Curriculum & Instruction

The “college for all” klaxon has reached near deafening levels, with much attention paid to ensuring that every youngster has access to the courses necessary to prepare him or her for post-secondary work. But as more kids are flung into mandatory college-prep courses, what happens to the high achievers who already occupied desks in those classes? So asks a new study by Takako Nomi from the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Following six cohorts of Chicago high school students (more than 18,000 in toto, spread across close to sixty schools), Nomi examines the consequences of a 1998 Chicago policy mandating that every ninth grader take Algebra I. First, Nomi finds that this algebra-for-all policy resulted in schools’ opening mixed-ability classrooms—and all but abandoning practices of tracking. The resulting mixed-level classes “had negative effects on math achievement of high-skill students.” To wit: Rates of improvement on math tests slowed for those top-notch pupils placed in heterogeneous classrooms (findings consistent with our own prior work on the topic). All students deserve to be challenged to achieve their full potential. This includes our highest flyers, whose needs are too often subjugated to the grand plans of social engineers.

SOURCE: Takako Nomi, “...

Innovation: It’s an education reform cliché. But what is innovation, really?

Ask most people about innovation and they’ll probably talk about products—airplanes, laptops, smartphones. But innovation also refers to process. That’s what blended learning is for education. It turns the process of teaching upside down.

Late last month, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in partnership with Knowledge Works and Reynoldsburg City Schools, welcomed Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements, to Ohio to speak with local educators and district leaders. Founded in 2010, Education Elements is a California-based company that advises schools on how to adopt and implement blended learning models. Education Elements has assisted charters (KIPP Los Angeles), traditional public school districts (Houston Independent School District), and parochial schools (Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco).

Kim began the conversation with an audience that included superintendents, teachers, lawmakers, and state board members by describing his blended learning model. According to Kim, blended learning has three goals:

  • To differentiate teaching by breaking the classroom into smaller groups
  • To increase the collection and use of student achievement data to improve teaching
  • To create more efficient schools

How does blended learning achieve these goals?

First, blended learning can address some...

Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman—together with their colleagues at the Heinemann publishing house—have just released a new book entitled Pathways to the Common Core. The book sounds like a useful resource that ELA teachers can use to figure out how to align their instruction to the new standards. Unfortunately, it misses the mark. Part ideological co-opting of the Common Core (CCSS) and part defense of existing—and poorly aligned—materials produced by Heinemann, the book is the leading edge of an all-out effort to ensure that adoption of the new standards requires very few changes on the part of some of the leading voices—and biggest publishing houses—in education.

On page one, the authors explain the book’s mission:

Pathways to the Common Core will help you and your colleagues teach in ways that will bring your students to the Common Core State Standards’ level of work in literacy. This book will illuminate both the standards themselves and the pathways you can take to achieve those ambitious expectations. It will help you understand what is written and implied in the standards and help you grasp the coherence...

Winning the gold for gab

Mike and Rick ponder public perceptions of education spending and whether it’s Rick—not teachers—who needs a dress code. Amber explains why penalty pay works.

Amber's Research Minute

Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment by Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Steven D. Levitt, John List, and Sally Sadoff - Download the PDF

Since the release of the Common Core state math standards two year ago, math textbook writers and publishers have fallen over themselves to release new or “updated” curriculum resources that they declare to be “aligned” with the new expectations. Unfortunately, until recently there have been scant resources available to educators seeking to determine whether any of these ballyhooed instructional materials have truly been aligned with the content and rigor of the new expectations.

The criteria are clear, readable, and user-friendly.

Enter the lead authors of the CCSSM and their just-released “K-8 Publishers Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” While ostensibly aimed at publishers earnestly struggling to align their resources with CCSSM, the ten criteria (and accompanying rubric) can also be used by math teachers, department heads, instructional specialists, principals, and superintendents who are wading through and trying to judge the quality and alignment of materials for their schools and classrooms. They can, in fact, be treated as a “buyer’s guide” that helps show which publishers have made the necessary changes for this big shift in math education. And here is hoping that is one way they get used.

The criteria are clear, readable, and user-friendly. For...

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...