Curriculum & Instruction

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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Our friends at the State of Ohio Education blog rightly call Ohio's recent move to eliminate social studies tests in grades five and eight a "short-sighted decision," not just because a basic understanding of history, geography, civics, and current events is critical, but because Ohio students happen to be doing poorly in these subjects. Barely half of eighth graders and 61 percent of fifth graders passed the social studies assessments last year. Gov. Strickland is being criticized for allowing budget concerns to drive the decision to drop the exams (along with abandoning writing tests in grades four and seven), a move that will save $4.4 million dollars.

States are not required by NCLB to test social studies. But Ohio's decision to eliminate these tests is foolish on several fronts. First, Ohio can't fully address the "unacceptably low student achievement" in social studies without having data that illustrate how students (and sub-groups of students) are performing in that area. Second, although the state plans to re-implement social studies tests after the current budget cycle (by June 2011), the quality of Ohio's longitudinal data is weakened by interruptions in testing (and who's to say that Ohio's budget will be in better shape by then?). Finally, social studies subject matter is simply too important not to emphasize (whether or not an appropriate "emphasis" can be achieved with or without testing is up for debate, but I won't go into that here).

A few recent stories highlight...

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Eric Ulas

Don't miss this week's special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly! One year ago, the Fordham Institute released a report titled Accelerating Student Learning in Ohio. In it, we outlined five policy recommendations for strengthening public education in the Buckeye State.

Gov. Strickland's?? recent ???evidence-based??? school funding reforms moved Ohio forward in some areas (e.g., teacher tenure, teacher certification, and high school end of course exams), but backwards in others (e.g., evidence-based model for school funding.) In our view, Ohio still has a long way to go if it is to create a system of education that focuses squarely on high performance for all children and schools.

This edition of the Gadfly revisits our original five recommendations in comparison to current policy and outlines our vision of where we think the state needs to go. Ohio's gubernatorial season?? will be heating up in early 2010, and we think these policy priorities are worth making it onto the political agendas of either party.

Definitely a must-read!

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The worst education idea of the year turns out not to be a new idea at all. "Unschooling" has roots in Rousseau, in Summerhill, in John Holt and Ivan Illich and any number of other progressive/romantic/libertarian nihilists. It takes an acceptable educational alternative--home schooling--and turns it into a parody. I kept being reminded of tales of babies raised by wolves and other wild beasts. While I do not doubt that some few parents have the knowledge and imagination to embed the acquisition of important skills and knowledge in enjoyable activities that don't feel much like school (so do many veteran kindergarten teachers, by the way), for most, I'm pretty sure, "unschooling" resembles the Taliban's idea of education for girls: Keep them home and keep them ignorant. Make sure they don't learn the parts of speech or multiplication tables, the causes of the War of 1812 ??or the election of 1912 or the concept of separation of powers or why Lady Macbeth kept washing her hands. The co-founder of the "Family Unschoolers Network" estimates that ten percent of home-schoolers are really unschoolers. If true, that's close to 200,000 kids who deserve a proper education so as to succeed in the modern world but who almost certainly aren't getting it. Not to mention that it's going to make people even more suspicious of home schooling. As Teri Flemal, director of Quality Education by Design, puts it, "I'm reading e-mail from unschooling parents who think having their kids remodel their house...

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Whether the United States should embrace national standards and tests for its schools is perhaps today's hottest education issue. For guidance in addressing it, the newest Fordham report looks beyond our borders. How have other countries navigated these turbid waters? What do their systems look like? How did they get there? What can we learn from them? Expert analysts examined national standards and testing in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore and South Korea. This report presents their key takeaways.

Alex Klein

Quotable

"To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin...is ludicrous." --Peter Marshall, an??Evangelical minister,??on the controversial Texas history curriculum

EdWeek: Texas Panelists Question Minority Heroes in Curriculum

Notable

$259,500,000 : The deficit the Detroit Public Schools system is running this year. DPS is considering bankrupcy.

Detroit News: DPS moves closer to bankruptcy

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Alex Klein

Quotable

"Hunger doesn't take a summer break." ??--Montgomery County, MD, Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring)

WaPo: 'Hunger Doesn't Take a Summer Break'

Notable

< 10% : MetEast High School in Camden, New Jersey, has just over 100 students--less than one-tenth the enrollment at other city comprehensive high schools.

AP: In high-dropout Camden, Big Picture kids prep for college

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Amy Fagan

David Whitman, fresh off of being honored by the American Independent Writers, has now done an interview with EducationNews.org about his book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism. EdNews Senior Columnist Michael Shaughnessy asks David, among other things, why he wrote the book, why it has had broad-based appeal, and what paternalism has to do with education. Here's a snippet of David describing the schools that he examined and wrote about:

When you spent time in the schools I studied, you couldn't help but be struck by the fact that they were highly-prescriptive institutions???they meticulously supervised student behavior. They were not just academically demanding schools but schools that sought to relentlessly shape the character of their students. But I do want to be clear about one thing: The new paternalism works only when it is combined with intense caring and commitment--it is not just about the supervision of students. The students have to know that their teachers and principals care deeply about them and their future.

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In 2002-2003, 1 million students participated in AP by taking at least one exam. Five years later, nearly 1.6 million did—a 50+ percent increase. But is growth all good? Might there be a downside? Are ill prepared students eroding the quality of the program? Perhaps harming the best and brightest? To find out, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute commissioned the Farkas Duffett Research Group to survey AP teachers in public high schools across the country. Perhaps not surprisingly, the AP program remains very popular with its teachers. But there are signs that the move toward "open door" access to AP is starting to cause concern. Read the report to learn more.

An interview with Steve Farkas, President of the Farkas Duffett Research Group.
Fordham commissioned the FDR Group to research and write this report.

As Gov. Ted Strickland concludes his 12-city "Conversation on Education" tour to gather ideas for reforming public education in Ohio, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has put forth a report of five recommendations designed to keep improvements in the Buckeye State's public schools on track toward three critical goals: 1) maximizing the talents of every child; 2) producing graduates as good as any in the world; and 3) closing the persistent academic gaps that continue between rich and poor, and black and white and brown.

The five recommendations include:

  1. Creating world-class standards and stronger accountability mechanisms. 
  2. Ensure that funding is fairly allocated among all children and schools. 
  3. Recruit the best and brightest to lead schools and empower them to succeed. 
  4. Improve teacher quality. 
  5. Expand the quality of, and access to, a range of high-performing school options.

    The report offers relevant examples of the best practices and thinking from across the nation and world as well as within the state of Ohio. These recommendations were developed on the basis of the work over the past decade of many organizations, including Achieve, McKinsey & Co., the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Center on Education and the Economy, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Ohio's State Board of Education and Department of Education. ...

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