Best of best: curriculum and effective schools

“Victory Surrounded by Prisoners and Trophies” by Frans Floris I via The Metropolitan Museum of Art is licensed under CC0 1.0

Best of the Best

This compilation of ideas on improving education sounds really interesting.

Speaking of compilations and the best of the best

Paul Kirschner has compiled a list of articles in response to the question, “What article or articles do you feel are seminal articles in our field [educational psychology] that every (young) researcher should be aware of?”

More best of the best: the most effective schools aren’t only charters, even according to Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Institute has published a report on the characteristics of the most effective schools, according to it’s Schoolgrades.org rankings. Nice to see a healthy balance of both district and charter schools in this mix, and the report highlights the work of Brooklyn’s PS 172.

The report highlights the following generic traits of effective schools:

  • Strong Leaders
  • Engaged Parents
  • Discipline and a Culture of High Expectations
  • A Well-Mapped, Well-Rounded Curriculum
  • Extended Learning Time
  • Frequent Assessment
  • Highly Effective Teachers

Most of these are pretty common sense, but I truly wish more attention were paid to the necessity for a well-mapped, well-rounded curriculum.

Speaking of curriculum

 

Mike Petrilli on a promising model for OER.

“Anyone interested in helping teachers and students innovate and meet new standards should support this type of marriage of top-down funding and bottom-up design. Those of us in education reform have a bad habit of not finishing what we started, of chasing a new shiny idea every few years. Doubling down on curriculum reform is one important way to get the Common Core job done.”

Common Core may have helped increase the challenge in school curriculum, but it’s still too easy for most high school students

“more than half of 12th graders reported that their math work was always or often “too easy.” Many high school students also say that they don’t get much from school, and nearly 20 percent of high school seniors across the nation don’t “feel like they are learning” in math class.”

Interesting results of a curriculum review from Louisiana

I focused mostly on the ELA 6-8 side of things, since that’s my wheelhouse.

What was really interesting is that they slammed ReadyGen’s K-5 program, which is rated highly by EdReports.org, rating it as a Tier 3 curriculum—meaning “not representing quality.” ReadyGen is also the only Core Curriculum K-5 offered in NYC next year (a school can feasibly go it’s own way, but then must pay it’s own money to do so).

The other surprise was that they rated NYC’s other two middle school core curriculum, Code X and Expeditionary Learning (EL) EngageNY, as Tier 2, only “approaching quality.” Again, EL’s was rated top by EdReports. But I have to agree with the items that they knocked EL’s curriculum on: the fact that “It is unlikely that a teacher will be able to complete all modules in on school year” and that “there is no formal or consistent structure in place re: grammar and language conventions.”

What did they rate top tier ELA curriculum? Great Mind’s (of Eureka Math) new ELA curriculum, Wit & Wisdom, and Pearson’s new fancy online curriculum, myPerspectives.

I’ve taken a look at the samples available for both of the above, and I have to say that I’m a fan of Wit and Wisdom. It seems well-designed, clear, knowledge-based, and engaging. If anyone out there is using it in their school, please share your thoughts!

Pearson’s is also interesting. It’s got a fully digital platform for both teachers and students, making one wonder: are they attempting to slowly cut out the teacher altogether? Also making one wonder: maybe this is darkly ingenious . . . Other than the platform, however, this kind of sleekly packaged curriculum always rings alarm bells for me, as does Scholastic’s Code X. If it’s too pretty, I don’t trust it.

So we need more research on curricular impact

“Because no “taxonomy” exists of curricular features, research has not explored the elements of curriculum that really matter in student learning. We know very little about what makes a curriculum effective.”

From a new report on curriculum from StandardsWork

Comparability of state data is out the window

Part of the effort to set consistent standards across states naturally involved the desire for comparability of student performance. The Smarter Balanced and PARCC organizations were created to partner with states to do just that. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, states have opted for cheaper, less politically contentious, and less rigorous options. Just goes to show you what happens when there is a lack of federal “overreach” on such efforts.

Outsourcing grading.

A great idea.

Smörgåsbord: The Chaos Begins. The Work of Education Continues

What is there to say about the rude awakening that shook cosmopolitan, progressive minded Americans and the world?

Well, here’s a few positive spins on it:

  1. Trump is a chaos monkey that will assist us in building a better democracy by forcing us to re-establish the original balance of power our founders intended. (This would require the Republican party to pull up their Big Boy pants and actually govern.)
  2. The one thing that united Clinton and Trump campaigns was a commitment to investing in infrastructure — and it is the one thing Democrats are already reaching across the aisle to work on.

What does it mean for education politics and policy?

  1. Rick Hess: Who the heck knows?
  2. Chad Aldeman: NCLB will suddenly look really good to Democrats, on hindsight. And you can kiss any education related investment goodbye.
  3. Elizabeth Green: Education reformers will pivot their attention to long-neglected rural and rust-belt communities.
  4. Neerav Kingsland: Charter proponents need to recognize the populist appeal of local, traditional public schools and thus address fears that public schools will be harmed by charter expansion.
  5. Matt Barnum: If Trump actually wants to follow through on his anti-Common Core rhetoric, he’d paradoxically have to wield federal power.

What relation does this election have to knowledge or the lack thereof?

  1. Rick Kahlenberg: Civics and democratic values need to be explicitly taught. (But Andrew Rotherham and Doug Lemov are angry about the anti-choice aspect of his piece)
  2. Problems with our democracy are due to lack of knowledge. For that, we can blame schools.
  3. George Thomas: In our shift to populism, we’ve lost the educative purpose of a representative democracy as envisioned by Madison.
  4. “Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment.”
  5. An additional bonus of a knowledge-rich curriculum is that it can help kids do better on tests.
  6. Some are blaming Facebook and social media for the segregation of our attention from those who could challenge our “crony beliefs”.
  7. Three reasons to teach a knowledge-rich curriculum: cognitive, socio-cultural, and economic.

On Knowledge and Curriculum

500px-power_of_knowledge-svg

Forget the presidential debates, this is more important.

I attended a PD today that featured cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham. It’s pretty rare that my employer, the NYCDOE, offers professional learning that has someone presenting from the academic research realm, so when I saw this was happening, I jumped on it.

I’ve been following Willingham’s articles in American Educator and have read Why Kids Don’t Like School, and I’ve been convinced of the importance of a strong curriculum and building knowledge for a while now, but it was nice to get a direct and clear reminder of what really matters in literacy, especially when that message is so very rare.

There were a lot of great ideas and takeaways on motivating children to read at home and on reading comprehension in general, but there were two main points that especially struck me during his presentation (the summary and phrasing is my own):

  1. Knowledge needs to be “in the mind” in order for reading comprehension to be effortless, rather than a problem-solving struggle to determine meaning.
  2. We can only build the broad, world knowledge required for literacy through a carefully sequenced and structured curriculum.

If you take these points to be accurate, then the implications are quite revolutionary in comparison to the regular practices of most schools and districts.

Let’s break down why this runs so counter to the norm.

Here’s what would need to happen:

  • If knowledge must be “in the mind” (rather than on Google) than that means the knowledge considered worth studying must be reinforced and revisited, tested, interleaved, sequenced, and spaced throughout a school’s curriculum.
  • That means across classrooms and across grades.
  • Therefore, a school needs to have come to a consensus on the topics, texts, vocabulary, and concepts that are most essential to know within and across each academic domain.
  • That means that each teacher (or at the very least, a department head or team) will have to have invested a substantial amount of time, both individually and collaboratively, into studying those texts and topics themselves in order to know how to design a learning environment, projects, activities, field trips, and interim assessments that will provide the access to and reinforce that knowledge for all students.
  • This would of course be accompanied by adjusting the curriculum periodically based on an analysis and reflection on interim assessment data and student work.

Sound pretty straightforward? No. Here’s the norm in most schools:

  • What most prioritizes a school’s focus are external assessments, such as state tests. ELA tests in this vein consist of random passages of text that are meant to focus on isolated reading skills devoid of knowledge. Therefore, what is taught and focused upon are the practice of skills devoid of knowledge.
  • That’s what constitutes an ELA curriculum for many schools.
  • A teacher is either not provided a curriculum, or is provided a curriculum but no support, or is provided a curriculum and support but the curriculum is not oriented around sequentially building knowledge.
  • Even when a curriculum might be provided and might be relatively well-crafted (this is a rarity, and if you know of such a curriculum, tell me. I can name two. Maybe three), I have yet to have seen any curriculum that still does not require a teacher to revise and adjust it substantially based on the needs of their students, the circumstances of their school or classroom, or their own particular style and knowledge.
  • Thus, in those rare schools where there is even a coherent curriculum “in place,” the point made above about investment of time still holds. A substantial amount of time needs to be spent in designing and continually molding the school around and in support of that knowledge embedded within the curriculum.
  • Most of what is taught in different classrooms in a school has little coherency across a school.
  • What is a taught in any given classroom is rarely reinforced via low stakes quizzing across an entire school year.

See the problem? From what I’ve seen in much of the professional development sessions and focus of schools and districts is a focus on individual teacher strategies and practices. But let’s get real. If a school does not come together to determine and design it’s mission around the knowledge and skills it will teach sequentially and systematically, then there will be little impact.

For ideas on how a school might begin to do this work, check out my next post on this topic: On Threshold Concepts & Experiences

Social Networks as the Hidden Curriculum

Students learn as much about themselves and about the world from the informal curriculum provided by their friends as they do from the formal curriculum provided by the faculty.

—Nicholas A. Christakis, “Making Friends in New Places” in the NY Times

Why is a National Curriculum So Outrageous?

By United States Department of Education (ED) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A thought today about the “backlash” against the Common Core. I was thinking about how those of us who generally support it are always gently reminding folks that no, it’s not a “national” curriculum, nor any curriculum whatsoever.

Another common refrain while engaged in such backpedaling, especially in conservative quarters, is to lament the involvement of the federal government in the standards, when they incentivized state engagement through Race to the Top funding. Why did those meddling Feds have to get involved in state education business whatsoever?

But there’s a strange void in this discussion in our nation–very few would openly suggest that it would be better if our federal government got more involved in the arena of public education. And no one would possibly suggest anything so unfeasible and impolitic as developing a national curriculum.

Yet when it comes to public health, is anyone really questioning the importance of federal involvement, oversight, and infrastructure in the protection of our nation’s citizens against outbreaks of disease?

When the CDC speaks and acts on issues, Americans take it seriously. Meanwhile, our secretary of education travels across the country in a bus like an itinerant musician, trying to drum up support for federal initiatives.

The very little power that our federal government wields in the realm of education is to channel funding down to states; that Obama’s administration utilized that limited funding stream to incentivize its priorities seems not so much intrusive, but rather innovative. What other mechanism do they have, other than bully pulpit speeches?

Why is the development of a national curriculum so unfeasible as to be unspeakable in our country? Would it really be such a horror to have guidance and direction from our federal government on topics of study that an appointed commission of educators could develop for use in our public institutions? The USDOE, then, would stand for the content of its curricula, and curricula could be publicly reexamined and determined on a recurring basis.

If there really were an outbreak of Ebola that struck more than a handful of American people, then fingers would unerringly point to our federal government. Why? Because the danger of our entire nation would be at stake, even if the fault originally might be attributable to local institutions. Yet we have thousands upon thousands of our nation’s children attending schools where they are denied access to knowledge and skills that would provide them with greater opportunity. Is that really a “local” or “state” matter? Because it seems to me much more critical than Ebola to the future well-being of the United States.