In this edition of 5 Things We’re Reading, we’re sharing articles covering a wide range of topics from new research on why quality curriculum really matters to a deep dive into a new book examining American inequality. We’re also proud to share with you our very own managing partner Kate Gerson’s opinion piece on her personal journey of understanding and checking unconscious bias. As always, we encourage you to let us know what you think, ask any questions in the comments section or by tweeting at us, and please share with friends and colleagues. Enjoy!
1. New Studies Suggest Choice of Curriculum and Textbooks Can Make a Big Difference for Students
In this piece, Matt Barnum writes that a significant body of research comes to the same conclusion about quality curriculum: “Access to, and specific choice of, curriculum and textbooks matter for student achievement.” Barnum shares some of the research that supports this actionable conclusion but also points to the nuances and complications around why it is not as simple as widespread district adoption of good curriculum and removal of bad curriculum.
Sean Davenport, principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy For Learning And Social Change in Harlem, shares a moving story on how he developed his teaching and coaching approach–an approach grounded in believing in, and challenging, all of his students. He writes, “So when I come to work every day, and you see my teachers in their classrooms, the one thing I try to instill in them is that these kids matter. They matter to someone. What I want my kids to get out of school is that they don’t have to be Barack Obama. They just have to be themselves, and if they are the best of who they are, then that’s all right with us.”
Gillian B. White discusses MIT economist Peter Temin’s new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, an examination of growing inequality in America. Temin argues that America, today, is a two-class system, and each class is characterized by a distinct type of worker, one skilled and educated and the other low-wage and low-skilled, resulting in vast disparities in assets and power. White describes Temin’s class system as, “One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.” Temin’s book narrows in on proposals that have the potential to help close the gap between the two classes including expanding access to and improving education.
Timothy Shanahan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago, looks at new research on matching students to texts at their “so-called instructional level.” He writes, “As in past studies, the results suggest not that we just have the wrong criteria for the true instructional level (there was no best book match here), but that it is unlikely there is such a thing as an instructional level; at least in terms of matching kids with books. The key, of course, is that while inordinate amounts of frustration should be avoided in instruction, that can easily be accomplished with grade level books and supportive teaching (like the paired reading that took place in this study). The instructional level is not a student-text match. Placing kids in easier, below grade level books reduces their opportunities to learn, but learning will only take place with accommodative and supportive instruction.”
UnboundEd’s Managing Partner Kate Gerson shares her personal journey of being able to recognize her own bias and understanding how it affected her practice as an educator. She writes, “I’m constantly learning how bias connects not just to pedagogy but how I move through the world. But here’s what I’ve learned unequivocally: We have to raise the standards of our work — across all roles in the education system — not for the students who are positioned to thrive regardless, but for the students who arrive in school not ready for their grade because of the inequitable world they inhabit. For these students, we must do the hard work and know the research to adapt our practices.”