Opinion
Curriculum Letter to the Editor

Massachusetts Battled ‘Fad for How-To Skills’

July 14, 2009 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

I read with interest Tony Wagner’s online Commentary “Accountability 2.0” (June 11, 2009) because my state, Massachusetts, is engaged in a spirited policy debate of the type Mr. Wagner describes, one about high academic standards and the softer approach that 21st-century skills represent.

The most curious line from the essay is this: “But if [core academic] knowledge is all that’s tested, increasingly school will become a high-stakes game of Trivial Pursuit, and we will fall farther behind in the race to develop an innovation economy.” The evidence from Massachusetts’ historic reform efforts tells a very different story.

The Massachusetts experience demonstrates once and for all that rescuing education reform from the soft-skills movement, as the Bay State has done with academic standards and assessments that have become a national model, has directly translated into dramatic student gains on indicators such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the SAT, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Far from reducing curriculum and instruction to what Mr. Wagner refers to as “test prep,” our clear, liberal-arts-rich standards, aligned with rigorous student assessments, teacher testing, and genuine accountability, have established Massachusetts’ students as national and international leaders in K-12 schooling.

Research conducted by E.D. Hirsch Jr., a leader in the core-knowledge movement, confirms the value of Massachusetts’ approach. It shows that a decade ago, Connecticut’s students outperformed their Massachusetts peers on national reading tests. But after Connecticut’s education policymakers shifted from an emphasis on core knowledge to pedagogies in the how-to style now promoted by 21st-century-skills advocates, the state’s students’ reading scores nose-dived.

Using the lessons of history as our guide, let’s not allow this anti-academic fad for how-to skills to sidetrack children from learning the broad range of content knowledge they need to live happy and productive lives.

Jamie Gass

Director

Center for School Reform

Pioneer Institute

Boston, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week as Massachusetts Battled ‘Fad for How-To Skills’

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
What is it About Math? Making Math Figure-Out-Able
Join Pam Harris for an engaging session challenging how we approach math, resulting in real world math that is “figure-out-able” for anyone.
Content provided by hand2mind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Q&A Why One District Hired Its Students to Review Curricula
Virginia's Hampton City school district pays a cadre of student interns to give feedback on curriculum.
3 min read
Kate Maxlow, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment at Hampton City Schools, who helped give students a voice in curriculum redesign, works in her office on January 12, 2024.
Kate Maxlow is the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in Virginia's Hampton City school district. She worked with students to give them a voice in shaping curriculum.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Curriculum One School District Just Pulled 1,600 Books From Its Shelves—Including the Dictionary
And the broadening book ban attempts may drive some teachers out of the classroom.
6 min read
Books are displayed at the Banned Book Library at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Fla., Feb. 18, 2023. In Florida, some schools have covered or removed books under a new law that requires an evaluation of reading materials and for districts to publish a searchable list of books where individuals can then challenge specific titles.
Books are displayed at the Banned Book Library at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Fla., Feb. 18, 2023. In Florida, some schools have covered or removed books under a new law that requires an evaluation of reading materials and for districts to publish a searchable list of books where individuals can then challenge specific titles.
Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times via AP
Curriculum What the Research Says Picking 'Evidence-Based' Programs: 5 Mistakes for Educators to Avoid
Education researchers share key insights on what to do when evaluating studies and reviews.
6 min read
Conceptual image of magnifying glass and rating/grades.
Seng kui Lim/Getty
Curriculum How to Create Courses on Personal Finance That Stick
Many states are now requiring students to study personal finance. Here are tips on implementing these courses.
4 min read
Illustration of a woman sitting on top of a question mark and underneath are with multiple arrows showing different directions to earning income, spending, savings, investing, credit, checking account
Getty/DigitalVision Vectors