Once a month on a Monday morning the seventeen members of the Board of Regents trickle into the ornate Regents Room in Albany. A long table stretches across the center of the room, the members sit along both sides along with the commissioner; a video screen in one corner and automated cameras (the meetings are live streamed). The coffee is strong!! Three rows of folding chairs surround the table: journalists, State Ed staff, lobbyists, advocates for some issue on the agenda, an occasional legislator, and me. Most of us know each other, at least by sight. On the walls portraits of bearded white men, the many chancellors who have led the Board of Regents since the origin of the Board in the late eighteenth century.
Slavery ended in New York State in 1827, I wonder if any of the first chancellors owned slaves? (For another day)
The meeting begins with a sort of invocation. The chancellor, or other board member, muses about the role of the board, the million plus students, parents, what the member thinks and/or what should guide their decisions.
The first order of business on Monday was the approval of the ESSA Plan, all hundreds of pages.
View a 10-slide presentation here.
View presentations of various sections of the Plan here.
ESSA fatigue had set in, there was very little discussion. The year long effort is off to Washington with a decision by the feds expected in early 2018.
The meeting moved upstairs to the P-12 Committee and a discussion of the Next Generation Standards, aka Common Core 2.0. The SED has been juggling the standards for two years. Hundreds of teachers, school leaders, college folk and SED staff have added and subtracted from what was the Common Core. I sat through an offsite meeting of teachers a few months ago. The very engaged teachers were totally committed, parsed words and phrases, and, I wondered: do classroom teachers, the ordinary Joe’s and Jane’s ever look at the standards?
Check out Highlights of the Revisions here.
In the discussion Regent Cashin, who was a teacher, a staff developer, a principal and a superintendent, asked a simple question: Is there a curriculum that emerges from the standards? The commissioner responded: curriculum is the responsibility of the school and/or school district and suggested that the BOCES centers, the regional State Education Department Support Centers could work with their surrounding school districts. In New York City the current leadership has been promising a curriculum for years.
Regents Cashin related that twenty schools in her district had used the Core Knowledge Curriculum with outstanding results. (The Joel Klein driven Board of Education did not renew the funding).
While the Common Core and it’s spin offs have dominated discussion for the last few years the importance of curriculum has emerged.
Charles Sahm in Knowledge Bank/US News wrote, “A Compelling Case for Curriculum: Growing Evidence Suggests High Quality Curriculum is a Key Component of Student Success .”
One of the odd features of education policy is that while a plethora of research exists on the effects of systemic reforms (e.g., class size, charter schools, teacher and school accountability mechanisms), on student achievement there is very little data on whether curriculum – what kids are actually being taught – makes a difference.
As Rebecca Kockler, Louisiana’s assistant superintendent of academic content, explained at the Hopkins/Hunter forum, over the past four years the state has reviewed more than 100 curricular programs according to their alignment with state content standards. The state leaves it up to districts to select curricula but helps them make informed decisions and facilitates professional development for the most highly rated curricula. Louisiana keeps track of what curricula districts are using and about 80 percent now employ materials from the state’s top rating tier. The state’s emphasis on curriculum appears to be generating results. Louisiana fourth graders achieved the highest growth among all states on the 2015 NAEP and the second highest in math.
Louisiana doesn’t write curriculum, they assess the alignment of curriculum to state standards on a public site.
Chester Finn, in Education Next, (“Curriculum Becomes a Reform Strategy”) hits the nail on the head,
Curriculum … is generally left to districts, which frequently leave it to individual schools and often to individual teachers or departments within them. When that classroom door closes, Ms. Smith and Ms. Gonzalez can teach pretty much whatever they want, using pretty much whatever materials they want, subject only to budgetary constraints, what’s in the “bookroom,” how fast are their internet connections, and what’s apt to be on their pupils’ end-of-year state test, which of course doesn’t exist for many subjects and high school courses.
New York State points with pride to the curriculum modules on the open source Engage NY web site. Unfortunately the modules are not aligned with current shifting standards; in New York, the state has spent the last two years amending the standards and will spend another set of years rolling out the standards. In other words, “ever-changing” standards, not aligned to modules and not aligned to state tests.
There is an increasing body of research that points to curriculum as the key to increasing student achievement.
- the cumulative impact of a well-formulated curriculum over several years can be very large indeed.
- “Changes in curriculum are relatively cost-neutral.” In other words, this is a low-budget reform. A powerful curriculum isn’t more expensive than a weak one.
Traditionally the New York City Labor Day parade takes place the Saturday after Labor Day. I met up with the UFT group on 47th Street waiting for our turn to march up Fifth Avenue. It was a spectacular day. For a couple hours you catch up with friends and make new friends. I chatted with teacher after teacher, did they know that New York State had standards? If so, did the standards impact their lesson planning and instruction? The answer was universal: they taught whatever program the school used, maybe Lucy Calkins, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project or Lucy West or Singapore Math or even ED Hirsch Core Knowledge or whatever the principal and/or the superintendent is partial to, in other words, the flavor of the day.
In high schools the curriculum is frequently driven by the contents of the book room.
I know this is radical, but, if we’re going to test kids wouldn’t it be a good idea to test them on the content that is actually taught?
What have we learned:
* We really good at crafting a plan, a high level of engagement across the state, every stakeholder having input, using some of the finest minds in the country to guide the process; however, will the implementation of the plan change outcomes for low performing kids and schools? Can ESSA overcome the impact of poverty, funding inequities, corrosive politics at the national and local levels?
* In spite of the federal law requiring testing state educational leaders are beginning to have doubts over the efficacy and impact of the state tests. The opt-out parents are clearly impacting thought across the state.
* Hopefully, now is the time to actually begin to explore alternatives to the traditional standardized tests
A number of states (for example New Hampshire) are piloting performance-based assessments. The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (usually referred to as SCALE) partners with school districts to create and implement performance assessments. New Hampshire is in the fourth year is an expanding pilot, partnering with 2Revolutions, an education design lab, embedding performance assessments and working with teachers to change the practice and culture of teaching and learning.
For some the submission of the ESSA plan is viewed as a major achievement, for me, a first step up a long and steep staircase, without handrails.