Friday, May 31, 2013

Jeb Bush and Charter Schools

The Washington Post has a column here criticizing what it calls Jeb Bush’s distain for public education.  It cites numerous speeches in which he demonizes traditional public schools and teachers’ unions. 

I tend to like traditional public schools because I like having our tax-payer supported schools run by the people paying the taxes, rather than a board or a corporation.  In addition, I don’t find charter schools any better than any other schools when it comes to nurturing a love and habit of reading—which is what translates into advanced reading skills.  In fact, I think charter schools are often worse.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why Raising Reading Scores is Harder than Raising Math Scores

The NY Times has an article here about the Uncommon Charter Schools, a string of around thirty schools in the Northeast.  The interesting aspect is that they are very successful in raising math scores, but not reading scores.  From the article:

“Is it a vocabulary issue? A background knowledge issue? A sentence length issue? How dense is the text?” Mr. Peiser said, rattling off a string of potential reading roadblocks. “It’s a three-dimensional problem that you have to attack. And it just takes time.”
How absurd.  The problem is that no one is taking the time to turn these kids into avid readers.   Another quote:
During a fifth-grade reading class, students read aloud from “Bridge to Terabithia,” by Katherine Paterson. Naomi Frame, the teacher, guided the students in a close reading of a few paragraphs. But when she asked them to select which of two descriptions fit Terabithia, the magic kingdom created by the two main characters, the class stumbled to draw inferences from the text.”

Professor Stephen Krashen, in his book The Power of Reading, cites research showing the teaching skills is just testing skills;  kids acquire skills through wide reading.  It’s hard to image a way more guaranteed to turn kids off to books than making them do the kind of exercises described above.

One despairs.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Washington DC Summit

The Huffington Post has a very cheery column here about a “summit” in Washington DC called “Empowering Education:  Empowering Learning in a Connected World.”  Here is a paragraph from the column:

“Each day, across this great nation, teachers, parents, mentors and community institutions are winning -- they are igniting students' passions, challenging their minds and illuminating their paths to success. The days of unequal access to high quality educators, schools in crisis and communities feeling powerless to support them are soon coming to an end.”

Oh, would it were true.

I wish I could be this optimistic but the reforms proposed and implemented so far—especially the common core curriculum and testing—seem, to me, to be working against the goal of improving education.

As an example, the renewed emphasis on STEAM courses—nice to see that “A” in there for the arts—leaves out the most critical component, which is turning kids into avid readers.  Advanced reading skills are necessary for all of the STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts, math), and children only acquire sophisticated reading skills when they form a love and habit of reading.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Common Core Testing for Severely Disabled Children?

Ed Week has an article here describing the effort to develop Common Core tests for severely disabled children.  Academic knowledge--such as some knowledge of algebra--will be tested.

I invite people developing these alternative assessments to read this blog that a mother of a daughter with severe autism keeps:   It’s the best writing on severe autism that I’ve seen.

I can’t speak for that mother, but as a teacher myself, I know how difficult it is to test a class of children with normal intelligence, because they are all over the place.  What is easy for one child is impossible for another.  I can’t imagine deciding which academic skills are appropriate for severely disabled youngsters to learn.  The children will have such different needs and abilities.  That’s why the current model of the Individual Education Plan was developed.

And even if it’s possible for a severely disabled child to learn a little algebra, the question has to be asked:  for that child, is that the most necessary thing he needs to know to function well?  Perhaps it is, but perhaps it isn’t.  We shouldn’t try to push all these kids into the same box.