Curriculum & Instruction

I am pretty good at math. Unsurprisingly, the story about why I am good at math has a lot to do with a few exceptional teachers I had growing up in a small coal-mining town in Illinois.

One in particular was Mr. Nagrodski, my high-school math team coach, who seemed to conjure talented mathematicians out of thin air. In the late 80s, he pushed for a major acceleration in the junior-high math curriculum in our district so that more kids were ready for tough math classes in high school. He convinced the district to let him teach those tough math classes, which hadn't been offered before he arrived. As a result, his teams won state math competitions year after year after year—and not incidentally, turned out far more talented students of mathematics than anyone would have guessed could come from a little town of four thousand. (Among many other accolades, Mr. Nagrodski, was profiled in Fortune magazine back in 1991 as one of “25 Who Help the U.S. Win.")

By the time I was a middle schooler gearing up for Mr. Nagrodski's infamously difficult math team practices, roughly half of my class of 75 or so kids had been identified as...

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

Jester Slim

Following the lead of the Council on Foreign Relations, a task force convened by the National Fructose Association and the American Academy of Confectioners and co-chaired by Rosanne Barr and Willy Wonka has issued a path-breaking report on American education—recommending use of some bold (and necessary) change-agents. The panel laid out a savory strategy of rewards-based learning: U.S. schools should serve more sweets both during lunch and at snack time. Students who score above average on exams should be rewarded with Snickers bars (or M&Ms for those sad-sacks with peanut allergies). Earning an A makes your candy bar king-sized. They observed that sugary foods boost energy levels as well as kids’ motivation to learn. During a press call held on the date of report release, the task force brushed off questions about Type 2 diabetes as “fabrications and scaremongering from the same people who brought us Obamacare.” Insinuations that this program of “treat giving” closely resembled tactics for training puppies were also poo-pooed.

Peter Griffin, Eric Cartman, Yogi Bear, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus, They'll Swallow More Learning if You Sugar-coat It (Topeka, KS: National Fructose Association; McAllen, TX: American Academy of Confectioners, April...

“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore” ― André Gide

As we’ve said numerous times before, for the vast majority of states, adoption of the Common Core standards was an enormous improvement. (Click for Fordham’s review of each state’s standards and the Common Core.) It’s equally clear that we have an enormous challenge on our hands to ensure that the Common Core is implemented in a way that makes the most of these stronger and more rigorous standards. Change is hard but Common Core, correctly implemented, has the potential to amp up expectations and instruction across American classrooms. 

I’ve already posted about the danger of curriculum publishers co-opting the Common Core to promote their own (relatively unchanged) materials. But there’s a second, and potentially even more troubling challenge that lies ahead: a resistance among teachers to changing their instruction.

As the time comes to start implementing Common Core some teachers are starting to dig in their heels.

Of course, for teachers, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. There has been no shortage of curriculum fads and reforms that have demanded instructional changes and promised improvements,...

In January, with the release of our analysis of state K-12 science standards, we reported that the state of state science standards was very poor—the overall national average was a very low C, and 26 states earned a D or F. This news was unwelcome, if also unsurprising.

But, as many people already know, a group of 26 states have teamed up with Achieve to do for science what the NGA and CCSSO did for ELA and math—to create a rigorous set of common standards that states would have the option to adopt as their own.

Whether those standards will be worth adoption remains an open question, but insiders tell us that we can expect the first public draft to be released for comment later this spring.

Our advice to the drafters of these “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS) was to look to the model state standards—to places like D.C., California, and Massachusetts—to inform their work. But what about the most commonly used national international benchmarks for science achievement—the NAEP, PISA, TIMSS, and ACT? The results from these assessments are often used to describe how well (or how poorly) states and nations are doing in science education. But are...

March (ESEA) Madness?

Mike and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke step outside to debate the place of climate science in standards and whether John Kline’s ESEA proposals stand a chance, while Amber looks at the relative merits of a four-day school week.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week - Download the PDF

“Planting healthy content seeds will lead to a bumper crop of good readers,” noted Fordham’s Peter Meyer eight moons ago in reference to second-year results from New York City’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) pilot reading program. Year three results, released this week, are equally compelling. Some background: CKLA is meant, through early reading instruction and content-rich “read-alouds,” to introduce all students—low-income students specifically—to the “core” common knowledge needed to navigate society. The pilot reading program tracks 1,000 students in twenty low-income schools in the Big Apple. Ten of these are implementing E.D. Hirsch’s “core knowledge” pedagogy (which stresses nonfiction reading, content knowledge, and decoding skills) while the other ten (with like demographics) employ reading strategies of the “balanced literacy” sort. Besides tracking scores on pre- and post-tests, this study gathered teacher and administrator survey data and conducted site visits at four CKLA schools, confirming teachers’ fidelity to the Core Knowledge program. CKLA students across all studied grades (Kindergarten through second) boasted larger gains than their comparison-group peers, and students with lower base achievement saw larger gains. Core Knowledge had the greatest impact on Kindergarteners; fidelity to the program resulted in reading gains fivetimes greater than those experienced by...

A teacher’s effectiveness has a tremendous impact on a child’s learning and academic trajectory. Yet knowing that, and being able to create teacher evaluation systems that successfully measure and document teacher effectiveness, are two very different things. In fact, for as long as anyone can remember, a public school teacher’s effectiveness and performance in Ohio classrooms-as in the rest of America- haven’t been measured much at all. These critical factors have had little impact on decisions about whether she is retained by her district or laid off, how she is compensated or assigned to a district’s school, or how her professional development is crafted. This report, authored by Superintendent Mike Miles, takes a detailed look at the Harrison (CO) School District 2's Pay-for-Performance Plan. The Harrison Plan confronted the dual challenges of defining an effective teacher then identifying all the things that demonstrate her effectiveness. This how-to guide is meant to serve as a tool and model for Ohio’s school districts.

Save the podcast!

Mike and Janie make the case for keeping the Education Gadfly Show going with witty analysis of Common Core critics, student discipline follies, and the GOP’s education conundrum. Amber delves into teacher dissatisfaction and Chris asks “What’s up with that?” one last time.

Amber's Research Minute

 The MetLife survey of The American Teacher - Download the PDF

What's Up With That?

Teacher's health insurance policy includes free plastic surgery.

Sounding off on "snobs" and Santorum

Mike and Rick break down the week’s news, from the prospects of John Kline’s ESEA reauthorization proposals to the college-for-all controversy. Amber analyzes the latest report on Milwaukee’s voucher program Chris wonders whether robbing a bank is enough to get a school bus driver fired.

Amber's Research Minute

The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

School bus dispatcher was bank robbery getaway driver -