YOU GOT ME. . . WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED?
Progressive Review - We've noticed a growing new elite that even makes the fiscal crisis spawning boomers seem self-effacing. At the core of its style is the assumption that certainty is an adequate substitute for competence. We're not sure what created them - perhaps they believed all the TV shows they watched growing up or perhaps their boomer parents told them too many times how great they were, but we've seldom seen such rampant unsubstantiated self satisfaction. Some sociologist needs to find a name for them before they all get fired for screwing up. In the meantime we might name them Generation Rhee after that media-coddled prototype, DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has gotten unending plaudits for yet to be seen results. And just when we thought we'd heard he best Rhee could tell us about herself, now comes this from the Washington Post: "D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who didn't fuss when a PBS interviewer asked if she was a 'benevolent dictator,' made clear again that she was more than comfortable with the her-way-or the-Beltway approach. 'I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months it's that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated,' she told the Aspen Institute's education summit at the Mayflower
WHAT'S HAPPENING TO SCHOOLS
[This is the best piece we've seen on what NCLB, charter schools, reorganizations and other false school reforms are really about]
NEIL BUSH ZAPPED ON NO CHILD HUSTLE
NY TIMES - John P. Higgins Jr., the inspector general, said he would review the matter after a group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, detailed at least $1 million in spending from the No Child Left Behind program by school districts in Texas, Florida and Nevada to buy products made by Mr. Bush's company, Ignite Learning of Austin, Tex. Mr. Higgins stated his plans in a letter to the group sent last week.
Members of the group and other critics in Texas contend that school districts are buying Ignite's signature product, the Curriculum on Wheels, because of political considerations. The product, they said, does not meet standards for financing under the No Child Left Behind Act, which allocates federal money to help students raise their achievement levels, particularly in elementary school reading.
Ignite, founded by Neil Bush in 1999, includes as investors his parents, former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Company officials say that about 100 school districts use the Curriculum on Wheels, known as the Cow, which is a portable classroom with software to teach middle-school social studies, science and math. The units cost about $3,800 each and require about $1,000 a year in maintenance. . .
The citizens' group obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request showing that the Katy Independent School District west of Houston used $250,000 in state and federal Hurricane Katrina relief money last year to buy the Curriculum on Wheels.
AUSTIN STATESMAN - A three-month long investigation by CREW raises serious questions about the use of NCLB funds to pay for products sold by Neil Bush, the younger brother of President George Bush. . . CREW's three-month investigation revealed that school districts are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, including NCLB funds, on Ignite!'s Curriculum on Wheels, a cart-mounted video projector and hard drive loaded with a year's supply of Ignite's social studies, science, or math curricula. At a standard price of $3,800-$4,200 per unit, the COW is a very expensive device with limited use. A recent New York Times article about the use of the COW in Spotsylvania, Virginia, put the cost into perspective: each school in the district receives $1,000 "to cover all the lab supplies, equipment and other expenses connected with science for an entire year." Adding to the initial expense, schools must pay an annual $1,000 licensing, upkeep and upgrade fee in order to retain the COW for more than one year
CREW - Over the past five years, Austin has spent $70,940 for the units, of which nearly $42,400 was federal money, according to documents filed with the letter to the inspector general. Longview has spent $126,400 for the units, of which $94,060 was federal money, according to documents. The watchdog group said there is no evidence the units meet standards in the No Child Left Behind Act.
"It is astonishing that taxpayer dollars are being spent on unproven educational products to the financial benefit of the president's brother," said Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director. "The IG should investigate whether children's educations are being sacrificed so that Neil Bush can rake in federal funds."
NEIL BUSH TIME LINE
Neil Bush joins the board of Silverado S&L, serves until 1988. Silverado loans his partners in JNB $132 million which they never repay. Silverado will eventually collapse at a taxpayer cost of $1 billion.
Neil Bush forms his first oil company. He puts in $100, his partners contribute $160,000 and Neil is named president of the firm, JNB Exploration.
Neil Bush bails out of JNB Exploration, the firm where he became president with a $100 ante, leaving his partners to worry about its debt. Days earlier he forms Apex Energy with a personal investment of $3000. The rest of the money -- $2.7 million -- comes from an SBA program designed to help "high risk start-up companies." Like JNB, it proves to be just that. Apex will later go belly-up with no assets.
Federal regulators give Bush son Neil the mildest possible penalty in the $1 billion failure of the Silverado S&L. The deal is so good that Bush drops his appeal. Among other things, Neil, as a Silverado director, voted to approve over $100 million in loans to his business partners.
Neil Bush bails out of Apex Energy after collecting $320,000 in salary plus expenses. Bill Daniels, cable-TV magnate who has been lobbying against regulation of the cable industry, offers Neil a job. According to a representative, he "thought Neil deserved a second chance."
Neil Bush makes at least $798,00 in three stock trades in a single day of a company where he had been employed as a consultant. The company, Kopin Corporation of Taunton, Massachusetts, announced good news about a new Asian client that sent its stock value soaring. Bush stated that he had no inside knowledge and that his financial advisor had recommended the trades. He said, "any increase in the price of the stock on that day was purely coincidental, meaning that I did not have any improper information." When asked, in January 2004, about the stock trades, Bush contrasted the capital gains he reported in 1999 and 2000 with the capital losses on Kopin stock he reported ($287,722 in all) in 2001. [Wikipedia]
Bush co-founds Ignite! Learning, an educational software corporation. Bush has said he started Austin-based Ignite! Learning six years ago because of his learning difficulties in middle school and those of his son, Pierce Bush. The software uses multiple intelligence methods to provide varying types of content to appeal to multiple learning styles. To fund Ignite!, Bush raised $23 million from U.S. investors, including his parents, Barbara and former President George Bush, as well as businessmen from Taiwan, Japan, Kuwait, the British Virgin Islands and the United Arab Emirates, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Russian billionaire expatriate Boris Berezovsky, Berezovsky's partner Badri Patarkatsishvili, Kuwaiti company head Mohammed Al Saddah, and Chinese computer executive Winston Wong are documented investors. [Wikipedia]
Washington Post reports that Bush's salary from Ignite! is $180,000 per year.
Boris Berezovsky, a political enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin is under indictment for fraud in Russia and an applicant for asylum in the United Kingdom. Berezovsky has been an investor in Bush's Ignite! program since at least 2003. Bush met with Berezovsky, who has been described as "notorious" and a "wheeler-dealer," in Latvia. The meeting caused tension between that country and Russia due to Berezovsky's fugitive status. Bush has also been seen in Berezovsky's box at a British soccer stadium for a game. [Wikipedia]
NY TIMES - Ignite includes as investors his parents, former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Company officials say that about 100 school districts use the Curriculum on Wheels, known as the Cow, which is a portable classroom with software to teach middle-school social studies, science and math. The units cost about $3,800 each and require about $1,000 a year in maintenan
HOW NOT TO IMPROVE SCHOOLS
NY TIMES - By many measures, Intermediate School 289 is a place parents would be happy to send their children. This year, it was the only middle school in New York City to achieve "blue ribbon" status, a marker of high achievement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The leading public schools guidebook calls it a place where "solid academics" are combined with "attention to children's social and emotional development." Educators from around the country routinely descend upon the school, in Battery Park City, to shadow its teachers.
So when Ellen Foote, the school's veteran principal, received a copy of the school's new report card from the city's Education Department, she was taken aback at the letter grade: D.
"It is just so demoralizing to have a number or grade assigned that is just sort of trivializing things," Ms. Foote said. "It doesn't reflect, I think, the valuable work and the very complicated work that we do here."
Throughout the city, principals are bracing for the release this week of report cards from the Education Department that will, for the first time, grade schools on a scale of A through F. Because the report cards will assess schools on how much individual students improve year to year, as well as on a complicated mixture of test scores and other factors, many of the grades are likely to upend longstanding reputations, casting celebrated schools as failures and lauding those that work miracles with struggling students. Some principals refer to the scores as a "scarlet letter."
The schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, has called the report cards the glue that holds together his entire effort to overhaul the school system, the nation's largest. While other school systems, including New York State's, give schools report cards, few assign letter grades, and few use the kind of complex test data analysis that the city is using.
Mr. Klein plans to tie the grades to rewards, like bonus pay for teachers and principals, and consequences, like closing schools and firing principals. . .
The entire analysis hinges on the accuracy of the data. As recently as last week, some principals throughout the city, particularly in high schools, were panicked that the data was inaccurate. Department officials said they expected to fix most of the errors and would delay the grades for a few high schools because of inaccuracies. . .
Ms. Foote said it was unfair to judge a school on just one year of test scores and ignore gains over the last several years. She said that the percentage of students reading at grade level in her school had increased steadily since 2003, when it was 65 percent. She also said she was surprised to see her school compared to middle schools that required a standardized test for admission, like the Lab School and East Side Middle School.
"I do not want to devote more time to teaching to the tests," she said, adding that she would have to sacrifice art, music and individualized instruction. "Is that what's required now to get a good grade on this progress report? That's a compromise that I don't think I am willing to make.". . .
TOWN STANDS UP AGAINST SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION
BILL KAUFFMAN, writing in Chronicles, argued once that one of the most deleterious changes in public education has been the increase in school -- rather than class -- size. Kauffman noted that this was intentional, led by people such as Harvard President James Conant who produced a serious of postwar reports calling for the "elimination of the small high school" in order to compete with the Soviets and deal with the nuclear era. Said Kauffman, "Conant the barbarian triumphed: the number of school districts plummeted from 83,718 in 1950 to 17,995 in 1970."
The trend hasn't stopped and - in a move boosted by the faux experts at Brookings and the smart growth crowd - Maine is the midst of a masochistic school district consolidation. One town has managed to op out - perhaps only temporarily. Note the reason: they got a pass because they're one of the better school districts. In other words, instead of modeling other districts on Yarmuth's, the state is proceeding with a corporate style consolidation that hasn't worked in the fifty years it's been tried throughout the country.
TESS NACELEWICZ, PORTLAND PRESS HERALD - Yarmouth has been the belle of the ball among Portland's northern suburbs, with communities ranging from Falmouth to Pownal courting the high-performing school district as a partner under Maine's new school consolidation law.
Now it appears that Yarmouth will choose to remain independent rather than merge with other school districts. Residents at a community forum on Monday indicated strongly that they prefer Yarmouth go it alone. About 400 residents attended the forum to discuss the town's options under the new law, which is designed to reduce Maine's 290 school districts to about 80.
In both straw and paper balloting, nearly 100 percent of those attending the meeting showed support for Yarmouth remaining separate, school officials said.. . .
Because Yarmouth fits into a category of school districts considered high performing and essential, it would be exempt from the financial penalties that the state will impose on districts that don't consolidate. It's unclear how many years Yarmouth will be allowed such an exemption. . .
WATCHING TV EARLY IN LIFE CAN LEAD TO ATTENTION PROBLEMS LATER
NEW SCIENTIST - Watching television more than two hours a day early in life can lead to attention problems later in adolescence, according to a large long-term study. The roughly 40% increase in attention problems among "heavy" TV viewers was observed in both boys and girls, and was independent of whether a diagnosis of attention deficit - hyperactivity disorder was made prior to adolescence.
"Those who watched more than two hours, and particularly those who watched more than three hours, of television per day during childhood had above-average symptoms of attention problems in adolescence," Erik Landhuis of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, wrote in his report, published in Pediatrics on Tuesday.
Symptoms of attention problems included short attention span, poor concentration, and being easily distracted. The findings could not be explained by early-life attention difficulties, socio-economic factors, or intelligence, says the team. . .
Young children who watched a lot of television were more likely to continue the habit as they got older, but even if they did not, the damage was done, the study said. . .
"This suggests that the effects of childhood viewing on attention may be long lasting," Landhuis notes. He offers several possible explanations for the association.
One is that the rapid scene changes common to many TV programs may over-stimulate the developing brain of a young child, and could make reality seem boring by comparison.
"Hence, children who watch a lot of television may become less tolerant of slower-paced and more mundane tasks, such as school work," he writes. Net effects
It is also possible that TV viewing may supplant other activities that promote concentration, such as reading, games, sports and play, he says. The lack of participation inherent in TV watching might also condition children when it comes to other activities.
A DYSLEXIC STUDENT ON BEING SPECIAL
[Vinalhaven is an island with a population of 1200 an hour and fifteen ferry ride off the coast of Maine. The local school has 210 student K-12. Writes Kris Osgood in Working Waterfront, "Last spring 17-year-old Ladd Olson, of Vinalhaven, was given an essay assignment by one of his teachers. The topic was up to him. Having been designated a special education student, he decided to research his learning disability (or learning difference), dyslexia." The result was both impressive and moving. This is an excerpt]
LADD OSGOOD, WORKING WATERFRONT - Often the kids try to hide their disabilities so they don't stick out. Their intelligence is hidden by their poor reading ability. They have strong verbal, visual, auditory, motor, and comprehension skills but lack phonological skills, which inhibits their ability to read. When a child with dyslexia reads, 10 times more brain activity goes on in the child's head than in the head of an average reader; however, the activity does not enable the child to read proficiently.
This brain activity is not obvious to the outside observer but the student's inability to read is. Intelligence is frequently judged by reading ability, but history has shown that many successful people have learning disabilities. Albert Einstein, a famous mathematician and physicist, had a learning disability and did not speak until age three. He had a very difficult time doing math in school, and it was hard for him to express himself through writing. He is not the only one. There are many others including, Winston Churchill, Nelson Rockefeller, President Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington and many successful people that are out of the spotlight as well.
Sally Shaywitz, a neuroscientist and author of "Overcoming Dyslexia," was at a dinner party. A professor at her table was speaking about dyslexia, "Now dyslexics want to go to law school," he said. "Can you imagine: a person like that as your lawyer?" She replied, "I would consider it fortunate to have David Boies as my lawyer. Yes, a person like that." Little did he know that Boies, a high profile lawyer, is dyslexic and did not read until the third grade. . .
Equal doesn't exist in education. As much as we try to make it equal, equal doesn't solve anything. "It" is education, it is society, it is life. It isn't equal. Through trial and error we can change the education system to benefit kids of all differences. With the help of the state legislature, school boards, administrations and teachers it can all come together to create not good education but great education. Once I was asked a question, 'If I could, would I take a pill to make my learning disabilities go away?' After researching and writing this paper I have come to realize that dyslexia gives me the opportunity to look at things differently and make different choices. I feel safe to say that I would not take "the pill" if there was one.
JONATHAN KOZOL ON NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
[From an interview with Matthew Fishbane]
JONATHAN KOZOL, SALON - I think the tests in their present form are useless, because although President Bush promoted them by saying, "All we want to do is help these teachers see where their students need more help," the results typically don't come back before the end of June. What is the teacher supposed to do when she finally sees the test scores in the middle of the summer, send a postcard to little Shaniqua, saying, you know, "If I knew last winter what I know now, I would have put more emphasis on the those skills"?
I recommended to the Democrats that they replace these tests with diagnostic tests, which are given individually by the teacher to her students. They are anxiety-free and you don't have to wait six months for McGraw-Hill or Harcourt to mis-score them, as they often do. The teacher gets results immediately. And it's not time stolen from education because she actually learns while she's giving this test.
FISHBANE - After the Supreme Court decision last June on segregation in Seattle's school districts, you wrote a critical Op-Ed in the New York Times about a transfer provision in No Child Left Behind that says that if a student is in a perennially failing school, that child must be permitted to transfer to a high-performing school. Can you explain your argument?
KOZOL - The idea of the provision is that a child's parents should be able to transfer the child to a successful school in their district if the child's school has proven to be a hopeless failure. The trouble is, there aren't enough schools in overwhelmingly poor and minority inner-city districts to which a child can transfer. So less than 3 percent of eligible kids have transferred during the years since No Child Left Behind came into effect.
I proposed that the transfer provision be amended not only to permit but to require states to make cross-district transfers possible -- so that a student in the South Bronx could be transferred to Bronxville, which is, I have tested in my car, only about a 12-minute drive. It would be a very simple amendment to add and it would drive a mighty blow against the deepening re-segregation of our urban schools, without making any reference to race. Justice Kennedy, in his partial concurrence, pointed out that strategies like these, which are race- neutral, would certainly be constitutional.
FISHBANE - How would those changes help to retain the wonderful young teachers you write about?
KOZOL - First of all, it would immediately relieve that sense that there's always a sword above their heads, and that sword is empirically measurable testing. It would relieve the sense that every minute of the day has to be allocated to a pre-designated skill. It would free them from the absurdity of posting numbers and the language of standards on their blackboards, which are of absolutely no benefit to a child. As Francesca once pointed out to me, no child's going to come back 10 years later and say, "I'm so grateful to you for teaching me proficiency 56b."
It would free the teachers from all of that, and it would allow these young teachers, most of whom have majored in liberal arts, and who love literature and poetry, to flood the classroom with all those treasures that they themselves enjoyed when they were children, most of them in very good suburban school districts.
TAGS AREN'T WHAT KIDS NEED
PATRICK WELSH, WASHINGTON POST - The debate over designating students "gifted and talented" has been bedeviling school districts in the Washington area and throughout the country for years. Middle-class parents have come to see the label not just as a guarantee that their children will be challenged, but also as a status symbol, and they complain when their kids aren't included in the programs.
But of all the labels that we so-called educators give students, none seems more absurd -- and few more destructive. When we apply this tag to a tiny group of children in third, fourth or fifth grade, we are in effect saying that the rest are ungifted and untalented. We're denigrating hard work and perseverance, telling children that no matter how much effort they put forth, they just can't measure up to their special peers.
Just as bad, we're telling those on whom we deign to bestow the coveted label that they have it made; we're giving them an overblown sense of their intellectual abilities and setting them up to fall short when they face real challenges later. What schools need to do is not to single out a small group as special, but push all kids to work to their fullest potential. . .
What most parents don't realize is that the gifted label can harm not only those who don't receive it, but also those who do. Labeling can create what Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck calls a "fixed" mindset of intelligence -- the belief that your intelligence is set in stone -- as opposed to a "growth" mindset, which views intelligence as a muscle, something that can be developed throughout your life. In 1998, Dweck conducted an experiment in which she gave two evenly matched groups of elementary school kids the same nonverbal IQ test. When one group of children did well, they were told that they must have worked very hard to get their results. The students in the other group, meanwhile, were told that they must be very smart to have done so well.
Dweck found that as time went on, the kids who were told that they were smart "fell apart when they hit a challenge. They lost confidence in their abilities. Their motivation dwindled and their performance on the next IQ test dropped." By contrast, the children in the group praised for working hard tended to seek out challenges and persist at difficult tasks and ultimately learned more.
I've seen Dweck's theory proved time and again in my AP English classes. When an Asian student who has spoken English for only four or five years gets an A on a test and an American kid labeled gifted gets a D, the American will often do one of two things: denigrate the Asian's grade because it was achieved through hard work, or bring in his mother to argue that the test was unfair and that I should change his grade because I "know how smart he is."
TEXAS EDUCATION HEAD TELLS HOW TO GET SCIENCE OUT SCHOOLS
AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE - The Texas Freedom Network revealed a side of "intelligent design" proponents rarely seen by the public at large. The group released a transcript and recording of an extraordinarily candid speech given in 2005 by recently named State Board of Education Chairman Ron McLeroy.
McLeroy told a gathering at Grace Bible Church in Bryan, Texas, of his efforts to expunge evolution from the state's high school biology textbooks. "Back in November 2003, we finished [the]. . . adoption process for the biology textbooks in Texas. . . I want to tell you all the arguments made by all the intelligent-design group, all the creationist intelligent design people, I can guarantee the other side heard exactly nothing," he said.
He went on, condemning other Christian board members for not following his lead.
"[T]he four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board were the only ones who were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say they don't present the weaknesses of evolution," he said. "Amazing."
He admonished the audience not to bicker over the finer points of creationism because they were united under a "big tent" against evolution.
"Whether you're a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young-Earth, old-Earth, it's all in the tent of intelligent design," McLeroy said. "And intelligent design here at Grace Bible Church is actually a smaller tent than you would have in the intelligent design movement as a whole, because we are all Biblical literalists. . . So because it's a bigger tent, just don't waste our time arguing with each other about. . . all of the side issues."
"Modern science today," McLeroy complained, "is totally based on naturalism," thus "it is the naturalistic base that is [our] target." . . .
Following a long spiel about biblical truth, McLeroy told the audience to ignore intelligent design's religious foundation when talking to the general public. Not to worry though, the "time to address [Biblical issues] will be after we have separated materialistic prejudice from scientific fact."
The second step, he said, is to point out that evolution wrongly depends on "naturalism;" that supernaturalism or divine influences are unfairly excluded from the conversation. Finally, forget the scientists and target people without a firm grasp on evolutionary theory. . .
TFN's press release noted that the 2006 school board elections shifted the balance of power, giving McLeroy and his allies a slim majority. The board is slated to revise science standards this school year.
SOCIAL STUDIES A VICTIM OF NO CHILD
SELF ESTEEM NOT ALL IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE
ANDREW LAM, NEW AMERICA MEDIA - In a classic 1992 study, psychologists Harold Stevenson and James Stigler compared academic skills of elementary school students in Taiwan, China, Japan and the United States. It showed a yawning gap in self-perception between East and West. Asian students outperformed their American counterparts, but when they were asked to evaluate their performances, American students evaluated themselves significantly higher than those from Asia. "In other words, they combined a lousy performance with a high sense of self-esteem," noted Nina H. Shokraii, author of "School Choice 2000: What's Happening in the States", in an essay called "The Self Esteem Fraud."
Since the 80s, self-esteem has become a movement widely practiced in public schools, based on the belief that academic achievements come with higher self-confidence. Shokraii disputes that self-esteem is necessary for academic success. "For all of its current popularity, however, self-esteem theory threatens to deny children the tools they will need in order to experience true success in school and as adults," writes Shokraii.
A quarter of a century later, a comprehensive new study released last February from San Diego State University maintains that too much self-regard has resulted in college campuses full of narcissists. In 2006, researchers said, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory evaluation, 30 percent more than when the test was first administered in 1982.
Researchers like San Diego State University Professor Jean Twenge worried that narcissists "are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors." The author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before," Twenge blamed the self-esteem movement for the rise of the "Myspace" generation.
KIDS LOSING THEIR PLACE IN AMERICAN LIFE, MARRIAGES
BEN ARNOLDY, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR - Kids just aren't as big a part of American life as they used to be. Americans' child-free years are expanding as empty-nest seniors live longer and more young adults delay - or skip - childbearing. In 1960, nearly half of all households had children under 18. By 2000, the portion had fallen to less than a third, and in a few short years it's projected to drop to a quarter, according to a report from the National Marriage Project.
Children are also taking a back seat in perceptions of marriage's purpose. Since 1990, the percentage of people who said children were very important to a successful marriage tumbled from 65 percent to 41 percent. The findings were released in a Pew Research report last week.
For some child-free Americans, their growing numbers argue for greater equality with parents in government benefits, the workplace, and social esteem. That worries family researchers and child advocates who see in the same trends a move to a more "adult-centered culture" - one that threatens the strength of families and the social compact to provide for the next generation. . .
THE TWO BEST KEPT SECRETS ABOUT SCHOOL INTEGRATION
1. It would have been much easier if, at the time the country was fighting over school integration, it hadn't segregated its cities with hardly any debate.
2. It would have been much easier if zip code had been included as well as ethnicity.
Even today, the issues of segregation by neighborhood and by class hardly ever make it to the fore. Thus it never occurs to people that the reason kids had to take a bus to find integration in school was because there wasn't any at home.
If you go back to older cities - even segregated ones - people of different ethnicities and classes once lived much closer to one another. After all, the very point of segregation was a malevolent system to deal with the perceived danger of otherwise presumed regular contact between ethnicities. In the modern American city, segregation by geography has taken the place of segregation by law. You don't have to enforce it; it just is.
And the segregation is heavily based on class as well as ethnicity, but that's something we don't like to talk about, either. As a result, affirmative action has lost a major weapon. Class diversity would have achieved much the same ends without as much political and social conflict. After all, the idea of aiding the poor is widely accepted in American culture while aiding someone because of their gender or ethnicity is not.
I have long supported affirmative action by zip code, arguing that it would result in either better integrated schools or better integrated neighborhoods. A bit simplistic perhaps, but the serious point remains: we have refused to deal with the geographic or class factors in affirmative action. And you can add to that public transportation. In fact, one of the most segregated public institutions is the bus, the very vehicle that advocates of school integration once thought would solve all our problems.
Using schools to even out problems we don't want to face hasn't worked all that well. The Supreme Court may have actually have done us a strange sort of favor: forced our attention elsewhere. It worth noting that just a few blocks from the Court's building, lower income blacks are being steadily moved out through gentrification, removal of public housing and other means. Nobody calls it segregation, of course. The correct term of the day is economic development. We has city plans and zoning laws to back it up and nobody sues to stop them.
One of the effects of this urban removal will, of course, be a greater distance for the children involved to travel to get to an integrated school. We will argue, sue, and write about it, and few will remember how it all started.
A TEACHER EXPLAINS WHAT'S WRONG WITH NO CHILD LAW
[Sharon Scranage teaches at one of the poorest school districts in Southern California.]
SHARON SCRANAGE, TRUTH DIG - The No Child Left Behind Act has received criticism from educators and policy pundits, primarily because of unrealistic goals that often stigmatize schools and the teachers connected with them as "underachievers." In the quest for accountability, unattainable benchmarks of quantitative success have replaced the more reasonable and humane goals of qualitative growth and improvement. Despite tremendous student progress in many schools, the inability to meet API or APY standards often leaves teachers and staff frustrated, humiliated and punished for their efforts.
The humiliation stems from the assumption that teachers are the sole reason behind underachieving schools; the punishment comes in the form of increased policing through top-down programs dispersed by the state and the school districts. Adding insult to injury, the teachers are asked to be part of the planning process for upcoming years after "failing to make the grade." Again, the onus of responsibility for student success seems to rest entirely on the teachers. In taking this approach, the school districts have a built-in escape clause should the teachers' "future plans" fail, which they inevitably will, once again making the teachers the cause for failure and the ultimate scapegoats in the blame game. . .
Superior achievement is determined solely through "data" goals, which fail to take into account true student learning and achievement. . . Imagination and ingenuity will not raise test scores, therefore schools are often unable to support the equally valid goals of talented students who do not test at a certain level. Developing the hidden and even obvious gifts of a student body is often overlooked in lieu of promoting tested skills. This philosophy has permeated most public schools, but the tragedy for children in impoverished areas is a lack of access to extracurricular activities and experiences that would contribute to their academic achievement and talent development. Without these opportunities, many children will leave school without any of the tools they need to build upon their innate talents and abilities.
TEACHERS USE BLOGS TO GET STUDENTS WRITING
LAURA PACE, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE - Three teachers are using blogs to help students write -- a sort of an online term paper in shorter bursts -- and the group is finding it's improving the caliber of the writing and evoking scholarly thoughts from students. . . High school English teachers Nicole Roth, Charles Youngs and Michael Bellini are using blogs, short for Web logs, in their classrooms. And a new pilot project will have some kids blogging about art displays at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
The students still have tests and papers to write, but [Youngs] has found they have adopted a scholarly tone in their writing. . .
Recent postings includes thoughts on "Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke. And there are no abbreviations or slang. Students are required to use proper grammar.
"Katie C." wrote: "Letters to a Young Poet" truly enlightened me in many different areas of life. Rilke presents [a] multitude [of] philosophical ideas ... which enabled me to enjoy the text while embedding within me a feeling of inspiration."
"Rachel B." wrote: "Rilke finds beauty in everything, which also expresses his views of Romanticism. Another lesson I found to be interesting was Rilke's views on solitude. He says to embrace solitude. Today's society tends to shun 'outcasts,' while maybe they are really the only people [who] understand what Rilke was talking about."
The three teachers have taken what they know on the road, and have given presentations for Prentice Hall and schools around the country, with more appearances to come. . .
Dr. Roth's students were nervous at first, because unlike a regular term paper, their comments were read by their classmates in addition to the teacher. They would stare at the empty block on the computer screen that holds about 200 words and try to fill it all, sometimes with difficulty. But by the end of the class, "I couldn't get them to stop," she said.
This doesn't mean the kids necessarily liked to blog. She also surveyed them for qualitative information and "all the groups, they equally hated [writing]," she said, no matter what the format.
MAINE CHARGES AHEAD WITH SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION
ANN S. KIM, PORTLAND PRESS HERALD - After months of debate on various consolidation plans, Maine is embarking on a plan to shrink the number of school districts from 290 to about 80. The state estimates that reduced administrative costs will result in savings of $66.4 million in state and local money in the second year of the 2007-2009 budget cycle. . .
Kim Bedard, president of the Maine School Boards Association, was unhappy about the flurry of activity leading up to the budget's enactment, which she said did not allow enough time to fully analyze all the . . . Bedard, a member of the Kittery School Board, questioned how well lawmakers could have understood the plan in the short time frame. "No question, there will be unintended consequences," she said.
The plan is not mandatory, although districts that do not participate will face penalties. Those districts will lose standing in construction projects, half of their state money for administrative costs and, in some communities with high tax bases, the minimum state subsidies.
Nonparticipating districts will also see their level of state funding frozen at current levels. . .
PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, FEBRUARY 2007 - The assault on community controlled public education is not only a result of Bush's No Child law. Bill Kauffman once noted in Chronicles that it was liberal Harvard president President James Conant who produced a series of postwar reports calling for the "elimination of the small high school" in order to compete with the Soviets and deal with the nuclear era. Says Kauffman, "Conant the barbarian triumphed: the number of school districts plummeted from 83,718 in 1950 to 17,995 in 1970.". . .
Education is one of those human activities clearly centered on two people (teacher and student). As the system surrounding this experience becomes larger, more complex and more bureaucratic, the key players become pawns in a new and unrelated bureaucratic game. The role of the principal also dramatically shifts - from being an educational administrator to being a cross between a corporate executive and a warden. It is such a transformation that helps to bring us things like what happened at Columbine.
Consider, for a moment, that not a single private school has merged with five or ten other academies in the name of efficiency and improved learning. No one has suggested a Andover-Exeter-Groton-Milton-Choate-Kent School Administrative District.
If conglomeration of schools really helped, why would such places not give it a try? I once asked the head of one of the top private girl's schools in the country what he considered the maximum size of a school he'd like to run. His reply: 500 students. . ."Remember, that means 1,000 parents."
Particularly bizarre is what is happening in Maine. The plan itself is familiar: the pursuit of the false god of educational efficiency through the concentration of school districts as ordered by the governor. . .
What makes it stranger is that Maine is one of a handful of New England states where one can still find the remnants of American democracy functioning at human scale thanks to such institutions as town meetings and lots of small villages that do what they want without excessive interference from above. This tradition has produced in recent years more independent governors (although not the present one) than just about any state and a culture of honest independence in politics and governance that would best be emulated rather than reorganized.
And who suggested the course that the governor is following? None other than representatives of that citadel of Washington anti-democratic elitism, that hospice of prematurely aging MBAs and political science majors: the Brookings Institution. This is like Arianna Huffington coaching the Chicago Bears.
To add to the oddity, it is all being done in the name of "smart growth." The tie-in with smart growth is quite revealing. From the progressive movement of the early 20th century on, well-meaning but excessively self-assured members of the elite have controlled the debate, the money and the plans, with barely restrained contempt for the reservations, concerns and resistance of the less powerful. And so it is with smart growth.
Listen to Grow Smart Maine:
"Many of Maine's smaller cities and towns are experiencing unplanned growth but lack the resources and experience to manage that change in ways that protect the character of their community. . . The Model Town Community Project will work with a selected town during 2006 and 2007 to provide tools and advice that will help the town shape its future. The project will mobilize local, state and regional resources, enable the town to explore new growth strategies and fully engage local residents by combining the best elements of New England town meetings with ground breaking new technologies."
In other words, we'll come in and show you how to run a town meeting our way, just like we learned at business school.
But if smart growth is meant to be about environmentally sound planning, how come we have to consolidate our school districts and our town offices?
Because once you put your faith in the sort of expertise that a planning-managerial elite offers, once you turn to MBAs like others turn to Jesus, then you don't really need democracy, town meetings or small schools. What you need is efficiency and managerial skill and you have been promised that, so why worry?
In both the school consolidation and the smart growth debates the issue of human scale - and not some liberal-conservative conflict - is at the core. But we have been taught - by intellectuals, by the media, by politicians, - to revere a promise of efficiency and technological advance over the empirical advantages of living the way humans have traditionally lived, including valuing the small places that host, nurture and define their lives. We have been trained not to even notice when our very humanity is being destroyed in the name of mere physical change.
MARIA GLOD, WASHINGTON POST - All touching -- not only fighting or inappropriate touching -- is against the rules at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna. Hand-holding, handshakes and high-fives? Banned. The rule has been conveyed to students this way: "NO PHYSICAL CONTACT!!!!!"
School officials say the rule helps keep crowded hallways and lunchrooms safe and orderly, and ensures that all students are comfortable. . .
A Fairfax schools spokesman said there is no countywide ban like the one at Kilmer, but many middle schools and some elementary schools have similar "keep your hands to yourself" rules. . .
Deborah Hernandez, Kilmer's principal, said the rule makes sense in a school that was built for 850 students but houses 1,100. She said that students should have their personal space protected and that many lack the maturity to understand what is acceptable or welcome.
"You get into shades of gray," Hernandez said. "The kids say, 'If he can high-five, then I can do this.' "
90% OF KIDS UNDER TWO WATCH TV, LESSENING THEIR CHANCES TO GET INTO COLLEGE
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, AUSTRALIA - About 90 per cent of US children under age 2 and as many as 40 per cent of infants under three months are regular watchers of television, DVDs and videos, researchers said. They said the number of young kids watching TV was much greater than expected. . .
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that children in the United States watch about four hours of television every day. They recommend that children under age 2 should not watch any and older children should watch no more than 2 hours a day of quality programming. But 29 per cent of parents surveyed by Zimmerman and colleagues believed baby-oriented TV and DVD programs offered educational benefits. . . At 3 months, children watched less than an hour per day, but by 24 months, they watched more than 1.5 hours per da. . . In a separate survey of 1051 parents published in the journal Pediatrics, 75 per cent of children aged 0 to 6 were found to watch TV every day, often in their own bedrooms.. . .
A second study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that teens who watch three to four hours of television a day were more likely to have attention or learning problems and were less likely to get a college degree.
"Even watching more than an hour of TV per day had some adverse consequences, but three hours was much worse than one hour, and two was worse than one," Jeffrey Johnson of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute said in a telephone interview.
Johnson and colleagues studied 678 families in New York state over more than 20 years. "Kids who watched less than one hour of TV per day were twice as likely to go to college as those who watched three or more hours per day," he said.
Just 12 per cent of the parents whose children watched less than an hour of television a day said their child "hardly ever does homework," compared to 21 per cent of those who watched one to three hours a day and 27 per cent of those who watched more than three hours a day.
Parents said 22 per cent of teens who watched less than an hour a day were often bored at school, compared to 35 per cent of the moderate watchers and 42 per cent of those who watched three hours or more.
THE CASE AGAINST HOMEWORK
BOING BOING - Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish 2006 book "The Case Against Homework" is a fine and frightening explosion of the homework myth: that giving kids homework improves their educational outcome. The authors start by tracing the explosion in homework since the eighties, and especially since the advent of the ill-starred No Child Left Behind regime, which has teachers drilling, drilling, drilling their kids on math and reading to the exclusion of all else.
Kindergarten kids are assigned homework. Kids get homework over the weekend. Over vacations. When they're away sick for a day.
What's more, all the credible research on homework suggests that for younger kids, homework has no connection with positive learning outcomes, and for older kids, the benefits of homework level off sharply after the first couple assignments.
Not that most teachers would know this -- homework theory and design isn't on the curriculum at most teachers' colleges, and most teachers surveyed report that they have never received any training on designing and assessing homework. . .
One thing the authors keep coming back to is the way that excessive homework eats into kids' playtime and family time, stressing them out, contributing to sedentary obesity, and depriving them of a childhood's measure of doing nothing, daydreaming and thinking. They quote ten-year-olds like Sophia from Brooklyn, saying things like "I have to rush, rush, rush, rush, rush, rush through my day, actually through my seven days, and that's seven days wasted in my life."
No Child Left Behind has to shoulder some of the blame here. No Child Left Behind and standardized testing not only turns your child into a slave to her test-scores, but they can even affect your property values: a school with low test-scores brings down the neighborhood property values. That means that whatever your approach to your kids, the chances are that the other parents in your neighborhood are busting their asses to get their kids great test scores, drilling them, sending them to tutors, helping them with assignments that they were meant to complete themselves. If you don't do the same, your kids will suffer by comparison.
The authors report on an elementary school in North Carolina where at least twenty standardized test books have to be replaced after their use because the stressed out elementary school kids working to them have vomited on them.
The stories go on and on, and just when you're ready to throw in the towel and send your kids into the woods to be raised by wolves, the authors supply several long chapters of strategies and sample dialogs for convincing your kids' teachers to ease off on homework, for changing the homework policies in your school district and for rallying other parents to their cause.
STUPID SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR TRICKS
EARTH TIMES - Indianapolis Public Schools
Superintendent Eugene White has forbidden parents from cheering
when their graduate's name is called. The new policy is aimed
at returning a sense of decorum to high school graduations and
to ensure each graduate's name is heard, The Indianapolis Star
TEXAS BUSINESS PAL OF BUSH GETS RICH OFF OF NO CHILD BILL
A Texas businessman listed as a major fundraiser
for President George Bush has made millions of dollars in profits
from a federal reading program that critics say favored administration
cronies at the expense of schoolchildren. A company founded and
owned by Randy Best, who is listed by the nonprofit group Public
Citizen as a Bush "Pioneer" during the 2000 presidential
campaign, received the lucrative contracts under a Bush administration
initiative called Reading First.
DIFFERENCE IN SCHOOL TEST SCORES SUGGESTS SOME FACTS LEFT BEHIND
EDUCATION WEEK - Far greater shares of students are proficient on state reading and mathematics tests than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and those gaps have grown to unprecedented levels since the No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, concludes a study. The study by Policy Analysis for California Education, a nonprofit research group based at the University of California, Berkeley, was released here during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The researchers compiled state and federal testing results for the period 1992 to 2006 from 12 states: Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington.
In all but two states-Arkansas and Massachusetts - the disparity between the share of students proficient on state reading tests and on NAEP, a congressionally mandated program that tests a representative sample of students in every state, grew or remained the same from 2002 to 2006. A similar widening occurred between state and federal gauges of math performance in eight of 12 states. Those findings call into question whether the state-reported gains are real or illusory, according to the researchers.
"State leaders are under enormous pressure to show that students are making progress," said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at Berkeley who led the study. "So, they are finding inventive ways of showing higher test scores.". . .
Critics have suggested that, rather than raising academic standards, the law is encouraging states to lower the bar for passing state tests or otherwise adjust their definition of "proficiency" downward in order to avoid identifying too many schools as missing their targets. Greater Transparency Urged
PLAYGROUND ACTIVISTS RESCUING CHILDREN FROM THE TEST SCORERS
DRAKE BENNETT, BOSTON GLOBE - In recent years, noted architects have turned their attention to designing playgrounds, even as public agencies and private charities dedicated to expanding children's access to playgrounds have sprung up. . . "There's a real international playground movement taking hold around the world, and it's really very exciting," says David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University and author of the recently published book "The Power of Play.". . .
This pro-playground vanguard, according to the child psychologists, designers, architects, parents and teachers who form it, is motivated by the conviction that play, in a larger sense, is under attack. High-stakes testing has elbowed recess out of the school day, video games keep kids indoors and sedentary, while parents, fearful of pedophiles and abductions, no longer let children roam freely.
All in all, the average child's life is more regimented than it was 20 years ago, with more young children in day care, more lessons and rehearsals and practices, and less free time. The fact that communities are getting serious about play, proponents hope, means leaders recognize the extent to which it is endangered in modern society.
At the same time, this reexamination of playgrounds is triggered by the conviction that, in the United States in particular, playgrounds have become rather unfun -- designed with only safety in mind, they've lost the capacity to excite or challenge children.
Playgrounds have always been places where the need for free, even rambunctious, play bumps up against parental fears about safety. The new playground advocates are trying to find a better balance. "The history of playgrounds," says Roger Hart, director of the Children's Environments Research Group at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, "is a history of containment.". . .
In the past 11 years, working with tens of thousands of volunteers and various corporate partners, the nonprofit organization KABOOM! has built nearly 1,200 playgrounds all over North America, using a collaborative method in which local children help design the playgrounds that are going up in their neighborhoods.
According to psychologists and specialists in early childhood education, to be valuable, play needs to be creative, but there also has to be an element of danger. "Children need vertiginous experiences," says Mary Rivkin, a professor of education at the University of Maryland. "They need fast and slow and that high feeling you get when you run down a hill. They need to have tippy things."
If there's no challenge, no pain of failure, she argues, there's no learning -- and less enjoyment. Indeed, according to Hart, one problem with trying to child-proof playgrounds is that children, trying to make the safer playground equipment interesting, come up with unforeseen and often more dangerous ways of using it.
Some playground advocates also point to the rise in childhood obesity and related diseases as a reason to get more kids playing, but they're careful to point out that play is not just about physical activity. "Play and sports are totally different," says Doris Bergen, a professor of educational psychology at Miami University of Ohio. "When they play, kids make their own rules -- then they have to negotiate to get others to follow them. In sports, adults make and enforce the rules for them."
WHAT'S WRONG WITH NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
KAREN JOHNSON, TENNESSEAN - The current status of the No Child Left Behind law has all the makings of a really bad TV reality show. To be a winner, you have to get your group off a desert island. The show's producers promise to give you the necessary supplies, but they don't. You're required to load everyone into the same boat at the same time, even though some of your group members need special help. Even worse, your rules keep changing while other contestants have different rules - but you're all judged by the same standards. . .
What needs to change? The list is substantial:
- To be considered "successful," schools must now meet dozens of benchmarks. If they miss just one, they're labeled "low-performing." The blanket penalties are impossible to explain and give the entire school a negative stigma, when in fact, it is an excellent school.
- The federal government makes the rules without paying for the cost. Schools are required to help students who are financially needy, who need to learn English or who have disabilities The necessary federal money falls far short in each category, particularly in special education, where the feds pay only 18 percent of the actual cost.
- The rules keep changing. At first, students who are just learning English took only the math portion of the annual test. Last year, they were tested on reading - even though they couldn't speak English. . .
- The rules are different. Other states are allowed to set lower pass marks to reach the testing benchmarks. Other states are allowed to test high school students only once before they graduate, instead of the three tests necessary for graduation in Tennessee.
- Private schools don't have any rules at all. No one really knows if private schools are doing a good job because NCLB doesn't require private schools to report their test scores - or even participate in testing.
- The ultimate goal is just not realistic. NCLB mandates 100 percent of students meet all testing benchmarks by 2014. It doesn't matter if those students come from impoverished backgrounds, if they just arrived in the U.S. with little or no English proficiency or if they have disabilities. . .
It's not fair, and even worse, it is tearing away the very foundation of public schooling in America. This is no reality show. Congress must change the law.
WHY HOMEWORK ISN'T SUCH A HOT IDEA
ALFIE KOHN - After spending most of the day in school, children are typically given additional assignments to be completed at home. This is a rather curious fact when you stop to think about it, but not as curious as the fact that few people ever stop to think about it. It becomes even more curious, for that matter, in light of three other facts:
1. The negative effects of homework are well known. They include children's frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and possible loss of interest in learning. Many parents lament the impact of homework on their relationship with their children; they may also resent having to play the role of enforcer and worry that they will be criticized either for not being involved enough with the homework or for becoming too involved.
2. The positive effects of homework are largely mythical. In preparation for a book on the topic, I've spent a lot of time sifting through the research. The results are nothing short of stunning. For starters, there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn't even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied. Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.
3. More homework is being piled on children despite the absence of its value. Over the last quarter-century the burden has increased most for the youngest children, for whom the evidence of positive effects isn't just dubious; it's nonexistent. . .
Principals deal with an endless series of crises; they're called upon to resolve complaints, soothe wounded egos, negotiate solutions, try to keep everyone happy, and generally make the trains (or, rather, buses) run on time. In such a position there is a strong temptation to avoid new initiatives that call the status quo into question. Considerable gumption is required to take on an issue like homework, particularly during an era when phrases like "raising the bar" and "higher standards" are used to rationalize practices that range from foolish to inappropriate to hair-raising. But of course a principal's ultimate obligation is to do what's right by the children, to protect them from harmful mandates and practices that persist not because they're valuable but merely because they're traditional.
MITCHELL LANDSBERG, LOS ANGELES TIMES - US high school students are taking tougher classes, receiving better grades, and, apparently, learning less than their counterparts of 15 years ago. Those were the discouraging implications of two reports issued yesterday by the federal Department of Education that assess the performance of students in both public and private schools. Together, the reports raised sobering questions about the past two decades of educational overhauls, including whether the movement to raise school standards has amounted to much more than window dressing. . .
Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said he found the results "dismal.". . .
The standardized test results showed that 12th-grade reading scores have generally been dropping since 1992, casting doubt on what students are learning in those college prep classes.
Math scores posed a different sort of mystery, because the Department of Education switched to a new test in 2005 that wasn't directly comparable with those used before. Still, the results of the new test didn't inspire confidence: Less than one-quarter of the 12th-graders tested scored in the "proficient" range.
BLOOMBERG - Philadelphia students who attended public schools managed by private operators fared no better academically than other students over the past four years, an analysis by Rand Corp. and Research for Action shows. Philadelphia began an experiment - the largest in the United States - with private management in 2002 after the state took over the 200,000-student district. Private managers were given about $90 million extra over four years to run 45 elementary and middle schools in the nation's fifth-biggest city.
The private managers include New York-based Edison Schools Inc., the nation's largest for-profit operator of public schools. A five-year Rand study released in October found that Edison is producing student gains that are comparable to the public schools they replace. Edison manages 97 schools with 58,000 students.
VALERIE STRAUSS WASHINGTON POST - Accelerated Reader, by Renaissance Learning Inc., the largest supplemental reading program in the United States, is used in nearly 60,000 schools across the country. The company provides computer software that allows teachers to quiz kids on their comprehension of 100,000 books -- which students select themselves -- and assigns a readability formula that determines grade level and difficulty.
Under the formula, the complicated and violent "Macbeth" earns a reader four points, and the Nancy Drew mystery "The Picture of Guilt" is worth five points. Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" is worth 20 points; Tom Clancy's voluminous "Executive Orders," 78 points.
"Macbeth," the story of a man's lust for power, is given a book level of 10.9, meaning that it is understandable by 10th or 11th grade. Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Beloved," which depicts a mother choosing to kill her daughter rather than see her enslaved, is given a book level of 6.0, appropriate for sixth grade. It is worth 15 points. . .
There have been several studies of Accelerated Reader by independent researchers over the years, with mixed results. Some studies show organized reading programs have positive effects on reading scores. But some researchers say the testing and rewards associated with Accelerated Reader help perpetuate the "high stakes" testing atmosphere fueling education today.
Accelerated Reader gives point and reading levels to books by using a readability formula that measures texts for difficulty of words, length and other features, said Laurie Borkon, a spokeswoman for Renaissance Learning. It does, she said, "intrinsically encourage" students to choose longer books because point values are higher. . .
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address would be rated "exactly equal" on readability formulas if the exact same text were read backward, according to the report. "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," would be equivalent to: "Equal created are men all that proposition the to dedicated and liberty in conceived, nation new a continent this upon forth brought fathers our ago years seven and score four."
MARIA GLOD, WASHINGTON POST - The Fairfax County School Board last night defied the U.S. Department of Education -- and challenged the No Child Left Behind Act -- by declining to force thousands of immigrant students to take a federally mandated test because local educators think it is unfair. Fairfax school officials said they will continue to test how well those students are learning to read, speak and write English and will report those results. But this year they will not, as the federal government requires, give the students reading exams that cover the same grade-level material as tests taken by peers who are native-English speakers.
PETITION AGAINST NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
AN ONLINE PETITION FOR TEACHERS and others to sign against the atrocious No Child Left Behind Act has already received 9,000 signatures and it's just getting started. Writes activist Susan Ohanian, "Democrats as well as Republicans supported this law, which really is a continuation of a Business Roundtable proposal that was picked up by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and his business crony Lou Gerstner. They helped it become America 2000 under Bush the Elder and Goals 2000 under President Clinton. Now it's NCLB. And Hillary is pushing for a national test, something she and Bill failed to get during his tenure."
A FEW THINGS WRONG WITH NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
1. Misdiagnoses the causes of poor educational development, blaming teachers and students for problems over which they have no control.
2. Assumes that competition is the primary motivator of human behavior and that market forces can cure all educational ills.
3. Mandates data driven instruction based on gamesmanship to undermine public confidence in our schools.
4. Uses pseudo science and media manipulation to justify pro-corporate policies and programs, including diverting taxes away from communities and into corporate coffers.
5. Ignores the proven inadequacies, inefficiencies, and problems associated with centralized, "top-down" control.
6. Places control of what is taught in corporate hands many times removed from students, teachers, parents, local school boards, and communities.
7. Requires the use of materials and procedures more likely to produce a passive, compliant workforce than creative, resilient, inquiring, critical, compassionate, engaged members of our democracy.
8. Reflects and perpetuates massive distrust of the skill and professionalism of educators.
9. Allows life-changing, institution-shaping decisions to hinge on single measures of performance.
10. Emphasizes minimum content standards rather than maximum development of human potential.
11. Neglects the teaching of higher order thinking skills which cannot be evaluated by machines.
12. Applies standards to discrete subjects rather than to larger goals such as insightful children, vibrant communities, and a healthy democracy.
13. Forces schools to adhere to a testing regime, with no provision for innovating, adapting to social change, encouraging creativity, or respecting student and community individuality, nuance, and difference.
14. Drives art, foreign language, career and technical education, physical education, geography, history, civics and other non-tested subjects, such as music, out of the curriculum, especially in low-income neighborhoods.
15. Produces multiple, unintended consequences for students, teachers, and communities, including undermining neighborhood schools and blurring the line between church and state.
16. Rates and ranks public schools using procedures that will gradually label them all "failures," so when they fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress, as all schools eventually will, they can be "saved" by vouchers, charters, or privatization.
COMMENTS BY PETITION SIGNERS
COULD YOU PASS THE NY FOURTH GRADE READING TEST?
[To help understand why our public schools are so screwed up, follow these steps]
1. READ THIS ESSAY FROM THE 4TH GRADE NYC READING TEST
"Why the Rooster Crows at Dawn" by Tulle Miller
Many years ago, roosters did not crow in the morning. When the sun came up, all was quiet and still. Slowly the animals would wake up. One dog would bark. Then another would bark, too. A cat would meow. The cows would moo. Horses would neigh. Then everyone would wake up.
You might know that chickens are proud. They are proud of their fine feathers. They are proud of their fine families and chicks. Hens cluck with pride over their eggs. Roosters have always thought they were the kings of the farm. They hold their heads high and strut proudly about the farm.
One day, the rooster strutted into the pasture where the cows were grazing. The rooster roamed the grass, stepping wherever he pleased. He did not worry about the great big cows with their great big hoofs. Brownie, the kindest of all the cows, worried that the rooster would get hurt.
"Go away, little one," said Brownie. She showed the rooster her hoof. Brownie's hoof was bigger than the rooster's head.
The rooster only laughed. "You might be big," he said. "But I am king."
The rooster left. The cows laughed at the little bird who thought he was king. They decided to play a joke on the rooster.
The next day, the rooster strutted into the grassy pasture again. The cows were ready.
"I wonder that you have time to visit us, great king," said Brownie.
"I have all the time in the world," said the rooster grandly.
"That is a surprise. You have so much work. I wonder that you can get it all done," said the cow.
The rooster was surprised. He did not know he had so much work to do. Up until now, he had spent all his time roaming the farm. He asked the cow what she meant.
"Well, as the king, it is your job to know everything that happens on the farm," said Brownie. "That means you are the first to wake up. Then you must be the last to sleep."
The rooster left the pasture. He thought carefully about what the cow had said. All these years he had left his duties undone! He decided that things would change at the farm. He was the king! He had work to do! He would wake up with the dawn and begin his royal work.
The next morning, the rooster began crowing as soon as he saw the sun. "I'm awake! I'm awake! No fear, the king is awake!"
It made the cows laugh to hear the rooster crow each morning. They let him believe that he was the best and most hard-working king there ever was. To this day, the rooster crows every morning to show that he is doing his duty.
2. ANSWER THE QUESTIONS FROM THE NYC TEST
[Do not go back and reread the essay]
How does Brownie the cow act at the beginning of the story?
How does her behavior change by the end of the story?
What causes this change? Use details from the story to support your answer.
3. IF FRUSTRATED, READ THE FOLLOWING FROM A GROUP OF FRUSTRATED PARENTS
How Fourth Graders Responded to the Question
Parents of NYC students who took this test have asked their children how they perceived these essay questions about Brownie the Cow. Every student we've asked has responded in one (or more than one) of the following ways:
1. It seems like there was a mistake. Didn't they mean to ask these questions about the rooster, rather than the cow?
2. I don't think the cow changes much - certainly not as much as the rooster. If she does, I don't think we're given enough information to say how she changes. And the teachers told us in the test instructions that we're not supposed to guess. I'm not sure what the right answer is.
3. Since I have to give an answer about how the cow changes, I'd say she gets a little meaner as the story goes along. When Brownie is first mentioned, it says she was the "nicest" cow. But then she gets annoyed at the arrogant rooster, and plays a trick on her.
4. Since I have to give an answer about how the cow changes, I'd say she starts out a little threatening, raising her hoof to the rooster. But by the end she seems more good-natured, because the cows allow the rooster to believe he is the king.
Here is what one current Brooklyn fifth-grader wrote when asked to recall his reaction to the Brownie the Cow question:
"I didn't think the test made that much sense. I felt good and confident when I was going to take the test. I listened to the story about the rooster (I couldn't look at it). They read it twice, I took all the notes I could and once I got to the big question I only had one thing I had recorded about the cow. I felt terrible. I didn't have the information to answer the question. I thought I had made a mistake, how could I have missed the information about the cow?"
4. HOW THE STATE OF NEW YORK EXPLAINS ITSELF
We talked with a state Education Department official responsible for this test, and asked how fourth graders were supposed to answer the Brownie question. . .
Yes, the questions were originally meant to be about the rooster. The state's testing contractor, CTB/McGraw Hill, developed two sets of questions about the "Rooster" passage, we're told. The first set asked students to write about how the rooster changed.
But the "test development team" convened by the Department of Education rejected those questions. The Education official told us that the teachers on this panel felt that the questions about the rooster required students to analyze changes in the rooster's thinking, rather than "outward" changes in the rooster's behavior, and that this was too complex or ambiguous. So the panel rejected CTB/McGraw Hill's questions about the rooster, and instead selected the back-up questions about the cow. Because of time pressures and the terms of the state's contract with CTB/McGraw Hill, the state was unable to develop any other alternatives, and was stuck with the "Brownie the Cow" questions.
The students who got the "right" answer, according to the state, were those who wrote essays with response #3 above. "The cow starts out nice, and becomes mean," the state official said.
But students with the other responses could have done fine on their essays too. There's not really a right answer, according to this official. The real point is just to "get them writing." And the graders are instructed to "look at the writing holistically."
But if the point is to "get them writing," doesn't asking a nonsensical question risk undermining that goal?
Well, yes. "The smart kids and the analytical kids have problems with these questions," the state official said. "They drive themselves crazy looking for the right answer."
So how about the test graders? Did they look for "right" answers, or just good writing? Were the students who answered #3 ("Brownie gets meaner") rewarded with higher scores, and the students with other answers punished with lower scores? We've not yet received clear answers to these questions.
But in any case, we find it hard to believe that any student - "right" or "wrong" about Brownie the Cow - could do his or her best writing in response to such a nonsensical question.
HEY, IT WORKED FOR HITLER
PARKING BECOMES STATUS SYMBOL AT SUBURBAN HIGH SCHOOLS
Parking is in such high demand that students are taking drastic steps to secure elusive spots. Some pay homeowners for use of their driveways. Some hoof it after parking on the street or in a commercial lot - in some cases up to three miles from their school. Still others carpool, though not by choice. There's even been a claim in one Somerset County district of a black market emerging for parking permits. The going rate: $375. . .
Securing enough parking spots for students is fast becoming a growing problem at many suburban schools. One reason is growing enrollment. Another, students and school officials admit, is that seniors are too mortified to ride the school bus with underclassmen. "Too old for that," said Ridge High School senior Chris Lee, who drives his mom's old Infinity I30 after years of riding the bus. . . "The older you get, there's the respect issue. Younger kids look up to seniors," Lee said.
Gover said she parks her Jeep Grand Cherokee at a friend's house near the high school, and walks the rest of the way -- gasp! -- alongside younger students. "I don't feel like a senior doing that," she said. "You have to walk in with the freshmen, sophomores and juniors."
BBC - In 1969, 48% of American students (90% of those who lived within a mile) walked or bicycled to school. In 1999, only 19% of children walked to or from school and 6% rode bicycles to school.
DC'S CHARTER SCHOOLS A FLOP
WASHINGTON POST - Thirty of 34 charter school campuses, representing thousands of District students, failed to meet reading and math benchmarks on a new test, according to data released yesterday by the D.C. Public Charter School Board. The poor results on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment mirror the performance of students in traditional D.C. public schools reported weeks ago. Of the 146 government-run schools, 118 failed to meet academic targets, up from 81 last year. The charter board knew the results for the schools it oversees at the time but declined to release them, saying it would take more time to verify scores and notify parents.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, students from the underperforming schools have the right to transfer to schools that meet benchmarks for yearly academic progress. But with the vast majority of charter and government-run public schools failing to meet the standards, and with long waiting lists at many charter schools, parents have fewer choices. The latest test results provide a fuller picture of the paucity of high-achieving schools in the District, despite the expansion of charter schools in the past 10 years as an alternative to the low-performing traditional system. . .
STUDENTS REBEL AGAINST PLAGIARISM DATABASE
MARIA GLOD, WASHINGTON POST - When McLean [VA] High School students write this year about Othello or immigration policy, their teachers won't be the only ones examining the papers. So will a California company that specializes in catching cheaters.
The for-profit service known
as Turnitin checks student work against a database of more than
22 million papers written by students around the world, as well
as online sources and electronic archives of journals. School
administrators said the service, which they will start using
next week, is meant to deter plagiarism at a time when the Internet
makes it easy to copy someone else's words. . .
Questions about the legality and effectiveness of plagiarism detection services such as Turnitin are swirling beyond McLean High, another sign of the challenge educators face as they navigate benefits and problems the Internet has brought.
Fairfax school and Turnitin officials said lawyers for the company and various universities have concluded that the paper-checking system does not violate student rights. Many educators agree. Turnitin, a leader in the field, lists Georgetown University and the University of Maryland's University College among its clients. Others include some public schools in Montgomery, Prince George's, Loudoun and Arlington counties.
But three professors at Grand Valley State University in Michigan this month posted a letter online arguing that Turnitin "makes questionable use of student intellectual property." The University of Kansas last week decided to let its contract with Turnitin expire because of cost and intellectual property concerns. And the intellectual property caucus of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, an organization of 6,000 college-level educators, is debating whether such services "undermine students' authority over the uses of their own writing" and make them feel "guilty until proven innocent," according to a draft position statement.
"There's a lot of debate out there," said Rebecca Ingalls, a University of Tampa English professor who has analyzed Turnitin. "These students are giving their work to a company that's making money and they are getting no compensation."
DC SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT PROPOSES END OF CHILDHOOD
WTOP - D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford Janey is proposing year-round classes for a few schools to help boost student achievement. The proposal calls for shortening the summer break at five schools, at least three of which would be low-performing. Janey says he is running out of options to help students in struggling schools. . . Nationally, the number of year-round schools has been declining since a boom in the 1990s. . . The superintendent is negotiating with the Washington Teachers' Union on a provision to allow teachers to work in year-round schools.
LIKE THE CHARTER SCHOOL MOVEMENT, the year round schooling movement is one part desperation; one part, like intelligent design; theory without facts; and one part a subtle attack on public education. There is absolutely no evidence that spending more time in the DC public schools improves anything. In fact, if you look at grade scores relative to the rest of the nation, you find that the longer you go to DC public schools, the less well off you are. What is needed is better education - which means better teachers and better principals and better curricula - not more gimmicks that the media and politicians can babble about.
Besides year-round schooling will do absolutely nothing to compensate for the lack of vocational training and other programs for students whose intelligence is more structural, social, or creative than the robotic variety increasingly favored by American education. Nor will it will improve critical thinking. What it will do is make it harder for those students who have to - or want to - work at a job to do so; increase the boredom of the often justifiably restless; and shorten the time students can learn from that vital form of education known as play.
MEDICAL STUDY: CHILDREN NEED TO PLAY MORE
BBC - Children should do at least 90 minutes exercise each day, experts say. The current UK guidelines recommend an hour of exercise - but a recent study found only one in 10 children of school age achieve that limit. Writing in The Lancet, they say children should up their activity levels in order to ward off heart disease and obesity. . . The authors of the latest study stress that getting enough exercise is important not only to tackle the problem of childhood obesity, but also to prevent future generations dying prematurely from illnesses associated with sedentary lifestyles. They looked at over 1,730 children, aged nine or 15 years, from schools in Denmark, Estonia, and Portugal.
For each child they measured a combination of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure, weight and cholesterol, to calculate a combined risk factor score. . . The lowest risk scores were found in the nine year olds who did 116 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity and the 15 year olds who did around 88 minutes daily.
A BRITISH LOOK AT CHILD SAFETY
CAROL MIDGLEY, TIMES - In 2004 (the most recent figure available from the Department of Transport) the number of 0 to 15 year-olds killed was 166 - a reduction of 75 per cent [since 1976]. Such fatalities and serious injuries have been falling consistently since the 1970s, thanks largely to better car safety features, child seats and road design. Nevertheless, many parents are convinced that the roads are more hazardous than in their day because there is "more traffic" and "people drive faster".
The fear of a third person attacking or killing children has increased dramatically. Thirty years ago around half of parents would cite stranger danger as a serious fear: now it is more than 90 per cent. . . Yet the number of child murders has remained more or less constant for the past 30 years. . .
In his book Paranoid Parenting, the sociologist Frank Furedi . . . describes a "culture of fear" that has led parents to restrict their children's independent outdoor lives and remarks that in 1971 eight out of ten eight-year-olds were allowed to walk to school alone. Now it is fewer than one in ten. At the of age 11, almost every child used to walk; now it is down to 55 per cent and falling.
"Fear of children's safety has come to dominate the parenting landscape," he says. He cites a BBC survey of parents in Scotland in 1998, which found that an overwhelming number believed children were far less safe than in 1978. "Although the incidence of child murder by a stranger in Scotland is very low and had shown no change in the past 20 years, 76 per cent of respondents thought that there had been an increase in such tragedies, while 38 per cent believed that the increase had been 'dramatic'." . . .
And while this might be our main fear focus, it is illness and accidents that account for most deaths. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that in 1976 the number of children who died (from accidents, violence, illness and disease) was 12,000. In 2005, it was fewer than 5,000. Measles and mumps, which were commonplace, have been virtually eradicated, thanks to the MMR vaccine. And yet we worry so much that we even distrust the vaccines: this year Britain suffered its first child death from measles in 14 years and the outbreak of a measles epidemic, thanks to parents rejecting MMR for fear of side-effects. . .
[One study's] statistics show how the number of child deaths as a result of accidents in the home have fallen over a ten-year period. In 1989, there were 215 deaths; in 1999 that number had nearly halved to 121. . . The number of drownings has dropped dramatically: in the 1970s about 150 children drowned a year; now the figure is between 40 and 50. . .
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE: COMPARABLE PUPILS PERFORM ALMOST EQUALLY
DIANA JEAN SCHEMO, NY TIMES - The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well as or better than comparable children in private schools in reading and mathematics. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private school counterparts fared better. The report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, also found that conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind public schools on eighth-grade math. . .
Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the union for millions of teachers, said that the findings showed that public schools were "doing an outstanding job" and that if the results had been favorable to private schools, "there would have been press conferences and glowing statements about private schools."
"The administration has been giving public schools a beating since the beginning" to advance President Bush's political agenda, Mr. Weaver said, of promoting charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools as alternatives to failing traditional public schools.
A spokesman for the Education Department, Chad Colby, offered no praise for public schools and said he did not expect the findings to influence policy. Mr. Colby emphasized the caveat, "An overall comparison of the two types of schools is of modest utility.". . .
Students in private schools typically score higher than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in the study. The report then dug deeper to compare students of like racial, economic and social backgrounds. When it did that, the private school advantage disappeared in all areas except eighth-grade reading. The report separated private schools by type and found that among private school students, those in Lutheran schools performed best, while those in conservative Christian schools did worst.
THREE IDEAS FOR FEDERAL EDUCATION MEDDLERS
[From Michael Winerip's last education column for the NY Times]
MICHAEL WINERIP, NY TIMES - As readers know, I'm not a fan of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law aimed at raising education quality. Instead of helping teachers, for me it's a law created by politicians who distrust teachers. Because teachers' judgment and standards are supposedly not reliable, the law substitutes a battery of state tests that are supposed to tell the real truth about children's academic progress.
The question is: How successful can an education law be that makes teachers the enemy?
Even No Child's strongest supporters acknowledge that one of the law's most important provisions - to guarantee a highly qualified teacher in every classroom - has been the most poorly carried out to date.
So, to improve classroom teaching and make teachers more enthusiastic about the law, I have three departing suggestions for when the legislation is expected to come up for reauthorization next year.
First, why not add a provision rewarding states and districts that mandate small class size? It's an idea that enjoys great support among parents and teachers and is easily carried out on a national scale.
Why small class size? Deborah Meier, the teacher, principal, author and MacArthur Award winner who has created successful public schools in New York and Boston, says the best chance for educating poor children well is surrounding them with as many talented adults as possible. The same premise drives one of the most hopeful efforts in urban education today, the Gates Foundation's small schools movement. . .
The intent of the No Child law could not be more important to narrow the achievement gap between white and minority children. But what angers public educators is that under the law, schools get all the blame if students fail, when they see many other variables at play, including the crippling effects of poverty on families. Studies show that the economic status of a child's family has a major impact on a child's performance on standardized tests. On the SAT, for example, for every $10,000 increase in family income, a child's SAT scores rise about 10 points.
Which leads to my second proposal. We need a No Family Left Behind Law. This would measure economic growth of families and punish politicians in charge of states with poor economic growth for minority families.
For example, in Ohio, black families earn only 62 percent of white household income, one of the biggest disparities nationally. So every year, under No Family Left Behind, Ohio would be expected to close that income gap. If it failed to make adequate yearly progress for black families' wealth, the governor and legislators would be judged failing, and after five years, could be removed from office. This way public schools wouldn't be the only institutions singled out for failing poor children.
And if states succeeded in closing the economic gap, test scores would be expected to rise, giving politicians and teachers a chance to celebrate together.
A final concern with the federal law is that it is so driven by state testing that there's too much time devoted to test prep, too much time spent drilling facts for survey courses, and not enough emphasis on finding something children will fall in love with for a lifetime - the Civil War, repairing engines, science research, playing the trumpet.
Fortunately, the remedy can be found on Ms. Ray's walls in Huntington, W. Va., a quotation from William Butler Yeats: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." I recommend that as the official motto for a new, revitalized No Child Left Behind law.
THE PROBLEMS OF MALE TEACHERS
LOUISE COOPER FRIDAY GUARDIAN - Male teachers are feeling isolated in their profession, according to new research from the Teacher Support Network. While male teachers face similar problems to their female colleagues - work-related stress, workload, career development and relationships - male teachers also face specific issues, according to the research, released in support of Men's Health week.
"Many primary school teachers tell us they are the only male in their schools, which makes them feel isolated and unable to talk to female colleagues about their problems," said Patrick Nash, the chief executive of the TSN.
The network says it has received a high volume of calls from male teachers who feel they have been expected to put themselves in situations that risk their own safety because of their sex. The most common cases cited are when fights break out in the playground or when teenage girls become obsessed with their teachers. . .
In a sector which is predominantly female, male teachers are also reporting that they are expected to give up more of their free time to take extracurricular activities like football and rugby clubs. Other male teachers report that they are expected to resolve IT issues, adding to their workload.
THE YOUNG REVOLT IN CHILE
JONATHAN FRANKLIN SANTIAGO, GUARDIAN
- The nascent government of Chilean president Michelle Bachelet
is facing its first major challenge with riots, strikes and a
countrywide boycott by more than a million students.
The students, who raised their complaints four weeks ago, are demanding free use of public transport, lower fees for college entrance exams and a voice in government policy. At the base of their protest is the demand for a potent upgrade of the public school system. . .
Last night, the Chilean senate was meeting in a special session to hear students' complaints. . . Monday's strike was the largest in Chilean history. Authorities were stunned by the organization of the protest, now widely known as "the march of the penguins" - in reference to the protesters' school uniforms.
Using the internet and cell phones, the students have rewritten the rules of dissent with their ability instantly to organize marches and make collective decisions. The organizers are very young, with an average age of 16, and their support goes all the way down to 11-year-olds, who organize forums and debate the right to a free education, turning their break into a civics lesson.
Hundreds of colleges are occupied and classes have been cancelled for the past 10 days. Alliances between poor students at state schools and pupils in the private education system have erased the usual class lines that mark Chilean social protests.
THE WAR ON RECESS
MARGARET WEBB PRESSLER WASHINGTON POST - Pressure to raise test scores and adhere to state-mandated academic requirements is squeezing recess out of the school day. In many schools, it's just 10 or 15 minutes, if at all. In some cases, recess has become structured with organized games -- yes, recess is being taught. . .
Parents -- and kids -- are starting to fight back. Recess defense groups have formed nationally. And locally, the fight is underway in Arlington County, where the School Board has twice had to delay voting on its new "wellness program" because parents were so angry that it proposed a standard of only 15 minutes for recess. . .
Academics and psychologists who study childhood development are growing concerned about overly structured, less playful school days, arguing that free play is extremely valuable to kids and their development.
"This is the one time during the day that they have the freedom, or the power, to control what they will be doing in terms of decision-making, in terms of negotiation, in terms of conflict resolution with their peers," said Audrey Skrupskelis, associate professor of early childhood education at the University of South Carolina in Aiken. . .
PRINCIPAL HALTS ONE OF BEST VALEDICTORIAN SPEECHES OF THE YEAR
REGINA SCHAFFER, PRESS OF ATLANTIC CITY - Kareem Elnahal learned a lesson Tuesday night - even in graduation, the school still rules. The class valedictorian surprised administrators and his fellow 2006 graduates at Mainland Regional High School when he opted to give an unapproved speech criticizing the school. Mainland, Elnahal said, does not encourage intellectual thought and the exchange of ideas. . . The speech was interrupted by the principal, and Elnahal cut his remarks short and left the ceremony. Mainland principal Robert Blake said the speech insulted Elnahal's classmates. "That was so hypocritical of him to make that statement," Blake said. "It was an insult to everyone here at this school . . . he made inflammatory comments about the school in general." Reached at his home Wednesday, Elnahal said he regrets the way the situation unfolded. He was embarrassed and apologetic. "I put the principal in a very uncomfortable position - he's a very nice guy, actually - I feel bad," Elnahal said. "I feel bad that he had to deal with this." "I just wanted to finish up, I felt pretty guilty," he said. "I felt embarrassed that the ceremony had to happen this way. It's supposed to be a day of celebration." At the same time, Elnahal said he is glad he had the opportunity to make his point. "I went to two parties last night, and I'm their hero now," he said. "I felt like this was the right thing to do," Elnahal said. "I couldn't show the speech (to officials) beforehand because they would have rejected it. I could tell by the reaction from students that they felt the same way. I had to express it or I felt that nothing would change."
KAREEM ELNAHAL - Four years ago, we gathered here for an education. Today marks a milestone in that pursuit, a culmination of four years of learning, growth and shared memories. At such times, it is appropriate to reflect on years past, to examine what we have done and what we have learned. Today I am charged with that difficult task, and I would like to thank the school for the opportunity to stand before my peers and reflect on our time together.
Education can be defined a number of different ways. For me, it is the product of human curiosity. Intellectual thought, as far as I can tell, is nothing but the asking and answering of questions. In my reflection, however, and I have reflected on this a great deal, I found that many of life's most important questions are ignored here. What is the right way to live? What is the ideal society? What principles should guide my behavior? What is success, what is failure? Is there a creator, and if so, should we look to it for guidance? These are often dismissed as questions of religion, but religion is not something opposed to rationality, it simply seeks to answer such questions through faith.
The separation of church and state is, of course, important, but it should never be a reason for intellectual submission or suppression of any kind. Ethics - it is what defines us - as individuals, as a society - and yet it is never discussed, never explained, never justified. Rousseau, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Aquinas, nearly every major writer I've encountered devotes time to the subject. And it's not as if these questions are without practical concern, that they are less immediately relevant than science for instance.
Our laws, our institutions and all our actions are a reflection of our ethics. Our own society owes itself to the writers of the enlightenment, but we never probe their work - we fail to espouse the movement's central principle, doubt. Doubt everything. We study what is, never why, never what should be. For that reason, the education we have received here is not only incomplete, it is entirely hollow.
What's more, this same lack of focus can be found in many of the subjects we do study. We approach history as though it were a story, endlessly cataloging every major character or event. But the details of that story are insignificant - what is significant is the progression of ideas. A study of history should get some sense of how the society he sees around him developed from those built thousands of years ago, what ideas changed and what changed them.
When humanist scholars looked into ancient Rome during the Renaissance, they searched for moral examples, for ideas. They didn't mull on every single daily event. They were inspired, and they transformed society. History is not an end in itself; it should act as a tool for greater thought.
But it's not only history. I've taken a literature class nearly every year of my life, but never has a question so basic as "What is good writing?" come up. Literary technique, what should be the focus of the class, is never discussed. How does an author develop plot? How can an author control mood or tone in his writing? What is the advantage of one author's methods over another's? Such matters are never discussed.
We read for the sake of reading, to talk about our interpretations in class as though we were in a book club. But no attention is paid to why we read the books we do, what makes them so special. And this pattern, grade for the sake of a grade, work for the sake of work, can be found everywhere.
Ladies and gentlemen, the spirit of intellectual thought is lost. I speak today not to rant, complain or cause trouble, and certainly not to draw attention to myself. I have accomplished nothing and I am nothing. I know that. Rather, I was moved by the countless hours wasted in those halls.
Today, you should focus on your child or loved one. This is meant to be a day of celebration, and if I've taken away from that, I'm sorry. But I know how highly this community values learning, and I urge you all to re-evaluate what it means to be educated. I care deeply about everyone here, and it is only our fulfillment I desire. I will leave now so that the ceremony can go on. Again, my deepest apologies, God help me.
COMIC BOOKS AND LITERACY
GREG TOPPO, USA TODAY, 2005 - When the American Library Association invited acclaimed comic book artist Jeff Smith and three fellow artists to its annual meeting in 2002, the quartet huddled beforehand and agreed that this was their best - and perhaps only - chance to pitch comics to an influential group of tastemakers. So the artists were taken aback when the librarians professed that they already were in love with comics and wanted more. . . Librarians lavished the artists with kind words, saying their books were teaching kids - especially boys - to read and getting them excited about literature. In fact, the artists heard that comics and their book-length cousins, graphic novels, were the only books for which circulation was up. "The librarians were way in front of us," Smith says.
And along with librarians, teachers also are embracing comics, both for recreational and instructional reading. They're using the caped crusader Batman to explore mythology and Art Spiegelman's Maus, a Holocaust memoir, as well as other titles, to teach history. (Related story: Stories for the ages)
"Reading is an acquired skill," says Austin librarian and author Michele Gorman. "If you have negative experiences early on with reading, you just quit."
The push for comics has produced an interesting set of bedfellows. A collaboration of artists, teachers and scholars, the National Association of Comics Art Educators, is distributing study guides and lesson plans that include "An Aesthetic History of Comics." And a Columbia University professor is leading a 10-city, after-school project that gives 30,000 students, from elementary school through high school, a chance to have their own comic books professionally published.
MOSHAY SIMPSON, SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 2004 - In Rocco Versaci's "Comic Books as Literature" class at Palomar College, heroes in tights don't save the day. In fact, rarely does the class focus on steely-jawed, larger-than-life characters with superhuman ability. Rather, the comic book heroes usually are working stiffs fighting class wars, malaise, cancer or some other reality - not villains. . .
"My expectations were low," said the 20-year-old film student. Schwaner, a fan of animé, anticipated dropping Versaci's class by now. He did not expect to be reading comics about everyday people living everyday lives. But now, Schwaner said, he looks forward to attending the Monday and Wednesday discussions because they have given him a new appreciation for the art form. . .
"Comic books, as they are, can be very powerful, artistic and literary" Versaci says. Versaci speaks from experience. Before coming to Palomar seven years ago, he was studying for his doctorate at Indiana University. Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Maus," a heralded comic book about the Holocaust, lectured on campus. In it, Jews are portrayed as mice and Germans as cats. Spiegelman did not just talk about the story lines, but also paneling and page layout.
The speech inspired Versaci, who read Marvel, DC and other popular comics as a kid growing up in Chicago, to seek out works by other alternative comic authors and artists. Among those he discovered were R. Crumb, the creator of Zap Comix and Mr. Natural; Harvey Pekar, who writes "American Splendor"; and Mary Fleener. . .
"Many people tend to dismiss comics as lowbrow and juvenile," Versaci writes on the site, "but in fact comics are a complicated format that can express ideas, create characters, address issues, and tell stories in ways unmatched by other forms, such as literature and film.
TERESA MENDEZ, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, 2004 - At Oneida High School in upstate New York, Diane Roy teaches the students who failed ninth-grade English the first time around. Last year, on the heels of "Hamlet," she presented her class with a graphic novel - essentially a variety of comic book. Comic books have long been deemed inappropriate classroom reading material. If they appeared at all, they were smuggled in, disguised within the pages of a physics textbook or a volume of Shakespeare.
It's this image - of comic book as contraband - that has endured in the popular imagination at least since the 1950s, when the Senate Judiciary Committee investigated the comic book's sinister influence and potential to inspire juvenile delinquency.
But now the books are turning up on some classroom bookshelves - especially in classes where teachers are desperate to engage struggling and reluctant adolescent readers. For a certain type of student - particularly those who are visually oriented and bright but may lack the motivation or maturity to succeed in freshman English - the graphic novel can become a "bridge to other things," explains Ms. Roy. . .
Adolescent readers face a host of complicated problems, ranging from general reluctance to pick up a book to aliteracy, an inability to fully grasp the meaning of words. Proponents suggest that comic books and graphic novels can help.
For the reluctant reader, they are absorbing. For the struggling reader or the reader still learning English, they offer accessibility: pictures for context, and possibly an alternate path into classroom discussions of higher-level texts. They expand vocabulary, and introduce the ideas of plot, pacing, and sequence. . .
Just getting reluctant adolescents to read - anything - can be a boon to their discovery of the joy of reading, says Marilyn Reynolds, author of "I Won't Read and You Can't Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers."
'ACTING WHITE' JUST A MYTH?
RONNIE POLANECZKY, PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS The annual blitz of standardized testing in public schools has just ended, and Erin McNamara Horvat already knows one result the scores will reveal: The achievement of black students will once again lag behind that of white and Asian kids.
Horvat also knows that blame for the gap - overtly in some quarters, and perhaps subconsciously in many more - will fall on an idea that has been floating around for 20 years: Black students underperform academically because they fear being accused of "acting white.". . .
Horvat, an associate professor of urban education at Temple, wants to give it a rest. . .
Horvat hopes a new book she has co-edited will prick our comfort with the theory. She and Carla O'Connor, an associate professor at University of Michigan, have just published Beyond Acting White: Reframing the Debate on Black Student Achievement, written by researchers whose studies address the limitations of the theory. . .
For instance, one author notes, "acting white" can't explain why black female students excel more than black male students do. Other authors note that low social class and inferior conditions in schools and communities negatively impact the performance of both black and white students. How does "acting white" account for that?
Other authors studied high-achieving
black students and found kids eager to define "acting black"
as being smart.
HIGH SCHOOL RAN CRIMINAL RECORDS CHECK ON PROM DATES
JESSICA FARGEN, BOSTON HERALD - Hard-hearted Cape Cod school officials, feeling the heat over a possibly illegal misuse of criminal background checks, have relented and will let senior girls dry their tears and take their alleged bad-boy dates to the prom.
The principal of the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School - now facing a state probe and national media coverage - yesterday reversed his edict to outlaw from Saturday's prom six non-students who had minor criminal histories. . .
The state is looking into whether school administrators broke the law when they ran criminal offender record information checks on non-students attending the prom and allegedly didn't get their consent. State law allows schools to run CORI checks on school volunteers. Violation of the CORI law can mean up to a year in jail or up to a $5,000 fine.
STUPID SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR TRICKS
SUSAN HARDING KATU, PORTLAND, OR - A growing number of school districts are going so far as to ban the game of tag and are even posting signs that read "no running on the playground." Is there real danger on the modern playground? Safety advocates say yes and want to eliminate it. Their first target: swing sets.
They've convinced Portland Public Schools to remove all swings from elementary schools playgrounds. . . Portland Public Schools have also rejected merry go rounds, tube slides, track rides, arch climbers, and teeter totters.
AMERICA'S STASI CULTURE SPREADS TO THE PROM
BOSTON GLOBE - A high school principal is pulling out a not-so-secret weapon in the effort to curb student drinking at the prom. Lewiston High School students determined to have been drinking will have to leave, will be suspended and will face a fine of several hundred dollars, authorities said. Parents would be called to ensure the student returns home safely. . .
The $349 device is called the Passive Alcohol Sensor. It can be waved over a drink, in the air, or near a student, the Sun Journal newspaper reported. . . .
The device can give a false positive reading because of mouthwash, perfume or other items that contain alcohol. For that reason, those who test positive will be pulled aside and given a second test to ensure accuracy.
The idea is catching on.
In Bethelem, N.Y., all students attending Bethlehem High's Senior Ball will be screened as they enter the dance on June 2.
In Enfield, Conn., the board of education adopted a new policy last month that requires alcohol detection devices to be used at all school events. Enfield is using both passive sensors and traditional "Breathalyzer" tests.
MORE THAN A THIRD OF BOYS DON'T GRADUATE FROM PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS; LARGE SCHOOL DISTRICTS DO WORST
JOYCE HOWARD PRICE, WASHINGTON TIMES - More than a third of boys in U.S. public high schools are not graduating, says a report by the Manhattan Institute. The report, "Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates," found that 70 percent of high school seniors graduated in 2003. A breakdown by sex showed that 72 percent of girls and 65 percent of boys received high school diplomas that year. Although it is well-recognized that girls outpace boys in high school and are more likely to go to college, this study is among the first to examine rates of high school graduation by district, state and race. . . The largest gaps in graduation rates between the sexes occurred among black and Hispanic students. Fewer than half of boys in each of those categories graduated in 2003. In contrast, nearly 60 percent of black and Hispanic girls were part of the class of 2003. The authors said their research suggests that the high school graduation problem is "centered primarily in the nation's largest school districts." They noted that only one of the 10 largest districts graduated more than 60 percent of its students in 2003. But "more than 8 percent of all U.S. students" attend school in one of those districts, the report said.
HOW PARENTS AID THE CULTURE OF CHEATING
FRANK FUREDI, GUARDIAN, UK - Last week a survey of 1,022 undergraduates at 119 institutions indicated that cheating has become widespread in British universities. In a poll carried out by the Times Higher Education Supplement, one in six undergraduates admitted copying from friends' work. Sadly, most academics know only too well that plagiarism has become a widespread practice. Discussions with social-science colleagues - including chief examiners - in different universities suggest that 20%-25% of assessment work contains either wholesale or partial unacknowledged reproduction of someone else's work. The really interesting story is not the disturbing extent of cheating but the increasing normalization of it; it is treated as a learning problem. In universities one often hears the argument that some students simply lack the skills to understand what is meant by cheating. Consequently many institutions are devoting greater resources towards providing students with the "skills" necessary to avoid the problem. However, in reality undergraduates have a reasonably good grasp of what it means to cheat. The problem is that they are encouraged to regard it in a morally neutral way. That is why students caught cheating are far more likely to feel a sense of irritation at being caught out than to feel a sense of shame, humiliation or remorse. . .
Tragically this culture of cheating
afflicts children from a very early age. Children as young as
seven or eight arrive at school showing off polished projects
that have benefited from more than a little help from parents.
NEWSPAPER SERIES: BIG SCHOOL GAP BETWEEN BOYS AND GIRLS IN MAINE ANALYZED
KEVIN WACK, BETH QUIMBY PORTLAND
PRESS HERALD - By many measures, Maine's boys are struggling
compared to girls.
The achievement gap between boys and girls emerges before kindergarten, continues through elementary, middle and high schools, and becomes most acute at the college level. It is found in Maine's poorer north and richer south. It affects educated families and households where neither parent has a college degree.
Nor is the gap limited to Maine. Boys are falling behind girls in schools across America and around the globe, researchers say. Schools are starting to grapple with the problem, but while there are many theories, no one really knows why boys are at risk.
Do boys suffer from a lack of male role models? Is it uncool for boys to excel in the classroom? Are schools more geared for girls, who tend to sit quietly and listen, than for boys, who are more rambunctious? . . .
Boys' troubles at school begin even before they learn to read and write. In Maine they are being expelled from preschools at higher rates than girls. A study of 52 state-funded pre-kindergarten systems in 40 states by Walter Gilliam, assistant psychology professor at Yale University, found that in Maine, boys are 4 1/2 times more likely to be expelled than girls. . .
"The picture, really even globally, is pretty gloomy for the male of this species," said Rob Pfeiffer, a part-time guidance counselor at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro. "The reality is I think we've got to really put some energy to turning schools inside out so boys don't perceive them to be girls' places.". . .
The findings: Maine's poorer high schools reported that 61 percent of 12th-grade boys and 71 percent of 12th-grade girls either planned to go to college or already were enrolled in 2005. Wealthier high schools also showed a gap of 10 percentage points - 65 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls planned to go to college or were enrolled.
40% OF SCHOOLS HAVE SHORTENED OR ELIMINATED RECESS
LAURA CRIMALDI, BOSTON HERALD - With schools scrapping recess to tack on more test-prep time, parents in Massachusetts and across the nation are rebelling against the nose-to-the-grindstone trend that robs their kids of vital play time. "I think it's terrible. The school yard is dormant," said Teresa Pimentel, the parent liaison at the Ralph M. Small School in Fall River, where officials have shelved a 15-minute morning recess in exchange for silent reading and writing until the MCAS tests are over. . .
Nationwide, 40 percent of elementary schools have either eliminated recess or are considering shortening students' free time on the playground, according to the National Parent Teacher Association. . .
"A lot of parents and the public are appalled there is no recess in school and they don't know that it's happening," said Anna Weselak, National PTA president. The war on recess has already hit the Bay State in several communities. . .
DROPOUTS SAY THEY WOULD HAVE HUNG ON WITH HIGHER EXPECTATIONS
GREG TOPPO, USA TODAY - A survey of high school dropouts offers a surprising view of why they don't finish school. It finds that more than six in 10 were earning Cs or above when they dropped out, and nearly two-thirds say they would have worked harder if expectations had been higher. . . The survey, by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, polled 467 geographically, racially and economically diverse people ages 16 to 24 last summer and fall, using focus groups and face-to-face interviews.
In many ways, the findings aren't unexpected. For example, about three-fourths say they would have stayed in school if they had to do it over again. But in other ways, the survey offers small, surprising glimpses into students' worlds:
- 38% say they had "too much freedom" and not enough rules in school, which made it easy to skip class.
- 68% say their parents became more involved in their education only when they were on the verge of dropping out.
- 70% are confident they could have graduated if they had tried.
- 81% now believe that graduating from high school is important to succeed.
THE TRUE HISTORY OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
MEMORY HOLE - John Taylor Gatto was voted the New York City Teacher of the Year three times and the New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. But he became disillusioned with schools - the way they enforce conformity, the way they kill the natural creativity, inquisitiveness, and love of learning that every little child has at the beginning. So he began to dig into terra incognita, the roots of America's educational system.
In 1888, the Senate Committee on Education was getting jittery about the localized, non-standardized, non-mandatory form of education that was actually teaching children to read at advanced levels, to comprehend history, and, egads, to think for themselves. The committee's report stated, "We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among the laboring classes." By the turn of the century, America's new educrats were pushing a new form of schooling with a new mission (and it wasn't to teach). The famous philosopher and educator John Dewey wrote in 1897:
"Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth."
In his 1905 dissertation for Columbia Teachers College, Elwood Cubberly - the future Dean of Education at Stanford - wrote that schools should be factories "in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products. . . manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry."
The next year, the Rockefeller Education Board - which funded the creation of numerous public schools-issued a statement which read in part:
"In our dreams. . . people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple. . . we will organize children. . . and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.
At the same time, William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906, wrote:
"Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual."
In that same book, The Philosophy of Education, Harris also revealed:
"The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places. . . It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world."
Several years later, President Woodrow Wilson would echo these sentiments in a speech to businessmen:
"We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."
Writes Gatto: "Another major architect of standardized testing, H.H. Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency (1920) that government schooling was about 'the perfect organization of the hive.'"
While President of Harvard from 1933 to 1953, James Bryant Conant wrote that the change to a forced, rigid, potential-destroying educational system had been demanded by "certain industrialists and the innovative who were altering the nature of the industrial process."
In other words, the captains of industry and government explicitly wanted an educational system that would maintain social order by teaching us just enough to get by but not enough so that we could think for ourselves, question the sociopolitical order, or communicate articulately. We were to become good worker-drones, with a razor-thin slice of the population-mainly the children of the captains of industry and government-to rise to the level where they could continue running things.
This was the openly admitted blueprint for the public schooling system, a blueprint which remains unchanged to this day. Although the true reasons behind it aren't often publicly expressed, they're apparently still known within education circles. Clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine wrote in 2001:
"I once consulted with a teacher of an extremely bright eight-year-old boy labeled with oppositional defiant disorder. I suggested that perhaps the boy didn't have a disease, but was just bored. His teacher, a pleasant woman, agreed with me. However, she added, "They told us at the state conference that our job is to get them ready for the work world. . . that the children have to get used to not being stimulated all the time or they will lose their jobs in the real world.'"
A CONFEDERACY OF COWARDS: GRADE SCHOOL TO REQUIRE EYE SCANS
LAURIE SULLIVAN TECH WEB - When a parent arrives to pick up their child at one of three grade schools in the Freehold Borough School District, they'll need to look into a camera that will take a digital image of their iris. That photo will establish positive identification to gain entrance into the school. Funding for the project, more than $369,000, was made possibly by a school safety grant through the National Institute of Justice, a research branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. . . Parents who have children that attend any of the three schools in the district, teachers who instruct students attending classes at the locations, and staff employees are assigned access rights. Each child can have up to four adults approved in the system.
ONE IN FIVE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS IN FLORIDA SAY THEY'VE HAD SEX
MARILYN BROWN, TAMPA TRIBUNE - Many Hillsborough County middle and high school students lead double lives - one for their parents and one for their peers. In a district-wide survey, nearly half of high school students and one in five middle school students said they have had sexual intercourse, and a higher percentage of high school boys than girls reported being physically hurt by their "significant others.". . .
Among student-reported activity from four thick survey volumes compiled by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Nearly one-third of high school students said they were propositioned to buy, bought or sold drugs while at school.
- More male high school students - 16 percent - reported being physically hurt by their significant others than female students, at 11.8 percent.
- More than 9 percent of male and nearly 12 percent of female high school students said they were physically forced to have sex.
"I know that is happening, because my son constantly gets letters from girls who want to do sexual things to him," said Paula Thomas, mother of five children ages 9 to 16. "It starts in the sixth or seventh grade." At school, the Citrus Park mother said, "They know to stay out of certain hallways because of the girls."
HOW SOME CITIES INTEGRATED THEIR SCHOOLS
JONATHAN KOZOL, NATION - The fashionable reflex nowadays is to declare that integration "failed" . . . Such declarations of futility ignore the reality that as many as 10 million black, white and Hispanic children have attended school together in inter-district programs in which integrated schooling has become a fact of life for an entire generation of black children. In large numbers, the inner-city students in these programs have gone on to universities and colleges and become civic leaders in their own communities.
In the Milwaukee area, for instance, twenty-two suburban districts currently participate in a student-transfer program to promote school integration across district lines, which has been in operation now for nearly thirty years. Under the program four thousand students transfer between Milwaukee and its suburbs. In the middle-class suburb of Shorewood, for example, 11 percent of the student population comes into the district from Milwaukee. Including minority children who already live in Shorewood, says Jack Linehan, the recently retired superintendent, "our school district is about 19 percent black and Hispanic, and the community has a great comfort level with that. . . I think parents got to know each other as friends. . . I think that evaporated away a lot of the psychological resistance." Linehan also notes that starting integration in the elementary grades made it much easier for children "simply to be children with each other." Stereotypes fall away, he adds. "It's more difficult to conjure up 'the other' when you're building sand castles together."
In St. Louis also, a suburban-urban inter-district transfer program has been in place for more than twenty years. The program, initiated under a court order in 1983, today enrolls about 10,000 children from the city, who represent nearly a quarter of the school-age population of black children in St. Louis, while about 500 children from the suburbs make the opposite commute. Although recent cutbacks in the funds provided by the state to underwrite these transfers have imposed a heavier financial burden on the sixteen districts that participate, most of the education leaders there have made clear their preference to continue with the program even in the face of opposition from the state.
In the Louisville area as well, school integration, initially carried out under court order, has now been in place without court order for a quarter-century. The sweep of the program, under which the city schools and county schools have been combined into a single system in which more than 90,000 black, Hispanic, white and Asian children are enrolled, has had the effect of rendering Kentucky's public schools the most desegregated in the nation. The typical black student in Kentucky now attends a school in which two-thirds of the enrollment is Caucasian.
When a proposal was made in 1991 to terminate or cut back on Kentucky's integration program, protests were voiced by community groups, the teachers union, the local press, the Jefferson County Human Relations Commission and the regional branch of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. A survey revealed that the number of black parents who believed their children's education had improved under the busing plan exceeded those who took the opposite position by a ratio of six to one. Less than 2 percent believed that education for their children would be better in resegregated schools. Despite occasional recurrences of opposition from groups or individuals who represent small pockets of resistance, support for school desegregation in the Louisville community continues strong and unabated to the present day.
CHICAGO STUDENTS LEFT BEHIND IN LARGE NUMBERS
JODI S. COHEN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE - State report card data released this month show that about 40 percent of high school juniors failed to meet standards in reading this year, and 47 percent failed to meet standards in math. In Chicago public schools, 59 percent didn't pass the reading test, and 73 percent didn't pass the math test. . . As colleges and universities grapple with declining state funding, the cost of remedial education is of increasing concern. What's more, if college-going rates continue to rise, the need for remedial courses is bound to increase. Such classes typically don't count toward graduation.
At the seven campuses of the City Colleges of Chicago, where the majority of students come from Chicago public schools, 61 percent of students who took the placement test were below college level in reading, 69 percent in writing and 92 percent in math. The numbers are higher for Chicago Public Schools students.
SOME TRYING TO SAVE TIMES FOR THE ARTS IN SCHOOLS DESPITE TEST MANIA
JOSEPH POPIOLKOWSKI, STATELINE - Arts in education advocates, including Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), are on the offensive to try to keep the fine arts from getting squeezed out as the federal No Child Left Behind Act ratchets up pressure on schools to raise reading and math test scores. Raising standards in arts education is a primary goal of Huckabee's term as chairman of the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan interstate compact on education. His own state is emphasizing the arts as a regular part of schools' curricula with a new law requiring 40 minutes of music and 40 minutes of visual art per week for every elementary school student.
However, not every state offers the same arts enrichment opportunities. Because the school day is only so long and schools are electing to lengthen math and language arts classes, there's a growing trend to relegate dance, music, theater and visual arts classes to lunch periods, after school or on weekends, said Nancy Carr, a visual and performing arts consultant for the California Department of Education.
California had appropriated arts education funding of $6.5 million annually - one dollar for each student - for five consecutive years until it was penciled out starting in the 2003-2004 school year. In addition, the California Arts Council, which gives grants to community arts organizations that may bring resources such as a painter or Shakespeare troupe into classrooms, had its state funding gutted from $36 million a few years ago to $4 million in 2004, Carr said. . .
The arts have been shown to be particularly helpful for at-risk groups, which score notoriously low on nationalized tests and face steep dropout rates. Dallas Arts Partners, a partnership between the city's school district, government and cultural organizations, reported students with a heavy arts involvement - especially special education pupils and English language learners - scored higher on Texas standardized tests than a control group. . . A study released Nov. 15 by the Arts Education Partnership, a national coalition of arts, education, business, philanthropic and government organizations, found high levels of student development and teacher job satisfaction in 10 schools with high concentrations of low-income students but vibrant arts programs. Still, underperforming schools are more likely to hire a new math instructor rather than an arts teacher for fear of looming penalties under the 2001 federal education reform law, said former Maryland State Arts Councilor Mary Ann Mears, a sculptor.
LOTS OF MARYLAND CHIILDREN LEFT BEHIND
LIZ BOWIE, BALTIMORE SUN - More than 40 percent of Maryland's 10th-graders failed a new statewide high school English test that will soon be required for graduation, with passing rates particularly low in the state's poorest neighborhoods. . . The wide disparity in achievement between the highest-performing schools, often in wealthy areas, and dismal results elsewhere raise the question of whether hundreds of students in city schools will be able to graduate. . . At more than 50 schools statewide, less than a third of the students passed the test - while 20 top-performing schools had passing rates of more than 80 percent.
TEST SCORES LEAVE PLENTY OF CHILDREN BEHIND IN ILLINOIS
CHICAGO TRIBUNE - Illinois elementary students on average scored no better on state reading tests this year than five years ago--even as the state and nation pushed to improve youngsters' literacy skills. While most of the state's minority groups posted very slight gains in reading, white students, who make up the bulk of the testing pool, showed minimal progress. That flat performance of white students depressed overall state progress, a Tribune analysis of average test scores being released Wednesday shows. Even in math, where all grade-school students have made big gains since 2000, white children showed the least improvement compared with Asians, Hispanics and blacks. This year, Asian students continued to be the top performers, followed by white students.
BIPOLAR CHILDREN FOUND HIGH IN CREATIVITY
UPI - Researchers said a sample of children who either have or are at high risk for bipolar disorder, which was formerly called manic-depressive illness, score higher on a creativity index than so healthy children. "I think it's fascinating," said Dr. Kiki Chang, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-author of the paper. "There is a reason that many people who have bipolar disorder become very successful, and these findings address the positive aspects of having this illness." Dr.Terence Ketter, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a study co-author, published a 2002 study showing healthy artists were more similar in personality to individuals with bipolar disorder -- the majority of whom were on medication -- than to healthy people in the general population. Ketter said he believes bipolar patients' creativity stems from their mobilizing energy that results from negative emotion to initiate some sort of solution to their problems. "In this case, discontent is the mother of invention," he said.
MOVEMENT TO PUT MORE MONEY IN THE CLASSROOM
[This is a case your editor has argued ever since he was a PTA president in the 1970s and he discovered how little money was reaching the classrooms. Liberals have donated the issue to the conservatives through the basic flaw of equating intent with results i.e. if you spend more money on education you'll get better education. There is nothing unprogressive with being attentive to how public funds are being used.]
KAVAN PETERSON, STATELINE - A fledgling national advocacy group aims to force school districts nationwide to boost spending in the classroom, not by raising taxes but by cutting back on administrative and support services such as busing and counseling.
The goal of the little-known group, First Class Education, is to change the laws in all 50 states by 2008 to require schools to spend at least 65 percent of their operating budgets on classroom expenses, including teachers' salaries, computers and after-school activities.
Since the group's public rollout in March, legislatures in Kansas and Louisiana have passed measures encouraging the idea and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) in August ordered state schools to meet the 65 percent threshold. With financial backing from Internet retail tycoon Patrick Byrne, president of Overstock.com, the group is running TV commercials in Minnesota and Arizona and plans to gather signatures in up to 10 states to put the proposal before voters in the 2006 general election.
According to a confidential memo prepared for state lawmakers by First Class Education, the group also hopes to use the issue as a political weapon in the 2006 elections to sow dissension among state education unions and boost the political credibility of Republicans on education issues. . .
Nationally, 61.5 percent of education operational budgets reach the classroom, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Only four states -- Maine, New York, Tennessee, and Utah -- exceed the 65 percent goal, down from seven states three years ago.
Raising the national average to 65 percent would inject nearly $14 billion into the classroom, First Class Education estimates -- enough to buy a desktop computer for every student in America or to hire 325,000 more teachers at $40,000 a year. . . Schools in Washington, D.C., which come in last on national standardized tests, spend more than $12,000 per student -- more than any state -- but less than 50 percent goes to the classroom. . .
TV SHOW ON UNTEACHABLE STUDENTS PRODUCES TEACHABLE ONES
TIMES, UK - [The TV show, the Unteachables] set out to discover whether 16 hardened troublemakers could be tamed and its combination of liberal â sometimes eccentric â teaching and clear rules and boundaries does seem to have had a lasting impact.
The teenagers spent two weeks at a study camp in Kent over the last Easter holidays. Nine out of the initial 16 made it through to the end of the series. Four were sent home for misbehaving during the filming and three others withdrew.
By the end of the course the nine survivors could concentrate for up to an hour and a quarter - at the start they could not focus for more than 40 minutes. And they have now lasted eight weeks of school â the first eight weeks of their GCSE years - without clocking up a single suspension.
The success has even surprised the producers, who are considering a follow-up program tracking the children's progress. In the final episode, broadcast last Tuesday, the children were set to work as teaching assistants in a large primary school in west London. . .
So what was the magic formula?
According to Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, who ran the course, there were three ingredients: making lessons fun and engaging, clear rules and one-to-one counseling aimed at helping each child discover a talent.
But ask the parents and the children and the recipe comes down to one word: Phil. Phil Beadle is a 40-year-old English teacher who once wanted to be a rock star. His teaching methods included a pointing game called "Dickhead", "kung fu punctuation" and taking the kids out into a field to read chunks of Shakespeare to cows.
It may sound wacky - though he gets very grumpy if you suggest that - but it works. When he taught in Canning Town in east London he produced the school's best GCSE results: his entire class got A+s, As or Bs in English. . .
The government has spent L660m in three years on trying to improve behavior and implementing the proposals of its taskforce will probably cost a few more hundred thousand more.
Buried in its report was a message ministers might prefer to overlook but which is borne out by the success of The Unteachables: 50% of bad behavior at one school occurred in the 7% of lessons taught by [substitute] teachers. In short, one of the most effective cures for badly behaved kids is simply good, continuous teaching.
TESTING MANIA MAKING EDUCATION WORSE
ANNETTE DUNLAP, CHARLOTTE OBSERVER - One hundred forty. If I have figured correctly, that is how many school days remain until my youngest child graduates from high school. The event will not come soon enough. My anticipation has nothing to do with the excitement of seeing my child receive his diploma; it has everything to do with the fatigue of having children who attended public schools.
Since my oldest child enrolled in kindergarten in 1986, public education has been transformed -- and not for the better. The major change that has frustrated me is the creation of a test-focused culture in the classroom. Teachers teach a test, not a subject. In-service training provides strategies to help students improve test scores. Precious instructional time is co-opted by teaching test-taking skills, and by giving benchmark and practice tests to keep students from freezing at the "main event."
Based on my experiences as a college professor, test-taking has decreased critical thinking skills. I have seen a marked decline in reading comprehension and writing performance in my students. This is a notable difference from those I taught from 1981 until 1995. Students from these earlier years were not trained to take a test, and it showed. They exhibited problem-solving skills, creative thinking and that indefinable something we like to call "Yankee ingenuity." Today's students are products of intensive testing. They remind me of Pavlov's dogs. Tell them something will be on the test, and a bell rings in their heads. Tell them they are not responsible for certain material, and they tune out. There is no genuine spirit of inquiry, no interest in figuring out why something did or did not work. Describing their writing skills as "atrocious" is an understatement -- and these are the students who had to pass multiple writing tests in order to graduate high school. . .
NO CHILD LEFT UNHARMED LAW PROVES A BUST IN FIRST TEST
SAM DILLON, NY TIMES - The first nationwide test to permit an appraisal of President Bush's signature education law rendered mixed results on Wednesday, with even some supporters of the law expressing disappointment. Math scores were up slightly but eighth-grade reading showed a decline, and there was only modest progress toward closing the achievement gap between white and minority students, which is one of the Bush administration's primary goals. In many categories, the results indicated, the gap remains as wide as it was in the early 1990's. By some measures, students were making greater gains before the law was put into effect. . .
PLAY BECOMES SERIOUS BUSINESS
AMERICAN SCHOOLS have begun to notice that one reason kids have a weight problem is because they are allowed a lot less activity during class hours than use to be the case. There is a cure successfully used by children for thousands of years. It is called play. But that, of course, is too unregulated for today's values, hence the following.
MARIA GLOD WASHINGTON POST -
Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" pounded
in the gymnasium. People scrambled up the climbing wall, pumped
barbells and strained for a few more crunches on exercise balls.
Orange slices and bottles of chilled spring water went fast.
Walking, running and jump-rope clubs are popping up, even for the youngest children, before and after school. Students are wearing pedometers and learning to calculate their heart rates. And fitness gear designed to help kids improve upper body strength and agility are complementing slides and swings on school playgrounds. . .
JUNE 2005. .
JENNIFER MROZOWSKI CINCINNATI ENQUIRER - Ohio's public charter schools are increasingly being run by private companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars to educate kids in non-traditional ways. Unlike traditional public schools that make no profits, "education management firms" are a growing, for-profit industry. They'll receive more than $200 million in state and local funds to operate at least 55 schools with nearly 30,000 students this year. That's about half of the $428 million for charters overall.
Soon, the companies may control more schools. Gov. Bob Taft is expected to sign a state budget today authorizing 60 new charters. Education companies, which already run about one-fifth of Ohio's 249 charter schools, are expected to apply for more. . .
As the number of privately managed schools multiplies, so do the critics. They say the firms reap profits by skimping on operating costs, charging excessive fees and hiring inexperienced teachers. Local school districts say they suffer, too, when students leave their districts for charters, taking with them at least $5,169 in state and local funding for each student.
Academically, charters average some of the lowest test scores in Ohio. More than half receiving state ratings for student achievement ranked at the lowest levels.
"Students are being lured to these schools based on slick advertising and big promises, but they are, in fact, losing their only real opportunity to get a good education," says Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers union.
David Brennan, an Akron lawyer who made part of his fortune running steel mills, owns White Hat Management. The company operates 34 Ohio charter schools that enroll more than 13,000 students - enough to make up the 11th largest school system in the state. The state will pay his company more than $109 million this year.
Half of Brennan's schools that received academic ratings in the 2003-04 school year were labeled in "academic emergency" or "academic watch" - the state's worst categories for student performance.
Brennan wouldn't comment for this story. . .
State statistics offer some insight into the firms' operations. The average teacher in White Hat schools earned $29,000 and had 2.2 years' experience in 2003-04. That compares to an average teacher salary of $46,700 and 14 years' experience in the state's public schools.
Inexperienced teachers can be a factor in low student achievement, says Martin Carnoy, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. Carnoy is co-author of "The Charter School Dust-Up," a recent book that examined enrollment and achievement nationally.