Education Week - January 28, 2015 - (Page 26)

LETTERS to the EDITOR Editor's note: The following letter by James R. Delisle first appeared on in response to the outpouring of online comments about his recent Commentary critiquing differentiated instruction. Delisle: Comments Underscore Differentiation's Failings To the Editor: When I wrote my Commentary "Differentiation Doesn't Work" (Jan. 7, 2015), I anticipated that it would generate some discussion. Indeed, it has. In reading the comments made directly to Education Week on edweek. org, as well as the dozens of emails I have received from readers in several countries, I can conclude only one thing: Differentiation works ... unless it doesn't. Many of those who disagreed with my premise touted their own successes with differentiation, while those who struggled with its implementation (mostly teachers) used terms like "overwhelmed" and "discouraged." Those opposed to my views called me "misinformed" or "naive," while those who liked what I had to say applauded my "bravery" and "clarity" in stating the flaws of differentiation. A good number of readers assumed that I wanted to return to the days of whole-class instruction (I don't), and surprisingly few readers expressed concerns for how little gifted students benefit from differentiation in heterogeneous classrooms, which was a major point of my Commentary. My favorite comment came from a reader who stated that differentiation, as a concept, is "sublimely beautiful," while its implementation has been "ridiculous." Amen to that. I stand by my assertion that differentiation in a heterogeneous classroom setting is a difficult, at times impossible, task to complete for a single teacher. If students were "strategically mixed" (as one reader put it) in classrooms instead of being placed haphazardly, without regard to their readiness to learn, then differentiation would have a chance at succeeding. However, until such time, differentiation will leave more students behind than it propels forward. James R. Delisle Distinguished Professor of Education Kent State University (Retired) North Myrtle Beach, S.C. academic integrity, but a concurrentenrollment program can support it. National accreditation standards ensure that courses taught by high school instructors are the same as those taught on campus. Students take real college courses from a partner institution, and faculty members develop collegial relationships from which all students benefit. Credit transfer is high even without state mandates. Gillian B. Thorne Executive Director, Office of Early College Programs Director, UConn Early College Experience Program University of Connecticut Storrs, Conn. Arts Standards Will Help Youths Learn Across Disciplines To the Editor: Your recent collection of arts education Commentaries highlighted the irreplaceable value of the arts to learning, documenting many exciting occurrences in the field ("Inspired Learning: A special Commentary section on arts education," Dec. 3, 2014). The new framework for arts teaching and learning-the National Core Arts Standards, or ncas-also demonstrates the progress our educational system has made in acknowledging the positive impact of arts experiences on students' overall educational achievement. The ncas, the first national arts standards to be released in 20 years, was created after reviewing arts education best practices from around the world and eliciting feedback. It addresses the demands of 21st-century education by connecting grade-level arts standards with the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and math. The framework now includes a conception of the arts as literacies, with guidance on creating, producing, performing, presenting, responding, and connecting. These standards will help students develop skills that transfer across disciplines: imagination, investigation, construction, and reflection. Artistic literacy doesn't simply teach artistic skills, but also the skills required for other endeavors. This broader conception of arts in education echoes the contemporary view of education in general, which extends the definition of literacy beyond reading and writing to address other concerns, such as technological fluency and the ability to synthesize multiple streams of information. The release of the ncas implores us to evaluate (and re-evaluate) the best ways to teach our students the skills they need to be successful in college, career, and life. Jerry James Director of Teaching and Learning Eric Pryor Executive Director The Center for Arts Education New York, N.Y. Data Alone Cannot Solve Education's Problems Early-College Programs Benefit Students, Colleges To the Editor: In an article in the Dec. 10, 2014, issue, "College Policies Mixed on ap, ib, Dual Classes," there was not a single mention of the most robust, scalable, and successful early-college-credit model available and in use in most states: concurrent enrollment. Mass transfer of Advanced Placement scores can undermine a university's To the Editor: A Dec. 23, 2014, Inside School Research blog post, "Report Questions Sustainability of Longitudinal Student-Data Systems," outlined the findings of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report exposing gaps in the ability of states to match individual students' education records to their later results in the workforce. It is a critically important story for those of us who know that the power of valid data can be used to guide continuous improvement in teaching and learning (and the policies that support them). When Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems were first proposed, supporters suggested that 26 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 28, 2015 | they would be a solution for fixing what was wrong with education. Unfortunately, merely having the data does not fix the problem. Even knowing the problem does not fix the problem. The solution side of the data equation is the next big frontier. While the gao report raised some important caution flags, it is still a pretty big feat to capture and use key data sets to advance some of our most important education goals. For example, according to the Data Quality Campaign, 45 states can provide feedback to high schools on how their students fared after graduation. The gao reports that 29 states use longitudinal-data systems to flag individual students at risk of dropping out of school.This is progress, but we cannot give up or slow down. The gao report highlights remaining blind spots in realizing a data system that follows students from childhood all the way through K-12, in higher education, and into the workforce. We must continue this imperative work. Brad C. Phillips President Institute for Evidenced-Based Change San Diego, Calif. Computer-Programming Prepares Students for Problem-Solving To the Editor: With success stories like that of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, more people are willing to learn what programming is and why it's important to begin learning about it in primary and secondary schools. has been a major player in spreading the word about programming, with over 95 million people so far participating in one of its "Hour of Code" events ("Code. org Kicks Off Computer Science Education Week at White House," Digital Education blog,, Dec. 8, 2014). With celebrities like proclaiming that "great coders are today's rock stars," who can resist learning the superpower that is computer programming? As a high school teacher-librarian, I teach a mandatory course to freshmen called Computing Technology. The primary learning goal is to develop curiosity by exploring new ideas and issues through information and technology. The last unit focuses on computer programming using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Scratch language and coding tutorials available from the website. Programming encourages students to practice logical thinking, spatial reasoning, and the ability to make connections while using the trial-anderror method for problem-solving. Whether analyzing literature, learning a new math concept, or applying formulas to physics, students with programming skills will be more willing and able to work through tough problems across the curriculum. A little exposure to computer programming can make a big difference for the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Jamie-Lee Schombs Library Media Specialist Loyola School New York, N.Y. Chris Whetzel for Education Week To the Contrary: Differentiation Does Work CONTINUED FROM PAGE 32 moves forward consistently from his or her starting point. I have no more patience with classes where advanced learners stagnate than I do with classes that shortchange kids who struggle with school. Here are a couple of points worth considering, however. The studies most cited in terms of benefits of homogeneous instruction for bright learners examined two conditions: heterogeneous classrooms in which little or nothing was done to provide plus-one learning for advanced learners, and homogeneous classrooms in which teachers regularly planned for plus-one learning. In the two decades since those studies, I've observed and studied schools in which the entire faculty focused on providing a third condition: differentiation in mixed-ability classrooms where regular planning for a full spectrum of learners-including advanced learners-was a given. Teachers in those schools typically COMMENTARY POLICY Education Week takes no editorial positions, but publishes opinion essays and letters from outside contributors in its Commentary section. For information about submitting an essay or letter for review, visit "teach up," planning first for advanced learners, then scaffolding instruction to enable less advanced students to access those rich learning experiences. Further, they extend the initial learning opportunities when they are not sufficiently challenging for highly advanced learners. In those schools, achievement for the full spectrum of learners-including advanced learners-rose markedly when compared to peer schools where this approach was not pervasive. For the record, I've never felt differentiation was a panacea. I have never advocated what I'd call "Noah's Ark" classrooms assigned two of every kind of learner in the school. I absolutely understand that differentiating instruction well is not easy. But then, I've never felt that teaching should be easy. I work with a growth mindset about teachers, as about students. I believe that with intelligent, sustained support, most teachers can learn-step by step and over time-the attitudes and skills necessary to provide plus-one learning in the context of classrooms that are both academically rich and academically diverse. n

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 28, 2015

Education Week - January 28, 2015
Activists Learn Art of ‘Test Refusal’
Ed. School Deans Join Forces To Bolster Teacher Preparation
N.C. District Rebounds From Ed-Tech Meltdown
Poverty Data Signal Urgency for Schools
Report Roundup
News in Brief
Chicago’s Closures Drove Most to Higher-Rated Schools
More Districts Expected to Follow Boston on Longer Days
International Study Ranks Schools on Social Stress, Equity
Blogs of the Week
No Firm Direction on Testing Set At Senate Panel’s ESEA Hearing
As Job Description Grows, So Does Churn for State Chiefs
K-12 Issues Given Short Shrift in State of the Union Address
State of the States
Blogs of the Week
SUSAN H. FUHRMAN: Measurement Alone Cannot Propel Improvement
SAMINA HADI-TABASSUM: Too Much Discipline Hurts Majority-Minority Schools
GARRISON WALTERS: Dump Management ‘Science,’ And Change Learning Attitudes
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment

Education Week - January 28, 2015