Curriculum & Instruction

The other day I noted that an expert panel had decided, according to Education Week, that “the skills considered necessary for the 21st-century workplace” were “critical thinking and analytic reasoning,” “teamwork and complex communications,” and “resiliency and conscientiousness.” I was skeptical, not because those aren’t important skills, but because they didn’t have much to do with the twenty-first century. 

Ben Franklin
Who better to speak to contemporary American youth than one of the nation's most prolific inventors and entrepreneurs?
Photo by Andrew Malone.

Then along came an email from Dee Selvaggi, a former member of a New Jersey school board and a contributor to The BEV Challenge, recommending “a very interesting book,” Benjamin Franklin on Education (edited by John Hardin Best, Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1962). Wrote Dee, Franklin’s “concern [was] about the content presented to youth so they could function well in the new contemporary America.”

Who better to speak to contemporary American youth than one of the nation’s most prolific...

Sophomoric videos are our thing

Mike and Adam dissect StudentsFirst’s take on the Olympics and debate whether the parent trigger is overhyped. Amber wonders what Maryland and Delaware are doing right when it comes to education.

Amber's Research Minute

Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance - Download the PDF

The flap over quality control, academic fraud, false claims, and shortcuts in the world of credit recovery will not die down until American education (and the elected officials who set its key policies) face up to two realities.

  • Universal “college and career readiness,” unless far more carefully defined and monitored than anyone has done so far, is just as fraud-inducing a K-12 goal as “universal proficiency by 2014” was for No Child Left Behind. A noble objective indeed, but so hard to attain—in a land where high school diplomas signify scant “readiness” and more than a quarter of young people drop out before getting them—that today’s push for both universality and readiness impels a lot of folks to cut corners.
  • AD in St Louis, MO Event Vashon HS Summer School Program 25June2012
    Arne Duncan visits an example of the original credit-recovery program: summer school. 

The introduction to the Common Core English language arts standards explains that the standards cannot possibly “enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn,” and need to be “complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum.” That last bit recently caused the City Journal’s Sol Stern to applaud the return of content-based curriculum to American education, from whence it has been AWOL for most of the past half century. And where it firmly belongs: Results from a three-year pilot study in New York City indicate that shifting from process- and skills-driven reading programs to E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge content-based curriculum did wonders for student learning. Reading-achievement gains at schools that implemented Core Knowledge were five times greater than in “demographically similar” schools that continued to employ a more conventional literacy program. Still, proponents of content-driven curricula would do well to keep the champagne on ice because, while the standards hint at this important restoration, they alone can’t deliver on it. Instead, it will be up to state and district leaders and teachers to wade through the morass of new and updated curriculum materials and select those that put the focus squarely on content over process. Only...

The introduction to the Common Core English language arts standards includes a page that articulates “what is not covered by the standards.” The first bullet notes that,

…while the Standards make references to some particular forms of content, including mythology, foundational U.S. documents, and Shakespeare, they do not—indeed, cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum consistent with the expectations laid out in this document. [emphasis added]
Champagne on ice
Proponents of content-driven curricula would do well to keep the champagne on ice.
Photo by James Cridland.

An article penned by Sol Stern in the latest edition of the City Journal argues that this call for a content-based curriculum is perhaps the most important element of the standards and that is has led to at least one “undeniably positive development” in American education: “States are now having a serious discussion about the specific subject matter than must be taught in...

I wince every time I read something like this:

The committee found the skills considered necessary for the 21st-century workplace generally fall into three categories: cognitive, such as critical thinking and analytic reasoning to learn “deeply”; interpersonal, such as teamwork and complex communications; and intrapersonal, such as resiliency and conscientiousness.
The “political life,” as Thucydides described it, was the way out of poverty.

That’s from a recent Education Week story titled, “Panel Parses Out Skills Needed for 21st-Century Workplace.” I realize I’m not the only one to notice, but the problem—didn’t one need cognitive, personal, and intrapersonal abilities in the twentieth-century workplace? Or the nineteenth? Or the second?—was brought home not long ago when I saw that Earl Shorris had died. Shorris, a writer and social critic, as the headline on the New York Times obituary had it: “Fought Poverty With Knowledge.” And it was not the knowledge that proponents of twenty-first century skills are pushing; it was “rigorous readings and explications of Aristotle on logic, Plato on justice and Kant’s theory of morality.”

Shorris came to this insight about poverty while working on a book in the early 1990s, when he met Viniece Walker, a...

Move to the head of the class

Mike and Rick reunite to talk social mobility, the NEA’s membership woes, and what sequestration would actually mean for schools. Amber explains where parents stand on digital learning.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning in the 21st Century: A 5 Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning - Project Tomorrow

Mike is from Mars; Kathleen is from Venus

Kathleen and Mike wonder how to hold states accountable in twenty-seven different ways and debate whether gender-specific curricula make sense. Amber dives deep into census data on edu-spending.

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Public Education Finances Report - United States Census

As Common Core implementation heats up, a fiery debate is emerging among reading specialists. It is stoked by the books we assign students who are below grade level—whether we ask them to read “just right” texts (those at a student’s individual reading level) or “grade-appropriate” texts. For years, teachers have been assigning the former, working to ensure that struggling students can read without getting too frustrated. The Common Core now asks teachers to assign grade-appropriate texts (and offer as much scaffolding as needed for below-grade readers). This book from the International Reading Association offers convincing support for this new approach. It argues that our current focus on “just right” books undermines student learning in three ways. First, assigning these texts makes reading too easy. Students will not improve their reading skills if they aren’t challenged and given above-level texts. Second, the “just right” theory overlooks the important role that instruction should play in improving comprehension and building knowledge. Students learn more—and their comprehension improves more dramatically—when they read more challenging and difficult texts with appropriate scaffolding and support from the teacher. Third, the “just right” strategy focuses...

Curriculum nerds

Kathleen Porter-Magee makes her podcast debut, debating reading requirements with Mike and explaining why the new science standards need improvement. Amber wonders whether upper-elementary teachers outshine their K-2 peers.

Amber's Research Minute

School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School by Sarah C. Fuller & Helen F. Ladd - Download PDF