Thursday, April 30, 2009

Classroom Instruction that Works

Amanda Sinko
Position Paper #2

Classroom Instruction that Works
Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering & Jane Pollock (2001)

Research based strategies
o The “art” of teaching is becoming the “science” of teaching
o Researchers at Midcontinent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) conducted a meta-analysis on instructional strategies that could be used by teachers in K-12
o The goal of the McREL was to identify instructional strategies that have a high probability of enhancing student achievement for all students in all subject areas at all grade levels
o 9 categories were identified

Identifying similarities & differences
o Student’s understanding of and ability to use knowledge can be enhanced by...
§ presenting students with explicit guidance in identifying similarities and differences
§ asking students to independently identify similarities and differences
§ representing similarities and differences in graphic or symbolic form

Summarizing & Note Taking
o To effectively summarize students must delete some information, substitute some information, and keep some information
§ To effectively do this students must analyze the information in a fairly deep level
o Being aware of the explicit structure of information is an aid to summarizing information
o Verbatim note taking is the least effective way to take notes
o Notes should be considered a work in progress
o Notes should be used as a study guide for tests
o The more notes that are taken, the better

Reinforcing Effort & Providing Recognition
o Not all students realize the importance of believing in effort
o Students can learn to change their beliefs to an emphasis on effort
o Rewards do not necessarily have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation
o Reward is most effective when it is contingent on the attainment of some standard or performance
§ vs. simply performing a task (which may decrease intrinsic motivation)
o Abstract symbolic recognition is more effective than tangible rewards
§ Verbal reward vs. tangible reward such as candy

Homework & Practice
o The amount of homework assigned to students should be different from elementary to middle school to high school (increasing with age)
o Parent involvement in homework should be kept to a minimum
§ Help facilitate homework vs. help do homework
o The purpose of homework should be identified and articulated
o If homework is assigned it should be commented on
o Mastering a skill requires a fair amount of focused practice
§ Practice spread out over time
o While practicing students should adapt and shape what they have learned
§ Do not expect students to perform skill with significant speed during the shaping phase

Nonlinguistic Representations
o A variety of activities produce nonlinguistic representation
§ Graphic representations
§ Physical models
§ Generating mental pictures
§ Drawing pictures
§ Engaging in kinesthetic activity
o Nonlinguistic representations should elaborate on knowledge
§ The process of nonlinguistic representations engages in students in elaborative thinking
§ This can be magnified by asking students to explain and justify their elaborations

Cooperative Learning
o Organizing groups based on ability levels should be done sparingly
§ Negative effect for low ability students
§ Small effect for high ability student
§ Benefits medium ability students
o Cooperative groups should be kept rather small in size
o Cooperative learning should be applied consistently and systematically, but not overused
§ Misused when the tasks are not structured
§ Overused when students have had insufficient time to practice independently

Setting objectives & Providing Feedback
o Instructional goals narrow what students focus on
§ Negative effect on outcomes other than those specified in goals
o Instructional goals should not be too specific
o Students should be encouraged to personalize the teacher’s goals
o Feedback should be corrective in nature
o Feedback should be timely
o Feedback should be specific to a criterion
o Students can effectively provide some of their own feedback

Generating and Testing Hypotheses
o Hypothesis generation and testing can be approached in a more inductive or deductive manner
§ Inductive- the process of drawing new conclusions based on known information
§ Deductive- using a general rule to make a prediction for the future
o Teachers should ask students to clearly explain their hypotheses and their conclusions
o Ask students to explain what principles they are working from, what hypotheses they draw from the principles, and why these hypotheses make sense

Cues, Questions & Advance Organizers
o Cues and questions should focus on what is important as opposed to what is unusual/interesting
o “Higher level” questions produce deeper learning than “lower level” questions
§ analyze vs. recall
o Waiting briefly before accepting responses from students has the effect of increasing the depth of students’ answers
o Questions are effective learning tools even when asked before a learning experience
§ Questions before the learning experience provide a “mental set” for learning

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Psychometrics in Educational Planning

Shawn Gilroy
Curriculum Development
Dr. Dugan

Psychometrics in Education

In the field of psychology, the technology for measuring and understanding personal characteristics has evolved significantly over the past century. With the rise of statistical and normative assessments, psychometrics has been developing from a current and reactive focus to a proactive and future oriented focus.
In the study of psychometrics, the educational and psychological science of measurement, human skills, abilities and personality traits are assessed to serve a variety of purposes. Aside from cognitive and intellectual assessment commonly found in schools, psychometrics can also be applied to determining future areas of study or careers.
Two of the commonly available assessments are the Myers-Brigg’s Type Indicator and the Motivation Appraisal of Personal Potential. This aim of this discussion is not the discuss the statistical method by which personality traits and abilities are derived, but both of these assessments operate on the assumption that if personality traits and abilities can be correlated with specific occupations and areas of study, the assessment can lead the client towards careers and studies that are most suited for their individual abilities.
The possibility of identifying areas of future study and career possibilities is a practice that is suited to guiding students and graduates who have to make big decisions about their future. For example, students who are on their way to college may not have any idea which area of study appeals to them. Most students at this age have not yet had the life experiences to feel confident in making that choice. These assessments are likely to help guide students by identifying areas of interest and characteristics of their personality and correlating those with areas of study.
Similarly, these assessments can help recent or nearing graduates who are undecided about which field or career area to begin. With bachelor degrees that can apply to various types of careers and applications, students may not be able to discern which areas are right for them. These assessments are useful because personality traits and abilities are correlated with areas of occupation. If a student can report their characteristics and abilities, the occupations indicated may be a better fit with the student than an arbitrarily chosen occupation.
As with all assessments in psychology, the way we measure and compare factors is by correlation. Correlations do not offer a direct a cause and effect relationships, and thus, these assessments provide information that may or may not be valid. For example, a very successful businessman may have personality traits that would make him a good counselor but he did not choose that career path. His personality characteristics may have made him a better businessman even though his personality traits are correlated higher with a counseling occupation. In addition, the statistics behind these tests is often a debate. These tests have different ways of determining suggested occupations. There is no single method to derive those answers and do not follow the typical bell-curve methodology.
Overall, these assessments provide suggestions and correlations, but they should be treated as such. These assessments can offer some direction to clients who are unsure of how to proceed with their career, but I would not use these assessments as the sole determinant of someone’s career.
free Myers-Briggs
free Motivational Assessment of Personal Potential

World of Work Inventory

NAEP Results - Kate Conner

NAEP: The Current Results and Implications for Educators

The National Assessment of Educational Progress provides both a main assessment every two years and a long term trend assessment every four years of students across the nation in Mathematics and Reading. Interestingly, the results for the long term trend assessment of 2008 will be posted April 28th. To explain further, NAEP is an organization that tracks student progress at the federal level. Samples of students in each state, as well as the District of Columbia and several urban areas are painstakingly taken for each assessment (NCES). One question that many educators and laypeople have is, with all of the states having their own separate assessment, what is the need for NAEP assessments?
Dr. Dugan shared a document with our class about the wide discrepancies between various state assessments and the NAEP. It is obvious why states would want to inflate their scores to make themselves look better with the strong push for accountability at the federal level. Looking at the Time article from June 4th 2007, the question that remains is - why have state assessments at all?
To answer this question, we must determine the key differences between state assessments and the NAEP assessments. First, all students are required to take state assessments. Schools must show Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act in order to receive Title I funding. As such, all students in a given state answer the same questions, under the same standardization. Students are expected to achieve based on a specific criteria, which allows teachers to “teach to the test”. On the other hand, NAEP assessment samples are gathered based on demographics of a specific region. A large sample, but not the entire population, takes the test and not all students answer the same questions. The NAEP assessment does contribute to our information about each state’s progress, but not with the same ties to funding as the state assessments. With that said, it would seem that the NAEP is less of a “high stakes” test than state assessments and may be a more reliable, big picture type vision of our nation’s academic achievement (Pallas, 2009).
So what do the results show? NAEP compiles a vast amount of data with their two separate types of tests. The long term trend assessment, for example, has been completed since 1971 for Reading, and 1973 for Mathematics. These assessments, which are conducted with nine, 13, and 17 year old students from around the country, generally show improvement over time. The most clear cut improvement is with nine year olds, specifically in the past assessment period. Unfortunately, the trends for 13 and 19 year old students are not up to snuff with the younger students. These subgroups have shown minimal progress since the 1970’s; for 2004, neither group had a statistically significant increase in Math or Reading (NAEP).
According to the main assessment, conducted every two years, the progress is consistent with the long term trends. Furthermore, the latest assessment yielded results consistent with stereotypes of students: Asian American students outperformed all other groups, with Whites closely behind. Black, Latino, and Native American groups consistently rank under Asian and Caucasian students. There is also a large discrepancy between the average and students with disabilities as well as English Language Learners. These trends have not changed much over time, but it appears that the gap is beginning to narrow for some groups. For example, there is a smaller discrepancy between Caucasian and African American students in Mathematics at the nine year old level (NAEP).
What does all of the data tell us? Along with the actual test to students, demographic questions regarding classroom structure and instructional content are asked of participating teachers. Some of the indicators found on the 2007 main assessment for Reading are as follows:
· Asking students to make generalizations about what they read
· Give students time to read independently
· Vocabulary instruction
· Asking students to give multiple interpretations of what they have read
· Reading for Fun
· Group discussions and journaling
Hypotheses can also be made regarding Mathematics instruction. Teachers on the 2007 NAEP study described the following of their classrooms:
Hours of instruction (5.5-7/week)
Heavy emphasis on numbers and operations
No overreliance on calculators (rarely used, and if so, basic 4 function)
Access to computers

While these data do not demonstrate causality, it seems that there may be a correlation between these classroom characteristics and improved scores on the NAEP. With the many differences between state testing and the NAEP assessments, I believe that more data will yield better data in the future.

The National Center for Educational Statistics -
Pallas, A. (2009) Why NAEP matters. Retrieved on April 15, 2009 from

Class Size

Lee Phillips Class size

Position paper 2#


Students, teachers and administrators are debating about the topic of class size, and whether to reduce or increase the size of the class. The benefits VS the cost’s, they measure not only in monetary factors but in qualitative factors too. Research (as well as popular opinion) has indicated that people agree with the idea that small educational settings will definitely provide success for schools, students, as well as teachers. The problems that go along with reducing class sizes are also of a major concern to the communities that surround the schools. There are a plethora of factors which have been debated to why the idea that class sizes should be reduced, some include: deplorable test scores, the increasing drop-out rates, the trend toward career and or vocational education, along with teachers and schools favoring learner-oriented teaching strategies.

The big question is, what measures can be implemented in order to reduce class sizes with out increasing cost’s to the tax payers? What sacrifices will the students, community, teachers and schools have to make in order to solve the problem?

Possible solutions:

Smaller classes from grades K to 6th and then a gradual increase in class sizes from 7th grade and up , this gradual class size increase to be limited to non-inclusive settings. Could AP classes take the increase with the help of online resources like blackboard and or other E-learning software?

California raised the notion to its teachers; instead of a raise in pay would you rather have fewer students per class? The CA “Deal aims to reduce class size; In lieu of potentially larger raises, the L.A. teachers union want[ed] funds earmarked to make classes smaller across the board”.

Some states are looking into the possibilities that the reduction of class sizes will have on their young learners.

Some states, such as Ohio, are using funds from the Class Size Reduction Program to turn low-performing schools around by reducing class size from 25 to 15. (Possibly comparable to NJ’s Abbott district funding)

There is no irrefutable proof that reducing class size leads to a definitive answer to this problem. So, the class size debate will continue on in school districts everywhere, and there doesn't seem to be a clear answer or solution on the horizon.

How to Implement Small Classes

A. What is the most effective timeline?

Since research has shown that the small-class treatment is most beneficial when it begins when the youngster starts school, and then lasts at least three years (). The following timeline for class size reductions is recommended.

· Year 1: Reduce Kindergarten classes to 1:15 with a maximum size of 20

· Year 2: Reduce grades K and 1

· Year 3: Reduce grades K,1,2

· Year 4: Reduce grades K,1,2,3

A big supporter for the movement to reducing class size, Professor Michael Klonsky, at the University of Illinois, said, "A compelling body of research shows that when students are[a] part of smaller and more intimate learning communities, they are more successful".Other notable supporters of this faction include Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of Education Richard Riley to name a few.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Joanellen Fenimore
Position Paper 2
April 28, 2009

Closing the Achievement Gap

What is the Achievement Gap? It is the significant difference in academic performance between students from different economic background and racial/ethnic backgrounds. As the statistics in class have shown, there is a disparity between the Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian achievement.

Why does the achievement gap matter? The achievement gap is proof that our public education system is consistently failing our children and drastically reducing their chances to compete and succeed as adults. Dropouts are more likely to become and stay jobless, will earn less during their lifetime, and will be more likely to become unemployed and incarcerated. (

For example:
-High school graduates on average live up to 7 years longer than high school dropouts.
-College graduates out earn high school graduates by 73% in their lifetime.
-One in nine black men between 20-34 are incarcerated; a black male is more likely to be in prison than to have a post-graduate degree.

There are two ways to measure achievement. They are comparing standardized test scores between race and class, or to compare the highest level of performance. When comparing standardized test scores for minorities who reach the 12th grade, they score the same on English, math, and science as 13-year-old white students. When comparing highest level or performance, African American and Hispanic students are more likely to drop out of high school in every state. Of those students who do go on to college, black and Hispanic young adults are only half as likely to earn a college degree as white students.

Some Historical Perspective of the Achievement Gap.
Schools started segregated. Brown v. Board of Education 40 years ago.

1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Title 1:Improving The Academic Achievement of The Disadvantaged. This was created to ensue that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and State academic assessments. Same time as Civil Rights Act, Issued under US Department of Education.

Now NCLB. Schools held accountable for African American students and closing the achievement gap is a national priority. It encourages parents to get involved and if a school is deemed in need of improvement, school officials are required to work with parents to figure out how to make the school better. Due to the Nation’s Report Card reading and math scores for African American for 9-year-olds, and math scores for African American 13-year-olds are at an all-time high. The achievement gaps in reading and math between white and African American 9-year-olds are at an all-time low.

NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) has shown that there has been much progress for 9 and 13 year olds, but not for 17. As time goes on the gap stays the same or widens. Another gap table that gives you the actual number that the gap is.

Most recently-EEP (Education Equality Project) National Advocacy group founded by Rev. Sharpton and NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein. That is focused on closing the achievement gap. It exists in order to transform the power and resources from the coalition of supporters into an education reform movement. Their goals are to ensure an effective teacher in every classroom, empower parents, create accountability for educational success at every level, call on students and parents to demand more from their schools, and stand up to those political forces and interests who seek to preserve a failed system. So is the Gap really about race or class?

What is New Jersey doing about the Achievement Gap?
-NJ also reports that there are increases in the middle school years.

-Abbott District Funding

-High school Redesign

-From the Blog:
New Book on New Jersey's Efforts to Close the Achievement Gap Shows That Money Matters - But So Do Well-Supported Teachers and a Coherent Plan
The book is called, “In Plain Sight: Simple, Difficult Lessons from New Jersey's Expensive Effort to Close the Achievement Gap” by Gordon MacInnes.
Excerpt from the blog written by Dr. Dugan-
“MacInnes concludes that the most important lesson from New Jersey is that the restoration of teaching as the primary activity of schools, and the return of respect for the professionalism of those who oversee and teach in those schools are the essential ingredients for improving educational prospects for all children. He suggests that in difficult economic times, these simple, straight-forward prescriptions must command scarce resources in states and school districts. However, he believes that the results in New Jersey show that it's an investment worth making.”

My Position: While the Coleman and Jencks studies were scary, we need to act as if they could possibly be true. We have been throwing money at the system for years and there hasn’t been any change. Insanity? So if what we have been doing is not working, let’s change our approach, the lives of many children depend on it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Free Colleges?!

During our last class, the question was raised whether on-line courses would mean free colleges are coming. My response was that free colleges are already here. For more on this subject, try these links:,0,5853633.story

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Homework: What Purpose Does It Serve

Michael Kotch
Position Paper # 2
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Homework: What Purpose Does It Serve

Over the past five-years, I have taught with a vast number of teachers in an inclusion setting, which has exposed me to a variety of philosophies on issues confronting the field of education. One such issue that is subject to contrasting views is the assigning of homework. Some teachers are strong advocates of assigning lengthy assignments on an almost daily basis, while others rarely require their students to complete assignments out side of school.

Alfie Kohn, author of the book, The Homework Myth, states that there is no data supporting the benefits of assigning homework for children below high school age. Although, Kohn, admits that some studies have found a positive correlation between homework and standardized test scores, he highlights that such benefits are minimal, and we can not suggest that higher achievement is the result of more homework, as other variables could be involved. Probably, the most staggering fact presented by Kohn is that no study has supported the commonly held conviction that homework fosters self-discipline, independence, perseverance, or time-management skills.

Negative consequences can result from the practice of assigning homework to children. One Professor of Education at Columbia University, Gary Natriello, changed his positive view toward homework, when his children began to bring assignments home from their elementary school. Professor Natriella expressed frustration over the wording of directions for homework assignments, which he considered to be puzzling. In addition, some parents articulate concern, regarding the work-load, which homework places on a child, as the school days represents, roughly seven-hours of time devoted to learning, therefore, additional assignments to be completed after-school, creates an overwhelming amount of stress for both fatigued children and parents who require reprieve from work. Moreover, Etta Kralovic, co-author of The End of Homework, considers homework to be discriminatory, as parents have differing abilities and time to help their children with assignments. She also points out that homework removes a parent’s time to teach other critical life skills.

In the Washing Post article entitled, As Homework Grows, So Do Arguments Against It, staff writer, Valerie Strauss, discussed the discrepancy in schools, regarding the practice of assigning homework. She wrote “. . . teachers themselves don't uniformly agree on something as basic as the purpose of homework (reviewing vs. learning new concepts), much less design or amount or even whether it should be graded. And the result can be inconsistency in assignments and confusion for students.” I have witnessed this phenomenon at the high school level, where teachers of the same course adhere to entirely different philosophies on assigning homework, which leads some students to be burdened with over two-hours of superfluous work per week for one class, after the completion of the school-day, while other students are free to use this time to pursue chosen endeavors, which might represent a more productive use of time.

Despite the growing adherents to the school of thought that homework is predominantly negative, some educators argue otherwise. According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the majority of research over the past 40-years have found that assigning work outside of school, benefits children, in that, they make gains in academic skills, abilities and test scores; acquire a positive attitude toward schoolwork; form cohesion between school and home environments, and develop an improved self-image in relation to being a competent learner. However, the AFT also states that homework is only effective, if assignments are well-designed and vigilantly created.

In the article entitled, Homework Hangover: Are Kids Doing Too Much, Katy Abel, highlights certain changes which have occurred in some school districts, regarding homework. For instance, the Piscataway School Board has placed a limit on the amount of homework that can be given per night. They have determined that children in grades 1 through 3 shall receive no more then 30 minutes per night of homework, and gradually as students get older, they may receive more homework, but never to exceed the maximum of two-hours per night, which is only allowed at the high school level. Additionally, teachers are not permitted to grade homework, but they may note on report cards whether or not the homework assignments were completed.

If one yearns to administer homework assignments to their students, they should consider implementing important principles for creating effective supplemental activities, as advocated by the American Federation of Teachers. Homework assignments should be used to strengthen skills learned in previous weeks or months. Additionally, some characteristics of constructive homework assignments are; clear instructions; short in length; have a flexible time frame for completion; use information and resources that are easily available; and are not simply unfinished class work. Moreover, the assignments should be interesting and lead to further inquiry, along with promoting the application of skills. Furthermore, students should be provided with timely feedback on homework assignments and they must display an understanding for the reason why a particular assignment is administered. Lastly, children should be aware that the homework will be included in calculating the grade for which they earn or be held accountable in some manner for completing the assignments.

Sites: Teacher Tips: Assigning Effective Homework Down With Homework by Alfie Kohn. As Homework Grows, So Do Arguments Against It by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Arguments for an against homework Homework Hangover: Are Kids Doing Too Much by Katy Abel

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reframing Schools (The Process of Change in Schools)

An old german proverb says: "To change and to change for the better may be two separate things!"

There are many problems in creating change in any level in a school system that can be summarized as follows:
1) Faulty internal maps of change 
2) Difficult Solutions
3) Superficial solutions
4) Misunderstandings of resistance
5) Failure to institutionalize change
6) Misuse of knowledge of the change process

The anxieties resulting from change can be in the form of:
  • Lack of knowledge (Teachers may resist change if they do not have any information on the innovation or know how the change will effect what their current job)
  • Fear of losing “status quo”
  • Rigidities in one’s thinking
  • Lack of expertise
  • Fear of losing control
Change strategies that are mostly used in a school system can be divided into 3 main categories:
  • Empirical-Rational (Rational people will make correct choice when presented with data)
  • Normative/Re-educative (Group consensus strategy—changing the norms of the group   e.g. their attitudes, values, skills)
  • Power-Coercive (An Or else attitude!)
Research indicates that Innovation is an essential element in organizational change
  • Participants must be involved in decision making if ideas and activities are to be innovative
  • Schools stifle innovation as a result of its hierarchy of decision making & centralization & standardization
  • In many schools, teachers and students have little voice in decision making and teachers feel that many things are imposed upon them without their input
  • In most bureaucracies, rules not professional judgment govern decision making. Some disadvantages of school rules are that they migh narrow choices, stifle creative problem solving, prohibit experimentation, stifle innovative thinking and action and do not allow for the “mistakes and back to the drawing board mentality”
Schools change when:
  • Clear goals are accepted by the participants
  • Adequate and distortion free communication flows in all directions
  • All participants have equal influence
  • Human resources are effectively used
  • There is a clear vision of what the organization is all about
  • There is High Morale
  • There is Innovativeness
  • Autonomy is present
  • Adaptability is present
  • There are problem-solving strategies and procedures in place
Some useful websites:

Center for Education Reform

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform & Improvement 

Center for Reform of School Systems

Pioneer Institute: Center for School Reform

Monday, April 13, 2009


Alicia Richards
Curriculum Development
April 13, 2009

Too Much, Not Enough, Just Right?
The Homework Debate

Aargh!! I will never finish this! My teacher is trying to kill me! I’m so going to fail! How many parents have listened to this litany of complaints about homework from their children on a regular basis? Are these gripes legitimate or are they just the whines of a twelve-year old who would rather be texting or playing Xbox?

The homework issue has had a long and often contentious history in the United States. In the early 1900’s campaigns against homework claimed it was a form of child labor that damaged children. Many cities banned homework for elementary school students. When the Russians launched Sputnik in the 1950’s, homework enjoyed a new popularity as American students were pushed to achieve. Homework lost ground in the 1960’s during the anti-Vietnam counterculture era. It was not until the 1980’s and the publication of “A Nation at Risk” that homework again gained acceptance. The United States was perceived as lagging behind other industrialized nations academically. Homework has remained popular ever since, although there have been rumblings of discontent in the last decade.

The homework battle is fueled on both sides by the desire to do what is best for students. Educators are under tremendous pressure to cover more materials in greater depth. Many people believe that in order to compete globally our students must be challenged more. Families feel stretched to the limit by escalating demands and lack of time. Educators often rely on homework to help achieve the requirements of state and national mandates. Some parents feel that homework has become all consuming, leaving little time for family and other commitments. There have been many studies purporting to examine the efficacy of homework. It is difficult to objectively evaluate the effect of homework separately from other educational issues. Due to different interpretations of the available data, homework proponents and opponents each claim that the research supports their view.

Reservations about homework focus on several aspects; educational value and objectives, time, stress and equity. A 2004 national study by the University of Michigan found that the amount of time spent on homework has increased by 51% since 1981. Is this time increase beneficial? Critics question the correlation between homework and improved student educational outcomes. Homework is often seen as meaningless busy work that does nothing to improve student’s chances for success and often turns them off to the whole learning process. Many children dislike homework and the increasing homework burden can sour them to school in general. Parents who complain about excessive homework often cite the time homework takes away from the other important parts of student’s lives: play, exercise, and family time. They believe students need a balance between work and play to remain physically and mentally healthy. Students can become stressed and frustrated when they do not fully comprehend the concepts assigned for homework. They often have no one who is qualified to help them understand the information at home. Parents report stress and family discord when working with their children on homework or trying to get them to manage their time to complete assigned work. With increasingly busy schedules homework becomes a source of great anxiety for families. Critics also object to homework because it can increase the achievement gap between social classes. Poor households are often headed by single parents who may have little education and who may be unable, because of lack of understanding or time constraints, to effectively help with homework. There may also be language barriers that make assignment comprehension difficult. Poorer students may have reduced access to resources like computers and books needed to help them complete their homework. They may also lack a quiet, secure spot in their home to work. Older students in poor families may experience pressure to help out by getting a job or providing care for younger siblings, which would negatively impact time available to spend on school work. According to a Maine Department of Education study, most of the high school dropouts from poor families cited homework problems as a contributing factor to their decision to leave school.

Homework advocates see the situation very differently. They claim that research actually shows very little change in the amount of homework assigned over the last twenty years. The increase noted by homework critics is confined to the elementary level and is primarily due to the fact that many elementary students went from having no homework assigned to having 10-20 minutes per night. Most studies show that the homework burden for high school students has actually decreased. The Brown Center on Education Policy reports that studies show that the typical student, even in high school, does not spend more than one hour a day on homework. Proponents believe that this is a relatively light homework load and it is justified by the positive impact on students. How can people claim serious concern about American student’s performance compared to other nations and then complain that student’s are given too much homework? Homework is a tool that can be used to increase student achievement in an increasingly competitive global economy. Homework instills good study habits, regardless of the subject involved. By doing homework students learn valuable time management skills, how to use resources effectively, independence and responsibility. These are skills that students will find useful throughout their education. Another positive aspect of homework is that it can be a bridge between school and home. Parents discover what their children are actually learning in school and get to be involved in the process. Homework increases the communication between teachers and families.

Studies have shown that homework does contribute to student achievement. On an elementary level, it teaches them important study skills and reinforces new concepts. On a middle and high school level, homework has been shown to have a strong causal relationship with improved performance on standardized tests and better grades. Homework gives students the opportunity to practice new skills and reflect on what they have learned. It improves comprehension and retention of information. It allows more in-depth study of a subject than class time permits.

Teachers who assign meaningful, carefully planned homework can avoid some of the controversy surrounding the practice. Assignments need to have a clear purpose and be useful to student learning. Homework should be aligned with curriculum and should reinforce and enhance lessons. Homework that is stimulating and thought provoking will engage students in the process. Teachers should take care to assign a reasonable amount of homework; the National Education Association and the National PTA both provide guidelines. Certainly there are some students who have an unfair homework burden but they are a small percentage. Most students will benefit from sensible homework assignments. In the end, it is only fair to expect to work a little harder to achieve educational success.


Brown Center on Education Policy

The Center for Public Education

Education World

The Harvard University Gazette

The Myth About Homework,9171,1376208-1,00.html

Rethinking Homework

A longer school year?

I was browsing the Internet and came across this article. As future education professionals, regardless of occupation, we may be required to work a longer school year.

By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press Writer Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press Writer – Tue Apr 7, 4:22 pm ET
DENVER – American schoolchildren need to be in class more — six days a week, at least 11 months a year — if they are to compete with students abroad, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.
"Go ahead and boo me," Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students at a public school in northeast Denver. "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short."
"You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year," he said.
Instead of boos, Duncan's remark drew an unsurprising response from the teenage assembly: bored stares.
The former Chicago schools superintendent praised Denver schools for allowing schools to apply for almost complete autonomy, which allows them to waive union contracts so teachers can stay for after-school tutoring or Saturday school.
He also applauded Denver's pay-for-performace teacher pay system, which some Democrats and teachers' groups oppose.
"Talent matters tremendously. ... It's important that great teachers get paid more," Duncan said.
He visited at the invitation of Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who was Denver's schools superintendent from 2005 until his appointment to Congress this year. The city's pay-for-performance plan was one of Bennet's chief accomplishments while in charge of the 75,000-student system.
During visits to two schools Tuesday, Duncan promoted education reforms proposed by the Obama administration. But he hasn't shied away from challenging Democratic positions on education since joining the Cabinet.
Last month, he said poor children who receive vouchers to attend private schools in the District of Columbia should be allowed to stay there, putting the Obama administration at odds with Democrats trying to end the program. Duncan talked up school choice during his Denver visit, though he didn't mention vouchers.
"I'm a big believer that students and parents should have a choice what school they want to go to," he said.
Bennet, greeted by hugs from teachers lining the hallways of the two schools, sided with Duncan. He told reporters he wanted to help steer any education reform proposals from the White House through the Senate.
"A change needs to come, especially in urban school districts, and it's not going to be easy," Bennet said. "I will do absolutely everything to get myself in the middle of that conversation."
Colorado, along with other states, is preparing to apply for some $5 billion in federal education grants from the economic stimulus package. Duncan said details of how that money will be awarded haven't been decided.
The U.S. Department of Education already has released $44 billion to the states. According to Colorado estimates, the state is due about $487 million for K-12 education.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Visual Aides for the April 14 Curriculum/Sociology Class

Align Center(Click pictures for sharper, individual images)

Education and Income:


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Class Size

Patricia Quinn Benn
Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
1 April 2009

Class Size - Position Paper #2

“If classrooms and schools are to be places where students’ personal and learning needs are met, they should be small.” – Patricia Wasley

Ask any teacher if he/she would prefer a small or large class size, more than likely one can assume that the preference would be small. Common sense tells us that small class sizes are the ideal for a number of reasons. However, this very topic has been a debate for years and will continue to be within the educational realm for years to come. Therefore, the question remains, does class size truly matter? Research suggests that it does, but only to an extent. While class size can allow for more one-on-one time and even decrease discipline problems within the classroom, it seems that class size is only really effective within the lower grade levels. A number of pilot programs have set out to test such theories, and the findings have been consistent across the board. While small class size is ideal for a teacher and student, the reality suggests that there are in fact disadvantages as well.

Since the advent of the Bush administration, school personnel and parents alike have been hearing the latest catch phrase: No Child Left Behind. While this encompasses many different facets of the educational field, many teachers indicate, “no child should be left behind in the learning process,” and suggest that smaller class sizes would help prevent such (Wasley 2002). When class numbers are high, any teacher can report that it is near impossible to dedicate one-on-one time with each student. Unfortunately, most teachers find themselves with “the rebellious and demanding students [who] demand most of their time,” while the quiet students slip through the cracks (Wasley 2002). Larger class sizes result in fewer opportunities for students to participate orally in class, and teachers are less likely to encourage higher level thinking (NCTE 1990). Teachers have been fighting for small class sizes for years. But, what are the advantages?
According to ERIC, some of the most obvious advantages include

1. small class size facilitates increased student/teacher interaction.
2. small class size allows for thorough evaluation of each student and assignment.
3. small class size provides greater flexibility in teaching strategies.
4. small class size reduces teacher work load and therefore allows for more time with.
5. small class size allocates more time for teacher preparation.
6. small class size minimizes student discipline. (Ellis 1984)

All of these advantages relate to the idea of relational accountability that suggests that teachers and students in smaller classes “get to know each other, feel less anonymous, and learn to trust each other and work together,” (Scherer 2002). However, while this makes sense in theory, is there research out there that indicates that it is plausible?

Over the past twenty years, a number of schools across the US have embarked upon a journey in which they set out to answer the hot topic question, “Does smaller class size really matter?” Here are the findings:

Indiana – Prime Time Program, 1984
o looked at classes kindergarten through third grade
o reduced class size from 22 to about 18
o findings and results were mixed, and much of the data was inconclusive
Tennessee – Project STAR, 1985-1989
o smaller classes outperformed larger classes on standardized tests
o minority students of the smaller classes achieved success in later grades
o smaller percentage of students retained
Burke Co., North Carolina – 1990, 1995-1996
o smaller classes outperformed larger classes in reading and math
o teachers’ instructional time increased by 80%
Wisconsin – SAGE Program, 1996-1997
o smaller classes had better success with basic skills tests than larger
o achievement gap lessened between Caucasian and African American students (1999)

Overall, the program findings suggest that small class size is advantageous to both the students and the teachers. However, findings also indicate that there are some disadvantages and caveats to the small class size theory. First and foremost, smaller class sizes result in more money. With school budgets being cut everywhere, is there money, or even space, to supply more teachers to lower class size? Also, there is the idea of quality versus quantity. If smaller class sizes demand more teachers, school districts and parents alike are going to want the most qualified teachers for their classrooms – are there enough out there (Ellis 1984)?

Speaking to teachers, most of the research suggests that teachers of smaller classes do not vary instruction. While they are happier with their class situation and find that they have more time to spend with students and assignments, the actual instructional strategies do not change (Scherer 2002). Therefore, “reducing class size has little effect with an effective teacher” – in other words, an effective teacher will be effective regardless of number, large or small (Center for Public Education 2006).

Is there an answer to the class size debate? It seems that there are arguments on both sides, and while the arguments for smaller class sizes may be stronger, are teachers ever truly going to see a change in their classrooms? As with anything, much of the problem does come down to finances, and while the US economic status continues to decline and most people’s taxes continue to rise, teachers will have to be patient because it is unlikely that smaller class sizes will become a necessity any time soon.

Works Cited

(1990). Statement on class size and teacher workload: secondary. NCTE Guideline, Retrieved March 4, 2009, from

(2009). Class size and student achievement. The Center for Public Education, Retrieved March 4, 2009, from

(March 1999). Reducing class size, what do we know?. Archived Information, Retrieved March 4, 2009, from

Ellis, Thomas I. (1984). Class size. ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, 11, Retrieved March 4, 2009,

Scherer, Marge (2002).Perspectives/why think small?. Educational Leadership. 59, 5.

Wasley, Patricia A. (2002).Small classes, small schools: the time is now. Educational Leadership. 59, 6-10.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Brain Based Research

Brain Based Research
Amanda Sinko

Brain based research has been given much attention in its application to education over the last decade. With special education laws mandating least restrictive environments for students with disabilities, teachers have been challenged to meet a diverse range of needs in the general education classroom. Scientists are now attempting to link neurological and cognitive findings with education practice. It is hoped this will improve teaching strategies and learning outcomes for diverse learners.
Hardiman (2001) links Robert Marzano’s five Dimensions of Learning to current brain research to suggest best practices in teaching. The first dimension is Positive Attitudes, which links emotion and cognition, and explains student’s attitudes and perceptions can enhance or inhibit their learning. The second dimension is Acquiring and Integrating Knowledge which explains acquisition and integration of new information must occur within the context of what the child has already learned. The third dimension, Extending and Refining Knowledge, explains elaborating on knowledge requires the use of techniques such as comparing, classifying, inducing, deducing, analyzing errors, constructing support, abstracting, and analyzing perspectives. The fourth dimension, Using Knowledge Meaningfully, explains students learn best when they need information in order to accomplish a goal. For example, the information may be needed in order to make a decision, investigate, conduct experiments, and solve real world problems. The final dimension is Habits of Mind. This dimension posits reflection as a necessary component of learning. Students must engage in metacognitive reflection, goal setting, apply standards for their own learning, and examine their own style of learning. The following is a list of best practice suggestions for each dimension:
• Dimension One: Positive Attitudes
– Challenging yet supportive classroom environments
– Explicitly teach peer acceptance and social behaviors
– Connect emotions to learning through dramatizations, humor, movement, or arts
• Dimension Two: Acquiring and Integrating Knowledge
– Present new information within the context of previously learned content
– Allow students to repeat learning
– Use mnemonic devices
– Use visually stimulating materials and manipulatives as well as text
– Integrate art, music, and movement into learning
• Dimension Three: Extending and Refining Knowledge
– Allow students to use prior knowledge to learn new information
– Allow students to compare their work with model work to analyze their errors
– Teach students to identify patterns that underlie concepts
• Dimension Four: Using Knowledge Meaningfully
– Design hands on activities that involve problem solving and have real world applications
– Allow students to use multiple ways to demonstrate learning
• Dimension Five: Habits of Mind
– Allow students to engage in metacognitive reflections
– Incorporate reflection into lessons
Lombardi (2007) examines Mel Levine’s neurodevelopmental work. Levine is considered an innovator in neurodevelopmental approaches to learning. Levine developed a framework based on neurodevelopmental functions to understand why children struggle in school. These essential neurodevelopmental functions comprise eight constructs including, attention, memory, language, spatial ordering, sequential ordering, the motor system, higher thinking, and social thinking. Each construct has a separate role in effective learning. Levine is a co-founder of All Kinds of Minds (, which is an institute for the study of differences in learning and is based on his pivotal work, A Mind at a Time (2003) he recommends the following:

Observed behaviors are windows to learning
Every student comes to school with a balance sheet of strengths and weaknesses
Labels create barriers and do not tell us what is going on when students try to tackle assignment
Students should be helped to see their special possibilities for a gratifying life
No one can be good at everything
Students need to be able to talk about their learning; if you think it is hard for the parents and teachers of children with behavior, attention, or linguistic challenges, try being the child
Helping students get better at what they are good at and interested in makes sense
Student have a right and need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses in learning
The brain can be modified at any age or stage
Being a nonnative speaker is not a disability, yet many ELLs are misidentified at learning disabled
While linking neurological and cognitive finding to educational practices is an exciting prospect, not all researchers are on board with this movement. Kathie Nunley, an educational psychologist, questions whether we are doing a disservice to students by allowing them to only work within their learning style citing the real world is not as accommodating. Nunley recommends teachers allow struggling students to work within their personal learning styles in the beginning of the year in order to establish success. Once success is established teachers must encourage students to work within a wide range of learning styles to prepare them for real life experiences.
Other researchers have questioned the validity of the research that has linked neurological findings to educational practices. Judy Willis (2007) states “The findings of neuroimaging research for education and learning are still largely suggestive; they have not demonstrated a solid link between how the brain learns and how it metabolizes oxygen or glucose. Teaching strategies derived from well-controlled neuroimaging studies are at best compatible with the research about how the brain seems to respond preferentially to the presentation of sensory stimuli” (pg 698). Further, Kurt Fischer (2008) argues “Journalists, educators, and even brain scientists too readily leap from a brain research finding to an ‘implication’ for education – which is typically nothing more than a seat-of-the-pants speculation” (pg 145).


Fischer, K.W. (2008) Dynamic cycles of coginitve and brain development: Measuring growth in mind, brain, and education. In A.M. Battro, K.W. Fischer & P. Lena (Eds.), The educated brain (pp127-150). Cambridge U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Hardiman, Mariale M. (2001) Connecting brain research with dimensions of learning. Educational Leadership, 52-55

Willis, Judy (2007) Which brain research can educators trust? Phi Delta Kappan, 697-699.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reforming and/or Reinventing Schools

Megan Monzo
Fundamentals of Curriculum Design
Position Paper
April 7, 2009

Reforming and/or Reinventing Schools

It is now in place that all 50 states have implemented accountability measures as a means to work on improving education quality. States use standards and tools to assess student performance with the expectation that all children can achieve a certain performance level and strategies are put in place to help build up current performance levels. They may also assist in closing the ‘achievement gap’ ( Each school must do so while following legal standards. If these standards are not met, school reform is put into action.

Data collection is a widely used in schools to help determine activity in the schools and whether or not the activities are positively influencing student achievement. This assists education professionals in figuring out what words and what may need to be modified or implemented in the curriculum and/or classroom. “Several studies have shown that it is possible to significantly raise student achievement in literacy and math in elementary school through the adoption of a variety of reforms and interventions, when they are implemented well” (Fashola and Slavin 1997,

Each year states, districts, and schools must report how they are accountable in following laws and doing best practices in their schools. These reports are specified by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law and include assessment reports, accountability reports, and program/teacher evaluations. Accountability reports summarize reports at the individual student, classroom, school, district, and state level. Accountability report cards profiles at the school, district, and state levels that may be linked to state accountability systems; each state must submit an annual performance report the US Department of Education. Program evaluation reports summarize activities and services at the program level and describe evaluation methods and criteria including in them the results and consequences of the evaluation. (

The federal governments will annually review these reports and decide whether or not each school/district is following each of the standards. (Standards can be found on, the website for The Council of Chief State School Officers.) A mark of Pass or Fail is given to each school and becomes public information. Under accountability provisions in NCLB all public schools, districts, and states are evaluated for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) where they must meet criteria in Reading/Language Arts, Mathematics, and either Graduation Rate or Attendance Rate.

If AYP is not met for two consecutive years, that school, district, or state is subject to certain requirements, such as offering supplemental education services, offering school choice, and/or taking corrective actions. At that point, the school’s power in programming is given over to a private organization to run the school for the district and may have the school completely restructure its curriculum.

School curriculum can be restructured by rewriting the curriculum basing it off of the NCLB standards. Schools should recognize what is being expected of their curriculum and understand what they will be marked/grades on. This can help in producing objectives, activities, and evaluating/assessment that will help improve student achievement. The curriculum should incorporate research-based teaching methods and activities in the lesson plans.

Schools work to pass their annual evaluations, but sometimes need assistance in offering a curriculum that meets certain standards. This can hurt the reputation of a school as well as push some students out to other schools via school choice. However, since the standards are set to help improve student achievement it seems that following them will help keep consistency among schools and hopefully increase student achievement overall.


School Choice/Vouchers

Megan Monzo Vouchers/School Choice Debate March 10, 2009

A recent issue involving school systems is the usage of vouchers as a means of school choice by parents. Utilizing vouchers allows parents to use all or part of the government funding set aside for their children’s education to send their children to the public or private school of their choice regardless of where they live or their income.

The program was developed due to failure of public schools in many urban areas of the country ( and currently is offered in numerous states. The school systems involved in this plan offer tuition to students for various reasons decided upon by each system. The Universal Voucher Programs allow all children to be eligible for vouchers. The Means-Tested Voucher Programs are for those below a defined income level while the Special Needs voucher Programs target those with special education needs. Failing Schools, Failing Students Voucher Programs are offered to those performing poorly in public school or who are attending failing public schools. The Pre-Kindergarten Voucher Programs are for pre-K age children. There are also Town Tuition Programs. Those who live in towns that do not operate public schools at their grade level are eligible. In this type of situation, the school in which each student is transferred to is sometimes chosen by their district representatives, but usually the student’s parents may choose the school in which they wish their child to attend

The amount of money allotted per child is determined by voters and represents tax dollars already being used for education. Approximately $3,000-5,000/student (dependent upon a child’s age and needs) of state allotments each year is allotted with the voucher to provide funding for local systems ( as reported in the Gainesville Times. All of the voucher money will serve as tuition to either public or private schools of the parents’ choice. However, in charter schools, not all of the funding per student goes out to charter school choosing students. Some of the money is kept in the student’s district in which they live leaving the district school without a total loss of funds from each student who chooses to move to a charter school.

There is much debate as to whether or not vouchers are a positive tool. An argument in favor of vouchers is that competition between schools can increase, leading to greater efficiency and student success and is a healthy reason for districts to work hard at improving their schools to increase out-of-district tuition students. However, some charter schools do not collect all tuition leaving the original schools from which students come from may have less incentive to compete since they are not losing the full amount of tuition from a child leaving that school.

Some additional reasons behind pro-school choice are giving people a choice equals liberty (, parents can have a choice as to what type of school their child attends so quality of education no longer needs to be based on where one lives or a family’s income, the quality of education and the opportunity to achieve success can increase, history shows that private schools have had more success in teaching information and values than public schools (, studies show that school choice leads to better test scores for all students and higher education rates (, and particularly in urban areas drop out rates are hitting record highs. Additional reasons for pro-school choice are: those who choose different schools could have an increase in school completion, providing private school access to all students can increase diversity, parents who send their children to private schools pay twice – they pay taxes that pay towards public schools as well as private school tuition, and recent poor economic times has had a negative effect on the number of pupils attending private school this year ( Vouchers could help increase attendance in private schools as well as funding for private education facilities.

An argument against using vouchers is by skeptics who fear that ‘choice’ may backfire by taking resources away from already struggling public schools ( since vouchers can drain funding from public schools. There is also the Budgeting debate. One side of this argument is that planning the budget without knowing if and how many students will no longer be at the schools next year is difficult to gage. If students leave they take funding away with them. The other side finds that even if students leave and the school system is over budget for the number of students in the schools next year, there will be extra money per child to use to improve their education. In addition to these arguments, there is the issue of private schools, which have the opportunity to choose their students, leaving some students with less of a ‘choice’ than others. When students with more ‘challenges’ than others are not accepted into private schools the public schools educate them. Government money tends to go towards special education in the public schools and for more gifted students in private schools. If private schools [discriminate] then special needs students have less advantage by way of vouchers at a private school than someone with higher functioning who uses their voucher at the same private school. If this discrimination continues and the number of parents with higher functioning students choosing private schools increases public schools might become known for teaching lower functioning students while private schools’ reputations will (continue to) be for educating only gifted students.

Another debate on vouchers is the Choice Debate. Some argue that tax dollars for education belongs to the State and should not be spent at the parents’ discretion. Some might argue that parents are not necessarily equipped with enough education on the education system to know what placement or type of school is best for their child. Others feel that parents can make the best choice for their children since they know them best and should decide what school could be best for the child.

Private school curriculum and teacher abilities are questionable to some who attest that private schools are not regulated by the state and their teachers are not required to be state certified ( It may be difficult to know how well private schools perform. It seems that public school teachers have an unfair advantage against private school teachers in that public school teachers may, at times, be limited in their allowance of using certain potentially helpful teaching methods to help students excel due to government regulations while private school teachers get more free range teaching opportunities. Private school teachers may make better progress with students because of this. Parents noticing this might choose to use their vouchers in private schools. However, if government spending may go towards private education it would seem that academic accountability as well as testing regime should be the same across the board. An issue that arises between public and private is that public schools can compete against each other, but only so much against private schools since government rules, regulations, and oversights are different.%

Separation of Church and State Debate takes into account the first amendment. The parent makes the choice of which type of school the child attends, so the government is not imposing religion on anyone and, therefore, not violating the 1st Amendment establishment clause. Others feel that government funding violates the 1st Amendment separation of church and state since the government is allowing tax payers’ money to be spent on religious education (if parents opt for private schools using vouchers). Some tax payers do not want their money to be spent on a religious school for personal and principle reasons. Some fear government spending on religious schools will spread to other religious institutions leading to a type of religion-dominated society.

It is early to tell whether or not the voucher system will be successful on a larger scale. For now, vouchers are being tested and results that come from this could expand or minimize this endeavor and is yet to be discovered.