On Teacher Evaluation: Slow Down And Get It Right

Posted by on May 20, 2013
** Reprinted here in the Washington Post

The following is written by Morgan S. Polikoff and Matthew Di Carlo. Morgan is Assistant Professor in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

One of the primary policy levers now being employed in states and districts nationwide is teacher evaluation reform. Well-designed evaluations, which should include measures that capture both teacher practice and student learning, have great potential to inform and improve the performance of teachers and, thus, students. Furthermore, most everyone agrees that the previous systems were largely pro forma, failed to provide useful feedback, and needed replacement.

The attitude among many policymakers and advocates is that we must implement these systems and begin using them rapidly for decisions about teachers, while design flaws can be fixed later. Such urgency is undoubtedly influenced by the history of slow, incremental progress in education policy. However, we believe this attitude to be imprudent. Read More »


Proposed National Civics Framework Shows Great Promise

Posted by on May 16, 2013

Our guest author today is Stephen Lazar, a founding teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, where he teaches Social Studies. A National Board certified teacher, he blogs at Outside the Cave. Stephen is also one of the organizers of Insightful Social Studies, a grass roots campaign of teachers to reform the newly proposed New York State Social Studies standards.

A couple of months ago, I warned, “We cannot possibly continue to move solely in the direction of ‘college and career readiness’ in History & Social Studies education without ensuring that ‘civic’ readiness is valued equally.” While our struggle continues in New York State, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) took an extremely promising first step towards assuaging my fears with the release of The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. This document was intended for a targeted review by certain groups last month. Copies, however, are not difficult to find by searching.

Simply put, the proposed C3 Framework is brilliant. It is exactly what our nation needs to ensure civic life and participation is properly valued, and it is what the Social Studies teaching profession needs to ensure our discipline retains its unique and essential role within our education system. It is brilliant in its conception, its modesty and its usefulness as a document to inform policy and practice. Read More »


Can The Common Core Standards Reverse The “Rising Tide Of Mediocrity”?

Posted by on April 25, 2013

Our guest author today is Lisa Hansel, communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers.

Spring 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of two landmark publications. One, an essay by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., in The American Scholar titled “Cultural Literacy,” sparked a small but steadily growing movement dedicated to educational excellence and equity. The other, A Nation at Risk, set off a firestorm by conveying fundamental truths about the inequities in our educational system with prose so melodramatic they have proven unforgettable.

In the 80s, only one leader seemed to fully grasp the importance of both of these publications: Albert Shanker. Shanker, then-president of the American Federation of Teachers, was prominent partly due to his position, and largely due to the force of his intellect. He saw that schools were in trouble. He agreed that, as stated in A Nation at Risk, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.” Read More »


Poor Implementation Undermines Promise Of The Common Core

Posted by on March 19, 2013

** Reprinted here in the Washington Post

Our guest author today is Stephen Lazar, a founding teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, where he teaches Social Studies. A National Board certified teacher, he blogs at Outside the Cave. Stephen is also one of the organizers of Insightful Social Studies, a grass roots campaign of teachers to reform the newly proposed New York State Social Studies standards.

The Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) seek to define “college and career readiness expectations.” Forty-five states have adopted them, and are moving briskly towards full implementation in the coming year. Last January, I wrote that the standards “represent the greatest opportunity for history teaching and learning to be widely re-imagined since the Committee of Ten set the basic outlines for American education over a hundred years ago.”

While I stand by that statement, with each step towards implementation I see the opportunity being squandered. We cannot possibly continue to move solely in the direction of “college and career readiness” in History & Social Studies education without ensuring that “civic” readiness is valued equally.  Additionally, we need to ensure that as states write new curricula, that they contain the proper balance of content, skills, and understandings.  New curricula will need to ensure students use an inquiry-based approach to go in depth with a smaller amount of content to gain the wider breadth of skills and dispositions required for civic, college, and career readiness. Read More »


A Simple Choice Of Words Can Help Avoid Confusion About New Test Results

Posted by on January 9, 2013

In 1998, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lowered the threshold at which people are classified as “overweight.” Literally overnight, about 25 million Americans previously considered as having a healthy weight were now overweight. If, the next day, you saw a newspaper headline that said “number of overweight Americans increases,” you would probably find that a little misleading. America’s “overweight” population didn’t really increase; the definition changed.

Fast forward to November 2012, during which Kentucky became the first state to release results from new assessments that were aligned with the Common Core Standards (CCS). This led to headlines such as, “Scores Drop on Kentucky’s Common Core-Aligned Tests” and “Challenges Seen as Kentucky’s Test Scores Drop As Expected.” Yet, these descriptions unintentionally misrepresent what happened. It’s not quite accurate – or at least highly imprecise – to say that test scores “dropped,” just as it would have been wrong to say that the number of overweight Americans increased overnight in 1998 (actually, they’re not even scores, they’re proficiency rates). Rather, the state adopted different tests, with different content, a different design, and different standards by which students are deemed “proficient.”

Over the next 2-3 years, a large group of states will also release results from their new CCS-aligned tests. It is important for parents, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to understand what the results mean. Most of them will rely on newspapers and blogs, and so one exceedingly simple step that might help out is some polite, constructive language-policing.

Read More »


Common Core Opens The Second Front In The Reading Wars

Posted by on August 15, 2012

Our guest author today is Kathleen Porter-Magee, Bernard Lee Schwartz policy fellow and editor of the Common Core Watch blog at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Previously, Ms. Porter-Magee served as both a middle and high school teacher, as well as the curriculum and professional development director for a network of public charter schools.

Up until now, the Common Core ELA standards were considered path-breaking mostly because of their reach. This isn’t the first time a group attempted to write “common” standards, but it is the first time they’ve gained such widespread traction.

Yet the Common Core standards are revolutionary for another, less talked about, reason: they define rigor in reading and literature classrooms more clearly and explicitly than nearly any of the state ELA standards they’ve replaced. Now, as the full impact of these expectations is starting to take hold, the decision to define rigor—and the way the CCSS define it—is fanning the flames of a debate that threatens to open up a whole new front in America’s long running “Reading Wars.”

The first and most divisive front in the reading wars was the debate over the importance of phonics to early reading instruction. Thanks to the 2000 recommendations of the National Reading Panel and the 2001 “Reading First” portion of No Child Left Behind, the phonics camp has largely won the day in this battle. Now, while there remain curricula that may marginalize the importance of phonics and phonemic awareness, there are none that ignore it completely. Read More »


Share My Lesson: The Imperative Of Our Profession

Posted by on July 5, 2012

Leo Casey, UFT vice president for academic high schools, will succeed Eugenia Kemble as executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, effective this fall.

“You want me to teach this stuff, but I don’t have the stuff to teach.” So opens “Lost at Sea: New Teachers’ Experiences with Curriculum and Assessment,” a 2002 paper by Harvard University researchers about the plight of new teachers trying to learn the craft of teaching in the face of insubstantial curriculum frameworks and inadequate instructional materials.

David Kauffman, Susan Moore Johnson and colleagues interviewed a diverse collection of first- and second-year teachers in Massachusetts who reported that, despite state academic standards widely acknowledged to be some of the best in the country, they received “little or no guidance about what to teach or how to teach it. Left to their own devices they struggled day to day to prepare content and materials. The standards and accountability environment created a sense of urgency for these teachers but did not provide them with the support they needed.”

I found myself thinking about this recently when I realized that, with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, new teachers won’t be the only ones in this boat. Much of the country is on a fast-track toward implementation, but with little thought about how to provide teachers with the “stuff” – aligned professional development, curriculum frameworks, model lesson plans, quality student materials, formative assessments, and so on – that they will need to implement the standards well. Read More »


Getting Ready For The Common Core

Posted by on January 30, 2012

Our guest author today, Susan B. Neuman, is a professor in Educational Studies at the University of Michigan specializing in early literacy development and a former U.S. Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education. She and her colleagues at the University of Michigan have also partnered with the Albert Shanker Institute in sponsoring a summer institute for early childhood educators, focusing specifically on oral language development and the ways it can support and help build strong content knowledge. For more information, see here.

States are now working intently on developing plans that will make new, common standards a reality. A recent report from Education First and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center concludes that that all but one of the 47 states adopting the Common Core State Standards is now in the implementation phase. Seven states have fully upgraded professional development, curriculum materials, and evaluation systems in preparation for the 2014-2015 school year.

Nary a word has been spoken about how to prepare teachers to implement common standards appropriately in the early childhood years. Although the emphasis on content-rich instruction in ways that builds knowledge is an important one, standards groups have virtually ignored the early years when these critical skills first begin to develop.

Young children are eager to learn about the sciences, arts, and the world around them. And, as many early childhood teachers recognize, we need to provide content-rich instruction that is both developmentally appropriate and highly engaging to support students’ learning. Read More »


Predicaments Of Reform

Posted by on August 31, 2011

Our guest author today is David K. Cohen, John Dewey Collegiate Professor of Education and professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, and a member of the Shanker Institute’s board of directors. This is a response to Michael Petrilli, who recently published a post on the Fordham Institute’s blog that referred to Cohen’s new book.

Dear Mike:

Thank you for considering my book Teaching And Its Predicaments (Harvard University Press, 2011), and for your intelligent discussion of the issues. I write to continue the conversation. 

You are right to say that I see the incoherence of U.S. public education as a barrier to more quality and less inequality, but I do not “look longingly” at Asia or Finland, let alone take them as models for what Americans should do to improve schools. 

In my 2009 book (The Ordeal Of Equality: Did Federal Regulation Fix The Schools?), Susan L. Moffitt and I recounted the great difficulties that the “top-down” approach to coherence, with which you associate my work, encountered as Title I of the 1965 ESEA was refashioned to leverage much greater central influence on schooling. Susan and I concluded that increased federal regulation had not fixed the schools, and had caused some real damage along with some important constructive effects. We did not see central coherence as The Answer. Read More »


First, Know-What; Then, Know-How

Posted by on July 25, 2011

It is satisfying to read a book that examines education without claiming to be an education book. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered feels fresh and inspiring, despite having been around since the early 1970s. In it, British economist E.F. Schumacher attempts to address fundamental questions, as opposed to dwelling on the politics around nonessential issues, even the politics around the politics.

Schumacher argues that education will only help society if it helps that society become wiser. And we get wiser by thinking first about where we want to go (i.e., know-what), not how to get there. Today, the education world seems focused on the latter. Science, technology, engineering, all teach know-how. But who is concerned with the know-what? In my view, efforts like the Albert Shanker Institute’s “Call for Common Content” are a step in this direction.

Schumacher points out that we often look at education as the answer to all kinds of problems. “[A]ll history – as well as all current experience – points to the fact that it is man, not nature, who provides the primary resource: that the key factor of all economic development comes out of the mind of man.” If our civilization is in a state of crisis “it is not far-fetched to suggest that there may be something wrong with its education.” We believe that for every new challenge ahead there ought to be a scientific and technological solution: more and better education will solve all problems to come. Yet, with all of our scientific and technological advances, our social problems still seem intractable. Why is that? Read More »


Straight Up, Between The Lines

Posted by on April 12, 2011

Read carefully between the lines in Rick Hess’ recent blog post, “Can the Common Core Coalition Keeps [sic] Its Finlandophiles in Check?”

Predicting a “fifty-fifty chance that the Common Core effort will dissolve into an ideological clash,” Hess writes that in “one short document, the Shankerites managed to do much to undermine the loose confederation that had supported the Common Core.” He also lumps a broad spectrum of signatories into one supposedly errant educational faction. People such as former U.S. Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Reagan appointee Checker Finn, George H.W. Bush appointee Charlie Kolb, George W. Bush appointee Susan B. Neuman, former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, and the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Kate Walsh — all are labeled as being “a slew of left-leaning academics and consultants, dotted with my pal Checker Finn and a few long-retired Republican governors”—and the whole crew is charged with being “Finlandophiles.” God forbid.

What’s going on here? What have we wrought with the Albert Shanker Institute’s “A Call for Common Content?

I think Hess is doing more than cooking up a soup of crocodile tears and polemics. He’s clearly uncomfortable with the direction that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will take education in this country, but he’s not willing to take a clear position either way. Given his dilemma, attacking a sound strategy for implementing the standards seems like little more than undermining them without the political risk of having to register a truly “straight up” objection. And this is not the first time he has attempted to evoke tensions among potential supporters of the Common Core standards. I cannot help but suspect that he has made up his mind, but can’t quite bring himself to say so. Read More »


Curriculum: The Missing Link

Posted by on July 27, 2010

In a July 21 New York Times cover story, reporter Tamar Lewin rightfully noted “the surprise of many in education circles…” that 27 states had already committed to adopting the new Common Core academic standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Lewin goes on to attribute this surprise to “states’ long tradition of insisting on retaining local control over curriculum” (emphasis added). With this simple statement – the equating of standards with curriculum – the author perpetuates an egregious error in the understanding of education policy. Though the politics of local control touches both standards and curriculum, educators and the public will never get policy right as long as too many conflate the two. Read More »


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