Et tu, Yglesias?

by Robert Pondiscio
June 16th, 2011

Oh no he didn’t!

American Progress pundit Matthew Yglesias commits the unpardonable sin of repeating what has to be to most wrong-headed idea in all of education: that teaching kids content can wait until they’ve learned the “skill” of reading.  He wraps up a column on the just-released NAEP history scores with this jaw-dropper:

“What we’re seeing, in particular, is that trying to teach history to kids who can’t read is a fool’s errand. Focusing more clearly on making sure that kids aren’t falling behind in their core skills is helping the worst-off kids do better across the board even at history.”

Teacher/blogger Rachel Levy sets Yglesias straight, so I don’t have to.

12 Comments »

  1. Charlotte Danielson, too, seems to favor skills over knowledge. (Her “Framework for Teaching” is being adopted by the NYC DOE.)

    In a presentation to 1,400 New York City school administrators on June 4, she said:

    “It would take breathtaking audacity to say right now the specific content of what we would want our students to know 25 years from know, 40 years from now, when they’ll still be in the workforce. It would take breathtaking audacity. And so, of course, we have to of course teach them things, but most of all, what the Common Core standards are asking us to teach are the tools, the tools of learning, the tools of generating new knowledge….”

    http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/CommonCoreLibrary/Why/The+Standards/video

    To me, there’s “breathtaking audacity” in her denial of the lasting value of subject matter. What students know and remember 25 years later is largely up to them–but their teachers should give them something worth remembering, beyond skills and tools, which are indeed important.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — June 16, 2011 @ 9:43 am

  2. This would be comical if it weren’t so transparently absurd. The amount of factual knowledge I acquired in elementary school that I use in “the workforce” today is roughly, oh, zero percent. Children who don’t learn broadly about the world and drink deeply of knowledge across disciplines will never acquire the “tools of learning.”

    Some days, I just don’t want to get out of bed.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — June 16, 2011 @ 9:51 am

  3. I misquoted slightly. Danielson said:

    “It would take breathtaking audacity to say right now the specific content of what we would want our students to know 25 years from know, 40 years from now, when they’ll still be in the workforce. It would take breathtaking audacity. And so, we have to of course teach them things, but mostly what the Common Core standards are asking us to teach are the tools, the tools of learning, the tools of generating new knowledge….”

    Comment by Diana Senechal — June 16, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  4. Danielson seems to take the standards as an affirmation of the primacy of skills. This is wrong, or at least I hope so. The standards focus on skills because they are non-curricular. At least that’s what many people were led to believe. The curricula were supposed to lay out what students should learn (or part of it).

    Comment by Diana Senechal — June 16, 2011 @ 10:15 am

  5. Danielson must not have read the CCSS ELA standards which state, “Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.”

    http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards/english-language-arts-standards/anchor-standards/college-and-career-readiness-anchor-standards-for-reading/

    Or we can just cross our fingers and hope for the best.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — June 16, 2011 @ 10:21 am

  6. “Or we can just cross our fingers and hope for the best.” That’s what schools nationwide did forever before we insisted on standard’s reform.

    Sure, some will insist textbooks and the SATs drove most classroom instruction but wasn’t that just another crapshoot for many schools and millions of students, especially those students from the more anemic districts?

    More on topic, I’m a believer of teaching both content and the ability to decode, which further enables kids to independently capture more content.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — June 17, 2011 @ 6:45 am

  7. Diana-

    Are you aware that Danielson is also the author of the Implementation Handbook for Outcomes Based Education?

    Her framework for teaching and her resulting model of what constitutes effective teaching are straight out of her OBE work and vision.

    Common Core is only about content when it can be useful for awareness of a subject that can be used for political manipulation. Specific examples I have seen cited are to illustrate racism, oppression, and exploitation of the environment.

    Comment by Student of History — June 17, 2011 @ 11:29 am

  8. All, I apologize that my message is off-topic. My school district, Lexington MA, has gotten wind of the new Common Core standards, and has realized that it needs to implement them beginning in 2013. The district has already started to get together curriculum review groups to see which curricula they will pick. These review groups are reviewing class materials already – although nobody seems to know whether textbooks actually exist aligned with the new standards.

    If textbooks don’t exist, people will look at promised textbooks. I am very concerned with that – but the reality is that Common Core was adopted without a pilot program and without ‘model’ textbooks, the way SMSG were model textbooks in the Sputnik years. That’s not ideal, but there is not much we can do about that now.

    I’d like to help my district in their selection, by sending them on one hand information about curricula I know are of high quality (Core Knowledge, for example) – but also by sending them any independent research which compares the curricula purporting to be aligned with the new standards.

    Now I’ve seen quite a number of good reviews of Common Core as it compares with the MA and other state standards – most recently:

    “The State of State Standards — and the Common
    Core — in 2010″
    http://www.edexcellencemedia.net/publications/2010/201007_state_education_standards_common_standards/SOSSandCC2010_FullReportFINAL.pdf
    (I noticed that Diana contributed to this report)

    Then there are four excellent Pioneer Institute studies about the Common Core standards, written by Sandra Stotsky, Zeev Wurman – and one by Stotsky and R. James Milgram

    http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/100223_why_race_to_the_middle.pdf

    http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/100402_fair_to_middling.pdf

    http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/100520_emperors_new_clothes.pdf

    http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/common_core_standards.pdf

    So from a point of view of standards, there is a lot of information to get by. But my town will be looking at textbooks, not so much at the standards.

    Once the town makes a selection, sometime this fall or this winter, that’s it. We will stay with that, for good or for worse. And I imagine we are not the only district in this situation: pretty much all districts in the country (except Texas) are in the same state.

    Certainly, in MA I have the impression that the Superintendents met together and that the push for curricular reviews is coming from the state.

    My question is – what surveys of textbooks aligned with Common Core exist? Are there any surveys planned, so that the school districts can use the ready reference? Do other states with textbook adoption policies (California, Washington State) plan to review Common Core textbooks, and when do they plan to do that?

    The advantage of Common Core is that if a state like Washington, for example, stages a textbook review, then any district in the nation can take a cue.

    Please feel free to answer me directly, my email address is bitdribble at gmail.com – so that we don’t clutter the Matthew Yglesias story. Although I imagine the topic is of interest to many.

    Comment by andrei radulescu-banu — June 18, 2011 @ 12:00 am

  9. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio (RP), our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo?

    Comment by Paul Hoss — June 24, 2011 @ 6:07 am

  10. You’re too kind, Paul. On the road this week. Back to blogging next week. Robert

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — June 24, 2011 @ 7:46 am

  11. I miss your blogging too.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — June 24, 2011 @ 9:35 am

  12. Skills vs. content? Our teachers must commit to this statement: “I believe in a solid contextual common core curriculum. I value educational practices that promote contextual common knowledge. I believe that children develop mature literacy and critical thinking through the attainment of a core content. They are prepared for a diverse society by being prepared with a common knowledge base.” Of course we need skills, but what good are they if we don’t have anything to apply them to? What is that called? Good teaching.

    Comment by Holly Denman — July 1, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

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