Sunday, October 31, 2010

7 Effective New Trends for District Professional Development

Handout for Curriculum Implementation Class
So, when was the last time you’ve heard a school administrator say, “Wow! I can’t believe I have all this money to spend on professional development!”? Despite shrinking budgets and spiraling costs, school administrators are dramatically altering the structure of professional development in their districts…and they are getting positive results. Here are seven ways how that is happening:

1. In-house Training – Instead of sending a team of teachers out of district for trainings, administrators bring trainers into the district. Doing so, they train 25 teachers for about the cost of eight teachers sent out of district. Administrators can also choose professional development dates that are convenient for the district and they can customize offerings that might otherwise have been presented in a one-size-fits-all fashion.

2. Consortium Building – When in-house training is too pricey, some self-assertive administrators slash costs by creating consortiums with neighboring districts. Some administrators make arrangements where costs are split evenly; others agree to having each district pay per seat occupied.

3. On-going & Systemic Training – Rather than filling professional days with many trainers covering a variety of topics, administrators are turning to data driven decision making, focusing deeply on fewer areas. Administrators then create communities of learners by having presenters make multiple visits across the school year to review and expand upon focal areas with their team of participants.

4. Mentor Coaches – While districts are moving towards on-going, in-house professional development, presenters are increasingly being expected to walk-the-walk. It is not unusual to find presenters moving from classroom to classroom observing, coaching, and even modeling techniques directly with students. One added benefit to this method of professional development is that any day of the school year can become a training day, at little or no disruption to the instructional schedule and with no substitute teacher expenses.

5. On-line Training – Another way administrators avoid substitute teacher expenses and disruptions to the instructional schedule is by offering on-line workshop and college course opportunities. Most of these trainings are not held live, which means that they can be accessed anywhere and at times that are convenient to the participant, such as at home during evenings or weekends.

6. Teaching Academies – Many administrators will agree that expertise can be found from within the ranks of the district staff. Six southern NJ counties have adopted this belief with the creation of Teaching and Learning Academies. These academies are created and governed by teachers, for teachers. Professional development opportunities are offered through quarterly meetings and a wealth of resources are available on the Academy website:

7. Subcontracting – Perhaps the ultimate professional development commitment comes from districts who subcontract consultants on a full or part-time basis. Districts who cannot afford full-time personnel are using educational agencies to hire reading coaches, ITs, directors and even superintendents of schools. These consultants often come from the ranks of retired administrators and teachers, saving the district and educational agency the cost of benefits.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Separation of Church and State - Michael Martusus

The idea of separation of church and state has been discussed by scholars for over 2000 years. This view came to the forefront in the Western world during the enlightenment period (17th century). The Philosophers of this time period, especially John Locke, will directly influence the founding fathers on this topic when developing the United States constitution. The first major challenge came about when clarifying freedom of religion in the 1st amendment. Our third president Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter in 1802 which he coined the phrase, “Wall of separation between church and state”. This phrase will go hand in hand with many Supreme Court decisions and is still a highly debated topic today with many pros and cons.

The advantages and disadvantages of separation of church and state for U.S. citizens are clearly written in the 1st amendment in our Constitution. These clauses are the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause.

First, the Establishment Clause states that the government shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. This right has not allowed the government to declare and financially support a national religion. The government must remain neutral towards all religions. This clause will be challenged by state governments throughout the United States history. For example: The Supreme Court case in 1962 of Engel VS. Vitale. The state of New York approved a voluntary prayer at the beginning of each school day. The prayer read as followed: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country." The question arose; does this nondenominational prayer violate the establishment of religious clause of the first amendment? Yes it does. By New York providing this prayer it is supporting an official state religion. If this was accepted in New York what would stop other states from passing their own approved religion. This would be extremely discriminatory towards students of different religious faiths. The government would be able to influence our student’s moral values and their secular views.

Second, banning formal school prayer is a benefit for the student body as a whole. With so many religions practiced in the U.S. and with the various denominational differences a school would not be able to assure a positive spiritual experience for all the attending students. This would create a split in the student body thus hurting the main objectives of the institution which is to educate the students. For example: The social/political climate in the U.S. has changed immensely since the 17th century. The roots of public education started when the Puritans passed legislation in 1642 requiring all children to attend school so they could read and understand the principles of their Christian religion. They wanted to ensure that their children would grow up committed to their religious doctrines. However with today’s diverse population this idea would never be feasible.

Third, public school systems are created for all students and paid for by taxpayers. If a public school supported one religion and allowed prayer in the school the tax payer who is not of that religious sect would not feel obligated to support the school financially. This would affect the school budget, let alone split the parents, the board of education, and the political structure within the municipality. For example: If a public school placed a Christmas tree in the lobby and had the students recite Matthew 1:18-25 (story of Jesus’ birth) the other religious sects (Islam, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu) would feel their religious beliefs were not being supported by the educational institution. Thus, their taxes would not be beneficial for their child’s education.

First, the Free Exercise Clause in the Constitution states that the government shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. This means people can worship their religion without government interference unless it breaks the law. This has become freedom from religion not freedom of religion. To ban school prayer takes away a student’s religious freedom and forces them to act in a manner that is uniform of the institution they are attending. Students lose the freedom to express themselves. This can hinder their education because they are following an institutions way of thought and not their own.

Second, school prayer would benefit students in schools. The public school systems have been decaying over time. This is evident by the alarming rise of drug use, teen pregnancy, school shootings, and the transfer of sexual transmitted diseases among the students. If school prayer was allowed it would help fight theses issues. It would establish a sense of morality within the children. Also, school prayer would address the needs of the whole student. Schools would not just be preparing the students academically but would strengthen values that are taught at their homes and throughout the community.

Third, prayer in school could help students achieve higher on the state tests. If a student is allowed to pray in school it will set their mind at ease. If student’s minds are at ease then they are able to concentrate more with task on hand. With every public school district struggling to achieve AYP this would be a good idea. If a school was allowed to have a school prayer before everyday then students would have the ability to confirm their faith and have a positive outlook for the day. When taking tests a positive attitude can go a long way to passing.

In conclusion, there are many pros and cons with the separation of church and state. Both views can be argued to what is beneficial for the development of for the students in our school systems.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Charter Schools

Dionna D’Ambrosio
Charter School Blog

Charter schools are publicly funded primary or secondary schools that are not obligated to follow the rules, regulations, and statues of other public schools. Each school has implemented a “charter” which explains the accountability for producing certain results, and some schools even provide curriculum for specific fields. Since charter schools are funded by tax dollars they are open and attended by choice and are not allowed to charge tuition. Some of these institutions can be founded as well funded by teachers, parents, private donors, corporations, and activists, some may even be state authorized. Charter schools reflect their founders' varied philosophies, programs, and organizational structures, serving diverse student populations, and continued commitment to improving public education.
There are many members of society that are dissatisfied with education and public school districts, so supporters see charter schools, as a workable compromise and an alternative to vouchers. The charter approach is guided by two principles:  1.)  insisting that schools operate as an autonomous public school  2.) they are accountable for student achievement. So the most common reasons for founding charters were to pursue an educational vision and gain autonomy. Charter schools tend to be somewhat more racially diverse, and enroll slightly fewer students with special needs and limited-English-proficient students than the average schools in their state. Most newly created charter schools face obstacles when implementing their charter, making them more vulnerable due to limited resources and inadequate startup funds. Even though most charter activists recommend schools control all pupil funds they usually end up receiving less funding then other public schools. The greatest benefit of charter schools according to supporters is that all public schools will get better if there is competition. The public school system as it previously stood was a monopoly. Except for paying for private schooling which some families may be lucky enough to do, the local public school was the only option a parent had for educating their child. Another argument for charter schools is that they give parents options. Charter schools give parents the option of sending their children to schools that are more to their liking, especially when cultural or religious preference is a concern. So a benefit is that charter schools give choice to those who previously lacked it.

A criticism of charter schools is that they attract students with concerned parents, who want to take an active interest in their child’s education. There have been studies that show that children who have parents actively involved in their education do better overall than students who do not. Therefore, charter schools may attract the students who tend to do better in school leaving the local school system left with fewer children who have active parents. In the end it would be hard to accurately compare the charter with the local school district. In the United States democracy and fairness is very important, so is the belief that schooling should serve all regardless of class and give all an equal chance at an education. However, the traditional public school system has not delivered on the democratic equality promise because all schools are not equal. Some are much worse than others and poor students in these schools have no choice but to attend them. This results in them not having a fair chance at succeeding. Charter schools may offer this fair chance so in turn children can succeed in all that they choose. In the end education through charter schools will hopefully help us create a higher educated society.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Class Size

In reviewing some of the literature and research over the past decade, the issue of class size has continued to draw much interest, research, and controversy. The problem persists because of the powerful assumption that students who are taught in classes with less pupils will invariably out-perform those students educated in larger groups. Given this assumption, much of the research, although not all well controlled, has substantiated the obvious. However, the findings have led to notable caveats and nuances. Moreover, the leaders in education are looking for direction which might assist in striking a balance between the initiatives to lower class size and yet permit policymakers and school districts to work within reasonable budgetary constraints.

Interestingly, there have been several major studies initiated by various states to exam the benefits of smaller class size. From 1985 to 1989, Tennesse was prompted to complete a large scale, randomized experiment called the Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) ( The experiment included a substantial 11,600 kindergarten through third grade students with 1,300 teachers in 76 schools from 42 districts, wherein comparisons were made between classes of 13 to 17 students and classes of 22 to 26 students. The results were touted as the most credible scientific evidence due to its large scale effort. It was found that small class size led to significant long term improvement in reading and math, with the greatest benefits noted for those students who started very early in their school career. Another study in Wisconsin (1996-1997) called Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) reinforced STAR’s results but extended the goal to focus on the achievement of children living in poverty. It was found that the impact is greatest for low-income minority students and those attending inner-city schools. Wisconsin continues to offer renewable 5-year contracts designed to promote academic achievement through lower class sizes in the primary grades. Schools receive state aid up to $2,250 for each low-income K-3 child (

Other reviews of research, i.e. Indiana’s PRIME TIME (1984) wherein the state funded an initiative to reduce class size over three years in 1st through 3rd grades, found positive outcomes for small classes on such factors as time on task, individualized attention and instruction, improved student behavior, and teacher satisfaction. However, the research was not well controlled and did not follow rigorous procedures, resulting in criticisms that the results were neither confirmatory nor refutable of previous findings. Another notable follow-up study, again by Tennessee, was called the Lasting Benefits Study (LBS) (1995-1996) and it involved tracking students who were in the original study, the majority who were in 10th grade at that time. They concluded that for students who had been in smaller classes, the benefits included: lasting student motivation, student inclination to expend more effort in school, tendency to assume greater initiative in their learning, less disruptive, and less inattentive behaviors. Both the STAR and LBS studies were touted as providing compelling evidence that smaller classes in the primary grades are academically superior to classes of larger size (

Continuing in this arena, other studies have focused on related issues such as student on/off task behaviors, pupil achievement levels, socioeconomic status, age effects, minority students, class size thresholds, teacher strategies and methodologies, amount of teacher-pupil interactions, teacher to pupil ratios (defined differently than “class size”), and classroom management (

In California and Florida, there were statewide efforts to move in the direction of smaller class size but the results have been inconclusive and costly due to the fact that other initiatives were launched simultaneously and it was difficult to tease out the long term effects on student achievement (

In summary, the literature is fraught with assumptions and some evidence regarding class size effects, none of which are conclusive. Policymakers will need to carefully examine and weigh the pros and cons of such issues as: costs related to creating new facilities for classroom space, recruitment of highly qualified teachers, implementation of rigorous curriculum, teaching methodologies, considering the timing of implementation, determining threshold of class sizes, and the years of student exposure to small class size, all seemingly related and necessary to effect improvement in long term student achievement. This being a daunting undertaking, other options toward improving student achievement will also need scrutiny to include teaching reform, test-based accountability, teacher incentives, professional development, staff-evaluation practices, school choice, to name a few, as quite possibly more cost effective means to achieve the same end which is irrefutably labor-market success.


1. American Educational Research Association:

2. Links to research on the benefits of smaller class size:

3. National Bureau of Economic Research:

4. Research on the Academic Effects of Small Class Size:

5. Konstantopoulus, S. & Chum, V. (2009). “What are the Long-Term Effects of Small Classes on the Achievement Gap? Evidence from the Lasting Benefits Study”. American Journal of Education.

6. Wisconsin Department of Public Education:

Curriculum Mapping

Curriculum maps serve many purposes: aligning curriculum to written standards, developing integrated units, providing a baseline for the curriculum review and renewal process, identifying the staff development needs, and providing communication amongst the teachers ( By aligning curriculum to the written standards, the curriculum map will assist the district with meeting those standards more efficiently. Curriculum maps will assist teachers with planning lessons and integrating units because the curriculum lays out timelines for what subject matter is supposed to be taught throughout the year. Using the curriculum map as a baseline allows the district to evaluate it and improve it periodically. When implementing the curriculum map, staff and administrators can identify and seek improvement for areas of weakness. Curriculum mapping will prompt communication and collaboration among the teachers, since they will all follow the same timeline, and with the community.

Creating a curriculum map is a seven step process: data collection, individual reviews, small group reviews, large group comparisons, identify immediate revisions needed and create suitable timetable, identify areas needing further research and a suitable timetable, and planning the next review session ( The first step in curriculum mapping is data collection: core skills, content taught, assessments used, and progress made. Individual teachers would need to review each map and give feedback in small groups. Larger groups would then meet to review the feedback from the small groups. The curriculum team must then remedy the areas that need immediate attention and plan long-term for the areas where more data is needed. However, the process cannot stop there; curriculum mapping is an on-going work of progress.

There is a variety of templates for curriculum maps, but they all have three main areas in common: the essential questions, skills, and assessment. In order to develop a curriculum map that will be effectively implemented through lessons, the map-makers need to develop the curriculum map with the following considerations ( Essential Questions: highlighting key concepts, relating questions to skills, logical sequence, engaging the learners, open-ended, realistic time-frames and levels, appropriate number of questions, and non-repetitious. Skills: written with action verbs, linked to the essential questions, level-matching, and cross-curricular skills. Assessment: detailing the assessment, evaluating specific skills, reflect essential questions, level-appropriate, show evidence of progress: growth or regression.

Curriculum mapping results in shortening meeting time due to focusing on details, providing real data on assessment and skills, assisting teachers with planning, reinforcing value, and providing a tool for communicating with the parents, staff, administrators, decision-makers, grant providers, government officials, and other community members (

Curriculum mapping has some downfalls. It is a time-consuming task. It lacks clearly defined goals. There is a variety of curriculum map templates and vocabulary, which makes curriculum maps inconsistent across the board. If developed without consideration and input from the staff, it would be difficult to implement, making it more useful for the map-makers (

Many districts are already set up in favor of developing and utilizing a curriculum map ( Districts that have curriculum guides and classes that are laid-out in themed units and learning objectives are on the right track for curriculum mapping. Evaluation checklists and activity archives also aid in the process of starting a curriculum map. Also weekly planning meetings could be used in the processes of collecting data for the development process map and reviewing the curriculum map for the renewal and improvement process.

Race to the Top

On July 24, 2009, President Barack Obama introduced a new program to fund education by saying, “America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters… And the race starts today. I am issuing a challenge to our nation’s governors and school boards, principals and teachers, businesses and non-profits, parents and students: if you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments; if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom; if you turn around failing schools – your state can win a Race to the Top grant that will not only help students outcompete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential,” (Fact Sheet: The Race to the Top | The White House). The Race to the Top focused on five major areas of improvement: standards and assessments, effective teachers, accurate data-driven instruction, turning around struggling schools, and promoting reform in education. This “race” was designed to be conducted in two phases, evaluating states with a point system. In order for states to earn the points needed to stay in the “race,” they would have to comply with various reforms set by the program, such as adopting standards for kindergarten through twelfth grade. The program was designed to provide $4.35 billion in funding for education: $4 billion for statewide reform grants and $350 million for collaboration of states to improve assessments (

Overall, the Race to the Top program has provided funding for education “that will directly impact 13.6 million students, and 980,000 teachers in 25,000 schools,” ( At the conclusion of phase one, awards were presented based on the state’s portion of the federal population of children aged 5-17. However, only four states were eligible for the largest awards and the majority of the first phase applicants were not expected to receive any award at all (Wikipedia). In the beginning of March 2009, fifteen states and the District of Columbia were identified as the phase one finalists. Later that month, the winners of phase one were announced: Tennessee, receiving $500 million, and Delaware, receiving $100 million. In August 2010, nine states and the District of Columbia were named winners of phase two ( / Wikipedia). Each winning state of phase two was provided a budget not to exceed: District of Columbia ($75 million), Florida ($700 million), Georgia ($400 million), Hawaii ($75 million), Maryland ($250 million), Massachusetts ($250 million), New York ($700 million), North Carolina ($400 million), Ohio ($400 million), and Rhode Island ($75 million) (

Some faults were found with the practices and policies of the Race to the Top funding program. States could choose not to participate. Teacher unions fought the federal government’s involvement. More rigorous practices than those set by the program were not always accepted. There is concern that the practices being pushed by the program have not been proven effective, or have even failed in the past (Wikipedia).

The Race to the Top program has prompted 46 states and the District of Columbia to make reforms to better education. The District of Columbia and 35 other states adopted the standards identified by the program to better prepare students for college and careers focusing on reading and math. Laws and policies to better education were changed in 34 states (

There has been a great deal of reform throughout the nation due to Race to the Top. However, there have also been some oversights. It is so important that teachers reach out to all students, but this program did not reach all the states. Several states made the efforts and did improve, yet they did not receive funding. It seems to be a vicious cycle: reform is required in order to receive funding through the Race to the Top; however funding is needed to make reform.

U.S. Department of Education (Race to the Top)

The White House (Race to the Top)

Wikipedia (Race to the Top)

Blog: The Year-Round Schools Debate

Year-Round Schools, which are also known as a modified school year or balanced school year, is the rearrangement of the traditional school calendar to provide more continuous learning throughout the school year instead of having a long summer break. Students in the modified school year still receive the same amount of instructional time as those on the traditional calendar. According to the National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE,2000), the number of year-round schools in the US has increased from over 400 in the late 1980’s to 2,880 during the 1999-2000 school year and nearly 2.2 million students enrolled in more than 3,000 K-12 schools during the 2005-2006 school year (Gerard, 2007). Because of this growing trend, we need to make sure that the changes are educationally beneficial and in the best interest of students, families, teachers and administrators.
PROS for Year-Round Schools
The main positive advantage of Year-Round schools is that the schedule improves academic outcomes and increases student achievement. This is accomplished because it eliminates or reduces summer learning loss which is when student forget information that was taught before the summer break. Additionally, teachers do not have to spend a month to review what the students forgot because no break on the modified schedule is longer than 8 weeks. According to Cooper et al., (1996), summer learning loss is most dramatic for students from less advantaged backgrounds and “at risk” students who appear to benefit from a more balanced school year. Secondly, Year-Round Schools can also accommodate students who are falling behind by giving them the opportunity to participate in intercession which is a time to provide remediation or enrichment during the breaks.
Another benefit for Year-Round Schools is greater satisfaction among parents, students, teachers and even schools as a whole. Regarding students and teachers, there are more positive attitudes towards schooling, less burn out and less stress when there are shorter breakers more frequently. Additionally, absenteeism is reduced by both students and teachers which is instrumental in improving academic achievement. Administrators favor this schedule despite some workload and organizational challenges (Winter, 2005). Parents are generally positive about this schedule because it limits the need for long term child care and they can avoid expensive summer camp costs. Lastly, the move to year-round schooling often is a catalyst for other changes, in curriculum, staff development and parent support which can improve the school system (MGlynn, 2002).
The third main benefit for year round schools is that it is better suited for societies’ needs today. To ease overcrowding and save money, a multi-track schedule is used which divides the teachers and students into tracks. At any one time, there is always at least one track on vacation or intersession so they are able to handle more students than the building is capable of (Gerard, 2007). Lastly, global completion is something our society needs to think about as we lag behind other countries. By increasing academic learning time (time on task) in the classroom, we may increase the ability to produce skills that employees need to work in a global competitive economy (Cuban, 2008).
CONS for Year-Round Schools
Opponents of the modified schedule make the point that just changing the schedule has little increased educational value (Winter, 401). Multiple studies have found no differences in achievement between students in year-round and traditional schools (McMillen, 2005). Additionally, in relation to the traditional school year, the modified schedule is relatively unexplored. There has not been enough research and evaluation of these programs to really conclude if they are more beneficial. Lastly, a study by “Time to Learn” shows approximately 21 % of schools abandoned the Year-Round School calendar from 1995 to 2000 (McGlynn, 2002).
The second disadvantage of Year-Round schools is that the schedule could negatively impact students, teachers and parents. Without a long summer break children may not be likely to attend summer camp, where they learn valuable skills and learn to socialize with peers. Teenagers depend on the summer break to earn money and learn work-place skills so they can prepare for their future. For teachers, the year round calendar involves a tracking system so that teacher would have to perform four beginning of the year reviews instead of one. This could be intimidating and stressful especially considering the lack of preparation time for the next academic year when there is no long summer break. For parents, if their kids are in different tracks it could be difficult to coordinated vacations/schedules and could potentially cause a split within the school community (Winter, 2005).
Overall, we can see that there are both positive and negative aspects of the Year-Round Schools. Changes must be educationally beneficial and the students need to be our first concern when determining which program to use so that we increase their chances for success.

Blueprint for Reform

On January 8, 2001, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was enacted into law to to help close the achievement gap and increase accountability for school districts. The goal of this was to have no child left behind by the year of 2014. Although the idea sounds perfect, followers had many questions and debates surrounding the action plan. Standardized tests were used to measure the success and failure of the students and districts. The tests were based off of primarily Reading and Math skills. Due to many concerns surrounding the consequences after the test, what the test was primarily based on, and other flaws, NCLB President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden proposed a change. The Blueprint for Reform was enacted on March 13, 2010. World-class education needed to be addressed along with college readiness. Succeeding the workplace and leaving high school and college ready to compete for jobs is now a priority. Unlike NCLB, the government does not mandate a specific model. The state, district, and schools now work together to develop standards and their accountability system; because not every school is the same.

Blueprint for Reform addresses a well-rounded education including math, science, technology, civics, foreign languages, the arts, financial literacy, and other subjects to help our students compete with other countries. Some argue that this is just Part Two of NCLB and possible worse. How can the teachers teach such a variety of subjects in under-funded school districts while still making time to teach material on the test? The plan also focuses on improving students’ health knowledge, addressing violence and substance abuse so they are made aware what is going on and possible resources. NCLB did not address any surrounding environment variables. With Blueprint for Reform enacted, schools are not being recognized and rewarded for high test scores. It is predicted that by 2020 the United States will once again lead the world in college completion and close the achievement gap. When students succeed, it is also predicted that the high school dropout rate will reduce when compared to previous years.
Despite some of the wonderful benefits that can come about from this, teacher unions are focusing on the responsibility that they have taken over. Their “effectiveness” of teaching will be based on these test scores. They feel like although they have all of the responsibility of this, they do not have the authority to implement any changes. The new funding formula may also cut many districts funding while increasing their goals as well.

Year Round Schooling

Monica Pappalardo

20 October 2010

Fundamentals of Curriculum Development

Year-Round Schooling

Year-round schooling is not a new concept but is still a controversial debate for many people. Year round schooling does not mean that children are sent to school every day all year long. Year round school calendars take different forms. The calendar can be single track, which means students and school personnel all follow the same schedule. Multitrack is when students and teachers divide into two or more groups and follow staggered schedules, which is usually used to reduce overcrowding. Most of the time, year round schooling does not mean an extended school year, which is different from year round because there is still 180 days in a year round school. The difference is that the days are dispursed differently so that there is no summer vacation.

The main reason for the argument of having year round schools is that many children return to school after the summer vacation and forget many skills and content since they haven’t practiced them for several months. According to the National Association for Year Round Education, 3,000 year round schools enrolled more than 2 million students in 2007. They also reported that in 2002-2003, 3,181 public schools now function year round compared with 408 schools in 1986-87. There are many arguments for and against year round schooling and are as follows.

For Year Round Schools:
· Departure from the traditional school year calendar could better the needs of society and increase student achievement.
· Explain that the traditional calendar is rooted in economic instead of educational concerns.
· Research shows that year round schools can have more positive effects for children who are at risk for academic problems, such as those from low income families or who are typically lower performing students.
· Two meta-analyses found conclusive results for year round schooling. Worthen and Zsiray (1994) and Cooper, Valentine, Charlton, and Melson (2003) found:
o Students in year round schools do as well or slightly better in terms of academic achievement than students in traditional schools.
o Year round education may be particularly beneficial for low-income families.
o Students, parents, and teachers who participate in a year round school tend to have positive attitudes about the experience.
· Decrease teacher burn-out due to frequent breaks.
· No need for parents to worry about child care for summer break or summer camps.

Against Year Round Schools:
· Year round schooling is disruptive to family life. Difficult to schedule family vacations.
· Provides little or no academic benefit.
· Impedes different kind of learning that children experience on their summer breaks.
· Need the resources and the cost of climate control in buildings. Some schools have no air conditioning during the very warm months.
· Resources for building repairs and cleaning.
· For the multitrack year round schooling, not all students are on a year round schedule, so there is a need for teachers to choose year round or traditional schedules.
· Older students cannot get a summer job.

With all these pros and cons to the issue, there is still the fact that much of this is not conclusive in research. Since there are so many different forms of year round schools, there is no valid research which shows that academic achievement is better. Also being that resources would have to stretch for a longer amount of time is not taken into consideration. With budget cuts schools are receiving it is difficult to say that year round schooling is the best option. Many schools only have minimal resources, especially those schools where low-income families attend. These are the schools which year round schooling would be needed and research says academic achievement would increase; however, can these schools afford the costs to having a year round school? These are all questions and concerns which keep this topic under debate, regardless many schools are changing to the new year round school calendar.

Huebner, T. A. (2010). What Research says about Year Round Schooling. Educational


Year round schooling. (2004). Education Week.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Common Core Standards

As far back as the settling of the United States, individual states have held the opportunity to govern the education within their state. This was reinforced by the Constitution of the United States, granting state governments the right to set the standards and goals for education within their own state. This inevitably led to a range of standards throughout the United States. As America is contending with other nations, her school systems have begun to lag. This among other concerns resulted in the implementation in Common Core Standards that were adopted nationally by the majority of states, including New Jersey. The Common Core Standards are a step in leveling the playing field for all students within the country with the goal of competing in a world where we are no longer the top competitors. The Common Core Standards were developed to provide students with the skills necessary to be successful in both college and their careers.

Common Core Standards, like many items in education, are controversial. On many levels there are both positive and negative aspects to adopting national standards in education. It is in our nation’s best interest to keep what is best for the students at the forefront of the debate. Teachers, administrators, parents, and the community alike hold opinions on the matter at hand. While educators in America are debating over the affects of common standards, children in China and other industrialized countries are preparing to compete with our children for the jobs of the twenty first century.

To begin, common national standards will provide students with the ability to have high quality education regardless of the state they live in. The majority of states, prior to Common Core Standard adoption, had lower expectations of their students. Implementing the national standards guarantees, to the best of the government’s ability, that each student is provided with the most appropriate public education. The national standards also ensure that teachers are aware of exactly what is necessary to teach students to compete in the global economy. Furthermore, parents are also able to be aware of what their children are being held accountable for and how they can assist in the process. Common Core Standards will allow for states that have been consistently behind in education when compared to other states, to theoretically catch up. No longer will students in rural or urban areas receive lower expectations are goals than students in wealthier states or districts. This provides students and teachers with the motivation to succeed.

Although there are numerous positive aspects of Common Core Standards, there are also several negative affects. In the most basic sense, national standards remove the running of education from the state into the hands of the federal government. Where as in the past districts were run locally and by the state, the federal government would have more power with national standards. This is related to the information taught as well as funding. Local municipalities are facing the fact that they may not hold control over how their school is run as well as seen and will make the choice to accept what the national government is planning or risk losing funding. The loss of teacher creativity is also discussed as a drawback of national standards. When the standards are clearly and directly states, it takes away from the teacher’s chance to use their own experience and creativity. There is also the idea that not only teacher’s ability to be unique is being under- minded by national standards, but students as well. Parents fear that their child’s chance to be unique within the education system may be diminished by common standards. Finally, states that feel their present standards are higher than the national standards fail to realize why they should chance. If it is found that a state’s expectations exceed that of the nation, who is the federal government to insist on the implementation of Common Core Standards?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Common Core Standards

Our nation is lagging behind other nations, such as India and China, when it comes to education. Reforms take place throughout the United States to try and improve our school systems. National and state standards are a way of setting educational goals to improve what our students are learning. Standards were created with the intention to clarify and raise expectations by providing a common set of expectations for all students. New Jersey State Board of Education adopted the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards in 1996. New Jersey’s standards were created to improve student achievement by clearly defining what all students should know and be able to do at the end of thirteen years of public education. When the Core Curriculum Content Standards were created, the State Board required that the standards be reviewed and revised every five years. Reviews began first in 2001, but updated standards were not released until 2004. Recently, in 2009, the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards were revised and released. The 2009 NJ Core Curriculum Standards appeal more to the 21st-century student and outcomes for students require a deeper understanding of academic content at a higher level than ever before.

Two subjects, Mathematics and Language Arts, were not revised under the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards. These subjects’ standards come from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and were adopted by majority of the country, including New Jersey. Each state has its own process for developing, adopting, and implementing standards. As a result, what students are expected to learn can vary widely from state to state. The CCSS are part of a state-led effort to give all students the skills and knowledge they need to succeed across the country. It is no surprise that Mathematics and Language Arts standards are nationwide since standardized testing mainly focuses on these two subjects.

In the education world, debates and arguments occur regularly. Educational standards are nothing different and unfortunately disagreements surround this topic as well. According to the CCSS website, educational standards are needed to ensure that all students are prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce and common standards allow for high quality consistency from school to school. In terms of CCSS, not just NJ Core Curriculum Standards, consistency is not just from school to school, but extends from state to state. This can be very beneficial to our nation’s students. With standards being normalized across the nation, every student is guaranteed to be taught solid knowledge of the most important topics. According to a report completed in June 2010 by EdSource, supporters assert that common standards will ensure that students have more opportunities upon graduating, make the county more competitive in the global economy, and allow states to learn from one another. In addition, CCSS supporters feel if states had the same core content standards, students moving from one state to another would have more consistency in their learning than is possible today. According to an article in NY Times, other supporters feel that financially strapped state governments do not have to spend limited resources on developing their own standards and tests.

Moving from state standards to national standards is an excellent way to create commonality and unity in our nation. However, those who disagree with national standards feel that each state should be responsible for the education of their students within their state. Mathematics and Language Arts are the first subjects to be nationally standard, but many feel this is just the beginning. Those who disagree with national standards argue that the states are losing control over education. According to a Massachusetts newspaper article, adoption of the federal standards will change what is taught and what is tested in public education. Some teachers will have to change everything they are use too.

In general terms, many teachers feel standards are needed within schools, but the standards have become too strict. Unfortunately, teachers feel they are losing creativity in the classroom because the standards have to be followed rigorously, especially with the subjects that appear on standardized tests.

Overall, this debate will not go away. Standards are needed in order to have structure. Teachers can not “blindly” teach and standards help with allowing teachers to understand what topics or areas are important for students to learn. The problem is teachers feel they are unable to teach what they want to teach. In my opinion, national standards are great way in ensuring that all of our nation’s students are gaining the same knowledge and similar education.

Modifications to No Child Left Behind Obama Era

The No Child Left Behind Act was a reform, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA, of 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson. President George W. Bush created this new reform, known as NCLB, in 2001, which promised to close the achievement gap and increase accountability for school districts, while ensuring that all children meet high standards, so no child is left behind by the year 2014. It created a performance based system focusing on standardized tests to measure the success of students, where districts are then labeled as failing schools if they do not meet adequate yearly progresses, AYP. No Child Left Behind was enacted into law on January 8, 2002, with a bipartisan vote and has been our current educational law up till now.

As of March 13, 2010, President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden are proposing a change called a Blueprint for Reform, which will once again reauthorize the ESEA and modify NCLB. Together, they believe that while NCLB’s overall goal of ensuring all children can meet high standards is right, they agree the law has significant flaws that need to be addressed. Under NCLB, teachers, principals, and schools have been without necessary resources to accomplish the goals of No Child Left Behind, which has led to a need for change. Obama and Biden are proposing to improve assessments to track student progress and create assessment models that will provide educators and students with timely feedback, which can aid in improving student learning right away and measure their readiness for college and success in the workplace.

Obama and Biden also want to improve the accountability system and support schools that improve, rather than punish. Top performing schools will be considered “Reward” schools and will have less federal interference, while the lowest performing schools will be considered “Challenge” schools and require more vigorous interventions. They understand that world-class education is a prerequisite for success and expect that by 2020, the United States will once again lead the world in college completion.

In addition, Obama and Biden’s plan will work to recruit and reward well-qualified teachers in every classroom in America, support principals and school leaders, make science and math education a national priority, reduce the high school drop out rate, close the achievement gap, ensure high quality early childhood and kindergarten programs and empower parents by taking a greater role in their child’s education. Through these key points established by Obama and Biden, they believe the Blueprint for Reform will strengthen American’s public education system.

While there are many positive changes in response to NCLB, there are a few changes, which cause concern. Many teacher unions believe this blueprint places 100% of the responsibility on teachers and gives them no authority on implementing the changes. The blueprint also requires all states to develop evaluation procedures to distinguish effective instructors, partly based on student learning, which teacher unions may challenge. In addition, many states and districts could face drastic differences in the amounts of funding they receive due to a new formula for funding. The accountability system will also change, as a result, and may cause districts to become more independent to receive more funding, rather than working together for the national goal of educating all students to achieve.

While change will be instrumental in allowing America to become more competitive globally and provide our students with the world-class education they need and deserve, educators need to be included in developing the change so we can work together and have a shared responsibility in strengthening American’s public education system.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

School Choice and Vouchers

"Voucher proposals take many forms, and some are designed to deliberately disguise the basic realities that will result over time. The best students will be skimmed off -- those whom private schools find desirable for their own reasons. Since families will have to make up additional costs, those in the upper-and middle-income brackets will be helped the most -- as long as their kids don't have personal, behavioral, or educational challenges that cause the private school to pass them by."
-- Kweisi Mfume, president and CEO of the NAACP

School choice and school vouchers, in education’s most recent history, have been offered to Americans in various states, as an option out of poorly performing school districts. In 1991, Minnesota became the first state to pass a law for the inception of a charter school, and officially marked the beginning of this country’s rethinking about schools. Charter schools enjoy support from public funding, while remaining free from most government regulations. In 1996, 25 states had charter schools.

Essentially, education is inherently more personal than public. Most parents, having once been students themselves, are fully aware of how much education can affect one’s future successes. New Jersey continued its rethinking about education, in January 2000. At that time, the state legislature piloted a five-year program, known as the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. This program sought to answer a question on many minds: is public school choice a viable option for families desiring the best education in New Jersey? In June of this year, the legislature made the program permanent. The pilot program limited each district to one choice school. There are currently 15 schools in the state program. Under the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, enrollment restrictions may be made by the sending schools, provisions may be made for student transportation and must be financed by the sending school, and annual performance reports may be made available to the public.

Just as in most arguments, school choice is said to have its advantages and disadvantages. Supporters of school choice have argued that it:
• Offers a way out of poor-performing schools,
• Supports educational innovation, by challenging the traditional school structure, and
• Acts as an answer to the needs of students and their families, motivating their commitment to school success.

Those who oppose school choice say that it:
• Creates inequalities because they take desirable students,
• Creates fewer learning opportunities about tolerance and diversity, by the nature of its own homogeneity , and
• Takes focus away from public education, and shifts it to personal advancement.

School vouchers differ from school choice, in that vouchers shift students from the public school system to the private/parochial school system. Just as school choice, school vouchers have both pros and cons. Some supports say that vouchers:
• Provide the same options to the poor, already afforded by the wealthy,
• Act to breed improvement through competition, in the race to be the chosen school,
• Enable students, who may otherwise be exposed to a constant dose of antisocial behaviors, to share in an environment where teaching skills and values traditionally take precedent, and
• Increase diversity in private schools, by providing access to all.

Some opposers of vouchers believe that they:
• Take funds away from already under-funded public schools,
• Allow private schools the opportunity to act irresponsibly, as they feel safe from rigorous evaluation,
• Ignore the diversity issues that may stem from the fact that private schools can choose their students and may show favoritism, and
• Threaten the private school environment, as educational standards may be lowered by new student inabilities.

"There are those, I know, who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American dream." ~Archibald MacLeish

America was founded on the idea of freedom. Therefore, education should be offered under the design of that same freedom. Families and their students should be allowed the opportunity to attend the school of their choice, whether by choice school programs or vouchers. With sound regulations put in place to encourage student body diversity and high performance standards, programs could be the answer to any learners needs. It is about time teacher performance determined jobs, rather than tenure.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Church & State

The Phrase “Separation Between Church and State” is not something new. In fact, Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase way back in 1802 when he wrote there is a “wall of separation between church and state” in a letter to the Danbury Baptists. Why was there this wall of separation? In the 1800’s it was to protect religion from government interference. Today, although it is based on the same principals, the phrase is used most exclusively to debate how much or how little religion should be allowed in public schools.

Jefferson’s letter later lead to what we know now as the Establishment clause. This clause states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Clearly, this clause is based off the principals of which our country was founded. The United States was founded by British searching for religious freedom, therefore this clause helps to ensure our country stays true to the values that which it was founded. Little did the lawmakers know at the time that this would cause great debates about how much or how little religion is allowed in schools. At the time the United States was not a melting pot of races, nationalities, and religions. Most people living in the United States were white Anglo-Saxtons. Today, as we all know, the United States has a very eclectic mixture of races, religions and national backgrounds.

In 1947, the Supreme Court heard the case of Everson vs. The Board of Education. Everson filed suit because he believed that public tax dollars should not be spent to bus students to parochial schools. The court did not agree with Everson. The court decided “the state must remain neutral, not adversarial in its relation with religious groups.” As a result of this case the separation of church and state became a highly debated topic, particularly the separation between religion and schools.

It would be nearly impossible to remove all religion from schools without sacrificing the education of the students. Religion is a huge part of the history of the world. It is intertwined with so many historical events, that we need to teach about how religion was involved in history. However, this is where it gets unclear where to draw the line. How do social studies teachers teach children about the holocaust, 9/11, or old western civilizations without mentioning religion? Clearly, the teacher must be very careful when they approach the topic in order to be sure they do not bestow their religious beliefs on students.

The separation of church and state has always been a core principal of our country since the USA was founded on the principles of religious freedom. However, over the course of history it has become increasingly more difficult to separate the two due the Constitution, Pledge of Allegiance, and Bill of Rights all being laced with Christian beliefs. The only conclusion we have come to is that there needs to be a balance between church and state. Students and teachers may have their individual religious beliefs but they cannot force them upon others. Most of all, it is important to share religious beliefs for the sake of tolerance and diversity education, but not force beliefs on others. In the modern day educations can refer to Religious Expression in Public Schools and Religion In the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law for information regarding religion in schools.


Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The "charter" establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. The basic premise of Charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for accountability for both academic results and fiscal practices to their private sponsors, parents, and the states which fund them (

In reviewing various internet resources, Charter Schools are described as those which are: publicly funded (no vouchers), open to all students (although there may be a lottery system or waiting list), claimed innovators in public education, and committed to improving public education. The claimed benefits and predominant differences between Charter and public schools include: increased opportunities for learning and access to quality education for all students, choice for parents and students within the public school system, being highly accountable for academic results, implementation of innovative teaching practices, and supposedly high community and parental involvement in public education (

There are many differences between Charter schools and other public schools. The predominant one is that Charter schools permit teachers and students more authority to make decisions regarding curriculum choice. Instead of being accountable for compliance with rules and regulations such as upholding state mandated curriculum standards, they are accountable for academic results and for upholding their unique charter. Parents and teachers choose charter schools primarily for educational reasons such as high academic standards, small class size, safety, innovative approaches, and educational philosophies which are congruent with theirs.

According to the literature perused on the internet, The New Jersey Charter School Program Act of 1995 authorized the establishment a charter school program. The first cohort consisted of 13 charter schools which first began operations during the 1997-1998 school year. By the 2000-2001 school year, the fourth year of charter school operations, there were 54 charter schools operating in the State of New Jersey serving over 10,000 students. During the 2008-2009 school year, there were 65 charter school in NJ, with approximately 20,496 students enrolled ( The national statistics during this same time frame indicated 4,624 Schools of choice with an enrollment figure of 1,536,099 students. According to the Center for Educational Reform (, currently there are more than 5,000 Charter Schools serving more than 1.5 million in 39 states and the District of Columbia. On average, charter schools are funded at $6,585 per pupil compared to $10,771 per pupil at conventional district public schools. However, of the over 5,250 charter schools that have ever opened, 657 have closed since 1992 with 41 percent of the nation's charter closures resulting from financial deficiencies caused by either low student enrollment or inequitable funding, 27 percent closed for mismanagement and 14 percent closed for poor academic performance. All are not success stories (

Statistically, Charter schools appear most extensively available in areas of the country with a preponderance of more disadvantaged, lower socio-economic populations. A 2004 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education found that charter schools are smaller than conventional public schools and serve a disproportionate and increasing number of poor and minority students. A Harvard University study in that same year found that charter school students are more likely to be proficient in reading and math than students in neighboring conventional schools. The greatest achievement gains were observed among African American, Hispanic, or low-income students. Those in operation for more than 5 years outpaced conventional schools by as much as 15 percent.

According to the results of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA (2009), claims were made that public charter schools are more racially isolated than regular public schools in most states and large urban areas. The authors found that African American students in public charter schools are much more likely than their counterparts in regular public schools to be educated in a segregated environment. In a typical Charter school attended by an African American student, nearly three out of four classmates were of the same ethnicity. The study offers several recommendations for ensuring equity and integration in public charter schools, including establishing new guidance and reporting requirements by the federal government and heightened enforcement of existing state-level legislation with specific provisions regarding diversity and monitoring patterns of public charter school enrollment and attrition (

In reviewing the literature and opinions of various sources, the reader remains curious but skeptical for a few reasons regarding the advent and surge of Charter Schools. As reported in much of the literature, the most prominent descriptors seem to summarize the findings: accountability, standards, innovation, equity, and shared responsibility. There is a demand for meaningful and measurable change to the current education system which entails an openness to new ideas, with the insistence that schools produce results yet comply with reasonable rules and federal/state guidelines. It would seem that if parents were to be involved in the public school system to the extent boasted by Charter schools, then public schools would experience a congruent rise in student academic performance. There is a public cry for the demand of a variety of factors which have historically demonstrated increased student success: smaller class size, the provision of programs which encourage student individualism and creativity, alternative teaching methodologies, and parental and community involvement. These could result in such target outcomes as a love of learning among youth, low student attrition, and higher national academic standing. Let us not forget the ultimate goal of education: to produce capable, confident, and wise contributing members of our society.

Other References

Chartock, A. (2010). Charter schools vs. public schools. Kingston, NY: Daily Freeman Newspaper.

Ornstein, A. & Hunkins, F. (2009). Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues. Boston: Pearson.