Curriculum & Instruction

GadflyNew York City’s graduation rate dipped very slightly in 2012—information that was hailed as a win by Mayor Bloomberg, given that the class of 2012 was the first cohort not given the option to graduate with an easier-to-obtain “local diploma.”

The United Federation of Teachers has announced its support for former city comptroller Bill Thompson’s bid for mayor of New York City—the union’s first endorsement in a mayoral election in more than a decade. But have no fear, ye other candidates—Mayor Bloomberg has derisively dubbed the union endorsement a “kiss of death” (to which the union responded by likening Bloomberg’s approval as “worse than a zombie attack”). And Gotham politics continue.

Earlier this week, New Hampshire Superior Court judge John Lewis bucked U.S. Supreme Court precedent and ruled that the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program directed public money to religious schools, in violation of the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment—a provision banning government aid to “sectarian” schools that has its roots in the anti-Catholic bigotry pervasive in the late 1800s. (Blaine Amendments still exist in thirty-six other states.) Judge Lewis’s ruling marks the first time a tax-credit-scholarship program has been struck down on these grounds. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had determined that tax-credit-scholarship money never reaches the state treasury and thus cannot be considered public. An appeal in the...

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Teacher Prep ReviewEight years ago, Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” was Billboard’s top song, Pluto was still a planet, and the National Council on Teacher Quality began work on its comprehensive evaluation of the nation’s 2,400 educator-preparation programs housed in 1,130 higher-education institutions. This Tuesday marked the culmination of that gargantuan effort (a partnership with U.S. News and World Report). Of the secondary programs evaluated at more than 600 higher-education institutions, just four—Ohio State, Lipscomb, Furhman, and Vanderbilt—received top honors (four stars); zero elementary programs earned the same accolades. Across both levels, 14 percent of programs were placed on a “Consumer Alert” list for earning zero stars. Appallingly, 64 percent of California’s seventy-one elementary programs earned the lowest rating. Why? In 1970, in an overwrought effort to strengthen teachers’ content knowledge, California “all but prohibited the traditional education degree,” requiring candidates to obtain subject degrees as undergraduates and limiting their pedagogical coursework to a maximum of one year—to disastrous results. NCTQ based its rankings on eighteen criteria in four main areas: rigor of candidate selection, quality of content-area preparation, amount of professional skills the program teaches, and the impact of a program’s graduates. Along with the overall rankings, NCTQ provides detailed data on how programs fare across each of its eighteen criteria, offering page after page of sobering analyses in an attempt to bring order to the “Wild West” of teacher-preparation programs....

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Defending Common Core on the Rod Arquette Show

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli argued the conservative case for the Common Core—and debunked some common anti–Common Core myths—yesterday on the Rod Arquette Show (KNRS-Salt Lake City). Among his points:

  • Common Core is conservative. The Fordham Institute, which has been reviewing standards for fifteen years, found these standards to be more rigorous than those in three-quarters of the states—including Utah. The standards are solid, conservative, and traditional, said Mike.
  • Accountability is conservative. Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk started the modern education-reform movement—and put accountability and standards at the forefront of the conservative, Republican education platform. Today, Republicans shouldn’t be fighting these high standards; they should make the Common Core (and accountability to parents and taxpayers) a mainstay of the reform agenda.

Mike notes that there are a lot of misconceptions out there—and jumps to correct the record:

  • Common Core was created by the federal government: False. Mike explained that the Common Core was created by governors and superintendents, but he did admit that conservatives should be angry at President Obama for overstepping his role and politicizing the Common Core.
  • Common Core will have students reading technical manuals: False, once again. The Common Core promotes the reading of rigorous texts—both fiction and non-fiction—from classic American literature to our founding documents. This isn’t about manuals; it’s about preparing
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How do Ohio’s science standards stack up, in comparison to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)? What is the cost of teacher pensions? What’s your teachers’ value-added rating? And, what’s the latest on the Columbus reform plan? For answers to these questions, read the short notes below:

  • Fordham issued a “C” grade to the recently released Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS are the result of a two-year effort by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve to develop world-class K-12 academic standards in the sciences. NGSS’ “C” grade is clearly inferior to those awarded to twelve states (including Ohio, whose standards received a “B”), as well as the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks, as rated in Fordham’s State of State Science Standards 2012. Nevertheless, the NGSS grade is clearly superior to grades given to the woeful science standards of sixteen states—and the PISA framework. In this video, Checker Finn provides a two minute break down of why Fordham does not support the implementation of the NGSS standards.

 

  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District will save about $1,200 per pupil in pension costs by 2020 as a result of the Buckeye State’s recent changes to state law (Senate Bill 341 and 342, which passed in fall 2012). This is a key conclusion of Fordham’s recent report The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School-District Budgets, in which the district-level costs of teacher pension obligations
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Don't jump the NGSS bandwagon yet

Don't jump the NGSS bandwagon yet

Chester E. Finn, Jr. breaks down why Fordham does not support implementation of the NGSS.

Leaking all of our education-reform secrets

Mike and Kathleen catch the whistleblower spirit, giving the goods on NGSS, sparring over ability grouping, and decrying the latest Common Core distraction. Amber goes easy on Ed Sector.

Amber's Research Minute

The New State Achievement Gap: How Federal Waivers Could Make It Worse—Or Better by John Chubb and Constance Clark (Washington, D.C.: Education Sector, June 2013).

This week’s Fordham-conferred grade of C on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will be worn as a badge of honor by some misguided souls in the science-education world, but it will be a disappointment to many. We know and regret that. Having carefully reviewed the standards, however, using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—the considered judgment of our expert review team is that NGSS is not the cure the country needs for its abysmal performance in science.

Yes, they’re better than the standards that many states are currently using—indeed, at least a little better than half the states and clearly superior to sixteen of them. On the other hand, five states (plus D.C.) earned grades of A or A- from our reviewers. So did the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks. Another seven states earned B’s. Check out the map and table below.

How do state science standards compare with the NGSS?

Yes, students and teachers in a bunch of states would be somewhat better off if their curriculum, instruction, and assessments were geared to NGSS rather than their abysmal present standards. But they’d be far better off if they Xeroxed (and faithfully implemented) South Carolina’s excellent science standards or if they constructed new ones around the commendable assessment frameworks of TIMSS...

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GadflyAccording to the Times, ability grouping is back, after being unfairly stigmatized in the late 1980s and 1990s by misguided ideologues. We hope it’s true, because such grouping enables teachers to tailor their instruction to individual students appropriately—and can be used to match learning styles as well as achievement levels. (Free speech endures at Fordham, however, and not everyone concurs.)

Following school-board squabbles and the subsequent implementation of a new but compromised governance structure (by which the county executive appoints the district CEO and three school-board members), the Prince George’s County public schools have a new board chairman: NEA Director of Teacher Quality Segun Eubanks. We know and respect Eubanks and wish him the best of luck—but can’t help but smirk. What a classic case of the union sitting on both sides of the negotiating table.

To help close its $304 million budget deficit (brought on in large part by skyrocketing pension costs), the school district of Philadelphia announced that it has pink-slipped 3,783 employees: 676 teachers, 283 counselors, 127 assistant principals, and 1,202 noontime aides—a move that Superintendent Hite called “nothing less than catastrophic.” We hate to say, “I told you so”…...

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Assessing the Educational Data MovementWhen it comes to using data for education policy and reform, two factions emerge: modern Luddites who fear the mechanization of schooling and tech-savvy number crunchers who tend to believe that data will solve all of education’s woes. This book by IT pro Philip Piety deftly weaves between the factions and offers a valuable read for teachers, administrators, and policymakers looking to work productively with educational data without becoming overwhelmed. Piety divides it into three sections. The first lays out the history of the educational-data “movement” and the current debate surrounding value-added measures and testing. The second discusses best practices in and applications of administrative infrastructures—which include data systems about teaching methods and students. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program created a powerful research tool and a nexus of information crucial to federal, state, and local policy goals. The third examines how data can be helpful to the “technical core”—that is, students, teachers, materials, and classrooms. Even more helpful, the author showcases how Teach For America and KIPP use metrics innovatively to, among other things, improve instruction.

SOURCE: Philip J. Piety, Assessing the Educational Data Movement (New York, NY: Teachers College, Colombia University, 2013)....

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In the midst of a blooming field of research on how to serve high-achieving minority and lower-income youngsters, this report from Education Trust plants a welcome bud. Noting that the sturdiest predictor of college success is the richness of a student’s course of study in high school, and concerned about how few minority and low-income students opt to take challenging Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the authors set out to understand the extent of these inequities—and what can be done to reverse the trend. After determining that 71 percent of all U.S. high schools in 2009–10 had at least one student take an AP examination, providing 91 percent of all students with some AP access, they outlined the extent of the gap: 6 percent of African American students take AP courses, compared with 11.9 percent of white students and 25.1 percent of Asians; similarly, 5.5 percent of low-income students take AP courses, versus 15.6 percent of all other students. The authors go on to recommend a number of actions that district and high school educators can take, from simply expanding awareness among underrepresented student groups to creating a network of supports for students taking advanced courses. But while most of these proposals seem reasonable, the recommendation that schools ensure that their barriers to AP enrollment are not too “rigid” stuck out like a sore green thumb. While there are plenty of qualified and underrepresented students who never enroll and ought to be encouraged to do...

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