Curriculum & Instruction

What are the implications of "tracking," or grouping students into separate classes based on their achievement? Many schools have moved away from this practice and reduced the number of subject-area courses offered in a given grade. In this new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, Brookings scholar Tom Loveless examines tracking and detracking in Massachusetts middle schools, with particular focus on changes that have occurred over time and their implications for high-achieving students. Among the report's key findings detracked schools have fewer advanced students in mathematics than tracked schools. The report also finds that detracking is more popular in schools serving disadvantaged populations. Read the full report to find out more.

The Education Gadfly

Our latest report, "Tracking and Detracking: High Achievers in Massachusetts Middle Schools ," analyzes the implications of tracking, or grouping students into separate classes based on their achievement.??It takes a look at Massachusetts middle schools - both those that have retained tracking and those that have moved away from it (detracked). Among the report's key findings: detracked schools have fewer advanced students in mathematics than tracked schools. Read the full report here .

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This week The New Teacher Project (TNTP) unveiled its Cincinnati-focused report on human capital reform. The report's recommendations for Cincinnati Public Schools and the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT) are similar (predictably so) to client reports for other districts, like Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Chicago. That's because problems related to teacher quality are ubiquitous in American urban education.

Read the Cincinnati findings as well as the defensive reaction of the CFT, and you'll swear you could be reading a narrative of any city's human capital challenges: late hiring timelines prevent districts from snagging the best teacher candidates; evaluating teachers once every five years is meaningless; single step salary structures aren't the best way to recruit and reward excellence. It's chocked full of a lot of common sense. But common sense doesn't always translate into political action and policy reform.

Where TNTP's client cities part ways is in their willingness to truly make "teacher effectiveness" the helm of the human capital ship, and to measure this with student performance data. (There are other ways that districts/states can improve teacher quality but whether they place "effectiveness" at the core of their human capital philosophy says volumes.)??

In Ohio, the budget bill raised the bar for teacher tenure to seven years (the highest in the country among tenure-granting states) and made it easier to dismiss the worst teachers. These changes are positive, but ultimately don't overhaul the way that teachers are evaluated. Without meaningful...

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A week ago, I posted this in response to Secretary Duncan's speech about education schools at Teachers College. Over the course of several days, there were 11 comments posted that, when printed out, clocked in at 20 pages (single spaced, mind you). What was all the ruckus, you ask?

It was a vigorous give-and-take between two loyal Flypaper readers, Ze'ev Wurman and Karl Wheatley. Ze'ev once served as Senior Adviser in the U.S. Department of Education and helped shape California's math standards; Karl is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Cleveland State University. Their long-winded debate started when Karl took umbrage at my accusation that education schools often don't deliver what all teaching candidates need-namely, a thorough understanding of the content they'll be teaching. By mentioning E.D. Hirsch's work, I thought Duncan highlighted the need for content-prepared teachers and content-rich curriculum.

Karl insisted that education professors (after all, he is one) ARE listening on this front, but that Duncan's proposals have "shown a weak grasp of the issues and what works in education." Eschewing "teacher-dominated" instruction, Karl goes on to say that "educational approaches with integrated, interest-based, real-life curriculum, substantial student choice, local control, and authentic assessment simply work better in the long run." Further, he insists that, "pretending a teacher who has content knowledge is ???highly qualified' is like pretending a plumber who owns a wrench is a good plumber."

Then Ze'ev picks up the gauntlet and reminds Karl of the...

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Whew, I just finished reading Secretary Duncan's??meaty address to the faculty and students at Teachers College at Columbia University. It's a fairly brave speech by Education Secretary standards (despite the fact that he defines great teaching as "a daily fight for social justice").

Duncan calls out weak teacher prep programs and pushes them to better measure their success based on teacher outcomes:

....Simply put, incoming [college] freshmen don't know the content because too often they have been taught by teachers who don't know the content well. ......Now the fact is that states, districts, and the federal government are also culpable for the persistence of weak teacher preparation programs. Most states routinely approve teacher education programs, and licensing exams typically measure basic skills and subject matter knowledge with paper-and-pencil tests without any real-world assessment of classroom readiness. Local mentoring programs for new teachers are poorly funded and often poorly organized at the district level.

Less than a handful of states and districts carefully track the performance of teachers to their teacher preparation programs to identify which programs are producing well-prepared teachers-and which programs are not turning out effective teachers. We should be studying and copying the practices of effective teacher preparation programs-and encouraging the lowest-performers to shape up or shut down.

...... Right now, Louisiana is the only state in the nation that tracks the effectiveness of its teacher preparation programs. Every state in the nation should be doing the same-and, as I said,

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Eric Ulas

Video is now available from our recent event, World-Class Academic Standards for Ohio, which was held October 5 in Columbus, Ohio.

What do state and national experts make of the "Common Core" standards effort??? How can states go about crafting top-flight standards??? How will the Buckeye State respond to the Common Core effort and a recent legislative mandate to upgrade its standards? ??Click on the links below to find out.

Opening Speaker:

Why World-Class Standards?

David Driscoll, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education

Panel Sessions:

Current Efforts to Create National (???Common???) Standards

Michael Cohen, Achieve Inc.

Gene Wilhoit, Council of Chief State School Officers

Chester E. Finn, Jr., Thomas B. Fordham Institute, moderator

Highlighting the Efforts of Top Performing States??

David Driscoll, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education

Stan Jones, former Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education

Sue Pimentel, StandardsWork

Bruno Manno, Annie E. Casey Foundation, moderator

Moving Forward in Ohio

Deborah Delisle, Ohio Department of Education

Eric...

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In the Fordham Institute's latest report--Stars By Which to Navigate? Scanning National and International Education Standards in 2009--expert reviewers appraised the Common Core drafts, which outline college and career readiness standards in reading, writing, speaking and listening, and in math. These draft standards were made public on September 21 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. This report goes further however--Fordham's reviewers also evaluate the reading/writing and math frameworks that undergird the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA). How strong are these well-known models? This report presents their findings.

The Education Gadfly

The Fordham Institute's newest report???-Stars By Which to Navigate? Scanning National and International Education Standards in 2009--reviews the ???Common Core??? draft standards in math and reading/writing/communications (these drafts were made public on September 21). Our subject-content experts confer ???B??? grades on these drafts; the effort is off to a good start! Are there things to improve? You betcha. As for other influential barometers and benchmarks of educational performance, our reviews also examine the reading/writing and math frameworks behind NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA. Check out the report to find out which ones shine brightly and which ones are dull.

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Ohio is on board with the NGA/CCSSO Common Core State Standards Initiative, ostensibly agreeing to adopt 85 percent of the standards that result from the effort.???? But in remarks to the Columbus Dispatch yesterday following our academic standards conference, a state education department staffer explained why that won't actually happen:

Along with 47 other states, Ohio has helped write a set of common standards that are research-based and benchmarked to top performing countries, and could be adopted anywhere in the nation. But the state won't use those, instead revamping its existing standards, Associate Superintendent Stan Heffner said.

The common standards won't be finalized until January and, by law, Ohio must adopt new ones for English, math, science and social studies by June 30. It's not enough time, Heffner said, and they'll be too different from the academic content the state currently believes is important.

What's the Buckeye State to do????? Should the state board of education risk non-compliance with state law and wait for the Common Core work to be finished????? Should state lawmakers revisit the law and extend the deadline for updating the standards????? Are other states in similar predicaments????? If so, what becomes of the Common Core Initiative?...

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A Core Knowledge blog this week criticizes the concept of "learning styles" and educators' acceptance of this "unquestioned dogma." Specifically under critique is Michelle Rhee, whose DC Public Schools Teaching and Learning Framework includes the targeting of multiple learning styles among qualities of good teaching. The blog references Dan Willingham (a cognitive psychologist whose views on 21st??century skills I greatly admire), who authored a guest post also calling out Rhee for her acceptance of such scientifically invalid theories.

I'm not a neuroscientist--this isn't hyperbole...Willingham really is a neuroscientist--and I won't even pretend to have opinions regarding the scientific legitimacy of Rhee's focus on "learning styles." But, as a former teacher and TFA alum (a program that believes in paying attention to student learning modalities; also, possibly where Rhee first heard these terms) I still think Rhee's suggestion to consider learning styles when delivering instruction is a valid one.

Willingham contends that the theory that kids learn better when taught according to their learning styles just doesn't hold water (I don't disagree with this point). But he also says:

Some lessons click with one child and not with another, but not because of an enduring bias or predisposition in the way the child learns. The lesson clicks or doesn't because of the knowledge the child brought to the lesson, his interests, or other factors.

He admits that whether a child "gets it" or not depends on the student's background knowledge and interests. When...

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