Curriculum & Instruction

Today, Jay Greene has an Ed Next column arguing against government mandated standards and curriculum. ?Most of the important elements of American education are already standardized,? he argues.

No central government authority had to tell school districts to divide their schools into grades or start in the Fall and end in the Spring. Even details of the curriculum, like teaching long division in 4th grade or Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade, are remarkably consistent from place to place without the national government ordering schools to do so.

Schools arrived at these arrangements through a gradual process of market competition and adaptation?.Of course, not everything is synced, but the items that are most important to consumers often are.

That's how standardization in market settings works and we have a lot of positive experience with this in industry. ?VHS became the standard medium for home entertainment because the market gravitated to it, not because some government authority mandated it. ?If we followed the logic of Gates-Fordham-AFT-USDOE we would want some government-backed committee to decide on the best format and provide government subsidies only to those companies that complied.

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Catherine Gewertz (via John Fensterwald of the "Educated Guess" blog) has a post today about a group of seven California districts who are coming together to draft Common Core-aligned curriculum resources for their teachers.

?a group of school districts in California isn't waiting around for the state to build curriculum frameworks...[instead] CORE, a group of seven districts that pushed forward California's Race to the Top application, is rallying teachers to build instructional materials and formative assessments for the standards, which California and most other states have adopted.

At last! Districts taking the lead on curriculum and instructional decisions rather than waiting for the state to tell them what to do. Hopefully other districts across the country will follow suit.

Of course, let's also hope that the assessment consortia start releasing some more specific details (sample assessment items, perhaps?) about their summative assessments so that teachers can be sure that standards, curriculum, instruction, and formative and summative assessments are all properly aligned in terms of both content and rigor.

--Kathleen Porter-Magee...

One of the dirtiest words in American education today is ?tracking.? Reformers and ed-school types alike deride the approach as racist, classist, and worthy of eradication. And if they are talking about the practice of confining some kids?typically poor or minority or both?into dead-end tracks with soulless, ditto-driven instruction, they are absolutely right.

But they are dead wrong when they call for elimination of tracking en toto?of removing all ?honors? courses, of putting all agemates in the same class regardless of their level of preparedness. That's a recipe for failure for kids of all achievement levels?and more proof that today's policy discussion is often devoid of common sense.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist?or even a cognitive scientist?to know that kids (and adults) learn best when presented with material that is challenging?neither too easy so as to be boring nor too hard as to be overwhelming. Like Goldilocks, we want it just right. Grouping kids so that instruction can be more closely targeted to their current ability levels helps make teaching and learning more efficient.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="298" caption="Click to play video of AEI debate on student tracking featuring Mike Petrilli"]...

While having a very interesting conversation over at my post about The Digital Divide and the Knowledge Deficit (about the recent MacArthur sponsored conference at Hechinger), I noticed a fascinating story by Sharon Begley at Newsweek called ?I can't think!? that deserves special mention.? There seems to be new evidence to suggest that information overload is just that ? and the bombardment harms our decision-making faculties. Writes Begley:

The research should give pause to anyone addicted to incoming texts and tweets. The booming science of decision making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret. It has shown that an unconscious system guides many of our decisions, and that it can be sidelined by too much information. And it has shown that decisions requiring creativity benefit from letting the problem incubate below the level of awareness?something that becomes ever-more difficult when information never stops arriving.

Decision science, as the new field is called, would seem to raise many questions for educators, since the emphasis on "critical thinking" and "self-expression" has a great deal to do with the interchange between information and decision-making.? "[D]ecision science," writes Begley,...

The CCSS ELA standards are, as you may remember, heavily (though certainly not exclusively) skills driven. The choice to focus on skills rather than content was deliberate and the standards authors themselves acknowledged that states would likely want to enhance these skills-driven standards with additional content. In fact, adoption states were told that the existing CCSS standards could comprise 85 percent of the total standards, giving the states the flexibility to add ?15 percent? atop of the final standards.

To date, it doesn't seem like too many states have taken seriously the charge of fleshing out this additional ?15 percent.? It's no wonder, then, that folks are looking to curriculum to provide teachers with more specific details about what content students should learn.

I've already argued against making curriculum decisions at the state or national level. I remain convinced that it would be a mistake to do so for lots of reasons. Among them, in this debate over curriculum, one thing that we shouldn't lose sight of is the important distinction between standards and curriculum. Done right, standards define the outcomes?the knowledge and skills that students must master. Curriculum, on the other hand, helps shape...

I emerged from our Board of Ed Curriculum Committee meeting yesterday smiling.? Despite agreement by Karl Wheatley and John Thompson, regular commenters on Flypaper, about the need to define curriculum before we start talking about it (see Curriculum Confusions), I was heartened by the fact that the dozen teachers and administrators sitting around?our conference table?didn't discuss the definition ? though I'm sure each had a different idea about what it was.? A few years ago, I would have been discouraged by that fact -- but?a few years ago the discussion would have gone like this: We don't have a curriculum. Yes we do. No we don't.? Then again,?a few years ago, we didn't even?have a Curriculum Committee!? As a friend of mine told me recently, you don't have to talk about Hirsch anymore.?

In fact, at the local level, in New York state and many other places, thanks to the tireless efforts of a generation of reformers ? I am lucky enough to have gotten to rub intellectual elbows with some of the best, at Fordham and Education Next and Core Knowledge ? the curricular train is finally on the tracks and pulling into a district near you....

You shouldn't need 3-D glasses to see the need for a good curriculum. So why, then, does Neal McClaskey at Cato think that a national curriculum is ?not possible in this dimension?? ?Or why does former Gates Foundation education honcho Tom Vander Ark say, ?A ?common curriculum' (whatever that means) is the wrong idea when we're about ready to develop ?school of one'"?? Which sounds a lot like Sarah Engel's recent New York Times op-ed Let Kids Rule School? (see Liam's brilliant From the Department of Bad Ideas on that one.) ?Or even Fordham's ?Kathleen Porter-Magee's Stop Seeking Curricular solutions to instructional problems.

Curriculum is the newest old question of the hour (see Liam's The Same Thing, Over and Over), brought on by a ?a bipartisan group of [250] educators and business and labor leaders,? according to the NYT, signed on to a Shanker Institute statement in support of a national curriculum. Unfortunately, it shook some old trees, which brought a flutter of dead ideas back to clutter the education sky.?

Could someone explain why educators ? and Cato -- are so afraid of curriculum? I thought we were beginning...

Catherine Gewertz has a piece in this week's Education Week describing a New York City pilot program that has teachers analyzing the complexity of the texts they will be assigned in their classrooms. As you probably remember, text complexity features prominently in the Common Core standards. In lay terms, text complexity measures help teachers understand at what age- or grade-level particularly texts are best taught.

Most people agree that current measures of text complexity are imperfect. They are frequently quantatitve measures that rely on rudimentary scores of word length, sentence length, or paragraph length and structure to assign appropriate age and grade levels. As part of the Common Core standards initiative, the CCSS authors are seeking to improve these measures of text complexity so that they include both quantitative and qualitative measures (such as themes) to give a more accurate picture of when particular texts should be taught. This is part of a larger effort to help ensure that students across grade levels are exposed to appropriately rigorous literary and informational reading that will help better prepare them for the reading that will be required of them in college.

According to the article, there is a pilot...

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