Curriculum & Instruction

Alfie Kohn's Education Week commentary about the "pedagogy of poverty" has sparked a renewed debate about which kind of education is "best" for poor kids?and whether it's the same as what affluent children get. After describing a curriculum that "consists of a series of separate skills, with more worksheets than real books, more rote practice than exploration of ideas, more memorization (sometimes assisted with chanting and clapping) than thinking," Kohn writes:

Is racism to blame here? Or could it be that, at its core, the corporate version of ?school reform? was never intended to promote thinking?let alone interest in learning?but merely to improve test results? That pressure is highest in the inner cities, where the scores are lowest. And indeed the pedagogy of poverty can sometimes ?work? to raise those scores, but at a huge price. Because the tests measure what matters least, it's possible for the accountability movement to simultaneously narrow the test-score gap and widen the learning gap.

Set aside the ugly and inaccurate caricature that Kohn paints about high performing schools. (For a more accurate depiction, read David Whitman's Sweating the Small Stuff. There's a ton of "thinking" and "learning" going on in the...

Liam Julian

Ross Perlin's new book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy?removes the comedy from the tableau of the keen,?fresh-faced intern, set on changing the world yet?so far struggling to change even the toner in the office copy machine. Perlin sees America's millions of interns as a largely illegal army providing menial labor on which government agencies, private companies, and nonprofits rely and for which individual interns earn little to no money or worthwhile experience.

Perlin makes his case in dense chapters exploring the history (short), legality (dubious), and economics (all screwed up) of modern internships. His villains are many and varied. Higher education is one.

Perlin writes about the for-credit internship, which for many universities ?form a significant revenue stream.? Gina Neff, a professor at the University of Washington, tells Perlin, ?It's a dirty little secret? that internships are ?a very cheap way to provide credits . . . cynically, a budget balance? for schools. When a college offers credit to, say, a communications student who interns at a local PR firm, it is able to?pocket tuition dollars without providing any service. In fact, Neff knows of many UW students who...

The U.S. didn't triumph over terrorism today but its brave fighting men won a crucial battle when they rid the world of Osama bin Laden. Bravo for them?and may his soul suffer eternal damnation.

This achievement inevitably recalled memories of 9/11 and is bound to cause educators across the land to ask themselves how best to teach their young charges about what happened on that beautiful/dreadful autumn morning and about the terrorism threat that has never ceased.

Allow me to remind one and all that, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Fordham brought out a publication on that exact topic: "September 11: What Our Children Need to Know." You can find it on our website, containing some twenty-three short essays from some of the most thoughtful people I know. I offer it as a valuable resource for teachers and other adults trying to help children (or adults, for that matter) put the events of the past 24 hours into perspective.

Near it on our website,...

Alfie Kohn is the latest to weigh in on ?the pedagogy of poverty,? as he calls it, with his ?How Education Reform Traps Poor Children? commentary in Education Week ? and he does it as crudely as Joe Nocera did it in the Times the other day (see my Education Unbound*): first by distorting ?the proposals collectively known as `school reform,'? then by ignoring the facts. ?(See the letter to the editor of the Times by teacher Neal Suidan, who says that, ?In the absence of an immediate plan to fix poverty, family structure and school funding, the only place where we can influence the fate of these students is in the classroom. That's where the focus should be.?)

Flypaper's Kathleen Porter-Magee jumped all over Kohn for his ?pedagogical strawman? -- ?in fact, she says, ?the pedagogy that is used and encouraged at the most successful urban charter schools around the country? are actually designed to create the conditions where student thinking and learning can actually happen?? -- and Core Knowledge's Robert Pondiscio did an excellent counterpunch by pointing out that ?a lot more damage [is] being done to low-income urban kids in the...

This article originally appeared in the April 21 edition of The Education Gadfly newsletter. You can sign up for The Education Gadfly or read an overview of the latest newsletter.

Along with paralysis over the budget (and so much else), there's enduring paralysis on Capitol Hill?over federal education policy. While 2011 has brought a flurry of promising reform activity at the state level, we detect barely a heartbeat in Washington when it comes to updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently NCLB), even though an overhaul is at least four years overdue and just about everyone agrees that it's not working very well.

A year ago, the Obama Administration offered a decent ?blueprint? for reauthorization; but in Congress there are major fissures within each party?and little evidence of desire to cooperate across the aisle. Most commentators agree?and staffers privately admit?that chances are slim for an update before the 2012 elections. Sadly, they are probably right. It's a major abdication of responsibility by our nation's lawmakers.

Click to read our ESEA briefing book

And what makes it especially painful...

In my interview with outgoing New York education commissioner David Steiner, whose passion for curriculum has been no secret, I asked about curriculum and the common core and I think it is worth excerpting some of our conversation:

EN (Education Next): How do we get teachers to see the need for a rigorous, aligned, and common core curriculum?

DS (David Steiner): Oh, I think that by and large they do.

EN: And who should write such a curriculum?

DS: Well, first of all, when I discuss the idea of a state wide curriculum with the leaders of both the NYSUT and the UFT [teacher unions], they were and are enthusiastic.? They are our partners in this work and I think that the key is the design.

You don't want a kind of French straightjacket, where you say that at 11:15 on Monday morning every 11-year-old is opening the same page of the same text.? That doesn't seem consistent with our traditions, our history, and our culture.? On the other hand, it's true that right now we have a total fragmentation and even within the same large high school, within the same grade, you might have

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Liam Julian

A New York Times-Chronicle of Higher Education collaboration yields a story about the lowly undergraduate business department, where slackers slack with impunity. The?unremarkable business school student, the article suggests,?is an unconcerned fellow, missing class or sleeping through it, neglecting his studies, and generally spending his days drinking with buddies and powering through grocery money at his roommate's homemade poker table. And then he graduates with an entirely respectable GPA?a 3.1 or so, ?right in that meaty part of the curve, not showing off, not falling behind,? as George Constanza would say?and goes on to an entirely respectable white-collar job managing this, selling that, or representing the other. The most recent National Survey of Student Engagement, whatever that is, found that business majors ?spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field,? according to the Times-Chronicle piece. They also score less well than any other group on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which tests pupils in writing and reasoning at the start of their freshman year and then again at the end of their sophomore year. And business majors who intend to pursue graduate-level instruction at business school score lower on the GMAT, business school's SAT,...

I was just re-reading sections of The Making of Americans by Don Hirsch, preparing to send out some encouraging words to my local district Board of Ed Curriculum Committee, when a new Rick Hess Straight Up shot across my screen.? Apparently, it's not just the local yokels who don't get the concept of background knowledge.? Et tu, Hess?

Between vague standards ? and standard vagueness in this country ranges from the opacity of White Out to a hole you can drive a truck through (though Fordham's recent report paints a slightly rosier picture) ?? and the tests that everyone wants to write for them is this yawning cavern?where curriculum should be. It is a cup and a lip that has spilled hundreds of thousands of kids onto our streets, including those who are very computer savvy, uneducated. And I'll add my scepticisim to that of Checker about the Finlandization of America that Rick sees in a common curriculum.? He prefers the Balkanization that we've lived with for the last half century?

As I pointed out the other day (Habits of Mindlessness), even Ted Sizer got it. As he wrote in Horace's School:

Good schools

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Liam Julian

The humanities are under attack, writes Nicholas Dames in the latest N+1. What he means, really, is that campus humanities departments are under attack, derided by the masses as comfortable homes for elitist windbags and poked and prodded by college administrators and public officials, who hope either to reshape the departments in ways?that will make them more amenable to economic realities or to withhold money from them, in effect starving them and their tweedy, Marxist denizens into submission, dispersing the rogues hither and yon so that no longer will they draw a paycheck for filling students' minds with nonsense. Dames reviews three ?manifestos,? written, he says, by professors who have sensed that the winds have shifted, that humanities departments can no longer remain aloof, above the fray, and so have plunged in, put pen to paper, to produce defenses of their profession?booklets as barricades.

First up is Martha Nussbaum's Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. This is, Dames seems to suggest, a confused book, at once asserting the humanities' independence from quotidian concerns of supply and demand while also pointing out that the very skills the humanities impart are those for which, Nussbaum notes,??modern pluralistic democracies...

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