Curriculum & Instruction

While people may disagree over the importance of standards in driving student achievement, virtually nobody disagrees that selecting the right curriculum—one that artfully balances content and rigor and that gives teachers a clear instructional roadmap—is critical to driving student learning. In fact, research released in 2009 by Russ Whitehurst found that the most effective curricula had dramatically larger effect sizes than just about any other reform strategy.

Yet, there is a dearth of good, independent research that can help state, local, and school-level leaders determine which programs are most effective and which are most likely to meet the needs of the students they serve. That is why the results from a just-released report, published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, deserve some attention.

The study, “Large-Scale Evaluations of Curricular Effectiveness: The Case of Elementary Mathematics in Indiana,” focused on district-level curriculum adoption in the Hoosier state, mostly because Indiana is one of very few states that collects and tracks information about district-level curriculum adoption. This information allowed the researchers to investigate the relationship between curriculum and student achievement (as measured by the state’s ISTEP test).

Of course, the authors acknowledge that there are several limitations of...

"Moving Up" is The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's charter school sponsorship accountability report for 2011-12. Through it, we hope to help readers understand the complexities of charter schools and better appreciate the hard work of the teachers, school leaders, and board members who serve not only the schools we sponsor but also the schools around the state and nation that are working to make a difference in the lives of children. This year's report features an in-depth look at the struggles of two Fordham-sponsored schools in Dayton; it is researched and written by former Dayton Daily News reporter and editor Ellen Belcher.

One of the many reasons I’m a fan of TBFI is that it conducts two types of policy research that are in short supply. The first, which I will talk about today, is in-the-weeds analyses of subjects that others have glossed over. (The second, studies on subjects we didn’t even realize were important, will be discussed in a future post.)

TBFI's latest in-the-weeds analysis is on teacher-union strength; it goes deeper and reveals far more than the conventional wisdom.

Lots of people talk about the value of tough standards; heck, the “transformative nature” of Common Core has become something between a ubiquitous talking point and Gospel for the reform community. But many of those proselytizing, unfortunately, can’t tell you a whit about what’s actually in these supposedly sacred texts. 

Well, TBFI gets into the weeds of standards; they’ve been doing this for ages, even before Common Core was conceived and birthed (yes, it’s true, academic-content standards existed before CC!). In recent months, they’ve analyzed the rigormeaning, and cost of CC, shedding much light on an important but under-investigated matter.

They’ve done similar digging in on the use of school funds and tech advancements—issues that, like CC, have been given a cursory and...

The votes are in

Is education-funding “blackmail” fair play? Did teacher unions come out on top? Mike and Dara rehash Tuesday’s electoral results while Amber asks whether increased voucher accountability makes a difference.

Amber's Research Minute

School Choice and School Accountability: Evidence from a Private Voucher Program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Download PDF

For some strange reason it had to be.
He guided me to Tennessee.
—Arrested Development


When looking for a model of smart Common Core implementation, it’s easy to get depressed. Most state plans are confusing, their guidance buried deep in government websites (usually in hard to read documents full of jargon), their tactics difficult to follow, and their policies disconnected, compliance-oriented, and unlikely to set educators up for success.

I know what you are thinking: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

But there is some hope amidst the noise. And fittingly enough for these voluntary common standards, that hope is in the Volunteer State. Tennessee has been quietly developing what might be the most thoughtful, cohesive, and outcomes-driven state CCSS implementation plan in the nation.

There are three areas, in particular, where Tennessee seems to be outshining the rest of the states: leading with outcomes; clarity of communication and smart prioritization; and growing leaders, as opposed to micromanaging teachers. 

Leading with outcomes

Far too often, Common Core implementation efforts are an amalgam of compliance-oriented activities and programs masquerading as thoughtful and effective implementation plans.

Tennessee’s approach seems refreshingly different. The state has set specific...

Trick or tweet?

Mike channels Darth Vader and Checker channels, well, Checker, in a Halloween edition of the podcast featuring all sorts of treats: charter schools, the Common Core, and the political appeal of ed reform. Amber explains why Fordham’s latest study on teacher-union strength is a must-read—all 405 pages of it.

Amber's Research Minute

When it comes to national elections, political pundits have long asserted that: “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” The same has oft been said of Texas and the textbook market, one reason that many eyes followed the 2010 debate in the Lone Star State over adding elements of creationism and conservative ideology to the state’s science and social-studies standards. (Certainly the adoption of the Common Core State Standards by forty-five states loosens Texas’s grip on textbook design for English language arts and math—but the more controversial subjects of science and history remain tightly controlled.) This documentary film tracks the lengths to which some members of the Texas Board of Education (Don McLeroy, a dentist, and Kathy Dunbar, a lawyer) went to infuse nonsense into their state’s academic standards. In one scene, the pair work to remove a standard on separation of church and state. In another, they try to poke holes in the state’s science standards dealing with evolution. While slow-moving at points, the overall narrative woven by this documentary is interesting—and the underlying messages are important: Texas’s control of textbook content reaches past its...

We all love teachers but do we all love ed reformers?

Mike and Kathleen wonder why education can’t stay out of the debates and pick the top edu-initiatives on the ballot. Amber describes the spectacular growth in non-teaching staff.

Amber's Research Minute

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools by Benjamin Scafidi (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012). - Download PDF

Dayton has a long tradition of innovation (think airplanes, pull-tabs, electric starters, cash registers, and even teacher unions). Yet, as the innovations of one era slip into obsolescence in the next, it should come as no surprise that the Gem City has struggled economically in recent decades. The hope for Dayton’s revival comes from innovation. And this time the innovation is in education—how  we prepare people for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

By 2018, it is estimated that almost two-thirds of jobs in America will require at least a sub-baccalaureate credential. A sub-baccalaureate credential is a post-secondary credential that includes awards like certificates, associate degrees, state-issued education credentials, corporate certificates and badges among others. Dayton, according to a fantastic piece in the Lumina Foundation’s fall edition of Focus Magazine, is quickly becoming a national leader in preparing “sub-baccalaureate graduates.”

Dayton’s economic struggles peaked in 2009 and the scale of the pain was captured by The New York Times, which  reported that the area faced a vortex of “economic and social change.” The Times continued, reporting that  “the area’s job total has fallen 12 percent since 2000, while about half of its factory jobs –...

With the Kasich Administration’s push for improved literacy skills among Ohio’s elementary students, many educators and analysts are keeping a keen eye on the development and assessment of reading programs. One national program, Project Sit Together and Read (STAR), is examined in the new research study by Shayne Piasta, Increasing Young Children’s Contact with Print during Shared Reading: Longitudinal Effects on Literacy Achievement. Piasta’s research measures the program’s effects on student literacy in pre-k to second grade. (See the U.S. Department of Education's review of the study.)

Project STAR is designed to develop students’ reading, spelling, and vocabulary skills. Teachers read aloud to students, but also use techniques to encourage kids to pay attention to the print on book pages. For example, a teacher may ask students about words or use a finger to follow along as words are read.

To measure the impact of these print focused techniques, researchers compared three groups in 85 preschool classrooms, composed mostly of socioeconomically disadvantaged...