First up, this is not directly ed related (although peripherally), a letter from a whiter-than-white (his term) Republican who was mightily unhappy with his party this election. (Caution: he minces no words so if you are a delicate reader, do not read this section.)
He does speak to some of what ed reformers on the Dem side like to do; namely, name-call and harangue which to my mind, never works.
One of the reasons my family is affluent is that my wife and I have a collective fifteen years of university education between us. I have a Masters degree in Science and Technology Policy, and my wife is a physician who holds degrees in medicine as well as cell and molecular biology. We are really quite unimpressed with Congressional representatives such as Todd Akin and Paul Broun who actually serve on the House science committee and who believe, respectively, that rape does not cause pregnancy and that evolution and astrophysics are lies straight from Satan’s butt cheeks. These are, sadly, only two of innumerable assaults that the Republican Party has made against hard science – with nothing to say of logic in general. Please understand the unbearable tension this might create between us and your candidates.
Another fascinating op-ed in the NY Times by Sara Mosle was about what students should be assigned to read in in order to learn to write.
I had occasion to watch The Godfather while I was making Thanksgiving dinner and realized that it was something that Shakespeare would completely recognize. That there are great human dramas and characters in literature through the ages. Maybe it would be a good idea to do an overview of great literature and then pick a few books to illustrate rather than always going to the well of the classics.
Mr. Gladwell’s tale provides a good lesson for English teachers across the country as they begin to implement the Common Core State Standards, a set of national benchmarks, adopted by nearly every state, for the skills public school students should master in language arts and mathematics in grades K-12.
Depending on your point of view, the now contentious guidelines prescribe a healthy — or lethal — dose of nonfiction.
For example, the Common Core dictates that by fourth grade, public school students devote half of their reading time in class to historical documents, scientific tracts, maps and other “informational texts” — like recipes and train schedules. Per the guidelines, 70 percent of the 12th grade curriculum will consist of nonfiction titles.
Alarmed English teachers worry we’re about to toss Shakespeare so students can study, in the words of one former educator, “memos, technical manuals and menus.”
What schools really need isn’t more nonfiction but better nonfiction, especially that which provides good models for student writing. Most students could use greater familiarity with what newspaper, magazine and book editors call “narrative nonfiction”: writing that tells a factual story, sometimes even a personal one, but also makes an argument and conveys information in vivid, effective ways.
In addition to a biology textbook, for example, why can’t more high school students read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”? (Editor's note; this is a truly great book.)
There are anthologies of great literature and primary documents, but why not “30 for Under 20: Great Nonfiction Narratives?” Until such editions appear, teachers can find complex, literary works in collections like “The Best American Science and Nature Writing,” on many newspaper Web sites, which have begun providing online lesson plans using articles for younger readers, and on ProPublica.org.
And in yet another interesting discussion about reform, from the conservative side, here is another article from Frederick Hess, writing in National Affairs last fall. His piece is called "Our Achievement Gap Mania."
"Today, the notion of "closing achievement gaps" has become synonymous with education reform.
President Obama has echoed Bush, terming education the "civil-rights issue of our time" and explaining that his agenda is intended to address "the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students." Obama's secretary of education, Arne Duncan, repeated the familiar formulation last year at the National Press Club, declaring: "The achievement gap is unacceptable. Education is the civil-rights issue of our generation."
The truth is that achievement-gap mania has led to education policy that has shortchanged many children. It has narrowed the scope of schooling. It has hollowed out public support for school reform. It has stifled educational innovation. It has distorted the way we approach educational choice, accountability, and reform.
It is crucial to recognize that "reformers," not educators, have driven this shift: In a 2008 survey, for instance, education pollsters Steve Farkas and Anne Duffett asked, "For the public schools to help the U.S. live up to its ideals of justice and equality, do you think it's more important that they focus equally on all students regardless of their backgrounds or achievement levels . . . or disadvantaged students who are struggling academically?" Eighty-six percent of teachers said all students and just 11% said disadvantaged students. Yet education reformers are doing their very best to counter this healthy democratic impulse — and they have largely succeeded.
All of this has eroded traditional notions of what constitutes a complete education. Because of the way "achievement gaps" are measured — using scores on standardized reading and math tests — any effort to "close the achievement gap" must necessarily focus on instruction in reading and math. Hence many schools, particularly those at risk of getting failing grades under NCLB, have fixated on reading and math exclusively; other subjects — art and music, foreign language, history, even science — have been set aside to make more time and resources available for remedial instruction.
University of Wisconsin professor Ken Goldstein reported that 64% of Wisconsin adults identify music as very or somewhat important when it comes to schooling. The similar figures for foreign-language instruction are 59%, and for physical education, 80%. It is not parents or the public, any more than it is the teachers, who are pushing schools to become gap-closing factories."
What does it tell us that it is not really our educators or parents, in majority, pushing these so-called reforms? And ignoring what generations before us and in the present believe are important? Things like music and the arts, civics, and smaller class sizes?
Mr. Hess also has a lot to say in this piece about gifted education and the outcomes because of the new ed reform but I have another article to couple with that discussion.