Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Nation's Report Card: NAEP

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” It is a national test that periodically assesses what American students can do and what they know in subjects such as reading, mathematics, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history.

Tests are given at the national and state level. The first assessment was given in 1969. In 1990, voluntary assessments began every 2 years. In 2002 TUDA, or Trial Urban District Assessment, began in selected urban districts. In order to receive Title I funding, schools must agree to participate in reading and mathematics assessments. NAEP is run by the National Assessment Governing Board. It is an independent, bipartisan group appointed by Department of Education. This board awards contracts to contractors to handle the main operation of NAEP.

NAEP is designed to give a general picture of the levels of knowledge and skill among students nationwide or in a particular state. Only a small number of students are tested and no student takes the entire test. Scores of individual students and schools are not released. NAEP provides results on achievement in subject matter, instructional experience and school environment for populations of students. All fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders are reported on. Groups may be further broken down by sex or race. Results are based on representative samples instead of the entire state.

The results reported in November of 2011 show that the average fourth-grade reading scores remained unchanged from 2011, but is 4 points higher than in 1992. The average eighth grade score was 1 point higher than 2009 and 5 points higher than 1992. At grade eight, results showed a higher percentage of students at or above proficient than in 2009 and 1992. Nationally represented samples of fourth and eighth graders participated in the 2011 NAEP. At the state level, only 2 states, Alaska and Maryland, made improvements. All other states made no significant improvement over 2009.

In addition to pointing to academic areas and discrepancies in state reporting, a benefit of NAEP is that it provides a database on educational performance and student background. Data on teacher qualifications, socioeconomic status, computer usage, hours spent watching television, reading habits, and other demographic and school information can be found. Educational reformers can use this information to determine factors affecting achievement.

One of the main areas of concerns about NAEP is the wide discrepancy between NAEP scores and student performance on state scores on tests given by individual states. In some cases, for example, 80% of students may be proficient by state standards, but only 30% according to NAEP. The biggest difference is between state test scores and NAEP concerning the number of students reported to be proficient. In most reports, state test results are indicating more students are proficient than NAEP reports. There are very large discrepancies of up to 60 percentage points in some cases.

Proponents of NAEP claim that these differences show that some states are making to it too easy to be proficient. Critics state that NAEP’s proficiency standards are too high and out of line with student performance. The National Academy of Science, the Government Accounting Office, The Center for Research in Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, and the National Academy of Education. Have studied the assessments and described the achievement levels reported by NAEP as “Fundamentally Flawed.” The National Academy of Science study points to problems with the judgment tasks that are difficult and confusing, rater’s judgments of different item types being inconsistent; lacking in validity evidence for the cut scores and unreasonable results. The biggest concern of critics is that while there each state sets its own proficiency standard. There is no national standard. NAEP has a level named “proficient” but it is not in line with any states. While proponents of NAEP indicate that states are lying about their student’s performance, critics claim the test is unfair and being used as a tool to hold over the heads of states.

Aside from possibly flawed assessing of results, state standards often differ from the standards being used by NAEP. Scores in topic based test can be taught at different grade levels and may not accurately show student achievement. Motivation is another factor, especially in high school. State tests must be passed for graduation, but there are no consequences for NAEP. Additional concerns include the test’s inability to provide reliable short –term indicators of progress due to the margin of error. Linking federal funds to test results could push states towards a national curriculum and away from the curriculum developed by individual districts. Although independent from the Dept. of Education, NAEP operations remain within the department. Contractors are selected by the commissioner of education statistics. The Dept. of Education’s involvement raises the risk of politicization. To avoid this, the National Assessment Governing Board should be given authority.

The NAEP provides a source of state and national achievement data. Correctly implemented it has the ability to assess how the nation’s students are doing. Its limitations must be acknowledged however, so that it is no given too much weight in lawmakers’ decision making process.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Marzano's Classroom Instruction

There is often a debate centered on teaching and instructional strategies used by classroom professionals. In many cases teaching has been referred to as an art, unique to each individual, an exclusive opportunity to present one’s personal canvas to eager ears. While the romanticism that coincides with instructing the masses still exists, in modern education there are techniques and methods that are authenticated through research.

Among these methods are the nine instructional strategies presented in Classroom Instruction That Works. The book, written by Robert Marzano, Debra, Pickering, and Jane Pollock, is one of the quintessential guides to educating children in the 21st century. The book is a consortium of information collected from several decades worth of educational research findings. The authors have managed to combine data with theory in order to demonstrate nine approaches that positively impact the student learning experience. Each approach varies, but one of the universal themes running through the entire literature is level of understanding. The goal seems to be providing students with a deeper understanding of the material teachers attempt to instill. Much of the methodology is supported by providing students with alternative opportunities to embrace the knowledge. For example, rather than isolating students to only drill and practice approaches to learning, Marzano suggests alternative means of teaching or retaining concepts. This is not to say that more traditional methods have no place in the modern education system. Rather, the nine strategies diversify instruction, and capitalize on the multiple ways human beings learn. All of this theory and strategical approach is made possible by the explosion of research and improved research on human learning.

The connection with this book and the state of modern education runs deep. As teachers become more accountable and standards rise in order to meet competitive agendas, the implications of this literature become more important. If these strategies are in fact legitimate ways to improve student achievement, then this book should be required reading for any person entering the field of education. It is also crucial to examine these strategies in conjunction with the increase of technology in the classroom.

While researching the book it was unavoidable not to consider the ever-changing face of education. Since this book was printed in 2001, classrooms around the country have begun a transformation. While sometimes the technology does not seem to arrive in schools soon enough, we can now step back and observe the dramatic changes in the past 20 years. From smartboards to ipads, the tools in student’s hands have substantially altered the regular classroom approach to instruction. Although this book may not reference the use of these new devices, it is important to recognize the adaptability of the nine strategies offered. It is my belief that good teachers are dedicated and motivated enough to be able to incorporate these instructional strategies with the new technology. In my opinion this is where the creativity and the “art of teaching” can still be found.


Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001).Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Current State of Charter Schools in the United States

For the last 20 years, charter schools have gained popular and political attention as a possible way to fix the perceived problems within the America’s educational system. Charter schools offer the promise of innovation and provide school choice to those unsatisfied with their current public school system. The issue of charter schools, however, is complex and often contentious. Recent findings call into question their effectiveness at a time when a nationwide push is being made to expand the number of charter schools in the United States.

A charter school is a secular public school that operates under a “charter” or a contract that determines its operation. This charter sets the organization, management, curriculum, and method of how the school will measure student performance. Charters typically last for 3 to 5 years. (In New Jersey initial charters are 4 year). They may be founded by teachers, parents, activists, non-profit groups, universities, or may be state authorized. Corporations may be permitted to manage chains of charter schools, and in many instances they are run for profit.

Like public schools, charter schools are publicly funded. They must have open enrollment, and cannot discriminate based on student ability, disability, race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. Preference is given to students living in the district and acceptance is based on space available. When there are no spots left, remaining applicants are place in a lottery. Students must take state mandated performance test and meet AYP.

An important difference between public and charters schools is that charters have much greater autonomy when hiring, creating curriculum and managing its budget. The regulatory freedom they receive is in exchange for their charters being reviewed, renewed, or revoked by the agency that authorized it. This autonomy allows charters to try innovative approaches, such as having longer school days and a longer academic year.

In many areas the demand for charter schools cannot be met. There are an estimated 350,000 students nationwide on waiting lists for acceptance into charters. For many families in poor performing school districts, charter schools offer a chance to get out a system widely viewed as broken.

The popularity of charter schools can be seen in the political support it has received, especially in recent years. In the wake of the well-received film, “Waiting for Superman,” both Congress and President Obama have put their focus on increasing the number of charter schools nationwide. They want to see a removal of the caps 26 states place on the number of charters allowed. As a part of the revamping of No Child Left Behind, a recent bill supporting expansion of charter schools passed in the house with bipartisan support.

In addition to increased political support, there have recently been many high profile donations made by celebrities to charter schools. The Bill Gates Foundation has given millions to charters and recently, Mark Zuckerberg pledged 100 million dollars to charter schools in Newark, NJ.

Locally, the state of New Jersey has continued to see growth of charter schools and as of April 2011, there were 73 operating charter schools with 23 approved to begin this past September. 23,490 students in NJ attend charter schools. 17 of the state’s 21 counties have charter schools and this year two online “virtual” charter schools were approved.

Despite the popular appeal of charters, there is considerable opposition to them and some evidence to support the idea that charter schools are not a panacea. The University of Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) published a landmark study in 2009 that called into question the effectiveness of charter schools. According to the study, only 17% of charters performed better than their public school counterpart, while 46% did the same and 37% fared worse. The findings were in direct contrast with the message spread in “Waiting for Superman,” which ignored the findings of the study.

In response to the study, secretary of education, Arne Duncan reacted by saying that the focus should be on quality not quantity. This goes against President Obama and congress’ push for more charters. In New Jersey’s Governor Christie is a big proponent of charter schools and wants to see their number increase significantly. He would also like to see them privatized and also advocates allowing private and parochial schools to become charter schools, which has met resistance. Barbara Keshishian, president of the NJEA’s response was that at a time when over a billion dollars has been cut from state school spending, it is a bad time to spend 360 million on unaccountable private and religious schools. To have existing private schools sign up as a charter and suddenly have its tuition paid by taxpayers seems hard to fathom.

In general, the success of charter schools mirrors that of public schools. There are exemplary ones and unsatisfactory ones. One of the strengths of charters is the idea that if a school is not reaching its goals, it could be closed. Unfortunately, it is often the case that charters do not close when doing poorly. There are also studies that have uncovered embezzlement and tampering with school records. When a school is run for profit, the question of primary goals arises. Is the school trying to educate students or make money? To have large corporations managing charter schools seems problematic. The larger the company, the more political clout they have.

Other negatives charter schools deal with is that they have no set standards, limited extra-curricular activities, and their budgets come directly from their districts. Local public schools get less money to run their programs, making it increasingly difficult to be effective and competitive. The funding charters received to only about 80% of their budget, meaning they are often underfunded and must find money elsewhere. Working conditions, pay, benefits and job security are subpar when compared to other traditional schools. A Vanderbilt study reported that teacher turnover was 132% higher in charter schools than in traditional public schools.

When operated properly, charter schools can provide a model of what works that can be emulated by traditional public schools. The effort to increase the number of charters calls into questions whether these schools that are rushing to open can properly meet the needs of our students.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Separation of Church and State

The separation of church and state is an issue that goes back as far as Thomas Jefferson. In 1802, he addressed the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptist Association. Jefferson said, “ The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect everyone’s religious rights and not to exclude “God” from the government.” The first real issue of the separation of church and state in our schools came in 1925, about 125 years after Jefferson spoke to the Baptist Association. A newly formed ACLU paid a teacher to teach the Evolution theory to students, which, was against Tennessee state law. The ACLU lost the case, but, it started the re-evaluation of teaching science in schools and within 4 decades the laws were reversed to the teaching of evolution as mandatory and the teaching of creation being outlawed. Over the years, we have come to see a constant battle over this issue and many people bringing up valid reasons to support their causes.

Those in favor of the Separation of Church and State have made strong cases over the years in the media and courts. If a school was to teach a religion or bible class they must not: 1. Promote one religion or faith group over any other. 2. Promote a religiously based life over a secularly life. 3 Promote a secularly based life over a religiously based life. The schools that have tried to have religion in the classroom had to tread lightly. Once they crossed one of the guidelines it became a critical mistake. The media coverage behind church and state issues in the schools becomes a heavy enough burden to handle.

Those opposing the separation of church and state feel that the First Amendment supports their cause and we should be able to bring religion and public education together. The First Amendment states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." With that two clauses were established: The Free Exercise Clause and The Establishment Clause. The Free Exercise Clause guarantees religious liberty by prohibiting Congress from passing laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The Establishment Clause is also in place to guarantee religious liberty by respecting an establishment of religion. The Free Exercise and Establishment Clause is in place to make sure that government (and public school) remain neutral on religion.

According to the Constitution, a class or course about the bible/religion is possible in public school as long as the instruction is objective, inclusive, and balanced. This however stems to be the one of the largest problems. In trying to produce a religion/Bible class there are many hindrances that can be faced along the way. For example, some parents will not want their children taught this way because they may not agree with the beliefs. Teachers that are devout with their religion will find it hard to avoid being preachy of their religion. In the same realm, others may be tempted to present certain beliefs as true or false. If a school would plan to teach a course on the Bible/religion they would have to be open to the idea of holding many courses around other religions and holy books like the Book of Mormon, the Vedas, the Qu’ran, etc.

In closing, the separation of church and state sits on a thin line that can be crossed rather easily. Those that have walked the tightrope have battled and lost more then they have won. When it comes to church and state it seems that no matter what the case, whether it is something opposing, or in favor of religion it will always manage to spark a huge debate.

Elizabeth Armetta

November 2011

Understanding by Design is a mode that focuses on teaching for understanding. The key concept used in Understanding by Design is called “backward design”. The way this concept works is looking for the desired outcome before creating a curriculum, assessment and then lesson plans. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe created this model. Understanding by Design is a handbook that is taught in education classes in over 150 universities. Clearly the concepts in the handbook have become wide spread but there are some ideas that are missing from the model. (

The concept of Backward Design has a good theory behind it but it is difficult to find teachers are capable of conveying information to students to allow them to have learning experiences. Backward Design encourages higher levels of thinking, which is not achieved by all people. In fact majority of studies have reported that about 40 to 60 percent of college students have reached abstract thinking. It takes a specific type teacher that is able to execute this type of lesson. Many newer teachers do not have the skills to help guide students rather than spoon-fed information to them. (Logic Behind Backward Design)

Similarly, in order to get new teachers to the proper level of teaching to fit the concept of Backward Design they need to seek outside help and spend money on workshops, books, templates and handbooks. Money and time are some problems with enforcing this style of lesson planning. Backward Design encourages not using textbooks but many resources are being used such as technology that begins to put strains on the schools funding. Just the same when planning lessons teachers need to find alternate resources to help provide substance to their lessons. This style of teaching depends on the exploration of a subject and sometimes students can easily come to a conclusion while at other times they have a difficult time reaching the goal. It is difficult to allow this to happen in the classroom when there is so much expectation to complete concepts by specific times. State standards limit the ability to explore areas in-depth. (Learn More)

Backward Design is a style of lesson planning that has a number of good aspects but there are negatives that can out way the pros. While Backward Design is being taught all over the United States the execution of its use, runs into several difficulties. Backward Design relies on a level of learning that most people are not capable of reaching. Teachers need to fine-tune their skills before they are at the level in which to perform this type of teaching. While this style has a number of great concepts it is difficult for many schools to have enough money to fund the concept. Copyright 2011,Authentic Education, Hopewell, NJ. Retreived 11/11

The Logic Behind Backword Design (2004), Understanding By Design Handbook, Retreived 11/11.

Learn More. Understanding by Design] website. Retrieved 11/1/11.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Separation of Church and State

The separation of church and state is firmly ingrained in the U.S. Constitution. Keyfounders such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others supported this idea and insisted that only church-state separation could guarantee the freedom of all Americans. Church-state separation is not only an historic principle, it is also America's great gift to the world. Under the separation policy, Americans have enjoyed more religious freedoms than any other people in history. Public schools serve children from a variety of religious and philosophical backgrounds.

The Supreme Court ruled against mandatory school prayer in 1962 and
1963. However, this does not mean there can be no religion in schools. Public school students have the right to pray voluntarily in a non-disruptive fashion during the school day and read religious texts during free time. A short rule of thumb: Individual, voluntary religious activity by students is permitted; school-sponsored religious worship is not.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that public schools may not require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Public schools may not punish students who decline to participate. Students who choose not to say the Pledge also cannot be required to stand for it, however, they may be expected to sit quietly and not disrupt the proceedings.

On February 7, 2003, guidelines on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools were issued. The following is a brief list of the guidelines that were issued by the United States Department of Education regarding religion in public schools (

Prayer During Non - Instructional Time
Students may pray when not engaged in school activities or instruction, subject to the same rules designed to prevent material disruption of the educational program that are applied to other privately initiated expressive activities.

Organized Prayer Groups and Activities
Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, and "see you at the pole" gatherings before school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups. Such groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other non-curricular groups, without discrimination because of the religious content of their expression.

Teachers, Administrators, and other School Employees
When acting in their official capacities as representatives of the state, teachers, school administrators, and other school employees are prohibited by the Establishment Clause from encouraging or discouraging prayer, and from actively participating in such activity with students.

Moments of Silence
If a school has a "minute of silence" or other quiet periods during the school day, students are free to pray silently, or not to pray, during these periods of time. Teachers and other school employees may neither encourage nor discourage students from praying during such time periods.

I feel there needs to be a balance between church and state. It is clear that school leaders, students, teachers, and parents all have their own beliefs, values, and traditions. It needs to clear that they cannot force their beliefs on others. In this day and age, it is important to share these beliefs. Tolerance and diversity are a crucial part of education today.

Charter Schools - Ok for some, not a model for all (repost)

Freedom of choice. Our democracy is founded upon the ideals of freedom and the right to choose what is in our best interest. It is a fundamental right and one that we have fought for many times over the years. Whether it is the god we choose to worship (or not) or the means by which we can express ourselves, freedom of choice is foundational. Yet, in the realm of education, choice has always been severely limited. During the infancy of this nation and throughout its history, there have only been limited choices in the institutions of education.
The system of education replicated from the European model of classical studies became the basis of learning here. Schools were erected on the prairie and in the cities to pass on religious values and traditions. The growth of a public school model took many years to spread and the curriculum changed with the times. Yet, the choices have remained few; public or private.
Private schools are outside the auspices of public (taxes) funding and the curriculum is aligned with the founder’s goals. These schools can be either secular or religious. They service only that portion of the population that can afford the tuition and therefore are exclusionary. They can restrict access on whatever grounds they believe the applicant is not a good ‘fit’. Homeschooling is an option for some, yet it is a difficult process for someone not trained in education, has a built in expense of materials and is very time consuming to engage individual students(s) one on one for an entire school day. What remains is a public education system that is state and government regulated and provides professionally trained educators. Public schools cannot restrict access to anyone.
The public system has many flaws and as the political whims of the nation swing back and forth concerning ‘the whys’ and ‘the who’s’ to blame, this system educates the majority of Americans. Yet, seeking a choice between private schools and public schools has not been an option until recently. The push for charter schools as a solution to the nation’s ‘failing’ public school system has been gaining momentum. People have clamored for a choice and the private sector has responded. Privatized schools that are ‘public’ (taxes) yet are managed privately – either through a for-profit or a non-profit organization (Educational Management Organizations-EMO) are spreading throughout the country and rapidly in New Jersey. But is this choice an equal one? Are we comparing ‘apples to apples’?
One of the key differences between charter schools and traditional public schools is their regulatory freedom and autonomy (in terms of staffing, curriculum choices, and budget management), which they receive in exchange for their charters being reviewed and renewed or revoked by the authorizing agency. Charter schools tout their success stories as not only an alternative to public education but the solution to our public education woes. Yet, in many instances, charter schools perform at a rate equal to or below their public school rivals. Policy makers continue to point to these schools as the preferred model (lack of union teachers also a consideration?). Closer examination of the data reveals that in many instances, the schools have not operated long enough to provide meaningful data. The results are skewed in other ways as well:
· Parents that place their children in an alternative setting are more involved in their child’s academic future and by nature, their children will perform better.
· Charter Schools have a high attrition rate of students that drop out of the charter school and return to the public school system.
· Charter schools only serve a small percentage of exceptional students – whereas the public school system reports AYP with data from all areas of the student population.
Charter schools have been successful in many places, especially in economically depressed, low income regions. EMO’s seek to spread schools into areas that have a history of successful schools and dilute dwindling state funding. Suburban school districts are facing the challenges of competing with charter schools and fighting for whatever trickle of funding dollars that is still coming out of Trenton. This battle is being held in both the northern and southern areas of the state. The Governor’s push for charter schools is seen more as a political maneuver to defund public schools and divide the union rank and file.
The Center for Public Education has determined that it is too early to tell whether the charter school model is effective. It certainly is not a panacea. If a parent is looking for a viable and effective alternative to a low performing public school, then a charter school might be an option. But policy makers looking to charter schools in order to revamp, reform or reduce the public school system need to take a closer look. The successes of charter school are based upon a population of students that are not equal to the same students that come to the classroom when a public school opens its doors.
• Charters should be an option. But they shouldn't be allowed to crop up where they aren't needed and reduce valuable state funds from good schools.
• The state of New Jersey needs to provide better oversight of charters, monitoring their academic performance, management, and financial practices.

Brain-based Learning

The field of brain based learning is rapidly growing and beginning to influence many educational institutions. As technology progresses exponentially, the amount of data collected concerning brain structures and functions is amassing. As we learn more and more about brain physiology, hormonal/chemical influences and gene activation, the natural progression is to apply this knowledge to behavior and learning.
It has long been realized that the brain reshapes itself as we learn. This neuroplasticity arises from new neurons forming and connecting as our experience grows. As we learn, these connections increase and the fabric becomes more intricate. In order to make a network capable for more permanent retention, repetition is necessary to imprint the new learning. The old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is incorrect, as it is necessary to practice as perfectly as possible. It is much more difficult to relearn something as opposed to learning correctly the first time. This is indicative of proper teacher modeling and plenty of guided practice that is essential to students in acquiring new knowledge. Assimilating new knowledge with prior knowledge is vital for teachers to pre-assess and for teachers to point out the new connections. Many theories exist about cognitive functioning, but in brain based learning each child’s learning environment is tailored to their particular style.
All children come to school with a brain that is equipped and capable of learning. Yet each student varies in the way they acquire and process information. This catering to individual learning styles can be a revolutionary medium and provides intrinsic reward for students. A holistic approach regards each child as individual learners and seeks to enable success from the learner on their own terms. In general, brain based learning has influenced education by the following enhancements: learning environments are comfortable with various lighting conditions, brain warm-ups are employed, and schools emphasize proper nutrition, kinesthetic activities and rest periods for increased brain functioning. Lessons are more hands-on in nature, real world applications and environments are utilized when/wherever possible and the students are allowed to develop their strengths while gaining support for their needs. The learning spaces become safe havens and seek to reduce stress and anxiety.
Yet, the real world practicality of such an arrangement is extremely difficult. Funding, technological shortcomings in districts, overcrowded classrooms and limited resources all detract from this model. Furthermore, the leap between what brain researchers discover and the connection to a child’s mind has been overemphasized and not thoroughly researched. It is difficult to conjoin information derived from the investigation of neural processes and structures to actual childhood behavior in a real-world setting.
The most promising aspect of brain based research is the many astounding advances being made with assistive technology to aid the special needs population. As our knowledge of mapping the brain increases, it becomes more likely to interface with computers and machinery to assist those with limited functioning.

STEM Education: How Can We Compete with the World?

The 21st century and its push for technology development has forced our nation’s schools to pay more attention to preparing our students for the future. It is no surprise that technology is one of the leading career trends in the world with the development increasing exponentially each year. With the increase in technology, we are also gaining more knowledge and advancements in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. The development for these areas is critical in helping the United States to compete among the world. In a 2006 study performed by the Economic Cooperation and Development revealed that fifteen year olds in the United States ranked twenty-fifth in math proficiency and twenty-first in science proficiency out of the thirty countries used in the study. Even more recently, a study conducted in August 2011 by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance suggests that the gap is increasing and the United States is falling further behind. The study, “Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?” stated that the United States has fallen to thirty-second in math proficiency compared to the rest of the world.

How did it come to this? The United States has always been considered to be in the forefront of technology and science. We were the first to put the man on the moon, were we not? The problem is that when you are at the top in a competitive world, other countries learn from your methods and find ways to perfect them. For too long the United States has been complacent in their efforts in the areas of science and technology, allowing the rest of the world to simply catch up. Now that we are no longer the leaders in these areas, we are making a vested interest in how to regain our status as a world leader. To correct this problem, U.S. leaders must first progress the intellectual know-how of the current leaders of STEM, keep these jobs within our country (and not outsourcing them), and develop future leaders to steer us into the future. Initiatives must be undertaken to concentrate on educating the students from kindergarten through graduate school in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These subjects will be a necessity for the future of most jobs and the success of our country as a whole.

Not only are we sure that these four subjects will be relevant for the future economy, they also are some of the highest paying career paths as well. We know that those figures will continue its trend as we continue to make improvements in science and technology in the future. We know that science and math are the foundations needed for increased productivity and the enhancement of the Technological Age. These are just some of the benefits in continually motivating students to continue within one of these career paths. With more educated individuals in these fields, we will have a greater chance to find breakthroughs in various fields of science and technology. Thus the nation will profit from the advancements. We can set the trend that other countries will use and develop. In addition, the more advancement we have will create more jobs in helping establish these global methods.

The problem we are facing is how to coach our children towards these career paths and be successful. Right now, students lack the advanced or even adequate instruction needed to excel in these areas, and as a consequence, they will be less likely to become masters of STEM subject matter and therefore will not be able to teach a new generation to become leaders in STEM subjects. As we see in many public schools, students are being taught the more complex sciences, such as chemistry and physics, by a teacher who may only have a degree in biology. A push must be made to train educators today with the proper material to help teach the leaders of tomorrow. We must also allocate more money into the educational practices that will help students succeed in these areas. First and foremost, we need to make a push for greater use of technology in all of our schools. If we are truly going to be factors in the world tomorrow, we need to provide the knowledge and expertise to the children of today.

School Choice and Vouchers

The Debate over “School Choice” and “Vouchers”

Education has recently been a hotbed of reform. Since the “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001, many parents, communities, politicians and educators have been seeking ways to improve our nation’s education system. Within its provisions, NCLB brought to the forefront of educational debate the ideas of school choice and school vouchers.


The school choice program, first introduced in the ESEA of 1965, and amended in NCLB 2001, gave parents the means to have an impact on their child’s education. The process, in as simple terms as I can describe, works like this:

1. Every school is evaluated at the state level.

2. The school receives a grade based on a predetermined rating system that looks at items such as: dropout rate, attendance, suspensions, and performance on state standardized tests

3. If a school receives a failing grade or is not meeting the standards (usually on standardized tests) then corrective measures may take place which include restructuring. The school will sometimes be labeled as a Title I school.

4. Parents that have students who attend a Title I school will have the options of receiving supplemental education services for their child. (Sometimes this includes free tutoring or enrichment)

5. Parents also have the option of requesting a child be enrolled in a school that is identified as not being at risk and meeting targeted state goals such as AYP. Usually this is done through a local education agency and requires documentation and good reasoning on why a school transfer is requested.

More information: Click here

Although this is a federal initiative, the process described above is more of a guideline rather than an actual set of instructions regarding school choice. Many states are interpreting the process differently. New Jersey has outlined their plan through what they call, The Interdistrict School Choice Program , that was signed into law by Governor Christie on September 10, 2010. (letter here)

Governor Christies plan follows the guidelines and gives some additional steps and regulations to clarify how this process will work. Here are some important aspects of the NJ plan:

1. School districts have the option currently to participate in the program

2. Transportation cost up to 20 miles are covered by the school

3. Students can only be accepted to schools that have openings for students that are a part of the choice program.

4. Schools will choose the student by lottery.

More comprehensive details: >here<


A voucher system is when parents are given the money from city, state, or the federal government to pay for their child’s education. The money, certificate or scholarship they are receiving is equivalent to their local districts per pupil expenditure. The money is generally put into an educational savings account that the parents can withdraw from to pay for the tuition for the child’s school. Sometimes this is done through the school directly.

Some possible drawbacks to school choice and vouchers are:

1. Schools that are considered at risk may lose students who generally score higher on standardized tests. This may ultimately hinder the schools ability to reach AYP furthering the perceived failure of the school.

2. This is an expensive endeavor. Sending students out of district usually is paid for by the sending school. Transportation cost can add up depending on how far the student is traveling. Who pays for all of this? (Taxpayers) interesting article: >here<

3. School population changes could lead to instability as far as teachers, programs, and budgets are concerned. Schools losing students will need to compensate for the loss of money.

Some positives:

1. Parents can actively be involved in their child's educational choices as far as programs, curriculum, and teachers.

2. Schools that are successful establish themselves as "magnet" schools. They can set a possible example for other districts. Attracting more students to these schools can lead to an increase student success rate.

3. Reduces economic segregation as students from lower income areas have the choice to go to higher achieving schools.

I believe that the overall positives, on paper, outweigh the negatives to school choice and school vouchers. I also believe that healthy competition leads to innovation. The current school structure is in need of an overhaul. However, how will we implement this change? Currently public schools are only evaluated on a standardized testing system that many believe is flawed. How will charter, public and private schools be held accountable for their academic programs? Shifting school populations will only cloud our overall perception of how a local school is performing. Do we measure the success of a program based on each moving student’s individual performance? Who will track that information? There are so many questions that are still unanswered.