Myths Come From Values, Not From Ignorance

by CKF
November 19th, 2012

Today’s guest post is by Cedar Riener, assistant professor of Psychology at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.  It originally appeared at Cedar’s Digest, Riener’s blog about “education reform, college teaching, history and philosophy of science” and other subjects. 

Like many interested in how we apply basic cognitive science to education, I was interested in the recent finding that many teachers still endorse many myths and misconceptions about neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Here is the original paper, and an excellent op-ed by Chris Chabris and Dan Simons in the Wall Street Journal. One interesting element of the experiment was that teachers who knew the most were also the most misinformed (from Chabris and Simons):

Ironically, in the Dekker group’s study, the teachers who knew the most about neuroscience also believed in the most myths. Apparently, teachers who are (admirably) enthusiastic about expanding their knowledge of the mind and brain have trouble separating fact from fiction as they learn. Neuromyths have so much intuitive appeal, and they spread so rapidly in fields like business and self-help, that eradicating them from popular consciousness might be a Sisyphean task. But reducing their influence in the classroom would be a good start.

I have spent a fair amount of time trying to change one of these myths, the learning styles myth, and I have learned some lessons that I think apply to the rest of them. By way of reference, here are a couple of past posts and writings of mine on the topic: Dialogue with a teacher who defended learning styles. An article (accessible to non-scientists) with Dan Willingham in Change Magazine (picked up by Andrew Sullivan!).

Despite my strong belief that these myths are have a pernicious effect on education, I think it is important not to simply dismiss those who hold them as ignorant or thoughtless. In fact, as this study showed, those who hold the myths are just as often the most thoughtful, reflective, and knowledgeable, rather than the least. How can a myth which seems to signify a lack of knowledge be an indicator of someone who is knowledgeable? Because many myths, and these myths in particular are rooted not in ignorance, but in strongly held values.

In the case of learning styles, many well-meaning people hold a strong value that all children can learn. I too hold this value. However, when we take this to its extreme, it becomes: all children can learn all content equally well and quickly. Unfortunately, this is false. There are differences in cognitive ability, which have consequences for how quickly and easily some children learn some material. the temptation of learning styles is partly a hope that students who struggle with a subject simply have not found the right “channel” yet. Their unlimited reservoir of intelligence simply hasn’t been tapped properly. Unfortunately, some of us have bigger reservoirs than others (although we do all have different reservoirs for different content).

To dismiss the learning styles myth, we have to let go of equating cognitive ability (or intelligence) with some sort of larger social value. Further, ability also does not have to stand in as potential. I may have little artistic ability, but if I was inspired to draw, struggled with  drawing classes for a few years, I have no doubt I could become a capable at drawing. We can nurture interest while acknowledging that some will struggle more than others. As I write in the links above, in confusing ability from style, the learning styles myth also distracts us from the dimensions that really matter, such as individual attention and presenting content to be interesting for all students.

Similarly, the “we only use 10% of our brain” myth reflects a belief that we have untapped potential. This is surely true. Most of us at any given moment we have an awareness that our mind is not as focused as it could be. This might be because many of us get to occasionally experience those great moments that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” when we are totally immersed in the task at hand. In all other times, we can observe our own mind wandering and feel the cognitive costs. We have also observed experts at work, doing things effortlessly which we could not even imagine. If we could only use 25% of our brain, that would be within our grasp! Like many brain myths, this doesn’t hold up to any scientific scrutiny. But the point is that most who endorse this myth in this see it as a neuroscientific translation of their belief in untapped cognitive potential. And they are right! We do have untapped potential. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to how much you can hold in your long term memory. And it seems to stay there forever! But this is not because we only use 10% of our brain.

My final point is that these myth studies often reveal language differences between scientists and the public. One of the myths in the study is the following:

“Environments rich in stimuli improve the brains of preschool children.”

A scientist such as myself might zero in on this and ask “hmm, what do they mean by stimuli?” I could follow the logic that I know certain interventions do help preschool children learn. I also know that a home environment rich in vocabulary helps some preschool children enter school with a larger vocabulary. This greater content knowledge has huge implication in elementary school. Like any kind of learning, there must be some sort of brain change involved. But the critical part of this myth is the “rich in stimuli.”  Simply adding stimulation (colors, mobiles, toys) does not improve your child’s brain. But to the teachers who endorsed this myth, I would imagine that it simply reads as “Good environments help the brains of preschool children.” This is obviously true, but it doesn’t begin to address what is good (or even what counts as environment).

This study (and those like it) show that scientists must be careful and sympathetic in explaining our research to the public. First, we need to recognize that the reason people hold myths is that these myths become attached to values. If we simply try to yank the myths away through overwhelming force of logic and evidence, without addressing the values, the myths simply won’t come off. I see this often with debates over evolution (and I try to apply it in my own classroom when we cover evolution). We need to make the case that one can accept evolution without giving up their sacred values. With learning styles, we need to show that we can still give individual attention and value each student’s contribution while letting go of the learning styles myth.

Second, we need to recognize that the way we use language is often different and sometimes more precise than popular usage. In psychology, this is often the same words (such as “intelligence” or “emotion” or “attention”). When people say “we only use 10% of our brain power” they they don’t mean that only 10% of the neurons are active, or that each neuron is only used 10% of the time it could be, or that each mitochondria in each neuron is only running at 10% of capacity. They mean that humans have untapped cognitive potential. Let’s join them in agreeing with that first, before explaining that in fact, even though you can always learn more, all of your brain is always on.

Stotsky: Fragmented English Curriculum Affects College Readiness

by CKF
October 12th, 2010

Last week the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW) released a study on the nation’s high school English curriculum.  Sandra Stotsky is the the study’s principal author and contributor of today’s post.

Why have the reading skills of American high school students shown little or no improvement in several decades despite substantial increases in funds for elementary and secondary education by federal and state governments?  A study strongly suggests two school-based factors–a fragmented English curriculum and a neglect of close reading. 

Entitled Literary Study in Grades 9, 10, And 11: A National Survey, the ALSCW report presents an analysis of the responses of more than four hundred representative public school teachers who were asked what works of literature they assign in standard and honors courses, and what approaches they use for teaching students how to understand imaginative literature and literary non-fiction.  The study excluded elective courses, basic and remedial courses, as well as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and other advanced courses because we were interested in the broad middle third of our students. The complete, 36-page report (and its appendices) may be read at, and downloaded from, the ALSCW’s website.

Among the study’s major findings:

(1) The content of the literature and reading curriculum for students in standard or honors courses is no longer traditional or uniform in any consistent way. As shown in Table 1 below, the most frequently mentioned titles are assigned in only a small percentage of courses, and the low frequencies for almost all the other titles English teachers assign point to an idiosyncratic literature curriculum for most students.  These low frequencies suggest how little is left of a coherent and progressive literature curriculum with respect to two of its major functions—to acquaint students with the literary and civic heritage of English-speaking people, and to develop an understanding and use of the language needed for college coursework.

English teachers do seem to assign for the vast middle of our high school population a large variety of other works, many of which are also mature literary or non-literary works (and they are all listed in an appendix).  But it is not clear how easily a coherent curriculum can be worked out on the basis of an idiosyncratic set of texts in each English class at each grade level, chosen by the teacher or, in some cases, by students, or by both.

(2) The works teachers assign generally do not increase in difficulty from grade 9 to grade 11.   The titles that tend to be read in grade 11 are, overall, no more difficult than those read in grade 9.

Table 1: The 20 Most Frequently Assigned Titles, their Readability Level, Word Count, and Grade Level Distribution, and Percentage of the Total Number of Courses*

(3) Teachers do not favor close, analytical readings of assigned works.  Perhaps more damaging than the absence of a coherent and progressively challenging literature and reading curriculum are the pedagogical approaches English teachers tend to use. It is bad enough that they must use precious instructional time to address the content-empty and culture-free skills dominating state standards and tests, over which they have little control. But they also tend to use approaches to literary study that divert student attention from the assigned text and consume much of the time they can allot for literary study.  As shown in Tables 2 and 3 below, they prefer such non-analytical approaches as a personal response or a focus on a work’s historical or biographical context (for instance, class discussions of To Kill a Mockingbird that emphasize the Scottsboro Trials or Jim Crow laws in the South, rather than the novel’s plot, characters, style, and moral meaning).  

Teachers of standard and honors courses do draw on a variety of approaches for literary study, including close reading, but they are more likely to use a non-analytical approach to interpret both imaginative works as well as literary non-fiction (e.g., a personal response or a focus on a work’s historical, cultural, or biographical context) than to undertake careful analysis of the work itself.   While biographical or other materials may supplement a close reading of a text by, for example, introducing the seminal ideas of the author’s time, a stress on personal response or on contextual materials does not replace the need to teach students how to read the text itself.

We do not know why English teachers favor non-analytical approaches.  Today, most students enter and leave high school with little historical and cultural knowledge, as NAEP tests in history and civics inform us. If high school English teachers do supply their students with background materials for a work they are studying, the content of these contextual materials is apt to be as new to them as the work is, which means that the teacher’s use of them in the classroom is more likely didactic than analytic.  An under-use of analytical reading to understand non-fiction and a stress on personal experience or historical context to understand either an imaginative or a non-fiction text may be contributing to the high remediation rates in post-secondary English and reading courses.

Table 2: Approach to Teaching Imaginative Literature

Table 3: Approach to Teaching Literary Non-Fiction

These findings suggest that the way reading and writing are taught today by many high-school English teachers may be impeding for many public high school students the development of skills needed for authentic college-level coursework. They may also be impeding the development of analytical skills that are vital to an informed, capable citizenry–close attention to the artifacts and designs of language that were once developed through literary analysis. 

College courses not just in English but in many disciplines routinely assign difficult texts and expect students to understand, analyze, and write coherently about them. According to ACT, a major reason why college students end up in remedial courses or drop out of college is their inability to comprehend and analyze complex texts. An incoherent high-school curriculum that rarely advances beyond 9th-grade-level texts and that expects little more than impressionistic responses to them is a prescription for educational underperformance or outright failure at the college level.

Sandra Stotsky is Professor of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and a former member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Singapore Math Is “Our Dirty Little Secret”

by CKF
October 6th, 2010

The following guest post is from Barry Garelick, co-founder of the U.S. Coalition for World Class Math, an education advocacy organization that addresses mathematics education in U.S. schools.

The New York Times ran a story on September 30 about Singapore Math being used in some schools in the New York City area.  Like many newspaper stories about Singapore Math, this one was no different.  It described a program that strangely sounded like the math programs being promoted by reformers of math education, relying on the cherished staples of reform: manipulatives, open-ended problems, and classroom discussion of problems.  The only thing the article didn’t mention was that the students worked in small groups.

Those of us familiar with Singapore Math from having used it with our children are wondering just what program the article was describing.  Spending a week on the numbers 1 and 2 in Kindergarten?  Spending an entire 4th grade classroom period discussing the place value ramifications of the number 82,566?   Well, maybe that did happen, but not because the Singapore Math books are structured that way. In fact, the books are noticeably short on explicit narrative instruction.  The books provide pictures and worked out examples and excellent problems; the topics are ordered in a logical sequence so that material mastered in the various lessons builds upon itself and is used to advance to more complex applications.  But what is assumed in Singapore is that teachers know how to teach the material—the teacher’s manuals contain very little guidance.  Thus, the decision to spend a week on the numbers 1 and 2 in kindergarten, or a whole class period discussing a single number is coming from the teachers, not the books.

The mistaken idea that gets repeated in many such articles is that Singapore Math differs from other programs by requiring or imparting a “deep understanding” and that such understanding comes about through a) manipulatives, b) pictures, and c) open-ended discussions.  In fact, what the articles represent is what the schools are telling the reporters. What newspapers frequently do not realize when reporting on Singapore Math, is that when a school takes on such a program, it means going against what many teachers believe math education to be about; it is definitely not how they are trained in ed schools.  The success of Singapore’s programs relies in many ways on more traditional approaches to math education, such as explicit instruction and giving students many problems to solve, in some ways its very success represented a slap in the face to American math reformers, many of whom have worked hard to eliminate such techniques being used.

Singapore Math does not rely heavily on manipulatives as so many articles represent.  It does make use of pictures, but even that is misrepresented. Singapore makes use of a technique known as “bar modeling”.  It is a very effective technique and is glommed onto as the be-all end-all of the program, when in fact, it is only a part of an entire package.  People mistakenly believe that all you have to do is teach kids how to draw the right kind of pictures and they can solve problems.  (In fact, there are now books written that provide explicit instruction on how to solve problems using bar modeling—meant to supplement Singapore’s books. That such books rely on a rote-like procedure is ironic considering that reforms criticize US programs as being based on rote instruction.)  Pictorial representation is indeed a gateway to abstraction, but there are other pathways that Singapore uses as well.  Singapore’s strength is the logical consistency of the development of mathematical concepts. And much to the chagrin of educators who may have learned differently, mastery of number facts and arithmetic procedures is part and parcel to conceptual understanding.  Starting with conceptual understanding and using procedures to underscore it is an invitation to disaster—such approach is making profits for  outfits like Sylvan, Huntington and Kumon.

The underlying message in articles such as the Times’ is that math education is bad in the U.S. because it is not being taught according to the ideals of reforms—and the reason it is successful in Singapore is because it is being taught that way.  Never considered is the possibility that the reform minded methods and textbooks written to implement them are one of the root causes of poor math education in this country.  Katharine Beals in her blog “Out in Left Field” does an excellent job describing this.

A friend of mine recently admonished me for my criticism of the article.  At least schools are using Singapore Math and it is getting worthwhile publicity, he said.  Fortunately, the logical structure and word problems in Singapore’s books are so good it will work in spite of the disciples of reform.  My friend is right.  If the education community wants to think that Singapore Math is student-centered and inquiry-based and the realization of US reforms, let them think it.  For those of us who know better, it will remain our dirty little secret.

Barry Garelick is an analyst for the U.S. EPA and plans to teach math when he retires this year.  He has written articles on math education in Education Next and Educational Horizons.

Reflection: What Happened to Curriculum?

by CKF
August 2nd, 2010

At over eighty years of age, reading the interesting and varied commentaries on Diane Ravitch’s recent spectacularly successful book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, I took to wondering what had come before the onset of so-called progressivism began to dominate the teaching practices of the nation’s public schools. Roughly speaking, taking hold in the 1950s and ‘60s, how had these since compared to those of the ‘30s and then the wartime ‘40s when I was in school?

I went to a Long Island K-8 private school with every possible advantage. The curriculum was specific, systematic, and substantive, taught by agreeable, college-educated, effective teachers. I remember learning how to read, starting in the earliest grade, sounding out the syllables, and how to write, on paper lined as a guide to the proper size of letters.  As for substance, I remember best, in perhaps 3rd grade, spending what seemed like the whole year, but certainly a semester, on learning the history and geography of New York State, including the construction of the Erie Canal and its significance to the state’s development and history, lodged in my memory to this day.  Math was divided into two distinct parts – ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’, abstract being the times tables and addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and concrete being ‘word problems,’ using the mechanics of ‘abstract’ to find ‘concrete’ answers.  English was also divided into two segments, grammar and literature, taught separately, but similarly related.

As for tests, there certainly wasn’t any anxious test-preparation; in fact we never knew when they were coming.  From time to time we would come to school as usual, but instead of the usual routine, tests from some source outside the school were distributed, without time for anxiety we took them, and the results were reported to our parents. As for in-house grades, at intervals those with averages at the top of the class were rewarded by getting to carry the national and school flags at weekly whole school assemblies.  

My subsequent high school years were passed at a top-of-the-line girls’ private high school in Boston, with a faculty and curriculum so effective that the first year at Radcliffe, then the pre-co-ed incarnation of Harvard for women, seemed a let-down. Meanwhile the parents of my later-to-become lifelong best friend, immigrants from eastern Europe, landed penniless at Ellis Island and were still struggling during her early childhood in the Bronx.  There she went to the nearest public school, receiving basically the same substantive K-8 education that I did, followed by four years at a very high-quality all-girls public high school.  After that came NYU and Harvard Law School, where she and I met in the second class to admit women.  Her two brothers both became doctors and she a much honored supervising Legal Aid attorney.

During roughly the same span of years I spent summers in New Hampshire where I came to know the local 4-H Club agent who, though I didn’t know it at the time, was also a public school teacher. A few years ago I had the good fortune to meet her again, by then aged and long past retirement but with clear memories, and I asked her about her training to be a teacher.  She told me that she had attended the so-called “normal school” in the nearby small city of Keene, since evolved into what is now Keene State College, which includes an education school, successor of the normal school.  Her training, she said, included practical matters such as classroom management, but most of it was like high school all over again, courses in English, both grammar and literature, history, geography, science, etc. etc., only much more rigorous and detailed than in high school, to be taught to the children at a level suitable to each grade.   

She retired just as our public schools were entering the new era in which such prescribed subject matter was denigrated as “mere facts,” teachers were trained to focus on what children seemed to want to learn, and to act accordingly.  The results we see before us. 

Is such reminiscing just backward-looking?  I think not.  Surely the technology of the present offers unprecedented opportunities to convey essential substantive knowledge in irresistibly effective new ways.  Gertrude Stein, hardly a stodgy traditionalist, delighted in being taught English grammar by diagramming sentences, resulting in thorough understanding of the structure of the language, essential, as she saw it, to maximum creativity in using it. Yet such practices were banished by progressivism, as discouraging to children’s imaginations, written and spoken English usage suffering consequent mortal damage. Only now is it dawning on a few pioneers that interactive computer programs, diagramming correct and expressive speech, illustrating the roles of nouns, verbs, etc., and perhaps featuring notable and admired public figures as exemplars, may offer a way to re-introduce the potency of correctly spoken and written English language to the young.

What puzzles me most, perhaps, is that Arne Duncan and the new education establishment in Washington appear not to understand, not just the implications of examples from the past as possible guides to current school reform, but that of existing schools, like those that have thus far educated the Obama children.  Not to widely replicate such schools, which would be impossible, but at least to absorb the thinking behind them.

The famously progressive University of Chicago Lab school where the Obama girls started out describes itself as ‘unregimented but demanding,’ focused ‘on teaching students to analyze and critically solve problems, rather than simply absorb facts,’ where they ‘learn to be independent and responsible in their studies’ … but where students also ‘pursue a rigorous curriculum in reading, writing, mathematics, and science’ and ‘begin in the early grades to study foreign languages, music and the arts … .’  Similarly, Sidwell Friends in D.C. where they now go offers an equally specific curriculum:  “English instruction includes grammar, vocabulary, composition, reading, and literature. …Mathematics:  In fifth and sixth grade, students work with fractions, decimals, percents, and integers …Social studies:  Fifth graders study the Middle Ages around the world … Science:  The science program is organized around themes drawn from the scientific disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physical science; Modern and Classical Language:  Fifth and Sixth graders take Spanish. Seventh and eighth graders take French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese or Latin … .”

Shouldn’t our public school leadership nationwide at least aspire to such a feast?

Louisa C. Spencer is a retired environmental attorney, a longtime supporter of curriculum reform, and a retired Trustee of the Core Knowledge Foundation. She also served for several years as a volunteer teachers’ aide in low-income New York City elementary schools.

Press release: The Savvy Source

by CKF
November 30th, 2007

The Savvy Source for ParentsThe Savvy Source, in partnership with Core Knowledge, launched a free, online Learning Guide on Nov. 28 to give parents a relatively simple process for identifying the best books, toys and activities to meet their child’s developmental strengths and needs. All parents of toddlers and preschoolers have to do is answer a simple set of questions about their child’s development and then Savvy Source provides parents with a customized set of recommendations of the very best educational books, toys and activities to engage a child’s imagination and development at this particular moment of their growth. The free program was launched around the holidays so that parents can share the recommended gift list with family and friends.

Some of the preschool activities are adapted from the upcoming workbook to be published as a part of What Your Preschooler Needs to Know, to be published by Random House in March, 2008.

Read the complete Reuters press release

Visit the Savvy Source website — click “start here” to start the Learning Guide questionnaire

Blog: Moral/Spiritual Leadership For Multicultural Education

by CKF
November 20th, 2007

Barbara McCauley Lovejoy wrote to Linda Bevilacqua, President of the Core Knowledge Foundation:

Last spring I was accepted into BYU’s (Brigham Young University) Ed Leadership doctoral program. My focus is going to be on how to better serve our diverse learners. For this reason I am very interested in E.D. Hirsch’s work and support it wholeheartedly. In fact, my postings the last two days at are related to his work so thought you might like to see it.

Also, I have written and self-published a book called My Years As A Hispanic Youth Advocate… and The Lessons I Have Learned.

Linda Bevilacqua responded:

You articulated the underlying principles of Core Knowledge and Dr. Hirsch’s work beautifully in your blog posting. We need your help in making these concepts more widely understood and welcome your ongoing, active participation in advocating for social equity using these principles.

An excerpt from Barbara’s blog, Moral/Spiritual Leadership for Multicultural Education, Facts Plus, on Nov. 15:

If facts are important as a foundation, then the questions arise:

  • Which facts?
  • Who decides which facts?

The next post at Moral/Spiritual Leadership for Multicultural Education, E. D. Hirsch and Closing the Achievement Gap, on Nov. 16:

Before answering these two questions, the following are some other questions to consider:

  • Why does the learning gap for the haves and have nots grow wider as students move through the school in the U.S. while the opposite occurs in other countries?
  • Why do more 2nd and 3rd generation immigrant students drop out of school than 1st generation immigrant students?
  • What makes our schools unfair?
  • What does educational justice mean?
  • Some points to consider while pondering the answers to these questions:
  • Educational justice means equality of educational opportunity
  • Imparting a universally shared core of knowledge helps overcome inequality
  • Classroom learning can go forward more effectively when all students share some common points of reference
  • ALL children will learn relatively well in an effective school — High quality tends to be correlated with high equity
  • Some students are learning less than others because of systematic shortcomings in their schooling and social and economic differences rather than because of their own innate lack of academic ability
  • New knowledge expands exponentially
  • There is a “Matthew Effect” — the more background knowledge and the richer the vocabulary a learner has, the greater will be his/her ability to accumulate more knowledge
  • Detailed guidelines provide clarity
  • A diverse country has a greater need of a core-knowledge system than does a homogeneous one

The work of E. D. Hirsch’s, Cultural Literacy, has been criticized not only in the multicultural education arena, but also in the general education arena. Yet, before criticizing him too harshly and “throwing the baby out with the bath water,” it is my opinion that we need to have an understanding of why his work on core knowledge could be helpful to diverse learners:

  • It addresses the snowball effect that allows a small knowledge difference in kindergarten to become a huge gap in learning within a few years
  • It builds from year to year on the background knowledge learners need to be academically successful
  • A teacher can identify what background knowledge a learner is missing
  • It does not stipulate everything a learner should know. In fact, it is meant to comprise only 50% of the school’s curriculum leaving ample time to address other learning needs, including more ethnically-centered curricula
  • Because cosmopolitanism is a true friend to diversity, core knowledge has adopted a cosmopolitan approach to history and literature in order to reinforce the fact that no longer are Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other ethnic groups invisible in the past or the present
  • In order to be fair to diverse learners, it is critical that schools not neglect or reject the current dominant culture
  • The Hirsch core knowledge is not the work of one person, but the work of many, including multicultural advisors, who combined scholarly research with grassroots experience to develop this sequence consensus
  • It was empirical science and not ideology that originated cultural literacy and the core knowledge movement
  • There is evidence that supports the connection between core knowledge and educational justice. In fact, the correlations between fairness and core knowledge are 100 percent.

As the U.S. becomes more diverse it is critical that we find ways to not only acknowledge the diversity and benefit from the richness that diversity brings, but also find ways to bring us together. It is my opinion that the principles of Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy and core knowledge can help do both.

Read the blog, Moral/Spiritual Leadership for Multicultural Education!

A Core Knowledge music teacher’s blog: Eine Feisty Berg

by CKF
November 20th, 2007

“I Don’t Baby-sit. I Raise Future Presidents”

I teach music; in a Core Knowledge Charter School. From time to time I am accosted or confronted by angry parents who think I am picking on their child, or just too plain strict in general. I have heard parents say such things as, “Why should the kids have to be quiet in the halls? That’s only for the teacher’s convenience.” “Why should the kids have to keep their eyes on the director?” “Music should be fun. Why are there any rules at all?”

I don’t baby-sit. I raise future presidents.

I don’t GIVE students a grade. The student EARNS a grade.

If the ability to sing is a natural, genetic gift; then I would be wholly in error to GIVE a grade based on singing ability.

The ability to perform music correctly is a learned behavior; therefore any one can earn a good grade through giving one’s best effort.

Read the blog!

Top-Achieving Nations Beat Top U.S. States in Math and Science

by CKF
November 14th, 2007

American Institutes for Research

Sean Cavanagh of Education Week reports:

Students in the highest-performing U.S. states rank well below their peers in the world’s top-achieving countries in mathematics and science skill, according to a new study that judges American youths on an international scale.

The study, published Nov. 14 by the American Institutes for Research, compares the performance of 8th graders in individual American states not against each other, but against students in top-performing foreign nations, such as Japan and South Korea, as well as against children in recent lower-scoring ones, such as Bulgaria, Jordan, and Romania.

The analysis found that, on the one hand, most American states are performing as well as, or better than, most foreign nations in the study in math and science.

But it also concludes that even students in states such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, and North Dakota, which have scored well on recent U.S. exams, do not match students in top-performing foreign countries.

Read the complete Education Week article

Read the complete American Institute for Research press release

Read the complete American Institute for Research report

The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act

by CKF
November 13th, 2007

Education SectorAuthor: Kevin Carey

Despite the poor performance of Birmingham City Schools,

The Alabama Department of Education … says everything is fine, that Birmingham City Schools made “adequate yearly progress” last year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). And only five of the district’s 65 schools are “in need of improvement.” The serious consequences and strong interventions that NCLB’s authors envisioned for chronically underperforming districts like Birmingham are nowhere to be found.

The reason is simple: While NCLB was designed to raise achievement standards … , the Alabama Department of Education has lowered standards annually, to the point where even abjectly failing districts like Birmingham make the grade. And it’s not alone — every one of the accountability-avoidance gambits used in Alabama has been adopted in many other states. Indeed, the most noteworthy thing about Alabama’s elaborate plan to avoid NCLB accountability, and the impact of those actions on Birmingham, is how mundane they really are. Similar stories could be written about states and districts across the nation.

Collectively, these states and districts provide a case study in how determined states can undermine even tightly constructed laws like NCLB. And, as importantly, they provide a cautionary tale for members of Congress working to write the next version of the nation’s most important education law.

Download the full report

Read the full article on Education Sector’s website

Washington Elementary receives NCLB award

by CKF
November 2nd, 2007

By Christina Killion Valdez

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MNPost-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Washington Choice Elementary Principal Linda Stockwell received a letter last month from the U.S. Department of Education that was cause to celebrate. Their hard work had paid off.

For the past several years, the school has ranked in the top 10 percent in the state on standardized reading and math tests. That high level of achievement earned the school a spot among 287 schools in the nation receiving the 2007 No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools award.

…Washington became a Choice school in 1996 when it adopted the core knowledge curriculum, Stockwell said. That means the curriculum is focused on building a solid foundation of knowledge in world and American history, classic literature, science and fine arts.

The school also uses a spiraled learning system that builds on students’ knowledge, she said. Having that background information improves students’ vocabulary and reasoning skills, which translates into increased reading comprehension, Stockwell said.

It’s an approach that draws students from all over the city, who tend to stay through fifth grade, she said. Currently, the school has about 350 students with just as many on the waiting list, Stockwell said.

Read the complete article