Curriculum & Instruction

The Education Gadfly

Listen live this evening at 5:35 p.m. EST as Mike Petrilli appears on San Diego talk radio to discuss the implications of Fordham's recent report Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. International competitiveness, gifted education, and the demise of tracking will all be on the table in what promises to be a lively discussion.

For those in D.C. interested in the plight of high achieving students, be sure to register for The Other Achievement Gap, a panel discussion on October 17th that brings top experts together to break down their latest research and work on the issue.? Chester E. Finn, Jr. will moderate a conversation you won't want to miss.? If you can't make it in person, you will be able stream the whole event live online on our website....

I was prepared for a rant against all things reform when I started reading the New York Times Q & A interview with Maria Velez-Clarke, the principal of the Children's Workshop School in Manhattan's East Village, about the school's C-grade from the City.? The school is ?one of several small schools,? said the Times intro, ?started in the 1990s by people who had worked at the widely praised Central Park East School.?

Central Park East?? The school started by Deborah Meier, current scourge of standardized tests, charters, accountability, and just about everything associated with Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, who initiatiated the school report cards program? ?(See the Bridging Differences blog Meier shares with Diane Ravitch and this wonderful 1994 profile of Meier and her hugely successful Central Park East experiment written by veteran NYC educator Sy Fliegal.)? Children's Workshop offers ballet and yoga, for heaven's sake!

Instead of a progressive principal complaining about Gotham's new accountability system squishing her student's creative impulses, however, we hear an 18-year veteran school leader who was shocked by the C grade the school received in 2010 and determined to do something about it:

I shared it with absolutely

Guest Blogger

Guest blogger Ze'ev Wurman, an executive with Monolithic 3D, a Silicon Valley startup, has participated in developing California's education standards and assessments in mathematics since the mid-1990s. Between 2007 and 2009 he served as a senior policy adviser with the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.

Paul Gross has done a fabulous job for Fordham distilling the essence of the recently published NRC Science Framework. His review deals with the Framework's content and rigor, as well as with its clarity and specificity. [pullquote]Gross...wisely observes that any good science program is an artful compromise between what is included and what is not.[/pullquote]Gross generally likes what he sees of the former, and wisely observes that any good science program is an artful compromise between what is included and what is not. The Framework also uses another device to clearly limit its expectations?the Boundary Statements that ?make explicit what is not expected of students at a given level.? Gross recognizes that such limitations amount to a matter of choice and illustrates it with the statement from the end of the 6-8 band:

Boundary Statement. In this grade band,

The Education Gadfly

Differentiation, tracking, and the needs of high-achievers are hot topics these days, thanks in part to Fordham's recent study Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. Mike Petrilli kept the conversation going with Kansas City talk radio show host Greg Knapp yesterday morning?listen in here?discussing the study's findings, the decline of gifted education, and the great potential of online courses for exceptional students. ?Today in our schools it's considered elitist even to consider having gifted programs or honors programs, and we've got to push back against that,? said Mike.? Without those challenging classes, Mike warned, ?the high achieving kids stop performing because they're bored to tears."

Representatives from twenty states are hard at work developing Next Generation Science Standards—and using as their starting point the National Research Council’s recently released Framework for K-12 Science Education. This review of that framework, by Paul R. Gross, applauds its content but warns that it could wind up sending standards-writers off track. This appraisal finds much to praise in the Framework but also raises important concerns about a document that may significantly shape K-12 science education in the U.S. for years to come.

Guest Blogger

Guest blogger J. Martin Rochester is the Curators' Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the author of ten books on international politics and law. In addition, he has written on k-16 education issues, including?Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids, and the Attack on Excellence (Encounter Books, 2002).

Allow me to comment on the growing problem of computers in college classrooms. At my university and other universities, increasingly professors are banning laptops in class, even as many K-12 schools, particularly high schools, are becoming laptop-based.[pullquote]There is a fundamental disconnect, then, ?between the use of technology in precollegiate education and in higher education.[/pullquote]?There is a fundamental disconnect, then, ?between the use of technology in precollegiate education and in higher education. Students tend to arrive on campus considering it an entitlement to open their laptop in class, only to discover that their professor tells them to put it away. I am on the side of those professors who find laptops an intrusion into the classroom, for reasons that relate to broader concerns about the future of education. What's the problem?

First, can


As a journalist for the better part of 30 years (not counting the samizdat paper I wrote and published (on my dad's mimeograph machine) in my high school seminary), I worship our first amendment.? And as a student of the French Revolution and its pre-guillotine press, I'm also a big fan of Monsieur Voltaire and his famous utterance, to the effect, `I may disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right say it.'

Does this mean I believe in an unfettered web in our schools, the subject of an interesting report by Winnie Hu in today's New York Times?

Well, I think I would agree with William Fitzhugh, the respected editor of The Concord Review, who told Hu,? ?I think students should have unfettered access to the library."

In other words, we have a much huger problem than the kind of Internet censorship that Banned Websites Awareness Day seems to be worried about.? A glance at school curricula, summer reading lists, or what pass as textbooks these days, indicate that our educators are already doing a pretty good job of censorship, keeping children from THE BEST of what our civilization has...

Last week, Fordham released a groundbreaking new study on high-achieving students, titled Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. In a series of Flypaper posts that followed, we examined the report's main findings: First, that three in five high-achieving students remain that way over time; second, that most students coming in and out of the 90th percentile never fall below the 70th percentile overall; and third, that high achievers maintain the same pace as middle and low achievers over time in math, but grow more slowly than middle and low achievers in reading.

For those readers interested in more nuanced findings, I encourage you to poke around the report's data gallery, hosted by the Kingsbury Center at the Northwest Evaluation Association. Through the data gallery, you can break down these findings by grade range, subject, year, and even demographics?gender, ethnicity, poverty status, and location.

The future of our country rests on the shoulders of those high achievers in our schools today. While this study suggests that they are not in short supply, it also demonstrates that we could expand our pool...

You can read Sam Wang and Sandra Aaamodt's ?Delay Kindergarten at Your Child's Peril? essay in today's New York Times for what the two neuroscientists have to say about the development of young brains ? ??Indeed, a 4-year-old's brain uses more energy than it ever will again? ? or you can use it as a cautionary tale about our dumbed down education system.

There is plenty of good science here about the question at hand, but I was especially struck by this line:

?children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability.

Aside from what it says about sending your kids to school too late or too early, the statement opens up a Pandora's box of issues for educators and education policymakers. At least, it should cause them to ask some pretty existential questions, especially whenever they hear phrases such as ??child-centered classrooms,? ?customized learning,? and ?individual education plans.?? Exactly who determines an individual child's ability, let alone what ?the limits? of that ability are? And does determining a child's ability in fact predetermine it?? The authors do not even touch the question of the standard by which we measure ability -- can we customize...

The Obama administration's new waiver plan (officially here, and covered extensively here, here, and here?and elsewhere, I'm sure) doesn't officially repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, but it is tantamount to making large-scale amendments to it. Which it does unilaterally, without even a thumbs-up from Congress.

Though the specific conditions that the White House and Secretary Duncan are attaching to statewide ?flexibility waivers? are consistent with the Administration's long-standing ?blueprint? for reauthorizing NCLB, and also happen to be conditions that I think generally have merit, they amount to changing the law, not just waiving it. This raises Constitutional as well as statutory issues?though the administration's response, not surprisingly or implausibly, is that ?if a do-nothing Congress won't act to solve problems, we'll solve them ourselves as best we can.?

Yet the changes themselves?at least their timing and high-profile release?are motivated at least as much by election-year political considerations as by policy. This is not the first example, and surely won't be the last, of appealing to key constituencies by undoing, suspending, or waiving government practices that...