Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fixing and Preventing Dropout

Over one million students in the United States that enter ninth grade each year will never graduate with their peers four years later. About seven thousand students dropout of school everyday. Only until recently, true dropout rates and graduation rates have begun to be exposed, and the US can see the extent of the crisis in our high schools. Ultimately, graduation rates reflect how well our schools are performing.
Who is Dropping Out
In an article from the “Alliance for Excellent Education”, they found that minority students and students from low-income families were far more likely to dropout. Each year, approximately 1.2 million students never graduate high school and more than have of them are from minority groups. Nationally, about 71 percent of students graduate from high school on time. African American and Hispanic students, though, are half as likely to earn diplomas with their peers.
A 16 to 24 year old student coming from the highest quartile of family income is about seven times more likely to have completed high school than a 16 to 24 year old student coming from the lowest quartile of family income.
A small number of underperforming high schools are responsible for more than half of our nation’s dropouts. Alliance for Excellent Education found that approximately two thousand high schools (about 12%of US high schools) are responsible for more than half of the nation’s dropouts. In these high schools, the senior class only comprises 60% or less of the same class its freshman year.
Why Do Students Drop Out?
Although there are many different reasons for dropping out of high school, research has found that difficult transitions to high school, deficient basic skills, and a lack of engagement are strong influences and barriers for high school students. Researchers have found that dropouts can often be indentified in middle school and as early has sixth grade. Systems to track student attendance, engagement while in school, and academic performance help identify students who are at risk of not graduating when they reach high school.
The ninth grade year for a student is also a strong predictor for future success or failure in school. Alliance for Excellent Education found that up to 40 percent of ninth grade students in cities with the highest dropout rates repeat ninth grade (which research has shown that retention is not likely a good solution). Of these retained ninth graders, only 10 to 15 percent of them go on to graduate. Therefore, academic success in ninth grade is highly predictive of future graduation. It is found to be even more important than demographic characteristics or prior academic achievement. Unfortunately, many ninth graders are not given the support they need to make a successful transition to high school and a third of dropouts are caused because of their ninth grade year.
Not only is high school academics important to graduation, but so is social engagement in school. They may feel no connections to their fellow peers or even their teachers. Many dropouts reported having no significant connection to an adult and no one to talk to. Research shows that lack of student engagement is predictive of dropping out, even after controlling for academic achievement and student background (Rumberger, 2004).
Boredom in high school is also a cause of dropout. Gifted students are also dropping out due to the lack of interest in the curriculums. Research from Civic Enterprises suggested that 90% of the drop outs had passing grades, but left because classes were too boring.
Why We Need to Fix the Dropout Rate
Decades ago, dropping out of high school was not as detrimental to a student; they were still able to find jobs. Today though, dropping out of high school greatly diminishes their chances of finding a good job and having security in their future. Students who dropout are more likely to be unemployed, in poor health, living in poverty, on public assistance, and become single parents. Additionally, dropouts are also not the only ones suffering. They significantly impact the financial and social costs to the communities, states, and country in which they live in.
Dropouts hurt our nation’s competitive edge. The US ranks 18th in high school graduation rate among developed countries. High school dropouts earn less income and contribute fewer tax dollars to the economy. It has been found that on average, a high school dropout earns about $260,000 less than a high school graduate (Rouse, 2005). The dropouts of the class of 2009 alone will cost the nation more than $319 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetimes and $17 billion in Medicaid and expenditures for uninsured health care. In the article “How America Can Build a Better Future”, the authors explained that if the graduation rates for Hispanic and African American students are raised to those of white students by 2020, the potential increase in personal income would add more than $310 billion to the US economy.
Fixing the dropout rate will save billions of dollars by reducing the US’s crime related costs, health care related costs, and public assistance costs. About 41 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons have less than a high school education. Schooling significantly reduces criminal activity—self-reported crime, arrests, and incarceration. Increasing the high school completion rate of men ages 20–60 by one percent would save the US as much as $1.4 billion per year in criminal justice costs. If the US could cut the number of high school dropouts in a single cohort of 20-year-olds (approximately 700,000 individuals) in half, the country would gain $45 billion through extra tax revenue and reduced public health, crime and justice, and welfare payment costs.
How We Can Fix Dropout
Obama has proposed giving $900 million in federal grants to states and school districts that agree to turn around. To qualify for the School Turnaround Grants, the school districts would need to agree to a series of criteria, including: firing the principal and at least half the staff; reopening as a charter school; close the school all together and transfer students to better schools in the district.
The National Education Association believes that dropouts can be prevented through focused actions using strategies from preschool thorough age 21. These strategies include:
1. Intervene prior to kindergarten;
2. Involve families in students’ learning;
3. Provide students with individual attention;
4. Monitor students to track their academic progress;
5. Involve the community in dropout prevention;
6. Provide educators with the training and resources they need to prevent students from dropping out;
7. Implement career and workforce readiness programs in schools;
8. Provide graduation options for students;
9. Raise the compulsory school attendance age;
10. Open graduation centers for students who are 19–21 years of age;
11. Gather and report accurate dropout rates;
12. Increase federal funding to support dropout prevention.
I think that we need to focus on students’ transitions into schools, especially during major milestones like elementary school to middle school and middle school to high school. The school staff needs to make sure that they are adjusting socially as well as academically. Additionally, a better job needs to be done in making sure children are ready and able for school – as in proper nutrition, health care, housing, etc. We also need to make sure that they have a positive adult figure in their life if that person is not a family member.
As for curriculum, we need to make sure that it is relevant to all of our students. Students need to have more choice in what courses they take and a say in the curriculum that they are learning. Also, we need to remember that not all students are on the college-track and that is okay. In these situations we need to offer alternative classes, which could include trade type classes, finance, economics, conflict management classes, family planning, etc. Schools could also help those students not going on to college find shadowing and internship experiences in their jobs of choice after high school graduation. As a country, we need to put in the extra money for our students now, so that we will not be continuing to pay for them in the future. There is no way the economy can get better without improving our education system and increasing our graduation rates.

Global Competition

Competition has always been important to the people in the United States. Being number one and staying number one is a priority, so why is it that the rest of the world seems to be surpassing the United States in such things as technology, science and education itself.
In an article titled Global Competition: U.S. Students vs. International Peers, Manzo states, “Anyone who has watched typical American teens readily master the use of cellphones, computer applications, and multimedia equipment might find it inconceivable that they could lag behind their international peers in acquiring the technology skills they’ll need to succeed n a tech-driven world.” But the truth of the matter is that children in countries such as Australia, England, China and South Korea, they are teaching their students this essential knowledge at a very young age and are prioritizing education such as this.
Singapore, has long taught technology skills in its schools, but has only recently tried to expand those lessons to include more creative and critical thinking in using the tools. South Korea has teacher and student standards that shape all technology education efforts. “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. Steve Andrews adds that “China, India, South Korea, and Japan have invested in making sure that their kids have access to the technology and the literacy skills that they see as a key to their economic future.
In order to stay afloat among the competition globally, the United States has a growing demand for schools to instill critical-thinking, analytical, and technology skills, as well as the “soft skills” of creativity, collaboration, and communication. The key is believed to be not so much the mechanical use of technological devices, but rather how you incorporate them into your thinking and problem-solving. Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft are collaborating on an assessment of skills that could be incorporated into international comparison tests, such as the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. It would include a test of technology skills, as well as critical thinking and the ability to collaborate effectively.
If the United States wants to continue to be a powerhouse, the need to collaborate internationally is a must, but at the same time, teaching our children the skills that are being taught around the world will help our students and future CEOs be able to effectively work with their employees, and as it looks, employees that are not necessarily from the United States. Therefore, cultural differences and understanding need to be emphasized in schools in order for our students to collaborate well with anyone.

Gifted and Talented Programs

“Excellence in education is when we do everything that we can to make sure they become everything that they can.” (Carol Tomlinson) Gifted and talented programs across the U.S. vary by design and funding when aiming for excellence in education. The majority of decisions for gifted and talented (G & T) programs are made at the state and local levels. For the purpose of this report the focus will be the state of New Jersey and its teachers’ view on the gifted and talented programs.

To begin, G & T students are defined by the Department of Education in New Jersey (NJDOE) as follows: Those students who possess or demonstrate high levels of ability, in one or more content areas, when compared to their chronological peers in the local district and who require modification of their education program if they are to achieve in accordance with their capabilities. When examining this definition, two components are prominent. G & T students are not just those students who are “smart,” but are those that require their education be significantly varied from their peers. Every student has the right to an appropriate education; therefore modifications to the curriculum must be made. Furthermore, students recognized as gifted are selected through an identification process that compares them to students within their local district. The position is that ALL schools have a gifted population regardless of socio-economic status.

In addition, the NJDOE requires that all public schools have a board-approved program that makes provisions for a continual K-12 G & T student detection process. This practice must use various measures to categorize students. School districts may use test scores, grades, performance projects, intelligence tests, and parent and/or teacher recommendation. Following identification the school districts are required to develop a program that takes into consideration the standards of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). The designed curricula for gifted students must address appropriate content, process, products and learning environment, according to the NJDOE. Gifted services can be organized in numerous ways. Gifted students can be instructed through accommodations made in the regular classroom, part-time special class assignment, be full-time grouping with other students with similar abilities, or a grade advancement placement. Administration and teachers must be sure to plan, maintain and evaluate the gifted program implemented in their school.
Funding for gifted and talented programs is just as varied. The federal government does not provide funding directly to school districts for G & T programs, because it is not required. Local school districts may allocate part of their budget for gifted programs.
The NCLB law, written to address students performing below proficient levels negatively effect gifted students. Funds and programs have become focused on instructing below proficient students by reassigning skilled teachers to focus on repetition and test-preparation instead of enhancing those students who are in need of acceleration.

An open-mind is necessary when discussing the advantages and disadvantages of sustaining a G & T program. It is argued that the benefits a G & T program offers a school, its students, and community are immeasurable. U.S. education proclaims that students have the right to an appropriate education that will maximize their potential. This cannot be done when students are placed in heterogeneous classrooms. Special education students learn at a diverse rate and are given education plans to assure success. G & T advocates strongly agree that schools need to address the opposite side of the learning spectrum in a similar manner. G & T students, when grouped together, help each other to grow as academically and socially, reinforce each other’s enthusiasm for learning, and feel they are free to be themselves. This allows the classroom teacher to direct instruction for accelerated students. Having a gifted program is believed to benefit the average and below average students. By extracting the higher-level students out of regular classes the other students can become leaders and achieve goals they may otherwise not strive for. A valid argument of advocates for G & T education is how a gifted program heightens the U.S.’ competitive edge in global achievement.

The counter argument strongly feels that all students are gifted and talented in their own way. It is believed all students should be heterogeneously grouped to assure that every student is exposed to the highest level of education to pursue their talents and skills to their furthest ability. The argument states that heterogeneous grouping allows students to offer each other growth. Together students honor each other’s strengths, hold one another accountable when working cooperatively, and will work to the high expectations set for them. Those who do not approve of gifted programming feel that students are separated according to their behavior and not their academic ability. For example, G & T students are recognized as good listeners and elaborate note takers. Not implementing a G & T program will help to break barriers of race, gender and socio-economic classes.

In conclusion, gifted and talented programs range vastly across the country in program design, funding and educators opinions. NJDOE and the NAGC agree that there is a need for a specialized education for this group of students to be sure all students are provided with appropriate educational opportunities in our state’s schools.


Dropout Rate
                While most states have spent much time and effort focusing on achievement, educators spend very little time looking at which students make it to graduation.  This, however, is changing.  With the implementation of No Child Left Behind, schools are being held accountable for their graduation rates.  With this, the knowledge we have gained in recent years has taught us a tremendous amount about how to identify students who are at risk of dropping out, and how to prevent it from happening.
                So what causes students to drop out of school?  Research has shown that children are more likely to drop out because of negative experiences in school than family or personal reasons.  It should come as no surprise that schools need to focus on students with poor grades and attendance.  These factors are more predictive than race, poverty, or gender.  Researchers in Philadelphia claim that they can predict up to 50% of potential dropouts by sixth grade and an added 30% by ninth grade.  With this kind of accuracy, educators can get these identified students on track to graduate.  It is also vital to focus on any grade changes during transitional periods.  When grades drop between elementary and middle school, and particularly from middle to high school, it is usually a reliable indicator.  Allensworth (2005) also notes that ninth grade truancy is more predictive of dropouts than eighth grade test scores.
                With all of this information, what interventions should be put in place to keep students on track to graduate?  The best interventions involve counselors and case managers who form close relationships with at risk students and closely monitor grades and attendance.  One successful program  that involves this kind of careful attention is “Check and Connect.”  This program provides sustained intervention to keep students engaged in school.  With this program, schools have seen a decrease in truancy and dropout rates, and an increase in accumulation of credits and graduation rate. As long as educators intervene at the first sign of trouble and give students the skills and tools to solve their problems, high school graduation is possible for everyone.  While early intervention provides some improvement in graduation rates, it is the focus that we give to students entering high school that truly makes a difference.  Additionally, developing close personal relationships between teachers and students will keep students engaged.
                It is important to realize that no strategy is 100% effective.  In fact, researchers have found that they are still unable to predict 15-20% of eventual dropouts.  Unfortunately, many students still slip through the cracks.  If schools continue to stick to programs that have been proven to work, and pay close attention to at-risk populations, dropout rates will continue to decline and the success of students will be sure to increase.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Technology and Curriculum

Throughout the history of education there are have been countless reforms and innovations. At this point in time, technology may be seen as one of the most prominent. As educators it is imperative to have an understanding of both the benefits and drawbacks of technology in the classroom. Within the last few decades it has become essential to prepare students for a world in which technology is prevalent. According to the National Center for Education Statistics technology is; information technology such as computers, devices that can be attached to computers (e.g., LCD projector, interactive whiteboard, digital camera), networks (e.g., Internet, local networks), and computer software. Gaining a better understanding of what technology is, allows for an analysis of the affects in education.

In a world where technology is prevalent, a stalemate exists in the pros and cons of technology in the classroom. It is widely agreed upon that it is in the students’ best interest for technology to be integrated into the educational setting. The U.S. Department of education, through various studies, states that technology can serve a myriad of purposes in education. However, the implementation of the integration holds a vast number of flaws.

To begin, as often in education, there is a lack of funding. In order to provide schools with current technology there is a need for funding. Although the cost may have decreased over the last several years, it continues to be excessive in many cases. When schools lack the resources, up to date technology is rarely an option. It is not merely the devices or software that must be purchases, but also a technical coordinator or some variation of is most likely employed.

This leads to another aspect of technology which may not be seen as a benefit, the lack of knowledge of technology. The faculty of each school is required to have an understanding of what is available in order to provide it for students. This, at the very least, requires workshops and teacher training. This is not only costly but time consuming as well. Therefore, with the implementation of technology it is necessary to have the cooperation of the staff.

Incorporating technology into lessons may be exciting of the students but at times more difficult on the teacher. Finding the proper material can be time consuming. Also, the technological tools may be wonderful in many aspects, however, come up short in others. For instance, compared to a blackboard, the smart board can only have one writer at a time. Including internet research in projects may allow for a larger wealth of knowledge for the class but can also lead to social networking sites, games, and unrelated material. Educators are in a position to blend new technology into the curriculum but with a lack of time and funding, it is less feasible in many areas.

Technology is a positive resource to be used in education. With time, it is possible for students to be educated not only with the implementation of technology but also the knowledge of what it is. In order for this to happen, there must first be an increase in the education of teachers. It is not reasonable to expect educators to incorporate technology into the curriculum with a lack of understanding themselves. Finally, funding will continuously play a large role in the inclusion of technology. There will continue to be lack of computers, technology staff, and tool until the resources are made available. However, the educational community has made strides through the last several decades in the area of technology and will continue to do so.

Payne's A Framework For Understanding Poverty

Stacy Behlau
A Framework for Understanding Poverty

A big problem that is plaguing many educators in today’s world is how to work with children who are living in poverty. Many of today’s educators come from a background of being middle class typically so they find it difficult to be able to communicate and to get information through to children of lower classes because they do not truly understand the needs of these students . With the passing of NCLB, school districts must now worry about how they are going to keep students from a lower socioeconomic status preceding at the same rate that all other students are.
Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” focuses on families from lower socioeconomic status and the hidden rules that this class has. As educators I feel that this book is important for all who work with students to read because it does give some tips that are useful when working with these students. Each social class has their own set of values and rules that they live by. Many people do not know certain things about social classes that are not their own and if we are going to work with children from all different classes we need to be well versed in their culture so that we may be able to help them to the best of our abilities.
In her book, Payne lists some of the hidden rules of poverty. Some of these rules include that the noise level is always high, the most important information is non-verbal, and one of the main values of an individual to the group is an ability to entertain. Payne also points out in her book that most students from poverty do not have the same registers of language that most students have. She states that most students from poverty speak mainly in casual register instead of the formal register that most of us were taught to speak at school in.
Payne’s work has been met with much criticism from scholars who say that her work is based on assumptions from people that she has encountered and is not based on any scientific research. Also it has been said that she is perpetuating the stereotype of poor families. There are two types of poverty so it is unfair to lump all children who are currently living in poverty in the same category. There are children who have been born and raised in impoverished families which is considered generational poverty, and then there are those that do to unforeseen circumstances were in the middle class and have found themselves living in poverty all of the sudden. This last type of poverty is called situational poverty. One outspoken critic of Payne’s work is Anita Bohn. In Bohn’s 2006 article, “A Framework for Understanding Ruby Payne” she writes that Payne’s case studies are no more “substantive than a few random anecdotes about children and families she claims to have encountered over the years.” Many say that she has ignored research and data that has been gathered and gone solely off of her own ideas and “experiences”. Bohn and many other critics find the picture poverty-stricken children and fillies painted by Payne’s work to be superficial and insulting.
Payne’s message is important and could be useful to educators if it is used in the correct contexts. It is good to know that some families value things like entertainment more than other things like education but this does not speak for all families in poverty so it would be wrong to treat all children from impoverished families the same. Instead, teachers should read Payne’s book, take in the information, and learn how to properly communicate with families of a lower class. Teachers should not read this book and just assume that all families are the same. If teachers want all of the children in their classrooms to be successful simply reading a book will not help, they will need to be more flexible with lesson plans and the way the information is taught in order to get the message across to all children.

Bohn, A. (2006). A Framework for understanding Ruby Payne. Rethinking Schools Online Volume 21(2).
Payne, R. (2005). A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Highlands TX: Aha! Process Inc.

Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty

“But it is the responsibility of educators and others who work with the poor to teach the differences and skills/rules that will allow the individual to make the choice. As it now stands for many of the poor, the choice never exists.

-Ruby Payne

Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty stemmed from the question, “How does poverty impact learning, work habits and decision making?” Payne views her research from a cognitive perspective, which examines the relationship between the environment and the thinking that occurs within that environment. Throughout her book, Payne seeks to understand how poverty affects work habits, learning, and decision-making. Her research uncovered various differences between those living in generational poverty and middle-class citizens. According to Payne, those differences had very little to do with money. In her book, she delves further into these differences and considers how they may contribute to the lack of opportunities presented to poor children when compared with middle-class children. Furthermore, she applies her findings to the classroom so that teachers can become successful in educating children from poverty. Payne suggests that although poor children may not have all the resources that middle-class children have, they are still capable of learning and being creative.

Like any publication about a controversial topic such as poverty, Ruby Payne’s book sparked much conversation, both positive and negative. Some of the criticisms that came up in the literature are rather interesting points. First, Payne believes that poor people lack knowledge of the middle-class. After teachers and educators realize this, she believes they can teach poor children their skills so they can acquire the behavior and norms that comprise the middle-class. This will give them choices, which will enable them to have more opportunities to succeed and escape the limits of poverty. I think that this view encouraged critics to say that her ideas and beliefs are stereotypical about common, outdated opinions about race and class. However, she believes that race and class can be separated, which, in my opinion, is a forward thinking perspective to have. While you may be able to apply certain patterns of findings, it is highly situational and depends on the environment. Stereotyping occurs when observed patterns within a group are compared to each individual in that group, so as to strip each person of their uniqueness. Thus, race and class must be separated and I think that Payne takes that stand, too.

Another criticism is that Payne’s book reflects the deficit model where negative connotations are given to an identified group of people. For example, in her book she says that people living in generational poverty have similar characteristics, where they are physically aggressive, have difficulty monitoring their behavior and do not acknowledge authority. Again, I feel that this is highly dependent on one’s environment. For example, in an economically disadvantaged area, overrun with high crime rates and drug abuse, behaviors of the people in that area may be similar and contingent on the types of experiences they have had, or how they feel they need to behave in order to survive. However, unlike the deficit model, Payne does not believe that the problem lies within the person or group of people of whom she described. Again, her view is that an individual’s immediate environment is highly responsible for one’s behavior, which also effects what someone is able to accomplish in life.

In their article entitled, “Poverty and Payne: supporting teachers to work with children of poverty,” Sato and Lensmire criticize Payne for more or less assigning the role of “savior” to teachers whom educate poor children. But my question is this—what is wrong with educators striving to effect social change? Why shouldn’t students view their teachers as role models or “saviors”? There are countless bodies of literature that have found that close student-teacher relationships, where the teacher is viewed as a role model or mentor, have a positive effect on student achievement in the classroom. In my opinion, education is the key to life success, and doing well in school is the only way children can escape the hardships of poverty. The fact is that children living in poverty, or generational poverty as Payne explains it, have many more obstacles to face and overcome when compared with their middle-class counterparts. Since education is so important, these children need teachers on their side to help them overcome and surpass the hardships they are faced with. In order for educators to have a positive impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, they need to not only understand the backgrounds of their students, but also adopt different styles of teaching and communicating in an attempt to influence and show them that the American dream means that you can make better for yourself, but it all starts with a quality education.

Emphasis for STEM in Education

“Our nation’s success depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation. Our leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today - especially in STEM.”
- President Barack Obama

America’s ability to compete and prosper as a nation in the 21st century and beyond relies heavily on the younger generations in school at this very moment. There are strong concerns surrounding rapid technological advancements because of its affect on global competition with other international powerhouses. Technology allows for faster, simpler communication not only across a nation but across the world. Thus, meaning most of our children in school now will be in competition with individuals from around the world for careers available here in the United States. Therefore, it is important to emphasize the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in our schools to ensure our younger generations have the best possible chance to help themselves and our nation.

With this in mind, the federal government has made a promise to improve our nation’s educational system to keep in step with that of others. And there is much work to be done as it appears our nation is falling behind in science and math skills. For example, in the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the United States ranked 28th in math literacy and 24th in science literacy out of 40 participating nations. Although the students’ scores outscored the international averages in this assessment, the United States landed in the middle of the rankings. Additionally, the United States ranked 20th among the countries for number of 24-year-olds earning degrees in science and engineering.

In 2005, the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed some hope for our students’ education, but there is still room for improvement. For 4th and 8th graders, 2 out of 5 students achieve only partial mastery of mathematical skills. In 12th grade, although the percentage of students achieving only basic math skills is higher than elementary grades, the percentage at the proficient or above math level is much smaller. In science assessments, less than one-third of both 4th and 8th graders score proficient or above. Less than one-fifth of 12th graders score proficient or above on their science assessment. However, in the 2009 administration of the NAEP, no progress at any grade level was reported.

As apparent from the results of these assessments, there is a need across the board for STEM education. Science and mathematic education need to begin at the elementary level and continue on through college for students of today. But it should also integrate into the postgraduate and professional development of our teachers in the education system now. What better way for our future leaders to learn than from highly qualified and experienced teachers, professors, and leaders of today?

Several other areas for improving our STEM education here in the United States have been identified collaboratively by the National Academy of Sciences, the STEM Education Coalition, the president’s “Educate to Innovate” Campaign, and many others. These include:
  • Improve elementary & secondary preparation in math/science
  • Recruit new elementary & secondary math/science teachers
  • Retool current math/science teachers
  • Increase the number of undergraduate STEM degrees awarded
  • Support graduate & early career research

Through his campaign, President Obama has promised to use investments of over $250 million to help prepare 10,000 new STEM teachers along with training 100,000 existing STEM teachers. Also, it is suggested to increase the amount of STEM immersion for students through laboratory experiences in class or summer internships with STEM companies. Competitive grant programs or scholarship opportunities should be available to students enrolling in STEM degree programs.

Our federal government has started a long and grueling process to better the education and career outcomes for the future generations and the nation as a whole. More work needs to be done by the government and our schools alike, but the agencies mentioned above provide a great starting point. Providing novel experiences and opportunities at young ages may help to create a lasting interest to turn into a career. I believe it is important to also develop ideas to interest both males and females in the STEM education fields to promote equal opportunity. With this new attitude toward math and science, it is almost certain the trend will catch on with students. Progress has been made in obtaining the skills and should continue.

Global Competition

“In the 21st century, a quality education system is the centerpiece of a country’s economic development, and it can be the one thing that unites us a world.”

The above quote was said by Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. He discussed the fact that in order to secure a common future, we must gain this through education. By giving our children a world-class education they can overcome the difference in backgrounds, cultures, and privileges, thus being able to work with other nations and collaborate. Our futures need to involve a healthy rivalry with other advanced nations so we can collaborate with them and use our smart power to regain the lead as the world’s most competitive workforce, as we once used to be.

At a foreign relations meeting in May 2010 Arne discussed two trends; international competition and international collaboration. These are two completely different trends, yet can have the same outcome with the correct guidance and leadership. Competition drives us as a country to do better; yet without learning from others, which is collaboration, we will not get anywhere. As diverse as America may be, we far too often rely on the dominance of English as the language of global business and higher education when looking toward the world which in turn puts us at a disadvantage. Without learning about our global neighbors we risk being disconnected from the contributions of other countries and cultures. Through education and exchange, we can become better collaborators and competitors in the global economy.

About 27% of American students drop out of high school, which is more than 7,000 a day. Only 40% of 25-34 year olds earn a two-year or four-year college degree, which is the same rate as a generation ago. America is ranked 10th in the rate of college completion for this age group. When looking at math literacy, our 15 year old students scored 24th out of 29 developed nations and 21st out of 30 nations in science. America is now 18th out of 24 industrialized nations for high school graduation rates. In order to change this pattern we must create a new era of innovation, growth and success.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a report designed to give policy makers a tool to help them work toward creating education, workforce development, and economic-development systems. The report indicates that American students need to learn a new set of skills, which includes innovation and cultural competence, in order to be competitive in a global economy. Therefore, in order for our students to begin learning these skills, this report was used to launch its vision with a set of key policy recommendations at the federal, state, and local level. The recommendations will hopefully be put into action so we can see a difference in economic development in the long run.

Overall, when discussing the topic of global competition, it can tend to have a negative outlook. If our future leaders show us that being more culturally aware and collaborating with other nations, then we can set the stage for future economic growth and success. In order to make this change we need to begin teaching our students cultural awareness and competence as well as being innovative. If we only learn from one another here in the U.S. we will not learn the diverse skills that take place in other nations, thus eliminating us from any assistance from other counties and cultures that would certainly help us advance.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Issues Surrounding Gifted & Talented Education

Gifted and talented education in America has long been under scrutiny by people on both sides of the issue. Although there is no official definition for Gifted and Talented youth, New Jersey defines it as: Those students who possess or demonstrate high levels of ability, in one or more content areas, when compared to their chronological peers in the local district and who require modification of their educational program if they are to achieve in accordance with their capabilities. This definition is purposely vague, and leaves open the possibility of a student being defined as gifted and talented without IQ score being a necessary component. Many individuals in academia decry a lack of support, both fiscally and emotionally, for gifted and talented youth. The opposing viewpoint claims that tax payers cannot afford to fund programs for students who are already a leg up above the rest. These examples provide the fodder for the opposing viewpoints to attack each other and play political games while the issue goes unresolved.

The claim that little to no money is provided for gifted and talented programs is substantiated by the data. Funding is allocated at the state’s discretion. According to the State of the State’s report, in 2008-2009 only thirty-two states mandated gifted and talented programs (National Association for Gifted Children). Of these thirty-two states, only six fully fund said mandate. Thirteen states were found to give zero dollars in funding for gifted and talented programs. As stated above, an argument to providing funding to gifted and talented programs is the fear of taking away from special education students who are in dire need of extra services. With the current economy causing everyone to tighten their belts to the point of asphyxiation, extra funding is not an option. However, according to the National Association for Gifted Children website, extra funding is not necessarily a determinant for an effective G & T program.

Another issue that can shortchange a challenging education for gifted and talented students is the lack of training for teachers who have gifted and talented students in their classrooms. Thirty-six states do not require teachers to have any training with regards to the needs of gifted and talented students. Teachers are the basal level of effectively educating gifted and talented students because teachers identify students as gifted and talented as well as actually educating them. If teachers are not adequately trained in these areas, gifted and talented students will either go unnoticed or ineffectively educated. With many schools striving toward inclusion, differentiated instruction between a student with special needs and a gifted and talented student can be extremely taxing on a teacher who has not been trained on effective strategies for bridging the gap.

However, there are some negative points to gifted and talented education which are worth noting. According to an article probing gifted and talented students’ perceptions, stereotyping is a significant concern for students who had been labeled gifted and talented. Students reported being teased for being smart, as well as being taken advantage of by other students (i.e., doing their homework for them) (Berlin, 2009). Another issue is that gifted and talented students are more susceptible to perfectionism because of their label (Speirs-Neumeister, Williams, & Cross, 2009). Gifted and talented students feel that they have certain expectations that they are to live up to, and that failure is not acceptable for them. This can be detrimental to the education of these students, and special attention needs to be given to gifted and talented students who are exhibiting perfectionist characteristics.

Gifted and Talented education in America today seems to be extremely stagnant, and this is mostly due to the bureaucracy that gets in the way of providing the services necessary for these students. A plan needs to be set forth by advocates for gifted and talented education that is cheap, yet effective. On a micro level, teachers need to be better trained in educating these students, as well as addressing the other issues that come along with gifted and talented youth, like perfectionism and stigmatizations. I am confident that we can move in the direction of celebrating highly intelligent students and students with special needs all in the same breath; we as a society simply have to break the way of thinking that pits the two against each other.


Berlin, J. E. (2009). It’s all a matter of perspective: Student perceptions on the impact of being labeled gifted and talented. Roeper Review, 31, 217-223.

National Association for Gifted Children. (2009). State of the nation if gifted education: How states regulate and support programs and services for gifted and talented students.

Speirs-Neumeister, K. L., Williams, K. K., & Cross, T. L. (2009). Gifted high-school students’ perspectives on the development of perfectionism. Roeper Review, 31, 198-206.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Emphasis for STEM in Education

Melissa D’Agostino The Emphasis For STEM In Education

With the push to close the achievement gap associated with No Child Left Behind, the needs of gifted students were placed on the back burner. According to the statics presented in Dr. Dugan’s second class, the United States finished 24th out of 29 countries in high school math testing and 21st out of 30 in high school science testing. Technology has made outsourcing much easier for companies and it has become a necessity due to the decreasing number of students entering the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

For the majority of the 20th century, the United States has lead in number and quality of positions in science, engineering, and mathematics. However, it is suggested that the US will likely relinquish its global leadership if focus is not placed on improving STEM education (Subotnik, Tai, Rickoff, and Almarode, 2010). How can we hold onto our leadership position in STEM fields in this time of global competition for skilled positions?
There is much information online to support the cause of increasing STEM education in US schools. The STEM Education Coalition is made up of over 1,000 diverse groups that are dedicated to seeing that quality STEM education is available to students at all levels of their education. The STEM Education Institute also offers support for teachers by providing educational activities and materials.

In an article written by Richard Colelli of Southern Lehigh High School in Center Valley, Pennsylvannia he outlines a successful program which he helped design that meets STEM education standards. After attending a robotics conference Colelli’s district was awarded a $10,000 grant for LEGO Mindstorms robotic kits and software. Students in technology courses were highly interested in programming and running their robots. The program enabled students to role play engineering careers as it allowed students to experience responsibilities of individuals in robotic programming and engineering careers. The high school also has a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program which seeks to “…involve parents and also successful professionals from industry to help and teach our student members engineering techniques and problem-solving skills – vital in the world’s global business and industrial economy and requiring skills associated with mathematics, engineering, production, and marketing careers” (Colelli, 2009). The programs have been so successful in creating student interest in STEM fields that classes are at maximum capacity and students are still seeing their guidance counselors in an attempt to be placed in the classes. It is this enthusiasm and interest that is needed to help increase the number of students entering STEM careers.

Subotnik et al reported that studies have shown the students excelling in STEM fields are those who identify with the “type” of people in said fields and those that are confident in their abilities in related subjects. With self-image so closely related to whether or not students pursue certain careers, it is important to pay attention to the “…American sociocultural phenomena such as decreased student population associated with mathematical interests” (Subotnik et al, 2010). Some emphasis should be placed on making STEM “cool” and fun for students. The results of a google search for STEM shows one particular website that addresses stereotypes and attempts to dismiss them. In a society that so concerned with image websites such as this one in helpful in increasing much needed interest in STEM fields in the US.

So what makes an educational program successful? Holding students to professional standards, mentoring support, peers with common interests, strong content knowledge, engaging hands-on activities are a few factors that foster student interest in STEM careers and haven been proven helpful in students’ decisions in continuing their education in STEM fields (Subotnik et al, 2010). In a letter to Washington, the STEM Coalition argues for Mathematics and Science Honors Scholarships and forgiving student loans in order to increase the number of STEM graduates. While this certainly provides incentives for students interested in furthering their education in STEM, it is important for change to begin in STEM programs in US schools. If more schools follow programs similar to the one described in Colelli’s article, more students in US school will graduate from high school with more knowledge in STEM, which is a start for the US in keeping our global leadership role.

Colelli, R. (2009). Model program: Southern Lehigh High School, Center Valley, PA. The
Technology Teacher.
Subotnik, R.F., Tai, R.H., Rickoff, R. and Almarode, J. Specialized Public High Schools of
Science, Mathematics, and Technology and the STEM Pipeline: What do We Know
Now and What Will We Know in 5 Years?. Roeper Review.
“STEM Coalition Argues for Federal Support of STEM Education Programs” (a letter to Washinnton)

Technology in the Classroom

With the advent of technology in all roads of life, it is essential that we prepare today’s students for the reality of tomorrow. In order to obtain the skills necessary for competition in higher academic institutions and in the work force, children must receive exposure to current technology. The benefits of inclusion do not end there. The U.S. Department of Education performed a series of studies looking at the benefits of technology integration in the classroom. In addition to providing students with realistic job skills, integration of computers in daily instruction served a host of other purposes.

Students using computers were presented with the opportunity to independently solve problems as they performed assigned tasks. After receiving initial instruction, the class had to make decisions on how to approach the problem. Through a series of decisions, such as picking appropriate software and choosing where to search for information, students parsed apart problems in individual methods based on experience. In the event of unexpected errors, they learn to solve the issue in a constructive manner, acquiring skills which serve them in the future.

This opportunity to solve their own problems not only fosters the ability to solve future problems but also motivated students to persevere in the face of problems as they arise. The power to solve one’s own problems independently and with competence builds self-esteem and motivation through accomplishment. Educators involved in these studies noticed marked improvement in the student’s interest in the course material with their successes.

Technology in the classroom also serves to promote equity between students who have access to computers outside the classroom and those who do not. All students involved in the study were exposed to career related technologies providing the same opportunity regardless of socioeconomic limitation. This also creates a unified approach in education across school districts regardless of socioeconomic standing. Teachers in schools receiving more funding were implementing the same technologies and educational programs as those in schools with high poverty rates.

Initially I was against the idea of technology in the classroom. I myself am a hands on learner, which biases me towards a real-life, physical approach in education. However, the research presented a number of valid arguments and benefits for the integration of technology. Computer savvy is a very real requirement for the next generation entering the workforce and the benefits of the uniform approach really serves to provide an equal opportunity for all students. I still have a number of reservations which were highlighted in Education week magazine. Their article concerning technology in the classroom mentioned the negative side of the proposed integration.

Technology is becoming ubiquitous and with the introduction of technology in the classroom there is the potential for oversaturation and dependence on those technologies. Students may in effect, become crippled by their reliance on tools to complete tasks or solve problems. Technologies are not always readily available and such dependence may limit their ability to problem solve in every day contet. For example, students may be able to simulate a chemistry experiment but simulation will not present them with the same results and limitations of a physical experiment. In a physical lab students would learn how to measure, mix and transport materials safely and interpret the imperfections in their results.

Another major argument is the expense of providing, maintaining and keeping up to date with the influx of new technology. At present, schools are already facing major budgeting issues and the proposed induction of things like higher functioning calculators and laptops for each student present schools with an enormous cost. This is in addition to keeping the teachers up to date with the technology and its use presents huge costs. The use of computers in the classroom has great potential to solve many of the issues concerning the problems facing schools. However, there are a few key details that as yet undermine the probable implementation in the public school system.

Through this research I have significantly changed my attitude towards the use of technology in classrooms, I still remain skeptical of the extent to which proponents seek to integrate its use. As is often the case I feel that neither one extreme nor the other will meet the needs of the students. However, a balanced approach in which students are taught to use their own skills first and seek use of technology as a resource or high functioning tool seems the most appropriate solution to our current dilemma.