Tag Archives: Understanding by Design

From “Fighting to Building a School System,” The UFT Enthusiastically Endorses de Blasio … with High Expectations.

Bill Thompson stepped to the microphone on election night, his opponent; Bill de Blasio was a couple of hundred votes north of the 40% which would obviate an October 1 runoff.

“We’re in this race until the last ballot is counted.”

On Wednesday it was clear, de Blasio had won in every constituency, from Afro-Americans to gays to women, in Queens, in Brooklyn, and the Democratic Party scions desperately wanted to avert a contentious and expensive October 1 clash.

On Monday morning, on the steps of City Hall, Thompson threw in the towel and minutes later the union e-announced a special Delegate meeting on Wednesday.

The 1,000 delegates crammed into the Shanker Auditorium in union headquarters were anxious to vote. Mulgrew laid out the scenario and opened the floor, after a motivating speech extolling de Blasio another delegate was recognized,

“This is a no-brainer, I move to close debate,” to ecstatic cheers.

After an almost unanimous vote de Blasio strode to the stage, a rousing pro public school. pro teacher, pro-union speech. While de Blasio never mentioned charter schools he did emphasize that the future of the city lay in high effective public schools, emphasizing public.

With a forty-point lead in the polls de Blasio should sail to victory.

He faces staggering issues.

For twenty years the Democratic Party establishment has been on the outside looking in. The Mayor appoints thousands to city positions. Bloomberg, for all his flaws, for the most part, hired managers free of party labels. Can de Blasio satisfy a Democratic Party hungry for old-fashioned patronage?

“Tax the rich” and the “Tale of Two Cities” was a highly effective campaign strategy, how does de Blasio convince investors to continue investing, real estate developers to continue developing, without alienating his base?

“Stop and Frisk,” again, an effective campaign issue, an issue of concern to police officers, how do you assure police officers, and the citizenry that ending “stop and frisk” will not increase violent crime?

The labor contracts of all city employees have expired, the teachers’ contract almost four years ago. How do you find the dollars to negotiate new labor contracts?

And, not the least, the school system: how do you repair a school system that has been at war with their employees and the wide range of advocates?

Is there a Jesus-Mohammad-Abrahamic figure that can sweep in and bind the wounds?

The UFT, the teacher union, has been in a fight mode for years, can they move from fight to partner?

The union membership, while strongly supportive of union leadership, is divided along generational lines (See Susan Moore Johnson article here). Participation in the April union election was at an all-time low. A “now that our guy won why can’t we go back to the way it was,” attitude is prevalent, and incorrect.

A new mayor and a new chancellor may not be so quick to close schools, the Progress Report metrics may change, the words out of Tweed and Gracie Mansion may be kinder, federal laws requiring testing and state laws requiring a teacher evaluation system remain in place.

At a Wednesday night meeting of union leadership Michael Mulgrew started his comments with, “We moving from fighting to building a school system.”

Can the same teachers move from attending demonstrations and rallies, from filing grievances to trashing the mayor and Tweed and principals to sitting with a group of teachers and work on an Understanding by Design curriculum mapping plan?

Winning means taking on responsibility.

The fighting may be over, the work has just begin.

Common Core Confusion: The CCSS Without Content-Rich Curriculum, a Focus on Planning and Instruction and Collaboration is a Farce.

The NY Daily News, in a gloating editorial supports the “Common Core curriculum,” chides teachers and the education establishment, predicts dramatic drops in test scores and publishes a rebuttal by union president Michael Mulgrew.

The problem: the Common Core is not a curriculum, let me say it again, the Common Core is not a curriculum.

The Common Core, more accurately the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of skills; in the last wave of standards teachers were required in each lesson plan to include: Students Will Be Able To (SWBAT) and list the particular standard the lesson was addressing, some principals, once again, require the particular standards to be listed next to each activity in their lesson plan; a time-consuming, mechanical waste of valuable teacher time.

The current CCSS website advises,

The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well—and to give students the opportunity to master them.

New York State has chosen to ignore the advice of the CCSS folk and push all students in grades 3-8 off the end of the pier at the same time. Some will sink, some will swim, some principals and teachers will be dragged under by the educational malfeasance of federal/state/city leaders.

Let’s take a look at the CCSS, the skills in a particular grade:

The ELA Common Core Reading: Literature Standards for Grade 8 are as follows,

Key Ideas and Details
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.3 Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

Craft and Structure
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.5 Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.6 Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.7 Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.

• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.9 Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
• CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

In my view the CCSS are not unreasonable, teachers have been teaching many of the CCSS skills for years, the difference is the “one size fits all” nature of the standards, and the large number of standards, without a “content-rich curriculum.

What is the “content” in an 8th grade ELA class? Who decides the content? Is content determined by the books in the bookroom? Do uniform scoring rubrics exist? Do teachers within a subject area, on a grade, on multiple grades, in multiple schools have the opportunity to share rubrics and graded student work?

The answer: who knows? The Department abjures a focus on instructional practice; the “methodology” of the guys and gals at Tweed is the repetitive use of interim assessments which drives lessons to address “deficiencies” as identified by the assessment. The result is continuing deadening test prep.

The question of planning is left wholly to teachers, without the requisite professional development.

Effective lessons require effective planning.

Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, in my judgment is far more important than the dry and seemingly endless CCSS.

Wiggins writes ,

How teachers plan – I think this is one of the more interesting ‘black boxes’ in education. There are few studies of it, yet it is clearly one of the most vital elements of the enterprise….

Robert Marzano reports that a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” is the key factor in academic achievement in schools, regardless of how flexible plans have to be…

• What content standards and program- or mission-related goal(s) will this unit address?
• What kinds of long-term, independent accomplishments are desired (transfer goals)?
• What thought-provoking questions will foster inquiry, meaning-making, and transfer?
• What specifically do you want students to understand? What important ideas do you want them to grasp? What inferences should they make? What misconceptions are predictable and will need overcoming?
• What facts and basic concepts should students know and be able to recall?
• What discrete skills and processes should be able to use?

An example of a suggested Wiggins planning templates.


The current network system was originally designed to allow principals (initially with their staffs) to select a network that matched the instructional philosophy of a school community. For a few districts Wiggins-McTighe, Understanding by Design, was the core of lesson preparation within schools. Individual teachers, group of teachers, by subject, by grade, had the opportunity to attend workshops, network leaders provided training, others moved in a different direction, aping the Tweed test prep loop.

Brave principals lead, cycles of professional development addressing the skills of teachers, content-rich curriculum, frequent principal classroom visits with meaningful feedback, and a laser focus on collaboration, among students, teachers and the school community. Too many principals “drink the cool-aid” and hammer staffs with cycle after cycle of data collection/analysis, dull teaching and re-teaching of “skills” absent a curriculum.

In eight months we will have a new chancellor, a well-respected educator who can lead,

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Albert Einstein