Core Knowledge

Investment strategy

bolstering literacy

New York

Newly hatched Common Core curriculums get city endorsement

For the first time since 2003, the Department of Education has revised its curriculum recommendations for schools. The new recommendations are meant to guide schools through the myriad curriculum options on the market to those that best reflect new learning standards known as the Common Core. Students across the state are set to take math and reading tests aligned to the tougher new standards in April. After scrutinizing 40 programs produced by 19 companies that met the city's basic standards, teachers and Department of Education officials endorsed elementary and middle school reading and math programs from three of the largest publishing companies, including Pearson, which is also producing the state tests. The city is also encouraging schools to consider adopting literacy curriculums that the state hired two nonprofit organizations, Core Knowledge and Expeditionary Learning, to produce. Schools don't have to take the department's advice. They can use other curriculum programs, including the ones that they have already been using, or create their own materials. Currently, about 70 percent of schools opt to use the city's recommended curriculums, which for most schools were originally required a decade ago in one of former chancellor Joel Klein's earliest initiatives. Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew, who has criticized the city and state for holding teachers accountable for adapting to the Common Core without giving them a curriculum based on the standards, said today's announcement represented a major step forward.
New York

In District 2, educators explain their approach to new standards

P.S. 59 Principal Adele Schroeter and teacher Nekia Wise discuss how the Common Core standards have effected teaching practices at their school. As an elementary school teacher, Nekia Wise has taken her students to the HomeDepot in Midtown and to a nearby Starbucks to learn about business, communities, and cultures. And when she read the materials the city used to introduce teachers to the Common Core standards last year, those lessons immediately came to mind. In her view, the new standards represent a teaching point-of-view that she has used with her first, third and fourth grade students for years: a focus on "inquiry-based learning," which privileges learning opportunities ripe for experimentation and analysis over the rote memorization of facts. "They learned so much about Africa from learning about where the coffee beans come from. And about the lack of water systems," she said. "[The Core] made me think about everything that I've already tried to do in the classroom with kids along the lines of real-world understanding and implementation." She and two Manhattan principals joined city officials and educator Deborah Meier in District 2 on Monday night for a forum to demystify the new curriculum standards for parents who feel the city's curriculum pilot has left many in the dark about how teaching practices are expected to change. The standards have come under fire  since their inception both for being too vague in some areas and too rigid in others. Meier, a city educator and the influential author of "the Power of Their Ideas," said she is particularly concerned that the Core will stifle students' and teachers' creativity, by prescribing a strict guide to what they need to learn, when they need to learn it, and how they will be judged using standardized tests. "The word alignment is not something we ever used to use," she said. "You've set up a situation starting in pre-Kindergarten in which we are all involved in a race."
New York

Challenges in assessing the effectiveness of the Core Knowledge Reading Program

Yesterday, Michael Shaughnessy of EdNews interviewed Dr. Matthew Davis, who is leading the implementation of the Core Knowledge Reading Program pilot in New York City. Much of the interview covers basics of the program which we've discussed here already, including the two-strand approach to teaching reading and comprehension and the body of research supporting this method. What the interview highlighted for me are the contradictions of researching a program while trying to decide whether to continue using it, especially when real children are the subjects. Davis says that the pilot will begin this year in kindergarten classes at 10 high-needs schools, then add grade 1 next year and grade 2 in 2010-11. But the continuation of the pilot "will be contingent on success in year one and a continuation of funding," he says. Sounds fair: a program should prove itself before people (in this case, the Fund for Public Schools) invest further. Davis describes the plan for assessing the program: Within the next several weeks, students in both sets of schools will be administered nationally standardized reading assessments in order to establish a baseline performance. These same tests will be administered again at the end of the kindergarten. In addition, there will be formal observation of all teachers in the pilot classrooms to ascertain any possible correlation between the level of implementation of the Core Knowledge program and the level of student achievement. In addition, specific case studies will be conducted by the NYCDOE in three pilot schools to provide additional qualitative information. As far as the test are concerned, we hope to see a significant difference in word attack, word reading, decoding skills, and spelling by the end of the kindergarten year -- because the program has what we think is a very strong way of teaching the mechanics of reading. Background knowledge and vocabulary take a bit longer to build, and gains don't start to show up on some tests until later, but, by the end of the three-year period, we hope to see the front end of what we think will eventually be a very significant difference in vocabulary, oral comprehension, and reading comprehension. So although the survival of the program may rest on a single year's results, the promised impact of the program — increased vocabulary and content knowledge — may take three years to show up. At least three years:
New York

How “the rich get richer” in reading for understanding

In response to yesterday's post about the Core Knowledge Reading Program, reader Smith asks, Is he saying their is a core set of content that would prepare a student to understand a randomly selected reading passage on a standardized test? Could someone explain this idea to a non-ELA teacher? I’ve always assumed those reading passages could range from “The Mysteries of Ancient Egpyt” to “Sally’s Bad Day at School” to “Roger’s Time Machine Adventure”. How is content selected? Great question. It's true that the content of test reading passages varies, and I don't think anyone believes that a child can be prepared with content knowledge specific to every possible topic. Rather, some children enter school knowing thousands more words than others, and this difference compounds over years of schooling in a "rich get richer" scenario called the "Matthew Effect" by researchers. (Don't take my word for it: this study, one of many, found that by age 3, children of parents with smaller vocabularies not only knew fewer words, used fewer words per hour, and used a smaller variety of words per hour, "but they were also adding words more slowly.") Hirsch summarized this effect in a 2006 article in American Educator: Many specialists estimate that a child (or an adult) needs to understand a minimum of 90 percent of the words in a passage in order to understand the passage and thus begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words. Moreover, it’s not just the words that the student has to grasp the meaning of—it’s also the kind of reality that the words are referring to.... When a child doesn’t understand those word meanings and those referred-to realities, being good at sounding out words is a dead end. Reading becomes a kind of Catch-22: In order to become better at reading with understanding, you already have to be able to read with understanding.