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Monday, November 26, 2012

Ed News Roundup

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the Common Core dictates that by fourth grade, public school students devote half of their reading time in class to historical documents, scientific tracts, maps and other “informational texts” — like recipes and train schedules.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. 

 

9 comments:

mirmac1 said...

I'm gonna have to remember how this dude expressed himself...: )

Jan said...

Wait, mirmac! I thought he was channeling you! :>)

Seriously, Melissa -- great links and excerpts. I found the last one (by the National Review guy) really provocative. It seems like one more instance where someone identified a problem, blew a horn, and everyone charged off on a tangent without thinking through the implications of what they were doing.

The achievement gap IS an issue. But he is correct in pointing out that we have eviscerated much of what was previously good (AND much that contributed to narrowing the gap) in a hyperfocus on what ed reformers told us we needed to do. Music? Narrows the gap (but only if the struggling kids have time and resources to pursue it). Things like chess? And even athletics? Same thing. For some kids, these are the activities that they build growth, accountability, focus, goal-setting, etc. around -- and all that funnels back into the way they tackle biology, geometry, American history, etc.

I wish there was a way for the larger community (and I am being VERY inclusive here -- I would ideally want Stritikus and his cronies there, and the Gates folks, and Shannon and Lisa, and Chris, and a whole host of Seattle parents from all four corners of the City, and Burgess and -- well you get the idea. I wish there was some way for huge public conversations, built around articles, books, intellectual ideas on education (and the other aspects of raising children in an urban environment).

Not all ideas are good ones. Not all good ideas are good for all kids; and not all good ideas are "scalable." But I am so tired of the intellectual paucity of Ed Reform. I am starved for authentic discussions among people who actually want to be challenged and engaged -- not just told to push one agenda or another. I just don't know how something like this happens. But (in case anyone at A4E or Gates is under a different impression) it sure isn't happening on a grand scale now!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jan, as to your wish, for ALL to come to the table and talk, I'm working on it. I am reaching out and pleading for people to want for us all to find a united way forward (or at least find agreement on some items).

mirmac1 said...

| 0 !

ONYD!

dan dempsey said...

Try this for Ed News roundUp:


Educator Aided Others at Cheating, U.S. Charges

Federal prosecutors in Memphis are investigating an educator who they say ran a test cheating ring in three Southern states for teachers and prospective teachers who wanted to pass standardized certification exams.

Chris S. said...

Not peripheral at all. I do think the culture of disdain for and manipulation of science has really enabled [regressive] ed reform.

I'm also sick of hearing "education is the civil rights issue of our time." Income inequaliy is the civil rights issue of our time. Education and health care are just symptoms.

Scrawny Kayaker said...

"recipes and train schedules" ???

Sounds like they want to get double-credit for counting Craptastic Pathetic Math as reading work, too.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, Dan, the chain of cheating continues and deserves its own thread.

Anonymous said...

Chris S, you are so correct.

That tea-party and other types make openly ignorant and disdainful comments about science and "educated elites" to rousing cheers is downright scary.

I know a man who spent several years in prison camp in Laos. He had a very simple answer when I asked him how he, with all his connections and money, wound up in a prison camp: "Because the other side had the guns."

In Ed Reform's case, they don't need guns or bullets, because they have the billionaires' money, which in turn means they also have the politicians, and the news media in their pockets.

I don't know how long integrity, honesty and truth will be sacrificed at the alter of big money, but I fear for the direction of our country, if we can't restore legitimacy to our elections. Look no further than I-1240 for the shape of things to come. Whether pro or con, neither side can claim, with a straight face, or any credibility, that it was a fair campaign.

And that so many people seem to be just fine with democracy for the highest bidder, is terribly discouraging. WSDWG