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  • Fordham Responds To The Common Core "Counter-Manifesto"

    by Shanker Institute Staff on May 12, 2011

    The following post was written by Chester E. Finn Jr., President, and Michael J. Petrilli, Executive Vice-President, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C.  It was originally posted here, on the Fordham Institute’s blog. We have reprinted it with the permission of the authors.

    The "counter-manifesto" released this week in opposition to national testing and a national curriculum is full of half-truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men. But it was signed by a lot of serious people and deserves a serious response.

    First, let us dispatch some silliness. To the best of our knowledge, and based on all evidence that we’re aware of, neither the signers of the Shanker Institute manifesto, nor leaders in the Obama/Duncan Education Department, advocate a “nationalized curriculum” that would “undermine control of public school curriculum and instruction at the local and state level” and “transfer control to an elephantine, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy." Nor is anybody calling for “a one-size fits all, centrally controlled curriculum for every K-12 subject." We certainly wouldn’t support such a policy—and can understand why the conservative luminaries who signed the counter-manifesto wouldn’t want it, either. As parents, grandparents, charter-school authorizers, and champions of school choice in almost all its forms, we believe deeply in the importance of schools having the freedom to shape their own unique educational approaches.

    So let us be clear: While the assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards will be mandatory (for schools and districts in states that choose to use them), the use of any common curricular materials will be purely voluntary. We don’t see any evidence to indicate otherwise.

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  • Where Al Shanker Stood: Common Content

    by Shanker Institute Staff on May 11, 2011

    The recent, breathless opposition to the idea of common curricular content led us to reflect on just how long educators have been asking for this practical tool for better schooling - only to be rebuffed by those more interested in playing politics. It’s been generations. More than 20 years ago, Al Shanker waded into the fray. The following, entitled “An American Revolution in Education: Developing a Common Core," was published by Al in his weekly Where We Stand column on Feb. 24, 1991.

    If anyone had talked about a common curriculum for US schools a few years ago, people would have said he was crazy. Sure, that's the way they do it in most other industrialized countries; and, sure, their students achieve at a much higher level than ours. But the education system in those countries are under the control of their central governments, and the idea of our federal government dictating what children learn in schools was out of the question. Now, we have begun to understand the price we pay for our fragmented curriculum. We've also begun to find ways of building a common curriculum in a typically American way — through voluntary effort rather than government intervention.

    Why should we be so eager for a common curriculum? Exactly what difference does it make in an education system — and, ultimately in what children learn?

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  • Public Employee Unions And Voter Turnout

    by Matthew Di Carlo on May 10, 2011

    During the recent debates over public employees’ collective bargaining rights, especially around the Wisconsin protests, I heard a few people argue that Republican governors are intent on destroying public sector unions, at least in part, because union members are more likely to vote – and to vote Democratic.

    The latter argument (union members are more likely to vote Democratic) is generally true (also here) – although the union "effect" on candidate/party choice is of course complicated. The former argument (more likely to vote in general) is also valid, but there is some underlying public/private variation that is both interesting and important.

    As is almost always the case, isolating the effect of a given factor (in this case, how being a union member affects the likelihood of voting) requires one to compare how this factor “operates” on people who are otherwise similar. For example, in a previous post, I compared public and private sector workers’ earnings. In order to uncover the “effect” of public sector employment on earnings, I used models that controlled for other relevant, measurable factors, such as education and experience. In doing so, I was able to (imperfectly) ensure that I was comparing public and private employees who were similar in terms of skills and qualifications.

    The same basic concept applies to voting.

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  • Shanker Institute Counters Efforts To Undermine Common Core State Standards; Repeats Call For Matching Curricula

    by Shanker Institute Staff on May 9, 2011

    The “Closing the Door on Innovation” manifesto issued today by a group of conservatives distorts the purpose of the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute-sponsored Call for Common Content statement released in March. The statement was signed by a diverse group of education and other leaders from across the political spectrum - and emphasized that teachers must have access to voluntary curriculum guidelines in order to teach effectively to the new state-led common core standards. Aligning the new standards to high quality curriculum is critical to ensuring that all children in the U.S. receive a rigorous education.

    “While we agree that curriculum should be designed before assessments, their claim that the ‘Call for Common Content’ is about creation of a ‘national curriculum’ and ‘national standards’ is just plain wrong," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the signatories to the Shanker Institute statement.

    “What we argued then, and what the AFT’s own committee on implementation of common core standards will reinforce in its upcoming recommendations, was that educators need and want a set of curricular roadmaps that are aligned to common standards and developed from various high-quality, content rich, multiple curriculum resources, with strong input from teachers themselves and other curriculum experts."

    “And," Weingarten said, “Without these resources, especially in a time of tight education budgets, it will be up to teachers to make up all of this content aligned to standards as they go along, under the guise of local autonomy. That is a recipe for failure and unfair to both students and teachers."

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  • The Importance of STEM In The Early Grades

    by Stan Litow on May 5, 2011

    Our guest author today is Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, President of the IBM Foundation, and a member of the Shanker Institute's board of directors.

    This is a difficult year for city and state leaders. They are struggling mightily with how to cope with both declining revenues and escalating costs, resulting in painful short term decisions about what to cut, how to cut, and ways in which basic or vital services can be maintained. Sadly, we have heard far too little these days about where to invest and how to invest in order to produce longer term benefit and mitigate longer term costs.

    As people focus on education, it has been common wisdom that business leaders and those concerned with the bottom line have an interest in education too, but that interest is focused solely on STEM, or Science Technology, Engineering and Math. And that focus is placed on the later grades such as middle and high schools. It is undeniable that STEM is important, especially if we are to nurture the next generation of innovators. To do so, we must invest more creatively to improve teacher quality and student outcomes. But we can not address these challenges by limiting our focus to secondary education. While career pathways are great motivators for teenagers and young adults, we simply can not wait until high school - or even middle school - to prepare students and capture their imaginations. We must start earlier, much earlier. In that effort, early childhood education is vitally important.

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  • Unions And Pensions: Unfunded Culpability

    by Matthew Di Carlo on May 4, 2011

    The Pew Center on the States just released an updated report on unfunded liabilities of state pension (and retiree health) systems. The figures are sobering. In FY 2009, state pension plans were funded at an average of 79 percent, meaning that they were short about one dollar for every five that projections suggest they’ll need to meet their obligations.

    While there’s no doubt about the troublesome implications of these findings, there’s a lot of disagreement as to causes. Lately, governors and state legislators (of both parties, but mostly Republicans), as well as dozens of commentators, have tried to lay the blame on the public sector workers, to whom the pensions are owed – seeking to restrict these workers’ collective bargaining rights, with the claim that this will help control the cost of benefits.

    The unfairness of blaming public sector workers – and their unions – should be pretty clear. By all accounts (also here), the primary reason that pension plans are in trouble is that the 2008 collapse of financial markets decimated the value of pension fund investments (the early 2000’s recession also seems to have played a role). Add to that an aging population (there is an increasing percentage of retirees as a share of the population, and they are living longer), as well as the failure of many states to make their required contributions during good times, and you have a fairly comprehensive explanation for the pension "crisis."

    Nevertheless, some have argued that public employee collective bargaining has exacerbated states’ pension problems – after all, more than their non-union counterparts, union members have tended to trade current salaries in favor of increases in deferred benefits. In that case, we might expect that states with higher densities in public sector union membership will have larger unfunded pension obligations. These differences need not be huge, but it’s reasonable to anticipate that they would be discernible. Let’s take a look.

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  • Mixed Messages

    by Matthew Di Carlo on May 3, 2011

    Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day, as well as National Teacher Appreciation Week.  In various ways, millions of people are thanking their teachers for having made a difference in their lives, including President Obama, who held an official function at the White House today honoring the National Teacher of the Year.

    But a couple of other things are happening today as well.

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  • Tunisia Needs International Supervision For The Upcoming July Elections

    by Radwan A. Masmoudi on May 3, 2011

    Our guest author today is Radwan A. Masmoudi, President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington, D.C. A version of this post has appeared on other sites that follow political developments in the Muslim world.

    As head of the Tunisian High Council for Political Reforms and the Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution, Dr. Iadh Ben Achour has declared his opposition to international monitors for Tunisia’s July 24th elections.  He says international “observers”   -- essentially a pro forma intervention -- would be acceptable. This is a mistake and represents a misplaced emphasis on sovereignty and a major retreat from the post-revolution commitments of the interim government—including the president and former prime minister, both of whom recognize that Tunisia has never organized free and fair elections, and most Tunisians won’t accept the election results without international supervision or at least monitors.

    The “sensitivity” about foreign intervention has been used (and abused) by oppressive governments and regimes around the globe, helping to set the stage for massive election fraud. We have been down this road before, under Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh, and the other Arab dictators. True sovereignty belongs to the people, and the best way to protect that sovereignty is to ensure that the elections are free and fair. Today, many Tunisians do not believe that this interim government is capable of organizing truly free and fair elections, and are afraid that these elections—as in the past—will not reflect the will of the people.

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  • Revisiting The CREDO Charter School Analysis

    by Matthew Di Carlo on May 2, 2011

    ** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post

    Most people involved in education policy know exactly what you mean when you refer to “the CREDO study." I can’t prove this, but suspect it may be the most frequently mentioned research report over the past two years (it was released in 2009).

    For those who haven’t heard of it (or have forgotten), this report, done by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), which is based at Stanford University, was a comparison of charter schools and regular public schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Put simply, the researchers matched up real charter school students with fictional amalgamations of statistically similar students in the same area (the CREDO team called them “virtual twins”), and compared charter school students’ performance (in terms of test score gains) to that of their “twins." The “take home” finding – the one that everybody talks about – was that, among the charter schools included in the analysis, 17 percent had students who did better on the whole than their public school twins, in 37 percent they did worse, and in 46 percent there was no statistical difference. Results varied a bit by student subgroup and over time.

    There are good reasons why this analysis is mentioned so often. For one thing, it remains the largest study of charter school performance to date, and despite some criticism that the "matching" technique biased charter effects downward, it was also a well done large-scale study (for a few other good multi-state charter studies, see here, here, and here). Nevertheless, as is so often the case, the manner in which its findings are discussed and understood sometimes reflect a few key errors of interpretation. Given that it still gets attention in major media outlets, as well as the fact that the CREDO team continues to release new state-specific reports (the latest one is from Pennsylvania), it makes sense to quickly clear up three of the most common misinterpretations.

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  • The New Layoff Formula Project

    by Matthew Di Carlo on April 27, 2011

    In a previous post about seniority-based layoffs, I argued that, although seniority may not be the optimal primary factor upon which to base layoff decisions, we do not yet have an acceptable alternative in most places—one that would permit the “quality-based” layoffs that we often hear mentioned. In short, I am completely receptive to other layoff criteria, but insofar as new teacher evaluation systems are still in the design phase in most places, states and districts might want to think twice before chucking a longstanding criterion that has (at least some) evidence of validity before they have a workable replacement.

    The New Teacher Project (TNTP) recently released a short policy brief outlining a proposed alternative. Let’s take a quick look at what they have to offer.

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