Monday, December 26, 2011

Brain Based Learning Pro and Con

Gina D. Gallaher
Fundamentals of Curriculum Development
Fall 2011
Brain Based Learning

1. Engages the Whole Body and Mind of the Child
· The student is an active learner as opposed to a passive [sitting] learner.
· A student’s progress is based on demonstrations and portfolios of writings.
· It embraces the concept that attention follows emotion.
· Promotes creativity- this encourages individual expression.
· Music, lighting and temperature control create calming atmospheres.
2. Customizes Lesson Plans
· Every brain is different, every child learns in their own way.
· Boys benefit from being allowed to discuss responses before committing to an answer.
· Girls perform better in math with story problems; one of their strengths is language skills.
· Choice: offer multiple assessments [collage, essay, game]
3. Teaches through Practical Experiences
· Immerse students in a subject.
· Leaning through spatial memory- ability to absorb and retain a lesson
· It is OK to make mistakes
· Hands-on activities promote team work and allow students to be in charge of the learning process; teacher is facilitator.
· MORE ENGAGED – the more they learn!

Brain Based Learning
1. Lack of adequate preparation/ Professional Development
· Teacher / Administrator / Student / Parent
· Use of multiple methods/media not always available
· Students may not be receptive to extra effort to do exercises leading to deep thinking.
2. Cost
· Teaching requires resources, media and professional development.
· Smaller class size requires increased staff.
3. Lack of Support from Experts
· Scientists are not able to find a correlation between the brain and brain-based learning.
· Supports are from the education or philosophy field not neuroscience field.
· Books on brain-based learning contain ideas without studies or facts to support the learning theory.
· Too New! Began in 1990’s and the results of those who were taught using this theory are not in yet.

A few final words… As you read the advantage list, I am sure many will give the most often heard criticism…”Who has time for all this!” Don’t be a ‘Negative Nancy’…Start out small. Pick just one or two and give it a try…you might be surprised at the results. I was!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The School Choice and Voucher Debate - Repost

 If we don’t change our direction, we’re likely to end up where we are going.
Chinese Proverb

There is so much controversy on the subjects of school choice and vouchers.  There are so many arguments for and against these remedies for the failing school systems.  In an article released by the state Board of Education written on January 5, 2001, according to statewide test score data the statistics show that an achievement gap between the rich and poor persists in NJ schools. The solution of offering vouchers and school choice to families seems to make sense because it’s fair, increases parental satisfaction, and creates equal opportunities for all students.  The state of New Jersey Department of Education agrees that sometimes parents and children profit by having alternatives when they perceive that their local school is not serving their needs.  There are several school choice programs outlined on their website.

I think that change is what people are afraid of in the implementation of these programs.  People are afraid to make such drastic change in the way our educational system is run and has been operating for hundreds of years.  People are afraid these programs are not going to work and want to maintain the status quo.

Some of the arguments in support of vouchers and school choice according to the National Center for the study of Privatization in Education at the Teachers College of Columbia University include:
  • Giving parents a right to decide where their children will attend school, regardless of their income
  • Creates healthy competition leading to greater efficiency in all schools
  • Higher parental satisfaction
  • Graduation rates increased according to the Obama administration’s final study, the Opportunity Scholarship program.
  • Reduces racial segregation
  • Cost-effectiveness

Some of the arguments I found in support of vouchers and school choice according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education include:
  • Administrative costs may rise
  • Increased inequality
  • Difficult implementation
  • The quality of education in private schools may decrease
  • Takes away funds from public schools leaving a large underclass of students.

From a teacher’s perspective, I can see why many are against these programs.  Potential job loss and job security are critical reasons not to want to change.  However, from a parent’s perspective, I see why people are in support of vouchers and school choice.  I want my children to have the same educational opportunities as others.  It seems only fair that as a parent, if my child is in a failing school I’d want the choice to take my child out and send him/her to a better, more-effective school.  For example, voucher and school choice advocates in 2011 were encouraged by congressional support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, a federally financed initiative in the District of Columbia providing tuition vouchers of up to 7,500.  The program, first funded in 2004, has awarded scholarships to more than 1,900 students so far.  After being set for phase-out because of democratic opposition, it was revived in the fiscal 2011 budget deal.

As stated in McREL’s Balanced Leadership Research, nearly every educational reform introduced over the last twenty years has differing perceptions over the implications of change.  Change may have first order implications for one person or group of individuals, yet has second order implications for another person or group, this latter group may view the change as a problem rather than a solution.  Some see vouchers and school choice as “solutions” others see them as problems.

In the United States we are free to make choices all the time.  If we don’t like the way someone cuts our hair we go to another hair stylist.  If we don’t like a particular restaurant we have the choice to dine in others.  If our doctor is not adequately meeting our needs, we switch to another doctor or practice.  Why not have the same choices with education? 
We have a choice as to what pre-school our children attend and what college they attend.  Why not have the same choices with elementary and secondary schools?  Why should taxpayers have to pay twice?

The reforms in place and the increase in funding are not making all of our schools more effective.  It’s time to change what we are doing and try something new.  Let’s stop being afraid of change and instead help change the future of education for the better.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Class size

Class Size

Imagine, for just a moment, how much you could achieve with a smaller class size. Now, imagine how much money you could save on stress treatments if your class size was below, say, fifteen children. Does this sound like something that should be implemented immediately? Should teachers become politicians or lobby for such things?

Much research has confirmed that smaller class sizes increase the quality of education. One piece of research that outlined the benefits of this movement was a statewide project started in the 1970s in Tennessee, nicknamed STAR. A similar research project that had comparable results was conducted in Wisconsin called the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE). The documents from those sources are cited by many people making arguments for or against the issue. People who are for reductions in class sizes have even gained the attention of the federal government. Indications of this are evident with restrictions placed on class sizes in recent years. (Check your state’s laws here) The federal government initiated a class size reduction plan in the year 2000 that carried over into the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act in 2001. So that’s it. Problem solved right? Wrong. Opinions on class size differ in many ways, and a recent economic downturn has forced many to look again at the issue.

People making arguments for class size reduction are citing research, like the documents listed above, to show that smaller class sizes increase achievement for minorities and children living in lower socio-economic classes. Another positive argument is that one-on-one instruction allows a teacher to spot student weaknesses and encourage student strengths. Also, a teacher of a smaller class can spend more time on developing instruction rather than on behavior modifications and the intricacies of classroom management. Another major benefit to smaller class sizes could be better access to technology. It is much easier to supply twelve students with laptops than it is with twenty-two students.

While everyone agrees more one-on-one instructional time is beneficial to students, we have to ask at what cost it can be done. In the current 2011 – 2012 school year, many schools are facing a substantial budget crisis. Current research puts the cost of making smaller class sizes at billions of dollars for a single state, and sustainability would cost even more. This is a major drawback. Many schools are struggling to meet budget demands. In doing so, they are finding ways around federal funding set aside for class size reduction, and spending it on other immediate needs. Another major drawback to implementing class size reduction is the need for new teachers. Many argue that trying to rapidly increase the number of teachers to meet these demands will put under qualified teachers in the classrooms. This will undermine the quality of education. There is also the possibility that more teachers mean more classes, and the current infrastructure of many schools is already strained. Building more classrooms and newer schools will once again stretch already limited budgets.

Presently, many argue that that the problem is not the size of the class, but the quality of the teacher. They also claim students in a smaller class do not always achieve higher scores. Most research shows that while not everyone benefits from a smaller class size, students from lower socioeconomic classes do improve in achievement. However, ambiguous research provides a good argument for those who oppose spending more money on class size reduction.

Many people who argue against class size reductions do not work in a school. In fact, most of them are trying to devalue unions or promote political agendas. Reforms like race to the top do not support a smaller class size. The reforms push to increase the quality of teachers in the classroom, but most teachers would argue that their instruction would suffer with more students in the classroom.

Time Article

Edweek Article

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Class Size

All Hands on Deck!!!

Now that we are settled into the 21st century, researchers have begun to investigate what they believe contribute to creating a successful learning environment. Monitoring class size has always been a major concern, yet budget cuts, along with the downsizing of the teaching profession, are causing class sizes to rise at an alarming rate. Many states are dedicating tremendous time and effort to fixing this problem, even though research supporting the reduction of class size is hard to find. Tennessee’s Project STAR is viewed as one of the most credible studies done to date due to its large scale: (11,600 kindergartners, 1,300 teachers, 76 schools and 42 school districts.) After a four-year study, they concluded that smaller class sizes at the primary level almost always outperformed the students in larger classes. The same students were examined ten years later in the Lasting Benefits Study and they found that those students in smaller classes had assumed a greater initiative for learning and were extending more effort in the classroom. As interesting as this data is, these studies, like most similar to them, did not send shockwaves through the educational community. While class size seems to be the trendy topic of discussion, engaging students is the real problem at hand. Reducing class size is just one way of increasing the direct instruction and interaction that occurs between the teacher and each individual student, but it cannot be the only method. Creative methods such as co-teaching and increasing the active role of student leaders in the classroom are two ways to tackle this problem.

The increase in individual attention that students receive is the biggest benefit of reducing class size. In smaller classroom settings, teachers have a better opportunity to get to know each student’s strengths and weaknesses in more detail, allowing teachers to differentiate instruction more effectively. Personal connections are also a result of these smaller classrooms and play a large role in determining academic success. Studies performed in the inner cities, such as the SAGE study, have shown tremendous amounts of evidence to support that smaller class sizes are particularly beneficial to students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. If engaging students is the overall goal, then every teacher’s first responsibility is to make sure they are “reaching” as many students as possible, no matter how many students are in his/her class.

If money were no object, simply hiring new teachers and building new schools would go a long way towards reducing our class sizes. In the past decade, California has attempted to decrease its class sizes by hiring new teachers. Along with the extremely high cost, California also ran into a problem with the quality of teachers that were being hired. Almost twenty percent of their new hires had emergency credentials, which brought much scrutiny to their plan. Some states have tried adding teacher assistants to the classroom, but they have yet to garner any positive results. Research is still being conducted, but after noticing that in 2008 nineteen states relaxed their laws on limiting class sizes, it is time to start investigating some other options.

Breaking down individual classes into manageable groups often requires too much effort to be done by one teacher alone. Having two highly qualified teachers in one classroom may still be somewhat of a financial burden, but the size of these classes could be larger to help make up for the difference. Studies show that students who struggle the most with schoolwork tend to gain the most benefit from working in smaller group settings. In a classroom with two teachers, one of the teachers could work with these struggling students in small learning communities while the other teacher moves on with the rest of the class. Keeping all of the students in the same room would make it easy for students to float back and forth between the two groups and for each teacher to be able to interact with every student.

Another way of dividing up an individual classroom is to start including our higher-level learners in the teaching process. It’s no secret that the best learning takes place when explaining something to someone else, but implementing that process into the classroom is easier said than done. Classes can be split into teams with the student leaders serving as “teachers” for each group. Each student on the team would be held responsible for making sure every team member was successful in class. Although peer pressure is usually looked upon as a bad thing, not wanting to let down your fellow classmates can serve as a huge motivation factor. Having the students being accountable for each other goes beyond the school’s walls and will hopefully stretch out into the community.

America’s class sizes don’t look to be getting smaller any time soon, so teachers must take it upon themselves to break up their own classes into smaller learning communities. Whether teachers are relying on another highly qualified teacher or student leaders in their own classroom, they need to realize that they don’t have to fight this battle alone. By embracing larger classes by placing two teachers in a classroom, student interaction will be forced to increase and the classroom itself will begin to become more dynamic as time goes on. Since funding will always be a major obstacle, the incorporation of student leaders into the teaching process may make the most sense. The lessons these leaders learn by internalizing the material and teaching it to others will prove valuable as they move to the next level. Researchers can crunch statistics until they are blue in the face trying to find the perfect class size, but they’re not sure if that number even exists. It’s time they start realizing that it’s not the number of desks that are filled in each classroom that counts, but the person who is standing in front of those desks that ultimately matters the most.

New Jersey Educator Effectiveness Task Force

On September 28, 2010, Governor Chris Christie established the New Jersey Educator Effectiveness Task Force with the goal of creating an educator evaluation system based on measures of effectiveness. This task force consisted of nine members, all of which had experience in or knowledge of education policy, administration, and teaching; these members were selected on October 28, 2010. This task force met 12 times between November 16, 2010 and March 1, 2011; during their sessions they reviewed, with the help of the Department of Education, the latest research on educator evaluations both in an out of state, including observation protocols, growth measures, and special education considerations. The task force report was comprised of four sections: (1) recommendations for a new teacher evaluation system, (2) recommendations for a new principal evaluation system, (3) other recommendations for the state to set positive conditions for successful implementation through related policies and activities, and (4) next steps to begin the process of achieving reform. Governor Christie made recommendations that this evaluation system should include measures of student achievement (at least 50% of the evaluation), demonstrate practices of effective teachers and leaders, and weigh the various components.

According to this task force, 50% of teacher evaluation should be based on student achievement, and 50% should be based on teacher practice. The 50% that comprises the student achievement would be broken down into 70%-90% from student growth on statewide assessments, 10% from state approved school-wide performance measures, and an optional 0%-10% of other state approved performance measures, like student performance on nationally-normed assessments or state-mandated end of the course exams. The 50% that comprises the teacher’s evaluation would be broken down into two parts: 50%-95% based on a “high quality, state-approved observation protocol”, and 5%-50% based on a state-approved measurement tool to assess practice. A list of approved observation protocols and measurement tools will be developed by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education. Change will also occur for the process of formal observations, in the way that non-tenure teachers will need to be observed a minimum of three times per year, whereas tenure teachers will now be required to be formally observed and evaluated at a minimum of two times per year, instead of once per year as current practice requires. Pre and post conferences will now also be requirements for each formal observation. Additionally, each teacher will also be required to have two informal observations, which could include walk-throughs, specific purpose classroom visits, or a review of “teacher artifacts.” These informal observations do not require pre or post conferences, and can either be announced or unannounced. Finally, at the conclusion of the school year, all teachers will be required to complete a self-assessment piece, along with the current requirement of a summative evaluation. Based on these new policies and procedures, the teachers will be rated as “highly effective”, “effective”, “partially effective”, or “ineffective”.

School leaders are a key element in the overall success of the students. According to research, principal and teacher quality account for nearly 60% of a school’s total impact on student achievement, with principals alone accounting for 25%. School leaders heavily influence the culture of the school, due to their role of decision making for areas of teacher effectiveness, such as hiring, professional development, evaluation, retention, and dismissal. Due to the great level of significance of administrators, the recommendations for evaluating principals and administrators have changed as well. According to these new regulations, 50% of the principal’s evaluation will be based on students achievement, 40% will be measured by their effective practice, and the remaining 10% will be based on the retention of effective teachers. As previously seen for teachers, administrators will be evaluated and rated on the four categories of “highly effective”, “effective”, “partially effective”, or “ineffective”.

The most controversial part of this new program is the initial tiered evaluation system that focuses on the grade level teachers and specific content areas teachers that are required to complete state tests, while overlooking the grade levels and subject areas that are not tested by the state. The NJDOE is going to work to develop new assessments for the subjects and grade levels that are not tested through standardized tests, like art, music, theater, physical education, and vocational-technical education; some of those assessments may include performance tasks, nationally-normed tests, or curriculum-based assessments.

In order to maximize the benefits of the new evaluation frameworks, there are some actions that need to take place. These actions, or “conditions for success”, will help to lay the foundation and build the support structure for this new system. Some areas of concerns that will need to be addressed include: providing training for those who will conduct observations, informing educators of the new components and implications of this system, ensuring a high-quality data system, and continually monitoring the system’s effects after implementation. There are additional areas of concern, and even more which have not surfaced during the beginning stages of this process. This task force will continually work with the State Board of Education and other education experts, as well as study further into appropriate performance measures for teachers of special populations and non-tested subjects and grades, in order to move forward with this process of positive implementation.

Governor Christie stated, “With a strong, student-centered foundation, we can achieve real reform to make educator effectiveness and student achievement the driving forces behind public education – rewarding excellent teachers who are getting positive results in the classroom and removing teachers who don’t. This report provides a roadmap to make the common sense reforms a reality, to challenge the status quo and to move the system toward the mutual goals of tangibly valuing our best teachers and excellent results for children.” With this task force under way, the state hopes to use this new evaluation system to make personnel decisions during the 2013-2014 school year.


Governor Christie Welcomes Recommendations. Retrieved from

Interim Report. Retrieved from

NJEA – NJ Effectiveness Task Force. Retrieved from

Transforming Teacher Evaluations. Retrieved from