Thursday, October 22, 2009

School Choice and Vouchers

School Choice and Vouchers

School choice is given another alternative with the use of the voucher. If a parent is dissatisfied with the district in which they are assigned, the voucher provides them with a way to improve their child’s education. In the voucher system, parents are given the funds from the city, state, or federal government that would have gone to the public school for their child, in the form of certificates or scholarships. These go into what is essentially an educational savings account, and money is withdrawn to pay for tuition at the parents’ school of choice. This can be any participating public or private school. At the heart of the debate concerning school vouchers are the issues of the separation of church and state, a parent’s right to a say in their child’s education, and the future of American education overall. Vouchers encourage schools to reform in order to attract the parents who have vouchers. Vouchers allow parents to place their children in schools with curricula suited to the parents’ needs or children’s goals.

Those who are in support of the voucher system have many different beliefs as to why. The issue of school choice is centered on money. Wealthier families can afford to send their child to a private school with a great reputation and a strong tradition of successful educational outcomes. Poorer families do not have this luxury. They cannot afford the tuition for these schools, thus their only choice is to send their child to their town’s public schools, regardless of their reputation. Another issue related to money is the actual tuition cost. Parents who are paying for their child to attend a private school have to pay tuition. This tuition cost is paid on top of the taxes they are paying to the public school that their child is not even attending. The vouchers allow the parent to invest only once in their child’s education, instead of the former option.
Competition is also a strong motivator for change. The voucher system provides competition for public schools, and they need to strive for higher efficiency to keep their school successful and productive. It holds them to a higher standard of accountability. Private schools are also a much more expensive option to the public school, yet often chosen regardless because of their reputation for success. Measures of character and academic success are typically higher in private schools. Private schools have accountability, in that if they do not perform to the highest possible standard, they will no longer have students enrolling. Public schools do not have this same accountability, for no matter how poorly they are performing, they will still have a high level of enrollment. Private schools also place a bigger emphasis on life skills and values that benefit social, along with academic, success.
Private schools are, more often than not, filled with children from more affluent families. This leads to an essentially segregated school with very little diversity. The introduction of vouchers allows a more diverse population of learners to enroll in the school, as income would no longer be a barrier. Vouchers, overall, are allowing the disadvantaged child a chance at a better education.

On the opposing side of the argument, since most of the schools in the program are religious, government funding violates the 1st amendment separation of church and state. Over 95% of the vouchers assigned go to religious institutions. Once the government begins to fund religion-dominated education, it is only a matter of time before it begins to fund other religious institutions. This opens the door to a religious dominated society, with the potential to be heavy in discrimination and lack individual freedoms.
Vouchers are put in place to help parents choose what they think is a better education for their child. It is taking the child out of a public school that the parents consider substandard and putting the funds into a school of their choice. Thus, this is essentially taking more money out of already struggling and poorly funded public schools. These schools are already behind in their resources, having trouble affording books, technology, staff support, and security, among many other variables. Taking money away from the schools is only serving to make a bad school worse.
Private schools are chosen for a better reputation than public schools. In reality, they are not held to the same standards as public schools. Public schools are held to strict government regulations, therefore there is tighter control on their teaching methods, curriculum, and system of education.
Private schools establish their own criteria for admitting students to their school. They can make eligibility for entrance into the school difficult for students, effectively cutting out those they do not deem acceptable to their standards. Public schools do not have this option. They have to provide an education for all those eligible that live in their district. Private schools can, and have, discriminated on the basis of prior academic achievement, standardized test scores, interviews with applicants and parents, gender, religion, behavioral history, special needs, and income. Thus, funds from the government should be allocated to these schools that accept all students, even the challenges, as opposed to the schools that have the option to discriminate. Private schools also control their tuition rate. They could easily increase their tuition, making more money for themselves and continuing to make it difficult for a poorer family to attend.
According to the National Education Association, there is no link between educational improvement in students and their use of a voucher to attend a private school. Nor is there any validity that the vouchers create a competitive marketplace and force public schools to improve. The most dramatic improvements occurred in areas where funds were used to improve teacher quality and extra help for students who need it. These areas, including Texas and Connecticut, used this technique and did not have a voucher system in place. Vouchers and voucher-based measures have been placed before voters in 13 states and District of Columbia 22 times. Voters rejected public aid to private schools in each and every vote. In these decisions, two out of every three voters cast a no ballot in response to private schools procuring public aid.
The debate about vouchers is just part of an overall debate. This debate, the most important of all, is how to improve education for all children. Vouchers are just a small piece of the reforms being put in place in an attempt to give our children a better chance at an education. They may not be the best or most effective, but there are some supporters. The systems will continue to thrive until what is considered a better alternative is adopted.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Comments Re: Issues Presented by the Participants of the October 21 Rowan Class

The Current State of Gifted and Talented Education

Creativity tops the chart of Bloom's Taxonomy. Renaissance men (e.g., DaVinci, Druer) were artists and scientists. So, where's the "talented" part of the title fit in? Do we now reserve this title only for academic achievers?

Wow...twenty per cent (20%) of high school dropouts are gifted and talented. That is a significant problem that needs fixing.

A question to argue for gifted and talented education: What ability level would you like your surgeon to have?

Some people believe that "all children are gifted." I am one of them, assuming we are talking about people that do not have severe cognitive disabilities. I also believe that each person is remedial in some area(s) as well.

Modifications to No Child Left Behind in the Obama Era

One of the four pillars for change mentions "building data systems" to assess student strengths and weaknesses. As I mentioned in last week's class, my "day job" is all of a sudden seeing a surge in requests for Data-driven Decision Making trainings. This could be why.

Yes, we get care, swine flu, Afghanistan, and the recession take precendence over education. Still, that is not an excuse for the lack of change taking place. Where is the "vision?"

Charter Schools

We saw that charter schools often crop up in the city districts. We also saw that charter schools in New Jersey cities tend to score below the state average yet above each of their respective city's public schools. Keep this in mind when reading news articles. Two years ago, a local newspaper ran an article about the failing scores of a local city charter school. The article could have just as easily been written about how the charter school outperformed every other city school in the district...I doubt such an article would have sold as many newspapers, though.

Separation of Church and State

Our founding fathers purposely wrote a very confusing amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Teach, don't preach. The fine line between the two has haunted our schools with over a half-century's worth of lawsuits.

Guess what Congress does before starting a session to determine what to do about the outcome of prayer-in-school lawsuits? (They say a prayer.)

Year Round Schools

In addition to fitting more students into a year round school, districts can also cut back on staff. In a case of split sessions, a teacher can work with the last periods of session one and the early periods of session two.

Catch 22: To run year round schools that extend beyond 180 days, you need millions of additional New Jersey tax dollars for salaries, utilities, etc. To raise millions of New Jersey tax dollars to extend the school year, you can not disrupt the summer tourism trade.

The Current State Of Gifted and Talented Education

The current state of gifted and talented education in the United States is a rocky one. Many opinions and viewpoints hover over the fact that No Child Left Behind is indeed leaving behind our most talented students, while others argue that pushing for Gifted and Talented programs is promoting an elitist group, maybe quite similar to the population that the Eugenic Psychologist Francis Galton hoped for. But is pushing for smarter children and enhancing those who are already gifted such a bad idea? With the shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers, one would certainly think not! Think back to the video with John Stossel, “Stupid in America” and the young man who was 18 years old and could not even read. Obviously, the school systems were not helping him earn a desirable place in society, so would it be so bad to further a gifted child’s abilities who could in turn accomplish ten times more?

With No Child Left Behind’s idea of having each student proficient by the year 2014, and closing or penalizing those schools who do not meet annual yearly progress, how is this not leaving behind those students who do achieve or who are beyond proficient? The act is blatantly hurting those children with the will and the skills to succeed in a school system, especially those who are affected by children who fail to care about their education, or those who are just not good test takers. If teachers are solely concentrating on those students who are struggling or lagging behind, just to have their school meet annual yearly progress, what are they doing with the students who are high achievers? These students tend to be ignored and, consequently may become bored with their daily school routine and quite possibly find ways to “spice it up” by acting out or becoming the class clown. Aside from boredom, a student’s scores may slip from advanced to proficient. According to Susan Goodkin in an article she wrote for the Washington Post in 2005, she claims that her school’s standardized test scores reflect “the schools' inattention to high performers, they show that students achieving ‘advanced’ math scores early in elementary school all too frequently regress to merely ‘proficient’ scores by the end.” But, as some educators and supporters of No Child Left Behind may see it, proficient is just enough to get by and make annual yearly progress. When lumped into one phrase, Ann Sheldon, executive director for of the Ohio Association of Gifted Children says it the best “These [gifted] kids don't really count for anything in the federal accountability system” (2007). In turn, more parents and their students are opting to pull their children out of the public school system and send them to private schools where they can receive the one on one attention they deserve.

Although some states, such as Ohio have either cut or not improved funding for gifted and talented programs, other states such as Minnesota and Kentucky have made great bounds to ensure that their gifted student population is receiving the attention and recognition they need by increasing spending and opening up accelerated programs in mathematics and science. New Jersey is also making strides in gifted and talented education; mandating for early identification, curriculum modifications, and early intervention among others. In addition to this flip side, it is true that the No Child Left Behind Act does provide schools with the option to “apply for grants to recruit and train teachers to work with special-needs students, including gifted students” (Ludwig, 2003). The Jacob J. Javits Act provides funding for gifted programs, oversees gifted education in the United States, provides for research on gifted and talented education, and as of 2003 had a federal budget of $11.25 million. So, there may be light at the end of the tunnel, but when are our gifted students and parents going to reach it?


Goodkin, S. & Gold, D.G. “The Gifted Children Left Behind” (2007).

Goodkin, S. “Leave no Gifted Child Behind” (2005).

“Jacob J. Javits and Talented Students Education Program” (2008).

Ludwig, S. “Providing for Gifted Children Through the No Child Left Behind Act” (2003).

Ramirez, E. “For Talented Students, Challenges Grow” (2007).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Alternative to Public Schools: The Debate over Charter Schools

The concept of a Charter School began in New England during the 1970’s.  An educator by the name of Ray Budde suggested that groups of teachers be given contracts or “charters” by their local schools boards to explore new approaches to teaching and education.  According to the Public School Review, Charter Schools were a step in a much needed school reform direction.  Advocates of Charter Schools saw this new reform as a opportunity for choice and responsibility not only for the students but for all involved- teacher, administrators, and parents.  Philadelphia, Minnesota, and California were among the first places where Charter Schools were instated showing success in what they stood for- an effective alternative to the standard public school in the district giving students a choice in the education.

Charter Schools are public schools that are funded through the district in which they are located.  Districts were Charter Schools are located must pay per-pupil to the Charter School to maintain the expectation of a free public education.  One of the strongest arguments against Charter Schools involves the delegation of funds from a district to the Charter School.  According to research studies on the location of Charter Schools, they typically open up in low SES areas with struggling schools.  While the intention of a Charter School may be warranted- offering students another learning venue, these Charter Schools are taking money away from the struggling school, creating an even worse situation for the original public school.

Charter Schools tend to give more authority to the teachers and students to make decisions concerning their education.  While I agree that a school is everyone’s domain and that decisions should be a collective democracy, I also believe in structure in a school system and hierarchy.  There are some decisions that must be made from administration- with suggestions from teachers and students. Charter schools are typically free to hire or fire personnel, design curriculum, and promote specific values.  Each specific charter may vary, because each state has different education laws and each charter school is designed to be unique in focus or student clientele- e.g. focus on math, science, or the arts. However, all charters describe school goals, how the school will be run, the amount of public money it will receive, and the degree of freedom it will be given.  Instead of being accountable for compliance with state rules and regulations that public schools are under, Charter Schools are accountable for academic results and for upholding their charter.

An article posted by describes Charter Schools as addressing the needs to individual community needs where the charter is enforced.  Less regulation means there are many different kinds of charter schools.  Charter schools may serve gifted students, low-income families, or religious communities.  By serving a specific type of student, the diversity gap widens among schools.  Educators and politicians argue about whether it is good to have large differences between schools.

In closing, the debate over Charter Schools is growing on the state and federal level.  The current presidential team and the federal department of education is taking a closer look at the effectiveness of Charter Schools and whether or not students are benefiting from them.  As global competition becomes a reality, it is important that all schools- public, charter, and private graduate well rounded citizens who can become innovators of the future.  It is a waste of time and energy to run schools that do not produce. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Shift from Gifted and Talented

“Gifted and talented” (G&T) refers to educational programming designed to meet the needs of “students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.” (National Association of Gifted Children) More simply stated, children who are exceptionally bright, wise beyond their years, and in need of greater than ordinary educational challenges. To put into perspective the magnitude of this brilliance, imagine the range of intelligence quotient or “IQ” scores. It is estimated that the average adult has a recorded IQ of approximately 100, Albert Einstein 165, and the pupils qualifying for G&T status generally have an IQ of 140 or above.

Beyond these astounding numbers there is much debate over the necessity of G&T programs. Many feel that these programs are unnecessary, elitist, and a burden to the taxpayer. After the 2001 passing of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government announced a “shift in focus” for the G&T programs. Seemingly, that shift is a result of the greater allocation of funds to special education compared to mainstream and gifted programming. In a recent article by Time Magazine (2007), it is stated that “America spends an estimated 8 billion dollars per year on educating the mentally retarded versus an estimated 800 million nationwide on gifted programs.” A concern arising from the dust cloud of this legislation is that if by 2014 no child should be left behind, should any child be inhibited?

Creating another barrier to the advancement of G&T programs is the notion that individuals born with such exceptional intelligence will establish at the very least a proficient level graduate status. Furthermore they should not receive added attention that is not needed. Some believe the assisted separation of high achievers from the low achievers widens the achievement gap and resembles an “elitist” community. Levy and Palley state “it would be unfair to ‘reward’ or offer ‘extra’ services to those children who were ‘lucky’ enough to be born with high academic potential. Supporting this attitude is a belief that with such natural intellectual advantages, gifted students do not need help” (2003).

In defense of G&T programs it has to be said that such academic anomalies cannot be left unnoticed or without support to harvest their intellectual potential. “In an era when policy makers have expressed concern for the future needs of our society and stressed the importance of education that could help the United States keep our economic advantages, it is curious that the federal government has done little to ensure that the educational needs of these children are addressed” (Levy and Palley 2003). What if by stifling a child with such gifts, we might prevent an individual from reaching their potential of a scientific or mathematical breakthrough? Perhaps these discoveries ideally could shine as the end of physical and mental disabilities ailing students at the opposite end of the learning spectrum.

It would seem that the current state of G&T programming is bleak. I believe the focus of our country is centered on attaining mediocrity and basic-level proficiency rather than nurturing the minds of our advanced youth. To those that argue for the struggles of our lower achieving students the question must be asked: What of our predeceasing cultures who removed ailing beings from the general population as a means to protect the continuity of their society? What about the idea that competition and supreme performance delivers nearly flawless results? And finally, is there not a fear that if the scales of funding are heavily tipped in favor of the unfortunate, that our country may fall from the global race of scientific, mathematical, or technological fields?

Separation of Church and State

Separation of Church and State

Ashley Prim

"Separation of church and state" is a common metaphor that is well recognized.  Equally well recognized is the metaphorical meaning of the church staying out of the state's business and the state staying out of the church's business.  As a result of the very common usage of the "separation of church and state phrase," most people incorrectly think the phrase is in the constitution.  Thomas Jefferson originally coined the phrase “wall of separation between the church and the state” in a letter to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802.  His purpose in this letter was to assuage the fears of the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists, and so he told them that this wall had been erected to protect them.  The metaphor was used exclusively to keep the state out of the church's business, not to keep the church out of the state's business.

The phrase separation of church and state did not come into the educational picture until the Supreme Court ruled in 1947 during the hearing of Everson vs. Board of Education.  The court was asked to decide whether tax revenues could be used to transport students to private Catholic schools.  A New Jersey law had allowed reimbursements of money to parents who sent their children to school in buses operated by the public transportation system.  Children who attended Catholic schools also qualified for this transportation subsidy.  A taxpayer filed suit saying that the Board should not be able to reimburse parents of children who attend parochial schools with the taxpayer dollars—seeing that taxes were there to support public schools.  The court rejected this complaint stating that taxes were being used for a public purpose—educating children.  The fact that the use of the money coincided with someone’s personal desires did not render the law unconstitutional.

In West Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Board of Education vs. Barnette (1943), that no one could be compelled to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  In Engle vs. Vitale (1962), the court decided that teachers and school administrators, as agents of the state, could not lead students in prayer.  In Lee vs. Weisman (1991), the court expanded its doctrine in Engle and declared that outside clergy could not be brought in to say prayers at official school events.  The court created the Doctrine of Coercion, which stated that the rights of nonreligious students were violated if religious activities took place in a public place, even if they were not forced to participate.  Finally, in Santa Fe the court ruled in the case of Independence School District vs. Doe an expansion of the coercion doctrine that stated students could not lead prayers at official school events.  In 2003, the court dismissed the case about the Pledge of Allegiance being a religious doctrine.  However, if they had ruled in favor of this, the words “under God” would have to be removed from the Pledge.

Currently, the law has been broken down into two sides, what is prohibited and what is not.  According to current legislation, the law prohibits schools from requiring students to recite prayers in class and at high school games, from promoting any one denomination or religion at the expense of another, from banning the wearing of religious clothing and symbols, from praying before Board of Education meetings.  The law allows some benedictions and prayers at graduation ceremonies.  The law also allows the teaching of certain aspects of religion, such as in history, literature, comparative religion, etc.  Student religious clubs, moments of silence, prayer outside of the school building are all permitted.

The pros and cons of separation of church and state are still widely debated.  Specifically, there seems to be two sides to the debate of prayer in school.  Those who favor prayer in school feel as though to ban school prayer diminishes the religious freedom of students who would like to pray and forces them to act according to the dictates of a non-religious minority.  They also feel that a simple and voluntary school prayer does not amount to the government establishing a religion, any more than do other practices common in the U.S. such as the employment of Congressional chaplains or government recognition of holidays with religious significance.  School prayer would result in many societal benefits. The public school system is tragically disintegrating as evidenced by the rise in school shootings, increasing drug use, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, and HIV transmission. School prayer can help combat these issues, would instill a sense of morality and is desperately needed to protect our children.  School prayer would address the needs of the whole person. Schools must do more than train children’s minds academically. They must also nurture their souls and reinforce the values taught at home and in the community.  School prayer would allow religious students an opportunity to observe their religious beliefs during the school day. The U.S. Supreme Court has urged school cooperation with religious authorities for “it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs.”

Those who are not in favor of prayer in schools feel as though their rights are being violated in the opposite sense.  This party feels that school prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which provides that government shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.  Since public schools are government funded, prayer led by school officials or incorporated into the school routine amounts to government-established religion.  They also agree that prayer in schools violates the separation of church and state.  These supporters feel that public schools are intended for education, not religious practices.  Also, it is felt that school prayer may lead to intolerance. Public prayer may highlight religious differences of which students may have been unaware. Those students who abstain from school prayer may be ostracized.  Critics feel that school prayer is inherently coercive and cannot be implemented in a way that is truly voluntary.  They also agree that the public school system is created for all students and supported by all taxpayers.  It should therefore remain neutral on religious issues over which students and taxpayers will differ.  

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Charter Schools

Throughout my research on charter schools I found a lot of conflicting information and I also found some concrete results that are hard to argue with. These results are in favor of charter schools, but I do have my own opinions that I believe are possible explanations for these results. First I would like to discuss some background information on charter schools and I will focus on New Jersey charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from district schools. In New Jersey, they may be organized by a group of teachers, parents, community groups or institutions of higher education. These groups enter into an agreement with the state board of education and receive a performance contract called a “charter”. Charter schools are public schools and may not charge tuition. They are required to be open to all students on a space-available basis. Students from the district of residence or from the region of residence (districts contiguous to the district in which a charter school operates) are given preference before non-residents students can be admitted. The charter school curriculum must address the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. Charters must make available the educational program as prescribed by an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students with educational disabilities. New Jersey charter schools are required to meet the same academic standards as all public schools. They must adhere to the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards and participate in the statewide assessment program in grades 4, 8 and 11. All teachers, principals and support staff engaged in classroom activity must hold appropriate licenses.
Charters are initially granted for a four-year term. If satisfactory progress is made, charters may be renewed for additional five-year terms. The renewal process involves a review of the renewal application and annual reports, student performance on the statewide assessment program, monitoring, comments from the local community and interviews. Failing charter schools are closed down. Charter schools receive a payment directly from the school district of residence for each student enrolled equal to 90 percent of the district school’s budget per student for the specific grade level. Charter schools are also eligible to receive federal and state funding.
In New Jersey there are over 50 approved charter schools located throughout the state. The average enrollment in a charter school is 193 students and the average length of a school day in a charter school is slightly over 7 hours. The performance of New Jersey charters on NJASK and HSPA math and language arts overall exceeds the public schools in the same districts. Charters are open to anyone so we can’t use the argument that the best and brightest only attend. Those that do seek out another option obviously have a desire to be educated so they most likely are students that will try harder than the average public schools student. As with public schools there are low and high performing charters, but low performing charters can be closed down so they will most likely have a stronger desire to succeed. Also charter schools are exempt from state regulations except those pertaining to assessment, testing, civil rights and student health and safety. The autonomy gives charter schools the latitude to strive for high academic performance, to better serve a community’s needs, and to spur innovation by trying new teaching methods. I feel this is an advantage over public schools. Another interesting point is that the charter schools tend to be in poor performing districts and these are the schools that the scores are being compared to. I do also believe that anything that stimulates competition is a good thing.

Brain Based Research

Brain based research is the idea that students learn more when material is presented in a manner that is easiest for the brain to process. Some of the common features that brain based research has, according to multiple websites that discuss the topic, are twelve core principles, they are as follows:
1. The brain is a parallel processor, meaning it can perform several activities at once, like tasting and smelling.
2. Learning engages the whole physiology.
3. The search for meaning is innate.
4. The search for meaning comes through patterning.
5. Emotions are critical to patterning.
6. The brain processes wholes and parts simultaneously.
7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception.
8 Learning involves both conscious and unconscious processes.
9. We have two types of memory: spatial and rote.
10. We understand best when facts are embedded in natural, spatial memory.
11. Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.
12 Each brain is unique (

The theory largely focuses on student centered learning, differentiated instruction and has three instructional techniques presented on the website and others.

1. Orchestrated immersion: Learning environments are created that immerse students in a learning experience.
2. Relaxed alertness: An effort is made to eliminate fear while maintaining a highly challenging environment.
3. Active processing: The learner consolidates and internalizes information by actively processing it. Information is connected to prior learning (

Orchestrated immersion is the idea that students would actively do what ever it is that they are learning. If a student is learning Spanish the teacher would surround the students with Spanish culture, take trips to Spanish speaking neighborhoods, and their whole world would become Spanish. The goal of this is to engage as many senses and activate multiple processes of the brain at once, and engage in active student centered learning.

The goal of relaxed alertness is to encourage students to learn how they best see fit. If a student learns best by reading, another by building models, and another by physically doing an activity then the teacher will develop separate activities for each student and encourage them. Another goal of relaxed alertness is to eliminate fear. The teacher must create a positive and encouraging atmosphere.

Teachers must also make connections to prior learning and experiences held by students. This is the main objective of active processing. When students are able to draw on past experiences and information they can internalize the new data and better process it into something meaningful to them. The result is information that students can learn and understand more fully and utilize in real life situations.

Brain based learning has many positive attributes. First it reaches out to student interests, allows students to be hands on and get involved with an activity, it builds self-confidence in students, and allows students to control their own learning experience. Students will most certainly have more fun while doing brain based activities and will likely learn a skill or topic in much greater depth than a typical teacher centered classroom environment.

I also see many problems with brain based learning as presented in my sources below. First, school districts would have a difficult time paying for many activities as they require many more manipulatives, field trips, and materials than a typical classroom. Second, teachers would have a difficult time meeting all of the state standards for a grade level if they were spending the huge amount of time it takes to teach a single lesson. Third, while the approach may work in a small classroom size or with very self motivated students, I don’t believe that the approach in its purist form would work in a large classroom with unmotivated students.

As a teacher I do use and support brain based research, although I had never heard it called that before. Most classrooms use hands on activities for students, manipulatives, real life examples and situations, and varied student groupings to help meet the individual needs of students. I also think that if teachers did some big student centered project for every math concept and standard those teachers would not hit half of the state standards and would have problems with their supervisors. Therefore I believe a balanced approach that incorporates the basic principles of brain based research, some time management and efficiency as well as teacher discretion.


President Obama and NCLB

As an educator I am directly affected by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law of 2002. This law enacted high stake tests that determined a schools success. The objective of the law was to close the achievement gap between race, socioeconomic status, ELL students, special education students, gender as well as United States as compared with other nations. While NCLB received bipartisan support in Washington, many lawmakers have now realized that there were critical flaws in the legislation that need to be reformed. With the election of President Obama and the appointment of Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education it seems likely that NCLB will have significant changes made to it. What is not yet evident is specifically how and when the law will change. President Obama himself has not said very much about how he will change NCLB, except that he will. His position on NCLB according to his website is as follows, “We will recruit an army of new teachers and develop innovative ways to reward teachers who are doing a great job, and we will reform No Child Left Behind so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.” With this statement President Obama could take the legislation anywhere, but it signals a move to alter how funding is given out for schools that are not succeeding. In order to learn more about how NCLB will change in the coming years we have to look at Scretary Arne Duncan and his opinions of the law.
Fortunately Arne Duncan has been more specific about changes to NCLB in a September 24th press conference released and posted on the Department of Educations website. Here Duncan clearly states that there are fundamental flaws to the current legislation that need to be changed. It is also notable that Duncan refers to the education law as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA was originally passed in 1965 and was passed as NCLB in 2002. The change in name shows that the current administration is attempting to get away from the many of the ideas and problems created in the 2002 law.
One significant change will be to alter the goals of the current high stakes testing that schools face. Secretary Duncan wants to have tests follow student growth and improvement rather than to follow scores of a specific teacher or grade level as it is currently. This is a change that most educators that I talk to are in complete support of because it maintains a high level of accountability but demonstrates the actual academic growth of the students and school. Also consistent with President Obama’s quote above Secretary Duncan wants the new ESEA law to include funds to improve teacher quality and for new teacher recruitment. The final specific change that is currently underway and marks a significant change in approach in developing education legislation is a series of town hall meetings designed to gain input from educators around the nation. While the meetings are going to occur in all fifty states the first five have already been set up taking place from October 7 through December 2 in Washington D.C.
The current administration intends on changing the current form of ESEA the question is when. There have not been any timelines set and other than a few press conferences and town hall meetings little has been done to develop a new bill. It seems as though Secretary Duncan is pushing for change but President Obama will likely wait until other issues are resolved with the economy, health care, and the war in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Global Competition

Global Competition

The United States has been faced with war, economic downturn, and explosive advances in technology. We are forced to compete in the world market. Global competition is a reality facing our country today. How many of us are truly prepared for the influx of new challenges and opportunities that face our citizens?
In his latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Friedman (2009) states that America has fallen behind in terms of its ability to prepare itself for global demands. In light of the events of 9/11, Americans are less than welcome outside of the United States. Our media resounds a message of fear that is perpetuated with the war on terror. In many cases, the events of 9/11 threaten to supersede July 4th celebrations. Other political factors including the collapse of Communism have flattened the competitive landscape and America has become lazy. America has coasted on its status as a superpower. As a result, our government has not worked to solve real problems or maximize innovation.
Friedman (2009) also states that energy and natural resources will continue to undergo greater supply and demand. The middle class which has expounded in numbers will cause the world to gradually become crowded. If much of the world-wide population lives like Americans, we risk depleting our energy resources. Energy poverty is a reality. Other countries such as China have addressed this problem, but America has not. America has to assume the responsibility for accessing the world knowledge in order to invent and stay ahead.
Energy technology is a pivotal focus within the realm of global competition, and needs to become a priority in the US. The middle class is growing. New groups of people are immigrating into our country. These groups are redefining the middle class. It has been projected that the world population will significantly increase, and will more then triple in our lifetime. Are we truly prepared to meet the needs of so many people in order to sustain life of earth?
Teachers have a unique and important role in the ever-changing world. According to Vivian Stewart (2006), teachers need to change the way instruction is delivered to students. Instead of only teaching information, teachers need to broaden students’ knowledge of the world, increase foreign language competency, and infuse values. Rather than memorize facts, students should be trained to seek answers, work collaboratively, think globally, and construct learning according to the demands of the global market. They should be prepared for the real possibility of working for international companies and/or managing employees from abroad. Competition for jobs will become increasingly greater.
I feel it is important to view the ever-changing landscape of global competition from an opportunistic perspective. Issues may be viewed as opportunities. We are in the midst of a new industrial revolution that Friedman terms the “Green Revolution”. In order for this to fully take affect, government needs to enforce new policies. Educators and policy makers need to delegate the restructuring of schools to meet the impending global demands. Policy goals for redesigning schools may include: adding graduation requirements that encompass global knowledge, expanding teacher training programs, hiring teachers with a strong foreign language background, and providing technology resources that connect our educators with those of other countries. We will look toward policy makers and educators to facilitate the needed changes. As soon as these tools are in place, America will have the potential to regain its footing in the global marketplace.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Summer School, Extended School Year, and Year-Round Schooling

For years the concepts of summer school, extended school year, and year-round schooling have been viewed as potential answers in our quest to raise our students’ achievement whether on the individual, school, or country level. Most of today’s schools are based on an agrarian society; students attend an average of 180 days per year, typically between the hours of 8am and 3pm, having three months in between each school year for a summer break. While this break was historically set as a time where children could farm in peak season, the summer break has evolved into what is now a summer vacation. Students relax from school for three months, spend time on the couch watching television, may go to summer camp for a couple weeks, and usually are forced to squeeze in a few summer reading assignments for the following school year. Only seldom do students need to return to school for the summer months, attending summer school for either remediation or advancement purposes. Our nine-month calendar, however, is not sensitive to our current industrialized society. Many parents are faced with the stress of finding childcare for their children after school or during the summer months, often resorting to leaving their children home alone.

Parents whose children qualify for extended school year under the Rehabilitation Act’s Section 504 (1973) and IDEA (2004), however, have some relief. Students with disabilities under Section 504 and IDEA are eligible for extended school year only if they meet certain criteria, such as being at risk for regression or recoupment during summer vacation, if the school year ends at a critical point of instruction for the student, if the student is developing emerging skills that they could acquire or master during summer instruction, and other criteria specifically related to his or her disability. Many of the criteria that allow students with disabilities to obtain classes outside the nine-month school year are likely to be met, however, by all or most students without disabilities as well.

Recently President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have stated that children in the United States are put at a global disadvantage by spending too little time in the classroom, citing other nations’ scholastic success and increased time in the classroom. While it is true that students in many other countries have more school days, it's not true, however, that they all spend more time in school. While students in the United States typically spend 1,146 instructional hours per year in school, those in Singapore and Japan, for example, only spend 903 and 1,005 hours in the classroom, respectively. Researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, however, found that math scores in countries that added math instruction time rose significantly, especially in countries that added minutes to the day, rather than days to the year. Adding an extra 10 minutes a day was even found to lead to significant increases in performance.

In examining our nation’s current status as an industrialized society rather than an agrarian one, Secretary Duncan also is trying to promote his vision of not only having schools add instructional time, but also to stay open late in order to let children in on the weekends so they have a safe place to go. There are two ways in which these goals could be realized: (1) by leaving schools in operation 180 days per year, however making the days longer in hours, or (2) by instituting year round schools. In a year round school schools do not have a three-month summer vacation; they instead have several smaller breaks spread throughout the year. Typically, the total number of school days and vacation days remains unchanged in a school running on an year round schedule; the days are simply redistributed more evenly over the calendar. Extending the school day, unlike instituting a year round school, would have the additional benefit of being akin to parent schedules. Today’s typical student may have parents who work long hours and/or multiple jobs. This often leads children to go home afterschool to an unsupervised, empty house. With an extended school day students would be able to stay safely at school with friends in an environment where they can get the extra help, whether it academic or emotional, that they may need.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fixing and Preventing the Dropout Rate

Bridgeland, DiIulio, and Morison (2006) reported that in 2003, 3.5 million individuals 16-25 did not have high school diplomas. Fixing and preventing the rates of high-school dropouts are topics of serious concern, particularly in the current economic demise. Youth who lack a high school diploma are much more likely to be unemployed, go to jail, or require government assistance (Perkins-Gough, 2009). Even though the troubled economy has negatively impacted individuals at every level of education, those who are the least educated have struggled the most. This April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals without a high-school diploma were twice as likely to be unemployed as those with more education (Field, 2009). Specifically, amongst Americans who did not finish college, the unemployment rate was 14.6 percent while the rate amongst Americans with some college or an associate degree was 7.4 percent. In 2007, U.S. workers without a high-school diploma or GED earned 64 percent less, those with an associate degree or some college courses. Dropping out has a direct impact on an individual’s quality of life.
According to statistics from the U.S. census bureau, those with no high school diploma earned an average of 21,484. Those with a high school diploma earned an average of 31,286. Those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of 57,181 and those with a master’s degree earned an average of 80,977. It is apparent that education directly influences one’s quality of life. The decision to leave school during adolescence has far reaching consequences on the futures of these students. Reducing dropout rates should be a primary goal for the education system.
Dalton, Glennie, and Ingels (2009) examined dropout rates in relation to background characteristics, evaluations, and academic achievement across time cohorts. The high school dropout rate was lower in 2004 than in 1982, 7 percent compared to 11 percent and lower in 1992 than in 1982, 6 percent compared to 11 percent. With respect to gender, males had a higher dropout rate in both 1982 and 2004. With respect to race, Black sophomores had a higher dropout rate at 14 percent than Asian/Pacific Islander sophomores at 2 percent and White sophomores at 10 percent in 1982. The pattern was the same in 2004: Black sophomores had a higher dropout rate at 10 percent, Asian/Pacific Islander at 3 percent and White sophomores at 5 percent.
A student’s background was also found to influence their likelihood of dropping out. Students whose parents had a bachelor’s degree or another professional degree were less likely to drop out than those whose parents had some college education, a high school diploma, or less. A study by Dalton, Glennie, and Ingels (2009) found that 48 percent of dropouts came from families in the lowest quarter of socioeconomic status and 77 percent came from the lowest half of the socioeconomic distribution. Interestingly, students attending public school were more likely to drop out than those attending Catholic or private schools.
There are many reasons that students make the decisions to drop out of school. Eighty-three percent of dropouts list school-related issues as the reason for dropping out, missing too many school days, poor grades, and not liking school. Males dropped out of school for these reasons more often than females, 89 percent compared to 75 percent and males left more often than females for disciplinary reasons. On the other hand, 45 percent of females left for family reasons, 28 percent due to pregnancy and 12 percent for marriage.
Upon dropping out, 73 percent of dropouts said their parents tried to talk them into staying, while 37 percent of them said their school tried to talk them into staying. Fifty-three percent of dropouts said that their parents offered to help them with personal problems, and 24 percent said that schools had made such an offer. It is important to note that research found that 75 percent of the dropouts never participated in alternative programs like dropout prevention, job placement assistance, or vocational or technical skills training).
Perkins-Gough (2009) has conducted research to support the use of service learning in order to decrease high school dropout rates. She believes that service learning can help keep students engaged in school and on track to graduation. When asked in a national survey of 807 high school students conducted for Engaged for Success, respondents cited making class interesting, relevant, and hands-on as ideas that would give them the most out of high school. Examples of service learning are projects like group writing children's books about historical events and reading them to students in younger grades, painting murals in school that represent themes learned. These activities promote academic learning while developing leadership skills, teaching how to be involved citizens, and allowing them to work together with other students to achieve more fun and entertaining learning outcomes.
It is apparent that a reduction and prevention in dropout rates is imperative for the future of the economy as well as the future of the individuals whose lives will suffer as a result of higher unemployment rates. Taking note of the reasons for student dropout and actively working to combat these issues will hopefully continue to decrease the rates in future studies. It is important to integrate different styles of learning for all individuals to benefit, regardless of their academic ability, disciplinary record, or family issues. Alternative programs and service learning must be considered as options that a student sees as a better choice than leaving school entirely.
Kimberly Green

Sunday, October 4, 2009

NCLB: Moving Forward

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a phrase that evokes quite a varied range of reactions from people, particularly those in the field of education. NCLB of course is the federal legislation signed into law in 2002 with bipartisan support. This legislation was enacted to improve student performance in the public schools in general, and also to close the achievement gap among at-risk students, such as ethnic minorities, those living in poverty and special needs students by 2013.
Some of the primary components of NCLB include focusing on employing more highly qualified teachers, and state developed standardized tests (measuring basic skills such as math and reading) to progress monitor student achievement in each public school district. All schools that receive title 1 federal funding are required to make adequate yearly progress (AYP), meaning their standardized test scores must continue to improve every year measured against standards developed individually by each state. If the districts do not make AYP, then there is a series of consequences depending on how many consecutive school-years this occurs. Consequences range from the district being required to develop and implement an improvement plan to an entire restructuring of the school.
Many proponents of NCLB praise its emphasis on accountability and standards for the education system. The standardized testing and content used is very objective and has led to a more uniformed curriculum standard nationally. Proponents of NCLB also maintain that by closing the achievement gap among at-risk students, NCLB will further democratize the nation’s education system. According to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, released in July 2005 current data does indicate that national math and reading scores are rising and the achievement gap is closing. Some critics however argue about how representative of the whole country these scores are and also how much these results are actually related to NCLB. NCLB has also led to more active leadership from state governments within their public schools as well as led to an emphasis on higher standards for teachers.
Critics argue that NCLB relies too heavily on just one standardized measure. They argue that teachers are now just “teaching to the test”. Also because states can set their own standards many argue that these standards vary greatly with some states creating easier tests to avoid federal sanctions. Critics also maintain that using only standardized testing as an outcome measure is a “one size fits all” solution, which is inappropriate for student subgroups such as limited-English proficient students and special education students. Another criticism includes that the federal legislation takes away from state and local rights in educating their students. Many critics also maintain that NCLB is severely underfunded leaving schools to make cuts in non-tested subjects such as science and social studies in order to pay for NCLB mandates. Other criticisms include that NCLB has increased the national teacher shortage and completely ignores the gifted students in our schools.
Clearly in reviewing the pros and cons, the basic premise of NCLB seems necessary. It is apparent, however that the planning and execution of NCLB were severely flawed. At the heart of this issue seems to be that it has been underfunded, leading to unintended consequences at schools and even a lawsuit against the federal government by the national teachers union. NCLB also does not acknowledge the reality of basic neuropsychological research, which identifies many other factors in student learning, such as genetics and socioeconomic status. Ultimately standardized testing should be only one piece of the assessment procedure, including a method more clearly linked to teacher contributuions. As with any best-practice assessment, multiple measures should be used in order to help parcel out teacher contributions and preexisting student issues. Finally, some research has found high stakes testing is effective at contributing to positive student change, though punitive nature of NCLB demoralizes teachers compromising gains in the long run. A more positive approach to raising teacher efforts should be employed utilizing reinforcement, similar to the way we would program for the students we are educating.

By: Rich Allen

Educational Research Newsletter
Major court ruling on No Child Left Behind: States and school districts not required to spend own funds to comply with law.
Dillon, Erin & Rotherham, Andy. "States' Evidence: What It Means to Make 'Adequate Yearly Progress' Under NCLB"