Articles in the Curriculum category

The week in blogs: But can your principal do this?

Blogger Fawn Johnson mentions “hapless Principal Krupp” from the Captain Underpants series and “deliciously evil Principal Rooney” from Ferris Bueller’s Day off. But my favorite fictional school leader is Principal Skinner from The Simpsons, who, many years ago, as I recall, escaped from some nefarious crooks who had locked him in the school basement by using — what else? — fifth grade science principles. Pretty cool!

Real principals don’t have to be quite as heroic, but, as Johnson notes in her National Journal blog, the job involves a lot more in the way of academic leadership than it once did. Citing recent a recent report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education, Johnson says that principals can be the key to turning around low-performing schools — if they’re given enough years to do the work.

This Week in Education’s John Thompson takes a skeptical look at credit recovery in his blog, aptly titled “In Praise of Seat Time.” He’s commenting on two other critiques of the practice by the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews and Title I-Derland’s Nancy Connor. Also see “Course Credits on the Quick, in the March/April issue of the Harvard Education Letter.

Lastly, it’s college acceptance/rejection season, and. Time’s Andrew Rotherham has some sage words for high schoolers receiving “the thin envelop.”

Lawrence Hardy|April 28th, 2012|Categories: Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , |

New Center report looks at ways to boost high school rigor

Advanced Placement courses, rigorous math curriculum, dual high school-college enrollment, and early college programs can all increase the rigor of America’s secondary schools, according to Is High School Tough Enough?, a new report by NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

While the report noted that more in-depth research is needed, it said that school boards interested in applying these four strategies need to consider issues such as funding, data collection, and increasing access for low-income and minority students.

“In today’s education landscape, many are beginning to re-think the high school experience,” said Patte Barth, Director of the Center.  “From Advanced Placement courses to dual enrollment, early college high schools, and even high-level math, the aim is to expose students to concepts, curricula, and ideas that will help them succeed in college or lead to a productive career.”

Barth said this emphasis is reflected in many policy trends, including an increasing “PreK-16” perspective as well as the recently developed Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, which most states have adopted in order to help produce college-ready and career-ready high school graduates.

Still, there is wide variation in secondary school rigor across the country, the report noted. It said that — while the term “rigor” is not easily defined — “many low-income schools lack access to a rigorous high school curriculum by any definition.” For example, according to a 2011 report by U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) 3,000 high schools serving nearly 500,000 students offer no classes in Algebra II, a gateway to higher math, college, and career readiness.

In a survey issued Tuesday, OCR expanded on that issue, noting, among other things, only 29 percent of high-minority high schools offered Calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with the lowest black and Hispanic enrollment. In addition, the report found that teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less than teachers in low minority schools in the same district. It also noted that African American students, particularly males, were far more likely to be expelled or suspended from school than their peers.

“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.  It is our collective duty to change that.”

Exposure to advanced courses can have a big impact on the educational success of low-income and minority students, the Center for Public Education report said.  

“For example, Hispanic students who passed an AP exam were nearly seven times more likely to graduate from college than their non-participating counterparts,” the Center’s report said. “Such findings buttress the argument that exposure to higher-level courses can translate into long-term gains for underrepresented students.”

Moreover, the Center report said that taking AP courses can improve students’ chances for success even if they don’t pass the AP exam. It said that only 10 percent of African-American students who did not take an AP course graduated within five years, compared with 37 percent who took an AP course and did not pass the exam, and 53 percent who took an AP course and passed.

 

Lawrence Hardy|March 7th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Board governance, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Discipline, Diversity, Educational Research, High Schools, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs: School violence, in many forms

School violence was in the news this week after a 17-year-old boy opened fire at a suburban Ohio high school and killed three students. One of the more provocative blogs on the incident, found in Time magazine, is titled: Ohio School Shooting: Are Parents to Blame? It noted that across the United States approximately 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms.

“We are not saying that every time a kid does something wrong, a parent must be held responsible or be blamed,” write the authors, Erika and Nicholas Christakis. “But a system that focuses its attention for kids’ failings everywhere but at home is equally blind. We hold hosts liable when a driver drinks at their home and kills someone while driving drunk. Having an unlocked, loaded gun in a home with a child under 16 should be a crime.”

As tragic as school shootings are, they aren’t nearly as common as another form of school violence: sexual abuse, writes Eduwonk blogger Andrew Rotherham in another Time piece. According to a 2007 investigation by the Associated Press, “2,570 educators were found to have engaged in sexual misconduct between 2001 and 2005 and more than 80 percent of those cases involved children.”

While 2,570 is miniscule compared to a national teaching force of more than 3 million, it’s still a large number, Rotherham said. And it means that states, school administrators, and school boards, must be vigilant in screening employees and protecting students.

“… Here’s the uncomfortable reality: people who want to molest children go where children are, and schools are an obvious place,” Rotherham writes. “After the last decade, anyone who is surprised that big institutions are vulnerable to sex-abuse scandals — think the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church — just hasn’t been paying attention.”

On another note, homeschooling has been much in the news recently, with GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s denunciations of public school and the federal and state role in education. Then, on Friday, a so-called “Tebow Bill” that would have allowed homeschooled students in Virginia to play interscholastic sports was narrowly defeated by a senate committee from that state. To find out more about homeschooling, where it’s been and where it’s going, see the excellent Feb. 29 blog in The Educated Reporter.

Finally, here’s a wonderful video of a innovative middle school math teacher who substitutes 40 cent note cards for an expensive whiteboard (her district can’t afford the latter) in an effort to help them correct common mistakes. Thanks to blogger Joanne Jacobs and The Teaching Channel.

Lawrence Hardy|March 2nd, 2012|Categories: Bullying, Curriculum, High Schools, Student Achievement, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs: MIT tries turning down the pressure

Greetings, prospective MIT freshman. Ready for your first essay question?

“What do you do for fun?”

If you think that’s a trick question on the application of the ultra-selective Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stuart Schmill, MIT’s Dean of Admission, assures you on Inside Higher ED  that it is not.

“The truth is that we’re looking for balance,” the application says.

Then, look at this: In the spaces where MIT asks applicants to list their AP, IB, or Cambridge classes, there are all of three spaces (although students can click a button to add more if they want.) The point is that MIT is trying, in one small way, to send the message that it’s not all about loading up on AP classes or signing up for every activity. Try telling that to some students at highly competitive high schools, who routinely enroll in five or more AP classes in a typical senior year.

MIT is on the right track. Question is, with most highly selective colleges looking at strength of program (that is, how may advanced classes a student takes) as a measure of student accomplishment, is MIT really going to give no edge to those with more college-level classes?

Speaking of trying to lay off the pressure, read Bill Gates in the New York Times on why public release of individual teacher performance assessments is not a good idea. And, also in the Times, see the insightful editorial “Shuttering Bad Charter Schools.”

Finally, in what can only be called The Best Twisting Left-Handed Over-the-Shoulder Pass in a Celebrity All-Star Game by a U.S. Secretary of Education, see the UTube video of Arne Duncan – former Harvard and Australian pro league basketball player — in a warm up to Sunday’s NBA All Star Game

Lawrence Hardy|February 26th, 2012|Categories: Curriculum, High Schools, Teachers|Tags: , , , |

Top Education Reads of 2011

The editors of American School Board Journal (ASBJ) have compiled their annual list  of the top 10 notable books in topics related to K-12 education from the last year in the magazine’s January 2012 issue.

“Our 2011 list reflects books on education that have a major impact on public opinion and are important to school leaders,” said Kathleen Vail, ASBJ’s Managing Editor.

Topping the list is Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools, one of most talked-about education books of the year, which portrays unions as the primary obstacle to school reform.

“Teachers unions continued to take a beating in 2011 in the court of public opinion, and several books on our list certainly reflect their place on the firing line,” Vail said.

Check out the full list at ASBJ.com.

Alexis Rice|January 4th, 2012|Categories: Curriculum, School Boards, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

Beware the blog that begins, “If you want my opinion….” because chances are you’re going to get it, whether you want to our not.

So, as I was saying, if you want my opinion (promise I’ll keep this short) on the whole Newt-Gingrich-wants-poor-kids-to-work-as-school-janitors thing, it’s not the idea itself that bothers me, it’s the attitudes that seem to support it.

That is, I could imagine a small charter-type school in a disadvantaged neighborhood where the students were charged with taking care of the building as  part of a team-building, esprit-de-corps type activity.

But to suggest, as the Republican presidential candidate did, that poor children as a group lack any kind of working role models — well, that to me is a bit much. Gingrich obviously hasn’t spent much time in a diverse American high school with lots of poor immigrants, where oftentimes the problem isn’t students not working, but working so much outside of school to help support stressed families that they have precious little chance of passing their courses.

For the record, here’s some of what Gingrich said, according to the New York Times’ Politics blog, which, in turn, quoted Politico:

You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

Among the many who criticized the candidate was Charles Blow, of the Times, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“Who in their right mind would lay off janitors and replace them with disadvantaged children — who should be in school, and not cleaning schools,” Weingarten said. “And who would start backtracking on laws designed to halt the exploitation of children?”

Others, including Peter Meyer of the Fordham Foundation, said Gingrich was on the right track.

“It was a bit odd to to see Charles Blow (of the New York Times) take out after Newt Gingrich for saying that ‘really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,’’’ Meyer said. “I had just returned from an inner city school where teachers and administrators and parents were saying the same things as Gingrich.  In fact, I’ve been hearing these complaints from teachers – and business leaders – for years.  Teaching children the ‘habits of working’ is a growing part of the school reform movement.”

Yes, there was other news this week. For starters, check out Joann Jacobs’s discussion of how schools’ emphasis on reading and math tests could be crowding out other subjects.

Lawrence Hardy|December 10th, 2011|Categories: Curriculum, Immigrants, School Board News, Urban Schools, Week in Blogs|Tags: , |

Align Pre-K and early grades, coalition says

High-quality preschool is essential for ensuring that all children — particularly disadvantaged children and English Language Learners — are launched onto a path of academic and career success, says a new report by the Pre-K Coalition, a group that includes NSBA and six other education organizations. Yet, as important as this advantage is, Pre-K is not some kind of educational “silver bullet,” and its successes must be built upon in early elementary school,

To get the most impact from Pre-K, the programs should be closely aligned with early elementary school (kindergarten through third grade) so gains made in preschool can be maintained and enhanced throughout the K12 years and beyond, says the coalition’s report, The Importance of Aligning Pre-k through 3rd Grade.

“Child development is a continuous process that must be fed and nurtured along the way,’ the report says. “Gains made in high-quality Pre-K programs must be sustained by quality education throughout the K-3 years. Likewise, skills developed in first grade must be reinforced and built upon in second grade.”

The report cites several impediments to aligning Pre-K with early elementary school, as well as strategies for addressing them. One issue is the lack of focus that policymakers have put on the early grades.

“Unfortunately, our education system is structured to pay the least attention to children’s progress during these critical years,” the report says. “Under current federal law, state and district accountability benchmarks focus primarily on student performance in grades three through eight. Intervention strategies and turn around models for schools ‘in need of improvement’ target these grades as well.”

While the new Common Core State Standards, which cover grades kindergarten through 12, will help states and districts focus on the entire K-12 continuum, schools need to provide “a continuous and well-aligned set of early learning experiences” in grades K-3 to achieve sustained success,” the report says.

School districts also have to work to finds ways to collaborate with community preschool programs, which may have different regulations, funding streams, and educational philosophies.

“To foster collaboration, some districts have implemented joint professional development opportunities for community-based early educators and teachers to come together to share experiences and align expectations,” the report says. “Other efforts may involve more formal program integration such as the sharing of program staff, space, or other resources between a public school and a Head Start provider.”

The report cites school districts in three communities that are successfully aligning Pre-K and early elementary school: Montgomery County, Md.; Nooksack Valley, Wash.; and Santa Maria Bonita, Calif.

In addition to NSBA, which is spearheading the coalition, the other members are: the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National Education Association.

Successfully aligning Pre-K and early elementary school will take hard work and the cooperation of educators and policymakers at all levels, said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.

“There must be a culture of shared responsibility among all partners (local, state, and federal as well as parents to support a comprehensive continuum of learning from pre-K to grade 3,” Bryant said. “We are asking the federal government to become a true partner with states and local communities to ensure that students receive a high quality start to learning.”

Lawrence Hardy|December 7th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Educational Research, Governance, National Standards, Preschool Education, School Board News, Student Achievement, Student Engagement|Tags: , , , , |

The week in blogs

My favorite response to the Heritage Foundation’s controversial study that teachers just aren’t as, well, smart as your typical college grad and, therefore, are way overpaid is this Modest Proposal from a reader of Jonathan Chait’s New York Magazine blog:

“How about we just don’t pay teachers anything at all and hope for the best possible outcome. That’s my kind of public policy.”

Ours too! And we have a think tank we want you to join.

Seriously, it’s fairly well known that education majors don’t score as highly on standardized tests, on average, as graduates in other fields. So, while some may consider such a study offensive and counterproductive, one could argue that there’s a certain logic in trying to compare wages by cognitive ability.

On the other hand, there’s a lot more that goes into teaching than test scores, many teachers enter the field from other majors; and cutting teacher salaries, as the report’s authors suggest, seems to be the last thing you’d want to do improve the profession. Finally, after an unprecedented year of public employee — and, especially, teacher — bashing, it’s disturbing to see teachers as targets once again.

For other views on the study, see Time magazine; former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee (via Politico), and a response by report co-author Andrew Biggs.

A lot of grand ideas come out of Washington, emanating from think tanks such as Heritage and, of course, from government itself. Right now, Congress is taking a critical look at one of the biggest “grand ideas” — No Child Left Behind — struggling to preserve its goal of higher achievement for all while revising or abolishing its more onerous mandates.

That’s what’s happening here; for a view of what it was like in the trenches, read Mandy Newport, a former teacher, NSBA Center for Public Education intern, and graduate student in education policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., as she describes the real-world impact of NCLB.

“No chalkboard space was left in classrooms because we were required to use that space to hang standards and essential questions. Science and social studies were taken away for the younger grades and replaced with test taking skills for an hour a day … Lesson plans had to be a certain font and size and were on a template given to teachers by the district.”

But if we just paid teachers less…..

Finally, read Newport’s evenhanded — and largely positive — review of Denver’s ProComp Pay for Performance plan.

Lawrence Hardy|November 4th, 2011|Categories: Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Educational Research, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Teachers, Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , , |

Half-day pre-k + half-day kindergarten = big reading gains by third grade

Full-day kindergarten and half-day preschool both lead to significant academic gains — the research consistently bears this out. Put together, these programs offer students the best chance to achieve at high levels.

But what if your district can’t afford that combination yet still wants to provide a rich learning experience for young children? Would it be better, in terms of later reading proficiency, if your students got a half day of preschool and only a half day of kindergarten, or full-day kindergarten alone?

In a report released today entitled “Starting Out Right: Pre-K and Kindergarten,” NSBA’s Center for Public Education looked at both options and concluded that the half-and-half approach — half day pre-k plus half-day kindergarten — is more effective in boosting reading scores at the third grade level, which is often described as the grade in which students are expected to have largely moved from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

The Center’s conclusion is more than academic: It has practical implications in these tough economic times, when school boards are faced with difficult choices about which program to cut, and which to maintain or expand. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), state funding for pre-k declined in 2010 for the first time in nearly a decade, leaving school districts to pay more of the cost. But the report suggests that cutting half-day preschool would be a mistake.

“Early education is vital,’ said Jim Hull, the Center’s senior policy analyst and author of the report. “With today’s release of the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] 2011 Nation’s Report Cards in Mathematics and Reading, this report gives us more information on how we can increase academic success in our schools by expanding access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.”

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

# Children who received a half-day of both pre-k and kindergarten were 3 percent more likely than those attending full-day kindergarten alone to comprehend words in sentence.

# These half-day pre-k, half-day kindergarten children were also 12 percent more likely than those in full-day kindergarten alone to be able to make “literal references” such as those expressed in the simile “Her eyes were as blue as the sky.”

# Children who received half-days of both pre-k and kindergarten were 18 percent more likely than those in full-day kindergarten alone to be able to extrapolate from their reading. That is, they were able to identify clues in a text and use those clues and their background knowledge to understand the contextual meaning of homonyms, such as whether a sentence containing the word “bear,” meant “to carry” or “an animal.”

In almost all cases, these results were more pronounced among African Americans, Hispanics, low-income students, and English language learners.

 

Lawrence Hardy|November 1st, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Preschool Education, Student Achievement, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , , |

Analysis: NBC learned its lesson with this Education Nation

Glenn Cook, American School Board Journal’s editor-in-chief, attended NBC’s Education Nation summit in New York for the second straight year. Here are his observations.

You can’t blame traditional public school advocates if they were filled with dread when NBC announced that Education Nation would return this fall. Last year the network bought into the hype surrounding the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” inexplicably tying the event to a flawed film that exhorted charters as the pancea for public education’s ills.

Thankfully, NBC has learned its lesson. This year’s event took pains to correct past wrongs as it recognized the complexities school leaders face in managing a public system that is open to all.

Starting with a screening of “American Teacher,” a documentary that helped erase some of the “bad teachers” taste left by “Superman,” and ending with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton, Education Nation featured a strong balance of heavy hitters from education, philanthropy, and politics.

You also had a touch of celebrity — basketball player Lebron James, actress Jennifer Garner, and what amounted to a family reunion with former Gov. Jeb Bush and First Lady Laura Bush participating in sessions — but in this case, it fit the overall tone.

The key word here is balance. Last year’s programming was flawed because it exhorted simple antidotes to complex problems. This year, silver bullets were nowhere to be found, but calls for more effective teaching and improvements to early education were.

You can watch many of the sessions online at www.educationnation.com, but here is my list of highlights:

• Start with “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters,” a fascinating hour-long session featuring Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, and three university professors. Held on Monday morning, it was the best, most concise presentation I’ve seen yet on why we need to reach children much, much earlier than we do.

• The dramatic rise in poverty rates was a focus throughout, especially in the session “What’s in a Zip Code?” moderated by Brian Williams. Poverty is reality for many people in today’s economy — Clinton was eloquent on this topic in the closing session — and communities must come together to do more.

• Education Secretary Arne Duncan was everywhere this year, participating in interviews with Tom Brokaw and responding to questions during various panels (a nice touch).

• We saw an entertaining back and forth between Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Diane Ravitch, author and professor of education at New York University. Their approaches are so different, but both made excellent points. Canada and Sal Khan, another Education Nation speaker, are scheduled to keynote NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference.

• Teacher and student accountability, as you might expect, was a recurring theme. Michelle Shearer, the current National Teacher of the Year from Maryland’s Urbana High School, said teachers “want to be evaluated on things that really matter.”

“There are all sorts of different ways of looking at student growth,” she said. “Whatever evaluation looks like in the end, it has to be a system of multiple measures, because often what’s most important are those intangibles … that are tough to put on a check list.”

• At the same session, Khaatim El, a former member of the Atlanta school board, addressed the cheating scandal that has plagued the district he served for almost a decade. “We wanted to be the hype,” he said of the allegations, which are based on the state assessments. “We wanted to be the first to get it right so bad.”

But El noted the district also made huge gains in NAEP scores during that time, an achievement untouched but overshadowed by the scandal. “I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the hard work that many educators put in,” he said. “We focused on the basics. Literacy instruction in elementary school. Autonomy for principals. We invested in professional development. Those things were overshadowed by the cheating scandal. And they were good things for kids.”

The setting for Education Nation was not perfect — the big tent in Rockefeller Plaza is a good idea in theory, but the humidity and poor audio were ever-present distractions. And while this year’s session was far more substantive, future years should stop belaboring the problems and focus instead on how to solve them. Panels featuring districts that have been successful at “what works,” with ideas and content that are easily imitated and replicated, would be a valuable start.

Chances are good that will happen. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) had a strong presence in the planning and execution of the meeting. Anne L. Bryant, our executive director, met with NBC officials about the content and answered audience questions in a video Q&A format prior to the event. Mary Broderick, NSBA’s president, was featured in a panel session with the mayors of Albuquerque, Baltimore, and Newark.

“What we’ve heard from the last two days of this conference is that we need to come together around a sense of urgency,” Broderick said during her session, noting that it takes a shared vision between the school board, the mayor’s office, and the community. “The vision needs to be of excellence. If that cohesive message can be carried through our schools … there’s nothing off the table.”

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