Curriculum & Instruction

Statewide textbook adoption distorts the market, entices extremist groups to hijack the curriculum, enriches the textbook cartel, and papers the land with mediocre instructional materials that cannot fulfill their important education mission. This recent Fordham report recommends that legislators and governors in adoption states should eliminate the process, letting individual districts, schools, and teachers choose textbooks themselves. Read it now on

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Photo by Jen and a camera

Seattle’s recently released student-achievement
results were “very, very alarming,” according to Michael Tolley, one of Seattle
Public Schools’s leaders. He’s right, of course. For example, the city found that black youngsters who do not speak
English in the home (mostly immigrants and refugees) tested higher than those
blacks who do speak English at home
(and are, presumably, U.S.-born)—by as much as 26 percentage points in math
and 18 percentage points in reading. These results invite many questions, but
here’s one tangible takeaway: Our data-reporting subgroups may be cut too crudely.
Since 1990, blacks have ticked thirty-six points higher on NAEP’s fourth-grade
math assessment (compared to whites’ twenty-nine point increase). This slow narrowing
of the achievement gap is present across fourth- and eighth-grade math and
reading. Yet Seattle’s data call into question how these gains are being made.
Are descendants of slaves making the...

All Over the Map coverParents, be aware: The “proficient” designation
that your child received on her state science test may not signify much. This
new report from Change the Equation (a STEM-advocacy outfit) and the American
Institutes for Research evaluates the proficiency cut scores of thirty-seven
states’ eighth-grade-science assessments, comparing their rigor to that of the
2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The upshot? Fifteen states
set their bars for proficiency below NAEP’s basic
designation. Virginia is the worst of the lot—setting its cut scores far below
the rest of the pack—and repaying itself with a 91 percent proficiency rate on
its state exam. Only four states (New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts,
and Louisiana) expect their students to be at or above NAEP’s "proficient"
threshold. (Feeling a bit of déjà vu? This report is a lot like Fordham’s own Proficiency
blockbuster from 2007, in which we drew similar conclusions
about reading and math.) A word on the forthcoming common science standards: This
work is necessary—and hugely important. But, as we are reminded time and again,

Schooling in the Workplace cover imageIn February, the “college-for-all” movement was
dealt a mighty blow with the publication of Harvard GSE’s Pathways
to Prosperity
report. This new book from Nancy Hoffman, VP of Jobs for
the Future, offers yet another forceful whack. (Insider power-couple scoop: Ms.
Hoffman is married to a lead author of Pathways.)
Though a seemingly admirable crusade, she contends, “college for all” is ill-advised
for a country interested in having an “appropriately skilled and employed
workforce.” (It’s also an anomalous goal, not shared by other countries.) As Hoffman
explains, unemployment rates currently soar, even as employers complain of
difficulty finding candidates with the right skill set. Americans have often
shied away from promoting Vocational Education and Training (VET) programming,
viewing it as classist, even elitist—a system that perpetuates social and
fiscal disparities. However, strong VET initiatives in other nations are
redefining post-secondary options for students. These programs are thoughtful,
rigorous pathways to careers—no longer the “throwaway” tracks for the least
effective students. And they seem to be effective: In Switzerland, 42 percent

Reading Thomas Friedman in this morning’s New York Times,
I couldn’t help but think of the Shel Silverstein classic, “Clarence
Lee from Tennessee,” a 1993 poem suggesting that kids could trade in
their parents for new ones.

Clarence Lee from Tennessee
Loved the commercials he saw on TV.
He watched with wide believing eyes
And bought everything they advertised

I used to read this to the kids whom I tutored in reading and also
brought it with me to classrooms, to share with whole groups of
students.  The poem introduced these youngsters to narrative rhyme —
and  the ubiquity and charms of advertising:

Powder for his doggie’s fleas,
Toothpaste for his cavities,
Stylish jeans that fit much tighter.
Bleach to make his white things whiter
Spray to make his hair look wetter
Cream to make his skin feel better

It was a set-up, of course, to the punchline: parents were just like
toothpaste: trade ‘em in for better ones. And, of course, it was funny
because the kids Silverstein addressed actually loved their parents,
despite the fact that they...

Will the move toward virtual and “blended learning” schools in American education repeat the mistakes of the charter-school movement, or will it learn from them?

Try this thought experiment: How much more successful might U.S. charter schools look today if, at the beginning of the charter movement two decades ago, proponents had spent the time and effort to consider what policies and supports would be needed to ensure its quality, freedom, rules and resources over the long term? What mistakes might have been avoided? Damaging scandals forestalled? Missed opportunities seized?

We can’t go back in time for charters but we can be smarter about the next major phase of education reform and innovation: taking high-quality virtual and blended schools to scale—and to educational success. To this end, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, with the support of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, has commissioned five deep-thought papers that, together, address the thorniest policy issues surrounding digital learning. The goal is to boost the prospects for successful online learning (both substantively and politically) over the long run.

In "School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era", Paul T. Hill zeroes in on the policy area most in need of reform if digital...

To improve student learning in Ohio, and in other states, we need to improve the quality of our teaching force. Statistics don’t lie when it comes to the impact of teachers on children’s learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has observed that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.” Yet, according to a new report by the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and US News and World Report too many of our new teachers enter the classroom unprepared. 

Over a century ago, Abraham Flexner provided a withering critique of the nation’s medical schools, which led to a transformation of a sub-standard system of doctor preparation into preparation programs that would become models of quality for the rest of the world. NCTQ wants to do the same thing for teacher preparation that Flexner did for medical training back in 1910.

Toward that end, NCTQ and US News and World Report have issued their Teacher Prep Review. The Review provides data on the 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained new teachers. Forty-six institutions in Ohio were included in the Review. The findings...

The performance of America's top students was a hot topic on Wisconsin's WSAU radio this morning, as Mike appeared to discuss the findings of Fordham's recent High Flyers study.? A key question was why tracking based on ability is common in other countries and other aspects of American schooling, but rare in classrooms. As Mike explains,

We still do this in math. We understand that if a kid is ready for calculus, it doesn't make sense to put that kid in algebra. But we don't have the same attitude when it comes to English, or when it comes to history, or when it comes to science.? We have this idea instead that everybody should be together. You know, look at our sports: In a high school, if you are one of the best players in the school you play varsity. If you're not, you play JV. You know, we're not afraid to have tracking when it comes to sports, when it comes to music, but when it comes to academics, for some reason that's different.

Listen here for more:


Amber Winkler, Fordham's VP for Research, recently traveled China as a Senior Fellow with the Global Education Policy Fellowship Program (GEPFP). She'll be passing along her observations on education in the People's Republic with periodic ?Postcards from China.?

I've now had the opportunity to sit and peek in several schools and classrooms in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an. I knew upfront that the Chinese were only going to show us what they wanted us to see--and that's proven true. In all three cities, we visited some of the best public and private schools they had to offer. Naturally, our study group is left wondering what education looks like for rural children outside the city borders and for "migrant" youngsters within city limits.? We'll keep wondering.

Still, I have a feeling that what I witnessed in these top-tier classrooms, specifically in terms of student and teacher behaviors, is rather typical of China as a whole.? These private and public institutions--a mixture of elementary, middle, and high school grades--shared some common characteristics, most of which Western educators have heard before about Chinese education. I'll expound on two.

First, Chinese teaching is dominated by direct instruction. Mostly...

Last night was fun for the kids, but today is every education wonk's favorite holiday: NAEP release day! Kevin Carey is already out with some savvy analysis; let me add some thoughts on the trends in reading.

The big news is that we finally eked out some statistically significant progress in 8th-grade reading. This goal has eluded us before, and has led commentators such as E.D. Hirsch to note that we're not doing enough to build kids' content knowledge and vocabulary. Initiatives like Reading First might have helped our youngsters to decode, goes the argument, but that's not enough to create strong readers, especially as kids get older.

That's still true, I think, but the NAEP results might indicate that those decoding skills are nothing to scoff at. The middle schoolers who took the NAEP last spring were in first grade in 2004--the heyday of Reading First implementation. It's possible that scientifically-based reading instruction got them off to a better start as readers, and that head-start has been maintained through elementary and middle school. I can't prove it (it's NAEP--no one can prove anything!) but it's a hypothesis worth exploring. Furthermore, the 8th graders who made the...