Curriculum & Instruction

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released an analysis of the federal School Improvement Grants program, which invests in persistently underperforming schools with the expectation that they will turn around. The early results of its most recent $3-billion infusion, as described by Education Week: "mixed" (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2012/11/initial_school_impr...). Two-thirds of the schools made gains in math or reading scores, but the other third saw achievement decline. Program supporters contend that one year of data is not enough to draw conclusions about the program. Critics ask whether taxpayers should expend a single cent more on what they deem a failed experiment.

Who's right? The Fordham Institute is bringing together three leading voices on urban schooling for a debate on the future of turnarounds: Bellwether Education and Fordham edu-wonk Andy Smarick; the Department of Education's Carmel Martin; and former Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

A time for reflection

Mike and Daniela reflect on Newtown, and then look back at school reform in 2012. Amber ends the last podcast of the year on a more upbeat note with a look at Texas’s (effective) pre-K program.

Amber's Research Minute

The Effects of Texas’ Pre-Kindergarten Program on Academic Performance by Rodney Andrews, Paul Jargowsky, and Kristin Kuhne (New York, NY: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, November 2012)

This week, Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by Common Core architects David Coleman and Jason Zimba—announced a partnership with the NEA and AFT to develop and disseminate Core-aligned curriculum at no cost to teachers, thanks to a three-year, $11-million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. As Kathleen Porter-Magee noted in yesterday’s Common Core Watch, “Given the dearth of quality, CCSS-aligned materials available to teachers who are already working to align their practice to the new standards, this additional investment is welcome.” We eagerly await the materials.

A task force convened to determine whether D.C. charter schools ought to give admissions preference to nearby students came up with a verdict on Friday: While the District should allow charters that move into closed public school buildings to give neighborhood preference, other charter schools should not be compelled (or even allowed) to do so. This is a sensible compromise that will ease the burden on students transitioning from schools that are closing while maintaining a central tenet of the charter school idea: to be open to all students, regardless of home address.

As part of its “30 under 30” series,...

Earlier this year, the GE Foundation awarded an $18 million, four-year grant to Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by the chief CCSS architects David Coleman, Sue Pimentel, and Jason Zimba—to support (among other things) the development of Common Core–aligned curriculum and instructional resources. In addition to being developed under the careful guidance of the lead authors of the standards themselves (and all signs seem to suggest that these materials will be top-notch), SAP-developed resources will be open source and provided at no cost to teachers around the country.

This week, Student Achievement Partners announced a new partnership with the NEA and AFT, which will be funded with a three-year, $11 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, “to jointly design tools and digital applications to support teachers in their practice.”

Here’s what Sue Pimentel told Education Week:

…The New York City–based nonprofit would be "the engine room" for the new project, but teachers would be the fuel behind it. It will cover both ELA and math.
SAP will meet regularly with teachers to find out what they need most in the classroom, and come back to them with early versions that can...
Great books
The claim that Common Core will be the death of great literature wilts under scrutiny.
Photo by Zitona via photopin cc.

To believe the latest criticisms of the Common Core is to believe that these rigorous new standards for English language arts, despite their focus on increasing the quality and complexity of the books read in English classes across grades K–12, signal the death of great literature in American schools. Like many arguments against the Common Core, however, this latest one wilts under scrutiny.

At the heart of this critique is a two-paragraph section found on page 5 of the introduction to the CCSS that mentions the NAEP assessment framework, shows the distribution of literary and informational texts across the grades (50/50 in 4th grade, 45 percent literary to 55 percent informational in 8th, and 30 percent literary to 70 percent informational in 12th), and suggests that teachers across content areas should “follow NAEP’s lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts,...

Responsible adults

Mike and Dara discuss bringing MOOCs to K–12 education, tiptoeing up to the fiscal cliff, and angry unions in Michigan. Amber considers all the angles of the newly released international achievement scores.

Amber's Research Minute

International Achievement Test Results (TIMSS & PIRLS)

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

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