Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Separation of Church and State

The phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the constitution, even though it is upheld by this doctrine. As part of the first amendment’s establishment and free exercise clause, the constitution states, “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Little did the writers of the 1787 document know what a profound impact these few words would have on public education.

Separation of church and state was not specifically addressed until five years after the constitution was drafted. In a letter to Danbury Baptist Church Association in Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson introduced the metaphor as a “wall of separation between church and state” in response to requests on making a religious public address around the Thanksgiving Holiday. Although Jefferson saw separation of religion and government as necessary, it took almost another 150 years for this phrase to permeate the field of public education.

In 1947, the U.S. Supreme court heard the case of Everson versus the Board of Education. Everson was filing a petition saying that tax-raised funding should not be used to pay for the busing of parochial school students. The Court, however, did not agree with Everson’s stance, stating “the state must remain neutral, not adversarial in its relation with religious groups….[although] the wall between church and state must be kept high and impregnable.” It was only after this landmark court case that this common phrase became mainstream. The caseload surrounding separation of church and state in public education since this time period has grown exponentially.

Much of the debate arises over how to respect individual religious rights under the umbrella of public education. As The United States becomes more religiously diverse, these cases are becoming more complex. In the past, America was a primarily Christian nation; however, the influx of several new cultures and religions over the years has forced citizens of the United States to expand their view on religious rights. It was not until recently, that any official guidelines on the role of religion in public education were established.

In 1995, after fifty years of controversy, President Clinton directed the U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, to develop a list of guidelines describing the extent to which religious activity and expression could be addressed in public schools. Riley highlights ten aspects of religion in public education and lays the foundation for what can and cannot be done in public schools. Riley works to “neither foster religion nor preclude it” in public schools. This document highlights courses of action for graduation and baccalaureate practices as well as student assignments and school literature. A diverse group of religious individuals, who were attempting to find common ground for religion in public education, influenced Riley. This group consisted of 37 different religious groups who established a canon, “Religion in Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law,” which addresses a common concern: public education should be a “religion-free zone.” This document offers educators the knowledge of legally acceptable religious practices in public education.

These recent attempts to clear the murky waters of religion in public education have come after a long series of battles both for and against religious stances in education. Court cases have emerged on leading organized prayer, teaching evolution, and religious clubs. In most of these cases, an extremist, either for or against religion in education, attempts to levy his or her point of view at the Supreme Court level. It is the court’s place to help keep public education in balance with respect to the constitution, so that it neither endorses nor excludes a particular sect. Evolution, for instance, has been a heated topic in education. Extreme religious advocates would have taken the stance that evolution should be completely removed from the science curriculum in public education. However, extreme anti-religious sects would argue that evolution should be the only theory expressed in the science program of study. Both views need balance. Creationists need to leave room for the educational process in science, while evolution fanatics must also realize that their view is also only a theory.

Throughout the past sixty years of debate over the separation of church and state in public education, more steps have been taken to establish a balanced practice in schools. Students are permitted to be religious individuals, and faculty is responsible for ensuring students’ beliefs are not forced onto classmates. “Religious Expression in Public Schools” and “Religion In the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law” are two examples of the present documents aiding educators in establishing this balance.

Charter Schools

Charter Schools
By Amy Hubbs

Charter schools are public schools that are funded through the district in which they are located. According to Public School Review, they tend to be small schools, with a median enrollment of 242 students and serve different communities with a variety of curriculum and instructional practices. A charter school cannot charge tuition and is required to be open to all students on a space-available basis. If the number of students seeking admission is larger than the number that can be admitted, charter schools will use a lottery system or keep waiting lists. These schools run independently of the traditional public school system and tailor their programs to fit the needs of the communities. They are required, by law, to meet the same academic standards and assessment requirements adopted by the Department of Education for all public schools and adhere to their charter contract. Charter contracts last between three and five years. If a charter school does not meet the state standards for educational effectiveness and fiscal responsibilities, it can be closed.

First of all, charter schools create a choice to parents and students within the public school system. Since many charter schools are located in urban areas, they provide an alternative to the area’s public schools, which may be underperforming. A charter school also has the power to select its curriculum and can tailor it to meet the needs of its students. As mentioned above, charter schools tend to have smaller numbers of students, which allows for more instruction and support for individual students. in addition, charter schools have a great accountability to get results. If the school fails to measure up to state standards, students may be pulled out or the charter can be taken away altogether.

On the other hand, charter schools are taking money away from public education. Charter schools are funded by the district in which they are located, and they are also eligible for state and federal funding. Traditionally, charter schools are small in size and have a limited number of available spaces for students. Therefore, they can only provide an option for a limited number of families. Additionally, these schools have fewer resources and money for start-up costs, which can result in poor facilities and a lack of classroom resources. Charter schools can also be easily closed due to poor management or financial problems. From a teacher’s perspective, charter schools are not unionized. This is a disadvantage to teachers because they are not protected in the same ways as a public school teacher.

In sum, the debate about whether charter schools are more effective than public schools is not going away. With our current administration in support of charter schools, it will probably become a more heated topic. We must keep in mind that the debate is not about whether charter schools are better than public schools. In fact, it is about which individual schools use their tools effectively and are producing students that are ready to contend with our global competitors. According to President Obama, “The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens.”

NCLB in Obama Administration

Mary Higgs
No Child Left Behind in the Obama Administration
In March, President Obama issued his Blueprint for Reform which is his reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The name No Child Left Behind (NCLB) will no longer be used due to the controversy surrounding the current act. President Obama wrote a letter that explains his new reform efforts. He stresses that our students need to compete on a global scale. His goal, therefore, is that by 2020, “the United States will once again lead the world in college completion”. Obama feels that the key to this success will be the nation’s teachers, school leaders, and principals. Obama also recognizes that communities and families also play a part in a child’s education. However, some would argue that all of the responsibility for this new plan is placed on educators. One criticism of Bush’s NCLB was that there was not enough funding to follow through with necessary interventions. President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, want to see the federal government play a leading role in reforms for schools while still giving a lot of flexibility to states individual initiatives.

The Obama proposal will provide funds both to states and districts to assist in funding for the development of effective teachers and leaders. He would like to see teachers and leaders rewarded for their effectiveness. It is also very important for effective teachers and leaders to be in schools that are struggling. States will be asked to become more involved with teacher preparation programs. They will monitor their effectiveness and also invest in programs that are developing successful graduates.

Under President Obama, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, expects that all students graduate from high school ready for college and a career, no matter their income, ethnic or language background, race, or disability status. States are being asked to develop standards in language arts and mathematics that prepare students for college or careers. States can upgrade their current standards or also work together to adapt common standards. While NCLB placed emphasis on mathematics and science, President Obama will also focus on history, technology, the arts, literacy, civics, and foreign languages. Assessments will be put in place to better assess higher- order skills and also provide measurements of student growth.

One big difference between Bush’s plan and Obama’s plan is the emphasis on reward and punishment. President Obama not only wants to reward teachers but also schools and school districts. The focus will switch from students passing a grade level test each year, such as the NJ Ask, to students showing improvement from year to year and closing the achievement gap. The Race to the Top incentive will continue. Schools that are willing to take part in the comprehensive reforms will be rewarded. Obama supports the expansion of public charter schools and also the option for public school choice within and across school districts.

The ultimate goal of Obama’s plan is to make all students’ college or career ready by 2020. One way to do that is by supporting early education including the Head Start program. As we know, it is important that students come to kindergarten prepared for school. States are expected to examine their standards and ensure that they are properly preparing students for high school graduation and either college or careers.

Schools that are not succeeding will be labeled “Challenge Schools”. These schools will be forced to implement one of the models suggested by Obama as an intervention. Grants will be given to these schools to assist with the needed interventions. Interventions can be severe including hiring new leadership, teachers, and even closing the school. Therefore, while this plan promotes rewards, there are specific punishments in place for failing schools.

While this plan has just been recently released, a lot of good and bad criticism has already been discussed. According to Fox News, The American Federation of Teachers is concerned that all of the responsibility for failing students will be placed on teachers and school leaders. They feel that if teachers are unable to consistently produce successful students, they will be penalized financially. The National Education Association (NEA) feels that the new plan is going to force states to compete against one another for critical resources. This is due to the part of the plan that rewards highly successful teachers and districts. The hope of the NEA was the funding would be equally distributed among the states. Another concern is that there is still too much emphasis placed on standardized tests. Standardized tests are still one of the ways that Obama suggests we use to measure students success. It is a tough issue because there is not many other ways to assess student’s progress and compare them to students across the country. Teacher’s unions worry that as the criteria of teacher preparation programs become more rigorous, we are not providing a better work force but actually creating a teacher shortage. Teacher’s unions feel that NCLB under former President Bush was not effective. They are not convinced that President Obama’s changes are enough to make the bill effective. According to the New York Times, lawmakers from Oklahoma, Alaska, and North Carolina are concerned that the new plan does not effectively help rural schools and may actually hurt them.

Supporters of Obama’s plan are confident that these changes will help the plan become more effective. Supporters of the bill feel that accountability standards are necessary to foster achievement and growth in all districts. This is a point that most people, including teacher unions, agree with. NCLB keeps the focus on reading, writing, and math. The new plan continues to ensure that special education students, English language learners, minorities, and low-income families receive the same education as everyone else. Education week reports that state superintendents sat down to talk to Arne Duncan about the proposed changes in NCLB. Alabama’s state superintendent said that the meeting was productive and they are off to a good start. Duncan is listening to concerns from these top educators and wants to work together.

It seems that most people are in agreement that high standards are a necessary part of education. Overall, there are many positive points in the blueprint President Obama has created. However, many people feel that they need to see the changes before they support the plan.

School Choice and Vouchers March 31, 2010

School Choice and Vouchers
By Donna Lacovara
“We cannot continue to pour money into schools that won't teach. As opposed to subsidizing failure, we ought to free the parents to make a different choice.” George W. Bush.
The advantages of offering school choice to families are many. According to the Washington Post, 2009, A U.S. Education Department study found that District students who were given vouchers to attend private schools outperformed public school peers on reading tests. Research on the value of school vouchers are difficult to contest when results like these are proven. The Anti-Defamation League also adds that a benefit to school vouchers is that the standard program proposed in dozens of states across the country would distribute money vouchers to parents of school-age children, usually in troubled inner-city school districts. Theoretically, this approach is seen as a benefit to students who attend schools where more discipline and violence occurs than learning and education. Lastly, it is believed that vouchers will create good competition among schools. Currently it is believed that public schools have no incentive to improve the quality of their education to attract students. Regardless of the quality of education, they will always be in demand. Distribution of vouchers will force public schools to become more rigorous and rewarding so they ultimately may be the school of choice. The bottom line is that the majority of parents know what is best for their children. Surveys have shown that the number one reason parents choose a school is academics (Center for Education Reform).

Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers states, “Vouchers are bad education policy, and we will continue to fight efforts to introduce them into public education. Our nation’s commitment to public education is longstanding, built upon the principle of open and equal access for all our children,” said Feldman. “This Supreme Court decision undercuts that principle and commitment.”
Disadvantages are also weighty. Just because a family is provided with a choice of which school they feel best suits their child’s needs does not mean that the voucher will cover the entire tuition the school requires. Since each private school charges its own tuition, and since most voucher system proposals would determine the worth of the voucher, there is no guarantee that a voucher will completely cover the cost of private education. At an inexpensive school, a voucher will cover much of the cost of tuition. At an expensive school, a voucher will make no difference to an economically disadvantaged parent. So where is that choice? Many voucher systems would be financed by corresponding reductions in public school funding. Aid that is provided to the public schools by the government would be decreased so that they may provide vouchers to families that wish to choose their child’s school. Does that not defeat the purpose of public schooling? A larger issue is the separation of church and state. The majority of vouchers would be used in schools whose main focus is religion. Providing government funding to support this attitude goes directly against the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state. Is this fair? A large thrust of school choice is that exactly…choice. What parents are not aware of is the fact that their child must apply to attend the school of their choice. Ultimately, it is the decision of the school whether or not they admit a child. Is there truly a choice? Lastly, American public schools are doing a fine job at educating their children. The U.S. has one of the highest graduation rates and U.S. schools steer more students to college than any other country. Why fix what is not broken?
In these troubled economic times, school choice and vouchers are sure to remain a hot political topic. You decide.

Year-Round Schools

Marc Pierlott
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
March 30, 2010

A Brief History of School Schedules in America

Schools in America have been on a 10-month schedule since the 1800’s. Many believe summer vacation was created to meet the demands of an agrarian society. Others suggest that if that were the case children would need time off in the spring for planting and in the fall for harvesting. The summer vacation, they contend, was centered on the needs of the wealthy who could afford to retire to the cooler air of a summer cottage in the country or back to Europe to visit relatives and to tour. Either way, the 10-month schedule has become the traditional schedule of the vast majority of schools in America.

Although most districts utilize the 10-month schedule, experiments with year-round schedules began with the influx of immigrants into our larger cities around the beginning of the 1900’s. As a means of organizing the overcrowded schools and as a way of providing remedial help to non-English speaking children, schools created a tracking schedule whereby some students would be in school while others where on vacation. This lowered class size while allowing for immediate remediation for those falling behind in their studies.

Year Round Schedules

The typical year-round schedule operates on the same 180 day system as the 10-month schedule. A popular year-round schedule is the 45-15 plan with students in class 45 days then getting 15 days off (the equivalent of three weeks). Other options include the 60-20 and the 90-30 plans. Schools can operate these schedules as a single-track (that is when everyone in the school is on the same schedule) or a multiple-track system (that is when some students are in session while others are on vacation.) When overcrowding is a concern schools turn to the multiple track system to lower class sizes.

Over the years, the majority of American schools that have instituted year-round schedules are located in western states that have experienced population booms and the subsequent strain on their education infrastructure. In fact Education Bug reports that, 55% of students enrolled in year-round schools during the 2006-2007 school year resided in California. However, to put this number in perspective, only approximately 15% of public schools in California are year-round schools.

Arguments for Year-Round Education

In a school system suffering from overcrowding, year-round schooling provides accommodations for students and staff. However, there are other reasons to experiment with year-round schooling. Advocates such as Charles Ballinger of the National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE) suggest that the shorter break between marking periods might increase retention of previously learned material. If so, less time will be required to review material at the beginning of each marking period. Additionally, the breaks between marking periods provide opportunities for remediation and enrichment. That way, teachers work with students before they fall too far behind their classmates while enrichment programs offer students opportunities for discovery and exploration in a more relaxed academic setting.

Arguments against Year-Round Education

The most significant argument against year-round schooling is the lack of evidence suggesting that students actually learn more or perform better on standardized tests. Critics, such as Ohio State University’s Paul von Hippel, question the amount of information students forget over the course of a summer, as well as, if some lost information is worth the costs and efforts associated with changing the traditional school schedule. Year-round schooling can create difficulties in scheduling after-school activities (sports, theatre, music, etc.). These scheduling challenges are further complicated if a school is operating on a multiple-track system where students will have to come to school for practice and rehearsals during their vacations. In a multiple-track system it is possible for siblings to end up on different schedules making family vacations impossible and presenting challenges to fulfilling child-care needs (older siblings or babysitters may not be available.) Additionally, year-round schedules would create far- reaching changes to summer jobs, internships as well as the tourism industry. Lastly, districts will have to absorb the costs of equipping schools with air-conditioning to alleviate the heat during the summer months.

Curricular Effects

The year-round schedule offers curriculum writers many opportunities. First, the standard curriculum would change to match the shorter length of the marking periods. Using Dr. Dugan’s “Quick & Dirty Method of Curriculum Mapping”, one could plan an effective marking period by choosing the essential curriculum and organizing material by the number of teaching days in the marking period. Next, the opportunity to create brief interventions or remedial courses to fit within the vacation period would require teachers to examine the core lessons of the previous marking period and to generate differentiated learning experiences for their struggling students. Lastly, the opportunity to create enrichment activities for students that extend the knowledge gained in previous marking periods by applying it in creative ways could inspire students to become life-long learners.


There is no clear evidence that year-round schooling increases student achievement. Gene Glass, associate dean of research in the College of Education at Arizona State University stated, “The conclusion is that 180 days of schooling a year gives you 180 days of schooling output, regardless of how you arrange it or how you spread it out.” Therefore, I would recommend year-round schooling for districts struggling with overcrowding. For districts seeking ways to improve student achievement, I would recommend that you invest money in teacher training, curriculum development and more immediate remediation such as in-school, after-school and Saturday-school support programs.

Quotes against Year-Round Schooling

“It is absurd to suggest that children aren’t learning during the summer. It’s a different type of learning, which simply is not tested.”
Dr. Leo Wisenbender
L. A. Unified Program and Evaluation Branch, 1994

“You can’t scrape up a piece of solid evidence that academic achievement is superior on that calendar.”
Dr. Gene Glass
Associate Dean of Research, College of Education, Arizona State University, 2001

“The evidence was that it would be about as effective as changing the color of the school bus.”
Dr. Chris Newland
Psychology, Auburn University, 1998

“Advocates of year-round schooling have sometimes oversimplified and exaggerated the financial benefits . . . In some instances, savings have been so minimal that year-round schooling has been abandoned after just a few years of implementation.”
Barbara J. Merino
“The Impact of Year-Round Schooling, a Review”, Urban Education, 1983

“As long as we’ve been on year-round schedule, we haven’t improved academically.”
Principal Lynda Haynes
Stripling Middle School, Fort Worth, Texas, 1998

“We found that students in year-round schools learn more during the summer, when others are on vacation, but they seem to learn less than other children during the rest of the year.”
Paul von Hippel
Sociologist, Ohio State University, 2007

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tiffany Harris-Greene

Fundamentals of Curriculum

Dr. Jay Dugan

No Child Left Behind- The Obama Era

The Blueprint: President Obama’s reforms to

No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a revision of the 1965 Federal Law, Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It has been revised numerous times in the last few decades, but none with as much discontent, as when the past President George Bush revised it in 2002. The changes to the ESEA under past President Bush included the following:

  • Annual testing to show progress.
  • Progress must be determined as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
  • Penalties are enforced when AYP is not met.
  • There is no credit for incremental improvement. It is all or none, when it comes to AYP.
  • Treats all schools and students the same. Does not take into consideration diversity or learning ability.

Our new president, President Obama released his reauthorization to the ESEA, which falls under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The first stark difference is that President Obama has chosen to distance himself from the whole term NCLB. He is choosing to call his educational improvement plan, A Blueprint for Reform.

In my opinion, the first major change to the previous NCLB is that the 2009 A Blueprint for Reform is more supportive of education, school systems and teachers. Its overall tone and perspective is to celebrate educational growth. The new reform does not zero in on a standardized test score, but the progression up the learning scale. Do not get me wrong the Blueprint for Reform does still have testing as part of its accountability. However, the assessments are authentic and provide meaningful feedback for immediate improvement.

According to President Obama’s A Blueprint for Reform unveiled in March 2010, the goal for this administration’s educational plan is for all students to graduate high school prepared for college and a career by 2020. Outlined below are some benefits and some difficulties that may arise from the changes to ESEA.

Positives to A Blueprint for Reform, as outlined by the articles, Obama on no child left behind from the Education Magazine and Obama’s no child left behind revise: A little more flexibility from the Christian Monitor, both published in March 2010 are:

· There is less emphasis on yearly improvement, but provides flexibility and broadens the measurements to show progress. With this resources can be provided.

· Schools have the opportunity to improve without the fear of losing funding.

· Money is provided to implement broader assessments to evaluate- higher-thinking skills, technology, research, scientific investigations, present and defend ideas; then provide immediate feedback for improvement.

· Authentic assessments show knowledge in meaningful ways.

· All groups (ESL, Special Education, etc.) assessed appropriately to show growth, even if incremental.

· Continuous progress along the learning continuum, measures beyond reading and math.

· Creative incentives must be used to get students to stay through high school graduation.

· Recruitment of STEM teachers.

· Recruit, develop and retain teachers in high-need areas and high-need fields.

· With the college track projected for all students, this can open more doors and opportunities.

Even with the evident positives to the reform to ESEA, there are still difficulties that can be argued. Some of these are:

· The college track for some students can be too difficult and can increase the drop-out rate.

· The recruitment of STEM teachers outside of the classroom can produce teachers that do not know how to teach and just spew knowledge without concern about the students and the learning.

· “Highly Qualified/Effective Teachers and Principals” can benefit from incentive pay for high performing students, but leaves other performing teachers and principals out in the cold.

After researching the current changes to ESEA, I can begin to see a shift in the thinking and approach to education and the diversity that encompasses it. Preparing all children of the future with the best education is now not only a cause for the schools, but for the Nation as a whole.

Monday, March 29, 2010

School Choice and Vouchers

Adam Lee
School Choice and Vouchers

School choice and the voucher system are certainly not new concepts. Many states and individual districts have tried instituting this system for well over 100 years in America. Essentially, the voucher system consists of the state giving the parent their alotted education money to send their child to whatever school they would prefer. Vermont has had vouchers since 1869. 95 percent of Vermont’s towns have no public high school. The debate about whether or not school choice works to better educate the American student is the issue at hand. There seem to be many advantages when instituting school choice. However, the detractors will site a multitude of negative factors to counter every positive sign of progress. Using the interviews of many different education experts, this paper will examine the advantages and disadvantages of school choice and the voucher system.

School Choice Advantages
The advantages of school choice are usually ideas based on helping those students who come from bad neighborhoods or bad schools and giving them the opportunity to succeed in a safer learning environment. According to Paul E. Peterson, from Harvard University, there have been pilot programs in Dayton, Ohio and Washington D.C. that have shown math scores increase for African American students attending a different, private school with a voucher. However, the reading gains were not as significant and Peterson attributes this to school being the primary place for learning math and that reading begins at home.

Another advantage, according to Peterson, is that parent satisfaction is very high with a voucher system. He claims that, “If Parents are given a choice they are very happy.” This idea that parents like to have control over their child’s education is a very strong argument. Politically, parental choice is a popular subject. What parent is going to disagree with the state letting them choose the school of their choice? Thus, some politicians have tried to use this to gain popularity and leverage with voters.

One of the apparent disadvantages of the voucher system is that it takes funding that would normally go to the school district for improvements and allocates the money to Catholic or private schools. Those who are proponents of school choice would say that vouchers actually provide more funding for the public school. Their argument is that the voucher money comes from the state and that the local school budget is never touched. Therefore, for the students still remaining in the school, there is more money for every student because a percentage of the population has gone elsewhere but the funding for the school has stayed the same.

According to Clint Bolick, from the Goldwater Institute's Center for Constitutional Litigation, inner city students who have access to vouchers and choose Catholic schools, actually end up receiving a more diverse education then they would have in the inner city. His argument is that inner city schools are not very racially diverse and when an African American student uses their voucher to enter a predominantly white Catholic school, they receive a more well-rounded education. The voucher program in Cleveland has mostly African American recipients and most of these students are attending Catholic schools. This theory was in response to the question of whether or not placing these students in Catholic schools was beneficial.

School Choice Disadvantages
Rudy Crew was the chancellor of New York’s public schools for 4 years. The largest and most obvious disadvantage of school choice and vouchers according to Crew would be that it takes away the money that should be given to public schools to improve conditions and test scores. His argument is that some children use these vouchers to go to a private or a religious institution, and the other 2/3 of the students are left in failing schools without enough state funding. If a school is broken then it should be fixed. The answer is not to give up on that school and send some of the students elsewhere. What does that teach the children about life?

Barry W. Lynn is the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and he says that a large problem is that most of the recipients of vouchers in Cleveland are using their choice to attend religious schools. The problem is that now the government is taking money and diverting it towards religion. Different religions and their schools, nationwide, would now be jockeying for money and for power in individual districts. Also, the state is now seen as helping to promote religion. Lynn calls this a violation of most state constitutions and of the U.S. Constitution. The line between the separation of church and state becomes very blurred.

Also, vouchers promote something called, “skimming.” Skimming is the practice of taking the best kids out of a failing school and sending them to private institutions. This leaves the school with only the failing kids. It also leaves the school with a lack of involved students for sports programs and other extracurricular activities. It isn’t only the best students that are skimmed. The best parents are skimmed as well. These are the parents that are super involved in PTA’s and are a great asset to any district.

We have to carefully examine the issue of school choice and the voucher system. Our current system is not one that can be easily changed. There are many advantages and disadvantages of the voucher system and every one of the pros and cons needs to be thoroughly tested before any widespread change is made to the American education system.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Payne’s A Framework For Understanding Poverty

Trying to teach children that come from impoverished cities is not a new concern for educators. For many years teachers and researchers have tried to research and come up with many strategies that will help these children. Curriculum committees have even tried adopting different curriculum’s that were believed to help impoverished students. When President Bush designed NCLB, teachers, administrators, and districts were all concerned about how they were going to keep the lower socioeconomic class of students succeeding at the same rate as other students. Strategies used in the past were no longer going to be enough.

Ruby Payne has written a book called A Framework for understanding Poverty. Her book is part of a presentation series that she gives to districts across the world. Her presentations are designed for her and her staff to teach the messages of her book. Payne’s message is mainly based on “case studies” she has done over the years. When I started reading an article by Anita Bohn, she claims that Payne’s “case studies,” were “nothing more substantive than a few random anecdotes about children and families she claims to have encountered over the years.”

Payne’s message to teachers and districts is that students in poverty need to be taught based on what is essential and necessary for them. She believes that most teachers are from a middle socioeconomic status, and that does not allow them to understand the true needs of students that are from a lower socioeconomic status. Payne also believes that poverty is more than just a monetary condition. Based on Anita Bohn, Payne believes that being poor is cultural. In this culture there are certain values and rules that people live by. Payne states that the values of being poor are passed down from generation to generation. Each generation teaching the next what Payne calls the “hidden rules of poverty.”

In Bohn’s article she list the questions Payne gives on a quiz called “Could you Survive?” Some of the questions for could you survive the lower class are:

I know how to get someone out of jail.
I know how to physically fight and defend myself physically
I know how to get a gun, even if I have a police record.
Some of the questions asked for if you can survive middle class are:

I know how to hire a private attorney to handle a criminal or civil matter.
I know how to reserve a table at a restaurant.
I know how to set and decorate a table with flowers, place mats, and napkins.
At first read of these questions I was completely shocked at the questions about the lower class, and even shocked to hear what she had to say about the middle class. It felt very stereotypical to judge all people based on a few assumptions. Coming from the field of Special Education I am taught that all children are individuals and should be taught based on their individual needs, not on an assumption or stereotype.

My issue with the quiz aside, originally I had no problem believing in the message that Payne preached. I loved the idea that she focused her attention on children that can so easily be overlooked. She has a very strong message, and approaches poverty from an angle different than any I have heard before. Her words have a way of entrancing you and making you want to get up and change your ways. From what I have read, she is a very powerful speaker and makes the audience feel involved with her personal stories about child. I believe that Ruby believes in what she is preaching. I can tell from all my research that she truly has a passion for children and wants to help teachers enrich their lives.

Believing Payne has a passion for child is not enough for me. It wasn’t until I took a second to look into the actual research that I found some flaws in her message. Her message is not backed up by research. The research she has claimed to do has not been checked or authorized as valid. She is not published in popular journals as a true expert on poverty because her work has not been evaluated.

I believe that we as educators should hear her message, that Ruby Payne is an intelligent individual that truly believes in the message she is preaching. I do not think that teachers should get swept up in the hype she preaches and start changing all of their teaching approaches. The works of Ruby Payne should be heard, thought about completely, and parts of them should be put into practice. Teachers need to be well rounded and able to look at information with a critical eye.

Fixing and Preventing the Dropout Rate

Across the United States a lingering problem that seems far from becoming resolved is the rising dropout rate in our state’s schools. Some researchers refer to the problem as a silent epidemic. Research shows that one third of all high school students, and half of all African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, fail to graduate with their class. Students who dropout are more likely to be unemployed, in poor health, living in poverty, on public assistance, and become single parents. Leanne Hoagland-Smith states that with baby boomers retiring during the next decade, the US economy will be facing critical shortages in finding qualified and educated workers. Unless public education addresses this problem and makes significant changes in how they educate young people the U.S. could possibly lose its number one place in the world economy. Not only will dropout rates negatively affect the growing economy of each community, state, and our nation, all uneducated young people will add costs to each state’s bottom line. The Friedman Foundation based in Indianapolis estimated that the dropouts for 2006 will cost the state of Indiana over $55 million each year until they die. These costs are calculated from lost tax revenue, social health care such as Medicaid and incarceration. Dropouts are more than eight times as likely to wind up in jail.
In an article online, Addressing the Real Problems Instead of Traditional Symptoms, the author found that most students make the decision to drop out in middle school or junior high. A survey released from the Civic Enterprises suggested that 90% of the drop outs had passing grades, but left because classes were too boring. We need to start examining the real problem and start implementing ways to prevent students from dropping out instead of just fixing the problem after it occurs.
Knowing where schools are located and who attends them is critical for policymakers, reformers, and others concerned with directing resources toward measuring the dropout problem and towards fixing it. When finding one schools dropout rate you need to compare the number of students who dropped out in one year to the number of students enrolled. You also need to take into consideration those who transfer and graduate, take longer than four years to graduate or leave school and return to graduate or receive their GED.
Most of the research points towards reorganizing the public education system and curriculum that is offered to the students. Students need to be engaged in what they are learning. We also need to offer other paths for those students that are not successful on a college track. We need to show students that there are other options. We also need to address the realities that face many students, lack of adequate housing and shelter, lack of positive role models and social and emotional baggage. We need to give students more options within choosing courses. Offer more relevant curriculum to students some examples given online were conflict resolution classes, finance and budgeting. The truth is our country failed to restructure education when the industrial revolution happened and still employs a patch approach to fixing the problem. True education reform has never existed in this country since the 1970s. We need a curriculum based upon a 21st century knowledge and technology economy. Being realistic and not pouring tons of money into a thoughtless curriculum guided by politics and letting educators do their jobs would be a move in a positive direction toward preventing the dropout rate.
Other options sited in research are giving teachers more training on how to teach strategies. Teachers coming out of college and even teachers that have been in the field for many years need more course and instruction in the area of instruction. Teachers also need to know their students. They need to be able to make connections and allow their students to feel the connection and feel that they are in a safe and caring learning environment. We can provide the opportunity for this through keeping class sizes under control and the smaller the class the deeper the connection a teacher can make with her students. A strong and consistent connection with home can also help in developing stronger connections. If students and parents hear from teachers when students are making positive progress instead of just negative issues or calling home when there are problems. This would help parents to also stay on top of how their child is doing and taking the positive encouraging approach from the classroom and continuing that at home.
Focus on where there is a problem. Contact those students that have dropped out. Find out why and what may have made them stay. Pay attention to early warning signs. Students do not just wake up one morning and decide to drop out. Watch for patterns in attendance or missed credits and intervene. We can not afford to wait until it is too late. By putting in place proactive approaches and reviewing and analyzing the current curriculums we may be able to come up with a way to lower the number of dropouts.
Andrea Concordia

New Find for the Mini Curriculum Project:

Essential questions and enduring understanding are located at the bottom of this webpage under "Standards Clarification Project:"

Separation of Church and State

“Separation of church and state” is a phrase that has become synonymous with controversy and conflict since the concept was first introduced during the post Revolutionary War era in the newly formed United States of America. Although these exact words were never put in writing by the framers of the Constitution, the conflict between government, established churches, and freedom of religion was certainly created. It is improbable that the authors of the Constitution ever imagined the extent to which the First Amendment would be debated and will continue to be debated for years to come.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” At the times of its writing, the Colonies were attempting to establish a unified country without the discriminative practices and oppression suffered by those who came to these shores for a new life. When first establishing the Colonies, church and government were not entirely separate entities. There were established churches in most colonies and very little, if any, religious tolerance existed. As the Colonies grew and a greater number of established religious groups immigrated to this country, it became evident that the church and the government could no longer function as conjoined entities and that the government would be representative of the entire nation’s peoples regardless of their religious beliefs.

Colonial churches petitioned the President for decisions and clarification. In his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, President Thomas Jefferson created the metaphor of a “wall between the church and state”. Many believe that Jefferson’s words inadvertently created the controversy which exists today. Yet it was not until 1947 that the actual phrase, “separation of church and state”, was put in writing. Since the signing of the Constitution, it became the responsibility of the United States Supreme Court to interpret and rule on issues related to the First Amendment. The first such ruling of significance related to church and state took place in 1947. In the case, Everson vs. Board of Education, the court ruled in favor of the Board of Education in Ewing, New Jersey, stating that it was not unconstitutional to use a percentage of property taxes to pay for student transportation to Parochial schools. Justice Hugo Black referenced the wall between church and state and stated, “That wall must be kept high and impregnable.” Since this landmark ruling, there have been innumerable challenges to the first amendment regarding the separation of church and state, most of which have ended up with the Supreme Court.

As agents of the government, public schools must uphold the aspect of the first amendment which states that no government may establish a preferred church or religion. Extremists would have everyone believe that this means that any mention of God, religion, holidays, or spirituality is strictly forbidden. These extremist groups have gone so far as to petition textbook publishers to eradicate any words or material related to religion from all public school textbooks. If these groups have their way, the Pledge of Allegiance would be sanitized by removing the words “under God”. The Pledge of Allegiance has previously come under scrutiny, and the courts ruled that although one must stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, no one can be compelled to recite the words. This ruling provides balance so as no one person need violate their personal religious beliefs. Each individual’s religious freedom is protected.

Absolute separation of church and state cannot be achieved except at the expense of knowledge. Our world’s history, literature, music, art, theater, and dance have all emerged from a basis in religion. To eliminate the study of these subjects would be tantamount to programmed ignorance and would cripple our youth in terms of their ability to compete in a global society. Additionally, our understanding of the many peoples who make up the citizens of this country would be severely reduced. Even though the area of the humanities would be most affected by a complete separation from religion, mathematics and the science would be adversely affected as well, since the evolution of these subjects were heavily influenced by both the church and the government. Our entire educational system would be irreparably damaged if the extremists were ever successful in fully separating church and state in public schools.

Everyone in this country is entitled to certain rights and equality, however we are not, in fact, exactly the same. We are not a nation of clones, and to think that we should be is the antithesis of the very foundation of this nation. The delicate balance between church and state that has developed over time is evidence of these foundations successfully at work. We have choices in this country, and where many citizens of other countries around the world do not, we can choose the type of education we want our children to receive. If we believe and support a more secular education, then our children attend public schools. If we desire a stronger religious orientation to education, we have the option to send our children to private religious schools. The public school makes every effort to accommodate the wide variety of religions and ethnicities of the communities which it serves.

Schools, neighborhoods, families, all of society have seen a dramatic rise in violence, offensive language, and overtly vulgar behaviors. Much of this can be attributed to media bombardment and informational technology which has created a culture of acceptance of what used to be considered unheard of or strictly taboo. Those who vehemently oppose the separation of church and state would argue that lack of religion, or at the very least spirituality, in schools is partially to blame for the current state of society. This group would argue that religion as a part of a student’s daily school experience would foster a more highly moral climate and that these expectations would spill over into life outside the school. These groups would argue for established time for prayer in school as well as more teaching based directly on religious tenets. This style of education is readily available to those who attend religious schools, but how could a public school establish religious practices when it must be representative of all the people, some of whom are non-religious? The answer is, it cannot. Even if one agrees that children need a stronger moral education, it must be done in such a way as to remain neutral in terms of established religious practices. Today, many public schools have adopted “Character Education” to combat the overall moral decline of our society.

The separation of church and state we have in 2010 is likely not exactly what our fore fathers envisioned when they established the foundations of a new nation, but the system of balance that was also created still works even today. The Supreme Court serves its function by interpreting each individual case and thereby establishes the status quo until a newer situation arises. This was the case, is the case, and will be the case. Perhaps the phrase “separation of church and state” should be re-coined. Perhaps the “balance between church and state” would be more accurate.

The Emphasis for STEM in Education

According to both the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation, the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are considered the core technological underpinnings of an advanced society. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics believes that “STEM education in our nation’s classrooms provides the critical foundation needed for our future national security and economic competitiveness.” As evidenced by President Obama’s recently announced “Educate to Innovate” campaign and the $250 million public-private initiative to recruit and train more STEM teachers (this is on top of the more than $3 billion the federal government already provides for STEM education each year across a range of agencies), it is obvious that our current government also strongly believes education in the STEM fields is essential to remain globally competitive and secure. Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) President Harris N. Miller emphasized that “increasing global competition from countries like India and China is fueling major concerns about how well the United States is developing the pipeline of skilled STEM workers.” Unfortunately, the National Science Teachers Association reported in 2008, that nearly half of all students studying engineering and science at the post-secondary level leave the major for other pursuits because they are not adequately prepared in the K-12 classroom to meet the demands of the college classrooms. The National Academy of Science states that we will eventually lose quality jobs to other nations, resulting in a lower standard of living, reduction in tax revenues, and weaker domestic market for goods and services. Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University suggested that reforming STEM education efforts would not only strengthen our country’s place in the technological world by encouraging more students to seek STEM professions, but that such reform would also lead to great economic improvement. He projected that the United States gross domestic product (GDP) would be 4% higher in 2025, and 10% higher in 2040, than it would be without such reform. This increase would be enough to cover the annual cost of K-12 public education.
I recall Dr. Dugan mentioning during our first class, “For the first time in the history of America, you cannot have low skills and get a high paying job.” Apparently the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also agrees, predicting nine of the top ten fastest growing occupations through 2016 requiring a bachelor’s degree will be STEM related. With so many of tomorrow’s jobs having a background in the STEM fields, and increasing levels of globalization, it is hardly a surprise that there is such an emphasis for STEM in education.
Although I personally feel as though innovation is paramount in a 21st Century global economy and that the STEM fields are the backbone of concepts that drive job creation, economic growth and prosperity in a global economy, one could argue that there are drawbacks to an increased focus on such fields. All of the emphasis on STEM fields may come at the expense of other areas in education. Unfortunately, as every educator knows, it is nearly impossible to add material to a curriculum without subtracting something else. In future years we may find this country’s language and reading skills suffering, and/or weakness in the related arts subjects due to a reallocation of time and money towards STEM classes. Already financially suffering art and music education programs would surely deteriorate further with additional funding being directed towards STEM programs. One could also argue that just as everyone cannot be a professional athlete, not everyone is capable or has the aptitude to find success in the STEM fields.
Just as President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 and rallied a nation around its space program, it is time for a renewed push towards the STEM fields, as they are becoming the universal language of the global marketplace. Only the future will tell if we have put enough of an emphasis on STEM education today.

Defining and Understanding the Drawbacks and Challenges of Global Competition with Regard to Public Education

Edward Callinan
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Dr. Jay Dugan
23 March, 2010

A Definition of Education and Global Competition

Fundamentals of Curriculum Development has taught us about the four existing educational philosophies - essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, and reconstructivism. But perennialism, in particular, might best help define the relationship between global competition and public education. In the text Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues (2009), Ornstein and Hunkins note that this philosophy might "be behind some educators' and members of the public's demand that American students must be number one in the world." But the two authors concede that "the West is in decline, a decline that must be addressed." (p. 41)
To place the relationship of the aspects into a historical perspective, Ornstein and Hunkins cite A Nation at Risk (which appeared in the mid-1980s), National Goals for Education (initially published in 1990 and revised in 1994 and 1998), and NCLB (published in 2001). All of the aforementioned called for "improved U.S. education and emphasized international "competition" and "survival." ... The emphasis is on academic and economic productivity. The vitality of the U.S. economy and U.S. political hegemony are linked to strengthening the nation's educational institutions." (p. 45)
Thus a basic definition for the educational issue of the relationship between public education and global competition has been provided. But to fully understand the complexity of this issue, one must analyze potential benefits and potential pitfalls of directing the entire U.S. educational system on one that has a global competition focus.
The initial reaction for a majority of the public would be that there could be no drawbacks to having an educational philosophy that keeps the focus of global competition ever-present. This a challenging notion to propose. Therefore, we will attempt give fair balance to both sides of this issue by at least studying the potential drawbacks first.

Drawbacks of Global Competition As A Determinant of Public Education Policy

First, the idea of treating public education as an arm of economic policy is in direct juxtaposition to the theoretical concept of educational policy. In theory, U.S. educational policy would be written with the exclusive intention of educating the domestic population so that it might be knowledgeable, survive, and even thrive. The money that is spent on public education and the manner in which that education is conducted would have solely those goals in mind. Such goals are not necessarily inextricably linked with an eye towards the way in which other countries are educating, surviving, and thriving. But incorporating global competition as a determinant of public education does exactly that.
Second, basing American educational curriculum on differentials in standardized test results of other countries is questionable, as standardized tests are susceptible to the critique that they do not illustrate creativity, initiative, etc. In his article "The New Untouchables (Published on 20 October 2009) New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman cited Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz's observation that "those at the high end of the bottom half — high school grads in construction or manufacturing — have been clobbered by global competition and immigration." But Friedman countered, stating that "those who have some interpersonal skills — the salesperson who can deal with customers face to face or the home contractor who can help you redesign your kitchen without going to an architect — have done well.” Even if creativity and initiative are removed from the questioning of American public education's impact on its students, there is still the concern that standardized tests cannot even accurately measure practical skill levels and potential, as standardized tests constitute such a limited amount of the American student's school year schedule.
Third, there are people who are skeptical that the lack of skills is responsible for the nation's employment problems. Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute testifies to the Committee on Education and the Workforce of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004. In this testimony, Bernstein posed the question: Is there any evidence that the lack of skill is responsible for our current employment problems? "Can the unusually weak jobs recovery be explained by the lack of skill or education of the American workforce?"(testimony given on 11 March 2004). Bernstein's response: "The answer to the first question is an unequivocal “no”—the weak jobs’ performance of the last few years is wholly a demand-side phenomenon. The problem is not the lack of skilled workers; it’s the lack of jobs." Bernstein elaborates on this response, stating that the problem is not one of lack of skills and knowledge thanks to public education, but an unwillingness to pay the high wages demanded by those American workers. Bernstein elucidates in his testimony, clarifying that:
what differentiates foreign workers from their domestic
counterparts is thus less a skills’ gap than a gaping wage
differential. By offshoring skilled and semi-skilled white collar
jobs, U.S. firms are sending a clear market signal that these
offshore workers are worth the investment made by American firms.
Note that throughout this recent period when offshoring concerns
have surfaced, firms in affected industries, such as information
technology and financial services, have been able to maintain
historically high rates of productivity and profitability even
while domestic hiring has stalled or fallen. Thus, while the extent
of the phenomenon is unknown, it is highly likely to increase further,
as will the attendant anxiety it generates among domestic workers in
affected sectors.
4. Finally, the manifested fear that the United States is falling farther behind the world in terms of global competition has impacted public education by proposing that all citizens should be in college preparatory classes in high school and should definitely attend college beyond. But the reality is that not all people are academic. This results in an enormous drain of tax dollars, as students leaving high school are made to believe that they must attend college, as opposed to developing a skill or trade. This has resulted in millions of American students needing to take remedial classes at four year and two year colleges alike. Moreover, the same students that take remedial classes at the beginning of their college tenure statistically do not complete their degree program anyway.

Public Education Challenges Presented By Global Competition

Despite the arguable drawbacks of global competition listed above, it would be difficult to deny that the challenge of global competition is still not one of great concern to the United States and a challenge that needs to be met in some form.
Now that employers have a global workforce to draw from, competition for U.S. jobs comes from around the world. Such a reality was elicited by New Jersey Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer in 2008, when she asserted that “For the first time in the history of America, you cannot have low skills and get a high paying job.” New York Times columnist resounded the same concern, citing an interview conducted with Todd Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor. Martin suggested that:
Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the
decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness,
particularly at the middle and bottom ranges... This loss of
competitiveness has weakened the American worker’s production of
wealth, precisely when technology brought global competition much
closer to home. So over a decade, American workers have maintained
their standard of living by borrowing and overconsuming vis-à-vis
their real income. When the Great Recession wiped out all the credit
and asset bubbles that made that overconsumption possible, it left
too many American workers not only deeper in debt than ever, but out
of a job and lacking the skills to compete globally.
Milton Friedman, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution and winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976, cautioned of the challenges now faced by the United States as long ago as 1995. On 19 February, 1995, Friedman wrote an article for the Washington Post, indicating that the public education system in American needed to undergo and drastic overhaul to face the challenges of global competition. Friedman wrote that "A radical reconstruction of the educational system has the potential of staving off social conflict while at the same time strengthening the growth in living standards made possible by the new technology and the increasingly global market. In my view, such a radical reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system--i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools." And though Friedman suggests that public education itself is part of the problem, he concedes that it is also part of the solution. Again, Friedman:
Our educational system has been adding to the tendency to
stratification. Yet it is the only major force in sight capable
of offsetting that tendency. Innate intelligence undoubtedly
plays a major role in determining the opportunities open to
individuals. Yet it is by no means the only human quality that
is important, as numerous examples demonstrate. Unfortunately,
our current educational system does little to enable either
low-IQ or high-IQ individuals to make the most of other
qualities. Yet that is the way to offset the tendencies to
stratification. A greatly improved educational system can do
more than anything else to limit the harm to our social
stability from a permanent and large underclass.


Regardless of the exact number of drawbacks of using global competition as a determinant of public education policy or the number of challenges that global competition poses for public education policy, it is certain that the world economy has been permanently altered in the last half century. The urgency of this crisis for the United States specifically can be debated, and the potential difficulties posed by facing the challenges of global competition can certainly be daunting. But the United States must recognize, just as every other nation - developed and under-developed - must recognize that whosoever does not address global competition does so at his peril.

Survival of the Fittest in Education and Technology: How fit is the U.S.?

Noelle Bisinger Spring 2010

Fundamentals of Curriculum Development

Survival of the Fittest in Education and Technology: How fit is the U.S.?

As adults we have become accustomed to being quickly outdated by rapidly changing technology. It is not uncommon to be bypassed in the technological world by I-phone-using, Wii-playing, instant-messaging youth. It’s almost impossible to believe though, that despite the way our nation’s young people have mastered cellphones, computers, video games, and other technologies, we are falling further and further beyond our international competitors in the areas of technological awareness, knowledge-base, and skills required for future job markets. “The U.S. is, ironically, kind of leading this movement of talking about the importance of 21st-century skills, but in terms of the classroom, we’re behind some of our competitors,” says Ronald E. Anderson, a researcher at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and co-editor of the 2009 edition of Cross-National Policy and Practices in Technology Education (

A transition from an industrial-based economy to a service-providing economy has made factory-based careers in the U.S. almost obsolete. This change, driven by innovation, information, and advanced technology has dramatically influenced opportunities for employment over time. The gap between lower skilled positions and those requiring levels of higher education is now wider than ever before. “For the first time in the history of America, you can not have low skills and get a high paying job,” said Willa Spicer, New Jersey Deputy Commissioner in 2008. Maintaining the United States’ position at the top of the global market is also threatened by a growing global workforce, competing for American jobs at significantly cheaper rates than U.S. workers. U.S. employees in the current workforce have fallen victim to such changes directly, with little capacity to prevent their jobs from being relocated across the world. But what is being done to prepare the future workforce of America for the fiercely competitive global market they will soon enter? Researchers argue, simply not enough.

Some researchers insist that if we continue be ignorant of international progress and our current status in the world market, we will easily be left behind. “In fact, some countries are already way ahead of the United States, experts say. “Singapore, for example, has long taught technology skills in its schools. South Korea has teacher and student standards that shape all technology education efforts,” says Daniel Light, a senior scientist at the Center for Children & Technology at the New York City-based Education Development Center” (

Foreign competitors have already begun to narrow the gap between the U.S. and themselves in teaching technology skills, mastering educational standards, and creating successfully lucrative employees in the global job market. According to the 2008 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Education at a Glance report, the U.S. ranks 17th out of 23 countries in High School graduation rate. Another alarming statistic reveals that “every 26 seconds, one American high school student drops out of school.” On the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the average mathematics literacy score in the United States was lower than the average score in 23 of the other 29 OECD countries. In science literacy, the average score of that same group was lower than the average score in 16 of the other 29 OECD countries (OECD, 2008).

Many states have added technology skills into the curriculum since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) set the goal of having all students technology-literate by 8th grade. NCLB, however, required states to figure out how to achieve the goal themselves. About half the states set their own requirements, which are largely based on recommendations provided by national organizations. The bottom line is that American students are not getting consistent and applicable instruction that can prepare them for the future. Schools are failing to engage kids in technology systems as creative or productive tools.

Fierce international competition will continue to change the world market and impact the standing of the United States’ economy. For the U.S. to stay at the top of the global market, we are forced to compete, adapt, and move forward. Global competition can provide challenges, but also reap benefits. In the educational system, global competition compels us to be accountable for student outcomes, to employ new and effective teaching methodologies, and to emphasize innovation and creativity. There are indeed a few challenges to implementing new technology education systems in the U.S. As with any other initiative, planning and investing are crucial to a program’s success. Poor nations are out performing the U.S. on assessment measures, however, so financial investments may not be as grand as one might assume. The challenges of global competition do not outweigh the potential benefits.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Ruby Payne’s book titled A Framework for Understanding Poverty was written to help society understand and react appropriately to the various characteristics and behaviors displayed by people in poverty. Because I teach in a Title I school in an Abbott district, my building principal purchased a copy of this book for every faculty and staff member in the school. We meet periodically during lunch and hold a professional book club to discuss various aspects of the book.
In order to fully understand the praises and criticisms of the book, I think it is important for you to have a basic understanding of what the book is about. To do this, I am going to briefly summarize each of the chapters of the book.
The introduction provides the reader with Payne’s rationale for writing the book, key points about poverty for the reader to remember, and various statistics about poverty that she felt was pertinent. One of the statistics I found astonishing was the fact that in 2006, 26.9% of all children in poverty were Hispanic and 33.4% were African American. In the district that I work for most of the population of my school falls into these two ethnic categories, so that really hit home for me.
In chapter one, Payne defines poverty as “the extent to which an individual does without resources.” These resources are defined as: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, and knowledge of hidden rules. The rest of the chapter presents the reader with various scenarios and asks him/her to say whether each of the resources is present or lacking. A discussion of each scenario follows discussing why each resource is either present or lacking.
Chapter two exposes the reader to each of the registers of language: frozen, formal, consultative, casual, and intimate. Payne explains that most children in poverty speak in the casual register. Teachers present information and skills in the formal register, so it makes it difficult for these children to understand what is being said. At the end of the chapter, the reader is given several ideas and activities that can be implemented to help compensate for the gap between casual and formal registers of language.
In the beginning of chapter three, the reader is asked to participate in a brief survey to see if he/she can survive in poverty. I learned very quickly that I do not know the first thing about being in poverty. The chapter also informs the reader of the hidden rules that exist among each of the social classes. Payne states that in order for a child trapped in poverty to succeed, we need to teach them the hidden rules of the middle and upper classes.
Chapter four defines generational poverty and discusses various traits and characteristics associated with this type of poverty. Payne begins the chapter by briefly explaining the difference between generational poverty and situational poverty. It presents the reader with a case study and analyzes the various aspects of generational poverty that is present in the study. Payne also provides the reader with a list of various behaviors and characteristics that an educator would observe in a child of generational poverty.
Chapter five discusses the importance for a child to have good role models and stable emotional systems for support. It presents a case study that illustrates what happens to a child that is brought up in an environment that lacks strong role models and is very unstable emotionally. It provides a list of things that an educator can do to help promote these two important factors in a child’s life.
In chapter six, Payne describes the seven categories that support systems fall into: coping strategies, options during problem-solving, information and know-how, temporary relief from emotional, mental, financial, and/or time constraints, connections to other people and resources, positive self-talk, and procedural self-talk. The reader is presented with a scenario about a high school girl and is given a list of nine support systems that the school could provide to help the child.
I found chapter seven to be one of the most beneficial chapters of the book. It explains how people in poverty discipline their children and how it is different than what others are used to experiencing. It contains a chart that depicts various behaviors displayed by a child in poverty, the reasoning behind this behavior, and an example of an intervention that an educator can use to help alleviate that behavior. The chapter goes on to explain the different types of voices, or tones, an educator can use with a child and the various reactions that he/she may encounter.
Chapter eight discusses how the education system needs to change the way that skills and information are taught to children in poverty. The reader is exposed to Feuerstein’s instruments that help teach students various cognitive strategies that help promote success in school. It also provides the reader with various activities and questioning strategies that an educator can implement into his/her classroom that will help build the conceptual framework and cognitive strategies in a student.
The last chapter enforces the importance of developing relationships with students. Payne states that the stronger the teacher’s relationship is with his/her students the higher their achievement will be, especially children in poverty. She discusses the various deposits and withdraws that children experience in their lives. She stresses the importance of an educator trying to make as many deposits as he/she can to help develop a strong relationship and bond with the child.
By reading various reviews from educators that have either attended one of Payne’s workshops or read her book, I have found that many of them find her book to be very beneficial and insightful. They say that the book contains many clarifications about poverty that has helped them to improve their instructional strategies and also develop strong, positive relationships with all students in their classroom, no matter what social class they belonged to. This book has also opened their eyes to various aspects of living in poverty and has helped them to better relate to the diverse population of students in their classrooms.
Although there are many praises and support for Payne’s book, there is also some criticism. Among the critics are Paul Gorski and Anita Bohn. Gorski states that Payne’s views on poverty are based on racist and classist stereotypes. He also says that Payne does not truly understand the relationship between the causes and effects of poverty. For example, Payne states that parental employment status and parental educational levels are causes of poverty, but they are actually a result of the impact that poverty has on a society.
Bohn starts out by saying that Payne is self-published through her company, aha! Process Inc., so her research does not have to be verified, validated, or reliable in order to be published. She says that the case studies/scenarios in the book are based on families and children that Payne supposedly encountered, but none of them are substantiated or verified. Bohn also states that Payne makes people believe that poverty can be reduced by helping the people involved learn the rules of the middle class rather than making the reader realize that in order to truly reduce poverty, changes need to be made in people’s everyday lives and in the structure of our society.
Personally, I found this book to be very interesting and enlightening. There were many times throughout the book that I stopped reading and said to myself, “Oh, so that is why Johnny said that!”, or “That is why Mary reacted the way she did today.” It truly opened my eyes to the world of poverty. I used to think that some of the ways that some of the families I deal with behaved were merely their way of playing the system, but after reading this book I now realize that this is the only way that they know how to act. I have found some of the ideas and activities that Payne presents to be very helpful with my instruction. Although I cannot fully implement some of them because I deal with very young children, I have been able to adapt some of them to fit the needs of my students and their families.

The Current State of Gifted and Talented

Spring 2010

The federal government’s definition of a gifted and talented student is: 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. ( Interestingly enough, individual states have their own definition for a gifted and talented child, and also are not required to use this definition.

Students who are gifted already know the information and answers presented in the classroom. Many feel as though the class work is not challenging enough. Many also feel as though they just don’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the group. Therefore, we as educators need to help these children understand they are not alone and that they are supported. We want to see them grow and succeed. This is why we need gifted and talented programs which are tailored to meet their needs and interests.

Gifted and talented programs also allow children to express themselves more freely. Many of these children are inhibited in front of their classmates for fear of being called “nerdy” or “weird”. Most gifted kids tend to relate better with adults than their own peers. When group work is assigned, many classmates pick those “smart kids” to be in the group because they know they will do the work well and correctly. Therefore, these children are basically labeled among the class. When we talk about labeling, it usually is referred to when talking about special education. However, not many consider that gifted and talented is a label as well.

Whether the gifted and talented program is a pull-out, push-in, add-on to the classroom teacher, these childrens’ needs are important and should be addressed to help them “fit in” and be challenged. We put forth so much effort into those children who are classified because we want them to succeed. However, it is a double edged sword as well because districts are graded based upon the rate of proficiency on state tests. Hence, the effort placed upon those children who are not working on grade level. The district is not evaluated on how well the gifted kids perform on standardized tests, and that is where the ball drops when considering the value in education for these students.

When looking at the opposition of gifted and talented, there are many factors in play. First, depends upon how the district handles the gifted and talented program. In some districts, money is a contributing factor in which the classroom teacher has to provide enrichment for the gifted kids. Too many times, that includes just an extension of what is being taught in class, rather than different higher level work. Therefore, those kids are not going to get their work done as fast because it is boring just to get more work added onto the work load. Kids look at that as more of a punishment rather than a reward. If the district does have a pull-out program, many teachers argue that they are missing valuable class time. There are some teachers who are just not as willing to work with the gifted and talented teacher in adhering to the program. In addition, schools just may not have the capability to adequately identify all of the various kinds of gifted students that there are, but most districts strive to provide something that can benefit the most students possible.

Parents can also be another problem with gifted and talented. Many parents self-diagnose their kid as gifted and therefore push for it in school. Although parents know their child the best, they are sometimes biased as to the child’s abilities. Tests are administered to determine whether the child should receive gifted and talented services. Once those tests are scored, and the child does not classify for services, the G&T teacher needs to inform the parent. In such a situation, the parent is not happy and usually takes it one step further in contacting the principal or even in some cases the Superintendent.

Gifted and Talented Students, as well as Special Education students truly do not differ much at all. They may be on opposite ends of the spectrum; however, they have some commonalities. Unfortunately, they both feel as though they don’t fit in with the rest of the class. Both tend to be labeled not only among other students, but also from parents and some teachers. Why do we spend so much more time focusing and developing programs on the special education students? Is it mostly because of NCLB? We need to put more effort, money, and time into developing programs for our gifted children. They not have the same rights as those children with special education needs. Are these not the future children who will be engineers and doctors that our country is in need?