Some Recent Articles of Note

August 26, 2008 · Posted in NCLB, Personal, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

The beginning of each school year–whether it be k-12 or post-secondary, since my teaching activities touch both worlds–is always a reflective time for me. I think about what I can do to improve my own instruction and, hopefully, the ability of my post-secondary students to expand and improve their instructional activities in preparation for their careers. But mostly, I think about the nature of the K-12 world for which we are preparing our students. What kinds of problems will they encounter, and how might they respond.

In that light, here are a few recent articles that are worth a look by K-12 educators and those who are responsible for preparing them to teach.

One Teacher’s Cry: Why I Hate No Child Left Behind
How much control do K-12 teachers have over their curriculum? Does a “one size fits all” approach to teaching work for everyone? What will current students remember about their schooling 10 years from now?

Remember ‘Go Outside and Play?’
As an adult who very fondly remembers leaving my front door each morning, finding a couple of friends, ending up at someone’s house for lunch, going back outside and returning for dinner, I appreciate this article’s emphasis on the importance of independent, unsupervised play and exploration. There are many lessons for school experience embedded here.

A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash
How can a teacher who believes in the power of science to explain natural phenomena teach evolution to students who refuse to accept one of its basic tenets? A fascinating, in depth article about a teacher who truly cares about science education, and a cautionary tale for most teachers entering the profession.

12 New Rules of Working You Should Embrace Today
While this article is focused on the business world, there is much food for thought for K-12 and post-secondary educators–particularly in the areas of online collaboration and applications. Schools exist in a social context that is rapidly changing to adapt to new methods of communication and productivity. How should schools educate their students for this evolving context?

Beloit College Mindset List
It’s always a good idea to get a demographic handle on the students you are working with. Beloit’s annual Mindset List is an amusing but thoughtful glimpse at the realities of our students’ lives. Definitely worth a bookmark.

CoSN Investigates Scandanavian Students’ Success

March 4, 2008 · Posted in culture, NCLB, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

An interesting follow up to my Feb 29 post (What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?) showed up today from eSchool News. The article, U.S. Educators Seek Lessons from Scandinavia, reported on a visit to Scandinavian schools by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). The purpose of the visit was to find “answers for how students in that region of the world were able to score so high on a recent international test of math and science skills.”

CoSN’s observations speak volumes about the current state of US public schools. In Scandinavian schools, students begin formal education at 7 years, having spent the previous several years in preschool programs aimed at personal responsibility and social development rather than on academics. By the time they get to formal schooling, the situation looks like this:

[CoSN] found that educators in Finland, Sweden, and Denmark all cited autonomy, project-based learning, and nationwide broadband internet access as keys to their success… Grading doesn’t happen until the high-school level, because they believe grading takes the fun out of learning. They want to inspire continuous learning.

What the CoSN delegation didn’t find in those nations were competitive grading, standardized testing, and top-down accountability—all staples of the American education system.

The Scandinavians have apparently learned that drilling young children on facts and figures to produce better scores on standardized tests does not produce well-educated adults. Similarly, they seem to have figured out that guiding students into taking more responsibility for their own learning means that the students…ummm…learn more. And learning can be fun? Why is this surprising?

Could we design a system of public education that was any more backwards? If you need more evidence, visit the Orlando Sentinel.

The New Sputnik

October 5, 2007 · Posted in NCLB, OLPC · Comment 

I suspect many readers of this blog are not old enough to remember Sputnik (1957) and the massive changes that it brought to math and science education in our nation’s K-12 and post-secondary schools. But we are all beneficiaries of those changes. After Sputnik, the United States embarked on an extended emphasis on math and science that produced the technology that we use today, from computers to cell phones to GPS to the Internet. Sputnik was the wake-up call that jolted us out of our complacency and forced us to make some important changes to the way we educated our children.

In 50 Years Later, A New ‘Sputnik’ Crisis: The War of Minds, James Goodnight makes a very strong case for the need for a “new” Sputnik. The threat that concerns Goodnight–and most educators–isn’t as immediate or as obvious as Sputnik, but it’s potentially more pernicious. It’s the war for the minds of our children and the pressing need to use technology to reform education. Many countries that have invested significantly in education–China, India, Korea are cited–are producing more engineers and scientists than we are. Our students use a staggering array of technology, but very little of it gets used in school for learning activities. Where are the next technological innovations coming from–from a country of kids with iPods and cell phones or a country with advanced educational practices aided by technology?

And speaking of using technology in education, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative seems to be nearing fruition after three years of fits and starts. For those of you unfamiliar with OLPC, it’s an effort to design a rugged, self-powered wireless laptop that can be produced in massive quantities and used by poor children in developing and third world countries so that they can gain an educational advantage. David Pogue, technology reviewer for the New York Times, has an excellent review of the XO laptop in an article called Laptop With a Mission Widens Its Audience. The article includes a nice video that demonstrates the major features of the laptop, some of which are not available on any existing laptop. I love the networking features, for example.

Would you like to get your hands on one of the XO laptops? As it turns out, you can. OLPC is making the laptops available for purchase in the United States for two weeks only on November 12. For $399, you can buy one for yourself and donate one to a child in a developing country. You get a laptop, a tax deduction, and the ability to help a child in the third world. Pretty nice Christmas present…

Your Own Child Left Behind?

September 25, 2007 · Posted in NCLB, Studies · 1 Comment 

It’s difficult to find arguments for the success of NCLB, but here’s a unique twist on the topic. Parents (at least those in Kansas) don’t appear to support strengthening math, science, and technology programs to enhance 21st century skills. This report from eSchool News suggests that parents are on the whole satisfied with “basic” skills in math and science and do not see the need for advanced skills for their own children.

“The dilemma is really twofold,” says Jean Johnson, executive vice president of Public Agenda. “One is that parents, students, and local communities may be complacent about or even resist efforts to strengthen math and science education. Right now, most just don’t share leaders’ sense of urgency. The second is that many young people and their families may not recognize the vast and interesting opportunities available to students with strong math and science backgrounds. They just may not have absorbed how much the economy and future jobs are changing.”

I guess it doesn’t take a government program to leave children behind when parents are willing to do it themselves.

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Preparing Students for College?

September 13, 2007 · Posted in NCLB, Studies, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

This article from eSchool News–Report: Schools Aren’t Preparing Kids for College–is required reading. In it, eSchool News Assistant Editor Meris Stansbury reports on a panel discussion convened by the Alliance for Excellent Education that examined AEE’s brief on how US high schools do–or don’t–prepare students for success in college.

Some of the findings:

  • Thirty-four percent of US high school students graduate ready for college;
  • Eighteen percent of high school freshmen graduate in four years, go on to college, and earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree;
  • One-third of those who make it to college must take remedial courses;
  • Sixty-five percent of college professors do not believe that high school standards prepare students for college

The issue is not just one of preparing students for college. According to ACT’s Cyndie Schmeiser, “recent studies have shown that the skills needed to succeed in college are similar to the skills needed for good-paying jobs.”

Don’t finish reading this post. Go read the article, and download the AEE’s brief, “AEE’s Issue Brief: “High School Teaching for the Twenty-First Century: Preparing Students for College.

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Education in Rural Alaska

August 28, 2007 · Posted in NCLB, Rural Alaska, Teaching 2.0, Web 2.0 · Comment 

Three weeks ago, I spent a very exciting and enlightening week with a dozen pre-service teachers from rural Alaska. This was an “intensive” class–a week of face-to-face teaching and learning followed by a semester of distance-delivered coursework. This was an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic group which gave me much hope for the quality of instruction in our rural sites. I learned as much from this group as I hope they did from me.

I was reminded of an article in the Christian Science Monitor about the many problems faced by rural Alaska educators (“In Alaska, School Equity Elusive”). This article outlined a number of challenges faced by rural school systems, made even more problematic by the No Child Left Behind litany of exit exams, highly-qualified teachers, and adequate yearly progress. Finding a “highly qualified teacher” is impossible when one of the main challenges is finding a teacher at all:

“Educators have cited several reasons for rural schools’ woes: poor language skills among students, a dearth of early education opportunities, alcohol abuse and other social problems in the communities, and a difficulty in attracting and retaining teachers. The last is probably the biggest challenge, said Eric Fry, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. “If you don’t retain teachers, you get, by definition, inexperienced people,” he says.”

Add to that inadequate teacher housing, lack of services (including such basics as grocery stores and running water), and cultural gaps and you have an educational system that typically underserves rural students. This notion was underscored by a recent Alaska Superior Court decision that found that rural education quality was so poor that rural students should not be required to pass the same exam that their urban counterparts take.

” “It is fundamentally unfair for the State to hold students accountable for failing this exam when some students in this state have not been accorded a meaningful opportunity to learn the material on the exam – an opportunity that the State is constitutionally obligated to provide them,” Judge Gleason said in her ruling. The state must do more to improve education in troubled districts, located in generally impoverished areas of rural Alaska, before reinstating the exit-exam requirement, Gleason said.”

It seems a bit like a Catch-22–some rural students aren’t qualified to take the state-required exit exam because of poor educational preparation, but the state is required to provide adequate preparation for all of its students so that they can pass the exit exam that all Alaska students are required to pass, but some rural students aren’t qualified…

That’s why I was so encouraged by the dedication and enthusiasm of the students in my intensive class. They have a real chance to make a positive difference in their schools and districts once they become teachers. I think it’s already beginning. I require the students to keep blogs about their experiences living and teaching in their towns and villages. Their reflections about life in rural Alaska provide some powerful stories that we all need to hear. An example–this post in Betty’s Uqqaluvut blog profiles life in Kivalina [aerial photo], a small whaling village north of the Arctic Circle. It should be required reading.

I’m convinced that Web 2.0 technologies can play a meaningful part in changing the nature of education in rural Alaska. We need to tell the stories of education in rural Alaska, and the best people to tell those stories are the folks that live and teach there. In future blog entries, I’ll be linking to some of the place-based projects that my students will be undertaking this semester. Stay tuned…

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Ummm…I Told You So

July 31, 2007 · Posted in NCLB, Studies · 1 Comment 

This post will be short but sweet.

The results of a study published in Educational Researcher show that progress in raising student test scores has slowed (and has even declined in reading) since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002. Prior to 2002, state-led efforts at reform were actually making significant progress in narrowing racial and income-based achievement gaps. The federally-mandated NCLB program has effectively quashed those gains.

An abstract of the study is available here. The full study, authored by Bruce Fuller, UC-Berkeley, is available as a PDF file.

You don’t increase someone’s height through the act of measuring it.

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