Curriculum & Instruction

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.

Amber's Research Minute

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

In July 2011, the National Research Council released its Framework for K-12 Science Education, intended to serve as the basis for a new set of “next generation” science standards (NGSS) for primary-secondary-school science in the United States. Since then, twenty-six states came together, working with Achieve and a vast team of writers, to develop those new standards. They hope to do for science what the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association did for English language arts and math: develop expectations that are at least as clear and rigorous as the best state standards and that many states may adopt in common, presumably then to be joined by common assessments. Unfortunately, a careful review of version 1.0 indicates that this laudable but ambitious goal remains a considerable distance away.

There's still work to be done on the NGSS.
Photo by Andrew Magill.

It’s important for the country that the NGSS endeavor yields a high-quality result, which is why we set out to...

Thanks in part to the Common Core, there is broad (though not yet universal) agreement that we need to raise the level of rigor in the reading that’s assigned to all students. Unfortunately, the guidance that’s starting to emerge about how teachers can best select “grade-appropriate” texts is overly complicated and may actually end up undermining the Common Core’s emphasis on improving the quality and rigor of the texts students are reading.

Take, for example, the book recently released by the International Reading Association entitled Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading. The first chapter of the book (blogged here), made a strong argument against the practice of assigning “just right” books and in favor of selecting more rigorous texts.

Having made a persuasive case for upping the rigor of readings, the authors devote the better part of the remaining eighty pages to showing, in great detail, just how complicated this process can become when put into practice. What unfolds is a dizzying array of quantitative and qualitative measures that teachers can use to select appropriate texts. 

The authors warn teachers that relying on quantitative measures alone...

The central idea behind standards- and accountability-driven reforms is that, in order to improve student learning, we need to do three things:

  • Clearly define a minimum bar for all students (i.e., set standards).
  • Hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable for meeting those minimum standards.
  • Back off: Give teachers and leaders the autonomy and flexibility they need to meet their goals.
The push for greater accountability has often been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control.

It’s a powerful formulation, and one that we’ve seen work, particularly in charter schools and networks where teachers and leaders have used that autonomy to find innovative solutions to some of the biggest instructional challenges.

Unfortunately, in far too many traditional school districts, the push for greater accountability has been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control. That is a prescription for a big testing and accountability backlash. 

You needn’t look far for examples of how traditional districts have gotten the accountability balance all wrong. There are a host of stifling district practices that unintentionally hamstring, rather than free, our teachers and leaders. And that unintentionally encourage precisely the kinds of practices most testing critics loathe.

Many of these...

Bah humbug

Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.

Amber's Research Minute

The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment - National Center for Education Statistics

Today’s “exquisitely timedGAO report has set off an avalanche of accusations at charter schools for “discriminating” against students with disabilities. George Miller, who requested the study, told the Washington Post that the news was “sobering.”

No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability.

Everyone already knows, as Eva Moskowitz told the Wall Street Journal, that the best charter schools try to help students with mild disabilities shed their labels (and Individual Education Plans) by improving their math and reading abilities. That could explain a significant part of the discrepancy.

But there’s another point that’s overlooked entirely: No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability. In fact, traditional public schools regularly “counsel out” students with severe disabilities because they don’t have the resources and expertise to serve them. Many school districts operate separate schools (or programs) precisely for those kids.

To test this argument, I just spent 30 minutes on the Office of Civil Right’s Data Collection website. I pulled up the special education data for Montgomery County, Maryland—where I happen to live, and a system that’s widely considered one...