Curriculum & Instruction

For nearly thirty years—at least since Bill Bennett’s tenure as secretary of education and Lamar Alexander’s as governor of Tennessee—education-minded conservatives at both national and state levels have embraced a two-part school reform strategy, focused equally on rigorous standards and parental choice. Recent events have frayed that coalition, but it’s not too late to stitch it back together.

The history of education reform
The 1970s left education in shambles.
Photo by ajari

First, a bit of history: In the 1970s, U.S. education policy was all about “equity,” inclusion, and funding and its reformist zeal came from the left, save for noble but isolated exceptions such as Milton Friedman.

Few deny that the equity agenda did some good, especially for disabled and minority youngsters, but the concomitant neglect of academic achievement proved costly. Though the College Board didn’t acknowledge it until 1975, SAT scores had peaked a decade earlier and were in free fall. Every newspaper seemed to bring word of another teacher strike. Adult authority was in decline, goofy curricular schemes were ascendant—and Jimmy Carter decided that his top education priority would be creation of a new federal agency to reward the NEA for its support in the ‘76 election.

In the blunt words of chronicler Tom Toch (then with U.S. News, now with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of...

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The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) school board will vote tomorrow night to approve the hiring of up to nine Teach For America (TFA) members. These new hires will begin teaching in fall 2013, and will be the first year in which TFA teachers are placed in CMSD classrooms. During the past school year, fifty TFA teachers were placed in Cleveland-area charter schools and another 34 TFA teachers taught in the Dayton and Cincinnati areas. The past school year, 2012-13, was the first year TFA operated in Ohio.

This is more encouraging reform news for Cleveland, whose school system has and continues to struggle mightily. Within the past month, the Cleveland Teachers Union and the Board of Education agreed to a new teachers’ contract that, most significantly, stripped away the seniority- and college-credit-based salary schedule and replaced it with a “differentiated compensation” system that awards salary bumps mostly based on how a teacher performs on the state’s new teacher evaluation rating system. This change was required as part of Ohio's recently-enacted law, House Bill 525 (cf., Ohio Revised Code section 3311.78).

The new contract also changes lay-off rules so that performance is now the dominant criteria, rather than seniority, and also calls for 40 minutes of additional instructional time. Cleveland’s teachers will also receive a 4 percent raise in the first year of the contract and a $1,500 bonus when they enter the new compensation system.

Finally, a new 15-mill levy, passed last November, will inject roughly $85 million into the...

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Peter Cunningham

This Sunday’s New York Times piece on Common Core standards, Queens College political-science professor Andrew Hacker and Columbia University adjunct professor Claudia Dreifus contribute greatly to the confusion and misinformation surrounding the issue of learning standards.

The piece conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn. It also confuses assessments, which are tests to determine what students know, with accountability, which are systems of tracking student performance, determining which schools and teachers are succeeding or struggling, and providing support or intervening where necessary.

They open with an anecdote about some parents opting out of a new test in New York City as an indication that Common Core may face a broad national backlash. But the backlash—to the extent it exists—is about testing, not standards.

The authors wrongly suggest that the “uniformity of the standards” is what appeals to Common Core supporters. Actually it is the richness and rigor of the standards that appeals to supporters. The uniformity is a bonus. No one really expected forty-six states to adopt.

In their attempt to portray serious debate around the issue, they quote conservative pundit Glenn Beck (who is paid to stir the pot) to counter conservative education scholars (who are paid to actually think it through and get it right).

They suggest that Tea Party resistance to the Common Core comes from the...

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Peter Cunningham

This Sunday’s New York Times piece on Common Core standards, Queens College political-science professor Andrew Hacker and Columbia University adjunct professor Claudia Dreifus contribute greatly to the confusion and misinformation surrounding the issue of learning standards.

The piece conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn. It also confuses assessments, which are tests to determine what students know, with accountability, which are systems of tracking student performance, determining which schools and teachers are succeeding or struggling, and providing support or intervening where necessary.

They open with an anecdote about some parents opting out of a new test in New York City as an indication that Common Core may face a broad national backlash. But the backlash—to the extent it exists—is about testing, not standards.

The authors wrongly suggest that the “uniformity of the standards” is what appeals to Common Core supporters. Actually it is the richness and rigor of the standards that appeals to supporters. The uniformity is a bonus. No one really expected forty-six states to adopt.

In their attempt to portray serious debate around the issue, they quote conservative pundit Glenn Beck (who is paid to stir the pot) to counter conservative education scholars (who are paid to actually think it through and get it right).

They suggest that Tea Party resistance to the Common Core comes from the...

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Student outcomes do matter
Deborah's vision is beautiful—but does it work?
Photo by scottwills

This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli is debating Deborah Meier through mid-June.

Dear Deborah,

Your last post was amazing—one of the most coherent, cogent articulations of a reform alternative that I've ever read.

I was particularly moved by this passage:

We need quiet places and noisy places, places full of books and computers and others full of paint and clay. We need adults with the freedom to make spontaneous decisions—shifting the conversation in response to one of those "wonderful moments" and deviating from any designed curriculum. Teachers need the time to mull over what they have learned from student work (written as well as observed) and collegial time to expand their repertoires. We need feedback from trusted and competent colleagues. We need time for families and teachers to engage in serious conversations. We need settings where it seems reasonable that kids might see the school's adults as powerful and interesting people who are having a good time.

It reminded me why I loved your books when I was studying at the University of Michigan's education school twenty years ago—and why you and your ideas are so beloved today. This is a joyous,...

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You call that "flexibility"?

Mike and Dara discuss NCLB reauthorization, NYC’s teacher evaluations, and the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes. Amber revels in the glory of having finally gotten Fordham’s epic pensions report out the door.

Amber's Research Minute

This familiar May visitor to edu-wonks’ desktops looks a bit different in 2013. Typically a bulky digest of all manner of education-related statistics, this year’s Condition of Education is more modern (with a beefed-up report and data website) and more svelte (by over 200 pages). The yearly tome of data now tracks but forty-two indicators across four areas: population statistics, participation in education, elementary and secondary education, and post-secondary education as well as data on four “spotlighted” stages: trends in employment rates by education attainment, Kindergarten entry timing, rural education, and college financing. From it, we learn that Hispanic immigrants are over three times as likely to drop out of high school than non-immigrant Hispanics; that charter school enrollment is still on the upswing, by 11 percent between 2009–10 and 2010–11; that 60 percent of kiddos aged three to five attend full-day preschool; that only 36 percent of female high school dropouts aged twenty to twenty-four are employed (compared to 59 percent of males of the same ilk); that employment rates among young adult males dropped at least 7 percentage points from 2008 and 2010—no matter their education level; and much more. NCES doesn’t attach policy recommendations to its data dump, but that shouldn’t stop the report from furthering some important conversations. Many, including us, have recently been questioning the “college for all” rhetoric, as an example. The dips seen in employment rates are further proof: We need to think hard about what worthy, non-college...

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Common Core debate
Jay has been the victim of black helicopter-itis
Photo by Marshall Astor on Flickr

Jay Greene's slightly Churchillian recent post conflates two Common Core issues that are better understood if they're kept apart. One involves the role of the federal government vis-a-vis the Common Core, and on this one I really do think Jay is a victim of black helicopter-itis. Of course he's right that Messrs. Obama and Duncan should have kept the Common Core at arm's length. But he's not right that a successful Common Core is inseparable from a more intrusive, controlling federal government. One of the virtues of the American system is how many nation-spanning ventures we have that do not hinge on or get controlled by the federal government: The American Red Cross. The American Cancer Society. The National PTA. The National Association of Manufacturers. One could easily extend this list quite a distance, and so it could and should be with the Common Core.

The other issue, a very different one, is whether common standards are in opposition to school choice, parent control, and such. This is not so much about the Common Core (the multi-state version) as about any sort of academic standards beyond the school's own doing. This goes to the heart of whether states should have standards, assessments, accountability, etc., in...

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Anti-Common Core Lies
Debunking the lies, half-truths, and misinformation about the Common Core standards
Photo by Tigereon

Note: If you read my post from Tuesday, “A point-by-point rebuttal of today’s anti-Common Core op-ed in the Wall Street Journal,” you can probably skip this one. You’ll be shocked to know that the folks at the Pioneer Institute used many of the same lies, half-truths, and misinformation in both articles. Yet, debunk I must. So here goes.

The Beginning of Common Core's Trouble

When President Obama unveiled his Race to the Top initiative in 2009, the idea was to award $4.35 billion in federal grant money to states to replicate policies that boosted student achievement.  That quickly changed and the federal money was instead used to persuade states to adopt administration-backed nationalized K-12 English and math standards and tests. By last year, most states had adopted the standards, known as Common Core, and it seemed a foregone conclusion that the United States would join countries like France in having a uniform curriculum.

Where to begin? Race to the Top “incentivized” several different reforms, including the adoption of the Common Core, but also the expansion of charter schools, the embrace of rigorous teacher evaluations, and much, much more. As for a “uniform curriculum” (like France!), Jim Stergios...
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The Academic and the Wonk

Can wonky Mike and data-loving Dara come to an agreement on Texas’s education reforms, Illinois’s rebuff of online learning, and a moratorium on Common Core–related stakes? Amber joins the number-cruncher brigade with a study on the effect of career and technical education on math achievement.

Amber's Research Minute

Balancing Career and Technicial Education with Academic Coursework: The Consequences for Mathematics Achievement in High School,” by Robert Bozick and Benjamin Dalton, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

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