Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hard Bigotry of Poverty

The Washington Post brings together the education stories of 2012 that they thought resonated, and will matter in 2013 here   One of the links goes to an opinion piece written this summer by an English teacher in a high-poverty high school, titled "The hard bigotry of poverty: Why ignoring it will doom school reform".  My comment:

The author, a high school English teacher in a high-poverty school, describes chapter and verse why federal reform efforts have backfired, and made a very difficult situation impossible.  She describes the program she and other teachers started to try to get these impoverished, forgotten students engaged in learning.  Really, an amazing article.  She talks about using high interest reading to motivate her students.  My only caveat is that I think she needs to open up her curriculum even more and help her students choose books themselves.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Doing Better with Average Students

The IndyStar has an excellent op-ed piece, by Tim Swarens here, pleading for more resources and opportunities for average students.  He notes all of the money going to low-achieving students and students in accelerated classes--which he supports--but cites statistics showing that average students are not doing well when it comes to finishing college.  My response:

My experience, gained through 35 years of teaching high school English, is that the difference between average students and high-achieving students is usually reading skills.  Most average students are not avid readers.  They read only what they have to, if that.  If we can make the development of a love of reading a priority throughout the grade levels, then we can move many more “average” students into the advanced category.

This isn’t hard to do.  Open up Language Arts and English curricula so that students do a large amount of self-selected reading.  Fund school libraries and try to make sure every student has an e-reader, and easy, inexpensive access to many e-books.  Make time in the school day for quiet, independent reading. 

Avid readers read better, write better, concentrate better, and have wider frames of reference that make all learning easier.  The payoff is immense.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rocketship Charter Schools

The Huffington Post has an article and video about a new type of charter school called Rocketship Education here.  The goal of the founder is to create charter schools that can easily be replicated everywhere--sort of a factory-line type of education.  The children spend a lot of time in a huge computer lab, with aides instead of teachers, and in the morning have a huge, rah-rah type gathering called Launch.  Here is my comment:

I'm speaking as a high school English teacher for 35 years, who taught in public, private, and parochial schools.

What they are doing seems kind of gimmicky--"Launch" and that huge lab.  That's all we saw that was different, and neither seemed impressive.  Teaching is definitely about forming caring relationships with kids, but Launch just seemed too big and noisy.  And I found that even high school students needed a lot of help and supervision in a computer lab to stay on task.

My real objection, however, is that the heart of the education failure--so few students develop a love and habit of reading, which is really a love of learning--is not dealt with at all.  I saw a few teachers reading stories out loud.  Okay.  But do the kids have books?  Are they reading?  Or just staring at screens?

Shaking Up Education

The Huffington Post, in an article titled "Shaking Up America's Education System," here tells the story of Nikhil Goyal, a high school senior in a public school in New York, who has published a book titled. "One Size Does Not Fit All:  A Student's Assessment of School."  His main point is that students are all different, and schools need to work with students.  My favorite quote:  "Learning is messy. It is not cut and dry. It's about the learning and fostering the collaboration between teachers and students."   My comment:

Oh my.  Way to go, Mr. Goyal!!  I have been a high school English teacher for 35 years, and can attest that what he says about education is absolutely true.  Helping students develop a passion for learning, and then using that passion to help them develop more skills and knowledge is the only real way to teach.

Notice how big a part reading played in this young man’s education.  He was lucky enough to have parents who took him to the library every week while he was growing up. 

And I found it sad, but not surprising, that his great achievements have been largely ignored by his teachers and administrators.  It is very very hard for the education establishment to understand the importance of collaborating with students.  I found that giving my students responsibility for choosing much of their own reading and writing assignments resulted in their producing some really extraordinary work.

Education Issues in 2013

The Atlantic has an interesting article describing the education issues that will be in the forefront in 2013 here. They are what you would expect:  Common Core Standards, charter schools, affirmative action, budget cuts, federal programs, teacher quality, immigration, on-line courses, college affordability, and (heartbreakingly) school safety.  My comment:

An excellent overview of what to expect in education in 2013.  But the very sad reality—that the great majority of young people in this country don’t care much for reading, and do it only occasionally and reluctantly—will not be addressed at all.  The Common Core Standards will test to see if children are good readers, but, unfortunately, the kind of curriculum these standards will drive will only further alienate children from books. 

Reading is everything.  Avid readers read better, write better, concentrate better, and have wider frames of reference that make all learning easier.  Schools need to develop children as avid readers, and most academic problems will melt away.