address the "unacceptably low student achievement" in social studies without having data that illustrate how students (and sub-groups of students) are performing in that area. Second, although the state plans to re-implement social studies tests after the current budget cycle (by June 2011), the quality of Ohio's longitudinal data is weakened by interruptions in testing (and who's to say that Ohio's budget will be in better shape by then?). Finally, social studies subject matter is simply too important not to emphasize (whether or not an appropriate "emphasis" can be achieved with or without testing is up for debate, but I won't go into that here).

A few recent stories highlight...

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Eric Ulas

Don't miss this week's special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly! One year ago, the Fordham Institute released a report titled Accelerating Student Learning in Ohio. In it, we outlined five policy recommendations for strengthening public education in the Buckeye State.

Gov. Strickland's?? recent ???evidence-based??? school funding reforms moved Ohio forward in some areas (e.g., teacher tenure, teacher certification, and high school end of course exams), but backwards in others (e.g., evidence-based model for school funding.) In our view, Ohio still has a long way to go if it is to create a system of education that focuses squarely on high performance for all children and schools.

This edition of the Gadfly revisits our original five recommendations in comparison to current policy and outlines our vision of where we think the state needs to go. Ohio's gubernatorial season?? will be heating up in early 2010, and we think these policy priorities are worth making it onto the political agendas of either party.

Definitely a must-read!

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The worst education idea of the year turns out not to be a new idea at all. "Unschooling" has roots in Rousseau, in Summerhill, in John Holt and Ivan Illich and any number of other progressive/romantic/libertarian nihilists. It takes an acceptable educational alternative--home schooling--and turns it into a parody. I kept being reminded of tales of babies raised by wolves and other wild beasts. While I do not doubt that some few parents have the knowledge and imagination to embed the acquisition of important skills and knowledge in enjoyable activities that don't feel much like school (so do many veteran kindergarten teachers, by the way), for most, I'm pretty sure, "unschooling" resembles the Taliban's idea of education for girls: Keep them home and keep them ignorant. Make sure they don't learn the parts of speech or multiplication tables, the causes of the War of 1812 ??or the election of 1912 or the concept of separation of powers or why Lady Macbeth kept washing her hands. The co-founder of the "Family Unschoolers Network" estimates that ten percent of home-schoolers are really unschoolers. If true, that's close to 200,000 kids who deserve a proper education so as to succeed in the modern world but who almost certainly aren't getting it. Not to mention that it's going to make people even more suspicious of home schooling. As Teri Flemal, director of Quality Education by Design, puts it, "I'm reading e-mail from unschooling parents who think having their kids remodel their house...

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Whether the United States should embrace national standards and tests for its schools is perhaps today's hottest education issue. For guidance in addressing it, the newest Fordham report looks beyond our borders. How have other countries navigated these turbid waters? What do their systems look like? How did they get there? What can we learn from them? Expert analysts examined national standards and testing in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore and South Korea. This report presents their key takeaways.

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