Archives for category: Curriculum

Eduardo Andere is a Mexican researcher who has studied educational systems around the world. He wrote a book about teaching in Finland.

He is in Finland now, and he reports here about the new Finnish curriculum.

He responds to claims that subjects are de-emphasized, a concern we (I) knew nothing about. Until now.

He writes:

“Instruction subjects do NOT disappear in the new FINNISH peruskoulu curriculum. What happens is that the new curriculum for compulsory school education (effective as of 2016 for grades 1 to 6, and as of 2017 for grades 7 to 9) reinforces “multidisciplinary learning modules” where “integrative instruction” is promoted during all school years. Good to excellent teachers have known for a long time that multidisciplinary teaching and learning helps to connect subjects to real life experiences, “phenomena” or “themes” as the Finnish curriculum calls them.

“Teachers then use projects based on themes or class teaching plans that promote not only the knowledge of curriculum subjects but also transversal competences, i.e., those abilities that students need to develop in order to solve new problems and propose innovative solutions. Cross-fertilization from different subjects can help indeed. But teachers need to know their subjects in depth, and nobody is proposing their elimination (for the list of subjects in the new Finnish curriculum please look HERE). It is more about pedagogy than getting rid of subjects.

“In my opinion the new curriculum stresses three basic ideas: 1) invite teachers to combine subjects simultaneously or sequentially with the help of themes or phenomena; 2) cooperation, communication and coordination among teachers; 3) connection between theory, teaching and learning and real life examples meaningful to students’ own reality and context. For example, a theme for a class or school year or school project may be “water” or “pollution.” Both themes include aspects studied by different subjects: chemistry, biology, natural resources, physics, mathematics, law, social sciences, etc. Another theme may be “Art in the twentieth century”, and the subjects could be: art, history, social sciences, humanities, civilization. Another one, with a lot of meaning in Suomi is “Finland 100” as the Finnish will celebrate 100 years of independence in 2017.

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. was the originator the Core Knowledge program and the author of the best-selling book, Cultural Literacy. He championed a knowledge-rich curriculum, believing that access to shared knowledge was necessary for all children. His book was very controversial when it appeared, because many academics and educators thought it was wrong to make up a list of words and phrases that “everyone should know.” But Hirsch persisted and continues to persist.

Using the proceeds from his book, he established the Core Knowledge Foundation and he issued lists of words and phrases for every grade. (I served on the board of the Core Knowledge Foundation in the 1990s.) When the Common Core standards were released in 2009, he lauded them, thinking that they embodied the essence of his philosophy.

Now, however, he has second thoughts. He sees the Common Core as the same contentless methodology that he always opposed.

For nearly three decades, E.D. Hirsch Jr. has been beating the drum on a simple idea, though one that’s proved a hard sell: To become good readers and communicators, U.S. students need a shared curriculum that teaches them about science, history, math, geography, literature, and the arts.

In other words, more than skills and strategies, students need knowledge.

His philosophy first came to the general public’s attention in 1987 when, as head of the English department at the University of Virginia, he wrote Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. The book included an appendix listing about 5,000 names, dates, places, and ideas—everything from the adrenal gland to zeitgeist—that students should learn in school.

The list made the book a best-seller—and it also made Hirsch persona non grata in plenty of liberal education circles. He was labeled Eurocentric and an elitist, and many wrote off his ideas entirely.

But Hirsch, an avowed liberal who champions the idea that having students learn the same things will lead to equal opportunities for all, hasn’t backed down. And now, at age 88, he’s at it again with a new book about the need for a knowledge-based curriculum. The book’s publication comes as Hirsch is seeing his theories rebound and creep their way into more schools, teacher trainings, and instructional materials—largely, many say, thanks to the Common Core State Standards.

But in Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children From Failed Educational Theories, Hirsch excoriates the education policies of the day, including—interestingly—the use of the common core.

The reading standards’ focus on all-purpose comprehension skills rather than content, while it may be politically necessary, is “a deep misfortune,” he said.

“It’s a pointless approach,” he concludes.

Donald Trump spoke recently to the American Legion and promised that he would restore the teaching of patriotism in American schools. No one can say anymore that he never mentions public schools.

A Trump administration, he said, would consult with the military veterans’ group to promote “pride and patriotism” in schools – “teaching respect” for the US flag and pledge of allegiance.

“That flag deserves respect, and I will work with American Legion to help to strengthen respect for our flag,” said Trump. “You see what’s happening. It’s very, very sad. And, by the way, we want young Americans to recite the pledge of allegiance.

“One country, under one constitution, saluting one American flag … always saluting,” he added. “In a Trump administration, I plan to work directly with the American Legion to uphold our common values and to help ensure they are taught to America’s children. We want our kids to learn the incredible achievements of America’s history, its institutions and its heroes.”

The call to “advance the cause of Americanism – not globalism” came as Trump reiterated the anti-immigration message at the heart of his campaign, which delighted core supporters and dismayed his few remaining Latino allies, who had expected a tack towards moderation.

You can be sure that Trump doesn’t know that the federal government is prohibited by law from interfering with or influencing what is taught in public schools. Since Arne Duncan ignored that part of the law by promoting Common Core, Trump must assume he can ignore it too.

I am very pleased to let you know about the publication of a newly revised edition of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

Perhaps you read it when it was first released in 2010. It was big news at the time, because I broke ranks with the conservative think tanks and policymakers who had once been my allies. I spoke out against the misuse of testing and the dangers of privatization. This was unexpected from someone who had been an Assistant Secretary of Education in the administration of President George H. W. Bush, who served as part of three conservative think tanks, and who had written many articles about the “crisis” in American education.

I thought I had made a clean break with the Bush-Obama agenda. But in time I realized that I had not completely escaped the old, failed way of thinking (like a state, tinkering with people’s lives from afar). The book continued my longstanding support for a national curriculum and predicted that it would be smooth sailing now that the culture wars were over. I was wrong again!

In this new revision of the book, I have removed any endorsement for a national curriculum or national standards or national tests, and I explain why. The controversy over the Common Core standards taught me that the U.S. will never have a national curriculum, and furthermore, should never have one.

I also explain why a national curriculum and national examinations will not reduce the achievement gap among different racial and ethnic groups and will not reduce poverty. The advocacy for them–from the same people who support privatization–continues to be an excuse for avoiding the issue of poverty. And I rewrote the chapter on “A Nation at Risk,” showing how it dodged the most important issues in our society, which were economic and social, not educational.

Yes, there is a “crisis” in education, but it is not a crisis of test scores or failing schools. The crisis is caused by policymakers, federal officials, foundations, and business leaders who are imposing failed ideas on the schools. These impositions are hurting students, teachers, principals, communities, and public education itself. They have failed and failed, again and again, but those who support the Bush-Obama agenda of competition, choice, testing, and accountability refuse to re-examine their assumptions. Their inability to recognize their own failure has created disruption (which they admire), turmoil, and massive demoralization among educators.

I hope you will consider reading the book. I think that D&L continues to speak with passion to the terrible and real crisis in American education, a crisis caused by non-educators who want to turn our schools into job-training units, who want to emphasize standardized testing to the detriment of students, educators, and public schools, and who foolishly think that privatization will improve education.

Will Fitzhugh is the tireless publisher and editor of The Concord Review. He taught history in a public high school for many years, then stepped away from teaching to found The Concord Review. TCR publishes student work in history, original research papers that are well-written and reflect deep study. It has subscribers all over the world and submissions from students from many countries. It is a fine publication that recognizes the value of excellent historical studies in high school. But Fitzhugh has struggled throughout the life of TCR to keep it alive. He has applied to and been rejected by every foundation and government agency that he could think of. The journal gets plaudits from all who see it, but Will Fitzhugh has exhausted his savings keeping it alive. He is a man with a mission. Please consider subscribing to TCR and make sure that your history students are aware that they can submit essays for possible publication. If you happen to have a foundation, please consider subsidizing this wonderful publication so it will survive. TCR “is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic research papers of secondary students.” It should be in every high school.



Will Fitzhugh wrote in the December 2015 issue of TCR:



When teachers say they have to spend so much time preparing for math and reading tests that they cannot give any attention to history, I always want to suggest that if they give their students history to read, they will not only get practice in reading, they will learn some history, too.


When some argue that only in literature can one find good stories of human fears, troubles, relationships, hopes, competition, and accomplishments, I have to believe that reading history was not a big part of their education.


I was a literature major in college, and only came to read history seriously afterwards. No one emphasized the benefits of history when I was in school. And I realize that the appreciation of history is a bit cumulative. That is, when a student first reads history she doesn’t know who these people are or what they are doing or why that might be important to know.


Teachers have to assume some responsibility for expressing their assurance that history is not only interesting but also essential—that is, if they are aware of that themselves. Things go slow in learning any new language. Students can’t love French poetry or Chinese philosophy right away. They have to work to learn the language basics first.


That goes for history as well. But after reading history for a few years, people and events come to be more familiar, and the chronology turns out to be no more difficult and perhaps even more interesting than irregular verbs.


People rightly defend the stories in literature. But history is nothing but stories, too, with the difference that they are true stories, about actual people, who faced and coped with real problems of very great difficulty, with varying degrees of wisdom and success.


These are the people and the stories who form the basis of the civilization the students have inherited, and neglecting them does indeed rob students of an important part of their birthright.


I believe high school students in particular, with whom I am most familiar, having taught in high school for ten years, should read at least one complete history book a year. After all, many of these students are reading Shakespeare plays, studying calculus, and perhaps Chinese and chemistry, so a good history book should be easy, and perhaps a bit of a break for them as well. And not only would they learn some history in the process, but they would experience some exemplary nonfiction writing at the same time. All our students deserve such opportunities. And most are now denied them.

In response to an earlier post about the decline in teaching fiction since 2011, and to the limits on fiction set in the Common Core standards (not more than 30% of instructional time in high school), a reader named Laura responded in a comment. Why limit fiction? Why does it matter? I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Laura writes:

“The study of literature (i.e. fictional texts) is essential to the development of critical thinking. When a student engages with a piece of literature, the student must step into the shoes of someone else and evaluate the decisions made and the actions taken by that character. When we teach literature, we teach students to hypothesize by making predictions, and we teach students how to synthesize different pieces of information in a way that makes sense. With literature, students learn how to understand and how to make analogies, thereby developing their ability to compare and contrast ideas as well as to evaluate those comparisons and contrasts.  

“Literature provides the opportunity for students to understand human relationships as well as historical events in a way that is more personal and more accessible. I know a student is hooked when the student says, “This character is just like X in my life.” When a student can identify with a character and with a story, then a reader is created, and that reader will go on to read anything else they encounter in the world. Therefore, literature allows students not only to develop their vocabulary and their reading comprehension skills but to develop a consciousness as a member of a larger community of people. It allows students to access different perspectives, and especially on controversial issues, this can sometimes be the only point of access that a student might have.  

“Gates, Walton, Broad, Zuckerberg, et al are not interested in critical thinkers who might question their decisions. They want human drones who have enough tech skills to produce but not enough critical thinking skills to challenge the way things are.  

“Anyone who views literature as an option is misguided. Literature is absolutely and fundamentally essential to an educated populace and to democracy.”

Tom Loveless, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has studied NAEP results for years. In this post, he discusses whether the recent flatlining of NAEP was caused by the adoption of the Common Core standards. He says it is too soon to know. We will have to see what happens in 2017 and 2019, maybe even 2021.


But what he does observe is a marked decline in teaching fiction, as compared to informational text. The decline has occurred since 2011, as implementation of Common Core intensified across the nation. The shrinkage of time for teaching fiction was equally large in both fourth and eighth grades. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Common Core standards are causing a decline in teaching fiction.


The Common Core standards recommend that teachers spend 50% of reading time on fiction and 50% on informational text in grades K-8. In high school, the standards propose a division of 30% fiction-70% informational text. When English teachers and members of the public complained about the downgrading of fiction, the CCSS promoters insisted that they referred to the entire curriculum, not just to English. But fiction is not typically taught in science, math, or social studies classes (and when it is taught in social studies classes, it has a good purpose).


Where did these proportions come from? They are drawn directly from NAEP’s guidelines to assessment developers about the source of test questions. The NAEP guidelines were never intended as instructions for teachers about how much time to devote to any genre of reading.


No nation in the world, to my knowledge, directs teachers about the proportion of time to devote to fiction or non-fiction. This is a bizarre recommendation.


I write informational text, so I am all for it. But I think it should be the teachers’ choice about whether to emphasize literature or nonfiction. I believe that learning to read and learning to interpret text can be accomplished in any genre. A student could study all informational text or all literature and be a good or great or poor reader. The genre doesn’t matter as much as other factors, like the student’s level of interest, the age appropriateness of the text, and how it is taught.






Once more into the math wars, dear friends. I confess I am an innocent bystander. I have never taught math, and I am astonished at the expectations that our middle school students meet. When I was in high school, I studied Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry, but math instruction has moved far beyond what I learned. So I invite math teachers to comment on Wendy Lecker’s new article about what the Common Core math gets wrong. To all the pundits and politicians who ridicule our students and teachers, I have a standing challenge: Take any eighth grade math test and publish your scores.



Lecker writes:


At parents’ night this fall, a high school math teacher I know begged parents to teach their children long division “the old-fashioned way.” She explained that the new way students had learned long division impedes their ability to understand algebraic factoring. She lamented that students hadn’t been taught certain rote skills, like multiplication tables, that would enable them to perform more complex math operations efficiently.

It turns out that brain science supports this math teacher’s impressions. Rote learning and memorization at an early age are critical in developing math skills.

A study conducted by Stanford Medical school examined the role of a part of the brain, the hippocampus, in the development of math skills in children. The authors noted that a shift to memory-based problem solving is a hallmark of children’s cognitive development in arithmetic as well as other domains. They conducted brain scans of children, adolescents and adults and found that hippocampus plays a critical but time limited role in the development of memory-based problem solving skills.

The hippocampus helps the brain encode memories in children that as adults they can later retrieve efficiently when working with more complex math concepts. The hippocampal system works a certain way in children to help develop memory-based problem solving skills. Once the children pass a certain age, the processes change.

The study also found that “repeated problem solving during the early stages of arithmetic skill development in children contributes to memory re-encoding and consolidation.” In other words, rote repetition helps the development of this critical brain system so essential to later more complicated math work.

Those who developed the Common Core State Standards clearly ignored brain research in math, as they did in reading (; The Common Core emphasizes conceptual understanding at every phase of math instruction. So, even young children are required not only to conduct a simple math procedure, but to also explain and justify every answer.


There is more. Open the link and read the rest of the article. Then sound off.

Steve Singer, a teacher in Pennsylvania, warns that the standardization movement will crush educators and students. He sees no value in having a single set of national standards. Is there a school that doesn’t teach reading and writing, mathematics and basic skills? No. If there were, taxpayers would soon close it. Should states legislate about evolution? Good grief, no. Either they would legislate not to teach it, or to give equal time to creationism, or they would then think it necessary to legislate their views on every controversial school issue.


Singer sees the drive to standardize the schools as similar to having every restaurant become a McDonald’s.


We shouldn’t want all of our public schools to be uniform. When everyone teaches the same things, it means we leave out the same things. There is far too much to know in this world than can ever be taught or learned in one lifetime. Choices will always need to be made. The question is who should make them?

If we allow individuals to make different choices, it diversifies what people will know. Individuals will make decisions, which will become the impetus to learning, which will then become intrinsic and therefore valued. Then when you get ten people together from various parts of the country, they will each know different things but as a whole they will know so much more than any one member. If they all know the same things, as a group they are no stronger, no smarter than each separate cog. That is not good for society.

We certainly don’t want this ideal when going out to eat. We don’t want every restaurant to be the same. We certainly don’t want every restaurant to be McDonalds.

Imagine if every eatery was a burger joint. That means there would be no ethnic food. No Mexican. No Chinese. No Italian. There would be nothing that isn’t on that one limited menu. Moreover, it would all be prepared the same way. Fast food restaurants excel in consistency. A Big Mac at one McDonalds is much like a Big Mac at any other. This may be comforting but – in the long run – it would drive us insane. If our only choices to eat were on a McDonald’s Value Menu, we would all soon die of diabetes.

But this is what we seem to want of our public schools. Or do we?
There is a bait and switch going on in this argument for school standardization. When we talk about making all schools the same, we’re not talking about all schools. We’re only talking about traditional public schools. We’re not talking about charter schools, parochial schools or private schools.

How strange! The same people who champion this approach rarely send their own children to public schools. They want sameness for your children but something much different for their own.


The strangest contradiction occurs when the same people advocate on one hand for school choice, but on the other for no choice about what children should learn.

New York policy makers saw a problem: too many students were failing the Algebra exam required for graduation. Result: more kids failed. What happens next? The tests will be made harder. What do you think will happen now? Will the policymakers blame teachers? Will the public figure out that making tests harder increases the failure rate? Why do legislators and policy makers think that kids work harder and learn more if the tests are more rigorous? Tests are not instruction. They are measures.


Some students take the Algebra exam four, five, six times. At one school that raised its passing rate on the Algebra test, the school dropped art, music, and health.


I have been reading Andrew Hacker’s “The Math Myth.” He does a good job of demolishing the claims that everyone needs Algebra.


Common sense, anyone?