Friday, March 31, 2006

History Friday: Getting Back To Basics

Maryland's Herald-Mail has a neat little 17-question quiz in basic American history. Think you could pass the test? After you've had a look, click here for the answers. Be sure to scroll-down. Would you get an "A" or an "F"? Or would it be something in between? Here we go:

1. French and English claims to land along this river led to the French and Indian War.

2. Representation in this political body was an important English right that was denied to the colonists.

3. People who wanted America to be free from English rule were called this.

4. What was the name of the act that required a stamp or seal to be affixed to every document in the colonies?

5. The British eventually dropped all taxes on the colonists except for a tax on this beverage.

6. Who was the Massachusetts patriot who rode from Boston to warn the colonists at Lexington that the British were coming?

7. Name the Virginia patriot who said, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

8. Which battle showed the British that untrained Americans could fight?

9. Name the patriot who said, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

10. This agreement signed by England gave the colonies their freedom.

11. He wrote the Declaration of Independence.

12. This document is the plan for the government of the United States that is still used today.

13. What are the three branches of government?

14. Who is given credit for doing the most work at the Constitutional Convention?

15. Name the two houses of Congress.

16. Who is said to have stitched the first U.S. flag?

17. This is a form of government in which the people and their elected representatives are limited by a constitution.

I've always enjoyed history. I guess that's why I enjoy teaching it to the kids. Now as for the adults in our school.... well, that's another post!
See our latest education-related entries right here.

The Problem

Somebody's announcing yet another multi-million dollar university study to discover why schools aren't making the grade. This time, the focus will be on California.

I wonder if the researchers will talk to any students who refuse to even try to do their assignments?

Or will they distribute a questionnaire to be answered by a statistical sample of the tens of thousands of parents who seem to be unable, (or unwilling) to make sure that their kids arrive at school on time, rested, and with their homework assignments complete?

We'll see.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

The Spellings Report: Congressional Fun And Games!

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings testified before the House Education Committee Thursday. The topic was science education and the President's "Competitiveness Initiative." Here are some key statements from her testimony:
I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the President's Competitiveness agenda today with a Committee that has been a leading advocate to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation and research. While testifying before this Committee is a departure from my normal Hill appearances, I think it underscores the need to rely on government-wide resources if we are going to give our students the skills to compete, work and lead in the global economy. And I've no doubt, the House Education Committee could benefit from hearing from some of my fellow colleagues here on the panel.

As all of you know, our children aren't growing up in the same world we grew up in. You can't pick up a newspaper or magazine these days without reading about global competitiveness, especially in math and science.

While we're sleeping every night, accountants in India do our taxes. Radiologists in Australia read our CAT scans. And technicians in China build our computers. In a recent Newsweek, there's even a cartoon poking fun at outsourcing NCAA office brackets!

As other nations race to catch up, there is mounting evidence that American students are falling behind. I know all of you have heard the numbers, but they bear repeating. Currently, our 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 developed nations in math literacy and problem solving. Almost half of our 17-year-olds don't have the math skills to work as a production associate at a modern auto plant.

We know that 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require postsecondary education, and yet less than half of our students graduate from high school ready for college level math and science. Every year about a million students drop out of high school and nearly 5 out of 10 African American and Hispanic 9th graders don't graduate from high school on time.
Of course Spellings didn't fail to deliver her now-expected remarks placing total responsibility for the academic success of all 100% of America's students solely on the schools. As always, there with no mention at all of the need for parents and students to step-up and also accept some responsibility for their own progress:
We must align all our efforts with the principles of No Child Left Behind—by continuing to hold schools accountable for getting all students to grade level in reading and math by 2014 and by giving local policymakers and educators the resources, authority, and research-base to do what's best. And it's not just for reading and math... we'll have science assessments in place by 2007, and the President has called for them to be a part of the accountability system.
So let's see... if the President gets his way, (as I think is likely) we who are in the classroom doing the actual work will also be responsible for "all" of America's kids learning their science.

Reading, Math, and now science. What's next? Making schools responsible for getting kids to bed before 12:30 AM on school nights? It may be better not give the EduCracy in Washington any ideas...

It could happen.

One other thing...

Since Secretary Spellings seems to have all the answers, I wonder if she could let us know what kind of living-wage jobs that our children will be able to get after so many of the good ones have been exported to low-wage countries such as India and Authoritarian China.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Recommended Reading: Joanne Jacobs' Our School

With graduation season rapidly approaching, why not get the aspiring educator in your life a copy of Joanne Jacobs' book Our School?

You can get it
delivered to your home at the low, low, low Amazon price of only $15.72.

Our School taught us an excellent lesson about how good it can be when a vision for educational excellence is combined with a motivated and hard-working group of professionals.

We weren't the only ones impressed by this book. Consider taking a look at these reviews.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Shaking-Up Pittsburgh

In a surprising rejection of their own union's recommendation, teachers in Pittsburgh have narrowly rejected a proposed contract:
In a blow to the new union leadership and a troubled school district, Pittsburgh teachers and other professional employees last night voted down a tentative contract agreement saying the money wasn't good enough.

The school board had approved the contract hours earlier, saying it would keep labor peace while the district pursued the twin goals of righting its finances and boosting academic achievement.

Union members voted 869-763, with eight abstaining, to turn down the proposal. "Do it right next time!" one teacher yelled after the tally was announced.

The two-year deal would have given no raises to about half of those in the bargaining unit and modest raises to more senior members. It also would have paved the way for creation of new schools called accelerated learning academies, the centerpiece of Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt's plan to boost student achievement.

The 3,125 members of the bargaining unit -- teachers, counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers -- had been working without a contract since June 30. Members at the top of the scale haven't had a raise in about 19 months, though others have had salary adjustments for moving along the salary scale.

The parties reached a tentative agreement Monday and the union leadership recommended approval of the proposal at last night's meeting at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland.

Instead, union President John Tarka faced a sometimes-raucous crowd that criticized the financial terms. Mr. Tarka said members also had wanted more time to digest the proposal, explained to them for the first time last night.

"I'm clearly disappointed with the outcome," he said.

At one point, police entered the auditorium to make sure Mr. Tarka had control of the crowd.
Heh. I wonder if the fact about half of the union's membership weren't going to get any pay increase at all had anything to do with the results?
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Shock Therapy For Kids?

I did a double take when I read this story from Newsday about one school's use of mild electric shocks as a form of "aversion therapy:"
The state's highest education-policy board is considering a proposal to stop sending New York school children to out-of-state facilities that use electric shock to treat psychological disorders.

A staff report to the Board of Regents yesterday targets the Judge Rotenberg Center a week after a Freeport mother who opposes the therapy announced she would sue her local school district for sending her son to the Massachusetts school. Experts say no other school in the nation uses mild electric shock to modify students' behavior.

Of the 151 New York state students at Rotenberg -- including those from New York City schools and more than 20 Long Island districts -- 77 are now receiving the controversial "aversion therapy." The report expresses concern that the therapy is not only used on students who are most "cognitively impaired" or severely "self-destructive," but also for those who are "higher functioning," with emotional disabilities, attention-deficit disorders and problems such as truancy and aggression.

"To some degree, it brings back memories of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,'" said Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative on the Board of Regents, referring to the 1962 novel about abuses of shock therapy in a mental hospital.

Parents of students at Rotenberg said they will do anything to show the board that the treatment has saved their children's lives.

"I'd go to Albany if I have to," said Arthur Perazzo, of Howard Beach, father of a 20-year-old autistic man.

Agreed Marcia Shear of Roslyn Heights, mother of a 13-year-old autistic girl: "I'll fight it with every ounce in my body. If you don't know this type of child you have no right to make any kind of judgment on treatment."

Although its methods often ignite controversy, Rotenberg, which has about 200 children and about 50 adults, is licensed by the Massachusetts education and mental retardation departments. The aversion-therapy device -- the Graduated Electronic Decelerator -- is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a neurological therapeutic device. Students wear it as a backpack, and electrodes are placed on their arms, torso and legs. A transmitter controlled by staff emits a shock that lasts no longer than two seconds.

While the American Psychiatric Association has no policy regarding the use of mild shock for behavior modification, individual experts say they are surprised at the methods in place at Rotenberg. Edward Carr, a Stony Brook University psychology professor who specializes in autism and mental retardation, called the therapy "primitive."
There's more to read in the whole thing.

I'm not a psychiatrist, and I have no other type of medical training, but the idea of using electric shock on a human being as a form of behavior modification seems more than a little weird to me.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Regime Change

Citing the No Child Left Behind law, the State of Maryland is taking over a number of failing schools in Baltimore. The New York Times reports:
Invoking the federal No Child Left Behind law, the Maryland school board voted today to take control of four Baltimore high schools with chronically low achievement and strip the City of Baltimore from direct operation of seven more middle schools.

In approving the request of Maryland's superintendent of schools, Nancy S. Grasmick, a longtime advocate of the school standards movement, the state board took the most drastic remedy provided under No Child Left Behind, one reserved for schools that have failed to show sufficient progress for at least five years.

It is the first time that a state has moved to take over schools under the federal law, according to the federal Education Department, which praised the vote. One of the board's 12 members opposed the state takeover of the high schools, and one member was absent.

By taking a step that other states have so far taken pains to avoid, Maryland guaranteed that its experience would be watched closely by other states, many of which are likely to face the same tough decisions in responding to failing schools as the law's testing regime expands in coming years. The takeover goes into effect in July 2007.

"Clearly, Maryland is leading the way in terms of state actions in dealing with schools with low test scores," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, which has closely tracked state responses to No Child Left Behind. He said the state would now have the onus of showing that it could bring improvement. "The buck stops with the state now," Mr. Jennings said.

The state and city have long struggled over Baltimore's troubled school system, which has been plagued by poor test scores and deteriorating buildings.

The high schools designated for takeover here — one with only 1.4 percent of the students passing the state biology exam and another with only 10 percent passing the algebra exam— have failed to show improvement for nine years, said Ronald Peiffer, Maryland's deputy superintendent for academic policy. That is longer than No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, has even been in existence.

In addition to the high schools, seven middle schools are to be taken away from the direct operation of the Baltimore city school district, and will be reopened as charter schools or taken over by other entities — universities, nonprofit groups or for-profit private companies — but will remain under city supervision.

City officials and community leaders were enraged by the move, accusing the schools chief of bad faith, of failing to deliver needed resources and of playing politics.

"This is unprecedented," said Mayor Martin O'Malley. "No other state superintendent in the history of the country has ever tried to do what Dr. Grasmick is trying to do in this election year." Mr. O'Malley vowed that the city would do all it could to fight the takeover, "whatever it takes."

The issue is particularly charged in Maryland, where the governor's race is likely to pit Mayor O'Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. In his last race, Mr. Ehrlich asked Dr. Grasmick to be his running mate, an offer she turned down.

Mr. Peiffer, the deputy superintendent, said politics were not a factor. "Some of these schools have been failing for 12 years under three different governors," he said. "Regardless of when you do this, there's going to be somebody, there'll be a governor, there'll be a mayor and there'll be a cry of politics. What you have to do is to do the right thing."

The No Child Left Behind law seeks to have all students reach proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2014 and threatens public schools with sanctions if they do not adequately improve performance. Last year, 27 percent of schools in the nation failed to make adequate progress, according to preliminary Education Department figures.
Read the whole piece.

I'm not sure that the state's EduCrats can do any better than the local variety. Even though this might be a first step in the right direction, it takes more than the rearrangement of the deck chairs up on the promenade to stop a ship from sinking.

Only time will tell.

Update:(3/31)The Maryland General Assembly is trying to put the cabash on the whole thing.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Thank You 16,969 Times!

According to the sitemeter at the bottom of the page, yesterday was our best day ever. We wish that we could express our appreciation to every single one of the 16,969 readers who came to visit.

Thanks for dropping by and spending a little time with us...
See our latest education-related posts right here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's Carnival Day!

The midway of the 60th edition of The Carnival Of Education is up and running for your educational pleasure at Right Wing Nation while "The Lucky 13 Edition" of The Carnival of Homeschooling is open for business over at Why Homeschool.

Consider taking advantage of these opportunities to engage in the free exchange of thoughts and ideas!
See our latest education related posts right here.

Secrets Of The Teachers Lounge Revealed?

Columnist Rona Johnson claims to have the inside scoop on that most mysterious of edumysteries: The Teachers Lounge:
When I was in school, I always wondered what the teachers lounge looked like and what teachers did when they were in there.

All I really knew about it was that the teachers smoked in there. When they opened the door, a cloud of blue smoke would billow out, and the smell of cigarette smoke would fill the air. (This was, of course, before the warnings about the dangers of second-hand smoke.)

I think the teachers knew that students were curious about their private sanctuary and tried to keep it a secret. They would always enter and leave the room so that we couldn't see anything in there, no matter how hard we strained to look. They had the opening-the-door-a-crack-and-slipping-in move down to a science.

I pictured the teachers lounge as a quiet, cavernous space with some teachers resting in big, cushy lounge chairs with their feet up watching soap operas and others huddling around a table playing poker.

I always wondered what they talked about when they were in the teachers lounge. Did they discuss our behavior? Were they in the lounge making voodoo dolls of the kids who were always acting up?

Maybe they just talked about the good kids?

Yeah right.

I got my first taste of life in the teachers lounge when I went to the Roseau (Minn.) Community Schools on Monday.

I was doing a story on the school's artist-in-residence program, which is administered by third-grade teacher Elwyn Ruud. She asked if I would like to hang around and have lunch in the teachers lounge.

I tried to not to sound overly eager, or act like I'd never been in a teachers lounge before, so I casually said, "Sure, that would be great."

I don't know if times have changed, but the teachers lounge at the Roseau school was not as mysterious as I had imagined a teachers lounge to be when I was a child.

First of all, there was no smoking, which I knew before I entered Roseau school. There aren't many places smokers can go anymore, and certainly not in schools.

Also, the door to the teachers lounge was open. There was no cloak-and-dagger, sneaking-in-and-out going on.

The lounge was tiny, with no comfy lounge chairs, no television and no cards. In fact, the space was so small I had to sit at the corner of one of the tables to eat my lunch.

And, when I was in there, nobody was talking about the students. For some odd reason, the teachers all seemed to be engaged in discussions about their own lives.

One teacher brought in treats for everybody because she had been out of school for a while after having knee surgery. Unfortunately, there were no treats left by the time I got there. Just like at the Herald, the early bird gets the worm when it comes to treats.

What I thought was really strange was that the teachers lounge is not the quiet haven that I had imagined. I thought it was supposed to be a place where teachers could get away and relax without the din of hundreds of children's voices.

But, oddly enough, I found that the teachers lounge to be just as noisy as the student's lunchroom.

I guess it might be a good thing that the teachers lounge isn't a cozy, quiet place. If it were, teachers probably would be tempted to spend all day in there.

And I really wouldn't blame them. After walking through the halls as the children - hundreds of them talking, laughing and yelling - were getting ready to go outside for recess, I was anxious to get out to the quiet confines of my truck.
Actually, one of our Operatives in the North Star State has revealed to us that Ms. Johnson wasn't shown the real Teachers Lounge, but only a cheap mock-up that the public is allowed to see.

Everyone in public education knows that an authentic Teachers Lounge employs a full-time staff of attractive and well-accomplished masseurs/masseuses who are charged with relieving the stress that nearly all teachers endure on a day-to-day basis.

And we won't even talk about what's for sale in the various machines that are found in the Lounge's restrooms.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

This Just In...

Here's some good news for nearly 90% of California's high school seniors.

But the other 10% still have to contend with what I always used to call in my own test-taking days the "pucker" factor.

From The Didn't Pay Attention In Class Files

What could these two unnamed Maryland teachers have been thinking?
Two fourth-grade teachers have been removed from their classrooms after Carroll County school officials found that the pair had given copies of questions from a state achievement test to other teachers and pupils before the exam.

A teacher at Linton Springs Elementary School in Sykesville acknowledged that she had taken notes from the fourth-grade Maryland State Assessment reading exam last year while working at another school, Carroll schools Superintendent Charles Ecker said Monday.

The Linton Springs teacher also shared the worksheet with a teacher at Mount Airy Elementary, who passed it along to other fourth-grade Mount Airy teachers who did not know the questions had been copied from the MSA test, Ecker said. After they noticed similarities between the worksheets and this year's test, the Mount Airy teachers alerted the principal.

The results of the tests are used to determine whether schools have made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Schools face sanctions if they repeatedly fail to progress.

Ecker did not identify the two teachers and wouldn't say how long they would be out of the classroom because the disciplinary action taken against them is a personnel matter.

"I am disappointed and saddened that these two teachers violated the trust and confidence of their fellow teachers, their students, the parents, and the general community," Ecker said.

Experts said the incident is a sign of the growing pressure on teachers and schools to do well on the assessments. Some worry that education is being compromised as a result of that pressure.
I know that public school educators all over the country are under pressure to raise test scores. Setting aside the obvious ethical questions, I have to ask this one:
How on earth did they think that they were going to get away with it?
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

NBC's Teachers: In Bad Need Of Extra Credit

(See update below.) Last week, we took a look at NBC's primetime educomedy-drama "Teachers," the first episode of which is set to be broadcast at 8:30/7:30 this evening. (Right after Scrubs.)

We predicted that the show would soon be suspended and then expelled by the district's governing board of trustees.

The reviews are in, and it would appear that we may have been right. Take your pick:
San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Desert News, (who gave the show an "F") Orlando Sentinal, and the Kansas City Star.

But not all the reviews were negative. Barry Garron, over at MSNBC rather likes the show and thinks that it has some potential. Newsday's Verne Gay says, "Teachers isn't half-bad" and likens the show to, "Boston Public with a laugh track."

I guess that I'll just have to take a look for myself.

Update:(PM) We just finished viewing the episode. The only joke that I found amusing was when the stereotypically clueless principal told the buxom newly-hired teacher to "Draw the curtain on the burlesque show," as a way of saying "cover-up your cleavage." As for the rest, I offer-up this prayer to one of the Dark Lords Of Network Television:
O'Dark Prince Of The Peacock Network, Please preserve us from this dumb, cliché-filled, poorly-written, poorly-acted, and unfunny program masquerading-as-comedic-entertainment. If it be your will, make the Nielson Families both blind and apathetic to such idiocy, so that the ratings stay low and result in its swift and just cancellation.

Heh. If it weren't for all the predictably unfunny sexual innuendo and sight-gags, (Such as drinking beers in the classroom.) Teachers might conceivably have some life in the network's Saturday morning lineup.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Targeting Iraqi Students And Their Schools

School children and their teachers are increasingly becoming victims of the war in Iraq, reports today's Houston Chronicle:
In just two days, at least 150 people have died in the violence threatening to tear apart Iraq. One of them, Hussein Fadhil, was just 13.

The teenager was in front of his school in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, getting ready to walk into the building when a bomb exploded Sunday, the start of the school week in Iraq.

"He was so happy that morning, as usual," said Hussein's brother, Mohammed. "As I turned my back, I heard a huge explosion and found my brother on the ground screaming."

Hussein suffered serious neck wounds, and was put in a car and sent off to the hospital. He died on the way.

Schools and children have increasingly become targets in a bloody conflict pitting Shiite and Sunni Muslims against each other as Iraq teeters on the verge of civil war. The violence has reached immense proportions in recent weeks, with dozens dying every day and overwhelmed Iraqi authorities seemingly incapable of stopping attacks.

With kidnappings of children and attacks at schools on the rise, some parents are just keeping their kids at home.

Bombs, rockets, mortar and machine-gun fire killed 64 school children from the end of October to the end of February, according to a report by the Education Ministry. At least 169 teachers and 84 other employees died during the same period.

"We are in a society of insecurity," said Education Minister Abdul Fallah al-Sudani. "Schools are not excluded from the suffering of our society."

Attacks and threats shut 417 schools in the four-month period _ most only for a few weeks, but some longer _ disrupting the education of thousands of children. The violence was concentrated in Baghdad and the volatile provinces of Anbar, Diyala and Babil, according to the Education Ministry.

But Hussein still went to school. He also sold fruit on the street after classes "to provide his family with some extra money" after his father, a teacher, died of a heart attack last year, his uncle Hamza al-Mosawi said.

Despite having to work, Hussein still managed to do well in his classes, according to his principal Nasir Dhahir. "He was clever, and very active," he said.

About 30 friends and relatives gathered Monday to honor Hussein, a Shiite, in Basra before traveling more than 220 miles to bury him in the holy city of Najaf.

His mother, who did not speak to reporters, pounded her chest in grief.
It has been said that, "truth is the first casualty in war." Be that as it may, I believe that the most tragic victims in any war are the innocent children who, through no fault of their own, are swept-up in the conflict.

I think that it would be a good idea for the Iraqi Government (and the American/British forces who are assisting them) to make the securing of its schools a top-priority.

Come to think of it, securing its schools from violence should be a top-priority of any government.
Contributions for this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education are due this afternoon. Get submission info here; see our latest education-related entries over there.

The Spellings Report: Preparing For Pandemics

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings made a few remarks recently at a meeting in North Carolina about the need for schools to plan for the possibility of a flu pandemic:
Acknowledging that pandemics happen and require a strong local response, Governor Michael Easley, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt today addressed federal and local public health officials, business, education, and community leaders and the public about pandemic flu preparedness. Secretaries Leavitt and Spellings are in North Carolina as part of a national tour of states, as the federal government prepares the country for a potential influenza pandemic.

"Pandemics are global in nature but their effects are always local, so I am pleased that Governor Easley is taking a leadership role to prepare North Carolina for this threat," Secretary Leavitt said. "Pandemic planning needs to address how schools, businesses, public agencies, faith-based organizations and others participate in pandemic preparedness. With this meeting, local officials can identify needs specific to North Carolina communities and begin crucial coordination to assure readiness if a pandemic outbreak strikes."

At the summit, Secretary Leavitt and Secretary Spellings announced the release of three checklists to assist local schools in pandemic preparation; the checklists target child care and preschools, school districts (K-12), and colleges and universities. These checklists are the latest in a series of checklists that will help communities, businesses, and individuals prepare for a possible pandemic.

"At the federal level, we will do everything we can to make sure Americans have the resources and support they need in the event of a pandemic outbreak," said Secretary Spellings. "When it comes to preparing our school community—from pre-school all the way to college, there are three key steps to take: talk to health officials and work together to develop a plan; train staff to implement the plan and prepare; and teach students so that they know what to do in the event of a pandemic."
I actually think that the Secretary's planning for the unthinkable is a good thing. Though I also think it unlikely that the avian flu will strike during this flu season.

But what about Next Year?

Get more information about possible pandemics at this website.
Contributions for this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education are due this afternoon. Get submission info here; see our latest education-related entries over there.

Educating Teachers: A Thought Experiment

Jenny D asks:
There have been some comments suggesting Ed Schools are pointless. Okay. Suppose you eliminate them today. How would that improve schools?

UPDATE: Some have said that closing Ed Schools would improve the pool of teacher candidates. What evidence is there for that conclusion? It might be very correct. I just want to know.

Just for the record, new teachers entering the field are 22 or maybe 23 years old. They know what they know....and we cannot expect them to have the life experience or wisdom of an older person.

So what should we do to make sure the 23-year-old who is about to take over your child's classroom is capable?
I think that there is a place for Ed Schools in a high-quality teacher preparation program. Personally, I would like to see Ed school be a graduate program that leads to a Master's degree. Program entrants would be required to already possess at least a Bachelor's degree. I firmly believe that a graduate program would be necessary due to the comprehensive nature of an effective program of formal teacher preparation.

Such a graduate-level program should focus on both the theoretical as well as the practical. It would include, but not be limited to: the delivery of instruction, classroom management, child psychology and learning modalities, productive interaction with parents, legal issues, professional relationships, and an understanding of group dynamics as they relate to children.

It goes without saying that following the completion of the aspiring teacher's academic preparation, there should be a formal paid apprenticeship in an actual working classroom under the supervision of a well-trained coordinating teacher.

In realistic terms, such a program as that described above is impractical in the real world. The reasons involve numbers. The implementation of such an exhaustive program would mean that Ed schools would be unable to churn-out the tens-of-thousands of newly minted teachers that the current system of public education requires due to the horrendously high-rate of new teacher turn-over.

Maybe an accompanying question to Jenny's post should be: What can we do to keep good teachers in the classroom once we get them there?
Contributions for this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education are due this afternoon. Get submission info here; see our latest education-related entries over there.

Science And Technology Tuesday: Marathon Science

A high school science teacher in India must have surely set some sort of record for teaching this 108-hour non-stop science class:
NAHAN: It has been a real test of nerves for 16 students, five of them girls, who sat doggedly through their science class for 108 hours at a stretch at the government high school in Moginand village, Himachal Pradesh.

Surviving on oranges and glucose for four days, the class nine students between the age group of 14 and 16 did not take time out during this marathon class. Their teacher Sanjeev Atri also stood through the extended period, giving them basic lessons in science.

Beginning on March 18 at eight in the morning, the class concluded at 8 pm on Tuesday. Atri said he took up the challenge in order to caution students against the harms of tobacco and gutka. "Through these students I wanted to spread the message to others in the state," he said.
I wonder if any lessons were presented illustrating the effects of sleep deprivation?
Contributions for this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education are due this afternoon. Get submission info here; see our latest education-related entries over there.

Carnival Entries Are Due!

Entries for the 60th midway of The Carnival Of Education are due TODAY over at this week's guest host, Right Wing Nation. Please send them to: rightwingprof [at] gmail [dot] com . Submissions should be received no later than 4:00 PM (Eastern), 1:00 PM (Pacific). Please include the title of your site's post, and its URL if possible. View last week's edition, right here and the Carnival archives over there.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the carnival's midway should open over at Right Wing Nation Wednesday.

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: Our site, The Education Wonks, got lucky with Autum Ashante: Child Prodigy Or Something Else?

Non-Council Entries: Florida Cracker garnered the most votes with What Did You Do in the Great Gulf War II, Grandpa?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Walking Out On Their Futures? Student Protest Redux

A couple of days ago, we took a look at last Friday's student walkout in Los Angeles.

It turns out that Friday was just the warmup. Today, several thousand students around the country left their classrooms in order to take to the streets to protest proposed changes in the country's immigration laws. Some students walked-out with the tacit cooperation of teachers and school administrators:
Tens of thousands of students walked out of school in California and other states Monday, waving flags and chanting slogans in a second week of protests against legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants.

In Washington, 100 demonstrators wore handcuffs at the Capitol to protest a bill that would make it a felony to be in this country illegally and would make it crime to dispense aid to the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

Immigrant supporters also object to legislation that would also impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and would build fences along part of the U.S.-Mexican border. (Full story)

More than 500,000 people gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, and tens of thousands rallied in Phoenix and Milwaukee last week.

On Monday, California's Cesar Chavez Day, at least 8,500 students marched out of eight Los Angeles-area schools, including the San Fernando Valley and the wealthy coastal enclave of Pacific Palisades, said Monica Carazo, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles school district.

By midmorning, the protests had spread to downtown, where hundreds of students walked the streets and chanted. The boycott had the tacit approval of school officials in some of the heavily Hispanic downtown schools, where word was passed through hall posters and public address systems.

In some areas, teachers and administrators walked with students "as a safety measure," Carazo said.

A few schools chose to bar their doors to prevent walkouts. Officials at Huntington Park High School locked the gates after classes started, but the students climbed over a chain-link fence and joined marchers in their heavily immigrant community.

Police went on a citywide alert, but no major confrontations reported.

Hundreds of teenagers also walked out of several high schools in Dallas and headed for a rally at a park, some carrying Mexican flags and others posters calling for Congress to recognize immigrant rights.

In Detroit, protesters waving Mexican flags marched from the southwest side of the city where many Hispanics live toward a federal building downtown.

"We are illegal immigrants if you trace our heritage all the way back, but we are here and we are working and we are living the American dream," said Janet Padron, a 22-year-old Allen Park resident.

"Do you see the community?" Padron asked, pointing to the thousands of people around her. "Do you see how many people didn't go to work today?"
While I was still on campus working in my classroom late this afternoon, I had the television tuned to the one channel that our adminstration allows to be piped into the classroom: CNN.

At about 2:45 PM, they had live coverage of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's speech to the student protestors. (I actually saw one high school-age student literally wrap himself in the Mexican flag.) A sympathetic Villaraigosa acknowledged the students' concerns and asked them to return to the classroom.

The mayor was shouted-down with chants of "Hell no, we won't go!"

Even though I don't doubt for a moment that a significant number of students were involved because they are truly concerned about illegal immigration, I wonder how many of the students who participated in the walkout did so primarily because it was an easy opportunity to defy authority and "liven-up" what they see as just another routine school day.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Cat And Mouse Games

Indiana public school officials and high school students are battling for control over student access to blogs and other websites during school hours:
It took students one day to hack their way back to blogging Web sites after technicians blocked them on school computers.

But Fort Wayne Community Schools will keep trying to keep students away from the popular sites, spokeswoman Debbie Morgan told The Journal Gazette for a Sunday story.

School officials say blogging not only distracts students but makes them vulnerable to online predators.

“We don’t put all these thousands of dollars of equipment out there in the schools for personal use,” said Doug Coutts, the district’s chief operations officer. “They’re out there for educational purposes.”

Students had been able to log on to popular sites including Facebook and MySpace during school, though they were not supposed to do so. Technicians started blocking the sites Thursday, but students had found ways around the new blocks by Friday.

Students at Fort Wayne and other school districts use the sites to communicate online with friends, make new friends online and post personal information and photos.

“I’m a Facebook junky,” said Ashley Rohlfing, a senior at Homestead High School in the Southwest Allen County school district. “Like, every time I get on a computer, I check it.” She said she checks the site about five times a day, often when she is at school.

School policy prohibits students from accessing their personal e-mail accounts, blog sites such as Facebook and other material the school deems inappropriate.

But that doesn’t stop them from trying.

Mark East, network technology supervisor for the Southwest Allen district, and his staff monitor Internet use at the school and often use filters to lock students out of gaming or other sites when they catch them attempting to access them.

East said he blocks an average of 150 Web sites each week. Some students try to find ways around the filters, but most usually give up, East said.

Not all of them, though.

“Every once in a while we’ll get a stubborn one,” said network technician Mike Berkshire.

If East catches a student doing something inappropriate on a computer three times, he alerts the principal. Students have been punished for such activities 32 times this school year.

Punishments have ranged from a one-day suspension from computer class to all-day in-school suspension, said Homestead Assistant Principal Chris Johnson.
While off-campus, the First Amendment protects the right of students to have free access to their sites. However, students may not write anything libelous or threaten anyone with physical harm.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Math Monday: Why One Math Teacher Quit The Classroom

There is a critical nationwide shortage of qualified math and science teachers. Veteran Utah math teacher Jonathan Lawes explains why he quit the job he "loved." Even though Lawes speaks of conditions in Utah, I believe that he echoes the sentiments of many working teachers throughout the country:
Occasionally there comes a time when one is in a position to speak up and shed light on an issue of great importance. I express my opinion here only because I know I speak for many others who remain silent. Education is the most important issue facing our state and our nation. However, education is suffering, badly.

The main reason is that high-quality people are not being drawn into the profession. Utah schools benefit from many dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable teachers. There just aren't enough of them. Moreover, those in power, especially in the state Legislature, are not doing enough to attract and retain high-quality teachers.

I taught for 12 years in Jordan School District. I have a bachelor's degree in math and two master's degrees, one in educational counseling and one in math. I have taught every secondary math course from the most basic remediation courses to the most advanced courses.

During each of the past three years I taught an Advanced Placement calculus BC course at Bingham High. This course is the equivalent of the first full year of college calculus. Of the 95 calculus students I taught, 94 of them took the AP exam. Ninety-two of them passed and 56 of them earned the highest score possible. My results were not unique, nor is what happened next.

I took a leave of absence last summer when a friend offered me a position at a small, but honest, mortgage company in Draper. Why did I leave a career that I loved? Money. I love teaching math. I love helping students get started on the path to success. I really love helping students learn that they are capable of doing something they thought was impossible. But love doesn't pay bills.

The situation is worse for beginning teachers, and it's getting more difficult for them to live on what they are paid. The starting salary for a teacher in Jordan School District in 1990 was about $17,500; in 2005, it was $26,382, a 51 percent increase. By comparison, the median home price in Salt Lake County in 1990 was $88,000; in 2005, it was $183,300, a 108 percent increase. Using standard underwriting guidelines, a starting teacher today would barely be able to afford a $100,000 home.

Educators should be paid a salary that attracts the most skilled and most talented individuals to the classroom. The selection process for teachers should be competitive and exclusive. There is a cliché: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." This idea seems to have taken a strong foothold in Utah.

There are many who believe that because they can teach a church class on Sunday, they could teach chemistry to juniors or adjectives to fifth-graders.

Everyone can remember two or three teachers they loved - teachers who excelled and expected their students to excel. Imagine an education system in which every graduating senior had 40 outstanding teachers whom they loved instead of just two or three. That would truly be a world-class education. But this will not happen until the teaching profession and salaries are raised to a level that will attract and retain high-caliber teachers.

I'll be the first to admit there are some teachers, both new and experienced, who have no business being in a classroom. It's a shame. Due process should be followed to get rid of such teachers. But who will fill the vacancy?

I had the opportunity to teach the "cream of the crop." When I asked my students if any of them wanted to become teachers, most just laughed. It's a cruel irony that the best and the brightest of today will not consider a career in education to help the best and brightest of tomorrow.

I'd like to think that I did my part for 12 years. I have resigned my position as a teacher and now I use my skills in a job I enjoy, but that also makes it easier to pay the bills and secure a solid future for my family. The future of education seems more problematic.

The problems could be solved by knowledgeable, passionate, caring teachers. Great teachers should be the rule rather than the exception, but you have to pay them what they're worth.
The school district in which I am employed is located here in California's rural "Imperial" Valley. During the past five years, the purchase price of even a smallish "starter home" has more than doubled and now costs approximately $150,000. The standard 3 bedroom-2 bath-2 car garage house is $250,000 or more.

The price of everything from gasoline to groceries to electricity continues to inexorably rise.

During that same five years, teachers in our school district have received no increase in take-home pay. In fact, due to rapidly-rising health insurance premiums, teachers who have more than 12 years classroom service (such as myself) are actually bringing home less than we did during the 2001/2002 school year.

At this point, I don't think that I would urge any talented young person to enter the classroom. With stagnant (or even declining) pay and ever-increasing performance expectations, public school teaching just doesn't seem to offer much in the way of long-term job-satisfaction.

When it comes to choosing a career, our best and brightest college graduates have choices. If large numbers of them are to be attracted to the classroom, then something must be done to make teaching more attractive.

And in our consumer-oriented society where one's status is largely determined by the size of one's paycheck, I just don't see significant salary increases in the near-future for most public school teachers. Therefore, I don't see the status of classroom teachers improving in the foreseeable future.

As for promotion, the old saying "it's not what you know but who you know," is oftentimes true in a great many school districts. Sadly, there is little or no chance of advancement based upon merit as well-entrenched superintendents frequently distribute administrative positions like so much Halloween candy to their political/personal cronies.

All of this adds-up to the sad fact that a large percentage of talented young people will not even consider public education as a career choice. There are just too many more attractive options out there.

So I believe that it is probable that the shortage of truly well-qualified teachers in all subject areas will continue and even worsen.

And that's a shame, because every child deserves to be taught by a great teacher.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

The "A" and "B" Grade Entitlement

Eighth grade teacher Strausser notes that large numbers of his students now expect to receive either an "A" or "B" grade on their assignments simply because of effort:
"It seems that more and more students feel that they deserve A’s and B’s simply because they worked hard on something regardless of the fact that what was turned in was simply “average” work.

Now I am very carefully to set up a detailed rubric based on the specific instructions that I give before an assignment so that I know I am being as objective as possible. The problem is that so many of my students chose to ignore the little details like format, proper heading, 6-traits writing (yes even in a science class) and answering in complete sentences. And yet it is those students who come up to me at the end of the grading period saying “I just cannot come home with anything less than a B in your class”. I know this is a wacky notion but I think only those people who follow directions and put in the effort should receive the higher grades. But again, when did a C equate to “failing”?
There's more to read in the whole post.

I've noticed this disturbing trend in the California junior high school where I work. Increasingly, both parents and kids treat a "C" grade the same way that students a few years ago would have treated an "F."

This expectation that students should be given higher grades merely for effort must surely by one contributing factor to the "grade inflation" that has pervaded public schools throughout the country.
See our latest education-related posts right here.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Too Much SAT In Maine?

In Maine, policy-makers take the Scholastic Aptitude Test seriously. All high school students are now required to take the SAT before collecting their diplomas. This means that students must show-up on a Saturday:
Taking the SAT Saturday could get students raffle tickets, breakfast or a day off. Around the state, many high schools are offering incentives to ensure 11th-graders show up for the college entrance exam on a rare, mandatory weekend school day.

For the first time, the state is requiring all high school juniors in Maine to take the SAT. The test can help students get a college acceptance letter next year while ensuring their school meets federal and state education standards.

"They are doing everything they can to get us to come in," said Spencer Luke, 16, a junior at Westbrook High School.

The test is typically taken by juniors and seniors on a voluntary basis at a cost of $41.50. Since most colleges require the exam, state education officials decided to make it free and mandatory. Their goal is to boost the number of students in Maine who go on to college.

At the same time, the test is replacing the Maine Educational Assessment test for 11th-graders. Federal and state officials will use the scores to measure the performance of individual schools.

Many high schools have spent weeks, even months, preparing students. Teachers have stepped up review for the exam with computer tutors, evening practice sessions and SAT drills during class.

"We put some of the regular instruction on the back burner," said Joe Corbin, director of guidance at Van Buren District Secondary School in Aroostook County.

Maine is the first state to pay for and require all its juniors to take the SAT. Many states are watching what happens here as they consider making a similar change, said Brian O'Reilly of the College Board, which administers the SAT.

State education officials predict the mandatory test will push more high school students to attend college. About 37 percent of Mainers 25 years or older have a college degree, which lags behind the New England average of 45 percent.

They also believe the SAT could produce better results than the MEA because its scores are crucial for college acceptance.

But principals and teachers first have to get students to their desks Saturday.

Van Buren will give its 40 juniors a special breakfast when they arrive and a pizza party after the test ends. Taking the SAT earns the juniors the following Monday off and "senior privileges," like being able to leave campus during the school day, Corbin said.

Others like Marshwood High School in South Berwick view the SAT as just another student responsibility and have shied away from incentives.

"The approach to getting kids there and fired up is across the board," said Daniel Hupp, a specialist with the Maine Department of Education.

Attendance at the SAT is an important issue for schools because of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the program, schools must have 95 percent of their students take the designated high school assessment test. If they don't meet the threshold, schools could eventually face federal sanctions, allowing parents to send their children elsewhere, education officials said.

"I know principals all over the state are very concerned about participation in this new program," said Michael Johnson, principal of Portland High School.

Many of his students have responsibilities on Saturdays, including caring for siblings and going to work. Earlier this year, he sent a letter to parents telling them to have their children's employers call him with any questions.

The state education department has made some provisions for makeup tests and having students who don't attend Saturday take the SAT in May, Hupp said.

For students, the shift to the SAT has provided them with more test preparation in school.

Students are doing SAT preparation before school, during study hall and after school through a computer program the state bought for all high schools. Schools are also making SAT preparation part of classroom work, providing one-on-one tutoring, and making the computer program available for use at home.
Read the whole thing.

Considering all the problems that the College Board (which administers The Test) has had this year, (
here, here, here, and here.) I'm not really sure that the best assessment to use would be the SAT. On the other hand, it is a nationally-recognized examination and serves as a yardstick with which to compare college applicants.

Which raises an interesting question: Have we now reached the point where some sort of standardized national examination should be considered?

Food for thought.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

The High Price Of Schoolyard Bullying

Interesting article in today's Houston Chronicle that discusses one often overlooked aspect of the age-old problem of bullies and bullying in our schools: children who violently strike back at their tormentors. As we think that the topic and message are important, we've reprinted the whole piece in order to prevent its loss in the Chronicle's awkward archival system:
The white prison uniform seems to swallow the slight, 5-foot-3 frame of 19-year-old Jaysen Kettl. He looks like a child compared with the tougher, more street-wise convicts surrounding him.

Kettl, convicted of plotting to kill students and teachers at his school after being bullied, never admits to being afraid at Preston Smith Prison in West Texas. But the bravado is missing from the poem he writes about his Orange County home in East Texas:

"When will I see home? Man, I feel so all alone, I think to myself, 'Why me?' I just wanna go home and see mommy."

Kettl and a sixth-grader from Crosby, who were both ostracized and taunted at school, give rare insights into the thinking of bullied students. Because of these and other area cases, school districts are realizing that teasing and bullying are more than innocent rites of passage in the school yard.

Districts are taking bullying so seriously that many are investing in prevention programs such as a pilot project initiated by the Houston school district this year.

Marlene Snyder, a national training director for a bully prevention program at Clemson University, said, "Bullying is really pure abuse. When you send a child to school, you expect them to be safe, not humiliated, degraded and badgered."

At 16, Kettl was certified to stand trial as an adult and now is serving four years in prison for conspiracy to murder those he accuses of tormenting him at Vidor High School. He wrote his threats in a spiral notebook called his "death book."

The 12-year-old Crosby girl, who never had a friend and repeatedly was called "stinky," according to her classmates, wound up being sent to an alternative school last year for writing a "hit list"of those she wanted to die.

Both the Vidor and Crosby school districts are among at least seven districts in the region and dozens nationally that have experienced threats on their campuses in the past three years.

For example, a "hit list" with the encrypted message "PTK," which meant "people to kill," was confiscated from a student in the Channelview school district two years ago. And, ominous tools for another attack — six carbon dioxide canisters and instructions on how to turn them into explosive devices — were seized from a student in the Spring Branch school district last year.

Within the past month alone, two new investigations have been launched into possible school threats. Both involve allegations that students drew maps, one detailing where to place explosives at Dulles High School in Fort Bend County and another that labeled Channelview High School in Harris County the "new Columbine."

Reason for Massacre:

The massacre at Columbine High School outside Denver on April 20, 1999, was the deadliest school shooting on record. Two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who dressed in Goth attire and felt like misfits, went on a rampage that left 13 dead and 24 wounded before killing themselves.

School administrators now are wondering why so many threats keep surfacing in America's classrooms and are starting to look into possible causes. In some cases, the exact reasons behind a threat remain nebulous. But other times — such as in the Vidor and Crosby cases — bullying has played a key factor.

What frustrates school administrators is that stunning acts of violence are occurring at a time when a 2006 U.S. Justice Department report found teen crime has been steadily dropping. Juvenile arrests for violent crimes in the past three years are one-third fewer than in 1980, the report said.

But, in another study that looked specifically at school shootings, the agency reported that two-thirds of the student shooters (who remained alive to talk about it) previously had been bullied. "In those cases, the experience of bullying appeared to play a major role in motivating the attacker," the report found.

For instance, a 16-year-old who went on a rampage that left eight dead at a high school in Red Lake, Minn., a year ago fit the profile. School personnel described him as a loner who wore black and routinely was teased.

In November 2003, Kettl concocted a detailed plot to torture and kill at least 20 of his peers, three teachers and an administrator — then commit suicide.

School administrators say they never knew of any physical abuse, only verbal abuse that centered around Kettl's heavy-metal, Goth attire and sexual orientation.

Kettl's mother, Karen, said she does not think of her son as the so-called "mastermind" behind the Vidor murder plot. Rather, she remembers a "sweet and lovable" boy who was so soft-hearted that he could not stand to see his grandfather shoot a possum that had become a nuisance.

He also was bright, participating in the gifted and talented program until the eighth grade. His complaints of being "picked on" began after he left the gifted program.

But he never revealed the full extent to his mother, only occasionally acknowledging that someone had tripped him or called him a name, she said. His schoolwork also began to deteriorate, and he misbehaved in class to the point that he was forced to repeat the ninth grade.

At that time, Kettl said, he asked his mother to move him to a different school. Unfortunately, his mother, a bank teller, said she didn't take him seriously, thinking it was "just more high school drama."

A few months later, in November 2003, authorities received a tip that Kettl was trying to obtain a gun, and the plot was uncovered. Authorities confiscated a knife, chains and a hammer from his backpack.

Kettl remembers how he once yearned to be a part of the crowd he later plotted to kill.

That was during elementary school, he said, before the elite group shunned him. "They didn't say anything bad to me at first," he said. "They would just get quiet whenever I came around. Or if they got together to go some place, they wouldn't tell me about it, or if I tried to sit by them, they would say they were saving that seat."

Soon, he decided, "If they don't want me in their group, then I don't want to be there."

Group of outcasts:

He drifted to a group of students who considered themselves outcasts. Like them, his dress became flamboyant and Goth, all black clothing, black nail polish, dog collars and chains. At the same time, he declared himself a homosexual and delved into heavy metal music and Satanism.

But being different from the other school cliques drew a kind of attention that he didn't like. He tells of being relentlessly badgered and called names while at the same time being shoved, pushed and tripped.

Vidor Principal Lyn Hancock describes Kettl as a "provocative victim."

"(Kettl) would complain of being picked on about his sexual orientation. We would take action and tell them to quit doing it," Hancock said. "But those he accused of being the bullies said he had come on to them more than once, especially some football players."

"I don't think it's right for other kids to bully. But at the same time, self-expression (his dress and behavior) can be taken to extreme. He knew the attention he was getting from that," said Krispin Walker, assistant district attorney for Orange County.

Kettl denies flirting with male athletes.

Prezetta White, who taught the class in Crosby where the sixth-grade girl wrote the "hit list," said bullies are clever at concealing what they do, and often the bullied child hates to be a snitch.

"We can only address what we observe. That makes it really hard," she said.

Before scribbling the word "kill" beside a list of 15 names in April, the Crosby sixth-grader said she never made a friend at school. Her name was withheld because she's a juvenile.

"One day, a kid said he'd be my friend. But he didn't. They never keep their promise," said the 12-year-old, glancing at her lap during an interview at her home.

Most students treated her as if she had a force field around her, repelling anyone who got close, she said. Then, after she was treated for lice, she said, students acted as if she were the "diseased girl" and would never let her touch them.

Classmates admitted the 12-year-old girl had grown somewhat "mean" after being repeatedly called "stinky" because she sometimes smelled or wore clothes that were stained and mismatched.

"Teachers would tell the kids to shut up, sit down and leave me alone," recalled the girl. "But they never did, until I just popped like a balloon."

She would never reveal exactly what set her off the day she wrote the list. But one classmate, Samantha Bliss, who hated the incessant teasing, said that was the first day anyone saw the 12-year-old blink back tears.

The list was confiscated and the sixth-grader was sent to alternative school.

Multipronged approach:

Bullying remains a widespread problem in America's schools. The U.S. Department of Education estimates at least 7 percent of the nation's students ages 12 to 18 have been bullied in the past six months.

To curb bullying, a $213,000 criminal justice grant is being used to fund the Olweus Bully Prevention Program being tested in four Houston Independent School District campuses. It is a multipronged approach that includes a survey to assess the extent of the problem, awareness training for teachers and students, counseling and disciplinary consequences for those who bully.

The key is training everyone on a campus to recognize bullying, which ranges from verbal abuse at the lunch table or in a text message to physically harming or shunning another student, said Rebecca Killern, spokeswoman for Depelchin Children's Center, which provides counselors to HISD.

Michael Dorn, of Macon, Ga., who secretly armed himself after being tormented by schoolmates, authored a popular book, Weakfish — Bullying through the Eyes of a Child, to show the serious consequences of bullying.

"We need to make our kids understand what they should and should not tolerate," he said.
In our own elementary school district here in California's "Imperial" Valley, we have no board policy or other program designed to combat the problem of bullying. There was much support expressed in our school's staff meetings earlier this year about a "bully box" where students could anonymously express their concerns about the numerous schoolyard bullies which infest our campus. Unfortunately, like so many things on our campus, the proverbial football was dropped by the school's administration and soon forgotten.

But the problem was not forgotten by a number of our students who go to school each day in abject terror that they will be physically assaulted by some young thug.

No child should ever go to any school feeling threatened or harassed. This problem can be effectively addressed, but only if schools make it a priority.

And schools should have no greater priority than the safety of their students and the adults who work to help them.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Victimizing The Littlest Victims Of Hurricane Katrina

Thousands of children who were evacuated from the hurricane-stricken Gulf coast and are now attending public schools in Texas have now failed that state's "must pass" standardized tests:
Young Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in Texas scored considerably worse on a statewide standardized exam than Texas children, and thousands of them could be held back.

Teachers and state officials blame the low scores on New Orleans' poor school system, the trauma of being abruptly uprooted from their homes and the possibility that some of them were put in the wrong grade after arriving in Texas with no records.

The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills was given in February to third- and fifth-graders.

Third-graders must pass the reading portion and fifth-graders must pass the reading and math portions to advance to the next grade. About 38,000 Katrina evacuees are enrolled in Texas schools.

Only 58 percent of evacuees in third grade passed the reading portion of the test, compared with 89 percent of all students.

In fifth grade, 46 percent of evacuees passed the reading portion, versus 80 percent among all students.

Between the two grades, about 2,000 evacuees failed the test. They will have two more opportunities to pass the test this spring, but some worry that the learning gap is too wide to close.

"Unfortunately a lot of the children came to us two and three years behind. It's going to be a struggle for a lot of them to catch up," said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe.

Educators and administrators warn that holding students back a grade increases the financial burden for the state, which has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on housing, healthcare and other services for the half- million evacuees who came to Texas after Katrina swamped the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

The TEA estimates that the state will spend up to $350 million educating evacuees this school year.

To help ease the burden on schools, the TEA announced Thursday that all federal aid sent to Texas for educating hurricane evacuees will be given to affected districts.

"Our schools have acted in good faith by taking in" the evacuees, Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley said. "They shouldn't be penalized financially for this act of kindness."
This might be one of those occasions when it would be in the best interest of the children for the Texas state legislature to find the political will to enact some sort of accomodation exempting evacuees from having to pass this year's battery of tests.

After all, until September of last year, evacuees were attending schools where instruction was aligned to Louisiana's content-area standards, not those of Texas.

It seems a little unfair to me to hold Texas schools accountable for evacuees being unable to pass Texas' tests when they've attended Texas schools for less than one year.

The kids have already been victimized by Katrina's fury; they shouldn't be victimized by the Tyranny of Tests.
See our latest education-related entries right here.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Pushing Test Scores And Little Else

Tomorrow's New York Times is stating what most teachers have known for a while now: In order to raise reading and math test scores, schools are cutting back on other subjects. Here is page 1:
Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.

The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities.

The survey, by the Center on Education Policy, found that since the passage of the federal law, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math. The center is an independent group that has made a thorough study of the new act and has published a detailed yearly report on the implementation of the law in dozens of districts.

"Narrowing the curriculum has clearly become a nationwide pattern," said Jack Jennings, the president of the center, which is based in Washington.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School in Sacramento, about 150 of the school's 885 students spend five of their six class periods on math, reading and gym, leaving only one 55-minute period for all other subjects.

About 125 of the school's lowest-performing students are barred from taking anything except math, reading and gym, a measure that Samuel Harris, a former lieutenant colonel in the Army who is the school's principal, said was draconian but necessary. "When you look at a kid and you know he can't read, that's a tough call you've got to make," Mr. Harris said.

The increasing focus on two basic subjects has divided the nation's educational establishment. Some authorities, including Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, say the federal law's focus on basic skills is raising achievement in thousands of low-performing schools. Other experts warn that by reducing the academic menu to steak and potatoes, schools risk giving bored teenagers the message that school means repetition and drilling.

"Only two subjects? What a sadness," said Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College and a former New York State education commissioner. "That's like a violin student who's only permitted to play scales, nothing else, day after day, scales, scales, scales. They'd lose their zest for music."

But officials in Cuero, Tex., have adopted an intensive approach and said it was helping them meet the federal requirements. They have doubled the time that all sixth graders and some seventh and eighth graders devote to reading and math, and have reduced it for other subjects.

"When you only have so many hours per day and you're behind in some area that's being hammered on, you have to work on that," said Henry Lind, the schools superintendent. "It's like basketball. If you can't make layups, then you've got to work on layups."

Chad Colby, a spokesman for the federal Department of Education, said the department neither endorsed nor criticized schools that concentrated instructional time on math and reading as they sought to meet the test benchmarks laid out in the federal law's accountability system, known as adequate yearly progress.

"We don't choose the curriculum," Mr. Colby said. "That's a decision that local leaders have to make. But for every school you point to, I can show you five other schools across the country where students are still taking a well-rounded curriculum and are still making adequate yearly progress. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask our schools to get kids proficient at grade level in reading and math."
There is much more to read in the whole piece. See page 2 over there.

In our own junior high school here in California's "Imperial" Valley, we've eliminated our Art, and home economics programs, have reduced our drama program to only one class, (which will be gone next year) and closed our shop.

Everything that our school does is driven by the federal mandate to raise reading and math test scores by ever-increasing percentages.

To the teachers at our school, it feels a little like playing in a football game in which the goal posts are moved everytime your team gets close to scoring a touchdown.

Update: (3/26) A Shrewdness of Apes discusses what happens to an academic subject when it is not tested.
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