Curriculum & Instruction

American middle schools have become the places "where academic achievement goes to die." So says Cheri Yecke, K-12 Education Chancellor of Florida and author of the new Fordham report Mayhem in the Middle: How middle schools have failed America, and how to make them work.  Today's middle schools have succumbed to a concept of "middle schoolism" in which a strong academic curriculum is traded for one that focuses more on emotional and social development, and less on learning the basics. And the achievement data reflects "middle schoolism's" results. In 1999, U.S. eighth graders scored nine points below average on the TIMSS assessment of math. What's more, these same eighth graders had outperformed the average by 28 points as fourth graders in 1995! According to Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr., "Trying to fix high schools while ignoring middle schools is like bandaging a wound before treating it for infection."

In just more than five years, Mary Anne Stanton has led 13 Catholic schools from high-poverty Washington, D.C. neighborhoods into a consortium that has not only strengthened each school's financial health, but has also greatly improved the academic performance of the children the schools are charged with educating. To get there, she's installed a new standards-based curriculum, shaken up old bureaucratic approaches, and streamlined operations. In its latest Fwd: Arresting Insights in Education, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation presents a compelling story of just how much change can be made by one determined school leader with a vision.

States still have far to go in setting rigorous, high quality expectations for K-12 math instruction. Although a majority have replaced or revised their math standards since 2000, many have failed to make substantial improvements. The review was led by David Klein, Professor of Mathematics at California State University-Northridge, and evaluates the content, writing quality, and clarity of K-12 math standards in each state. Klein and his team attribute many of  the shortcomings to overuse and wrong applications of manipulatives and calculators; wrong-headed guidance from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; and lack of true mathematics competence among those writing the standards.

Do states' current English/language arts and reading standards expect what they should? Are they demanding enough? Clear enough? Are states using them to guide not only the curriculum and assessment system for students but also their teacher-training programs? Sandra Stotsky, research scholar at Northeastern University and former senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education, finds that most states have revised or replaced their standards since 2000 and made some improvements, especially to K-8 standards. However, major shortcomings remain in other areas including high school literature requirements.

How did New York City's experiment in school reform, once so promising, become such a mess? Author Sol Stern explains in this third edition of Fordham's new Fwd: series of short articles of interest to K-12 education reformers.

Statewide textbook adoption, the process by which 21 states dictate the textbooks that schools and districts can use, is fundamentally flawed. 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. The adoption process cannot be set right by tinkering with it, concludes The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption, the latest release from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Rather, legislators and governors in adoption states should eliminate the process and devolve funding for and decisions about textbook purchases to individual schools, individual districts, even individual teachers.
 
The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption is the first of a new Fordham Institute series, "Compact Guides to Education Solutions," that provides practical solutions to K-12 education problems for policy makers, legislators, school leaders, and activists. These concise guides are meant to help drive reforms at the local, state, and national levels by offering actionable policy recommendations.

Widely used supplemental materials may be dangerous to educational health! These works often include hefty doses of political manipulation and ideological bias, courtesy of their authors. This study casts a wary glance toward materials that seldom come under scrutiny. This study is the fifth in a series dedicated to reforming social studies education.

A Consumer's Guide to High School History Textbooks is a summary review of 12 widely used U.S. and world history textbooks.

Co-published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and AccountabilityWorks, with support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, this report looks at six elements of K-12 accountability systems in 30 different states. Each state is rated on standards, test content, alignment of tests to standards, test rigor, testing trustworthiness and openness, and accountability policies. The major conclusion: while some states have the basis of a sophisticated and rigorous accountability system in place, no state has every element of a serious standards-based education reform package in place. And few states are as open to evaluation as they ought to be.

Is there any subject as disheveled, distorted and dysfunctional as social studies? As part of our continuing effort to revitalize the subject of social studies, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute offers Effective State Standards for U.S. History: A 2003 Report Card. This groundbreaking and comprehensive state-by-state analysis of K-12 education standards in U.S. history was prepared by Sheldon Stern, historian at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston for more than 20 years. It evaluates U.S. history standards in 48 states and the District of Columbia on comprehensive historical content, sequential development, and balance.

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