Curriculum & Instruction

Small-town Ohio and its “good old days” is the subject of a New York Times article by Robert Putnam, published this week. In it, he describes the Shangri-La of the late 1950s in Northwestern Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. Quite how he makes it from this to his usual conclusion that the collective “we” is a key missing element of today’s society – in terms of economic attainment, educational outcomes and the weave of the entire social fabric – is beyond my powers to understand.

The “American Dream” that Putnam describes leaves out women (unmarried ones for sure and by insinuation any married woman who harbored any ambition outside of homemaking), most black students (except perhaps the two from Port Clinton who “encountered racial prejudice in town” yet still managed to get into graduate school through education and effort) and all of the unmentionables from the era (homosexuals, mixed-race families, Italians, Poles, the disabled and the mentally ill) for whom the 1950s did no favors at all.

Any sense of a collective “we” from that era is largely male, wholly straight, mostly white, and solidly middle- and upper- class although those last two terms have definitely acquired a variety of definitions over time. As someone without any recollections of how great it was in the 1950s (as it would have been for me and my family once the WOP had been bred out of us), and for someone who experienced the "changes of the 70s" as a...

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The Kindle Print edition

After pondering the sale of the Washington Post to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Mike and Dara deliberate New York’s lower test scores, A-to-F school-grading systems, and whether it really is schools versus nursing homes. Amber sees a red flag in Common Core implementation.

Amber's Research Minute

Year 3 of Implementing the Common Core State Standards: An Overview of States’ Progress and Challenges by Diane Stark Rentner, (Center on Education Policy, August 2013).

This spring, we promised to talk to some educators about the implementation for the Common Core Curriculum and PARCC assessments. What we asked was how they and their schools have prepared and what could potentially hinder a smooth transition.

Dr. Judy Hennessey is the superintendent of Deca Prep, a K-6 elementary school in its second year. Judy is also the superintendent of Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), Ohio’s first early college high school, serving grades 7-12. Judy is a Dayton native and alum of Dayton Public Schools.

Through her work at DECA, she saw the need to have better preparation for her students and the mission of Deca Prep is to ready first generation college students in a rigorous curriculum including academics and character education. The focus of Deca Prep and DECA is sending students to college.

Below are the questions and excerpts from our conversation.

Q: What's your biggest worry? 

A: Will the assessments be aligned in time. We’ve been working on preparing the instructional side for a few years.

Q: What do you need to put in place before this all starts?

A: Making sure new staff coming in are ready and on the same page. They need to understand and practice techniques that are needed to teach close reading.  In practice this means they (teachers) will be going deeper into a content-rich curriculum.

Q: Do you have all the technology needed for testing?

A: We are close. We will have it.

Q: What skills do your teachers...

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As states and schools get ready for Common Core implementation, they had better prepare for higher quality education for both students and teachers. The Center for American Progress recently released a report by Jenny DeMonte that reviews teachers’ attitudes toward their professional learning experiences and Common Core State Standards preparation. The report cites a study that found the majority of teachers welcomed the Common Core and believed it would improve their teaching, but worried that they needed additional standards-related professional development. With many states introducing new teacher evaluation systems, the report recognizes the connection between effective teacher evaluations and personalized professional development. Schools should be utilizing these systems to provide teachers with the feedback and support necessary to improve instruction, especially as teachers begin to fully align Common Core standards with curriculum. With Common Core in mind, DeMonte observes, “The nascent changes to education all require educators to learn new and better ways to do their jobs.”  The Common Core State Standards will only be effective if teachers are prepared for these changes, making the standards adoption truly “a classroom-level school reform.” As such, teachers must be experts on these standards, ready to provide students with the rigorous and relevant education called for by the Common Core. This will only be feasible through meaningful professional development. DeMonte recommends administrators and education policymakers advocate for the following as they prepare teachers for Common Core: (1) provide needed support for professional development activities, (2) share resources with educators throughout the United...

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The Washington Post profiled Josh Powell, a homeschooled young man, who—having never written an essay or learned that South Africa was a country—had to take several years of remedial classes at a community college to get back on track with his peers. Citing worry for his eleven younger siblings, all still being homeschooled by their parents, young Mr. Powell (now a Georgetown undergrad) urges that homeschooling to be subject to accountability. But just what kind of accountability? That’s a tricky question. This is a fascinating case—and a very touchy subject.

There’s a waiting list of about 1,000 students who want to take part in Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which currently allows 2,000 youngsters to shop around for courses, virtual and otherwise, that are not offered in their home school. State Superintendent John White says that 100 applications pile in every day and that, to accommodate everybody, he’ll have to scrounge for money. The state Supreme Court has already ruled that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits. White estimates that he’ll need another $1.5 million just to meet the current demand.

After reaching a long-awaited teachers’ contract in April, Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top grant, awarded in 2010, has finally been cleared of its “high-risk” label. Essentially, this means that the state will no longer have to endure stricter reporting requirements—and, as noted by Education Week, it is a big confidence boost as the...

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When it comes to math, more is more: that’s the take-home message of this study examining the long-term impacts of the Chicago Public Schools’s “double-dose” algebra policy, which requires students who score poorly on an eighth-grade math test to take a double course load of algebra in ninth grade (the second period providing them with extra support and practice). Using data from the 2003 and 2004 cohorts of ninth-grade CPS students, analysts examined the outcomes of those who scored just below and just above the cutoff point for double-dose participation—in this case, those scoring below the fiftieth percentile on the eighth-grade Iowa Test of Basic Skills. (This means that the two groups of students were nearly identical in terms of their academic and demographic makeup.) The study found that the double dosing increased the proportion of students earning at least a B in the ninth-grade algebra course, but paradoxically, it did not decrease the proportion of students earning an F. However, the analysts found that double-dosed students wound up performing better than their comparable peers on a preliminary SAT test taken in tenth grade and on an actual ACT math test taken in eleventh grade. Furthermore, double-dosed students were more likely to enroll in college within five years of starting high school. These results were even more robust for students with weaker reading skills; the analysts conjecture that this may be due to the intervention’s focus on using reading and writing skills to help learn algebra (double-dose students reported frequently...

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State representative Andy Thompson today introduced House Bill 237, which seeks to void the State Board of Education’s June 2010 decision to adopt the Common Core academic standards in English language arts and math. The bill would effectively prevent any Ohio public school from implementing the Common Core, standards that offer a clear description of the skills and knowledge that students should acquire at each grade level to stay on course toward college or gainful employment. The bill has 13 co-sponsors—all Republican—whom it appears have caved into the political charms of tea-party-like interest groups who have vociferously criticized the Common Core standards in the recent months, not on the basis of the standards’ content but on the basis of politics and ideology.

As House Bill 237 is debated in the legislature, members of both parties ought to cut to the chase and judge the Common Core by its merits. And, here are but a few of the Common Core’s merits: In Fordham’s 2010 comparison of the Common Core against Ohio’s outgoing standards, the Common Core was rated superior in both English and math. In another study of the math content of Common Core, William Schmidt of Michigan State University found that the Common Core was closely aligned with the math standards of the highest-performing countries in grades K-8. And, if the members of the legislature want to listen to their own local educational professionals, they should know that two out of three Ohio district superintendents believe that the Common...

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My friend Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s longtime education reporter and columnist, has a spectacular history of identifying and profiling great teachers, including but not limited to Jaime Escalante, David Levin, Mike Feinberg, and Rafe Esquith. He is right to find and laud them. His latest tribute to Esquith and Esquith’s newest book, however, turns into another Common Core slam—and another example of idiotic professional development (inflicted, apparently, by some “presenter” on teachers during a “training” at Esquith’s school in Los Angeles). Ugh. Yuck. Sorry about that.

Praise the exception, but remember the rule
Without good policy, we end up with a series of workarounds intended to make a sluggish horse run faster.
Photo by Eduardo Amorim

But there’s an enormous underlying problem that Mathews understands full well, though he doesn’t mention it in this particular column: If American K–12 education contained three million Esquiths and Escalantes, we wouldn’t need Common Core or NCLB or KIPP or choice or value-added teacher evaluations or anything else. But it doesn’t. And it isn’t going to anytime soon. (For starters, as the NCTQ recently documented, even those with promise have miserable preparation programs inflicted upon them.) So we end up with a series of workarounds, must-dos, and compensatory arrangements intended to...

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High school graduation, college enrollment, and college graduation: Of all youngsters in the land, it’s no secret that low-income and minority students have the longest odds of achieving this educational trifecta. One intervention geared toward evening those odds is the creation of Early College (EC) High Schools—academically rigorous schools that, in partnership with colleges, offer college-credit-bearing courses. There are presently 240 such schools in the U.S. (ten of them in Fordham’s home state of Ohio, and one of these in our home town of Dayton), primarily serving low-income and minority youths. But how well do they work? According to this study by the American Institutes for Research and SRI International, they’re doing quite well indeed. The authors exploit the lottery-based admissions of ten ECs to estimate their impact on high school graduation, college enrollment, and college graduation for three cohorts of ninth-graders (who enrolled in years 2005, 2006 and 2007). The study finds that 77 percent of students admitted into an EC had enrolled in college itself one year after high school, whereas 67 percent of non-EC students had done so. Moreover, 22 percent of EC students went on to earn a two- or four-year degree, compared to 2 percent of the comparison students—and 20 percent of EC students earned that degree by the time they graduated high school, compared to 2 percent of the comparison students. For low-income and minority youngsters, the schools’ impact was even greater: Minority EC students were twenty-nine times more likely...

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By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

I’ve known Kathleen Porter-Magee for a decade now. We’re both branches in the Checker-Finn ed-reformer-development tree. She was a young researcher for Fordham, and I was helping start the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (in which Checker was intimately involved). In the years since, I’ve had the wonderful fortune to work with Kathleen in a number of capacities and to see her evolve from a huge natural talent to one of the most important actors and commentators in our field.

Kathleen Porter Magee Thomas B Fordham Institute

For anyone who cares about Common Core, Kathleen’s blog Common Core Watch is absolutely a must-read. No one has been more thoughtful or prolific on the standards themselves and their implementation. When I’m about to write something about CCSS or the testing consortia, I go to KPM first. When the US Department of Education was putting together a technical review panel for the testing consortia, they too turned to KPM.

In hindsight, the last decade-plus has perfectly prepared Kathleen for this moment. She’s been a teacher and has led curriculum and PD for one of the nation’s finest CMOs and the schools of a large Catholic diocese. She’s also done wide-ranging research and writing on standards and much else.

But she’s...

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