Curriculum & Instruction

“Using analytics, we discovered when it’s drizzling outside, people eat more cake.”

You might’ve seen this IBM commercial: the quaint European bakery, the soothing narrator’s voice, and the iconic IBM-blue letterboxing. The message is simple—use data analytics and improve performance (oh, and by the way, IBM is pretty darn good at data).

In his review of schools’ use of technology and data, Darrell West of the Brookings Institution poses an IBM-style question to schools: what are you doing to utilize data to improve performance? West hints that, really, there is no excuse for schools not to use data. In fact, according to West, schools should use data, and that yes, there are multiple ways that schools can use data.

West enumerates a laundry-list of research on classroom technology. One pathway that technology can improve classroom performance is in reducing the teacher-student feedback loop. Students, for example, can take informal, online assessments that give teachers on-the-spot results, so they can take immediate interventions in a student’s education.

Selling technology as a solution for classroom management will likely be the next step in the more-widespread implementation of technology. And like a good sales pitch, West’s report provides evidence, ideas, and suggestions...

We Don’t Need No Education” by Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, in yesterday’s New York Times is a succinct, and mostly compelling, argument for giving all our children a solid liberal arts education beyond high school.

Shouldn’t every American citizen have a right to the best education we can deliver?

Though I’m not sure that taking out after the “instrumentalist rhetoric” of recent reports like that of the Council on Foreign Relations (U.S. Education Reform and National Security) is appropriate, Roth is right to question those who wonder “why people destined for low-paying jobs should bother to pursue their education beyond high school, much less study philosophy, literature and history.” I have written about the subject before (here, here, and here) because, as Roth argues, it’s important. It’s an education policy issue that, played out in the trenches, is very much a social justice issue, if not a moral one—and, I would argue, very much a national security issue. This was the point of my post on Earl Shorris’s Roberto Clemente program for the poor; that the poor deserve a good education too. As Shorris wrote:

If the multigenerational poor are to...

Perhaps the most seductive trap in all of education reform is the idea of replication. A charter school is high achieving? Turn it into a CMO! A curriculum is achieving big results? Bring it to every classroom in its district! An instructional strategy is clicking with teachers? Take it nationwide! In theory, this makes sense. We should, after all, learn from the best, and if something is working, why not replicate it?

Copying success doesn't always lead to success.
Photo by Andre W.

Too often, though, replication falls short of these high expectations. It ends up more like an old-fashioned Xerox, where each new copy is a little worse than the one that came before.

In education, the Xerox effect often stems from a shift in focus. In the high achieving schools and classrooms so many seek to copy, teachers and leaders work together with their eyes firmly focused on the goal of improving student achievement. In replication schools, however, that focus is too often diverted from...

“No excuses” charter schools have shown themselves to be immensely successful at educating low-income and minority students. But how successful have they been at preparing these youngsters for the rigors of college? This American RadioWorks documentary profiles the YES Prep charter network in Houston, which is wrestling with that exact question. YES Prep runs eleven sixth through twelfth grade schools, serving 7,000 students in Space City. The charter network boasts a 100 percent four-year college-acceptance rate—but only a 40 percent college-graduation rate, which has YES Prep staffers confused. Their students all take AP courses—and pass them at rates over double the national average. The school's curricula seems like it should prepare graduates for college. YES Prep staffers are now investigating the role that “grit”—the willingness to work harder and longer than most others would consider rational—may play in determining college success. They found, for example, that those who most struggled in their YES Prep schools fared the best when they got to college, showing that academic perseverance may matter more than innate smarts. Documentarian Emily Hanford also reminds us, however, that these students may have also succeeded because they were able—and knew how—to find and receive help on a...

The premise of Paul Tough’s excellent new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character—that cognitive ability matters, but character traits like tenacity, curiosity, and optimism matter more—is a strong challenge to my long-held notion that, when students struggle, whether in high school or college, much of that is attributable to their lack of academic preparedness. How Children Succeed largely argues otherwise, but there is a brief but fascinating account late in the book that suggests we shouldn’t be too quick to worship at the altar of grit alone.

playing black
Is school just like chess? Perhaps not. 
Photo by Adam Raoof.

The first half of Tough’s book unpacks clinical research that demonstrates the importance of parents protecting children from adversity in the first years of life. But it is the ability to persist in difficult tasks that ultimately seems to lead to success. Tough’s book, broadly speaking, makes the case that, insofar...



Special education is a maze of complexity, highly bureaucratic and compliance driven, often a point of contention between educators and parents, frequently litigious, and the single fastest growing portion of spending on public education. It has been largely impervious to change or improvement efforts. Worse, despite the spending children in special education programs are not making gains academically. 

Can special education be done better while controlling its growth? This is the question we posed to Nathan Levenson, one of the country’s leading thinkers on doing more with fewer resources in special education and whose District Management Council has done extensive work with local school districts here in the Buckeye State.

The result is a thought-provoking policy paper, Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio. In it, Levenson suggests three major opportunities, along with concrete examples, for making special education more efficient and better for Ohio’s students.

Robert Pondiscio, a vice president at the Core Knowledge Foundation and editor of its blog, posed an interesting question on Twitter this week:

I’ve seen bad schools with good test scores before. Any good schools with bad test scores?

It’s a timely and important question that gets to the heart of the emerging debate over whether standardized tests can fairly and accurately measure student learning, and whether accountability systems based on their results are too often mislabeling successful teachers and schools as “failures.”

Obviously, no accountability system is perfect, but we can all agree that one that gets it wrong as often as it gets it right is in need of serious reform. But is there any proof that is happening?

No accountability system is perfect, but we can all agree that one that gets it wrong as often as it gets it right is in need of serious reform.

Enter Kristina Rizga, a Berkeley-educated muckraking journalist who recently took the reins as the education reporter at Mother Jones after stints at Wiretap Magazine and AlterNet. In preparation for her new article, “Everything You’ve Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong,” Rizga spent a year “embedded” in Mission High...

Eek. Vouchers + creationism = liberal horror, teacher-union field-day, and at least a small risk to the school-choice movement. Politically and strategically, it would be so much simpler if those “voucher schools” would just behave themselves!

If only Michaelangelo had taken on voucher accountability too. 
Photo by ideacreamanuelaPps

But how upset should one really be about the AP report from Louisiana that some of the private schools participating in the Pelican State’s new voucher program “teach creationism and reject evolution”?

State Superintendent of Education John White offered the correct policy response: All voucher students must participate in the state assessments, which include science. “If students are failing the test, we’re going to intervene, and the test measures [their understanding of] evolution.” In other words, the schools can do what they like but if their voucher-bearing students don’t learn enough to pass the state tests, the state will do something about it—ultimately (under Louisiana regulations) eliminating those schools from eligibility to participate in the...

While this weekend had plenty of noteworthy education news, today I would like to note the passing of a friend of mine, Staley Keith, who made me understand something about schools and racism. He died just after the Center for Civil Rights Remedies released a troubling study on race and school suspensions and would have nodded knowingly had he seen it. Writes Gary Orfield, head of the Civil Rights Project, which published the study,

The findings in this study are deeply disturbing. Students who are barely maintaining a connection with their school often are pushed out, as if suspension were a treatment. The statistics on the use of suspension for African American and special education students are cause for great concern. We already know that African American males are disproportionately placed into categories of special education that are associated with extremely poor outcomes. We now see that these same students face incredibly high rates of suspension. Every dropout costs society hundreds of thousands of dollars over the student’s lifetime in lost income, and removing a large number of students from school undermines a community’s future. In a society that is incarcerating a large number of...

Flying squirrels!

After a week’s hiatus, Mike and Rick catch up on the Romney-Ryan merger, creationism in voucher schools, and the ethics of school discipline. Daniela explains teachers’ views on merit pay.

Amber's Research Minute

Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession by Sarah Rosenber and Elena Silva with the FDR Group - Download the PDF