Thursday, November 19, 2009

Closing the Achievement Gap

Ashley Prim

Dr. Dugan

November 17, 2009

Closing of the Achievement Gap

            The achievement gap refers to the disparity in academic performance between groups of students.  The gap has been an issue seen within the educational system pertaining to the effects of class and race.  According to many, some excuses and explanations for this disparity include: family and health conditions, teacher expectations and experience, school spending and changing student exclusion rates, television viewing, and hip-hop culture.  Many believe that the achievement gap is best defined by the difference between success rates of minorities or disadvantage students versus their white counterparts.  Paul Barton of the Educational Testing Service describes fourteen home and school conditions that place low-income and minority students at a disadvantage.  The home conditions are: low birth weights, exposure to lead poisoning, hunger and malnutrition, guardians who rarely read to their children, heavy television viewing, single-parent households, high student mobility rates, and minimal parent participation in school matters.  The school conditions are: easier courses, teachers with less experience, teachers who are inadequately prepared or unlicensed, fewer computers in school and less Internet use at home, larger class sizes, and unsafe schools.

            There are several ways of measuring the achievement gap.  One useful is to compare academic performance among African-American, Hispanic, and white students on standardized assessments.  Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that reading scores for 17-year-olds narrowed dramatically for both African-American and Hispanic students from 1975 through 1988.  From 1990 to 1999, however, these gaps either remained constant or grew slightly in both reading and mathematics.  Another form of measurement is to compare the highest level of educational attainment for various groups.  Hispanic and African-American high school students are more likely to drop out of high school in every state compared to their white counterparts.  Furthermore, of those students enrolling in college, Hispanic and black young adults are only half as likely to earn a college degree as white students.

            To overcome these deficits, many states have taken a proactive approach to closing the gap.  For example, Texas requires schools to show each year a minimum proficiency level (percent proficient) in each student subgroup. In the five years since this legislation was enacted, the percentage of African-American students passing statewide exams rose by 31%, and the percentage of Hispanic students passing the exam rose by 29%. Meanwhile, the percentage of white students passing the exam grew by only 18%. This means the achievement gap in Texas closed by 13% and 11% for African-American and Hispanic students, respectively.  Also, in Missouri a state task force on K-16 issues released a report early in 2002, which concluded that improving teacher quality is the single most important factor in eliminating the achievement gap. The report recommends raising teacher quality through increased accountability, better understanding of urban issues, and financial incentives for teachers in low-performing schools.  Other methods for closing the gap would include, early childhood care and education, improving teacher quality, early intervention for college, and extra learning opportunities like after school programs.

            The debate is one-sided, popular belief supports the importance of closing the gap.  In my opinion, since the importance of closing the gap is undisputable there are no pros or cons—closing the gap is of critical importance.  However, the methods by which schools and educators are using to close the gap have their strengths and weaknesses.  Some of these methods include, class sizes, creating smaller schools, expanding early-childhood programs, raising academic standards, improving the quality of teachers provided poor and minority students, and encouraging more minority students to take high-level courses.  Since the importance of closing the gap is undeniable, I will focus on the pros and con of smaller class sizes.  Some of the benefits of having fewer classes include:

  •          Students receive more individualized attention and interact more with the teacher.
  •          Teachers have more flexibility to use different instructional approaches.
  •          Fewer students are less distracting to each other than a large group of children.
  •          Teachers have more time to teach because there are fewer discipline problems.
  •          Students are more likely to participate in class and become more involved.
  •      Teachers have more time to cover additional material and use more supplementary texts and enrichment activities
 Some of the drawbacks of smaller class sizes include:

  • The costs for reducing class sizes are too high for what they call the slight benefits
  • Critics believe that popular (and political) support for class size reduction causes that approach to prevail over other, more effective reforms
  •  Smaller classes require additional classrooms, calling for construction or renovation
  • Smaller class sizes are most effective when there are sufficient numbers of quality teachers—fewer students in a classroom with an inadequate teacher may be even less beneficial than more students with a qualified teacher
  • Another concern of critics of class size reduction is whether the achievement benefits for children in smaller classes are temporary or lasting

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Growth Model Pilot

Jason Kessler
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
Position Paper #2 Growth Model Pilot

On January 8, 2002, the whole world of education would never be the same. Congress passed No Child Left Behind, a program spearheaded by then President George Walker Bush. The implications of this legislation sent shock waves throughout school districts. Wholesale changes needed to be made in order to achieve AYP for state standardized testing. Essentially schools were now being held accountable for how well their students did on standardized testing. If they didn’t make AYP, there would be a series of actions that would be taken to help the school make AYP or penalize the school for it failure.
The concept of leaving a child behind is horrifying and that is why the bill was made into a law with bipartisan support. The premise of making sure that all children will receive a quality education and trying to narrow the achievement gap was a great idea, but the government gave education the goals, no map/plan to achieve those goals and punished the schools if they didn’t attain the goals even if they were improving. This changed on November 21, 2005 when U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced a pilot program, Growth Model Pilot. According to, spellings claimed that this program “Growth models give schools credit for student improvement over time by tracking individual student achievement from one year to the next”.
The pilot program was initially approved to be done by four states (North Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware, Arkansas) and a fifth, Florida was eventually accepted into the pilot. Currently there are fifteen states participating in the program. The state participating in the pilot must adhere to the seven core components of NCLB. According to, these principles include the following:
1. Ensure that all students are proficient by 2014, and set annual goals to ensure that the achievement gap is closing for all groups of students;
2. Set expectations for annual achievement based on meeting grade-level proficiency, not on student background or school characteristics;
3. Hold schools accountable for student achievement in reading / language arts and mathematics;
4. Ensure that all students in tested grades are included in the assessment and accountability system, hold schools and districts accountable for the performance of each student subgroup, and include all schools and districts;
5. Include assessments in each of grades 3-8 and in high school for both reading/language arts and mathematics, and ensure that they have been operational for more than one year and receive approval through the NCLB peer review process for the 2005-06 school year. The assessment system must also produce comparable results from grade to grade and year to year;
6. Track student progress as part of the state data system; and
7. Include student participation rates and student achievement on a separate academic indicator in the State accountability system.
The positive aspects of the pilot are its corrective nature in regards to the pitfalls of the 2002 NCLB doctrine that turned the education world upside down. First of all, it has a more reasonable method for holding schools accountable for the previously mentioned seven core components. This achieved by tracking individual student improvement as a method of achieving AYP instead of reaching a specific percentile. This is a much more precise way to indicate student progress and also ensures that school who are making headway are not being penalized. If a school in an inner-city with a population with low SES and history of low test scores is making changes and improvements they should not get the book thrown at them. For example, if Lincoln High School has ten percent of their students in the desired percentile and the next year twenty percent of the students score in the desired percentile, the students have improved by one hundred percent. Under previous stipulations they would have failed to reach AYP. Under the growth model pilot each students score would have been analyzed and show each performed. Schools should be judged on improvement not be mandated to some seemingly unobtainable goal.
When the pilot is implemented, a focus is then shifted to individual growth. Teachers can design assessments and learning experiences that are authentic to each student which would allow for more individualized education. The shift in focus on teaching to a test and more to improvement and growth of each individual would lead to a swing educational philosophy. Along with tracking individual growth, the schools which are excelling will stand out, while other who are either maintaining the status quo or digressing will also stick out like a sore thumb. This leads to healthy competition between schools to become better at what they do, which should be a focusing on developing students prepared for the future.
The final positive aspects to the pilot are the lack of need for new assessments or data collection. Each state will continue to use the existing assessments and methods for data collection; they will just be judge on a different interpretation of the data which is being collect. Every students score will be analyzed and kept on file to ensure that they are improving.
Essentially NCLB was a program with excellent principles, but with several quirks to the program. Schools where asked to reach a percentile regardless of what their starting point was and that just was not fair. Individual progress must be rewarded and applauded and if the education system is ever going to narrow the achievement gap, programs like the Growth Model Pilot should be used to focus on individuals in the group, not the group as a whole. In fact a goal of achieving a certain percentile goes against the ultimate goal of leaving no child behind. Individualization in education, testing and data collection is the wave of the future and will lead to progress for years to come.

Class Size

Jason Kessler
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
Position Paper #1 Class Size

As a young teacher with only three years of teaching experience to his name, I have come to see the difference you can make when your roster size is of a manageable number. The larger the class gets the more individualized programs for the multitude of learners get neglected. In today’s educational setting with laws like IEP’s it is much easier to ‘dumb’ down your assessment strategies in order to ensure greater success with the twelve lower level students than to provide academic rigor to the four advanced students in the class of thirty-five. I know it may seem very callus, but class size plays an integral role in how an educator plans their assessments as well as their overall presentation of material. The fewer students one has in class, the obvious more individualized attention each student receives.
According to the Northwest Education Magazine, “evidence is considerable and compelling: Especially in early grades, smaller classes do make a difference”. This makes sense that if students start school in small groups with individual attention focused on each one of them in small manageable classes, the more chance they well have to grow. The same article claims that less time will be spent on disciplinary issues and more time on facilitating individual learning plans. If Johnny and Jake are at two polar opposite levels and in the same small class, the teacher will be able to manage providing challenging work for the one student, while providing remediation for the other.
After interviewing Dr. Kyriakos Evrenoglou, Principal of Millville Alternative High School and former Assistant Principal of Discipline at Millville Senior High School, I found unique perspective as it pertains to class size. As an administrator and teacher for many years he has seen the impact of small class sizes can particularly have on emotionally disturbed students. In Alternative School, there are students who have various emotional, mental and social disorders, who could not adhere to the rules of the regular school. The students are separated into extremely small class sizes and discipline issues for these students who were typically the disruptive force in the regular school setting can thrive. Students in these situations have an easier time establishing healthy relationships with staff and peers. The less discipline issues lead to more time for qualitative instruction, where authentic assessments can occur. Teachers in this setting provide more feedback and develop greater parental contacts. It has been said over and over again that in order to have a successful educational experience, all stakeholders (staff, students, parents, community) should be involved in the educational process. If teachers develop stronger parental contacts, the goals of the classroom may in fact be reinforced in the home, which makes it that much more powerful.
In Tennessee, Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) found several requirements in order to receive the benefits of small class size. Classes must have good teachers in abundance. The increased number of classes requires more classrooms and more teachers. If there is not an ample supply of qualified motivated teachers, it won’t matter whether or not you have small numbers in the classroom because the facilitator is insufficient. The other requirements include sufficient space, diverse classes and access to materials. If the school is too small, additional space must be somehow produced or reallocated. Another issue is diversity and access to materials. Both require careful planning in the scheduling department. When determining who will be each class, the ethnicity, SES and academic performance level should be taken into account, not to track students, but rather to ensure a diverse classroom where students can learn from the various levels of intelligence and cultures. If students are homogeneous, the students will miss the experience of learning from their peers and developing into well-rounded culturally aware individuals. Materials could also become a concern without carefully scheduling. Textbooks and technological access could be shared among classes with a rotating schedule would maximize resources without sacrificing educational time.
Along with all of the previously mentioned concerns, the underlying concern has to do with the bottom line, what is the price tag. The need for more space, qualified teachers, and supplies is going to increase the per pupil expense. Some ways to alleviate the expense are not necessarily scene immediately, but will end up lowering the financial burden in the long run. As mentioned earlier, resources could be shared from classroom to classroom, so that the number of texts and computers can be maximized. The other cost reductions could be done through consolidations of classrooms. Special subjects like the practical arts (music, foreign language, ect.) could share a classroom on a rotating basis or even go into the regular education classroom. This would allow the rooms utilized by these “Specials” to be converted into regular classrooms. Another cost reduction would be from the lowered need for classroom aids at the Secondary level. In special education mathematics courses, an aid is required when the class size is 12 or more students. The lowered class sizes would cut down on the need for that support staff.
The final reason why the cost is not worth preventing the implantation of smaller classes is tied in with the lowered need for special education aids and teachers. Smaller classes sizes enhance performance. Students receive more individual attention. According to the Rouse Study, when the class size is an average of seventeen to one, students made “substantially faster gains in reading. The SAGE program in Wisconsin found that students with extremely low SES performed better on standardized tests after being put into classes of an average fifteen students. There are also various studies done in Israel and California that have found similar results. The underlying message is this lower class sizes equal enhanced student performance. Students performing at higher level equates to higher graduation rates and students better prepared for post secondary endeavors. The more students that get a college degree, the higher their income will be after they graduate college. When the lower SES population rises up out of poverty they enhance our society. They could be the next inventors of the next big thing that improves quality of life. The more money made by each individual, the more each person will pay in taxes which means the cost of the implementation of small class size could be deferred. Less money will be spent on Welfare and more on education. In the world of health, primary prevention simple things like practicing good hygiene, exercising and getting immunizations lowers the chances of developing disease or infirmity. This lowers insurance costs, so why do we not do the same in the world of education. Small class sizes mean a better individual education for each student. The more educated each individual is the less time and money well be spent later on remediation problems in school and adult life. Small class size is primary prevention for our youth, society and wallets.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Refoming and/or Reinventing Schools

Barbara Chambers

Reforming Schools and/or Reinventing Schools

What is school reform?

School reform in the public school system includes a number of programs and policies that are established by policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels.  Reforms are procedural changes that relate to how the school operates. Many reform proposals have focused on smaller class sizes, high teacher pay coupled with improved teacher training, more preschool programs, and more technology in the classroom. (   However, based on A Nation at Risk report (1983) some advocates felt that an emphasis on more required credits in academic courses, more testing, longer school year and an increase in teacher salaries did not produce the results expected.  By 1990 a second wave of school reform was put in place, only this time the emphasis was based on performance outcome and accountability, hence, the NCLB law 2002.

Why are public education schools all ways in the process of reform?  Clearly, we haven’t significantly closed the achievement gap between black and white students, and rich and poor students.  The NCLB Act mandates that all states receiving Title 1 funding (currently all 50 states) must report annual yearly progress (AYP) on the academic performance and progress of students particularly in low-performing schools. Each state must develop content and academic standards in language arts, mathematics and science grades 3-8 and high school.  Other provisions were made which could be reviewed on (


Researcher Frederick Hess believes that reform exist in two ways, the “status quo reformer,” and the “common sense reformer.”  Excerpts from his book Common Sense School Reform reveals that the public school education system is indeed in need of great reform and that the practices applied in the industrial era have become obsolete today.  For example, treating teachers like assembly line workers, providing mandated training with little value, no rewards for excellence and no opportunity for career advancement.  His spin on “status quo reformer” although it may not apply to all school districts has become a serious problem for many and includes some of the following:

·      Lack clear objectives and tools for authoritative leadership.

·      Believe that by providing more money, and more spending will fix many problems.

·      Shy away from job security and accountability

·      Believe that educators are already doing all they can, and that improvement is just a matter of mending a curricula, changing school or class size or tossing in a dash of training.

On the other hand, Hess believes the “common sense reformer” has a more practical, no nonsense approach which focuses on accountability and flexibility.  His form of reinventing schools includes some of the following:

·      People will do their best when goals are clear and they know how they are being evaluated.

·      School culture is one of great expectation, excellence is rewarded and failure in not tolerated.

·      Great schools are a product of hard work, genius, commitment and skill and not legislated into existence.

·      True reform requires transforming “can’t do” culture into one of  competence, and students mastery of essential material.

·      Flexibility requires managing schools and education effectively, providing rewards for excellence, and serving community needs and being fiscally responsible.

·      School choice and competition is good because it will produce accountability.


According to Marty Nemko’s article, Reinventing the High School Curriculum, school reform is needed because schools have “managed to leach the life out of so many kids.” His suggestions for reinventing high school curriculum is as follows:

·      Replace one year of the four years required English to Language for Life.  This course would focus on newspapers/magazines, voter handbooks, consumer contracts, employee and product assembly manuals and how-to books.

·      Replace one year of History/Government to Psychology for Life.  The focus  would be on conflict resolution, coping with anxieties, teasing/cliquishness, self-esteem, drug abuse and sexuality.

·      Replace one year of math to Math for Life, creating real-life scenarios such as how to calculate and estimate mortgage payments etc.

·      Replace one year of Science to Information Literacy and allow students to gain optimal use of Internet, libraries, and interviewing to obtain desired information.


Reforming and or/reinventing schools requires more than just making fundamental changes to the school environment.  True reform involves a commitment from administrators, teachers, students, parents and policy leaders.  It is promoting a school culture that is flexibility in its operational procedures and accountable in delivery of its instructional programs.  Perhaps, periodic follow-ups may help to remedy failure. 



Cited References:






Friday, November 13, 2009

New Jersey Core Content Standards

A solid education foundation is the primary objective for our schools. I believe teachers need a direction of what materials and information they need to disseminate to their students. A school curriculum based on solid and effective knowledge and principles are essential for the success of any institution of education. The state of New Jersey has provided a great template for all schools to reference and follow in order to create a valuable learning environment and a high level of instruction. The New Jersey Core Standards (NJCCS) is a guide for schools to use as a template for teachers to enhance their unique style through creative ideas. These standards are currently in a revision process and will be implemented in phases according to content area starting in the fall of 2009.
The New Jersey Department of Education has stated several goals regarding the NJCCS. First, the NJCCS “defines what all students should know and be able to do by the end of their public school education”. This criterion gives schools a tangible goal to achieve for all grade levels within all curricular content areas. Next, “It describes the knowledge and skills all NJ students are expected to acquire by benchmark grades”. This criterion provides the teachers an idea of where the student stands in their content area and where they should be in their knowledge and understanding of the material. Once the teachers are aware of the student’s level of knowledge, then they can begin to develop and implement strategies to help the student improve and meet the benchmark standards.
However, the teacher cannot do this alone. They need the support and direction from a positive administration and curriculum team. The following goals of NJCCS are legal requirements developed for the purpose to hold the teachers and schools accountable. NJ state law dictates that “These standards are established for the provision of a thorough and efficient education pursuant to N.J.S.A 18-A: 7F-4 and for the basis for evaluation of school districts in accordance with N.J.A.C. 6A:30-1.4”. Also, “NJAC 6A: 8 – requires districts to align all curriculum to the standards to ensure teachers provide instruction according to the standards, to ensure student performance is assessed in each content area and to provide teachers with opportunities for professional development that focuses on the standards.”
To better comprehend the makeup and rationale of the NJCCS, one needs to understand the foundational principles and design of curriculum. Ralph Tyler can be considered the father of modern curriculum design. His approach is straightforward and rationale. It allows the user to understand curriculum design in a non-threatening and less confusing manner compared to earlier models or theories. According to Ralph Tyler, his model works because it is “Reasonable and workable with many people and the approach works regardless of context or one’s philosophical orientation.” Tyler provided a model for the masses which propelled education in the United States to a higher level of effectiveness and understanding. The Tyler Model is founded on four basic principles which are “to determine the schools purpose, to identify educational experiences related to those purposes, to ascertain how the experiences are organized and to evaluate the purpose. (Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues. Ornstein. 2009)” These principles are the driving force of any curriculum and are still used by modern curricular design experts like Wiggins and McTighe.
The “Backward Design Model “is the creation of curricular experts Wiggins and McTighe. These individuals are responsible for the task of redesigning the New Jersey Core Content Standards. The “2009 Standards Revision Project” is structured using the “Backward Design Model”. Wiggins and McTighe content that the designer needs to “consider possible contents” that they want to incorporate in their curriculum. Then they need to “narrow choices to the important contents” because the selected content material needs to fit the culture and overall objectives of the school. Last, the designer “selects the final enduring contents”. They achieve these criteria by “identifying expected end points, determining evidence, and then planning the learning experiences”.
The 2009 New Jersey Core Content Standards Revision Project is being designed to propel New Jersey education to the next level of excellence. Our society is constantly changing and evolving with the advent of incredible technologies and challenges both domestic and international. It appears the NJCCS are trying to address this change by creating a more modern and realistic design that takes into account the new skills and knowledge required for our students to succeed in the 21st Century. The NJCCS revision project has created a website that identifies and emphasizes these essential skills. You can access this website by going to in order to understand how “technology integration, Interdisciplinary connections, and the Infusion of global perspectives” are going to be used for the benefit of New Jersey teachers, administrators and students.
This is a time of change and development in our educational system. I believe that the NJCCS will greatly assist our school in achieve the high goals and standards set for by President Obama and the New Jersey Department of Education. However, in the end, it is up to the individual New Jersey school districts to embrace this change and rationale and to effectively implement the revised NJCCS into their schools. If the schools are successful in their implementation, then New Jersey school could lead the charge of achieving President Obama’s vision that “by 2020, the USA will have the largest percentage of college graduates in the world.”

No Child Left Behind and the Obama Administration

President Barack Obama is quoted in saying that “Achieving a quality education for children is the civil rights issue of our generation. (p.25, Quality Education is our Moon Shot)” If education is such a vital part of our society, where is the action from the Obama administration? I agree with the majority of the educators I work with and interact with that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 is severely flawed and punishes school districts and teachers based on a snapshot of performance from the schools standardized tests. What will the new administration do to make the necessary changes to our education system in order to effectively and realistically evaluate student learning and not punish the students?

The best person to answer this question is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He is the primary spokesperson and leader in the Obama administration on education. In an interview by Phi Delta Kappa, Secretary Duncan states that by 2020, President Obama wants to again have the largest percentage of college graduates in the world” (p24, Quality Education is our Moon Shot). They plan to achieve this goal through the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This Act was instituted in 1965 and has seen many versions including NCLB in 2002. The changing or reauthorization of this Act appears to be the Obama Administration’s attempt to separate themselves from the Bush Administration and NCLB. Also, this change may bring education front and center allowing President Obama to focus on this ‘civil rights issue’.

The Obama administration and Secretary Duncan have made many promises since taking office in January, but no action has occurred. Another education promise is that they want “common, career-ready standards that would be internationally marked” (p25, Quality Education is our Moon Shot). This initiative is repeated in many articles I have researched. A common question being asked regarding the Obama administration’s educational plan is “how you think you can change NCLB from what many perceive to be a test-and-punish law to a law that is really focused on improving student learning? Secretary Duncan replied in saying “I will always give NCLB credit for exposing achievement gaps and for requiring that we measure our efforts to improve education by looking at outcomes, rather than inputs”. (Reauthorization of ESEA: Why we can’t wait) However, the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that they are “more interested in gain and growth than in absolute test scores.” (pg. 26; Quality Education is our Moon Shot)

To achieve these goals, President Obama has pledged to provide federal funding to the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary education Act (ESEA), which he believes will improve our national education system. The reforms the Obama Administration wants to achieve with these funds are four fold: 1) Adopt internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace. 2) Recruit, develop, retain, and reward effective teachers and principals. 3) Build data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices.4) Turn around the lowest-performing schools. (pg. 26; Quality Education is our Moon Shot)

Unfortunately, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama have other national priorities to focus on before implementing their idealistic education plan. According to Secretary Duncan in a speech he made in October stating “the work of reauthorizing ESEA begins in states and districts across America—among educators and policy makers, parents and community leaders. This work is as urgent as it is important. In the coming weeks, our task is to unite education stakeholders behind a national school reform movement that reaches into every town and city—and we need your help to do it.” (Reauthorization of ESEA: Why We Can't Wait, October 23, 2009). These efforts are going to take a considerable amount of time and effort, especially from Secretary Duncan. In the meantime, President Obama’s priorities are focused on the Economy, Healthcare, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am very concerned that Education reform will not be fourth on the priority list, but pushed further down the line of bureaucratic and legislative red tape. What happens if President Obama does not get reelected and unable to fulfill his promises? I am hoping for President Obama to fulfill some of his educational promises in the near future, but as of right now, he is just kissing the proverbial “baby”.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reinventing Schools

Since the 1983 report on the state of American education, A Nation at Risk, there has been two decades of pressure from business and political leaders and others to change the public education system. The simple solution that most pursue are mostly procedural changes like extending school days, better texts and harder curriculum. To be successful we need to find out if what is taught is relevant, does it address the deeper sense of what it means to be educated. If not, curricular content and pedagogical delivery may need to be reconfigured.
According to the research, in order for schools to achieve high academic standards for all students they must progress through three stages (Why, What and How). The first is convincing parents, educators and community members why the school needs change. Second is using reliable data to determine what needs to changed after people understand why. This step would include the educational vision of the school, what will be taught and a view of the organizational instruction. Third is determining how to change the school once everyone embraces the why and what. These three steps, in sequence, articulate the problem before finding the solution. Many schools do the opposite and any change would be ineffective if those involved do not believe in or understand what needs to be changed.
In the most successful high schools the staff and administration embrace change as exciting and challenging rather than threatening and intimidating. The explosion of technology requires breakthrough thinking. Students need to work harder, faster and smarter than their predecessors. Schools need to be able to prepare students to meet the future demands that will be placed upon them. Kodak was unprepared for the widespread adoption of digital photography; it had to lay off one quarter of its workforce in 2004. The old rules don’t apply and an “it’s always been done that way” attitude will not do. The agrarian calendar is not a good match with preparing students for the digital age.
Schools should develop a student focused vision and common focus that helps identify what changes need to be made. In general, throughout history there have been four roles of education, fostering intellectual development, preparing students to be productive citizens, for higher education and for the world of work. Over the past few decades our country has gone through some dramatic changes that require workers to have a new set of skills from those schools have traditionally provided. The tendency has been to rely on old tride and true curriculum but this old methodology is from and education system that would select and sort students, not help them achieve high standards of proficiency. The goal should be to teach students how to think not what to think. It is important to learn how to learn and embrace change so students can succeed in a changing society. To be successful schools need to help students apply high levels of cognitive knowledge to real life unpredictable situations.
Once the student focused vision is created what to teach must be identified. Many schools came to the conclusion that their curriculum is over crowded. A decision needs to be made on what is essential to learn, what is nice to know and what should be eliminated. A majority of successful high schools have identified literacy and writing as essential. An example is that several schools studied had a high percentage of freshmen not proficient enough in reading. The schools made a major commitment to an intensive literacy program in the 9th grade. They recognized that strong literacy skills would prevent academic struggle, frustration and drop outs. In successful schools teachers are trained and expected to teach reading within their individual disciplines. Also a commitment was made to rigorous 11th and 12 grade programs which mainly comprised of advanced math, science, language arts and social study courses.
Most schools developed small learning communities. Relevance is critical; it can help create the conditions and motivation for students to dedicate themselves to rigorous work. This demand requires students to take their own learning seriously. They are more likely to make this investment if they know that teachers, parents and other students actually care how well they do. They will try harder if they are connected, encouraged and assisted. So everyone needs to be involved and trusting relationships are essential.
After discovering why, identifying what and determining how they need to change the true challenge is breaking free of traditions and standard operation procedures. In general one third of the faculty will be excited, one third will be open minded but tentative and one third will resist. High performing schools seem to engage the top third to create and implement the plan for change. The middle third is asked to analyze evaluate and volunteer to use components of the plan, they usually come on board within a year. Successful leaders have found that when it is admitted up front that the plan will need frequent adjustments, the bottom third will get involved over time.
As schools make these changes they must analyze how they are doing along the way. They need to revamp, refine and redirect decisions and plans in place. School leaders should not worry about how many mistakes they make but whether they learned from coped with and made adjustments as needed.

Helicopter Parenting

As the issue of Helicopter Parenting becomes more rampant in schools, sports, colleges and life in general, opinions on the subject are on the rise and vary significantly considering the sources. Helicopter parenting is just as it sounds: parents hovering over and micromanaging their children's lives in each and everything they do. Some state this involvement as a good thing, as long as it is not along the lines of over-parenting, which is defined as "not letting your kids take the consequences for their actions, and swooping down to rescue them" (Aucoin, 2007, as quoted by Barbara Defoe). But, define one as the other and there may be trouble in paradise. Of course, being involved in your children's lives is a necessity of raising a healthy, mature, young adult; but, parents beware, being a helicopter parent may produce just the opposite of the above; a dependant, immature, whiny brat. And, as anyone can see from the sense of entitlement that some of the children from this generation have, helicopter parenting is a big problem that calls for immediate attention and remediation.
Helicopter parenting becomes a problem when a parent is so involved in their child's life that they write papers for them, make the sole decisions of what one's career or college major may be, do science projects or book reports on their child's behalf, bring their child's homework to school for them because they forgot it, or is constantly giving advice in problem situations, such as arguments with friends, that it hinders their overall development of decision making, responsibility and people skills. Oh, and not to mention the parents who involve ALL of their children in EVERY sport or extracurricular activity possible and make it a necessity to attend EVERY practice and EVERY game! But, are these examples just cases of parents living vicariously through their own children due to the disadvantages they encountered while growing up? If so, good for them for making better lives for their children, but do they ever stop and think how all of this involvement is running their children ragged and hindering them of developing important life skills of their own? This over involvement in extracurricular activities and sports leaves no room for the developing imaginations that are formed during free play. Even a three year old knows what play is and the importance of it in their lives. In the article, “Helicopter Parents make Kids into Prisoners" (Yahoo news, 2009), when asked what play was, a three year old was quoted saying "It's what happens when everyone else has stopped telling me what to do."
In the ABC News article "Do Helicopter Moms do More Harm than Good" a mother of two sons, aged 18 and 21 is described. She states she proof-reads their papers, makes them to-do list e-mails, balances their check books, organizes their schedules and does their laundry! When is enough finally enough? This is a perfect scenario of two grown men who are being “babied” by their mother and will ultimately make a miserable life for the women they will marry, if anyone is up to the challenge of filling Mommy's shoes. And it doesn't stop there! The mother, Ms. Lewis, was quoted as stating "...we don't know how to balance much of our lives yet when we're 18." This statement is basically telling her sons, and everyone else, that 18 year old adults are incompetent at making their own decisions and being in control of their own lives! This leads one to ask the pertinent question, when do we draw the line? Fortunately, The University of Vermont knows how to answer this question; helicopter parenting has become such a problem at the college level that they have implemented a strict "hands-off" policy ( Even at the elementary and high school levels, helicopter parenting might very well make certain situations more stressful. For example, a child who does not do too well on a math test may have a parent who immediately rushes to school to protest the grade. Due to lack of communication, the parent may be unaware that their child is just not interested in math, but is more interested in art (Krache, 2008). The act of the parent therefore creates a stressful situation not only between teacher and parent, but possibly between teacher and student as well.
Despite all of the negative attention helicopter parenting may be receiving, there are some aspects that may be beneficial to children in the long run. Because parents are so involved in their children's lives, this accustoms children to interacting with adults. According to an article published in the Seattle Times, "Helicopter Parents, Stereotype Challenged" (2007) children whose parents were deeply involved in their lives were "more likely to have after class discussions with professors...and are more likely to talk with faculty and peers about substantive topics." Although, the parental involvement did not show an improvement in grades; in fact, the grades of students whose parents were involved in their lives were lower than those students whose parents were not. According to the Boston Globe, helicopter parents are needed more now days than ever (Aucoin, 2009). Since adolescence is seen as a tough time for teenagers socially, emotionally and psychologically, and taking into account the current state of our economy, helicopter parents may provide the tools and financial assistance to help their children get out of sticky situations. Some also believe that helicopter parenting allows parents and children to develop close and lasting bonds throughout their lives. Other positives on helicopter parenting involve the parents always knowing what's going on in their children's lives and children being able to learn from their parent’s mistakes.
Whatever one’s take on helicopter parenting may be parents, students, teachers and coaches alike need to be aware of the consequences that may result from this type of involvement in one’s life. The above mentioned should also remember that the opposite of helicopter parenting is not negligence, but a healthy bond between parent and child that allows a child to learn responsibility by making their own decisions and taking the steps necessary to avoid mistakes and punishments later down the road.

Aucoin, Don. “For Some, Helicopter Parenting Delivers Benefits.” The Boston Globe, 3 March 2009. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.
“Do Helicopter Moms do More Harm than Good?” ABC News, 21 October, 2009. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.
“Helicopter Parents make Kids into Prisoners.” Yahoo! News UK, 29 October, 2009. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.
“Helicopter Parents Stereotype Challenged.” Seattle Times, 7 November 2007. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Multiple Cultures in One Culture

In a small school in south eastern Pennsylvania, the morning homeroom bell rings and about 90 students shuffle into their auditorium homeroom for the morning announcements. What follows the administrative broadcast is insulting to our military personnel and indicative of the deterioration of patriotic culture in education. Out of the 90 students seated in the auditorium, roughly 15 or so stand for the pledge of allegiance. Worse yet, at a school in southern New Jersey, the pledge of allegiance might be broadcasted a total of four days out of the 181 days in a school year. This is just one example of what is sacrificed to make a more harmonious blend of various cultures. From this, it would seem that the acceptance of so many cultures sometimes means the fading of the American culture.

According to The US census bureau it is projected that by 2042 population will no longer make up the majority. Currently, non-Hispanic, single-race, white individuals make-up 74% of the US population. By 2050, the Hispanic population is expected to double, comprising 30% (one in three) of the nation’s population. But beyond the numbers are daily examples of cultural acceptance and integration.

Almost as equally as the country of Mexico, non-Hispanic Americans embrace the celebration of independence known as “Cinco de Mayo.” Retailers no longer wish customers a Merry Christmas but take a more accepting approach with a “Happy Holidays” greeting, referring to Christmas, Kwanza, and Chanukah. More affirmatively, is there a large-scale customer service automation that does not start with “Para habla en espanol, marque o prima el dos.?”

From the perspective of a national community, and specifically in public schools, we are moving from a sense of conformity to that of acceptance and integration. There is enjoyment in the notion that we should no longer consider our country a “melting pot” but rather a “salad bowl” of cultural identity. However, with so many cultures and ethnic backgrounds residing in one country or, is it not rather paradoxical to expect diverse citizens of a multicultural community to accept and embrace other views, religions, and celebrations, and yet remain distinct?

Set aside for a moment the inevitability of shifting demographics. Consider that the “preparation for tomorrow” is a key principle in education. Educators are called to prepare students for (among other issues) a community of diverse cultures. Emphasizing this ideal are government policies, rising immigration numbers, and legislation reactive to cultural dilemmas within a community. Thus students are now immersed in schools where socioeconomic status, learning ability, gender and sexual preferences vary greatly among students. Therefore, the days of cultures losing their identity in the wash of American education have passed. Rather, gaining popularity is the idea of acceptance for all.

The force of inevitability begs the question: To what end should we or shouldn't we recognize, honor, and celebrate every culture? Should we celebrate a culture who's middle-eastern kin are in the midst of a bloody feud with American soldiers who are also American parents? Falling under the rules of the “global acceptance” ideal, shouldn't we include days of worship for Islam in the school calendar? Would it be any less harmful to American culture than giving students the option to say the pledge of allegiance? Is there a culture among us who refuse, and therefore are not required to pay taxes according to their “views?”

Multiculturalism in education has a positive impact on our students as it prepares them for an imminently diverse future. Granted, the demographics are rapidly shifting. Therefore, we need to embrace such a concept, but contemplate how much acceptance is appropriate before we unconsciously ignore the foundations of education and our country.

Multiculturalism - Is This a "Real" Issue in Education?

There are many different definitions of a multicultural education. Following are some of the definitions that I have gathered:

1. Learning about cultural diversity through revision of curriculum and textbooks
2. Making schools more culturally fair, accepting and balanced
3. Developing individual teacher definitions to fit specific needs instead of imposing a universal structure
4. Facilitating the teaching and learning of basic literacy skills of ethnically different students
5. Implementing a process of change in schools that will ultimately extend to society

The main goal of a multicultural education is to provide an equal chance for students from diverse racial, ethnic, social-class and cultural groups to achieve academic success. In order to do this, students need to acquire the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to function effectively in society. A multicultural education also helps educators to fulfill the goals of maximizing human potential, meeting individual needs and teaching the whole child by enhancing feelings of personal worth, confidence, and competence.

The need for a multicultural education is demonstrated in certain statistics such as the current unemployment rates for the United States. The third quarter of 2009 averages demonstrate that the number of black or African Americans unemployed almost doubles the number of white Americans unemployed. The number of Hispanic or Latino Americans were 1.5 times the number of white Americans unemployed.

USA Today recently printed the article, “SAT scores show disparities by race, gender, family income”. While the average SAT score for white students in the class of 2009 was 1581, the average for Asian students was 1623, the average for African American students was 1276, the average for Latino students was 1364, the average for Mexican Americans was 1362, the average for students reporting family incomes of $200,000 or more was 1701 and the average for students reporting family incomes between $60,000 and $80,000 was 1506. These statistics may suggest that students of color and students of lower income families perform worse than white American students and students in higher income families. South Jersey Magazine stated that one reason for the disparity in test scores may be economic disparity. “The kids who can afford it are taking prep courses.”

There are widely divergent views on whether a problem actually exists. Teachers, depending on where they teach and their position within their school will define the issue differently. Some schools do not even appear to have a multicultural issue. But perhaps the issue is invisible to those not suffering from it! It appears to me that students’ suffering is not due to race but is due to poverty perhaps caused by or connected to their cultural differences.


US Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics Unemployment Data
USA Today – 8/25/09 – SAT Scores
Youtube – Everyday Struggles over Race in K-12 Settings
“A Synthesis of Scholarship in Multicultural Education” by Geneva Gay

Year-Round Schooling

Year-Round Schooling (YRS) is a hotly debated topic among parents and educators. With the backing of President Obama’s administration, the issue seems most likely to heat up even more so in the coming years. Currently most schools operate under the agrarian-based schedule of 180 days per year with a 3 month break over the summer months. The YRS schedule, which has been adopted by some schools, consists of smaller breaks throughout the year without the large summer gap (i.e. 45 school days and then a 15 day break). The number of actual days in school, however is unchanged in most schools (180 days) and many schools utilize a multitrack calendar in which there are different tracks of students on different schedules. In this model there is always at least one track on vacation all year round.
There are several proposed benefits of YRS. First, the multitrack calendar can allow schools to maximize resources. For example if there is always a track of students on vacation, schools can fit more students into smaller buildings and save millions in new building costs. Many proponents of YRS also believe it will prevent the regression they feel many students experience from being off for three months in the summer and thus lead to improved student achievement. A study by the New York Board of Regents (1978) found that students forget information over the summer months, particularly disadvantaged students and students for whom English is a second language. Another advantage to YRS is that schools can also offer intersession which include remedial, advanced and enrichment programs.
Some parents are also proponents of YRS because working parents will not have to worry about what to do with their children in the summer. More teachers might also to be able to seek extra compensation for the summer months. Also, although YRS would perhaps cut down on vacations in the summer month, some in the travel industry believe such a schedule would be a boon to selling vacations during other times in the year, which are currently thought of as off-peak months.
Opponents of YRS maintain the point that research into the effect of YRS on student achievement is mixed and contradictory. For example some research has found that students in schools with YRS programs achieve as well or slightly better than their peers in traditional schools programs (Palmer & Bemis, 1999; Kneese, 1996). Other research, however has found no significant relationship between YRS and improved student achievement (Cooper, et al., 2003). Clearly with the multitude of variables it may be difficult to fully understand this relationship. For example many times schools who adopt a YRS schedule are also making many other significant changes in their schools which can also affect student outcomes.
Other opponents to YRS point to the many family issues that may be created by moving to this type of calendar. For example families with children in different YRS tracks at a school or children who attend both YRS and non-YRS schools will have much difficulty arranging vacations or even just days for a babysitter. YRS could also destroy entire towns which have been summer long vacation destinations as well as the summer camps business in general. Finally YRS could also become very expensive in terms of keeping facilities (i.e. air conditioning in buildings) going through the summer months as well as the extra pay teachers would demand to come in throughout the year.
In conclusion there is no clear evidence for the efficacy of YRS, though the topic does raise some valid points to consider in improving student achievement. Some solutions could be considered to ensure year-long learning taking into consideration some of the practical concerns involved. YRS could be an option for students and parents who would rather use the summer to further develop their education. Working parents may be interested in paying school districts extra for academic supports especially after-school for unsupervised children. Supplemental education programs can also be utilized in in summer vacation towns such as morning classes (i.e. 730-1130am)to ensure at least some year-long learning. Such modifications could be helpful in swaying some of the detractors to YRS programs.
Richard Allen

Friday, November 6, 2009

Helicopter Parents

Helicopter Parents: Ya’ Gotta Love ‘Em
By Kristina E. Bergman

First, let’s define the term, Helicopter Parents as parents ‘who are omnipresent, super-involved and determined to achieve the best for their children’. Doesn’t sound too ominous, does it? Well, let’s continue with more of the definition as, ‘…and they will pursue that goal even if they have to write their offspring’s' job applications, iron their shirts before they go for an interview, and then drive them to work on their first day in the office’. For the children in the lower grades, they can be a teacher’s and administrator’s nightmare. Not only are they overprotective and pay close attention to their child’s every move, they always seem to tune into the negative aspects of their education, insisting that their child is the high achiever and didn’t deserve that low grade or should have received the lead in the school play regardless of who else was in the running. Also, if a discipline issue arises, they will be the first in your office arguing that their child would never have done the questionable deed and must have been influenced by some ne’er-do-well acquaintance at the school.
In retrospect, I myself was a Helicopter Parent to a certain extent. I have three sons, who seemed to always forget something, whether it was lunch money for the week, or leaving their band instrument at home, or missing the bus because they were in the bathroom too long and lost track of time. When they were much younger, and I was a stay-at-home mom, I did run that instrument to the school, find the missing notebook and take it the office, and even took them to school if they happened to oversleep and miss the bus. As they got older, I still continued to shuttle items to the school, but as I had started to substitute teach and work full time in the school system, the ability to get forgotten and misplaced items for my irresponsible boys became nil. To a certain extent, they became more independent and responsible for themselves, but the pattern of behavior had been set. To this day, they still try to get me to do certain things for them, but I remind them that they need to be more responsible for themselves and their behavior and face the consequences of actions or non-action, whatever it may be. Therefore, children need to become independent thinkers and learn on their own, even if they have to fall on their faces periodically to make them realize they are responsible for their own actions and there is not necessarily a failsafe to save them from themselves.
Fortunately, there are some pros to the Helicopter Parent stigma. Those parents tend to keep their kids in line and constantly make them accountable for grades through the use of on-line grade portals, such as K-12 Planet and OnCourse. They can also back you up in regards to behavior issues. For example, if a student has an issue in the classroom with a teacher, some Helicopter Parents will side with you and get the issue resolved quickly, dealing out their own punishment, as well as a school detention. Some Helicopter Parents, if you get enough of them on board with a school wide issue, can possibly sway the decision in the school’s favor by helping to change the Board’s decision. Another positive aspect of Helicopter Parenting is found in a quote from reporter Don Aucoin of the Boston Globe. He writes: “Moreover, they say, with the economy in a deep swoon, helicopter parents may have a vital role to play as career counselors or even as providers of financial aid to their offspring.” I myself have been counseling my middle son as to what career path he would like to follow. Being a teacher, I planted a seed of interest in him and showed him, by example and discussion, the benefits of choosing such a career. He is currently in his second year at Salem Community College as a Mathematics/Education major, and plans to continue his studies at Rowan University next fall. He is even contemplating doing a double major including Physics as a course of study as well. He could not have accomplished what he has so far financially without the aid assistance benefit from the NJ Stars program and my income tax information.
As students get older and become adults, they should become more responsible for themselves. If they are always being bailed out by parents, how are they to survive in this global economy and make it in the world on their own? The responsibility does become the parents’ to teach these students how to make it on their own by giving them opportunities to do just that. Show them how to write checks, balance a checking account, open a savings account, and be an example of good work ethics. Encourage them to open a credit account and, in the beginning, guide them on how to pay early and establish a good credit rating. If they miss a payment, it is on them to pay it and be responsible for their account. When in trouble with the law, the student should face the consequences, pay the fine, and go to court. The parent should not be bailing them out or arguing in court on their behalf; that is what lawyers are for. If the student is an adult, he should act like an adult and not lean on his/her parent to ‘save’ them.
While researching Helicopter Parents, I found Fresher’s Guide for parents of College/University age students. It is pretty cut and dried, but great advice.
Fresher’s Guide
How not to be a helicopter parent when you have university-age children:
1) After settling your children into university, don't reappear until the end of term, except in emergencies.
2) Don't try to steer them towards particular careers. Be there to advise, but no more.
3) Think twice before accompanying your children to careers fairs. The jobs market is one in which they must learn to shop for themselves.
4) Under no circumstances contact prospective employers of your children directly to negotiate salaries. Such interference will be resented.
5) Don't get drawn into acting as a chauffeur, sock-washer, bank manager or short-order chef for your children once they have passed the age of 18. You may get appreciation in the short term, but you risk infantilizing them.
6) Greet each new boyfriend/girlfriend with an insouciant shrug. In love, as in all else, let your children make their own mistakes.

Belkin, Lisa. "The Way We Live Now: Let the Kid Be." Motherlode Blog. The Times Magazine, 29 May 2009. Web. 8 Oct. 2009. .

Belkin, Lisa. "In Defense of Helicopter Parents." Motherlode Blog. The Times Magazine, 4 May 2009. Web. 8 Oct. 2009. .

Flores, Emilio. "Helicopter parents? Eew!" Opinion L.A. Los Angeles Times, 2 Sept. 2009. Web. 8 Oct. 2009.
My personal experiences