Curriculum & Instruction

Tony Bennett
Inequality for All: The Challenge of Unequal Opportunity in American Schools

This wonky but important (and exceptionally timely) book by Bill Schmidt, a Michigan State “university distinguished professor,” and Curtis McKnight, an emeritus math professor at the University of Oklahoma, is a distinctive, deeply researched, and amply documented plea for full-scale implementation of the Common Core math standards. The authors reach that destination after taking readers on a fascinating curricular journey.

They closely examine the extent to which young Americans in various states, districts, schools, and classrooms have equal opportunities to learn the same high-quality math content in grades K–8—and find grievous gaps and injustices.

One might suppose that this most hierarchical and standardized of core subjects would yield the greatest uniformity from place to place within the United States. Critics of national curricula (and the Common Core) periodically declare that NAEP, the textbook oligopoly, the NCTM, and college-entrance exams have caused math curricula to be very similar across the land.

Schmidt and McKnight, however, show conclusively that this presumption...

Luddite
Admittedly, Andy Smarick is part Luddite.
From Wikimedia Commons.

I just finished reading the Forbes Magazine profile on Salman Khan. You might want to give it a read.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m somewhere between marginally skeptical and cautiously optimistic when it comes to the proliferation of technology to “individualize” learning.

Admittedly, I’m part Luddite and part contrarian, so I’m predisposed to be chary of this entire field for less than noble reasons. But it seems like the only thing more ubiquitous than new ways to deliver content are the apocryphal claims of their revolutionary nature. (Along these lines, I highly recommend Rich Hess’s thoughts on the Khan article and our history of overhyping and misusing technology.)

But I’m slowly being swayed. On the positive side, a bunch of smart people I know are pretty certain that this really is a disruptive innovation and that things will never be the same once parents realize they can truly direct their children’s education. Also,...

We’re choosy

Mike and Adam celebrate school-choice victories in New Jersey and Race to the Top and worry about the battles ahead. Amber ponders state-mandated special-ed enrollment targets.

Amber's Research Minute

New York State Special Education Enrollment Analysis by CRPE - Download PDF

Everywhere you look these days, someone is running down the Common Core. One of the most frequent critiques comes from those who argue that the CCSS “mandate” the percent of time that English teachers must spend on nonfiction and who worry that this requirement will force educators to replace Shakespeare and Twain with technical manuals and bus schedules. It’s one of those lines that’s apparently “too good to fact check” because the deeper you dig, the more it unravels. Here are the facts:

First, it’s literally wrong. Nowhere do the CCSS “mandate” the percent of time ELA teachers need to spend on nonfiction. In fact, the reference to the balance of fiction and nonfiction in the classroom specifically warns,

The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational.

It’s hard to imagine the authors being clearer on this point. Yet commentators on all sides of the debate regularly—and mistakenly—claim that the CCSS wants to see literature in ELA classrooms go the...

The cumbersome, inscrutable title is the first clue that something is not right: “Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3): Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards.”

Welcome to the social studies follies. We might thank the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for ensuring—so far, anyway—that this jumble is not portrayed as “national standards” for social studies. Instead, it’s the beginning of a “framework” for states intending to re-think their own academic standards in social studies, a hodge-podge part of the K-12 curriculum.

It’s not the actual framework, however. That is promised for sometime next year. What we have today is a six-page “vision” of a “framework for inquiry,” whatever the heck that is supposed to mean. (See also Catherine Gewertz’s perspective in Education Week.)

But this preview document supplies reason to be plenty alarmed about what lies ahead. The second clue is implicit in its opening paragraphs:

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, currently under development, will ultimately focus on the disciplinary and multidisciplinary concepts and practices that make up the process of investigation, analysis, and explanation which will be informative to states interested in upgrading their social...

Today, I happened upon a decades-old Rand Corporation report (McLaughlin and Berman, 1975) on the topic of educational change and school-level implementation. Of the many interesting and important tidbits of information in this report, I found this quote striking—and perhaps most relevant—for Common Core implementation:

“Indifferent and unreceptive environments were frequent in our sample of projects attempted in upper-level schools. . . . Change agent projects that included the higher grade levels experienced severe management and administrative problems as well as teacher resistance. For example, reading projects that spanned all grade levels consistently encountered resistance at the upper-level schools as they attempted to persuade science or history teachers to view themselves as teachers of reading.”

According to the Rand report, high schools exhibited more hostility to change than elementary schools, largely because of teacher resistence. High school teachers, the researchers found, "perceive themselves as having large intellectual and emotional investments in academic purity." As such, high school teachers, who often teach specialized subjects (i.e., biology or U.S. history), have less motivation to work outside their "solid subject" area, try "new ideas," and thus act as "change agents."

In 2014-15, Ohio will fully transition to the Common Core in math...

After Bennett

Mike and Kathleen wonder what will happen to the Common Core after Tony Bennett’s defeat, and ask why so many students miss so much school. Amber ponders whether teacher turnover harms student achievement.

Amber's Research Minute

How teacher turnover harms student achievement; By Matthew Ronfeldt, Loeb and Wyckoff - Download PDF

While people may disagree over the importance of standards in driving student achievement, virtually nobody disagrees that selecting the right curriculum—one that artfully balances content and rigor and that gives teachers a clear instructional roadmap—is critical to driving student learning. In fact, research released in 2009 by Russ Whitehurst found that the most effective curricula had dramatically larger effect sizes than just about any other reform strategy.

Yet, there is a dearth of good, independent research that can help state, local, and school-level leaders determine which programs are most effective and which are most likely to meet the needs of the students they serve. That is why the results from a just-released report, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, deserve some attention.

The study, “Large-Scale Evaluations of Curricular Effectiveness: The Case of Elementary Mathematics in Indiana,” focused on district-level curriculum adoption in the Hoosier state, mostly because Indiana is one of very few states that collects and tracks information about district-level curriculum adoption. This information allowed the researchers to investigate the relationship between curriculum and student achievement (as measured by the state’s ISTEP test).

Of course, the authors acknowledge that there are several limitations of...

"Moving Up" is The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's charter school sponsorship accountability report for 2011-12. Through it, we hope to help readers understand the complexities of charter schools and better appreciate the hard work of the teachers, school leaders, and board members who serve not only the schools we sponsor but also the schools around the state and nation that are working to make a difference in the lives of children. This year's report features an in-depth look at the struggles of two Fordham-sponsored schools in Dayton; it is researched and written by former Dayton Daily News reporter and editor Ellen Belcher.

One of the many reasons I’m a fan of TBFI is that it conducts two types of policy research that are in short supply. The first, which I will talk about today, is in-the-weeds analyses of subjects that others have glossed over. (The second, studies on subjects we didn’t even realize were important, will be discussed in a future post.)

TBFI's latest in-the-weeds analysis is on teacher-union strength; it goes deeper and reveals far more than the conventional wisdom.

Lots of people talk about the value of tough standards; heck, the “transformative nature” of Common Core has become something between a ubiquitous talking point and Gospel for the reform community. But many of those proselytizing, unfortunately, can’t tell you a whit about what’s actually in these supposedly sacred texts. 

Well, TBFI gets into the weeds of standards; they’ve been doing this for ages, even before Common Core was conceived and birthed (yes, it’s true, academic-content standards existed before CC!). In recent months, they’ve analyzed the rigormeaning, and cost of CC, shedding much light on an important but under-investigated matter.

They’ve done similar digging in on the use of school funds and tech advancements—issues that, like CC, have been given a cursory and...

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