Curriculum & Instruction

Back in June, we at Fordham released a critical review of the final Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As we explained at the time,

…using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—our considered judgment is that NGSS deserves a C.

Our review team felt that these new standards fell short in a number of critical areas. Far too much essential science content was either missing entirely or merely implied. Science practices, while essential to K-12 science learning, were given...

Back-to-school season is officially upon us and for many families that means new school supplies and backpacks and recalling where they stashed the warmer clothes. But if you're a public opinion pollster, back-to-school means it's time to dust off your old education surveys and see if anything’s changed from last year.

With three polls released this week (AP-NORC, PDK/Gallup, and Education Next),  trying to draw broad conclusions can be tricky given what, at times, seem to be fairly contradictory answers from the public. Some commentators have focused on what the data seem to show regarding hot-button policy...

“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.” This is carved into a massive stone wall on the FDR memorial in Washington, but it could have been the preface to this slender, timely, punchy book by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann. These authors make a persuasive case for improving the academic achievement of U.S. students—and thus America’s human resources—so that the nation thrives well into the future. Schools are where human capital gets built, they argue, and the acquisition of essential skills is better measured by standardized tests than by years spent in class....

British author and director of research at the Centre for Market Reform of Education, Gabriel Sahlgren brings us back to Economics 101 with the contention that there is one root cause of all problems afflicting education today: a lack of proper incentives for quality. He argues that the strongest system would be built on a functioning, choice-heavy education market. From there, his argument proceeds rationally: Readers are treated to a thorough explanation underpinning school choice as it relates to competition and quality. Sahlgren evaluates an impressive body of research, covering studies that are cross national (such as Hensvik’s 2012 finding...

Is it all just politics in the Badger State? Have you ever heard of the Common Core? Mike and Brickman talk dairy, while Amber hashes out the latest Education Next survey results.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2013 Education Next Survey by Michael Henderson and Paul E. Peterson, (Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG))

Chester E. Finn, Jr. breaks down why Fordham does not support implementation of the NGSS.

The cheesehead edition

Is it all just politics in the Badger State? Have you ever heard of the Common Core? Mike and Brickman talk dairy, while Amber hashes out the latest Education Next survey results.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2013 Education Next Survey by Michael Henderson and Paul E. Peterson, (Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG))

Back in June, we at Fordham released a critical review of the final Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As we explained at the time,

…using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—our considered judgment is that NGSS deserves a C.

Our review team felt that these new standards fell short in a number of critical areas. Far too much essential science content was either missing entirely or merely implied. Science practices, while essential to K-12 science learning, were given undue prominence. And the inclusion of “assessment boundaries” meant to limit test development would like place an unintended but undesirable ceiling on the curriculum that students would learn at each grade level.

Besides all of that, our expert team was disappointed by what they found, and didn’t find, by way of math, especially in relation to physics and chemistry. “In reality,” they said,

there is virtually no mathematics, even at the high school level, where it is essential to the learning of physics and chemistry. Rather, the standards seem to assiduously dodge the mathematical demands inherent in the subjects covered. There is math available in the Common Core that could be used to enhance the science of the NGSS. No advantage is taken of this.

Since then, the NGSS authors have released an appendix—Appendix L—that is meant to show “Connections to the Common Core State Mathematics Standards [CCSSM].” This...

When Fordham’s expert review team issued its mostly-critical review of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in June, we made these commitments:

We will undertake in the near future to provide individual states with some additional information regarding the strengths and weaknesses of their current science standards in relation to those of NGSS. (We will also review the recently released Appendix L of NGSS, which maps the alignment between these standards and Common Core math.)

Today we kept both promises by issuing a pair of additional analyses related to NGSS.

Today we kept both promises by issuing a pair of additional analyses related to NGSS.

The first report consists of short-form, side-by-side, comparisons of NGSS and the current science standards of 38 states—those that our reviewers deemed "clearly inferior" or "too close to call" vis-à-vis NGSS. We also compare them to the standards of three jurisdictions—D.C., Massachusetts, and South Carolina—whose science standards earned exceptionally high marks from our reviewers.

These concise comparisons may prove useful to educators and policymakers in states pondering whether to replace their current science standards with NGSS. Several have already done so. Others are deciding.

Our advice is straightforward: U.S. science education needs an overhaul, no question about it, and that needs to include much stronger K–12 standards for this key subject than most states have been using. (Of course, it needs effective implementation of standards even more than it needs standards; as with the Common Core for English and math, it’s folly to...

Among the shortcomings of the NGSS is its acute dearth of math content, even in situations where math is essential to the study and proper understanding of the science that students are being asked to master. Also problematic is the alignment of NGSS math with the Common Core State Standards for mathematics. Appendix L of the NGSS seeks to explain the alignment and apply math more thoroughly to NGSS science. This commentary by Johns Hopkins mathematician appraises that appendix.

Download Commentary on Appendix L: Alignment of the Next Generation Science Standards with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics above to read the appraisal.

With states weighing whether to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a new analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute compares the existing science standards of thirty-eight states with the NGSS and with exemplary standards from three other states. (The thirty-eight are those states with standards that are either “clearly inferior” to the NGSS or “too close to call,” based on our Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards and The State of Science Standards 2012.)

State Profiles

We don’t need Elon Musk to get you across the ed-reform world in 30 minutes or less

Mike welcomes Rick Hess back to the show by threatening to shoot him through a tube from San Francisco to Los Angeles. They chat proficiency rates, whether the Common Core is Jeb Bush’s RomneyCare, and Philly’s school-budget woes. Amber approaches non-cognitive ability in a creative new way.

Amber's Research Minute

Don’t Know? Or Don’t Care? Predicting Educational Attainment Using Survey Item Response Rates and Coding Speed Tests as Measures of Conscientiousness by Colin Hitt and Julie R. Trivitt, EDRE Working Paper No. 2013-05 (August 2013)

The Center for Education Policy recently released a three-part series of reports reviewing the Common Core State standards implementation with focuses on the federal role, state progress and challenges, and teacher preparation, training, and assessments for the new standards. In the second of this series, the progress and challenges of states were reviewed through a survey of distributed to state deputy education superintendents’ offices. Of the 45 states and D.C. adopting Common Core, 39 states and D.C. participated along with Minnesota (adopting only the ELA standards). The CEP surveyed states’ progress by inquiring on the state perceptions of the standards, curriculum alignment,  implementation activities, state collaboration, state funding, challenges, and state education agency (SEA) capacity. The responses are an encouraging sign for many state-level Common Core advocates. The CEP found that all of the survey participants found the Common Core State Standards to be more rigorous than their previous standards. With this higher rigor, “nearly all CCSS-adopting states recognize that implementing the Common Core will require substantial changes in curriculum and instruction in their state.” The report also noted that most have developed statewide professional development for teachers and encouraged district collaboration. Unfortunately, the survey revealed challenges persist for some Common Core adopting states, such as developing effective educator evaluation systems. This report stood apart from the others because of its emphasis on state level operations, especially state agencies providing the leadership and support to facilitate Common Core alignment. The CEP notes, “state leaders also need to pay close...

Despite the tireless marriage-wrecking efforts of Common Core opponents and their acolytes and funders, few states that initially pledged their troth to these rigorous new standards for English and math are in divorce mode. What’s far more fluid, unpredictable, and—frankly—worrying are the two elements of standards-based reform that make a vastly greater difference in the real world than standards themselves: implementation and assessment.

Don’t get me wrong. Standards are important, because they set forth the desired outcomes of schooling and it’s obviously better to aim for clear, ambitious, and academically worthy goals than at targets that are vague, banal, easy, or trendy. Standards are also supposed to provide the framework that shapes and organizes the rest of the education enterprise: curricula, teacher preparation, promotion and graduation expectations, testing and accountability, and just about everything else. (Kindergarten standards, for example, should affect what happens in preschool just as twelfth-grade standards should synch with what gets taught to college freshmen.)

But standards are not self-actualizing. Indeed, they can be purely symbolic, even illusory. Unless thoroughly implemented and properly assessed, they have scant traction in schools, classrooms, and the lives—and futures—of students.

California is the woeful poster child here, as I was reminded the other day (in connection not with the Common Core but with science). For years, it’s had terrific standards in the core subjects, but it’s also had pathetic achievement on external measures such as NAEP. That’s mainly because—in my interpretation, anyway—the Golden State never really put those solid standards into...

New York made education headlines last week, as its public schools reported substantially lower test scores than in previous years. The cause of the drop? This was the first year that New York administered exams aligned to the Common Core—though these were not the “official” Common Core-aligned exams (PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments). According to Education Week, proficiency rates for English language arts sunk by 24 percentage points, and, for math, proficiency declined by a staggering 34 percentage points. New York’s Commissioner of Education, John King, attempting to reassure the public, remarked that “the changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less or that students have learned less.”

In contrast to New York—and earlier, Kentucky—the Buckeye State has not taken the interim step of ratcheting up the rigor of its assessments to prepare its students, educators, and public for the exams aligned to the Common Core. (Ohio is a member of the PARCC consortium of states, which is one of the two organizations that are developing Common Core exams.) And, if the results from New York and Kentucky are a predictor, Ohio should brace itself for a shock, come 2014-15, when the PARCC exams arrive. Similar to the Empire and Bluegrass states, Ohioans should expect sizeable drops in proficiency rates in their local schools and districts, as we forecast in a report last fall.

Ohio’s implementation of the Common Core in math and English raise the academic expectations for all Ohio students, whether...

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