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

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
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
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

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 Opinion A Search for Common Ground: Navigating Tough Classroom Conversations
Should parents or legislators have a say in what subjects educators teach?
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Curriculum Spotlight Spotlight on Curriculum
This Spotlight will help you explore parental involvement in curriculum choices, how curriculum can help students’ media literacy, and more.
Curriculum Letter to the Editor Banning SEL Puts Students at Risk
Do those trying to ban social-emotional learning even understand what it is? asks this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Spotlight Spotlight on Creative Learning
This Spotlight will empower you with findings about student motivation, the case for real-world problem-solving, and more.