Curriculum & Instruction

Nearly thirty years ago, a then-obscure University of Virginia professor named E.D. Hirsch, Jr. set off a hot national debate with the publication of Cultural Literacy. The book was an out-of-nowhere hit, spending six months on the New York Times best seller list on the strength of its list of five thousand people, events, books, and phrases that Hirsch declared "every American should know."

Eric Liu, the executive director of the Aspen Institute's Citizenship and American Identity Program, wants to revisit Hirsch's list. Building on his recent essay, "How to Be American," Liu argues that the United States needs such common knowledge more than ever, but that “a twenty-first-century sense of cultural literacy has to be radically more diverse and inclusive.” Liu has launched an intriguing effort to crowd-source a 2016 version of Hirsch's famous list—which, in retrospect, was a double-edged sword: It made Cultural Literacy a best seller, but it also resulted in the book becoming what Dan Willingham has called "the most misunderstood education book of the past fifty years." It also came out the same year as Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, an equally unlikely success. Both were tarred with a "conservative" label. (For his part, Hirsch recently insisted, "I'm...

In a perfect world, all children would have access to an inspiring, well-rounded education, especially in pre-K and elementary school. They need a solid grounding in history, science, art, music, and literature. This is the period when their minds, like little sponges, are most receptive to learning about faraway times and places, hearing the classic stories from cultures around the world, understanding how the universe works, and unleashing their mini-Picassos and Beethovens. Plus, cognitive science tells us, these “extras” help our kiddos become excellent readers to boot—setting them up for a successful academic career from pre-K to college. (That’s because, along with learning to decode the English language, their reading ability is mostly determined by their store of vocabulary and content knowledge.)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of American elementary schools continue to eschew the type of well-rounded education that builds children’s knowledge. They see such an education as prioritizing “mere facts” at the expense of play, “natural learning,” or social and emotional development. That’s wrongheaded thinking. Studying topics like ancient Egypt, the constellations, or Greek myths provides ample opportunity for lessons on feelings, fun, play, and the ethical treatment of others. Lessons in these areas never have to consist only of...

My wife and I both spend time working with our kids on their homework. We have also made a family tradition of “Saturday School,” a routine that my wife and I instituted a couple of years ago because our kids’ school was using a pre-Common Core math curriculum that wasn’t keeping pace with the standards. It has become a weekly exercise for the whole family’s brain. On my personal blog, I’ve shared some of the math problems that I’d written for Saturday School so that other parents could use the problems at home if they wished.

On busy nights, most parents (including me) are hard-pressed to find time to help with daily homework. That’s why my first piece of advice for parents is that they help strengthen their children’s work ethic and accountability by ensuring that homework is completed. My kids have their own dedicated space at home for schoolwork. When they get home from school, the next day’s homework has to be complete and correct before there is any screen time or other activities.

Parents can also help at home with skill building and fluency practice—things like memorizing basic math facts. When it comes to skills, practice is essential....

M. René Islas

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of blog posts that will be collaboratively published every Wednesday by the National Association for Gifted Children and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Each post in the series will exist both here on Flypaper and on the NAGC Blog.

President Barack Obama kicked off his final State of the Union address by asking the citizens of our country several important question that ought to frame how our policy makers will lead into the future. His first question was related to education. He asked, “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?”

The National Association for Gifted Children agrees that education is a powerful tool to help “give everyone a fair shot.” However, we would be remiss if we didn’t call out the nation’s responsibility to ensure that the education it provides its citizens gives everyone the chance to achieve his or her full human potential. Unfortunately, we know that this is not necessarily the case for children with extraordinary gifts and talents in our schools today; particularly those bright students who are economically disadvantaged, from minority backgrounds, or are learning English as a second...

Civics is at or very close to the top of my education priority list. I’ve often lamented how far we’ve strayed from the founding ideals of public education, which had more to do with preparing young people for effective self-government than college and career readiness. NAEP results reinforce just how badly starved for oxygen civics and history are in our schools. If reading and math proficiency are at crisis levels, civics and history have reached a state of advanced decay. Fewer than one in four eighth graders score “proficient” in civics; in history, it’s even worse—just 18 percent at or above proficient. We don’t even bother to test in twelfth grade anymore. Perhaps we just don’t want to know.

From the Education Commission of the States comes a new brief, “Youth Voting: State and city approaches to early civic engagement.” The report notes that opportunities for youth participation in city and state elections “are becoming part of the policymakers’ toolkit to create engaged citizens and lifelong voters.” Specific initiatives—preregistration to vote of individuals as young as sixteen in twelve states and the District of Columbia; allowing seventeen-year-olds to vote in primaries, municipal races, and school...

It’s said that failure is an orphan, but success has a thousand fathers. If that’s true, what conspiracy of malefactors do we have to thank for the oafish presidential candidacy of Donald Trump? Even as he continuously fails the tests of maturity, credibility, and good taste, the second-generation merchant landlord has proceeded from strength to strength in Republican primary polls (as he’ll be the first to tell you).

Some will attribute his rise to the anger of disaffected working-class whites or his near-monopoly of election press coverage, but these strike me as only offering proximate explanations. My own theory is a little more ethereal: Trump’s gravity-defying candidacy represents the predictable outburst of an electorate whose civic awareness has been all but hollowed out. Just think of the 2016 primary follies as the bill come due for our decades of failure in teaching American students the foundational concepts of their history and political system.

This failure has been abundantly publicized in recent months. April saw the release of the “Nation’s Report Card” for civics and American history (among other subjects). The results, as any number of panic-stricken reports made clear at the time, were abysmal: A pathetic 23 percent of eighth graders scored at or...

While it is likely true that those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them, those who are not tested on the subject in school may be doomed not to have learned much history in the first place.

“Advanced Civics for U.S. History Teachers,” a smart new white paper from Massachusetts’s Pioneer Institute, counsels civics and history advocates to show “persistence and unity” in order to restore history to “its rightful place as a treasured academic discipline and a fundamental educational priority.” The paper was issued in the weeks before ESEA was reauthorized and signed, but its primary recommendation—that states mandate a statewide assessment in U.S. history—is astute and timely now that states largely control their own testing and accountability destinies.

Pioneer also recommends “strong funding streams for professional development” and highlights several outstanding programs with national reputations that “buck the trends and afford teachers and students the possibilities of teaching and learning history in a rich, engaging and rigorous manner”: The Center for the Study of the Constitution; the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution; the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University; and the outstanding “We the People” program. (One recommendation the report...

The best compliment I can pay a fellow education blogger is to confess professional jealousy. So I’d like to close out 2015 by saluting the education blogs and columns that made me green with envy.

I’m a fan of Tim Shanahan and devour every word he writes. My favorite Shanahan post in 2015 was his evisceration of a silly piece in the Atlantic on the “joyful, illiterate kindergarteners of Finland” that—cliché alert—depicted the typical American kindergarten as a worksheet-happy hothouse. “The silly dichotomy between play and academic instruction was made up by U.S. psychologists in the 1890s,” he wrote. “It hangs on today among those who have never taught a child to read in their lives.” He singled out Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood professor, who is happy to tell anyone with a microphone that there’s no solid evidence in favor of teaching reading in kindergarten. “You can make that claim,” Shanahan concluded, “as long as you don’t know the research.”

I get jealous when somebody makes a smart observation about something hidden in plain sight, like Andy Rotherham did with his March column in U.S. News & World Report (where I’m also a contributor) pointing out that education reform is “dominated by people who...

OPINION

During a high-visibility Supreme Court hearing last week on the Fisher v. University of Texas admissions case, Justice Scalia made some ill-considered comments on race in higher education: "There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well." Then, referencing a case filing, he added, “One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas,” he said. “They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

Myriad commentators went after him. Others came to his defense. And still others landed somewhere in-between. We don’t view Scalia as a racist, but there’s no denying that his statements can be interpreted as suggesting that black kids are inescapably destined for the slow track. It’s not surprising that people are offended.

It ought to go without saying, but of course there is nothing inherently inferior about poor and minority...

Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice. But if you’re pressed for time and want to end all intelligent life quickly, nothing beats a task force.

In New York last week, a task force chosen by Governor Andrew Cuomo issued its report on Common Core. In a model of stunning governmental efficiency, the group managed to “listen” to 2,100 New York students, teachers, parents, and various other stakeholders. They then retreated to their chambers to write, edit, and publish a fifty-one-page report a mere ten weeks after they were impaneled. But clearly that was time enough for these solons to learn and thoughtfully consider what the Empire State needs: to adopt “new, locally driven New York State standards in a transparent and open process.” The report has twenty recommendations on how to bring this about.

It should be noted (speaking of governmental efficiency) that God himself was content with a mere ten modest suggestions to govern all known human activity. Cuomo’s task force has double that number—just for Common Core in a single state. But God acted alone. On a task force, every voice must be heard, every grievance aired. And they were, in all their...

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