Curriculum & Instruction

The laugh factory

Mike and Rick wonder if there’s still room for ed reformers in the Democratic Party after Chicago. Amber analyzes why American students continue to struggle with the SAT. And Rick makes a few jokes at Karen Lewis’s expense.

Amber's Research Minute

The SAT Report on College & Career Readiness: 2012 - The College Board Download PDF

  • A New Haven “turnaround school” has its students assigning their own homework. The new approach is part of an experiment to move from a “normal” class to “independent pacing,” in which students master concepts before moving on. High School in the Community is directly managed by the teachers union.
  • Students at Belmont High School are getting a leg up on college readiness. The Educational Talent Search program, sponsored by Sinclair Community College, supports middle and high school students in college decision-making, preparation, and entrance at no cost.
  • In an effort to increase mastery on state tests, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools has gotten rid of graded homework, extra credit, and behavior-related grading. Students can practice concepts until they are understood. The District asserts this new system has accountability because it requires more work on behalf of students, not less, when they do not understand material.
  • A coalition of three non-profit groups is on an anti-drop out crusade to address areas that prevent students from earning diplomas. Diplomas Now is piloting at three Columbus schools that have agreed to participate in a federally funded study on the program’s effectiveness.
  • ...

A knockout story in The Atlantic by education journalist Peg Tyre describes the wonderful turnaround of a Staten Island high school that the turnarounders attribute to a writing program. Yes, that’s right, writing.

This comes at a time when there is some debate about the Common Core English language arts standards (see here and here, as well as The Atlantic profile of David Coleman, and just about anything our Common Core guru Kathleen Porter-Magee has written) and the first contracts awarded by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (known, mercifully, as PARCC) to write the ELA tests for the Common Core.

Tyre, who is the author of The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve and The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents & Educators Must Do, has a great grasp of these issues and tells us that the writing program increased pass rates for the English Regents exam from 67 percent to 89 percent and global history from 64 to 75 in just two years. It is the latter bump that...

Education Reform Idol: The Reformiest State 2011

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As local school districts prepare to implement the state’s new third-grade reading guarantee, many are bemoaning the increased costs associated with providing more reading assessments and interventions to struggling K-3 readers (as required by law) and retaining more kids. The Ohio School Boards Association called the new law, and specifically its reporting requirements, “an unfunded mandate.”

The legislature did dedicate $13 million in competitive funding to support the new mandate, and last week the State Board of Education mulled recommending $105 million to support the law in the Ohio Department of Education’s FY2014-15 budget request. But would more money make a difference? Let’s take a look at the relationship between funding and reading achievement in the past.

Ohio had a reading guarantee on the books more than a decade ago (it was watered down before taking effect). At that time, with a governor (Taft) who had taken on improving early literacy skills as a primary policy objective and with the state coffers flush, Ohio poured millions into literacy improvement programs and professional development for teachers (via programs like OhioReads, the State Institutes for Reading Instruction, adolescent literacy grants, and summer intervention programs – to say nothing of...

Now what?

Checker and Mike autopsy the Chicago teachers’ strike and wonder why students at top schools have the cheating bug. Amber looks at why kids jst cn’t seam to rite.

Amber's Research Minute

National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011 (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, 2012).

A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.

The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012.

The Windy City is the moment's education show pony, but the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead.

While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school...

Perhaps the most seductive trap in all of education reform is the idea of replication, a.k.a. “scaling.” A charter school is high achieving? Turn it into a CMO! A curriculum is achieving big results? Bring it into every classroom in its district! An instructional strategy is clicking with teachers? Take it nationwide! In theory, this makes sense, best practices and all that. We should multiply success and shun failure. If something is working, why not replicate it?

Copying success doesn't always lead to success.
Photo by Andre W.

Too often, though, replication falls short of these high expectations. It ends up more like an old-fashioned Xerox, where each new copy is a little fainter and blurrier than the one that came before.

In education, the Xerox effect often stems from a shift in focus. In the high achieving schools and classrooms so many seek to copy, teachers and leaders work together with their eyes firmly trained on the goal of improving student achievement. In replication schools, however,...

Tom English

Guest blogger Tom English is husband of a teacher, father of two, sacristan, and freelance writer. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

In a September 5, 2012, issue of the Portland [Oregon] Tribune an article titled “Schools beat the drum for equity” is nominally about equity in education but could just as easily be a story about the racial inequities of peanut-butter sandwiches and noontime drum classes for black and Latino boys.

Peanut-butter sandwiches are racist, the story explains, because not all cultures have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their food pyramid; specifically, the Somali and Hispanic cultures. The noontime drum classes are racist because they are targeted to black and Latino boys even though the principal says no one has been turned away, irate parents’ comments to the contrary.

The principal of Harvey Scott K-8 School in Portland is the real focus of the article. Verenice Guiterrez is working hard to make sure that there is equity in education in her school and to improve education for students of color. She is doing so by following the guidelines of the Portland Public Schools, specifically of a program designed by consultant Glenn Singleton to eliminate racial educational disparity...

Martin R. West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has authored a new study focusing on the pros and cons of state policies that require retention of third-grade students who do not test sufficiently proficient in reading. Such a policy has been in place in Florida since 2003 and that policy has been used as the basis for similar efforts in other states, including Ohio which this year passed and signed into law Senate Bill 316. This law will require third graders to read at a state minimum standard to advance to fourth grade.

These policies rest upon a number of studies that show that proficient reading is the bedrock of all other learning going forward, and that a lack of reading proficiency at this critical stage of learning development leads to lower outcomes over the long-haul (e.g., higher intervention needs and increased dropout rates). West adds to this literature by examining the educational path of Florida students who were retained in third grade in 2003 over the ensuing six years to determine what impact the retention had on those students’ academic advancement.

West finds a significant short-term achievement boost in reading in the first two...