Curriculum & Instruction

“No excuses” charter schools have shown themselves to be immensely successful at educating low-income and minority students. But how successful have they been at preparing these youngsters for the rigors of college? This American RadioWorks documentary profiles the YES Prep charter network in Houston, which is wrestling with that exact question. YES Prep runs eleven sixth through twelfth grade schools, serving 7,000 students in Space City. The charter network boasts a 100 percent four-year college-acceptance rate—but only a 40 percent college-graduation rate, which has YES Prep staffers confused. Their students all take AP courses—and pass them at rates over double the national average. The school's curricula seems like it should prepare graduates for college. YES Prep staffers are now investigating the role that “grit”—the willingness to work harder and longer than most others would consider rational—may play in determining college success. They found, for example, that those who most struggled in their YES Prep schools fared the best when they got to college, showing that academic perseverance may matter more than innate smarts. Documentarian Emily Hanford also reminds us, however, that these students may have also succeeded because they were able—and knew how—to find and receive help on a...

The premise of Paul Tough’s excellent new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character—that cognitive ability matters, but character traits like tenacity, curiosity, and optimism matter more—is a strong challenge to my long-held notion that, when students struggle, whether in high school or college, much of that is attributable to their lack of academic preparedness. How Children Succeed largely argues otherwise, but there is a brief but fascinating account late in the book that suggests we shouldn’t be too quick to worship at the altar of grit alone.

playing black
Is school just like chess? Perhaps not. 
Photo by Adam Raoof.

The first half of Tough’s book unpacks clinical research that demonstrates the importance of parents protecting children from adversity in the first years of life. But it is the ability to persist in difficult tasks that ultimately seems to lead to success. Tough’s book, broadly speaking, makes the case that, insofar...

 

 

Special education is a maze of complexity, highly bureaucratic and compliance driven, often a point of contention between educators and parents, frequently litigious, and the single fastest growing portion of spending on public education. It has been largely impervious to change or improvement efforts. Worse, despite the spending children in special education programs are not making gains academically. 

Can special education be done better while controlling its growth? This is the question we posed to Nathan Levenson, one of the country’s leading thinkers on doing more with fewer resources in special education and whose District Management Council has done extensive work with local school districts here in the Buckeye State.

The result is a thought-provoking policy paper, Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio. In it, Levenson suggests three major opportunities, along with concrete examples, for making special education more efficient and better for Ohio’s students.

Robert Pondiscio, a vice president at the Core Knowledge Foundation and editor of its blog, posed an interesting question on Twitter this week:

I’ve seen bad schools with good test scores before. Any good schools with bad test scores?

It’s a timely and important question that gets to the heart of the emerging debate over whether standardized tests can fairly and accurately measure student learning, and whether accountability systems based on their results are too often mislabeling successful teachers and schools as “failures.”

Obviously, no accountability system is perfect, but we can all agree that one that gets it wrong as often as it gets it right is in need of serious reform. But is there any proof that is happening?

No accountability system is perfect, but we can all agree that one that gets it wrong as often as it gets it right is in need of serious reform.

Enter Kristina Rizga, a Berkeley-educated muckraking journalist who recently took the reins as the education reporter at Mother Jones after stints at Wiretap Magazine and AlterNet. In preparation for her new article, “Everything You’ve Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong,” Rizga spent a year “embedded” in Mission High...

Eek. Vouchers + creationism = liberal horror, teacher-union field-day, and at least a small risk to the school-choice movement. Politically and strategically, it would be so much simpler if those “voucher schools” would just behave themselves!

God-Creates-Adam-Sistine-Chapel
If only Michaelangelo had taken on voucher accountability too. 
Photo by ideacreamanuelaPps

But how upset should one really be about the AP report from Louisiana that some of the private schools participating in the Pelican State’s new voucher program “teach creationism and reject evolution”?

State Superintendent of Education John White offered the correct policy response: All voucher students must participate in the state assessments, which include science. “If students are failing the test, we’re going to intervene, and the test measures [their understanding of] evolution.” In other words, the schools can do what they like but if their voucher-bearing students don’t learn enough to pass the state tests, the state will do something about it—ultimately (under Louisiana regulations) eliminating those schools from eligibility to participate in the...

While this weekend had plenty of noteworthy education news, today I would like to note the passing of a friend of mine, Staley Keith, who made me understand something about schools and racism. He died just after the Center for Civil Rights Remedies released a troubling study on race and school suspensions and would have nodded knowingly had he seen it. Writes Gary Orfield, head of the Civil Rights Project, which published the study,

The findings in this study are deeply disturbing. Students who are barely maintaining a connection with their school often are pushed out, as if suspension were a treatment. The statistics on the use of suspension for African American and special education students are cause for great concern. We already know that African American males are disproportionately placed into categories of special education that are associated with extremely poor outcomes. We now see that these same students face incredibly high rates of suspension. Every dropout costs society hundreds of thousands of dollars over the student’s lifetime in lost income, and removing a large number of students from school undermines a community’s future. In a society that is incarcerating a large number of...

Flying squirrels!

After a week’s hiatus, Mike and Rick catch up on the Romney-Ryan merger, creationism in voucher schools, and the ethics of school discipline. Daniela explains teachers’ views on merit pay.

Amber's Research Minute

Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession by Sarah Rosenber and Elena Silva with the FDR Group - Download the PDF

A version of this post originally appeared on the Shanker Institute blog.

Up until now, the Common Core (CCSS) English language arts (ELA) standards were considered path-breaking mostly because of their reach: This wasn’t the first time a group attempted to write “common” standards, but it is the first time they’ve gained such traction. But the Common Core ELA standards are revolutionary for another, less talked about, reason: They define rigor in reading and literature classrooms more clearly and explicitly than nearly any of the state ELA standards that they are replacing. Now, as the full impact of these expectations  starts to take hold, the decision to define rigor—and the way it is defined—is fanning the flames of a debate that threatens to open up a whole new front in America’s long-running “Reading Wars.”

Game of Risk
A new front opens on a war worth waging. 
Photo by Ben Stephenson.

The first and most divisive front in that conflict was...

The “college for all” klaxon has reached near deafening levels, with much attention paid to ensuring that every youngster has access to the courses necessary to prepare him or her for post-secondary work. But as more kids are flung into mandatory college-prep courses, what happens to the high achievers who already occupied desks in those classes? So asks a new study by Takako Nomi from the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Following six cohorts of Chicago high school students (more than 18,000 in toto, spread across close to sixty schools), Nomi examines the consequences of a 1998 Chicago policy mandating that every ninth grader take Algebra I. First, Nomi finds that this algebra-for-all policy resulted in schools’ opening mixed-ability classrooms—and all but abandoning practices of tracking. The resulting mixed-level classes “had negative effects on math achievement of high-skill students.” To wit: Rates of improvement on math tests slowed for those top-notch pupils placed in heterogeneous classrooms (findings consistent with our own prior work on the topic). All students deserve to be challenged to achieve their full potential. This includes our highest flyers, whose needs are too often subjugated to the grand plans of social engineers.

SOURCE: Takako Nomi, “...

Innovation: It’s an education reform cliché. But what is innovation, really?

Ask most people about innovation and they’ll probably talk about products—airplanes, laptops, smartphones. But innovation also refers to process. That’s what blended learning is for education. It turns the process of teaching upside down.

Late last month, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in partnership with Knowledge Works and Reynoldsburg City Schools, welcomed Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements, to Ohio to speak with local educators and district leaders. Founded in 2010, Education Elements is a California-based company that advises schools on how to adopt and implement blended learning models. Education Elements has assisted charters (KIPP Los Angeles), traditional public school districts (Houston Independent School District), and parochial schools (Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco).

Kim began the conversation with an audience that included superintendents, teachers, lawmakers, and state board members by describing his blended learning model. According to Kim, blended learning has three goals:

  • To differentiate teaching by breaking the classroom into smaller groups
  • To increase the collection and use of student achievement data to improve teaching
  • To create more efficient schools

How does blended learning achieve these goals?

First, blended learning can address some...

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