Tag Archives: E D Hirsch

E. D. Hirsch: “American Teachers Are Being Blamed for Intellectual Failings That Permeate the System Within Which They Must Work.”

Its hard to believe that its been thirty years since the publication of E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. The book proposes,

…that all public schoolchildren should be provided with instruction aimed at familiarizing them with a wide variety of topics, including literature, geography, history, math, science, art and music, in order to have the background knowledge that would make them successful readers and learners.

The book became famous, or, depending your place on the ed reform spectrum, infamous, for the 63-page index of 5,000 essential subjects and concepts that Hirsch believed teachers should impart to students.

Hirsch, a self-described, “almost Socialist” was painted as a neo-conservative and few school districts adopted his ideas.

The current apostasy are Common Core standards.

In many schools an unintended consequence of the emphasis on Common Core-based testing has been purging classrooms of all but what is tested.

Since the 1987 publication innumerable “innovations” or “reforms” have come and gone: from Ebonics to the Common Core; the Core Knowledge Foundation (Explore Core Knowledge Sequences here), continues to support parents and schools that advocate the cultural literacy philosophy.  The foundation, a not-for-profit provides a K – 8 curriculum; a grade-by-grade sequence of lessons, of “knowledge” that Hirsch believes are essential for any American to master.

During the Bloomberg/Klein years, New York City was divided into ten Regions, one of the Regions, implemented the Core Knowledge curriculum in twenty schools, with considerable success; sadly, Klein and his deputy, current chancellor Carmen Farina, who is wedded to Lucy Calkins methodology,  allowed the grant to expire.

Hirsch, at age 88, has a new book, Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children form Failed Educational Theories (2016) and the current issue (Winter, 2016-17) of the American Educator contains an article by Hirsch, “In Defense of Educators: The Problem of Idea Quality, Not ‘Teacher Quality’.”

Hirsch writes,

… in the last few years the teacher quality issue has risen to the top. I think it may be reform fatigue, possibly desperation. We are blaming teachers because of our disappointments with the results of our reforms.

Hirsch summarizes the reforms of the last few decades, from No Child Left Behind through the Common Core and concludes,

Educational success is defined by what students learn—the received curriculum. Not to focus on the particulars of the very thing itself has been an evasion that is not of the teachers’ doing. The underlying theory of the reforms (reflected in state reading standards) has been that schools are teaching skills that can be developed by any suitable content. That mistaken theory has allowed the problem of grade-by-grade content to be evaded. It was that fundamental mistake about skills that has allowed teachers to be blamed for fundamental failures—the failures of guiding ideas, not of teachers.

Once upon a time, in the halcyon days of yore, teachers were trusted to determine classroom practice. The New York City Board of Education supported a curriculum-writing section that churned out materials written by teachers for teachers. In the era of data, curriculum has been replaced by standards and competent teaching is defined by Charlotte Danielson and obscure mathematical algorithms. It is not surprising that teachers see the union contract as salvation.

When the classroom, which should be a daily reward, becomes a purgatory, one turns to contract stipulations. … We have a system that, according to teachers themselves, does not prepare them adequately for classroom management or the substance of what they must teach. Therefore, my counterthesis to the blame-the-teachers theme is blame the ideas—and improve them.

Hirsch, as you would expect, does not shy away from the reform mantras of the day. He challenges the trope that teacher quality should be at the top of any list, as well as the concept that you can accurately measure teacher quality; he especially challenges the emphasis on value-added measurements of teacher effectiveness, i. e., VAM.

Scores on reading tests reflect knowledge and vocabulary gained from all sources. Advantaged students are constantly building up academic knowledge from both inside and outside the school. Disadvantaged students gain their academic knowledge mainly inside school, so they are gaining less academic knowledge overall during the year, even when the teacher is conveying the curriculum effectively. This lack of gain outside the school reduces the chance of low-socioeconomic-status (SES) students showing a match between the knowledge they gained in school during the year and the knowledge required to understand the individual test passages.

The fifty states are in the midst of complying with the new Every Student Succeeds Act that requires states to author an accountability plan. The law continues the requirement of grades 3-8 tests publicly reported; however. states have wide discretion in what they measure. The PARCC and Smarter Balance tests measure Common Core standards acquisition, skills not curriculum-based content. State use tests to measure proficiency not growth.

The results have been disastrous.

High poverty, poorly funded schools have lower test scores than high wealth schools: what a revelation.

Applicants to schools of education have nose-dived, down 20, 30 and 40% around the nation. Teacher attrition continues at disturbing levels, almost 40%of teachers in New York City leave in their initial five years and approaching 70% in high needs middle schools.

While we want to select and prepare students to teach in New York State we require four separate exams (costing over $1,000) to receive certification, with no assurance that the tests produce more effective teachers. Strangely, there is no set period of weeks required for student teaching, the range in teacher training programs is enormous.

Hirsch makes a simple recommendation,

If I were a principal in a primary school, I’d spend my money on teachers, on their ongoing development, and on creating conditions in which the work of teachers in one grade supports the work of teachers in the next, and in which teachers would have time to consult and collaboratively plan.

Can the state support a school district that implements the Hirsch Core Knowledge curriculum?  (The state Engage NY site does support K-2 Core Knowledge sequences) By support, I mean creating assessments of pupil progress that reflect content?    Interestingly one member of the current Board of Regents, Dr. Cashin, was the Regional Superintendent in New York City who supported a cluster of Core Knowledge schools.

The union and the Local Education Authority (LEA) in New York City have created a cohort of schools who have created innovative practices that require changes in contract language and LEA regulations  (See description here).

Can the state create a cluster of school districts with similar arrangements: local unions and school districts creating “innovative” approaches to instruction, curriculum and assessment?

After thirty years the education community may be ready to listen to Hirsch.

The Common Core is Stumbling in New York State: A Lesson in Crowdsourcing Democracy (“… the act of an institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call”)

“It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth.”
― Aleister Crowley,

The leadership of the NYS Senate, Dean Skelos, Jeff Klein and John Flanagan, and on the Assembly side Speaker Silver and Education Committee chair Cathy Nolan dropped the bomb that has been ticking for weeks.

Skelos, Klein and Flanagan averred,

We continue to support the goals of an improved education curriculum
that increases standards and ensures that students are college and career

However, after having spent months listening to parents, teachers,
administrators and educational professionals at public hearings conducted
throughout New York State, it is our belief that while the implementation
of Common Core Learning Standards may have been well intended, it has been
poorly executed.

We continue to have grave concerns over this flawed roll-out. Unless
the Board of Regents acts to alleviate the concerns of parents, teachers
and other educators, we call on the Regents to delay the use of Common Core
tests for high-stakes decisions about teachers, principals and students for
a minimum of two years. During this time, SED should continue to develop
curricula aligned with higher standards and assist local school districts
in developing their own curricula so teachers can successfully implement
higher learning standards and help students reach their maximum potential.

On the Assembly side Silver and Nolan announced,

In a statement, Silver and Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan (D-Queens) said while “New Yorkers share the same goal – to improve our schools and help prepare our students to be successful and college and career ready upon graduation,” the process is moving too fast.

“The use of Common Core aligned tests for high-stakes decisions for teachers, principals and students should be delayed, at a minimum, for two years,” they said, while the state Education Department works with local districts to develop a game plan.

Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King, back pedaling rapidly punted,

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department will continue to work to improve implementation of the Common Core in our schools and all the laws and regulations we administer in furtherance of educational excellence.

“Earlier this year, Chancellor Tisch announced a Regents work group to review the implementation of the Common Core in New York. Next week, at the February Board of Regents meeting, the work group will present to the P-12 committee of the Board a series of possible options that reflect the input the Board has received from legislators and the public to make thoughtful adjustments to Common Core implementation.”

At meeting after meeting Commissioner King has pushed forward, the full implementation of the Common Core now, the children cannot wait, sort of a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” looks like the torpedoes may win.

Of the 45 states that adopted the Common Core New York is only one of two states that rushed into full implementation, including full Common Core testing.

The August test results did not surprise the experts – a new test, limited release of sample questions, sporadic teacher training, and two-thirds of the test takers failed.

Hubris is defined as: a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence. The commissioner simply believed that if he attended enough meetings, spoke to enough parents and community members he could convince them is the “rightness” of his position. I have planned campaigns, slowly building support, building a grassroots network, earning buy-in, creating diverse constituencies, having patience, taking lessons from Madison and Hamilton (the Federalist Papers), carefully watching Daniel Day Lewis in “Lincoln,” and knowing “when to hold’um and when to fold’um.”

The Common Core was not delivered by Moses, they are not the Ten Commandments.

The Regents will be divided at their Monday meeting, the Commissioner and the Chancellor will offer a range of “options,” other members will support the position of the electeds calling for a moratorium, a delay.

Within a week or so a bill will be sitting on the Governor’s desk.

I’m a big fan of E. D. Hirsch, I reread “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” every few years. What every educated person needs to know is the iconic Shelly poem.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains.
Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

― Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

Are the Common Core State Standards Developmentally Appropriate? Are the State Tests Punitive? Has the Commissioner Unleashed a Tiger?

A couple of meetings ago Harry Phillips, a member of the Board of Regents, made a proposal, a moratorium on the impact of the grades 3-8 state tests, a few Regents supported, it never made it to the agenda.

It was a grievous error.

The heavily scripted rollout of the new tests began in the spring with presentations by State Ed staff and Regents Fellows, all very detailed and upbeat – then the scores were released and the feces hit the fan.

The outrage over the sharp declines in scores has not abated; the anger grows by the day.

Have my kids gotten dumber? Have my teachers and principals suddenly become inept? Why are my kids being punished? Is it possible that there are no highly effective teachers in Syracuse?

Angry parents and teachers interrupt a meeting with the commissioner and he blames “special interests,” and the anger overflows.

Standards (“Students will be able to …”) + a deep, rich curriculum (in NYS curriculum is the responsibility of the district or school) + effective instruction (the responsibility of the district/school and measured by the teacher evaluation system aka APPR) = high level student learning.

The Common Core State Standards set a high bar, for example in Social Studies Grades 6-8,

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

If we started in the sixth grade by the eighth grade it would be fair to include these skills on a standardized test; unfortunately the kids, unprepared, were pushed off the cliff.

My early childhood teacher friends tell me the third grade standards are not age appropriate,

Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reason

Introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons

Provide reasons that support the opinion.

Principals and teachers were never part of the review process.

Does the state provide a Social Studies curriculum, well; they provide a draft 65-page document, NYS Common 9-12 Social Studies Frameworks, for whom is document intended? The school district? The school? The classroom teacher? Why can’t a teacher simply go online and download the sixth grade Social Studies curriculum? Why can’t the state or a school district simply adopt a well-regarded curriculum, perhaps E D Hirsch’s Core Knowledge?

“Cultural literacy constitutes the only sure avenue of opportunity for disadvantaged children,” Hirsch writes, and “the only reliable way of combating the social determinism that now condemns them to remain in the same social and educational condition as their parents. That children from poor and illiterate homes tend to remain poor and illiterate is an unacceptable failure of our schools, one which has occurred not because our teachers are inept but chiefly because they are compelled to teach a fragmented curriculum based on faulty educational theories.”

Classroom instruction? The state only “measures” the effectiveness of the instruction utilizing the deeply flawed APPR. A just-released report by a number of NYS superintendents points out significant flaws in the state plan.

New York’s first attempt to grade teachers on their students’ progress was flawed in several key ways, a new study commissioned by the region’s superintendents says.

The state’s formula gave less credit to teachers serving disadvantaged students, judged some teachers on the performance of too few students, failed to measure key variables such as students’ mobility and did not clearly signal how schools can assist teachers or students, the study found.

“Our fears were realized,” said Harrison Superintendent Louis Wool, who was president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents.

The three legs of the stool: standards + curriculum + instruction are all absent, inappropriate or confusing.

The pushback from parents and principals and teachers is an example of the wisdom of crowds.

The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question.

The commissioner is an expert; however, the “collective opinion” of the “crowd” is correct. The commissioner may blame “special interests,” in reality he has moved ahead too quickly, he left core constituencies behind, and is now the brunt of a growing anger.

If the Common Core (CCSS), the teacher evaluation plan (APPR) and the new state tests were phased in over a number of years; if New York State principals and teachers, selected by their own organizations, had an opportunity to review and modify the standards; if the state adjusted the plans as a result of on the ground experiences; if the folks leading schools and in classrooms had played a “real” role in the process we may have changed the face of education.

The anger, the attacks, the growing hostility, the reaction of electeds will likely sink the best of intentions.

Hopefully and there is time, sanity will prevail.