Daniel Willingham, the UVA psychologist and Brittanica blogger, flags an interesting and important new study from Hong Kong that analyzed the relationship between 39 teacher characteristics and instructional practices and 4th grade students' reading scores on the PIRLS international reading assessment. Of the 39 teacher factors, Willingham notes, four were found to play a significant role in predicting fourth graders' reading scores:
Last week Common Core, a national group that advocates for a rigorous, content-rich curriculum covering the full range of academic subjects for all children, published a report looking at curriculum and learning expectations for students in nine countries that outperform the United States on major international assessments. Their conclusion: These countries outperform us in part because they have higher expectations and expose students to a broader, more in-depth curriculum. Key quote from Common Core director Lynne Munson, "We believe that the content of a student’s education has a greater influence on his level of achievement than does delivery or accountability systems. So reform ideas like standards or tests don’t impress us unless they make content a priority. Thus far, the debate in this country over those measures has discounted the importance of content." Worth checking out.
An important op-ed by E.D. Hirsch in Sunday's New York Times looks at how we measure reading achievement in our nation's schools. For all the conversation about using "better tests" to measure school performance and student learning, policymakers often overlook one important shortcoming of existing reading assessments: the content on them is totally disconnected from the vocabulary and content children actually learn in school. Hirsch writes:
The problem is that the reading passages used in these tests are random. They are not aligned with explicit grade-by-grade content standards. Children are asked to read and then answer multiple-choice questions about such topics as taking a hike in the Appalachians even though they’ve never left the sidewalks of New York, nor studied the Appalachians in school.
Teachers can’t prepare for the content of the tests and so they substitute practice exams and countless hours of instruction in comprehension strategies like “finding the main idea.” Yet despite this intensive test preparation, reading scores have paradoxically stagnated or declined in the later grades.
Each year, Dr. Seuss's birthday gives us a reason not only to celebrate reading, but to be wonderfully silly about it. Today, in schools around the country, teachers and young students are cooking up green eggs, making a goofy red-and-white hats, and tromping around in their pajamas for "bedtime" stories in honor of "Read Across America" Day.
And children are not only imbibing in literacy lunacy during school. Surely many are also reading ... on a train. Or in the rain. Or in a box, and with a fox. They are reading here and there. They are reading anywhere.
Dr. Seuss's genius makes us yearn for more moments of play in literacy instruction. Experts on reading have been writing about the connection between play and reading for years (often citing Dr. Seuss), but sometimes we can get so caught up in the demands of de-coding that we take the fun out of it.
As states and the federal government seek to expand access to high-quality pre-k programs, developing a stronger understanding of the value and nature of quality pre-k curriculum is essential to the success of these efforts.Of all the elements of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, quality curriculum may be the most difficult for policymakers, practitioners, and parents to come to terms with. It’s intuitively obvious that quality pre-k programs should have small class sizes and qualified teachers, for example. And, while there’s some debate about what exactly we should require of qualified pre-k teachers, the most common metrics, such as whether or not teachers have a bachelor’s degree or the appropriate teacher certification to work with young children, are based on objective credentials that are relatively easy to measure. What we mean by a quality curriculum, however, is a more challenging question.
UVA cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham is at it again, with a new YouTube video about the connection between content knowledge and reading comprehension. You never knew cognitive science could be so much fun!
Americans aren't the only ones expecting national-level policy changes in early childhood education. In England, schools are preparing for what could be the biggest shake-up in primary education in decades, according to news reports. In early December, Sir Jim Rose, an advisor to English Schools Secretary Ed Balls, issued an interim report on the state of English primary education. His recommendation: Shift away from teaching about discrete subjects and introduce more opportunities for children to play and develop cognitive and motor skills.
The final recommendations of the Rose Review, as his report is called, are not expected until later this year and, if accepted by the government, they won't be in place until 2011. But, the new ideas have already caused a stir in England. Not only do they represent a major shift away from the National Curriculum of 1988, a set of concepts that are supposed to guide the instruction of all English students beginning in preschool. These changes come with a concerted emphasis on early education and early education alignment. On that last point, especially, U.S. policymakers should take note.
One of our favorite reads here at Early Ed Watch is AFT's American Educator--a great quarterly magazine on education that, if you're not currently reading, you should be. In recent years, American Educator has featured numerous articles relevant to early education--including a sobering analysis highlighting the poor quality of state standards for K-2 earlier this year, E.D. Hirsch on the importance of developing vocabulary and content knowledge for warding off the fourth grade slump in reading scores, and a terrific 2004 issue that focused on preventing early reading difficulties.
A new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution finds that 120,00 students nationally are enrolled in algebra as eighth graders even though they have math skills comparable to those of the average second grader. That may not sound like a lot of students, but it's nearly 8 percent of all American eighth graders enrolled in algebra courses, and to the extent that these underprepared students are spread across algebra courses with students who are better prepared, their presence may have a negative impact on the quality of algebra instruction offered to a much larger population of students.
Report author Tom Loveless suggests that this finding calls into question the recent policy push, particularly in some high-poverty urban school districts, to enroll increasing numbers of eighth graders (in some cases, all eighth graders) in algebra. But it also highlights the need to get much more serious about improving the quality of math instruction provided to students in the elementary grades. Students arrive in eighth grade doing math at a second grade level only when their elementary schools have seriously failed in teaching them basic math knowledge and skills.
Last month the
Pre-kindergarten experts generally agree that high-quality pre-k programs must have a clearly articulated curriculum that guides instruction and spells out expectations for what children will learn over the course of the year. They also tend to agree that good pre-k curriculum should be comprehensive—developing children’s literacy, language, early math, and social and emotional skills. And, as we’ve previously argued, good pre-k curriculum should be aligned with the curriculum that will be used in kindergarten and early elementary grades.