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Sol Stern
The Curriculum Reformation « Back to Story

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Common Core
Kendall Svengalis April 23, 2013 at 10:19 PM
The Core Knowledge curriculum provides a superior means of satisfying the CC standards. They are exactly what children need, and what schools had more of before William Heard Kirkpatrick and Teachers College Columbia University dumbed down American education in favor of scientifically unfounded "progressive" theories and overt political agendas. The question is: how did we allow these education charlatans, and academic outliers on the college campus (obviously, there are noteworthy exceptions), who have never been taken seriously by the real academic departments, to make such a mess of things? Former Harvard President Lawrence Lowell had it right when he described the Harvard school of education as "a kitten that ought to be drowned." That suggestion should have been applied to a lot more education schools. As Sandra Stotsky has pointed out, consider the recent (2008) experience of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel which contracted with Abt Associates to assemble a body of high quality research studies from the education field on the subject of math instruction. Of the 16,000 studies identified, only a tiny number were considered worthy of review. The rest were deemed methodologically or empirically unsound. In fact, education schools are a manifestation of the anti-intellectual strain in American life identified by Richard Hofstadter in his classic book. While the weight of scholarly research dismisses most of the progressive "educational "reforms," schools of education persist in their quasi-religious adherence to failed dogmas that have brought American K-12 education to the lower rungs in international comparisons. Jeanne Chall’s outstanding review of nearly 100 years of educational research studies (The Academic Achievement Challenge) confirms this. Core Knowledge offers a light out of this 80-year-old darkness.
"America’s public schools were the envy of the world during this period (1770-1930)." Has the author considered that the world has changed quite a bit since 1930? All things American were the envy of the world, and we dominated the world economy. If you haven't noticed, the education in some other countries, like China and India, for example, have improved with their economy since the 1960s. Perhaps American students have not "slipped" as much as other countries have made gains that match their economic gains. And speaking of economics, if you remove the 20% from the lowest socio-economic segment of the US economy from the test scores, the US far outperforms all other countries in educational outcomes. Does Hirsch's approach work better for students in poverty? If so, let's use it, but most of our students (if you use international tests as an indicator) are doing fine.
Agree with you thanks for great article and your thoughts.
Could the author please comment now that the real purpose behind Core Curriculum has been revealed, i.e., ObamaCore? See these posts from National Review: and (actually 2 posts the same day but they seem to have the same url; and this article from the Washington Post:
As long as curriculum reform proceeds from a strong assertion of Home Rule, with local input, debate, and funds at stake, with any national, top-down "Standard" relegated to a persuasive, not authoritative role, improvement can be measured locally and accountability for the curriculum selection committee tested on the ballot.

Statist mandates will lack accountability, and will be subject to politization. Moreover, they would steamroll the vital expression of local citizens (now sadly referred to as mere "stakeholders" as if merely taking part in some transaction). Education is supposed to "bring forth" the potential of our young people, and this unalienable task belongs rightly to the families participating in a community school.

Of course, there's always homeschooling.
In the world of education, there is nothing new under the sun. It's the students, stupid.
Enjoyed this article immensely and it will be interesting to see where NY and the rest of us go with it.
Standards or no standard, capable students learn as much at home as they do in school as far as attitudes towards academic are concerned. A home with books in it encourages reading. Seeing parents read instead of watching hours and hours of TV sets an example. Hearing adults discussing current events in a rational manner teaches the value of rational discourse. The tragedy of America and other nations is that parents have abrogated their responsibilities in educating their young. So, it's not all curriculum and teachers; it's the rest of us.
Our schools have two contradictory marching orders: No one drops out, everyone graduates, and maintain standards, The first is highly visible and politically loaded with racial overtones. The second is popular but not very visible.
Guess which one prevails?
Kristen Kearns Jordan is an old friend who has made real contributions to improving educational opportunities for the city’s children. I agree with many of the points she makes in her letter. But she starts off with a complaint about my article that is based on a misreading of what I actually said.

She writes that I "describe the new, small public high schools created during Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor as 'a failed experiment.'" In fact I didn’t say a word in my article about Mayor Bloomberg’s small schools. I only wrote that the small high schools funded by the Gates Foundation as a national program was "a failed experiment" because that is exactly what Bill Gates called it. He should know.

Perhaps Jordan is right about the city’s small schools' doing better, but the evidence is not yet robust enough to draw such a conclusion.
Kristin Kearns Jordan August 09, 2012 at 12:28 PM
In his recent piece The Curriculum Reformation, Sol Stern describes the new, small public high schools created during Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor as "a failed experiment." He seems to do so in order to elevate the relative importance of content-rich curriculum over other factors like structure in the school reform dialogue. It is important to note, however, that the evidence actually points to the remarkable success of these new small schools, which in the aggregate graduate students at a rate 8.6% higher than comparable students in other city schools and produce higher outcomes on a wide range of standardized exams and other measures of college readiness. School structure and curriculum both contribute to school success and in fact reinforce one another--they should not have to compete for credit in our intellectual discourse or get traded off in policy decisions.

I have been involved in the school reform movement in NYC for 20 years, and indeed curriculum has been a neglected topic among school reformers. I take heart that our new Common Core standards are beginning to focus educators on non-fiction content beginning from the early grades. Mr. Stern is enthusiastic about ED Hirsch's Core Knowledge program’s successes in New York City, and with good reason. I worked for several years next door to the Icahn School he cited, a fabulous Core Knowledge K-8 school in the South Bronx. The school's content-rich curriculum gives lower-income students critical access to the intellectual anchors that more affluent children often come to know thanks to greater exposure in their communities. But not all Core Knowledge schools have been as successful. The Icahn Schools' performance derives also from the independence and accountability of their structure, from start-up support from Carl Icahn's Foundation, and from Jeff Litt's inspired leadership of this charter school network.

We must both attend to curriculum and continue to restructure our school system so as to bring more high quality choices into the marketplace. The higher graduation rates cited above were documented in a randomized control study of 21,000 students performed by top-notch research organization MDRC. This gold-standard methodology was made possible by the fact that the Department of Education's new high schools have consistently been oversubscribed and the lottery-like process they use to determine which students are accepted. The researchers have found that students attending the small schools outperform their control group counterparts on a wide variety of measures of college readiness. To cite just one example: 7.6% more small school students pass the English Regents exams with a score greater than 75 than do students in the control group.

The foundation where I now serve as executive director supports schools in both the charter and the DOE small-school sectors, and the reasons for their successes are strikingly similar. They are tight, mission-driven organizations with a large degree of independence over personnel and other management decisions. Their leaders build strong school cultures that embrace accountability for the performance all students. They attend to talent recruitment, sound pedagogy, and support of leaders and teachers. And, absolutely, they focus on curriculum. The Urban Assembly, a network of 21 Department of Education high schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, is seeing real gains in middle school literacy performance thanks in part to a literacy curriculum centered on unison reading of both fiction and nonfiction texts. Charter network Uncommon Schools has a finely tuned mathematics program, which clearly contributes to their students' consistently outperforming their more affluent peers across the city and state.

The extraordinary phenomenon in NYC is that the behavior of schools inside the system is genuinely changing. This progress is more the result of many factors addressed simultaneously than of any one cause. People who care about kids need to be clear about what is working and continue to press forward. Just as the US Civil War could have been won much earlier had Union generals pressed when they had the advantage, we now have the opportunity to expand our growing set of strong, accountable schools in which parents can vote with their feet and therefore exert leverage when they demand that schools do better. And once principals and teachers inside the system have experienced the freedom to succeed, it becomes politically difficult to take that away. Let's support them and demand more, not dismiss their success.

Kristin Kearns Jordan
Executive Director
Tortora Sillcox Family Foundation
Overall, students today are far inferior to students of 40 years ago. With all the technology available to them you would think the reverse would happen...but not so. They keep getting dumber and dumber and we must find out why. Is it something in the water? Well, it could be along with just too many tantalizing and titillating choices on their iphones, ipods, and ipads. Who wants to study when you can watch Day-Day or Nay-Nay shake that thang!
Obvious question, which curriculum would you use to compliment the common core standards?
B. Samuel Davis July 27, 2012 at 3:44 PM
Interesting article - but one is question: the article notes that students made gains in reading five times that of non-Core Knowledge curriculum but there is no detail on how much better it was after three years. The reasonable assumption is that it was consistent, but it is not stated.

Hopefully, Core Knowledge will be adopted - even after three children who went through public school in the 90's and 00's I had not heard of 'balanced literacy.' From the article, it sounds like the awfulness we had to go through in the 60's with the "New Math" - where we spent time trying to learn calculations in base 7. As useless as SRA was good - at least for the readers. For those who had problems reading SRA was a time waster.

Hillsdale College in Michigan also offers a great traditional "liberal arts" curriculum for elementary level education
I believe that the modern approach to education is misguided and should be fundamentally changed.

Fist of all, it is not a good idea to put 13 year olds together in the same room. The influence of older and younger children together is good for civilization. Next, it is not fair or wise to expect student to learn the same things in one year before they advance to the next grade.

When my parents went to school one teacher taught all the elementary grades and student often skipped grades when they had mastered the material. The older kids often served as tutor to the younger.

Send the bureaucrats packing.

The most valuable teachers in our society are retired people with real world experience. Many of these people would be glad to teach for very little money. They are prevented from doing so by burdensome credentialing requirements etc.

The best judges of the school effectiveness are the parents, and possibly even the students. There are many students that are smart enough to know that the school is not doing a good job.

The fact the our schools don't even guarantee student safety is absolutely inexcusable. No one should have to put up with that.

I believe the present system is irredeemable. People need to start screaming bloody murder. Our schools are destroying this country. If they continue, America will no longer be a free country.
So let me see if I have this straight. Bill Gates, the $100+ million driving force between Common Core, declared in February 2011 that we should cut higher education funding for liberal arts disciplines that don't create jobs. Yet Mr. Stern hails skills-heavy Common Core as a victory for Core Knowledge. It's awfully hard for me to wrap my brain around that logic.
Well sure, curriculum reform is the sovereign remedy.

We can continue to ignore teaching as a skill, paying teachers in accordance with the number of years they've been standing in front of kids blabbing, or on the basis of degrees which are more an excuse to pay them more then evidence of greater teaching skill, rather then how good they are at their craft if only we have just the right curriculum.

Yup, that's what'll turn principals and other administrators from concerns about budgets, bond issues and union contracts and keep them focused on the quality of the education their subordinates are dishing out.

Ooops, gotta run. My house is on fire so I'm going to re-arrange the furniture in my living room. That should help.
James A. Glasscock July 26, 2012 at 7:26 AM
I was taught by a 4th grade teacher of the old school. My classmates and I memorized a poem a week. I memorized the multiplication tablets. I read widely as a child because I could read. I had been taught to read.
I was exposed to what a good education requires, and I went on to earn 4 degrees and diploma.
When I 3 grandsons came along, I got the E.D. Hirsch book series for them as they moved through the grades. Content over method. Teacher colleges appear to worship method.
As for critical thinking, critical thinking requires content or there is not thinking.

Maryland and Virginia are two neighboring states which are enormously similar economically, racially, and socially. Virginia adopted Hirsch's standards at least a decade ago and Maryland declined to do so. I would think that a comparison of the two states' student progress over the time period would say a lot.
Oh, I hope this is true. I was teaching when Balanced Literacy came to my school district, and I remember wondering how on earth children were supposed to leanrn the basics of grammar, punctuation and spelling simply by seeing them every day. It was a nightmare.

I will say that there were some good ideas on the side of teaching the literature side of things, but those could easily be carried into any other classroom program without interrupting your core curriculum. In other words, they were minor at best.
As the father of a three year old I felt it imperative to educate myself on the state of public school education. I happen to read an essay written by E.D.Hirsch in the New York Times concerning SAT verbal test scores. I was intrigued in what he had to say on the subject and proceeded to research him, the Core Knowledge Foundation and its K-8 curriculum. My first reaction after looking over the CK sequence was one of enthusiasm and then surprise when I realized that this curriculum is not taught in every elementary school in the US. There are topics in the sequence that I had never learned or even heard of in 12 years of public school. Entering the public schools of NJ in 1963 the progressives’ anti-curriculum ideology had, evidently, already been implemented.
After reading a number of Hirsch’s essays and two of his books, I am discouraged that his ideas are not more well known and implemented. To a parent with no educational training (and a very modest education) Hirsch’s ideas seem so obvious that is seems inconceivable to me that they are not implemented immediately in every pre-K and elementary school in America.
The vast majority of blogs and essays that I read on education concern high school and middle school, charter schools, teacher unions, testing, and all the rest of the conversation that passes for education reform but relatively few on pre-K and elementary school and even fewer still are devoted to curriculum. I also hope that the CCSS begins to place curriculum and E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge in the forefront of the school reform movement.
A good piece and a well-deserved promotion of Core Knowledge, which (as all should know) goes only up to grade 8. My criticisms have focused almost exclusively on the high school years. And that is where the damage will be done to even the F states (using Fordham's grading system) Take a look at Sarah Wessling et al's book, now promoted on the NCTE website, to see how the 2010 Teacher of the Year, in a grade 10 Iowa English class, is reconstructing her curriculum to address Coleman's unjustified 50/50 mandate. So far as anyone can tell, NCTE is totally ignoring the Note or Sidebar urging a culturally rich reading curriculum. "Informational" garbage is flowing in by the bucketful.

I find it interesting that you say: "The Bay State would have done better by its students if it had said no to the Obama administration and stuck with its already excellent standards—which were also heavily influenced by Hirsch’s work. The sad fact is that even before Massachusetts switched to the Common Core standards, Governor Deval Patrick had embarked on a campaign to dilute the demanding 1993 reform." The sad fact is that MA HAD to abandon its superior standards in a context that pretended that Common Core's ELA "standards" were just about as good.

So, the arrangements for the right comparison evaluations were carefully planned: Fordham said "too close to call" to deceive skeptics, Achieve said flatly, in its comparison, that CC's were better, and WestEd was paid indirectly by Gates to say that in its comparisons it was simply a matter of half a dozen of one, six of the other. Mitch Chester told the MA Board of Ed outright that on his many trips to DC in early 2010 (he was carefully courted--and Patrick was promised RttT money if MA did the "right" thing), he was regularly asked by other states if MA was going to adopt CC's standards, and that if it did, other states would follow along. Everyone played the game Gates planned and funded them to play.

Yes, the current justification is that CC's standards are better than what those 45 benighted states had, so we've simply sacrificed MA, CA, IN, and a few others for the sake of the majority. But what is emerging in the overhaul of the grades 9-12 literature curriculum is not academically stronger than what was there. And it was never intended to be. Sandra Stotsky
What are your opinions of developmental kindergarten and art that teaches spatial learning?
I am an artist, teacher, and writer. I have taught, college level art, middle school art, and now high school art. I also have taught multiple subjects, in kindergarten, first and second grades. I find it disappointing that developmental kindergarten has been abandoned in kindergarten classes, when so many students have so little in experience with well designed toys that teach, and also have limited language skills. I also question the design of tests. Tests should be altered and designed like computer games that are fun to take. Imagine that a test that is fun to take? Also excellent programs such as Reading Recovery, that were abandoned during the Bush administration, due to seemingly illegal nepotistic money making interests on the part of his family should be reinstated. See this document:

Deval Patrick is a moron. He's fought MCAS and MERA every step of the way. He was also almost single-handedly responsible for Massachusetts adopting the common core standards, knowing full well the state standards adopted in 1993 were more rigorous.
Draw conclusions from flaws premises and the conclusions are thus flawed. And that is what this piece accomplishes.

Progressive and critical are not the same thing. Dewey was progressive, Freire is critical.

Yes, education departments lean progressive, but even when that ideology is dominant, IT DOES NOT MAKE IT TO THE CLASSROOM. Public ed has been and remains primarily content-driven and traditional.

Critical educators (of which I am one) are small and discounted voices in mainstream education, even liberal departments of education. Critical educators often criticize progressives as well as traditionalists.

The characterization above of writer's workshop is a cartoon version with no basis in reality.

Klein's tenure is certainly not seen as a success. But making so many sweeping suggestions of causation above leads me to think evidence isn't of any value in this piece.

This piece is not even well-disguised blind ideology.
Draw conclusions from flaws premises and the conclusions are thus flawed. And that is what this piece accomplishes.

Progressive and critical are not the same thing. Dewey was progressive, Freire is critical.

Yes, education departments lean progressive, but even when that ideology is dominant, IT DOES NOT MAKE IT TO THE CLASSROOM. Public ed has been and remains primarily content-driven and traditional.

Critical educators (of which I am one) are small and discounted voices in mainstream education, even liberal departments of education. Critical educators often criticize progressives as well as traditionalists.

The characterization above of writer's workshop is a cartoon version with no basis in reality.

Klein's tenure is certainly not seen as a success. But making so many sweeping suggestions of causation above leads me to think evidence isn't of any value in this piece.

This piece is not even well-disguised blind ideology.