Curriculum & Instruction

National Children's Museum
The boring National Children's Museum could be considered a by-product of our nation's poor social-studies standards.
Photo from In The Air.

The so-called “National Children's Museum” that recently opened in Washington has already been panned in the Washington Post as a feeble excuse for a national anything—and a bore for kids.

No, I haven't been there myself—and based on that review will not hasten to take my granddaughters. But a friend recently took her young children, and this commentary makes a link that hadn't occurred to me but turns out to be painfully plausible:

“A couple weeks ago my family went to the new ‘National’ children's museum. The whole small place felt like the sad outworking of too many years of mushy social-studies standards.  No structured content, just a mish mash of world culture with clothing and food prep, etc., focusing on their place in the world, neighborhoods, even a bunk bed to understand...not sure what.”

Fordham has been reviewing state social-studies standards (well, history standards)...

Finland—the tiny land of reindeer, snow, and saunas—burst onto the American education scene in the past decade as the unlikely poster child for the anti-reform movement. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t implore reformers to learn from this nation with low poverty, high achievement, and virtually no standardized tests—and abandon our support for standards- and accountability-driven reform. After all, Finland’s education system today is characterized by few top-down regulations, broad teacher autonomy, and virtually no centralized accountability. Given its success on international assessments, it must follow that U.S. schools would do better if we copied the Finland model.

Finnish reindeer
 Finland: Land of reindeer, snow, and a world-famous education system.
Photo from RukaKuusamo.com

Right?

Not exactly.

First, there has been some recent evidence that Finland’s successes may not be as miraculous as once thought (it slipped on the recent TIMSS math test). But more than that, to understand what is going on in Finland, a good place to start is with a November 2010...

In the biggest non-surprise of 2012, the U.S. Department of Education rejected California’s request for an ESEA waiver after the Golden State refused to play by Arne Duncan’s rules (i.e., agreeing to the conditions he demanded) in return for greater flexibility. The next move is California’s—do we smell a lawsuit?

In Italy, where job prospects for the young are few and far between, the possibility of landing a rare teaching gig at a public school set off a frenzied rush of applicants. Their Education Ministry has not held certification exams since 1999 (citing budget concerns), opting instead to fill “vacancies with temporary hires, making aspiring teachers and unions furious.” This certainly puts our own problems in perspective.

Education leaders panicking over the Common Core’s shift to online assessments should print out, highlight, underline, and memorize this recent publication from Digital Learning Now!, the third in a series aimed at preparing schools for the Common Core and personalized digital learning. The paper provides two sets of recommendations: one for state and districts making the shift to Common Core and one for the state testing consortia building the assessments.

In a month characterized by tragedy and loss,...

Reindeer
Finland: Land of reindeer, snow, and a world-class education system.
Photo from RukaKuusamo.com via photopin cc.

Finland—the tiny land of reindeer, snow, and more snow—burst onto the scene in the past decade as the unlikely poster child for the anti-reform movement in the United States. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t implore reformers to learn from Finland—a nation with low poverty, high achievement, and virtually no standardized tests—and abandon our support for standards- and accountability-driven reform. After all, Finland’s education system today is characterized by loose central regulations, broad teacher curricular and instructional autonomy, and virtually no centralized accountability. Given Finland’s success on international assessments, it must follow that American schools would do better if we Xeroxed the Finland model.

Right?

Not exactly.

First, there has been at least some evidence of late suggesting that Finland’s successes may not be as miraculous as once thought. But more than that, to understand what is going on in Finland, its perhaps important to start...

Mark Zuckerberg
Zuckerberg will give away $500 million to Newark schools.
Photo by deneyterrio via photopin cc.

After a massive donation to district schools of Newark, NJ, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is planning to give away $500 million to education and health, with details TBD. I’d love to see Mr. Zuckerberg invest in the urban school system of the future instead of jamming more money into broken urban districts. My intellectual doppelganger, Neerav Kingsland, feels the same way.

The ladies of Politics K-12 always know what to write about. This piece about RTTT-D scoring by Michele McNeil is a great example. It has all of the pertinent information that a casual RTTT-D follower could want and valuable insights for those closer to the competition. It’s a must-read for people interested in federal education policymaking and implementation—and for anyone trying to learn how to blog.

Add Indianapolis to the list of cities doing chartering right: Stanford’s CREDO found that not only are its...

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released an analysis of the federal School Improvement Grants program, which invests in persistently underperforming schools with the expectation that they will turn around. The early results of its most recent $3-billion infusion, as described by Education Week: "mixed" (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2012/11/initial_school_impr...). Two-thirds of the schools made gains in math or reading scores, but the other third saw achievement decline. Program supporters contend that one year of data is not enough to draw conclusions about the program. Critics ask whether taxpayers should expend a single cent more on what they deem a failed experiment.

Who's right? The Fordham Institute is bringing together three leading voices on urban schooling for a debate on the future of turnarounds: Bellwether Education and Fordham edu-wonk Andy Smarick; the Department of Education's Carmel Martin; and former Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

A time for reflection

Mike and Daniela reflect on Newtown, and then look back at school reform in 2012. Amber ends the last podcast of the year on a more upbeat note with a look at Texas’s (effective) pre-K program.

Amber's Research Minute

The Effects of Texas’ Pre-Kindergarten Program on Academic Performance by Rodney Andrews, Paul Jargowsky, and Kristin Kuhne (New York, NY: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, November 2012)

This week, Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by Common Core architects David Coleman and Jason Zimba—announced a partnership with the NEA and AFT to develop and disseminate Core-aligned curriculum at no cost to teachers, thanks to a three-year, $11-million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. As Kathleen Porter-Magee noted in yesterday’s Common Core Watch, “Given the dearth of quality, CCSS-aligned materials available to teachers who are already working to align their practice to the new standards, this additional investment is welcome.” We eagerly await the materials.

A task force convened to determine whether D.C. charter schools ought to give admissions preference to nearby students came up with a verdict on Friday: While the District should allow charters that move into closed public school buildings to give neighborhood preference, other charter schools should not be compelled (or even allowed) to do so. This is a sensible compromise that will ease the burden on students transitioning from schools that are closing while maintaining a central tenet of the charter school idea: to be open to all students, regardless of home address.

As part of its “30 under 30” series,...

Earlier this year, the GE Foundation awarded an $18 million, four-year grant to Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by the chief CCSS architects David Coleman, Sue Pimentel, and Jason Zimba—to support (among other things) the development of Common Core–aligned curriculum and instructional resources. In addition to being developed under the careful guidance of the lead authors of the standards themselves (and all signs seem to suggest that these materials will be top-notch), SAP-developed resources will be open source and provided at no cost to teachers around the country.

This week, Student Achievement Partners announced a new partnership with the NEA and AFT, which will be funded with a three-year, $11 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, “to jointly design tools and digital applications to support teachers in their practice.”

Here’s what Sue Pimentel told Education Week:

…The New York City–based nonprofit would be "the engine room" for the new project, but teachers would be the fuel behind it. It will cover both ELA and math.
SAP will meet regularly with teachers to find out what they need most in the classroom, and come back to them with early versions that can...
Great books
The claim that Common Core will be the death of great literature wilts under scrutiny.
Photo by Zitona via photopin cc.

To believe the latest criticisms of the Common Core is to believe that these rigorous new standards for English language arts, despite their focus on increasing the quality and complexity of the books read in English classes across grades K–12, signal the death of great literature in American schools. Like many arguments against the Common Core, however, this latest one wilts under scrutiny.

At the heart of this critique is a two-paragraph section found on page 5 of the introduction to the CCSS that mentions the NAEP assessment framework, shows the distribution of literary and informational texts across the grades (50/50 in 4th grade, 45 percent literary to 55 percent informational in 8th, and 30 percent literary to 70 percent informational in 12th), and suggests that teachers across content areas should “follow NAEP’s lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts,...

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