Curriculum & Instruction

The remarkable spread of free online courses through American higher education has prompted major soul-searching and some fast footwork among traditional universities and their national organizations.

    Digital learning
    The next step: K-12 MOOCs provided by topflight schools to students beyond their own campuses.
    Photo by poperotico via photopin cc

You can already find “MOOCs” (massive open online courses) on a host of websites, created and delivered by a wide array of institutions and individuals.

As I write, Coursera offers 207 courses, ranging from astronomy to public health, presented by professors at such upscale schools as CalTech, Duke, and Stanford (where, as best I can tell, all this originated—and just a few years ago). Udacity offers about twenty courses, EdX (founded by Harvard and MIT) around ten.

Providers such as these are proliferating and expanding via a hodgepodge of for- and non-profit organizations with offerings that range from free to pricey. And participation is soaring, too. Coursera claims two million course-takers worldwide—and since the courses are online, one can indeed take them anyplace, anytime.

This remarkably...

This wonky but important (and exceptionally timely) book by Michigan State’s Bill Schmidt 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 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 they 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 Common Core) periodically declare that NAEP, the textbook oligopoly, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and nationwide college-entrance exams have caused math curricula to be very similar across the land.

Schmidt and McKnight, however, show conclusively that this presumption is far from true. And they link that variation in content coverage and delivery to the country’s vexing achievement gaps, its deteriorating social mobility, and its generally weak educational performance. Here are a few excerpts from the book’s genuinely alarming—and stirring—final chapter:...

Bedtime story
Research has long shown that reading comprehension and vocabulary are well correlated.
Photo by Јerry via photopin cc.

While there are achievement gaps between low-income and affluent students across content areas, none seem more vexing to close than the reading gap. While the enormous investment of time and resources that was poured into the Reading First initiative resulted in modest gains, particularly at the elementary level, we have not made the progress we had hoped for in either improving reading achievement or closing the comprehension gap.

There are no doubt a host of factors that contribute to this gap in reading, not least of which the fact that low-income students are far less likely to be read to and talked to in the early years, or to be exposed to the kind of content-rich curriculum they need to build knowledge and expand vocabulary—both critical drivers of reading comprehension.

Research has long shown that reading comprehension and vocabulary are well-correlated. The results from the latest...

Bayou blues

Checker and Education Sector’s John Chubb discuss expanding the school day, dismal graduation rates, and Louisiana confusion. Amber depresses us with a report on record-high unemployment among young people.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity by The Annie E. Casey Foundation - Download PDF

In this report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), researchers examined 12 high schools around the country that educate students according to student-centered learning (SCL) principles. (CRPE included two Ohio high schools: Cleveland’s MC2 STEM Academy and Federal Hocking High School.) CRPE identifies and defines, in detail, five principles of SCL: (1) personalized instruction, (2) authentic instruction, (3) mastery-based assessment, (4) learning that reaches beyond the school walls, and (5) learning models that change the school schedule.

The researchers pose two practical questions about high schools that deploy SCL principles. First, does SCL generate higher costs than traditional approaches to schooling? And second, do schools that use SCL allocate their resources (time and money) differently than traditional schools?

With respect to the first question, the researchers found that, no, SCL high schools don’t necessarily spend more or less than traditional high schools. With respect to the second question, the researchers found that, yes, SCL high schools allocate resources differently than traditional high schools. SCL schools, for example, spend more on classroom instruction and less on administration. In fact, CRPE researchers found that one school employed just one part-time administrator and hired four unpaid interns to perform administrative...

Call me a grumpy old man. (I've been called worse.) But I fear it isn't going to be easy for David Coleman and his fellow authors of the Common Core English/Language Arts standards to wean U.S. students off writing about themselves, their feelings, and their experiences and onto forming judgments based on evidence in the texts that they're reading. Switching over their teachers—especially those under thirty—may prove just as difficult.

We seem to be raising an entire generation of young Americans who are completely centered on themselves rather than what we might term "the work to be done."

The smart and well-respected head of a major philanthropy mentioned the other day that way too many of the young people working—or seeking to work—at his organization are vastly more interested in "what it means for them" than in the job itself. As in, "Is it meeting my needs? Am I getting the growth I need? The recognition I'm due? The mentoring I want? The compensation I deserve? The time off that I'm entitled to?" and NOT as in, "I'm here to do an important professional job for an organization whose mission I believe in, and I'll give it my...

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...

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