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Articles in the Curriculum category

The week in blogs

It’s summer — time to break the routine. So, in that spirit, let me begin this column with a subject that is truly dear to my heart:

Interesting Facts About Your Week in Blogs Editor

Readers, did you know that:

A) I’m a champion swimmer*

* in the struggle-across-the-pool category

B) My wife says I have distinctive taste when it comes to home decorating*

* distinctively bad taste

I could go on, but, you get the point: Place a qualifying asterisk (*) after almost any assertion, and you can pretty much claim anything. It doesn’t make much difference when the subject is my swimming ability or home decorating prowess. But if I did the same with, say, a piece purporting to compare the relative advantages of charter school start ups to traditional public school turnarounds, the consequences might be  greater.

To his credit, Mike Petrilli does indeed qualify his assertion in a Fordham Institute blog entitled Charter start-ups are 4 times as likely to succeed as district turnarounds* (Note big asterisk). But that doesn’t stop him from making sweeping policy pronouncements based on data from just 19 schools. That’s the number of schools (in 10 states studied)  in which 1) the start up charter was near a traditional school with state reading and math proficiency in the bottom 10 percent, and 2) either school subsequently increased its performance to above the state average.

Those 19 schools further break down to 15 charters and just four traditional schools, meaning, Petrilli concludes, that serious questions must be raised, “about the wisdom of the federal government pumping $3 billion into school turnaround efforts instead of using some of the money to replicate and scale up successful charters.”

Lawrence Hardy|June 10th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Week in Blogs, Diversity, Educational Research, Urban Schools, School Reform, Student Achievement, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

The week in blogs

It’s the good elementary school teacher who tells her students: “It’s Okay to ask questions if you don’t understand.” It doesn’t mean you’re dumb; there could be many reasons why you’re lost.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a strong advocate for public schools, seems to have taken that axiom to heart. In a sometimes darkly humorous video clip posted on This Week in Education, he shows that sometimes you can’t follow what someone is saying (in this case, someone testifying before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce) because, well, she isn’t making any sense.

“What are you telling me?” proclaims a somewhat exasperated Miller, after a witness attempts to explain that all those ill-defined private Education Management Organizations (EMOs) that are increasingly running public charter schools really are accountable to their public boards (even though they typically withhold the most basic information from them) because, well, they should be accountable — and, doggone it, it’s just the right thing to do. (Or something like that; I didn’t get it either.)

“I don’t understand what you’re telling me.” the congressman deadpans.

Watch it. Laugh. And maybe — weep.

Speaking of accountability, in a provocative Op-Ed in the New York Times, author and education historian Diane Ravitch says that a lot of the dramatic short-term gains of charters “reconstituted” schools, and other highly touted programs “are the result of statistical legerdemain.” That drew a sharp response by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Alter called Don’t Believe the Critics Education, Education Reform Works.

And what do the kids think about this whole accountability thing? We can’t speak for all of them, of course, but the blogger “Miss Malarkey” has provided a helpful Top Ten list of “comments made by my third graders” during their first ever New York State tests.

My favorite: “Wait, is this the real test?”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|June 3rd, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Week in Blogs, School Reform, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

How ambitious is too ambitious?

SampleIt sounds great in theory: Raise standards—and students will rise to the occasion.

But is that always the case?

That question currently is under debate in Fairfax County, Va., where some parents are challenging the plans of county school officials to phase out many honors courses.

School officials say the move makes sense. They want more students—particularly minority students—to test themselves to the fullest by enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

“We’ve found that traditionally underrepresented minorities do not access the most-rigorous track when three tracks are offered,” Peter Noonan, Fairfax County’s assistant superintendent for instructional services, told the Washington Post. “But when two tracks are offered, they do.”

So, in schools where an AP class is offered in a subject, officials plan to discontinue any parallel honors courses.

Not all parents see the decision as that simple. Without that middle ground course offering, opponents say, some students will decide that AP courses are too challenging academically or will demand more work than they’re willing to take on.

For those students, the only alternative remaining will be standard track courses. And some will choose to “dumb down” their education with less-academically challenging classes.

Enough parents are raising concerns that the school board has agreed to review its decision, but it’s unclear whether supporters of honors courses can resist what the Post describes as “a national trend to reduce the number of ‘tracks’ for students.”

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|May 26th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs

Living in the Washington, D.C., area can make you feel like a real mover and shaker — even if the only moving and shaking you do is on the dance floor. Case in point, watching my 9-year-old daughter’s soccer game one weekend, I couldn’t help but overhear a parent from the other team talking rather loudly and importantly on his cell phone, saying something about “our position regarding the European Union.”

Which, of course, made me think: “What’s my position regarding the European Union — and do I need to phone that in?” No, actually, it made me think: “What a cool place to live — a place where Big Things are being decided.”

In truth, most of us here spend more time talking about those Big Things than deciding them — or being around the people who decide them. An exception occurred last December, on the deadest of Friday afternoons before the Holidays, when I attended a small seminar in a nondescript building off Dupont Circle in the District.

The subject: common core standards.

Lawrence Hardy|May 20th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Week in Blogs, Diversity, Educational Research, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

New on

Much research and most stories on school reform focus on how underperforming schools have made dramatic improvements, typically through partnerships and collaboration between the school board, district employees, and community.

In his latest installment, ASBJ contributing editor Douglas Reeves argues the same approach and attention should be placed on high performing schools that challenge themselves to be even greater.

Reeves take’s a look at Wisconsin’s Hudson High School, where remarkable gains have been achieved without sweeping changes in personnel, a windfall of funds, or watered down student expectations.

Rather, Reeves writes, Hudson focused on the essence of teaching: curriculum, assessment, feedback, and hard work.

To read more about this good to great story, go here. But hurry, it’s available for free viewing only for a limited time.

Naomi Dillon|May 19th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Educational Research, Board governance, Student Achievement, Leadership, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

Financial literacy a hot topic, as recession reveals more needs to be done

stockvault_9810_20080130Beginning in September, Virginia schools will be required to teach a standalone financial education course to its high school students, and as can be expected the state mandate has touched off a vigorous debate among various special interest and education groups about the wisdom of a such a move.

Having just written a piece on financial literacy for the May edition of ASBJ, which is online and available for free viewing for a limited time, it was familiar territory to me and the arguments for each side are compelling.

On the one hand, there are school districts, which are already under serious financial strain with little to suggest that the pull between what they are able to do and what they are required to do will ease up anytime soon. Adding one more requirement, particularly one that is unfunded and some say is satisfied through other courses like math and social studies, is just plain impractible, as well as an infringement on local control.

On the other hand, we have a clear example right in front of us, of what can happen when ordinary citizens are not equipped with sound financial knowledge. Sure, these are skills that should be taught at home but the reality is they’re not.

Naomi Dillon|May 16th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, NSBA Publications, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

Have you heard the news? Well, it’s all over the Internet, so it must be true.

Here’s the headline:

Budget Mix-Up Provides Nation’s Schools With Enough Money to Properly Educate Students

The story “quotes” prominent Washington politicians, falling over one another to apologize for the error.

“Obviously, we did not intend for this to happen, and we are doing everything in our power to right the situation and discipline whoever is responsible,” said a House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.) – but not really. His “quote” and the headline – along with statements from chagrinned Democrats as well – appear in The Onion, the satirical daily that seems to get all its facts wrong but still manages to come up with the truth.

Would that a little budget “slip up” could fix everything regarding school funding, but in the real world of public education it was not the case, as battles raged on over just how to define equity in education and in society.

In the Fordham Institute’s “Flypaper” blog, Peter Meyer charged that protesting New York teachers and their sympathizes, who marched this week on Wall Street to protest Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to cut more than 6,000 teaching positions, were fomenting “a class war.”  (Yes, we’re horrified too.)

“Even if one sympathized with  these folks’ sentiments about the financial ‘inequality crisis’ or believed for a second or two that it was the big banks that ‘crashed our economy,'” the question is where the big unions – and their contrail of sympathizers — have been during the inequality crisis in education the last thirty years,” Meyer writes. “Their silence in the face of crushing inner city educational failures has been deafening.”

Lawrence Hardy|May 13th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Urban Schools, Policy Formation, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

Driving data and staying on track

12284172421897139812CoD_fsfe_Checklist_icon_svg_medBeing “data-driven” is generally considered a good thing. The U.S. Department of Education collects data, of course, as do states and local school districts. But whether this information is: a) useful, b) not useful, or c) grossly misleading depends on what data is collected and how it’s interpreted.

It’s a tricky business that’s anything but straightforward, as the Center on Education Policy shows in a recent letter to the two consortia that are developing common core standards for the states.

CEP supports the work of SBAC and PARCC (the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers), but it says numbers can unwittingly obscure or distort the information they’re supposed to illuminate.

Citing a common example, CEP notes that NCLB, with its single-minded emphasis on the percentage of students achieving proficiency, does “not tell the whole story of what’s happening in student achievement.”

“The percentage proficient places an  implied value on bringing students to a minimal level of efficiency,” the letter says, “but does not capture achievement gains above the proficiency cut scores (or below it for students who have not yet reached proficiency).”

Naomi Dillon|May 9th, 2011|Categories: Curriculum, Educational Research, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs

If you can’t read, you can’t learn. That statement might seem obvious.

Yet in the United States, according to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash), there are more than 8 million students in grades four though 12 who are reading below grade level. At this time in their schooling – that is, beyond third grade – they should have moved from a “learning-to-read” mode to one sometimes called “reading to learn.” And the fact that they have not reached this point, or have only partially reached it, means they will have trouble keeping up with their peers, graduating from high school, and succeeding in life.

“The students of today will be the workers of tomorrow,” Murray told a group of literacy coaches recently. “Trying to find jobs, struggling to make their way in a world in which literacy is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.”

Murray, who received NSBA’s Special Recognition Award last month, is introducing the Literacy Education for All Results for the Nation or the LEARN Act, which would authorize $2.35 billion in federal support for literacy programs spanning birth through age 12.

Lawrence Hardy|May 6th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Week in Blogs, Diversity, Educational Research, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

The week in blogs

Far from the American School Board Journal to get all tizzied up over the Royal Wedding. We’ve got more important things to do.

However, seeing as I’ve already mentioned it ….. did you see the lady in the church with the big black hat that covered one whole side of her face? What was that about? And what’s it like for the guy sitting next to her facing a veritable “hat wall” on his left?

We’re journalists here; we have to ask these things. And, we must add, in the interests of full disclosure: “Tizzied,” apparently, is not a word. But of course it should be.

Now back to the matter at hand: Yes, Education. Did you know that Princess Kate, if and when she becomes queen, would be the first English queen to get a college education? That revelation comes courtesy of Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet, although Strauss notes that the best educated and brainiest queen “was probably the brilliant Queen Elizabeth I, who was leaning Latin at age 5.”  (And we thought it was Bush/Obama that pushed academics into kindergarten.)

In other, non-wedding-related, news, Joanne Jacobs highlights a troubling report from the Education Trust, which looked at high-performing schools in Maryland and Indiana and found they still left certain subgroups of students behind.

John Thompson, of This Week in Education, seconds education consultant Andrew Rotherham’s assertion that “intention” is key to schools that succeed despite student poverty.  Rotherham made the comment in an interview on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

While on Fresh Air’s site, hear Diane Ravitch, who spoke at NSBA’s Federal Relations Conference earlier this year, on the pitfalls of standardized testing.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|April 29th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Week in Blogs, Educational Research, School Reform, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|
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