Required Reading

by Robert Pondiscio
December 6th, 2008

A weekly roundup of the week’s most important news, information and blog posts about curriculum, teaching, education policy and other items of interest to the Core Knowledge community.

Core Knowledge

Education for the 21st Century: Balancing Content Knowledge with Skills
Britannica Blog
“21st-century skills require deep understanding of subject matter.  Gaining a deep understanding is, not surprisingly, hard,” writes Dan Willingham.  “Skills like ‘analysis’ and ‘critical thinking’ are tied to content.  If you don’t think that most of our students are gaining very deep knowledge of core subjects—and you shouldn’t—then there is not much point in calling for more emphasis on analysis and critical thinking unless you take the content problem seriously. You can’t have one without the other.”

“Poverty Matters” vs. “No Excuses”
As in most debates on education, there’s a false dichotomy at work.  Surely there is a difference between the teacher who walks into the classroom assuming poor children can’t learn, and simply ascribing every student failure to a bad teacher. 

Michelle Rhee is Scaring Me
Accurate or inaccurate, fair or unfair, the increasingly confrontational, impatient, blunt, even rude public persona that’s affixing itself to the Washington, DC schools chancellor runs the risk of getting in the way of what Michelle Rhee wants to accomplish. 

Best of the Blogs

“21st century skills” shenanigans in the Bay State
The Education Gadfly
“We can’t ask students to exhibit hard-to-measure 21st century skills if they haven’t mastered the English, math, science, and history upon which the skills are based,” argue Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute.  “We hope policymakers will make the right choice and resist the temptation to substitute vague, short-term skills for enduring academic content.”

What Do We Mean by Accountability? at Bridging Differences
“By making test scores the sole gauge of progress, one can expect to see cheating and test prepping, and other quasi-legitimate and outright illegitimate ways of reaching the only goal that matters,” writes Diane Ravitch.  “When teachers, principals, and students are given rewards and punishments for only one measure, that measure may well rise, but at a cost.”

Teaching and Curriculum

Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?
The Education Gadfly
Wouldn’t it be swell if during the hiring process districts had better tools with which to identify the most promising teacher candidates,” asks the Fordham Foundation’s Amber Winkler.  A technical study by a quartet of research heavy-hitters gets us one step closer to that administrator’s dream.

Red Pen Too “Aggressive” Teachers Told
The Daily Telegraph
Teachers in Australia have been told to stop marking children’s written work with red pen because it is an “aggressive” color.  Queensland’s Deputy Opposition Leader Mark McArdle told parliament that teachers were being advised to reconsider their pen choice because it may offend children.

Education Policy

Lessons From 40 Years of Education ‘Reform’
The Wall Street Journal
Countless experiments and analyses have clearly indicated we need to do four straightforward things to bring fundamental changes to K-12 education, writes Louis V. Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, including setting high academic standards for all of our kids, supported by a rigorous curriculum.

The Looming Battle on Education Reform
The Huffington Post
“For all of the excitement that Barack Obama has elicited, progressives are currently mired in a bitter battle over the future of urban school reform,” writes David Whitman.  There may also be a compromise that would acknowledge the importance of early intervention before school starts but affirms the primacy of classroom reforms once children reach adolescence.

Homeschooling and Parenting

Media Bombardment Is Linked To Ill Effects During Childhood
Washington Post
A detailed review of 30 years of research on how television, music, movies and other media affect the lives of children and adolescents, finds strong connections between media exposure and problems of childhood obesity, tobacco use, and early sexual behavior.

Wanted, Male Models: There’s a good reason why boys don’t read
The School Library Journal
“Now, this is purely my opinion,” writes young adult author Gail Giles, ”but children copy their elders. They want to be what they see. A boy doesn’t want to be a woman. He wants to do what a man does. And if he doesn’t see a man reading, he won’t read.”

Teacher video can help parents boost literacy
Augusta (S.C.) Chronicle
Parents needing an example of good reading practices now have a hands-on tool that models real-life lessons.  The Aiken County (S.C.) School District released this month a 20-minute video guide Parents: A Child’s First Teacher to encourage parents to build literacy skills from birth.

Parent-teacher conference remains time-honored tradition
The Buffalo News
The conference is a time-honored tradition, and, especially with the drastic changes in classrooms over the last two decades, one that schools continue to value.  Parents should approach a parent-teacher conference as they would a checkup with the doctor, by making a list of observations and questions about the curriculum and the child’s performance.

Et Alia

College May Become Unaffordable for Most in U.S.
New York Times
The rising cost of college — even before the recession — threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans, according to the annual report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.