Curriculum & Instruction

  • “Irony is often amusing,” writes Calhoun School Headmaster Steve Nelson in his new philippic against rigor in early childhood education, proving once again that he lacks even a basic understanding of what that word means. It’s not totally clear what gets taught at Nelson’s $45,000-per-year academy, but the Gadfly’s definition of irony is this: when the half-million-dollar mouthpiece of one of the ritziest schools on the Upper West Side descends from Olympus to admonish teachers of impoverished students against actually trying to teach them anything. “Play-based,” content-free learning might be fine for the children of hedge fund managers, who will have lots of opportunities to screw up before easing into careers as progressive school principals. But it’s not cutting it for kids from low-income families, who often arrive at school with huge skills deficits and consequently have to, you know, learn something. Now it’s time for Nelson to learn a lesson of his own: Stick to finger painting in the Imagination Station, and quit lecturing those who are actually trying to help the poor.
  • In other Big Apple news: Bill de Blasio is beginning to get a reputation—and not just for chronic dawdling and eating
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Education reformers talk a lot about providing disadvantaged kids access to great schools, and for good reason. Countless institutional barriers exist to thwart students from choosing the best nearby schools, and solutions like open enrollment and private school scholarships are justly lauded as escape routes for families caged by circumstances of class.

But there are also much more literal obstructions to educational choice, and they aren’t arrayed solely against low-income learners trapped in huge, failing urban districts. To choose just one example, children enrolled in rural and remote schools—separated by hundreds of miles from the auxiliary services available in many cities, and usually passed over by the most sought-after teaching talent—are simply subjected to geographic dislocation instead of (or often in addition to) economic deprivation.

This new report by the Foundation for Excellence in Education (which has already released one worthy analysis of the issue) looks at the successful implementation of state-level course access policies by ten districts and charter management organizations across the country. The programs bring outstanding options to students who would otherwise have trouble finding them—typically through online tools that offer academic relief to district budgets, but also by incorporating embedded resources like...

For years, I worried that I was auditioning to be the Edward Gibbon of urban Catholic schooling, chronicling the decline and fall of an invaluable, sprawling institution.

Inner-city Catholic schools have long provided an incomparable education to millions of low-income kids. But a confluence of factors have caused fifty years of enrollment losses in the millions and school closures in the thousands.

Trying to draw greater attention to the issue, I’ve written blog postsop-edsmagazine piecesjournal articlescase studiesthink tank reports, and government manifestos. But the hemorrhaging continued. Every spring, another diocese would announce the shuttering of another dozen schools.

I was becoming resigned to the fact that these documents would look in hindsight like period pieces from the bygone era of urban Catholic schooling.

But this fall, two new publications will make the case that we may be on the leading edge of a renaissance of inner-city Catholic schooling. I don’t want to steal the reports’ thunder, but here’s a little foreshadowing.

These documents (I’ve co-authored both) detail a wave of Catholic education innovation and entrepreneurialism that we probably haven’t seen since the 1880s, when the nation’s Catholic bishops mandated the creation of thousands of parish schools...

Editor's note: This post is the second in a series reflecting on the author's first year as superintendent at the Partnership Schools, a nonprofit school management organization that (thanks to an historic agreement with the Archdiocese of New York) was granted broad authority to manage and operate six pre-K–8 urban Catholic schools.

Last week, Eliza Shapiro published an article at Capitol New York that explored the “charter-like” approach the Partnership for Inner-City Education is bringing to its Catholic schools. In many ways, that characterization is true. We are, after all, partnering with some pioneers from the charter world. And we’re implementing many of the best practices that so many of us have learned from the most successful CMOs.

At the same time, though, there is a lot that it misses. We are much more than “charter-like schools”; we’re Catholic schools. And our rich history is the foundation of what we do. Some of the differences are obvious: We can wear our faith on our sleeve and teach values unequivocally. We teach religion. We prepare students for the sacraments. We operate on shoestring budgets.

But there are other differences that have a more subtle—but perhaps more profound—impact on the work...

The National Bureau of Economic Research has released a working paper in a series designed to estimate the earnings returns for vocational or technical education students in California community colleges—the nation’s largest such system. While there is a large body of research pertaining to the financial returns of earning a four-year college degree, very little has been conducted on the income of technical program graduates.

Researchers tracked students through their postsecondary institutions and into the labor market between 1992 and 2011. Using administrative records from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and California’s unemployment insurance system, they were able to match roughly 93 percent of students in the college data to earnings records. The evaluation of certificate and degree holders was divided into four categories: associates of science/arts degrees, 30–60-credit certificates, 18–30-credit certificates, and 6–18-credit certificates. They then analyzed these four groups’ returns in the six largest major employment areas: business and management, information technology, engineering and industrial technologies, healthcare, family and consumer sciences, and public protective services.

The study authors found substantial differences in financial returns for different programs—even among credentials that require the same number of credit hours—and concluded that “all CTE education programs are not equal.” The...

A new study by Pennsylvania State University researchers examines which types of instructional practices are most effective with first-grade math students—both with and without mathematical difficulties (MD).

They analyzed survey responses from roughly 3,600 teachers and data from over thirteen thousand kindergarten children in the class of 1998–99. The database is known as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). The authors then controlled for students’ prior math and reading achievement, family income, classroom and school contexts, and other factors. (MD was defined as falling in the bottom 15 percent of the score distribution on the ECLS-K Math test.)

The key findings: In first-grade classrooms with higher percentages of MD students, teachers were more likely to use practices not associated with greater math achievement by these students. These non-effective practices included using manipulatives, calculators, movement, and music to learn math. It should be noted that these practices were also ineffective for students without math difficulties.

Yet more frequent use of teacher-directed instructional practices was consistently associated with gains in math achievement for first graders with MD. More specifically, the most effective instructional practice teachers could use with these struggling students was routine practice and drills (that’s right,...

Every sentence in Sir Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools begins with a capital letter. There is also a punctuation mark at the end of each, without exception. I have made a careful study of his nearly three-hundred-page manuscript, and can now report conclusively that its author employs—precisely and exclusively—the twenty-six letters of the standard English alphabet. 

Normally, this would not be worth remarking upon. Most of us have come to expect standard English in books written for general readers. But most of us are not Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D. He is “one of the elite thinkers on creativity and education,” whose TED talk on how schools kill creativity in children is “the most watched in TED history.”  Sir Ken intensely dislikes standardization in all its forms. So it is at least somewhat disappointing that he has chosen to eschew interpretive dance, semaphore flags, or other means to argue against standards and for creativity in education.

It is not uncommon for education gurus to lack the courage of their convictions.  So allow me to be creative on Sir Ken’s behalf: Don’t think of Creative Schools as a book; think of it as a jukebox cranking out all of the anti-reform hits. Nod...

Robert Schwartz

Let’s begin with some data. Fewer than 33 percent of young people succeed in attaining a four-year degree by age twenty-five. If you disaggregate by income, only about 15 percent in the bottom third of the distribution attain a degree. In the bottom quintile, it’s half that. If you look at graduation rates among those who enroll, only about 30 percent in the bottom two income quintiles complete within six years. The economic returns of “some college” (i.e., those who drop out with no degree or occupational certificate) are no different than for those with only a high school diploma.

Finally, nearly half of those young people who attain a four-year degree are struggling in this labor market: 44 percent are underemployed, working in jobs that historically have not required a four-year degree, or working part-time while seeking full time employment. Meanwhile, there is rising evidence that those with two-year technical degrees (AAS) are out-earning average young BA holders.

It’s no longer a matter only of how much education you have, but what skills you have acquired and how well they match up with what the economy requires.

While it obviously should be a critical national priority...

  • Sure, you might die for your kids…but would how long would you sleep outside for them? That’s the question one Cincinnati dad had to answer when it was time to enroll his children in a coveted local school. The Fairview-Clifton German Language School, one of a handful of the city’s high-performing magnet schools, awards most of its kindergarten seats on a first-come, first-served basis rather than doing so exclusively via lottery. The result is a prolonged, nightmarish waiting game (on school grounds!) that now stretches over two weeks, with parents camping in tents and braving sub-freezing temperatures for a chance at one of a few dozen slots. The pageant of endurance is great for Fairview-Clifton, which ultimately selects it students from the most dedicated families in the city; but it’s terrible for parents who lack the resources to take time off work and pull a Grizzly Adams on behalf of their children. Going forward, the city (and every city) needs to offer more high-quality kindergarten seats. Until then, they should at least end this pathetic spectacle.
  • Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton drew a lot of headlines for her economic speech on Monday, predominantly for embracing liberal
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June marked the end of my first year as superintendent of Partnership Schools, a nonprofit school management organization that (thanks to an historic agreement with the Archdiocese of New York) was granted broad authority to manage and operate six K–8 urban Catholic schools. Our work is one part of a nationwide effort to help save urban Catholic education. It’s a mission that has brought together an amazing group of Catholic educators and philanthropists with a common commitment: to not let this essential element of American education disappear from the communities our schools serve.

The urgency of this work is grounded in the seriousness of the problems our schools face. The Partnership Schools—three in the South Bronx and three in Harlem—have been struggling. Like so many urban Catholic schools subsisting on tuition payments or private philanthropy, our teachers and leaders have been forced to operate on austerity budgets. Salaries have been low. Textbooks have been sorely outdated. Professional development has been thin, and our principals have faced the almost impossible job of juggling tasks ranging from operations to fundraising to parent outreach to managing union grievances—all virtually on their own. They had scant time to serve teachers as instructional leaders and...

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