Curriculum & Instruction

A maverick's take on data

On this week's podcast, special guest Paige Kowalski, executive vice president for the Data Quality Campaign, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss how parents and teachers can get access to powerful student data. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines teacher mobility in Florida.

Amber’s Research Minute

Li Feng and Tim Sass, “Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility,” Education Finance and Policy (Summer 2017).

In early June, State Superintendent DeMaria shared with the state school board his recommendations for streamlining Ohio’s student testing regimen. Among the list of proposed cuts is the WorkKeys assessment, a job skills test that measures how well prepared students are for the workforce. Though other proposed cuts received more attention (and have since been finalized), the proposed elimination of WorkKeys has largely been ignored—perhaps because many Ohio policymakers aren’t sure what it is or even who takes it. Let’s take a look.

What is the WorkKeys assessment?

WorkKeys is an ACT-designed system that includes assessments, curriculum, and “skill profiles” for schools to use in building and measuring students’ workplace skills. Superintendent DeMaria specifically recommends the elimination of the assessment, of which there are three sections:

  1. Applied math: a 55-minute assessment with 34 items. This test measures mathematical critical thinking and problem-solving techniques that are commonly used in the workplace, including negative numbers, fractions, decimals, and money and time conversions.
  2. Graphic literacy: a 55-minute assessment with 38 items. This test measures how well an individual can read and interpret common workplace graphics such as diagrams, maps and floor plans, order forms, and flow
  3. ...

The student engagement edition

On this week's podcast, special guest Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss Fordham's new report What Teens Want From Their Schools: A National Survey of High School Engagement. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines early results from Joseph Waddington's and Mark Berends's ongoing study of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program.

Amber’s Research Minute

R. Joseph Waddington and Mark Berends, “Impact of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School,” Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, University of  Notre Dame (ongoing).

The longtime Democratic lawmaker John Vasconcellos is resting in peace since his death in 2014, but the educational disaster he laid on California in the 1980s is far from gone. Indeed, its likeness thrives today across a broad swath of America's K-12 schooling, supported by foundation grants, federal funding, and both nonprofit and for-profit advocacy groups. Only its name has changed—from self-esteem to social-emotional learning.

If only the trend had stayed in the Golden State.

Younger readers may not remember Vasconcellos, the late assemblyman and state senator whom one obituary described as a "titan of the human-potential movement." In 1986, Vasconcellos managed to persuade California's conservative GOP Gov. George Deukmejian to support a blue-ribbon task force to promote self-esteem and personal and social responsibility. The ensuing hoopla loosed a tsunami of enthusiasm for building self-esteem as a solution for almost everything that ails an individual, including low achievement in school.

The task force's final report, in 1990, ascribed (as I wrote at the time) "near-magical powers to self-esteem, characterizing it as 'something that empowers us to live responsibly and that inoculates us against the lures of crime, violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, child abuse, chronic welfare dependency, and...

Among high school students who consider dropping out, half cite lack of engagement with the school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the schoolwork they are asked to do. In What Teens Want from Their Schools: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Crux Research tackle the question of what truly motivates and engages students in high school.

Our nationally representative survey of over two thousand high schoolers in traditional public, charter, and private schools finds that nearly all students report being motivated to apply themselves academically, but they also primarily engage in school through different levers. Specifically, we identified six subgroups of students with varying engagement profiles: (Hover over each illustration to read their characteristics!)

...

Subject Lovers

Emotionals

Hand Raisers

In praise of ed tech

On this week's podcast, special guest David DeSchryver, a senior vice president at Whiteboard Advisors and OFOM (Old Friend of Mike’s), joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss the most promising developments in ed tech. During the Research Minute, David Griffith examines the effects of part-day absenteeism in high school.

Amber’s Research Minute

Camille R. Whitney and Jing Liu, “What We’re Missing: A Descriptive Analysis of Part-Day Absenteeism in Secondary School,” AERA Open (April 2017).

 

More than Overdue: Special Ed 2.0 - A conversation with Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

More than Overdue: Special Ed 2.0 - A Conversation with Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

What if every child in American schools had the equivalent of an IEP, i.e. we customized the education of every unique student?

What if we focused on pupil strengths rather than weaknesses?

What if we freed their teachers from paperwork and allowed them to instruct their students as they think best?

What if our education interventions had to be based on solid research?

What if we celebrated IDEA’s many accomplishments, then replaced it with a 21st-century alternative?

Special education in America is overdue for reform, broken beyond repair and in need of a total replacement. Four decades after the enactment of IDEA (as it’s now known), Congress should replace it with a very different approach.

That’s the thesis of Miriam Kurtzig Freedman’s gutsy and provocative new book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law.

PROVOCATEUR

  Chester E. Finn, Jr.
  Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus
  Thomas B. Fordham Institute
 

PRESENTER

  Miriam Kurtzig Freedman
  Attorney
  School Law Pro

 

Should schools teach the success sequence?

On this week's podcast, Mike Petrilli, Ian Rowe, and Alyssa Schwenk discuss whether and how schools should teach the “success sequence.” During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the cross-subject effects of English language arts instruction.

Amber’s Research Minute

Benjamin Master et al., “More Than Content: The Persistent Cross-Subject Effects of English Language Arts Teachers’ Instruction,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (February 2017).

Although it’s been almost seven years since many states took the important step of elevating their academic standards by adopting the Common Core, teachers and administrators across the country still bemoan the lack of reliable information about which instructional materials are high-quality and best aligned to the new standards.  

One recent survey found that a whopping 90 percent of districts reported having major or minor problems identifying high quality, well-aligned resources. A second study found that the majority of textbooks had substantial alignment problems. In response to these reports, several entities such as EdReports, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the California Curriculum Collaborative have begun providing educators with impartial reviews of core instructional and curricular materials. Yet next to no information exists on the quality and content of resources intended to supplement a full curriculum.

The Right Tool for the Job fills that void by providing in-depth reviews of several promising digital learning tools. We focused the series on English language arts (ELA) resources, as educators stress that those are particularly difficult to come by, especially writing tools.

Four all-star educators evaluated the quality and usefulness of the tools: Melody Arabo (a third-grade teacher at Keith...

This new study, the product of a partnership between District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and researchers at New York University and the University of Maryland (including Dr. June Ahn, author of our recent report Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools), examines how students’ use of educational software affects their achievement.

In 2012, DCPS began to implement a web-based mathematics program called “First in Math” (FIM) for students in grades K–8. The initiative consisted of games centered on basic computational skills and concepts like fractions or decimals. The authors examine student-level usage data, including how much time students spent on the FIM system, which modules they completed, and what achievements (like points, collecting “badges,” or unlocking bonus games) they earned at various points in the school year. That information was combined with student-level data, such as gender, English language learner status, special education status, race, grade level, and achievement on the mathematics component of the DC-Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS). The final sample included approximately 9,200 students in Grades 4–8 during the 2012–13 school year.

The analysis reveals some intriguing findings. Time spent using FIM had a small but significant positive relationship with performance on standardized mathematics assessments, even...

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