Curriculum & Instruction

The big fuss about "national curriculum" has lately slid into an argument about whether the federal government may?and should?have anything to do with "curriculum." Actually, it's an argument?limited to the Education Department, which has in its founding legislation a specific prohibition on "controlling or directing" curriculum. (Other federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation and Arts and Humanities endowments have?engaged for decades in the funding, development, evaluation, and encouragement of curricula.)

A whole bunch of folks, mainly conservative policy wonks and grumps, have spent a whole bunch of time in recent weeks declaiming that Arne Duncan is a sinner if not a lawbreaker because his Race to the Top program encouraged states to adopt the new "Common Core" academic standards and because he gave a bit of federal money to the two assessment-development consortia to help pay for instructional supports and curricular materials related to their forthcoming tests (which are, in turn, supposed to be aligned with the dreaded Common Core).

This debate?is no?longer confined to the blogosphere and think tanks, however. In the last couple of days it has drawn in Duncan himself as well as House education chairman John Kline.

I?guess people...

Liam Julian

Tennessee is determined, it seems, to sully its reputation when it comes to matters educational. The state that in the 1920s began the anti-evolution battles by bringing?teacher John Scopes to trial for allegedly?speaking of?evolution in his high-school biology class has moved the so-called ?Don't Say Gay? bill along the path from notion to law. Friday the state's Senate passed, 20-10, the legislation, which mandates that instruction at public elementary and middle schools will be ?limited exclusively to age-appropriate natural human reproduction science.? The bill originally forbade elementary and middle schools to ?provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality? but was amended after some lawmakers, according to the Associated Press, noted they were ?uncomfortable? with?such language. Nonetheless, says the legislation's sponsor, Republican Stacey Campfield, the bill's effect is undiminished because ?homosexuals don't naturally reproduce.?

One can defend Campfield by arguing that he is merely attempting to block from public-school classrooms unregulated discussion by untrained teachers of divisive topics. Parents may not be comfortable with their elementary-school-aged children learning about homosexuality at school; such parents may wish to teach their kids about the topic at home, in their own way, and in their own time, and...

One of the more interesting characteristics of the recent curriculum counter-manifesto was its lead sentence, which had this lovely turn of phrase: we ?oppose the call for a nationalized curriculum.?? Interesting, I thought, since I don't believe anyone at the Shanker Institute called for a nationalized curriculum; they called for a national or common curriculum.? Was this a distinction without a difference? Was Shanker just being "sneaky"?? Not at all ? and I'm sure the writers of the counter-manifesto understand all too well that nationalize is a verb, meaning to do something like Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez might do to oil companies or hotels.

Nice try, guys.

On the other side of the aisle, of course, is the privatization crowd.? Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier have been sharing their worries about billionaire ed reformers conspiring to kill off public schools for a long time and just about anything associated with ?business? draws hizzahs of privatizing public education.? Just the other day, Gail Collins weighed in on the Times op-ed page with a column called Reading, ?Riting and Revenues.? ?Today,? she opines, ?let's take a look at the privatization craze and the conviction that there...

The ???counter-manifesto??? released this week in opposition to national testing and a national curriculum is full of half-truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men. But it was signed by a lot of serious people and deserves a serious response. [quote]

First, let us dispatch some silliness. To the best of our knowledge, and based on all evidence that we're aware of, neither the signers of the Shanker Institute manifesto, nor leaders in the Obama/Duncan Education Department, advocate a ???nationalized curriculum??? that would ???undermine control of public school curriculum and instruction at the local and state level??? and ???transfer control to an elephantine, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy.??? Nor is anybody calling for ???a one-size fits all, centrally controlled curriculum for every K-12 subject.??? We certainly wouldn't support such a policy???and can understand why the conservative luminaries who signed the counter-manifesto wouldn't want it, either. As parents, grandparents, charter-school authorizers, and champions of school choice in almost all its forms, we believe deeply in the importance of schools having the freedom to shape their own unique educational approaches.

So let us be clear: While the assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards will be mandatory (for schools and...

Guest Blogger

This is a guest post by Diane Ravitch, in response to "A Pedagogy of Practice" by Kathleen Porter-Magee.

When I say that poor kids should have the same school advantages as rich kids, I am not referring to unstructured classes and open classrooms, to balanced literacy or constructivist math.

I am speaking about classes of 15 students, instead of classes of 25-30. I am speaking about schools that have a program rich in the arts, rather than schools that focus intently on preparing for the next state test of basic skills. I am speaking about schools where children study history and read biographies and trade books, engage in debates, discussions, and projects, not just read banal textbooks. I am speaking about schools that teach science and have working laboratories for experiments and demonstrations. I am speaking about schools that teach great literature and engage vigorously in discussion of controversial topics.

I am speaking about schools that have the resources to keep their facilities up to date and spotless and to provide students with access to current technology.

I am speaking about schools that treasure their teachers, treat them with respect, give them the autonomy to...

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...