If you like your curriculum, you can …

“If You Like Your Curriculum, You Can Keep Your Curriculum,” Common Core advocates promised. But it ain’t necessarily so, writes Jason Bedrick at Cato @ Liberty. “Common Core’s primary backers have been assuring us for years that the standards do not mandate any specific curriculum or prescribe any particular method of teaching,” he notes.

Six months ago, Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern wrote in National Review Online:

Here’s what the Common Core State Standards do: They simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it’s up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards.

Now Porter-Magee and Fordham’s Chester Finn argue that the standards must change “classroom practice” to be effective, notes Bedrick.

Furthermore, the National Council on Teacher Quality, backed by Fordham, is grading teacher training programs on whether “the program trains teacher candidates to teach reading as prescribed by the Common Core State Standards.”

“Prescribed?”  I thought Common Core didn’t prescribe pedagogy.  But that was back when I was young and we were dating.

“Fordham and others trying to hold down the right flank of the Common Core advocacy campaign” need to “keep their story straight,” concludes Bedrick.

Can digital learning transform education?

More than 2 million K-12 students are enrolled in online courses and that’s projected to hit 10 million by 2014. Can Digital Learning Transform Education? asks Education Next.

First, We Need a Brand New K-12 System, writes Chester Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute and editor of Education Reform for the Digital Era. 

“Local districts and their school boards want to control online learning, Finn writes.

Yet leaving districts and their boards in charge of digital instruction will retard innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration, and smart competition. It will raise costs; undermine efficiency; block rich instructional options; restrict school choice and parental influence; and strengthen the hand of other interest groups, including but not limited to already too-powerful teachers unions.

Unions are “determined to prevent digital learning from shrinking their ranks or weakening their power bases.”

In California, for example, the state teachers union’s model contract requires that:  “No employee shall be displaced because of distance learning or other educational technology.”

. . . Elsewhere, unions have ensured that class-size limits nonsensically apply to online schools.

As Digital Learning Draws New Users, Transformation Will Occur, counters Michael Horn, executive director of education at the Innosight Institute.

. . . moving away from seat-time requirements toward a competency-based system, in which students advance upon mastery of a concept or skill, is critical to unleashing the full power of digital learning. But because today’s education system was modeled after a factory, time rather than learning is the primary unit of measure.

“Education regulations for the digital-learning world of tomorrow will almost certainly be implemented piecemeal,” Horn concludes. Online learning will be held to a higher standard at first.

Next gen science standards

Next Generation Science Standards, now under development, promise to prepare U.S. students for the global economy. But the standards need work, Fordham reviewers argue.

In trying to create fewer, deeper standards, the drafters haven’t developed some prerequisite skills and content and focus too much on conceptual understanding and process rather than scientific knowledge, according to a review team led by biologist Paul Gross.

They went overboard on “scientific practices,” seemingly determined to include some version of such practices or processes in every standard, whether sensible (and actionable, teachable, assessable) or not. This led to distorted or unclear expectations for teachers and students and, often, to neglect of crucial scientific content. For instance, students are frequently asked to “construct explanations” or “construct models.” In addition to being unclear (how does one “construct explanations”?), such directives imply that how students learn the content articulated in the standards is as important as whether they learn it. In reality, content standards should focus on delineating the essential content, and should leave it to curriculum developers and teachers to parse how best to scaffold learning, devise pedagogy, and plan classes.

In addition, the draft science standards aren’t well aligned with Common Core math standards, the reviewers write.

However, it’s only a draft. There’s plenty of time to improve the standards.


How much will Common Core cost?

States that take a “business as usual” approach will spend an extra $8.3 billion to implement Common Core Standards, concludes a new Fordham study. However, “bare bones” implementation would cost $927 million less than current spending. A “balanced approach” would cut added costs to $1.2 billion.

Going to online learning materials and teacher training would provide most of the savings, notes Ed Week.

A Pioneer Institute study estimates states would spend $16 billion over seven years to move to Common Core Standards.

“Enemies and critics of the common core want you to believe the worst: that besides being hard, it will be very pricey and likely ineffective,” Chester E, Finn Jr., Fordham’s president, wrote in a foreward to the new report. “But this report says otherwise. Implementation can be modestly priced and likely more effective if states are astute enough to (a) implement differently, (b) deploy resources that they’re already spending, and (c) take advantage of this rare opportunity to revamp their education delivery systems, too.”

Fordham’s estimate doesn’t include the cost of computers and servers needed for online assessments, counters Theodor Rebarber, author of the Pioneer Institute study.


Late bloomers are rare

Children’s academic future is decided by third grade: Average students rarely turn into high achievers in later years. So warns K5 Learning after re-crunching the numbers in Fordham Institute‘s study, Do High Flyers Maintain their Altitude? (pdf.)

Graph of likelihood of becoming a high achiever in math in grade 8 vs grade 3 math achievement

While Fordham looked at progress for children in the top 10 percent, K5 Learning looked at the also-rans.  Children who performed in the bottom 1/3 in reading or math in grade 3 had less than a 1% chance of being high achievers by grade 8.  Even average students in grade 3, (between 40 and 60 percentile) had less than a 5% chance of becoming high achievers later.

Kids performing in the 60-70 percentile range in grade 3 had about a 8-9% chance of becoming high achievers by grade 8.

“High achiever” is defined as scoring in the 90th percentile or above in reading and math. It is possible to have a decent life with less exalted performance.

K5 Learning provides “reading and math enrichment.” If you hire a tutor, will your 60th percentile second grader turn into a Harvard-bound third grader? There are no guarantees.


Don’t blame NCLB for high-flyers’ decline

Fordham’s high-flyers’ report, which argued top students are getting short shrift, is a Phantom Menace, argue Ulrich Boser and Diana Epstein of the Center for American Progress. While many high-achieving students don’t maintain their performance over time, there’s no evidence that efforts to close achievement gaps are responsible, they write.

All of Fordham’s data came from the post-NCLB time period, so without a pre-NCLB comparison, there is no way to make a claim that NCLB caused the decline.

Gifted and Talented programs are expanding in many states, write Boser and Epstein.  More fourth and eighth students are scoring at the highest level in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

10 big issues for ESEA

Fordham’s ESEA Briefing Book looks at the 10 issues that must be resolved to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind).

It’s party time for Jay Greene, who has a drinking game linked to frequent mentions of  “tight-loose” regulation.

Fordham frames a debate between people who want the feds to mandate something, such as standards and cut scores, and those who want federal money without mandates, Greene writes.

Fordham takes the middle ground of saying that the feds should mandate standards, cut scores, etc… or allow states to prove to a panel of experts that their alternative approach is at least as good.

The alternative is worthless, Greene argues. “The burden of proving the merit of your alternative choices would effectively compel you to comply with the mandate.” And “more committees of so-called experts” is not what we need in education.

Fordham’s false middle isn’t the only sensible alternative, Greene argues.

I support a limited role of the federal government in education to facilitate the education of students who are significantly more expensive to educate, such as disabled students, English language learners, and students from very disadvantaged backgrounds. Only the federal government can ensure this type of “redistributive” policy in education because if localities attempted to serve more expensive students they would attract those expensive students while driving away their tax base.

Fordham is big on “college and career readiness,” Greene adds. So is the Gates Foundation.

No one knows what college and career ready means. It has no clear, technical, objective definition. It is yet another political slogan substituting for an idea with actual substance, sort of like “reform realism” or “tight-loose.”

And yet this empty slogan is the entire purpose of the nationalization project on which Fordham-Gates-AFT-U.S. Dept of Ed are embarked. Only in the D.C. bubble of power-hungry analysts who provide no actual analysis could we launch a radical transformation of our education system with little more than a series of empty slogans. It’s enough to make you drink.

Kevin Kosar is blogging on Federal Education Policy History.  Check out the graph on the use of “failing school” over time.

U.S. states earn ‘D’ in history

Most states’ U.S. history standards are “mediocre to awful,” concludes a Fordham Foundation study. Nationwide, the average state got a D. Eighteen states earned F’s.

South Carolina earned an A and Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and D.C. earned an A-.  So did the U.S. history framework used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 

On Ed Next’s blog, A. Graham Down praises David Awbrey’s A Journalist’s Education in the Classroom, which describes his attempt to teach history to middle school students who thought “any kind of learning, especially history” was “totally irrelevant to their lives.”

. . . despite David Awbrey’s heartfelt and totally admirable championship of the liberal arts, and his best intentions to the contrary, his book is more of a depressant than a source of inspiration.
. . .  David Awbrey’s courage and tenacity should be applauded. His efforts to revitalize traditional history instruction are both imaginative and compelling.

But it’s not one of those books where the nice white lady (or gent) saves the day.

Update: Texas corrected the liberal bias and then introduced a heap of conservative bias, writes Mike Petrilli.

Bad schools forever

Are Bad Schools Immortal? Fordham’s new report finds bad schools usually stay that way.  Few improve or shut down. That’s true for low-performing charter schools as well as district-run schools, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

In the study, David Stuit examined low-performing schools in ten states from 2003-04 to 2008-09. A sizable number of those schools were charters. One might figure that, if the charter model was working as intended, these charters would either improve or go out of business. Yet 72 percent of the charter schools remained bad – and remained open – five years later. (Another 19 percent were shuttered–better than the 11 percent in the district sector, but still not great.) Just nine percent improved enough to climb out of the bottom quartile of performance (as measured by proficiency rates) in their respective states.

So why are so many low-performing charter schools continuing to stumble? They have strong incentives to improve – conceivably they could be shut down, plus they need to attract students – and most are free from the myriad constraints that low-performing district schools face. They don’t have teachers unions. They can remove and replace staff relatively easily. They have total control over their curriculum and school day. Except for their funding, their destiny is in their own hands. And yet achievement remains stubbornly low.

Consider the alternatives for parents in high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods. Test scores are low at the nearby district-run school and at the nearby charter school, but the charter is safe and orderly.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is putting $3.5 billion into grants to turn around failing district-run schools, notes Petrilli.

Collaborate with charters

Columbus City Schools (Ohio) is renting an empty school site, but charter schools need not apply, writes Stephanie Groce, vice president of the school board.  “The administration explained to me that they do not want to lease that building to any school that might compete for students with Columbus schools.” Learn to collaborate, Groce writes in the Columbus Dispatch.

Tucked away in a church in the Weinland Park neighborhood, just a few blocks from the vacant building, is Columbus Collegiate Academy, a public charter school that outperforms every middle school in Columbus City Schools. On its most recent report card, 100 percent of seventh-grade students scored proficient or better in math, a feat that none of our middle schools can claim. The students served by the academy are 94 percent economically disadvantaged and 81 percent African-American.

Columbus Collegiate needs room to expand. No dice.  The district rejected proposals from Columbus Collegiate and two other high-performing charters.  A music-education business will rent the building.

District leaders keep the city’s charters at arms’ length, she writes.

When I visited Columbus Collegiate Academy last winter to learn about its program, I asked the executive director: How many principals and administrators from Columbus City Schools have come to visit you? The answer: none. I guess there’s nothing we can learn from a school that outperforms all of our middle schools.

The district and its charter should “share best practices and resources willingly, including facilities,” Groce writes.

Fordham Institute authorizes Columbus Collegiate, notes Education Gadfly.