Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Educators work to identify ways to improve teaching

“Educators work to identify ways to improve teaching” by The Associated Press The Seattle Times Published 3/16/11 Retrieved 3/29/11 Complete URL: Intended Audience: general public, teachers  
Summary: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with leaders of major teacher unions and officials from countries with high-performing education systems to discuss strategies for improving the States’ own education practices.  
Key Point: Improving education in the U.S. revolves around raising the status of the teaching profession • Increase teacher salaries • Allow teachers to devise their own teaching strategies and lesson plans • Continue to educate teachers after they have become professionals • Hold teachers at least partially accountable for student performance • Provide outlets for research 
Key Point: Reasons the US is not performing well in education • Low and varying standards of teacher certification and licensure • Nonspecific education training 
Relevance: If he didn’t know before, The Secretary of Education now for sure understands what works and what needs to be done to make improvements in education, starting with showing teachers proper respect for the huge responsibility of educating our youth.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Driver's Education classes mandatory

Kimberly Melton
Oregon House transportation committee approves bill requiring Portland-area teens to take driver's education course
Topic: Driver’s Education

The House Transportation and Economic Development Committee approved a bill that requires teens younger than 18 in the Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties to take driver's education before receiving a license. Intended audience: Teens, parents with teens.

Key Points: teens who take Driver’s Ed usually know more about driving than those who don’t—passing this bill will increase safety amongst new drivers. The concern here is that teens already have Driver’s ED available to them, how will this affect costs for the public and where is the funding coming from?

Relevance: Driver’s Ed is a form of education I suppose. I have not taken a Driver’s Ed class, so I do not really know what kind of “learning” goes on in the class. Since some of you have teens, probably most under the age of 18 who are learning to drive or already have a permit, I figured this might be something to bring up. Also I would like to see more data and evidence, contrasting the pros and cons for taking this class—is the practice of safe driving kept consistent as time goes on? Should this be something that one has to “renew” as they do their licenses?

Google Notebooks: a tool for education

Lori Tobias
Google Notebooks changing the way Astoria High students learn
Topic: Leaning with technology

Google has given every student in Astoria High a Google Notebook, a laptop that is not yet available to the public. The Notebooks are used to help teachers engage the students in class, help students study and communicate their ideas. Only six schools in the country got to participate in this Google experiment.

Key Points: students who once did not speak up in class are now voicing their opinions through forums and posts, disciplinary incidents have decreased since the introduction of the Notebook, All information can be accessed from various “clouds,” and some teachers are concerned that face to face social interaction may be at risk—considering students already spend most of their time on personal electronic devices.

Relevance: I think this is a great idea. This experiment ties in with our use of the Blog, and our COE Flex portal. I think that it is a great idea, since this gives students who did not have a computer or laptop access the ability to communicate with their classmates and teachers and study from home. The article makes a good point that this should be used as a tool, tied in with other methods of teaching in the school. The focus is that this is a tool, not a replacement for education.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Kindergarteners on the move

"San Francisco Schools: Parents look afield for assignments" by Jill Tucker Saturday, March 19, 2011 in the San Francisco Chronicle

This story is about the kindergarten school assignments given to student in the San Francisco Bay area school districts. Essentially, parents select from a list of schools choosing the top picks they would like their child to attend. The article found that while 75% of parents got one of the top three schools selected from the list, over 75% chose a shool that was not in their area as their top choice. The article points out that many parents opt to send their kids to schools that are not in the neighborhood for a variety of reasons. The story states that, " Almost 40 percent of those incoming kindergarten parents wanted a school that offered a language immersion program, and 20 percent chose one of the district's eight K-8 schools first. Demand for many of those programs or schools was more than 200 percent above capacity."

Furthermore, half of all parents listed one of 14 top schools as their prefered school for their child. School assignment requests from African American and Latino families was up 20%, according to the district's numbers which is substantial because these demographics have notoriously low repuest rates. Parents who do not request a school for their child are assigned one based on space. There are complaints about the system. "That's what's driving people out of San Francisco," said Johnny K. Wang, a political consultant for San Francisco Students First, which advocates for neighborhood schools. "It's not an assignment system. It's a lottery system."

I can see how incredibly relevant this story is to parents in that city, because the educationsl tract your child gets on is so important to their ultimate quality of education and of course their future. It's not surprising to me that competition to get into these preferred schools, even in kindergarten, is fierce.

Robots Assist Autistic Children

"Kaspar the Friendly Robots Helps Autistic Kids"
Staff and Wire Reports
eSchool News
Posted Online on March 8, 2011

Having an autistic child, I was intrigued by this article as it discussed using a robot to teach autistic children about   learning and showing emotions.  It is being used in a pre-school class in London, England and so far has been met with pretty good success.  Since autistic kids do not read facial expressions very well, a robot gives them a safe way to learn these skills.

This article is not just for educators or for parents of children who are in the autism spectrum, but for the world as well to see how technology can be used to overcome disabilities.  Though the machine is expensive now ($2,118), if it is successful then hopefully it can be produced on more of a mass-scale process to bring down the cost.  As someone who has seen his own autistic child struggle with simple things that most of society does easily and without thinking, articles like these give me hope in overcoming those struggles.

5 Myths About Abraham Lincoln

"Five Myths About Abraham Lincoln"
Holzer, Harold
The Washington Post
Posted Online on February 17, 2011

Being a History Major, this article was a joy for me to read as it debunked five major myths about Abraham Lincoln - most of which I thought were true!  Mr. Holzer, a Lincoln historian, uses evidence to debunk the myths of 1) Lincoln was a simple country lawyer, 2) Lincoln was gay, 3) Lincoln was depressed, 4) Lincoln was too compassionate and 5) Lincoln was mortally ill.

As we have discussed in our classes, History has been written with many mistakes and as a society we are trying to rectify that so history is factually correct.  I have to be honest in saying it is hard for me to part with some of the corrections as that is not what I had learned.  Also, I want to make sure those who are correcting our histories are being as intellectually honest as those who may not have been in writing our past stories.  That said, it is refreshing to me to see the "rest of the story" being told and our nation's history being fully fleshed out.  And this article adds to that refreshment, so enjoy!

Parents Opt Out of Standardized Testing

"Mother hopes others will opt out of standardized testing"
Levitt, Rose and Candiotti, Susan
Posted online on March 21, 2011

A mother in Pennsylvania has pulled her two sons from standardized testing.  She used a religious exemption as the reason for pulling her children because that was the only choice given.  The real reason she states is, "...the tests are not accurate measures of accomplishment, create undue anxiety for students and are used to punish schools."  She has been joined by an an associate professor of education at Penn State Altoona, Dr. Timothy Slekar, who has also pulled his son from testing.  This is an extremely rare occurrance, but both of the parents are frustrated by the quality of education their children are receiving and the constant teaching to just the tests.

This article continues the ongoing discussion about whether tests are the way to go in judging true learning and education in our public schools.  I think we all know testing and teaching to the tests is not going to work, but somehow some assessment of the schools must be made.  It is interesting to note the person who is quoted as being in favor of testing is the president of the NAACP, who I do not believe is in education.  That is a continual frustration for me as it seems many of the people involved in this discussion do not have an education background.  Maybe it truly is up to the parents as shown in this article to start a discussion about the standardized testing and not the talking heads from the top.

The Creativity Crisis

Seargeant Richardson, Laura
"The Creativity Crisis: Why American Schools Need Design"
The Atlantic
Posted online March 25, 2011

We have all heard of the STEM approach to education, so maybe it is time to make it STEAM with the "A" being Art.  The author makes a great point and backs it up with research to show students who want to succeed in the new growing job opportunities will not only need to be smart in the STEM areas, but also in be able to be creative.  As she points out, jobs listed in the "New Work" classifications are grouped into 5 categories with STEM appearing to only account for one-fifth of the training needed to compete in the coming decades.  She also points out, "the European Union declared 2009 as the Year of Creativity, and Chinese faculty actually laughed when they found out the U.S. education trends were in "standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing."

This article was written in a national magazine and is not meant for just teachers, but for the general public as well.  Ms. Seargeant Richardson argues (as we have read and discussed in classes) that to just concentrate on the STEM programs and teaching to the test is NOT the way to go.  We are going to shortchange our future students, our industries and our nation if we eliminate the other aspects of eduction such as art, music, shop and design classes.  Part of education is stimulating all parts of the brain and not just certain areas.  Or to put it another way, it is like using one of your arms with just barely using your other arm.  How stupid would that be?!

Tests are Boring

Obama Says Too Much Testing Makes Education Boring” by Stacy Anderson
NPR, March 28, 2011 Accessed: March 28, 2011

Topic: Standardized testing is not the way to go.
Summary: Obama is pushing for a rewrite of federal education laws. He is critical of No Child Left Behind and of the overuse of standardized testing.
Intended audience: General Public
Key Points:
  • Too much testing makes education boring for kids.
  • “Schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate”
  • Obama administration would like to change standards from No Child Left Behind to a new standard saying that by 2020 all students graduating from high school should be ready for college or a career.
Relevance: Teaching to the test is a hot topic as is No Child Left Behind. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. What does “ready for college or a career” even mean? I’ve also posted a video from during Obama’s campaign for president that shows his opinion then is in-tune with his opinion now on the issue of standardized testing.

Public Schools Are Damned One Way or Another

Gardner, Walt
"Public Schools Are Damned One Way or Another"
Reality Check Column in Education Week
Posted Online on March 9, 2011

This is the other Gardner who taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles School District and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education.  He writes this short article for the education community, but he is also crying out to the public at large about the hypocrisy towards our society's view of teachers.  His basic point is society is wanting better teachers and says good teachers should be paid more.  Then when a school district in Long Island, New York does consistently well and the superintendent is rewarded with a nice salary package, people are screaming that the education community is overpaid.

Maybe if it was a teacher that was being paid more this would not be a problem.  However, watching the recent budget debates I do not think that would be the case.  As teachers and as people living in society as a whole, this article brings up a good point that if Wall Street people can receive nice salary increases for good performance, why can't teachers and administration be allowed the same treatment?  Why are free marketeers okay with the one and not the other?  Is it truly a case of the public schools being damned if you do and damned if you don't?

Childhood Obesity in Mexico

Mexico Puts Its Children on a Diet” by Elisabeth Malkin
New York Times, March 13, 2011

Topic: Childhood obesity in Mexico
Summary: New guidelines in Mexico have been implemented to regulate what types of snack foods can be sold in schools (Mexican public schools do not provide lunch). The guidelines prohibit soda, limit portions, fried foods, and sugar in snacks sold at recess.
Intended audience: General Public
Key Points:
  • Mexico has one of the highest obesity rates in the world (similar to the United States)
  • Regulations were relaxed from original proposal, but may still be successful – at least they are a step in the right direction
  • “The central issue is to educate children to exercise moderation in what they eat and emphasize healthier products”
  • Some schools have already done this on their own – a principal at an elementary school in Mexico City has remade the recess menu.
Relevance: We have seen a lot of articles posted about childhood obesity – I believe they have all been in the United States. It is interesting to see an article about a different country struggling with the same issues of soda and junk food sold at school. An 11 year old in the article says, “Almost all of the girls eat fruit. Sometimes we eat candy. But that’s because we’re kids.” I think that it is important for schools to offer healthy options for students at snack/lunch and also educate on why that is important. Because, as the article says, as soon as school is over, students “poured out of the gates onto a narrow street cluttered with vendors selling candy, chips, nachos, and ice cream.” Junk food is everywhere, and just eliminating it from schools without any education on nutrition and exercise will not have a large impact. When I was in middle school, I always got off at the school bus stop by the minimart to buy myself candy, cookies, etc.

Awesome Video for Social Studies Teachers

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Alexander Hamilton Rap (
Youtube clip from the official White House channel.

Summary: Alexander Hamilton overcome incredible hardship in his life to become the Treasury Secretary of the United States and one of our founding fathers. This rap, performed at a White House dinner, recounts his bravery and tenacity.

Intended Audience: General Public

Key Points: 1) Alexander Hamilton was not born with a silver spoon in his hand, 2) You can make something of yourself if you have the will to do so.

Relevance: I had to post this. It is directly relevant to social studies education. I wonder how many young, immigrant students, who have no family, or extreme family issues, believe that they have nothing in common with any of our founding fathers? I was inspired by this video. To be honest, I knew very little about the details of Hamilton's life until I watched it (all I knew was his utterly deplorable stance on the national bank, but that is beside the point).

Really, Hamilton was an immigrant, who was born to a prostitute, dealt with family death and suicide, and overcame extreme poverty to become one of the most influential men in our country's history. He practically invented the American Dream, and his story could be used to hook young and disinterested students into history. A video like this says, "Hey, look! Alexander Hamilton was a lot like you. Don't you want to make a difference too?"

Panel of Expert Editors

With More Than Yawns, Pupils Rate Teacher’s Book” by Grace Rubenstein
New York Times, March 10, 2011

Topic: A third grade teacher in the Bay area uses his class as the “front-line editors” of the childrens chapter book he is writing.
Summary: Each time that Mr. Imwalle finishes a chapter in the book he is writing, he reads it allowed to the students in his third grade class. The students provide feedback about what they liked, what they didn’t like, and he can also judge based on their behavior during the read-aloud.
Intended audience: General public
Key Points:
  • The students have a rare opportunity to be exposed to the process of writing a book – as opposed to just seeing the final product on the shelves of the library.
  • Kids are excited about creative writing activities in class after being a process of the teacher’s own creative writing work.
  • Great way to motivate students who don’t like writing – many in the class are ELL. This puts the focus on the enjoyment of writing, not the grammar/spelling/technical part that is difficult for students at this level.
Relevance: This is something we may be able to use as teachers in the future. I don’t see myself writing a book, but as a child I remember having local authors come in for workshops or assemblies to teach about the process of writing books/creative writing. How cool for these students to get to be a process of that through their teacher! I also really liked the way Imwalle empowers the students to be editors for his book – it goes along with Bruner’s idea that students can practice a discipline at some level with integrity – these 8-9 year ARE editors! How lucky that he has a panel of experts at his disposal :)

Value-Added In Depth

Teresa Watanabe
'Value-Added' Teacher Evaluations: L.A. Unified Tackles a Tough Formula (,0,3903343.story?page=1)
LA Times
March 28th, 2011

Summary: An in depth look at the ins and outs, criticisms and arguments in support, and the math behind the value-added analysis we have discussed a few times in passing. It turns out, fun fact, that the formula used is PhD level math.

Audience: Those interested in standardized testing on either side of the argument

Key Points: 1) There are issues with value-added analysis, including inconsistencies, and apparent racial biases; 2) Supporters insist that it is the most objective method of evaluating teachers.

Relevance: It was very interesting to hear some debate on the issue. It was even more interesting to look at a formula and spend 20 minutes on google trying to figure out exactly what all the variables and numbers actually mean.The fact is that we WILL have to deal with testing as a part of our evaluation as teachers. It will be good to have a more in depth understanding of the issues regarding the specifics of how we will be evaluated.

Our 'Chance to Make History'

TFA: Our ‘Chance to Make History’” by Wendy Kopp
Education Week, March 14, 2011

Topic: Commentary piece on Teach for America
Summary: This article, written by the founder and CEO of Teach For America provides a more “touchy-feely” overview of the program. It gets at TFA’s goals and aspirations that the education system can be changed to eliminate the achievement gap. It also focuses on TFA’s basic idea that all students, regardless of race, background, socioeconomic status, etc. have the same potential to learn and go to college.
Intended audience: Teachers, general public
Key Points:
  • TFA has been around for 20 years.
  • Corps members are diverse (32% are people of color and 28% are from low-income backgrounds)
  • TFA is highly selective (5000 corps members chosen from 40,000 applicants last year)
  • TFA helps give children in rural and urban areas the opportunity to fulfill their true potential.
Relevance: Interesting article. We have talked a little about TFA and I am personally interested, as my brother is a corps member. As the article is a commentary piece by TFA’s CEO/Founder, it is fairly one sided. It does not touch on any of the criticisms of TFA (Corps members lack the training of a more traditional teacher education program, members often do not stick with teaching after the two year commitment, etc.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Creativity in Public Education

Sir Ken Robinson
Do Schools Kill Creativity?
Topic: Creativity in schools

Sir Ken Robinson speaks at the TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) Conference held in California. He makes some interesting points and raises a few good ideas about creativity within the system of public education. Emphasis is placed on the unknown and unpredictable future of the world, and the idea of educating for that unknown future. It is a 20 min video, but it goes by fast and is quite entertaining. Intended Audience: Everyone.

Key Points: There is an inflammation in higher education, the idea of educating for university attendance is changing, multiple intelligences, and questioning the denial of creativity within schools

Relevance: Though this video is from 2006, the ideas he raises are still relevant today. The public education system is designed to prepare students for college, but college is not what it used to be. Getting that degree means nothing now, you need more. It no longer guarantees a job. And the thing that is making everyone distinct, that makes people unique—creativity—is being overlooked in education. We must not overlook creativity—the world is changing and we need to encourage students to produce unique creative ideas.

How to Raise the Status of Teachers

Another "Room for Debate" er, Debate

New York Times
March 27, 2011

Topic: Debate

Key Point: This is a collection of 9 short written segments by 'debaters' answering the question, "how to raise the status of the status of teachers". Each writer has links and references to other articles, organizations, and studies, so it makes for a great start to branch off to other resources.

States around the country are looking to trim their budgets, and public school teachers are feeling unfairly attacked. At the same time, the United States continues to fall behind other countries in student performance rankings.

In high-scoring countries like Finland, Japan, The Netherlands, Canada and South Korea, teachers have higher status and are typically paid better relative to other workers. It also noted, "countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching."

Why Blame the Teachers?

Room for Debate
New York Times
March 6, 2011
Topic: Debate

This is a collection of 8 short written segments by 'debaters' including Diane Ravitch author of Language Police and Daily Show guest.
With states and cities going through hard times, teachers, their pensions and their unions have become big targets for budget cutters. Lawmakers in some states are trying to change teacher tenure rules and school districts are laying off teachers by the thousands. In public debate and private conversations, teachers have come under increasing criticism for being ineffective and overpaid. Yet not long ago, education reform efforts sought to elevate the prestige and pay of teachers as a key to improving achievement in the classrooms.

Bad Signs

"Bad Signs" by Alfie Kohn
Rethinking Schools, Spring 2011
accessed 3/27/2011

Summary/Key Points: Kohn reexamines the posters and slogans that many teachers and administrators post in classrooms and hallways. He asserts that seemingly innocuous (or boring, or simplistic) messages may hide fairly devious (if unconscious) social statements. For example, "Positive Attitudes Only Beyond This Point!" seems like a call for smiles, but taken at face value it suggests that students should plaster false cheer over whatever they are feeling. Kohn reminds us that what students need is a place in which they feel safe to give voice to their affect, whether positive or negative, and not exhortations to show false cheer. He has several other biting examples in the article. Quoted is Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America," which sounds like it would go nicely alongside "Punished By Rewards" which we discussed in 561. (And in fact, guess who authored the latter book. None other than Alfie Kohn! Small world.)

Intended Audience: seems pretty specifically teachers for this one, though parents interested in considering all facets of their children's education may also benefit

Relevance: The two perspectives that I can consider this one from are the general perspective of teachers in all disciplines, and the perspective of my classroom specifically. From a general perspective, Kohn challenges all teachers to think more critically about aspects of their classroom that may be taken as innocent givens. Surely no one has put up any posters out of specific malice towards students before! At the same time, posting things without thinking at all about it (because it is easy, and "that's how it's done") may be a sin of omission of thought; an evil act done in ignorance does not effect the less.

From my own personal perspective, I feel like I have lucked out a bit in having a world languages classroom: there is never any shortage of fun, relevant things to post around the room, all drawn from primary sources and all (hopefully more or less) closely related to the students' interests. That said, I will bear this article in mind whenever I put something up now, and I will strive to remember his good advice that the occupants of the room are the most appropriate decorators.

Middle School Sexting

A Girl's Nude Photo, Altered Lives
Jan Hoffman

New York Times
March 26, 2011

Topic: High Tech flirting turns explicit, Altering Young Lives

Key Points: Last year in Olympia Washington this case of middle schoolers being arrested for 'sexting' made the news, the article follows the longer term ramifications when the naked photo goes 'viral'. The girl who originally sent the photo was not arrested, but three others were for disseminating it, making it more a case about bullying than child pornography.

Relevance: As we have discussed in our Learning Communities class, we are expected to know what's going on with our students. We need to know how easy it is for bullying to occur using this media. The article goes into considerable detail how the administration handled the issue and is using it to educate new middle schoolers.

In Advanced Placement Redesign Bruner tops Skinner

Rethinking Advanced Placement
Christopher Drew

New York Times
January 7, 2011

Topic: Advanced Placement test get a redesign, out goes memorization, in comes discovery and critical thinking.

Key Points: Beginning in 2012, the College Board will present redesigned AP tests which will focus on critical thinking skills. Previously, students were responsible for learning the entire AP textbook which amounted to memorization of large amounts of facts with no time for context or lab work (history & biology being the worst offenders).

"We really believe that the New A.P. needs to be anchored in a curriculum that focuses on what students need to be able to do with their knowledge,” Trevor Packer, VP of the AP, says. The new approach is important because critical thinking skills are considered essential for advanced college courses and jobs in today’s information-based economy. College administrators and veteran A.P. teachers familiar with the new biology curriculum believe the changes could have significant reverberations for how science is taught in introductory college classes and even elementary school classrooms, and might bring some of the excitement back to science learning.

A committee of the National Research Council, called attention to the A.P. problems in 2002. It criticized A.P. science courses for cramming in too much material and failing to let students design their own lab experiments. It also said the courses had failed to keep pace with research on how people learn: instead of listening to lectures, “more real learning takes place if students spend more time going into greater depth on fewer topics, allowing them to experience problem solving, controversies and the subtleties of scholarly investigation.

Relevance: The article shows how the A.P. courses are adapting to what colleges say they want to reflect in their A.P. students. That is, they want them to think critically like college students before granting the "Placement" part of the A.P. It also reinforces what we are discussing in Ed Psych, where colleges expect a completely different type of learning style than high schools.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Preschool Learning

Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School
Alison Gopnik
March 16, 2011
Topic: Research shows preschools should avoid direct instruction style of education.

New research shows that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, may backfire.

Key Points: Studies provide scientific support for the intuitions many teachers have had all along: Direct instruction really can limit young children's learning. Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific. But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions.

Relevance: More fodder for the very interesting and imprecise science of early childhood learning and education psychology.

Charter School Champion Shifts Focus

Charter School Champion Shifts Focus
Sam Dillon

New York Times
March 26, 2011
Topic: The evolution of Charter Schools

This is an article about the founder of an organization who has more enthusiasm than patience and is moving on from his project to take on new ones. It is a typical pattern.

Key Points: Steve Barr, the founder of an LA based charter school organization, "Green Dot" has moved on to form his own organization in New York and elsewhere.

Green Dot is one of a dozen or so nonprofit, high-performing charter chains that focus on students from low-income families and have grown rapidly over the past decade with philanthropic financing. Most of the others, which include the Kipp Schools, with 99 schools in 20 states, and Achievement First, with 19 schools in Connecticut and New York, operate with largely nonunion teachers.

Green Dot is similar but staffs its schools with union represented teachers.

Relevance: The article is a good jumping off point for a look at different charter school operations. It references a forthcoming book about the Green Dot experience written by Alexander Russo, which might be interesting to those with interest on the subject.