Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cleaning-up Teacher Education

Citing a study about the sorry state of teacher education in this country, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post asserts that it's time to break down the ivory tower:
This should be a shining moment for education schools. Never has the nation paid so much attention to improving the quality of teaching. Yet the institutions that produce teachers have never faced so much criticism.

"Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world," said Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia University's Teachers College. "Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and chaotic."

Stanford University educational historian David F. Labaree wrote in a recent book: "Institutionally, the ed school is the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education; it don't get no respect. The ed school is the butt of jokes in the university, where professors portray it as an intellectual wasteland."

The attacks have become so frequent and intense that some educators say they have gone too far. But a growing number of educators say ed schools fail to give teachers enough background in their subject matter, fail to prepare them for the difficulties of urban schools and fail to recruit the best students.

For a study on ed schools released in September, Levine surveyed administrators with firsthand knowledge of these problems: principals. Only two of every five principals surveyed said ed schools were preparing teachers very well or moderately well to get new curriculum and performance standards into the classroom. Only one-third said their teachers were very or moderately well prepared for maintaining classroom order. Only one-fifth said their teachers were that well prepared to work with parents.

There is little agreement on what should be done to improve the ed schools. Levine suggested that the leading accreditation organization for ed schools should be replaced by one that pays closer attention to the performance of graduates. Many ed schools bristled at that idea.

Other critics have suggested replacing ed schools with training institutes in school districts. Some call for an expansion of Teach for America, which puts young college graduates into the classroom with minimal preparation and lets them learn on the job.

But rethinking teacher education does not appear to a high priority at many universities. Some experts wonder if ed schools will ever be more than hiring halls with a few textbooks.

"The good news about ed schools is that they are not powerful enough to do much harm to American education," Labaree wrote in his 2004 book "The Trouble With Ed Schools." He added: "The bad news is that they are also not powerful enough to do much good for a system of schooling that could really use their help."

There are slightly more than 1,200 education schools, colleges of education or departments of education. They award about one of every 12 bachelor's degrees in the United States, a quarter of all master's degrees and 15 percent of all doctorates. No other branch of academia is so large.

Ed schools typically give prospective teachers instruction in the theory and skills that will make them effective in the classroom. They also give teachers opportunities to practice for several weeks under the supervision of veteran teachers. At the end of the program, students receive certificates that allow them entry into public school systems.

The traditional ed school path is not the only route into the teaching profession. In 47 states and the District, prospective teachers, especially career-changers, can get credentials through alternative tracks that take less time. Still, most of those initiatives are associated with ed schools.
Read page 2 of Mathews' piece right here.

When it comes to teacher Ed, my pet peeve has always been that it seems as though these programs are infested with academics who are regarded as "experts" when it comes to teaching methods and how children learn, but have little or no actual classroom teaching themselves.

This would be similar to attending medical school and being taught by professors who've never practiced medicine.

Update:(11/01) The Boston Globe says that we need "a higher bar for future teachers." (translation: even more paperwork and course requirements) But the Globe says nothing about paying teachers more so that our brightest and most-talented will even consider serving students in the classroom.
Carnival of Education entries are due today. See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.

Extra Credit Reading: Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tonight is the night that young ghosts and goblins of all ages stalk the Earth in search of free candies and other sweet delights. If you're the parent (like me) who has drawn tonight's trick-or-treat door duty, then you're not alone.

Consider getting a fright over at the Halloween Edition of The Carnival of Homeschooling.

A high school student in St. Albans, Vermont, found a used hypodermic needle on the ground, picks it up, takes it to school, and ran amok poking other students. (I guess this is another example of what happens when someone dives head-first into the shallow end of the Gene Pool...)

an intriguing article from this morning's bulldog edition of the New York Times, we've learned that scientists may have shown that there is indeed a correlation between diet and aging.

In news from the Iraq Civil War, The U.S. death toll in Iraq for this month
has now risen to 103. Some 80 Iraqis were killed around the country in the latest series of bomb attacks. In a move that will leave many questioning his motives, (and true sentiments) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, leader of the Iraqi government ruling clique, has ordered the Americans to raise their blockade of Sadr City and other Shiite areas in Baghdad which are hotbeds of guerilla activity and support.
See our latest EduPosts here and yesterday's Extra Credit Reading there.

Carnival Entries Are Due!

Entries for the 91st midway of The Carnival Of Education (hosted this week by Carol over at The Median Sib) are due today. Please email them to: carol [at] themediansib [dot] com . (Or use this handy submission form.) Submissions should be received no later than 6:00 PM (Eastern), 3:00 PM (Pacific). Contributions should include your site's name, the title of the post, and the post's URL if possible. View last week's edition hosted by The Current Events in Education here and the Carnival's archives over there.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the exhibits should open Wednesday.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

The Watcher's Council Has Spoken!

Each and every week, Watcher of Weasels sponsors a contest among posts from the Conservative side of the 'Sphere. The winning entries are determined by a jury of 12 writers (and The Watcher) known as "The Watchers Council."

The Council has met and cast their ballots for last week's submitted posts.

Council Member Entries: In a tie vote in which The Watcher cast the deciding ballot, Right Wing Nut House took first place honors with A Liberal Manifesto and Other Halloween Frights while American Future was the runner-up with Japan, North Korea and Nuclear Weapons.

Non-Council Entries: Elder of Ziyon garnered the most Council votes with Archaeological Temple Artifacts Drive PalArabs Crazy.
See our latest EduPosts here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wonkitorial: Dancing "The Bad Principal Shuffle" In CA

In a large number of California school districts, it's been known among educators for decades that the Evil Twins of cronyism and nepotism reign supreme in the hiring and continued employment of principals and other school administrators. Bob Sipchen of The Los Angeles Times is calling 'em on it:
Some of the smartest, hardest-working and most caring people I know are public school principals.

That said, education reformers have complained for years that the Los Angeles school district's bureaucracy either ignores complaints about bad principals or shuffles crummy principals off to other schools. "The dance of the lemons," it's called.

A recent e-mail from the union representing administrators in Los Angeles schools offers disturbing insight into why principals who have no business being on campus sometimes continue to reign.

My Oct. 2 column discussed a kindergartner's troubles with Anna Feig, the principal at Woodland Hills Elementary School. Some parents and teachers praised Feig as a strong leader who "runs a tight ship," while others called her a tyrant who they say intimidates and retaliates against those who cross her.

Two days later, Mike O'Sullivan, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) e-mailed his colleagues, calling that column "a piece of journalistic garbage that unfairly trashed the reputation and character of one of our outstanding elementary principals." Attached to his missive was a copy of a letter to the editor of The Times by the union's administrator, Dan Basalone, who said I had "demeaned one of our finest principals" and recommended that "no administrator agree to any interviews" with me.

O'Sullivan didn't return my calls and Basalone hung up on me after I insisted that we talk on the record.

If I were a principal, I'd be embarrassed that the supposed leaders of a professional organization would defend someone without an investigation, let alone declare her among the district's finest.

In the days after that column, School Me's blog exploded with comments so voluminous and vehement that it is inconceivable that the union bossmen were unaware that the principal in question is controversial.

Since then, I've received dozens of e-mails and talked to dozens of pleasant, decent-sounding people who, without a trace of irony, describe Feig as, among many other things: "a monster," "extraordinarily rude," "a bully," "beastly," "one of the nastiest persons I've ever met" and "a despot" who is "as close to pure evil as I've ever seen" and "belongs in prison for her treatment of these children."

Parents and teachers, current and former, report filing complaints almost from the moment she arrived at the West Valley school a decade back. They advised high-level administrators about an array of concerns, including their belief that the principal plays fast and loose with the permit process determining whether some students can attend the school. At least one critic wrote to the district questioning the ethics and legality of the way the school counts tardies and absences to avoid losing attendance money.
There's much more to read in the whole thing.

In nearly all California school districts, the superintendent, and the superintendent alone, recommends who is hired for administrative positions. Sadly, all-too-many governing boards become mere rubber-stamps for their well-entrenched superintendents, who become "well-entrenched" due to their insistance on four-year contracts that must be "bought out" should a board move to dismiss its superintendent. To make things worse, these contracts often feature annual "automatic extensions" that add another year on the anniversary of the superintendent's appointment by the board.

What these "well-entrenched" superintendents often do is distribute administrative jobs to their cronies like so much Halloween candy. The objective is to build an "administrative empire" that is loyal to them personally, and not to the larger community or even its elected board of trustees. This is especially true in those districts where the superintendent routinely hires people from outside the community while rarely promoting classroom teachers and others from within.

In such districts, it becomes well known that merit and hard work count for little when opportunities for promotion do occur.

When trouble does come in the form of a parent or employee complaint against a school administrator, the superintendents of these "administrative empires" will often back their hand-picked administrators "to the hilt."

The reasons why have more to do with the superintendent's need for self-preservation than any sense of fairness or loyalty to his or her subordinates.

To dismiss an incompetent administrator implies, among other things, that the superintendent made an error in judgement by hiring the bad administrator in the first place.

And in the "cult of personality" that often pervades districts which are under the thumb of their superintendents, anything (or anyone) that threatens the public's perception of the superintendent as anything less-than-perfect can't be tolerated.
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.

Teachers Blind-sided By Administrative Buffoonery

Imagine that you're a teacher, and the first time that you hear that there might be a problem with your credential is from your students' parents. That's what happened recently to a number of teachers in Oakland, California:
Since last weekend, about 13,000 letters have been making their way to families across the Oakland school district, announcing that their child's teacher isn't "highly qualified" under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The letters were carefully worded and explained the complicated context behind the federal rules, which differ from state requirements.

The problem was that many teachers first learned about their possible credentialing shortcomings at school — from the kids.

"When I arrived for my first-period class, my students all said to me, 'Mr. Gerson, you're not highly qualified in physics,"' said Jack Gerson, a mathematics and physics teacher at Leadership Preparatory High School on the Castlemont campus.

Gerson, who has a master's degree in math from Stanford University and a doctorate in biostatistics from the University of California, Berkeley, filled a physics vacancy this fall but isn't yet certified to teach the subject.

Most of Gerson's students have had him for other classes, so he didn't feel his credibility was on the line. Still, he said, "They ought to be notifying teachers in advance."

Notifying parents of teacher qualifications has been a federal law since No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2002. But until now, each Title I school was responsible for sending its own letters. This year in Oakland, the letters were sent out by the central administration.

Several parents who received the notices said they took them with "a grain of salt." They said they had already evaluated their children's teachers according to more important criteria, such as whether the children seemed to be learning or were interested in school.

"I do feel like my daughter is getting a good education. I feel that she is being challenged," said Melissa Brauer, a parent at Edna Brewer Middle School.

But Brauer said she thought the federally mandated notices were a classic case of good intent creating unintended consequences. "It creates a potential idea of crisis or chaos that doesn't need to be there for the family or the child who (don't) know what it means," she said.

Brauer said another reason for her skepticism is the notoriously inconsistent record-keeping in the district's human resources department, which has experienced 70 percent turnover in recent years, according to the most recent Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistant Team report.

Laura Moran, the school district's chief service officer, said her team has spent the last year "cleaning" and updating the database of teacher credentials.

Moran said between 75 and 80 percent of district teachers are highly qualified by federal standards. That means they have a bachelor's degree or higher, and a preliminary or professional teaching credential. Middle and high school teachers also need to pass an exam in each subject area they teach.

For special education teachers who teach multiple subjects to high school students, that could mean passing numerous tests.

Moran said staff held 20 information sessions on the subject last spring and sent lists of who was qualified — and who was not — to all principals.

She said teachers who were incorrectly identified would receive letters of apology, and parents would receive letters noting the error. She also said that next year, her team would directly notify the teachers in question before mailing the notices.

"We're sorry for any stress that it's caused," Moran said.

Steve Luntz, a math and science teacher at Montera Middle School, said he and other teachers went through a credential review during the last school year. He said he was told he was "more than covered."

He learned this week from a parent that his credentials were in question.

Luntz's colleague, Natalie Mann, received National Board Certification in 2004. The advanced, nationally recognized credential held by fewer than 2 percent of Oakland teachers required 160 hours of writing, videotaping, lesson plan submission and self-evaluation. But Mann, who teaches seventh-grade pre-algebra, found herself on the list.

In class this week, after surveying her class to see how many received the letter — everyone — Mann said she pointed to her National Board Certificate on the wall. "But I'm not sure that will inspire hope in their families," Mann said.
Well... the district did apologize, which is all that they could do. Still... we wonder who, if anyone, is being actually being held accountable for this major screw-up error in the district's lodge administrative suite.

As a practical matter, here in California just about every teacher (regardless of actual teaching ability) with more than 7 or 8 years in the classroom is deemed "highly qualified" by the state in order to satisfy the mandates of the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.

Extra Credit Reading: Monday, October 30, 2006

Here's something from the Tilting at Windmills desk over at The Not A Chance in the World Department: San Diego Congressman Duncan Hunter is about to announce Something Big. The inside word is that he's seeking the Republican nomination in '08.

Last spring's math scores on Washington State's WASL exams were disastrous. After much navel-gazing among educators, legislators, and parents, there's
a clarion call for action, but, as is the case in all too-many instances, nothing seems to be getting done.

In today's dispatches from the Iraq Civil War, we've learned that the American serviceman who was kidnapped by the guerillas was, contrary to all military regulations,
secretly married to an Iraqi woman. Apparently, he was nabbed while visiting his spouse at her parents' home. In news from the homefront, the bulldog edition of The New York Times has photos of U.S. military funerals in Arlington National Cemetary. (Scroll-down and follow the link.) With the military situation worsening in the southern Iraq, the British are evacuating their consulate in Basra, while some 23 policemen were reported killed on Sunday. In today's update about corruption run amok in the Iraqi "government," some 14,030 weapons purchased by the U.S. taxpayer have gone missing.
See our latest EduPosts or yesterday's Extra Credit Reading.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Song And Dance To Raise Student Achievement?

Is there a place for square dancing in the teaching curriculum of this post-NCLB world? Or is this Arizona Pennsylvania story just another example taxpayer-dollars being wasted in the guise of professional development?
Area teachers are putting on their dancing shoes to encourage improved physical fitness and listening skills for their students.

As part of Mon Valley Learns' eighth annual Regional Professional Education Experience for the People Who Make Public Schools Work, teachers participated in a square-dancing workshop at McKeesport Area School District's Centennial Elementary.

The program was geared toward elementary-level teachers - showing them America's national dance of more than 200 years can provide students with a unique learning experience.

"I've been dancing in my music classes forever," Centennial music teacher Amy Urban said. "Not necessarily square dancing, but all kinds of folk dancing."

During Friday's workshop, co-hosted by Centennial physical education teacher Paul Bezeck, Urban told fellow teachers that children can learn how to apply everyday terms and basic skills while square dancing. The differences between circles and squares, left and right, clockwise and counterclockwise, and in and out are reinforced.

"Square dancing helps with their listening skills because they have to listen to the caller," Urban said.
Now... If only somebody in authority would pass legislation requiring parents to come to parent-teacher conferences when we need do discuss their children's academic needs, then I'll do a song-and-dance...
See our latest EduPosts and this date's Extra Credit Reading.

Extra Credit Reading: Sunday, October 29, 2006

From our Department of the Inexplicable we have this: Decorations for Halloween are becoming more and more popular. When it comes to Halloween costumes, there's concern that younger girls are dressing way too-much like their grown-up mothers and sisters. Update: One of our TipWonks lets us know that Spirit Halloween Stores have over 400 locations nationwide. (Who would have thought it?)

Was legendary escape-artist Harry Houdini
a spy?

Once again, some government office mandates that we change our clocks, and once again
we slavishly comply... (But the folks in Arizona and Hawaii seem to have the ability to stand-up to this stupidity madness and leave their clocks alone.)

Is this the last
American-made product that our manufacturers are able to export? (Even here, outsourcing from Asia threatens U.S. jobs...)

In today's updates from the Iraqi Civil War, Baghdad police have recovered 25 bodies, many with signs of torture; Saddam Hussein's lawyer is warning that a conviction of the ex-dictator will result in "worsen" Iraq strife.
See our latest EduPosts and yesterday's Extra Credit Reading.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Enter The Knife: Legislative Buffoonery In Florida

In Florida, they've decriminalized the possession of knives in that state's public schools. After a year of this, lawmakers are finally admitting their mistake:
Several legislators on Friday admitted they got it wrong a year ago when they decriminalized possession of knives on school grounds.

With backing from Orange County's law-enforcement and school officials, state representatives and a senator pledged to amend the law following last week's deadly stabbing at University High School.

Sheriff Kevin Beary, who displayed confiscated knives at a news conference, also called for greater cooperation and involvement from parents and relatives of students.

"We need to be smart enough to say if we make a mistake, let's take a step back and make a common-sense approach because we . . . want our campuses to be as safe as possible," said state Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne. He was joined by state Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and state Rep. John Quinones, R-Orlando, as well as Orange County School Board Vice Chairman Jim Martin.

Displaying pocketknives, switchblades, penknives, plastic hair combs with sharp picks in them and even a letter opener on a nearby table, Beary said he wanted his deputies to arrest students caught with any weapon.

Under current law, officers cannot do that. School officials, meanwhile, can suspend a student found with weapons up to 10 days while they consider whether he or she deserves expulsion.

"This is what's irritating to me," Beary said, pointing to a table holding the knives and pictures of the murder weapon used against slain University High student Michael Nieves. "You can go to any flea market and get these."

Kelvin De La Cruz, 17, was arrested on a first-degree murder charge shortly after a fight broke out Oct. 19. De La Cruz was among four students -- including an 11-year-old -- suspected of bringing weapons to Orange and Seminole schools that week.

During the 2005-06 school year, the Sheriff's Office seized four guns, 95 knives and 70 other types of weapons at schools. So far this school year, deputies have collected two guns, 13 knives and eight other weapons.

Haridopolos said he and Cannon have discussed creating a task force to address student violence and attacks on school employees. The group will include legislators, school-district officials, teachers and school-resource officers. "We don't pretend to have all the answers," he said.

Michael Ganio, senior manager of security services for Orange County Public Schools, said metal detectors are an option for alternative-education schools but there are no plans to use them districtwide. Ganio said authorities rely on students to report peers with weapons.
Just out of curiosity, I wonder what percentage of the Sunshine State's lawmakers send their own offspring to private schools?
See our latest EduPosts and this date's Extra Credit Reading.

Online EduFraud: Outsourced and Unscreened

In a very rare instance of an EduCracy actually going after EduCorruption, the New York City Department of Education has terminated the contract of a corporation that was to supply online tutoring services to inner-city kids:
Thousands of struggling city students unwittingly relied on online tutors based in India who were neither fingerprinted nor subjected to criminal background checks, probers charged.

Schools Special Investigator Richard Condon said Socratic Learning Inc. mislead officials to believe its tutors were based in Illinois and Texas while it collected $2.4 million in federal funds.

The probe found up to 250 tutors in India interacted over the Internet last school year with as many as 2,172 city students exercising their right to a free tutor.

Federal guidelines permit online tutoring, but the state and city require tutors to undergo background checks.

Rajan Sobhani, CEO of Socratic, said his tutors did not have Social Security numbers, which the city and states needs to process prints. But he said they have been fingerprinted by the FBI.

He added that he did not believe the requirement should apply to his tutors because they do not have "physical contact with students."
I don't buy Sobhani's excuse for a minute.

All who work with children need to pass thorough background checks. The stakes are just too high

Update:(10/29) Joanne Jacobs has more.
See our latest EduPosts and this date's Extra Credit Reading.

Extra Credit Reading: Saturday, October 28, 2006

Where's Dennis the Menace? It looks as though he's been stolen! Find him, and collect a $5000 reward.

Here's a chuckle. In Australia, the government is urging its people to conserve water by taking shorter showers!

Our Wanker of the Day Award goes to... south Florida art teacher Marc Greenblum, who was
suspended from his teaching post after he showed his 10 and 11-year old students a video that depicted "gory" abortion scenes. Greenblum said that he has "no regrets" about his decision to exhibit the video...

By mocking the recently-deceased crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, the clowns people who are responsible for broadcasting the South Park cartoon series have
hit a new low. (Interestingly, even though broadcaster Comedy Central doesn't hesitate to attack Jesus Christ, Gandhi, President Bush, and Princess Diana, they don't have the guts to go after Muhammad, the founder of Islam.)

Notes from the Iraqi Civi War include the disappointing news that 11 Iraqi government soldiers
have been kidnapped by guerilla forces. While the men of their armed forces continue struggling with corruption, outdated equipment, and incompetent leadership, the so-called "government" of Iraq seems to be both increasingly theocratic and irrelevent as Baghdad continues its decent into chaos. Meanwhile, Iraqi ingrate Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to criticize U.S. policy while yet another American Marine has given his life for the Iraqi people.
See our latest EduPosts here and yesterday's Extra Credit Reading there.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Principals Take Note: How to Hire Effective Teachers

Joanne Jacobs:
Training principals in how to recognize and hire good teachers is paying off in Baltimore with better teachers and higher retetion rates. Now Chicago is giving it a try, reports Teacher Quality Bulletin:

Principals are taught how to pick teachers that best fit their schools, how to create scenario questions that probe instruction and classroom management techniques and are encouraged to require candidates to teach a sample lesson as part of their interview.

Since implementing this same program this year, Baltimore has reported fewer early teaching vacancies in its lowest performing schools.

Principals are trained to keep in touch with new hires over the summer, when 5 to 7 percent change their minds and quit.
Since this is Joanne Jacobs' story, you'll need to go here to get at the source article. It's well worth your time.

Now if only we can get some sort of merit-based hiring for the school administrators, we could see even more progress...
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.

Is It Time To Dump The "D" Grade?

This is something that I've been reading more and more of: schools getting rid of the traditional "just-barely-passing" grade of "D." But now some high schools in Washington State that did get rid of their "D" grades years ago are now thinking of bringing them back:
To D or not to D.

It's a question being asked at two high schools in Snohomish County that don't include the D in grading.

The D can be an academic life saver or a slacker's best friend. The question is whether to restore it.

Mountlake Terrace High School this year will examine its no-D policy, which has been in place since the mid-1990s.

Brett Morrison, 17, a Mountlake Terrace senior, said he hopes his school keeps the no-D policy.

A lot of students try to skate by and it does provide an incentive to be more accountable, he said.

"It would mean they can do even less work and pass," he said.

At the same time, the Marysville School Board has begun discussing whether to continue the no-D practice already in effect at Marysville Arts and Technology High School.

Some teachers are also asking whether a no-D policy can be used next year when Marysville-Pilchuck High School breaks into several small schools.

Statewide, few schools have dropped the D but it is an option, according to state education officials.

"The WAC (Washington Administrative Code) is silent with regard to whether or not high schools can exclude certain grades from their system," said Joe Willhoft, assistant superintendent with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"I think it (a no-D policy) is often used as a way to make students more accountable for their work."

D's were dumped at Mountlake Terrace High School in 1994 when the campus won a state Schools for the 21st Century grant. The school also got rid of F's at the same time, but it soon reinstated them.

Greg Schwab, the Mountlake Terrace principal, had never heard of a no-D policy before he landed a job at the school. He hears about it around report card time.

"It was the intent to really raise the bar for kids, to shoot for higher levels across the board," he said. "Last year and this year, we have had some pushback from parents."

Parents ask why students can earn D's - and the academic credits that count toward graduation - at other Edmonds School District high schools, but not at Mountlake Terrace.

Schwab said the policy raises other questions: Does it promote grade inflation? Does it penalize students who work hard but still aren't doing C-level work?

Mountlake Terrace will examine the practice as part of a larger look at its assessment and grading practices this year.

It's a timely discussion, said Colleen Egger, a counselor at the school since 1986.

Students and schools are facing increasing pressures with new graduation requirements, including passing state WASL exams and federal requirements to increase graduation rates and cut down on dropouts.

"There is conversation among teachers and counselors," she said.

The Marysville School District is also studying the no-D policy at Marysville Arts and Technology High School.

"We are exploring all the issues around it right now," said Gail Miller, the district's assistant superintendent.

If it remains in place and is allowed at other schools, there should be opportunities and an expectation that students redo work, Miller said.

"In the real world at the job site, we don't say, 'OK, I'll take the D and I will still keep my job,' " Miller said.

Sultan High School did away with D's, but it resurrected the grade in recent years.

A no-D policy with a minimum 70 percent to pass classes was used along with a four-period day.

Said Al Robinson, the Sultan School District superintendent: "The reality, I believe, became that for some students the area from 60 (to) 70 percent was costing them their diplomas, no matter what efforts we made."
Down here in California's so-called "Imperial" Valley, a number of schools dropped the "D," years ago while others retained it, sometimes even within the same school district.
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.

Is Rural Support For The G.O.P. Slipping?

A just-published poll seems to indicate that rural America, long a bastion of Republican support, may be shifting away from the G.O.P. and toward the Democrats:
Twelve days before the midterm elections, Republican congressional incumbents are struggling to corral a key voter group -- rural residents. A new bipartisan poll indicates that Democrats now dominate rural voters, a critical part of the Republican base.

The poll was conducted for the non-partisan Center for Rural Strategies, a Kentucky group working to attract attention to rural issues.

Five hundred likely rural voters were surveyed in 41 heavily contested congressional districts and six states with close Senate races. Most of the House districts surveyed have Republican incumbents. Fifty-two per cent of the respondents indicate they'll vote for Democratic congressional candidates; 39 percent say they'll support Republicans.

This is a dramatic shift from a similar poll conducted last month. At that time, the rural voters polled split the congressional vote evenly.

"This is not encouraging information for Republicans," says Bill Greener, the Republican political consultant who supervised and analyzed the bipartisan poll. "And I think that to pretend otherwise is not helpful."

The survey detected an eight-point shift in party preference for Senate candidates. Rural voters in Pennsylvania, Montana, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota and Tennessee indicated they favored Democratic candidates 47 percent to 43 percent. That reverses the results in a similar poll last month.
There's much more to read in the whole thing.

Dissatisfaction with the way the war in being fought in Iraq and the economy were the most commonly given reasons for this shift in voting preferences.

Should the Republicans lose control of one or both houses of Congress, it would likely (to say the least) impede President Bush's efforts to renew the federal No Child Left Behind Act next year.
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.

Extra Credit Reading: Friday, October 27, 2006

The Knucklehead of the Day is 15-year-old Maryann Beck. The Iowa teenager has been arrested and charged with hauling down a U.S. Flag from its pole outside a VFW hall and burning it in a "pure act of vandalism."

Rats!! The wife of Dallas Cowboys coach Todd Haley alledgedly went into a McDonalds restaurant, allegedly ordered a salad, and allegedly got a little whole lot more than she paid for. Heh. Of course she's filed a lawsuit seeking monetary damages...

Our quote of the day comes from Mahatma Gandhi: "We-- must be the change we wish to see in the world."

Over at Education Sector's Eduwonk.com, Andy Rotherham
has some interesting thoughts on the House of Spellings U.S. Department of Education's just-published New Rules regarding single-sex public school classrooms. (More here.)

With a 58% high-school graduation rate, Seattle's public school system appears to be in a state of meltdown: Get the story
here and there.

First, we had Fantasy Baseball. Then, we had Fantasy Football. But
is the world ready for Fantasy Crooks Congress?

Up in The Great White North's Quebec Province, children will study Darwin and the Theory of Evolution
or else.

In today's news from the Iraqi Civil War, the guerillas have delt a severe blow to government forces by
killing 8 policemen and their commander in an ambush near Baghdad. Sadly, four U.S. Marines and one Sailor have paid the ultimate price on behalf of us all... It appears as though the British are considering a major reduction of their forces pending continued success in their efforts to reform the Iraq's corruption-riddled police force and clear insurgents from the southern city of Basra.
See our latest EduPosts here and yesterday's Extra Credit Reading there.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is Johnny Reading Islamist Propaganda In School?

When it comes to the study of Islam in public school history classes, some conservatives are worried that children may be receiving biased instruction:
Islam is being taught in the nation's public schools as a religion to be embraced because "organized Islamists have gained control of textbook content," according to an organization that analyzes textbooks.

The American Textbook Council has concluded that the situation is the consequence of "the interplay of determined Islamic political activists, textbook editors, and multiculturally minded social studies curriculum planners."

It has gone so far that correcting the situation now becomes a problem, because "educational publishers and educational organizations have bought into claims propounded by Islamists – and have themselves become agents of misinformation."

That comes from Gilbert T. Sewall, who not only wrote the organization's report on Islam and textbooks, but also generated a response to the flood of criticism he encountered.

William J. Bennetta, author of The Textbook Letter and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, also has documented dozens of instances of advocacy for or against a belief system, and has produced a list of books where the "religion preaching" leaves them "unfit for use."

Indeed, Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes even has repeatedly expressed concern about the "privileging of Islam in the United States" and warns the stakes go well beyond 7th-grade texts. His opinion of Houghton Mifflin's "Across the Centuries? Full of "apologetics" and "distortions."

WND recently reported on a case in Oregon, where parent Kendalee Garner objected to having her son being taught Islam, including the memorization of the "Five Pillars" of Islam and dressing up as a Muslim.

That episode followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision just a few weeks ago not to review a lower court's ruling that a similar class requirement in the Byron Union School District in California, where students were instructed to "become Muslims" was "cultural education."
There's much more to read in the whole thing.

In California, the study of Islam has been part of the 7th-grade curriculum for years.

As for Houghton Mifflin's Across the Centuries, it's one of several texts commonly used throughout the state.

I didn't find it particularly "apologetic" in its treatment of Islam, although it did go out of its way to explain the concept of jihad.
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.

Public Funding Of Private Charter Schools A "Go"

Ohio's supreme court has given those who support the public funding of privately-operated charter schools a victory:
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that publicly funded, privately operated charters schools are constitutional, delivering a blow to a coalition of parent groups, teachers’ unions, and school boards that had joined to challenge Ohio’s creation of the alternative schools.

In a 4-3 decision, the court upheld the state Legislature’s ability to create and to give money to common institutions of learning – even if those public schools are not subject to the same reporting and operational requirements.

“As the statewide body, the General Assembly has the legislative authority and latitude to set the standards and requirements for common schools, including different standards for community schools,” Justice Judith Lanzinger wrote for the majority.

Teachers’ unions sued Ohio in 2001 over the state’s 1998 charter school law, under which the alternative schools have grown from 15 in 1998 to 250 last year.
There's more in the whole piece.

If a private school gets public money, does that mean that those institutions (as is the case with traditional public schools) must teach all children? Or can they exclude those children who are behavior problems or have learning disabilities? (As is the case with traditional private schools.)

Food for thought
See our latest EduPosts here and this date's Extra Credit Reading there.

Extra Credit Reading: Thursday, October 26, 2006

A short time ago, we took a look at the case of Dallas-area art teacher Sydney McGee, who lost her teaching job when one parent complained that his/her child had seen classical nude statues while on a field trip to a local art museum. (The trip had been approved by Principal Nancy Lawson, who avoided any sanction whatsoever.) In the latest installment of this ongoing story, it appears as though the teacher and her former employers have reached a settlement that is less-than-satisfactory. (Here's three words that express a concept that is all-too-often lacking in public education: accountability for administrators.)

The Wanker of the Day Award goes to... Montana high school principal Eric Messerli,
who served a six-day suspension for giving one of his students a wedgie. (Here's three more words that express another concept that is all-too-often lacking in public education: merit-based promotion.)

Our Red Apple Salute goes to fifth-grader Katlin McCullough and teacher Rebecca Weliver. This pair's quick-thinking and fast-action
saved the life of another student.

We've learned of the passing of yet another American Icon: after a run of nearly 50 years, the last Pink Flamingos are about to
strut across a yard near you.

In today's dispatches from the Iraq Civil War, the Coalition's high command is indicating the possibility that more American troops may be needed to
quell the insurgency. At a morning news conference yesterday, President Bush urged patience, while a number of active-duty soldiers have taken the unprecedented step of criticizing the Administration's war-strategy and making their case for the withdrawl of U.S. troops from Iraq. In yet another move that will not endear himself with the American public, Nuri al-Maliki, who is the ingrate head of the Iraqi "government," has condemned a U.S.-led raid that attempted to capture or kill an anti-American militia leader.
See our latest EduPosts here and yesterday's Extra Credit Reading there.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Voucher Wars!

Those on both sides of the School Voucher Question are girding their loins for the upcoming election:
Before Utah’s June 27 primary election, a group advocating school choice – using public money to pay for private school tuition – drew up a hit list of at least 11 lawmakers they wanted to oust.

The sole casualty was House Republican David Cox, targeted because of his 2005 vote against a vouchers bill. Another candidate backed by the group, Parents for Choice in Education, won the nomination for an open House seat vacated by an anti-voucher lawmaker – meaning a likely gain of two seats for their cause.

Parents for Choice is hoping for further gains on Nov. 7, joining efforts of well-funded and increasingly politically savvy pro-voucher organizations in other states.

“We think we’ll have even more to cheer about after the elections,” said Nancy Pomeroy, a spokeswoman for Parents for Choice.

Voucher proponents want to give parents a certificate representing cash that can be used to pay tuition at any school, including private schools, or tax credits for attending private school. They say public schools need competition to improve, and that vouchers or tax credits can help a state’s neediest students get out of bad schools.

Opponents, most notably teachers unions, say any vouchers would drain money from the public school system, which is under pressure to improve student test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind Act – standard which don’t apply to private schools.

Twelve states have some type of school voucher or tax credit program, according to the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that supports school choice. This year, it reported, eight states – Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Wisconsin – set up new programs or expanded current programs.

School choice is a big election issue in states where voucher plans have been defeated by slim margins in recent years, such as in Utah, South Carolina and Texas.

In all three states, Republicans control the Legislature and governorship. But moderate Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the bills, so school choice advocates focused heavily on the Republican primaries, hoping to get more conservative yes-votes that could get a bill through the legislature.

In South Carolina, Denver Merrill, a spokesman for pro-school choice South Carolinians for Responsible Government, said his group hopes to pick up about 10 seats in the election. “If we can gain those seats then we’ll be able to push this thing over the finish line in the (state) House,” he said.

The movement could also gain momentum from the race for superintendent of education, where pro-voucher candidate Karen Floyd won a five-candidate Republican primary race with 50.5 percent of the vote.

In Texas, San Antonio businessman and millionaire James Leininger spent more than $2 million to try and unseat five House Republicans in the primary. Two of them lost.

School choice is also an issue in several gubernatorial races, with Republican candidates in Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin supporting it. Earlier this month, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) urged election of pro-school choice candidates.

Still, the election tide isn’t necessarily turning in favor of vouchers. Texas Rep. Kent Grudendorf (R), sponsor of Texas’ voucher bill, lost his primary race. Utah Republican Rep. Jim Ferrin, who repeatedly sponsored tuition tax credit bills, also lost.

One complaint about the pro-voucher groups is that some have received substantial funding from out-of-state individuals and groups, in particular Michigan-based All Children Matter, which has supported and donated money to the effort in at least 11 states, including Utah and South Carolina.

The group, run by Betsy DeVos, the wife of Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos (R), and its state affiliates have also been criticized for running ads on issues unrelated to school choice – or even education.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Bill Cotty overcame a well-funded attack in his primary race against a pro-voucher candidate, during which South Carolinians for Responsible Government sent out mailings that Cotty says misleadingly portrayed him as a big spender in favor of gas tax increases.

“Sometimes there were two to three mailings in the mailbox a day from this group,” Cotty said. “So as you can imagine, I was lucky just to survive.”

But he still isn’t in the clear. A few weeks after the primary, Cotty learned that he has a new opponent in the general election – a conservative who supports school choice is running as an independent. Not too long ago, Cotty said, the gas tax mailings began again.
Want more on school vouchers? Then go to this related story, where it was noted that vouchers were "Slow to Spread."

As a part-time resident of South Carolina, I can affirm the high level of interest in that state for school vouchers that could be used in both public and private institutions.

The Palmetto State has a large number of private schools that have broad-based appeal to both faith-based and non-religious groups. Even Governor Mark Sanford, who proclaims himself to be a fervent supporter of public education, chooses to send his own children to the most exclusive (and expensive) Episcopalian school in the state capital of Columbia.
See our latest EduPosts here, this date's Extra Credit Reading here, and this date's Carnival of Education over there.

The Spellings Report: Single-Sex Ed. OK with Feds

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has some good news for those who support single-sex public school classrooms. Key quip from the Secretary's press release:
"Research shows that some students may learn better in single-sex education environments," said Secretary Spellings. "The Department of Education is committed to giving communities more choices in how they go about offering varied learning environments to their students. These final regulations permit communities to establish single sex schools and classes as another means of meeting the needs of students. They also establish that enrollment in a single sex class should be a completely voluntary option for students and their families and they uphold the prohibitions against discrimination of Title IX. Every child should receive a high quality education in America and every school and district deserves the tools to provide it."
There's much more to read in the whole thing.

Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post,
they're all over the story:
New federal regulations announced yesterday give school systems around the nation more flexibility in offering single-sex public education, even though the Department of Education concluded a year ago that there was not enough evidence to definitively evaluate single-sex classes.

Critics contended that the move was an invitation to schools to violate laws prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.

The action, announced by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, gives school systems more freedom to establish single-sex schools and classes, as well as extracurricular activities at the elementary and secondary education levels. The regulations will take effect Nov. 24.

The agency made the change even though it reported a year ago that there was not enough evidence to say whether single-sex education is beneficial or harmful to students.

Stephanie Monroe, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department, said the agency received more than 5,800 comments from the public about the change.

"We didn't receive comments saying that it in and of itself was wrong," she said. People "were more concerned about the way it was being implemented."

Monroe added, "Students in public schools deserve the same opportunity of other students whose parents can afford to send them to private schools."

Earlier regulations permitted school systems to provide single-sex public schools to students of one sex if there were single-sex public schools for the other. Now school systems may open a single-sex school to students of one sex if there is a substantially equal single-sex or coeducational school for students of the other sex.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the new regulations are an open invitation to schools to violate Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding.

"The regulations allow schools to separate girls and boys for virtually any reason they can dream up -- including outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes," Emily Martin, deputy director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, said in a statement. "And although the administration's regulations claim to make these programs optional, sex segregation can never be truly voluntary."
Personally, we like the idea of offering parents the option of single-sex classrooms for their children. This instructional model would be "another tool in the belt," for school systems that are struggling to comply with the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

We're more than somewhat leery, however, of the idea of entire schools being given over to single-gender instruction.
See our latest EduPosts here, and this date's Extra Credit Reading.

Extra Credit Reading: Wednesday, October 25, 2006

In Dallas, Texas, they're proposing a new law in order to crack down on clowns folks who run amok with their pants pulled down and their bits and pieces drawers hanging out. Can't get enough about the struggle against public displays of nastyness sagging pants? Then have some more right here.

Consider taking a look at
some of the many ways in which official dropout rates can be misleading.

Darren, who teaches high school math in Sacramento, California, has the type of teaching schedule that would make anybody
have a splitting headache.

We've learned a new word today:

Somebody actually paid to learn that sex is always on the male mind?

It was being said that, Dr. Phil, (The Oprah's special friend) was about to do a "hack job," on homeschooling and homeschoolers, but the show was mysteriously pulled from the air before Thursday's scheduled broadcast. Spunkyhomeschool
has some ideas why Doctor Feelgood Phil may have gotten cold feet.

Here's three letters that will be new to some classroom educators and old to others:

Today's dispatches from the Iraqi Civil War include
calls to partition the country into three separate entities, while the Bush Administration is rejecting any partition scheme. The U.S. position is for the Iraqis themselves to assume increasing responsibilities for defending their own country from homegrown guerillas and foreign jihadists. Stories about the rampant corruption and incompetence in the Iraqi government's rebuilding "effort" just get worse.
See our latest EduPosts here and yesterday's Extra Credit Reading there.


The 90th midway of The Carnival of Education is now open for your perusal with a variety of exhibits and sideshows from across the EduSphere.

Consider checking-out what the homies are up to over The Carnival of Homeschooling.
See our latest EduPosts and today's Extra Credit Reading.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Are American Students Stumped By Tough Books?

The Washington Post wonders if American students being asked to read books that are too tough for them:
If adults liked to read books that were exceedingly difficult, they'd all be reading Proust.

Most don't.

So why, reading experts ask, do schools expect children to read -- and love to read -- when they are given material that is frequently too hard for them?

"We try to push adult stuff down on younger and younger kids, and what's the point?" asked Lucy Calkins, founding director of the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University's Teachers College.

Science and social studies textbooks are at least a grade above the reading levels of many students, experts say, and in some suburban and urban school systems, reading lists can include books hard for some adults to tackle.

Toni Morrison's award-winning novel "Beloved," about a former slave's decision to kill her child rather than see her enslaved, is on some middle schools' lists for kids to read unassisted. And elementary schools sometimes ask students to read books such as "The Bridge to Terabithia," with themes about death and gender roles that librarians say are better suited for older children.

To be sure, pushing some students to challenge themselves is important, educators say. But there are points where kids read books before they can truly comprehend them and then lose the beauty of the work.

"Teachers studied 'The Great Gatsby' in college and then want to teach that book because they have smart things to say about it, and they teach it in high school," Calkins said. "Then schools want to get their middle school kids ready for high school so they teach them 'The Catcher in the Rye.' It's a whole cultural thing."

Of particular concern are students in urban school systems, said Richard Allington, a leading researcher on reading instruction and a professor of reading education at the University of Tennessee.

In large part, he blames inappropriately chosen books for students' reading woes, especially in school systems where large percentages of children read below grade level. The average fifth-grade student in Detroit and Baltimore, for example, reads at a third-grade level, he said, but schools still give them fifth-grade core reading and social studies texts.

That, he said, crushes a child's motivation.

"If you made me education magician and I had one thing that I could pull off, it would be that every kid in this country had a desk full of books that they could actually read accurately, fluently, with comprehension," he said.

Sofi Sinozich, a seventh-grader in the Humanities and Communications Magnet Program at Eastern Middle School in Montgomery County, said she would like to be assigned books that speak to her.

In sixth-grade English, "graphic novels [were] excluded, which annoyed many of us," said Sofi, who is partial to Japanese comics called manga because she finds the style beautiful and the stories well done.

Many teachers exclude graphic novels and comics from reading lists, even though a graphic novel was nominated for the National Book Award this year. And Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has said he learned to read through comics after his schoolmaster father disregarded others who said they would lead to no good.

So should kids read Shakespeare or the comics? Graphic novels or "To Kill a Mockingbird"? Reading experts say they should read everything -- when they are ready to understand what they are reading.
Consider reading the WaPo's related piece about how when kids do read classic books, the development of students' appreciation for the literature often takes a back seat to "reading fluency" and the Need for Speed.
See our latest EduPosts.

Extra Credit Reading: Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Merit pay for teachers isn't just controversial here in the United States, it's also starting to become a bone of contention in Australia.

This train story from England gives
a whole new meaning to the term "toilet humour" while this related sea-going tail tale somehow tickles our collective funnybones.

It's sad that in this age of technology and standardized testing that cursive writing is
becoming a lost art. (We find it doubly sad because it doesn't have to be that way; both Japanese and Chinese students somehow find the time to study calligraphy.)

In today's news from the Iraqi Civil War, one of our soldiers is
missing in action, possibly captured by the enemy, while the U.S. Marines are announcing that they have killed six guerillas, wounded four and netted five sniper rifles. (Be sure to scroll down and take a look at the total haul of captured equipment.) Enemy forces loyal to anti-American Muslim "cleric" Muqtada al-Sadr have re-emerged in Amara, (the city that they captured from government forces last week) hunting-down and killing four policemen from a rival Shiite militia.
See our latest EduPosts and yesterday's Extra Credit Reading. Don't forget, Carnival of Eduation Entries are due today!

Joanne Jacobs In San Diego!

If you're in the San Diego area today, here's an opportunity to meet Joanne Jacobs, EduBlogger and author of the acclaimed EduBook, Our School:
I'll be talking about my book, Our School, at 9 and 10:30 am, more or less, on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers conference in San Diego. I'll talk on charter school leadership after lunch on Thursday, Oct. 26 at the League of Colorado Charter Schools Conference in Denver. I'll have some time in Denver to get together with readers and/or bloggers. We're not leaving till Saturday.

If you'd like an autographed copy of the book, e-mail me at joanne at joannejacobs dot com. It makes a lovely gift for that teacher, parent or student in your life.
We liked her book so much that we bought two of them. Get your own copy for the low-low Amazon price of $17.22 right here.

Get conference info
here, and a schedule of events there.
See our latest EduPosts. Don't forget, Carnival of Eduation Entries are due today!

Carnival Entries Are Due!

Entries for the 90th midway of The Carnival Of Education (hosted this week by Andrew Pass over at Current Events in Education) are due today. Please email them to: ap [at] pass-ed [dot] com . (Or use this handy submission form.) Submissions should be received no later than 5:00 PM (Eastern), 2:00 PM (Pacific). Contributions should include your site's name, the title of the post, and the post's URL if possible. View last week's edition hosted by Poor, Starving, College Student here and the Carnival's archives over there.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the exhibits should open Wednesday.
See our latest education-related entries right here.