Curriculum & Instruction

This week, teachers across the land are greeting students, assigning seats, issuing textbooks, struggling to remember everyone's name?and doing their best to teach one of the most challenging lessons of the year: the events of September 11, 2001, why they happened, why they matter, and why we are commemorating them.

[pullquote]The United States didn't come with a warranty. It has always had to be defended against real threats and bona fide enemies.[/pullquote]

All sorts of organizations (including ours) are jockeying to ease teachers' burden?and influence their instruction?by offering texts, activities, guidance, even entire curricula. Some of these are fine: accurate, thorough, balanced yet patriotic. (See, for example, lessons prepared for high school students by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.) Others, alas, are wimpy, biased, or apologetic and may well do teachers and pupils more harm than good.

The U.S. Department of Education unveiled its own dismaying contribution last week. Its ?9/11 Materials for Teachers? exemplifies the creeping tendency in educator-land?especially in the woeful field known as ?social studies??to obscure the true history of September 11 and focus instead on a slanted, garbled evaluation of what followed.


Any number of organizations are offering advice about what to teach schoolchildren about the events of September 11, 2001, yet most sorely miss the mark. Fordham's publication, "Teaching about 9/11 in 2011: What Our Children Need to Know," highlights the danger of slighting history and patriotism in the rush to teach children about tolerance and multiculturalism. It combines ten short essays by distinguished educators, scholars, and public officials from our 2003 report, "Terrorists, Despots, and Democracy: What Our Children Need to Know," essays that feel more timely than ever, and includes a new introduction by Chester E. Finn, Jr. reflecting on how the lessons of these essays apply today.

Yes, believe it or not, the ideological wars can be brought to the teaching of mathematics.? So argues a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education, Tonya Bartell, in an article she's written for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:? Learning to Teach Mathematics for Social Justice: Negotiating Social Justice and Mathematical Goals.? According to the abstract,

This article describes teachers' collective work aimed at learning to teach mathematics for social justice. A situated, sociocultural perspective of learning guides this examination of teachers' negotiation of mathematical goals and social justice goals as they developed, implemented, and revised lessons for social justice.

Sol Stern, where are you? (See here and here and here.)

In fact, as Stern has written, teaching social justice through math is a well-practiced craft among certain mathematics teachers.?? Eric Gutstein, a Marxist education professor at the University of Illinois and also a full-time Chicago public-school math teacher, wrote Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice a while ago (Routledge, 2006)? The work combines, says Stern, "critical pedagogy theory (which depicts the United States as an evil nation rife with injustice)...

Ohio committed itself to embracing higher standards that cross state lines when it joined 45 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting the Common Core standards in math and English language arts (ELA) in June 2010.

But, adopting rigorous academic standards is just the first step in a long journey. High academic standards do not automatically translate into stronger student performance. These higher standards must be accompanied by adequate, on-going training for current and future teachers, principals, and district leaders to understand the new standards; new, aligned curriculum at the local level; and aligned and well-designed assessments.

Ohio could ultimately develop its own assessments, though that is costly, challenging, and time consuming. And even if Ohio were able to muster the money and capacity to develop its own rigorous, content-aligned assessments, it would not be able to compare Ohio students and schools with those in other states and the nation as a whole. Further, Ohio would have to go it alone in terms of developing curricula, professional development tools, and computer systems.  

Alternately, Ohio can move forward with one of two voluntary consortia of states working, with nearly $200 million of Race to the Top funding apiece, to...

Of the many theories that have overtaken educational policy and practice, few have been as influential as the belief that every child learns in his or her own way (see Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind:The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983, which set the ?one size fits all? world on fire).? Just as ?rote memorization? has been booted from school houses, so ?customized learning? has become a battle cry for modern pedagogical movements like child-centered classrooms, schools of one, individualized instruction, ad infinitum, so to speak..... ? As Mike Petrilli wrote in his Education Next piece on differentiated instruction earlier this year,

The greatest challenge facing America's schools today isn't the budget crisis, or standardized testing, or ?teacher quality.? It's the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom.

Thanks to a wonderful report by Patti Neighmond in today's Morning Edition (National Public Radio), we may get back on the path of common sense in our approach to the "enormous variation" challenge.? Reports Neighmond, a new meta-study (a study of studies), by University of South Florida psychologist Doug Rohrer, suggests that that there's no scientific evidence to show that?...

If you step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy ?debate,? and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular ?coherence,? and the lack thereof in our nation's schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America's trademark dynamism inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite directions, they might best work in concert. [quote]

Let's start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David Cohen's Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America's teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about what's expected of them. Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from classroom expectations, and never ending ?reform? pulls up the roots of promising efforts before they are given time to flower.

The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the...

Last June, the Wyoming Board of Education adopted the Common Core, making the Equality State one of the first states to do so. And implementation of the core standards has begun in earnest, with teachers around the state beginning to align their curriculum and instruction to the new standards.

Now it seems like Wyoming lawmakers are beginning to question the Board's decision and have actually told districts to ?slow down implementing standards not yet adopted.? (See here.)

In short, it seems that last year's adoption decision by the State Board did little more than include the Common Core ELA and math standards ?in the next revision of the Wyoming Content and Performance Standards,? which is currently underway. And those standards are still being vetted and changes can still be made through the end of this year. (See here for more.) And now lawmakers are starting to get cold feet and they're trying to decide whether the challenge the adoption decision writ large.

What's more, even if Wyoming does move forward the Common Core ELA and math standards, there is still some question about whether the state will opt to administer the assessments developed by one...