Curriculum & Instruction

Morgan Polikoff

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of visiting Success Academy Harlem 1 and hearing from Eva Moskowitz and the SA staff about their model. I’m not going to venture into the thorny stuff about SA here. What I will say is that their results on state tests are clearly impressive, and I doubt that they’re fully (or even largely) explained by the practices that cause controversy. (Luckily, we’ll soon have excellent empirical evidence to answer that question.)

Instead, what I’m going to talk about are the fascinating details I saw and heard about curriculum and instruction in SA schools. Right now, of course, it is impossible to know what’s driving their performance, but these are some of the things that I think are likely to contribute. (I’d initially forgotten that Charles Sahm wrote many of these same things in a post this summer. His is more detailed and based on more visits than mine. Read it!)

Here's what I saw in my tour of about a half-dozen classrooms at SA 1:

  • The first thing that I observed in each classroom was the intense focus on student discourse and explanation. In each classroom, students are constantly pressed to explain their reasoning, and other students respond constructively
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It’s not difficult to see what parents find so appealing about religious schools. Some put stock in the inherent academic superiority of private academies, but many others prioritize what they see as their character-building edge over traditional district schools: tighter discipline, a unitary culture, and strong ideological foundations. Of the many virtues imparted to students by religious education, though, few would have guessed that one would be religious tolerance. This new white paper suggests that Americans who have attended some form of religious school are less likely to harbor anti-Semitic animus as adults.

The study cleverly combines multiple strands of inquiry from the Understanding America Study, a nationally representative sample of 1,300 American adults conducted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Economic and Social Research. That survey’s administrators queried their subjects on the variety of their K–12 schooling experiences—but also asked them to respond to a series of eleven anti-Semitic stereotypes, which were selected from the Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100 analysis of anti-Semitic attitudes around the world. After striking from the sample those participants who had been homeschooled or received the bulk of their education abroad, the authors were left with a healthy data set of adults...

  • To everyone except the students and educators who labor to start them, high-performing charter schools must seem like fully formed miracle factories. They sprout from Mark Zuckerberg’s largesse, produce outstanding academic results, and win facilities conflicts with crusading big-city mayors. This week, the Hechinger Report spins the incredible (and incredibly detailed) story of how these places actually come together. In three interlocking narratives focused on a first-time principal, a veteran teacher, and an incoming freshman, the account details the emergence of Brooklyn Ascend High in the daunting Brownsville neighborhood of New York City. The school, organized around an ideal of civic service and employing a nontraditional discipline structure, offers an ideal backdrop against which to examine the challenges of establishing an academic culture and galvanizing a faculty. For readers who wonder why more charter profiles can’t offer the fractured perspectives and compelling mystery of Rashomon, here’s your (regrettably samurai-less) answer.
  • The Texas Board of Education rules over the state’s textbooks like a juice-drunk toddler rules over his sandbox: utterly, and hilariously. If they’re not pondering the knotty question of whether to include creationism in science curriculum (guess I thought Spencer Tracy settled that one), they’re helpfully reinserting
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Nancy Brynelson, Corley Dennison, Daniel Doerger, Jacqueline E. King, William Moore, and Faith Muirhead

As states have implemented college and career readiness standards, it has sometimes been assumed that most of the work and attention has occurred at the elementary grades. In truth, many states have been working for some time to ensure that grade twelve prepares all students for post-secondary success. Programs like AP, IB, and dual enrollment are the most touted offerings for well-prepared students. But there has also been a great effort to create courses for students who are not yet college-ready and who can use senior year to close academic gaps and avoid the remedial instruction that so often acts as a drain on the time, finances, and morale of ascending college students. Just last month, the Fordham Institute held an event called “Pre-medial Education” that discussed ways to bring high school-based college readiness programs to scale.

For colleges and universities, “fixing” remediation is a major priority. According to Complete College America, three out of five students entering community colleges and one out of five students entering four-year institutions require remediation. The vast majority of these students (78 percent at community colleges and 63 percent at four-year institutions) do not go on to successfully complete gateway credit-bearing courses....

Laura Overdeck

We’ve seen a lot of hand wringing over math achievement in this country. Our students continue to underperform against their peers in other countries, lighting a fire under educators and politicians to push new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programming in schools. While these panicked efforts have admirable intentions, they are mostly barking up the wrong tree. Kids spend vastly more time outside school than in it—four or five times as many waking hours—and one-on-one attention during that time is a major unpulled lever for generating change. Sadly, the large majority of our population misses out on that opportunity completely.

It begins with parents, who are their children’s first teachers. Kids respond to the in-person presence of their parents more strongly than to anyone else. Patricia Kuhl at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) has shown that when a baby sees someone touch her mother’s hand, the same region of the baby’s brain lights up as when someone touches the baby’shand. But when the baby instead watches a video of the person touching her mom’s hand, those regions don’t light up. Nor do they light up when a stranger’s hand is touched. Moreover, babies respond more strongly...

All right, first things first: What do we mean when we use the phrase “Response to Intervention” (RtI)? Its utterly functional label—surely all interventions are designed to provoke a response—lends itself to a host of vague interpretations. Education Week has produced a useful overview of its growth and effects, and Fordham attempted the same in its 2011 exploration of trends in special education, but the general points are these: RtI emerged around the turn of the century as a way to identify kids with learning disabilities as early as possible, provide them with a series of gradually intensifying academic interventions, and monitor their progress throughout. Spurred in its expansion by the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (which permitted districts to use up to 15 percent of their Part B dollars on early intervention services), RtI supplanted IQ-focused “ability/achievement discrepancy” models of learning disability screenings, and it eventually came to be adopted as a general education framework. In the words of Alexa Posny, the DOE’s assistant secretary of special education and rehabilitative services, the approach “hasn’t changed special education. It has changed education and will continue to do so. It is where we need to...

Welders, as Marco Rubio recently reminded us, sometimes earn more than philosophers. But neither of them earn as much as students who receive degrees in STEM subjects. So perhaps the most encouraging bit of data to emerge from the ACT’s “The Condition of STEM 2015” report is this: Of the nearly two million high school graduates who took the ACT in 2015, 49 percent had an interest in STEM.

Interest, however, does not necessarily translate into aptitude. For the first time this year, ACT has added a new “STEM score” to their report—an acknowledgement of recent research indicating that college success in science, technology, engineering, and math classes requires a higher level of preparedness than ACT’s previous benchmarks in math and science alone seemed to predict.

Based on this enhanced measure, a paltry 20 percent of the 2015 ACT test takers were deemed ready for first-year STEM college courses. For reference, readiness is defined as either 1) a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or 2) a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in freshman courses like calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics. Among students who say that they are interested in STEM majors or...

Success for All specializes in whole-school turnaround for struggling elementary schools. Its 2010 proposal for an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant called for the program, whose primary goal is to ensure that every child learns to read well in elementary school, to grow from one thousand schools to more than two thousand. The Baltimore-based organization was one of only four to grab the shiniest brass ring in the i3 competition—a five-year, $50 million “scale-up” grant. Teach For America, KIPP, and the Reading Recovery program snared the other three.

This third and final report from MDRC looks at SFA’s impacts between kindergarten and second grade in five school districts over a three-year period covered under the i3 grant. A total of thirty-seven schools across five school districts were part of the study—nineteen randomly chosen to implement SFA, along with eighteen control schools that either stuck with their existing reading programs or choose new ones other than SFA.

The report finds that SFA is “an effective vehicle for teaching phonics,” showing statistically significant effects for second graders who were in SFA for all three years. SFA students also performed better than the average in reading fluency and comprehension, though not significantly. The...

A small storm has blown up around the fact that certain math items on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) do not align with what fourth and eighth graders are actually being taught in a few states—mainly places attempting to implement the Common Core State Standards within their schools’ curricula.

NAEP is only administered in grades four, eight, and twelve. So the specific issue is whether the fourth graders who sat for NAEP this spring had a reasonable opportunity to learn the skills, algorithms, techniques—broadly speaking, “the content”—on that test. If their state standards had moved some portion of what used to be fourth-grade math to the fifth or sixth grade, or replaced it with something else entirely, their state’s NAEP scores would likely be lower.

This kind of misalignment is blamed for some of the math declines that NAEP recently reported. Department officials in Maryland, for example, examined the NAEP math sub-scores and determined that many Maryland fourth graders are no longer being taught some of those things before they take the test.

We are left to wonder: Should NAEP frameworks and assessments be updated to reflect what’s in...

This report, recently released by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), explores how states can better prepare students for successful careers by reviewing policies in thirteen states related to career and technical education (CTE). Specifically, its authors look at whether each state has: (1) facilitated collaboration between education and employer communities to promote CTE and close job gaps; and (2) created CTE learning opportunities and credentials that provide students with multiple pathways to gainful employment in high-skill industries.

Nine of these states do both, often by designating or creating groups responsible for providing these services. Some (such as Colorado) rely on state-level actors. Others opt for regional- and local-level institutions. Louisiana offers “Jump Start CTE programs” that are developed by “regional teams consisting of LEAs, technical and community colleges, business and industry leaders, and economic and workforce development experts.”

Ohio has taken a more interesting approach. In the Buckeye State, OhioMeansJobs disseminates workforce-demand data through the K–12 system. Schools then use this information to apprise the students of career opportunities via the Ohio Career Counselling Pilot Program.

Unfortunately, several states in the report fall short. Kentucky has no system in place for schools to collaborate with businesses in need...