Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Charter Schools

      The idea of charter schools has been a controversial topic since it originated in 1988.  Mr. Ray Budde established charter schools in an attempt to reform public schools.  The NJ Department of Education states the charter school law was passed to give parents a choice for their children's education and intended to:  improve student learning and achievement, increase the availability of choice to parents and students when selecting a learning environment, encourage the use of different and innovative learning methods, establish a new system of accountability for schools, make the school the unit for educational improvement, and establish new professional opportunities for teachers.  In 1991, Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter school law and in 1992, California followed.  Katherine Merseth states, in her book entitled Inside Urban Charter Schools, "Charter schools are similar to traditional public schools in several ways: they receive government funds to operate, they may not engage in religious instruction, and they are open to all interested students."  

While charter schools have similarities to the traditional public schools, they also have differences.  For example, a group of private individuals may open and govern a charter school, the leaders of these organizations may have little or no formal training in education, many charter school founders are nonprofit entrepreneurs and these are schools of choice.  Charter schools are primary or secondary schools founded by nonprofit groups, universities, government entities, teachers, parents, or activist who feel restricted by the traditional public school setting.  These schools are authorized to function once they have received a charter, a statutorily defined performance contract outlining and stating the schools vision, mission, goals, program, methods of assessments and methods to measure success.  These schools make up their own rules and regulations, are not governed by the statutes that apply to other public schools, and are also considered nonprofit entities. Students attending charter schools are there by choice and are not subject to pay tuition.  Although their enrollment is based on a lottery-based system, the lottery is said to be open to all students.  In 2008, it was reported by the survey of US charter schools, that 59% of charter schools had a waiting list averaging 198 students.  
There are many pros and cons to charter schools.
Provide families with public school choice options giving parents the ability to choose the school best suited for their child
Small in size and have limited numbers so they can only provide some families with public school choice options, raising issues of fairness and equity
Can act as laboratories of reform identifying successful practices that could be replicated by traditional district public schools
Successful reform models such as New American Schools and Core Knowledge have already been identified.  Why not attempt these reforms in existing schools?  If rules and regulations are so burdensome, they should be waived for all public schools.
Competition within the school system is created, pressuring districts to reassess their educational practices
Have an unfair advantage when competing against district public schools since they tend to be smaller and free from regulations
Will lead to overall systemic reform through the pressure and competition of the choice mechanism
Too limited in scope to adequately pressure the entire public school system
Unlike traditional public schools are held accountable; if they do not perform, they are not renewed
Are freed from rules and regulations intended to ensure quality in traditional public school
Charter schools were instituted to reform tradition public schools, however, it will continue to be an argumentative topic.  Even though most charter schools have waiting list and it seems as if they are better than the traditional public school, as of March 2009, 12.5%, over 5000 US charter schools have closed due to problems in one or more of the following areas: academic, financial and managerial.  Still as of September 2012, there are over 100 charter schools serving approximately 25,000 students in New Jersey.  Each charter school's rate of success is unique.  Therefore, before choosing a charter, it important to learn about the particular school of interest.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Core Standards

Mary Beth Zenyuk 
Common Core Standards
According to the Core Standards website, “The common core standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents should know what they need to do to help them” ( These standards help teachers to ensure their students have to skills and knowledge, in English and mathematics, which they need to be successful by providing clear goals. In the long term, these standards are suppose to be relevant to the real world and are developed to help student succeed in college and in careers. The mission is to best position the students to compete successfully in the global economy.  
The common core standards initiative suggests that we need these standards to ensure that all students are prepared for a postsecondary education and workforce. This will ensure that all students receive a consistent education no matter where they are located. As stated on the core standards website, the standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but they do help guide teachers to figure out the skills and knowledge their students should have. Teachers can tailor their lessons and environments for their classrooms. It is important to remember that the standards are not the only thing that students need.
Each state has its own process for developing, adopting, and implementing the standards.  This means that what students are expected to learn may vary from state to state. The standards are a state led effort. They were developed by teachers, experts, parents, and school administrators that are members of the Counsel of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practice ( States can voluntarily adopt these standards. All states have adopted these standards except Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Some are adopting the standards through their board of education and others are adopting it through legislatures.
The NGA Center and CCSSO will not be developing standards in other subjects and are focusing on implementing the standards in ELA and mathematics. However, other groups are working on standards in the arts, world languages, and science ( The standards define the knowledge and skills should have within their k-12 education so that they will be able to graduate high-school ready to succeed. According to core standards, the standards are aligned with college and work expectations, are clear, understandable and consistent, and include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skill. They also are built upon strengths and lessons of current state standards, are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society, and are evidence based.
New Jersey‘s standards include preschool teaching and learning standards as well as K-12 standard for the following, Visual and Performing Arts, comprehensive Health and Physical education, Science, Social Studies, World Languages, Technology, and 21st -Century Life and Careers. Standards for mathematics and Language Arts Literacy are parts of the Common Core Standards initiatives (
The impact that the Standards will have on schools and education will not be known for several years. As full implementation grows closer, there are some pros and cons to the Common Core Standards, although these differ for each individual. Some individuals consider the following to be positive assets associated with the standards, a consistent education for students with preparation for higher education and careers, standards are favorable to other countries, scores can be compared accurately, high mobility for students who move often, and increased teacher collaboration and professional development. Some cons include, difficulty to adjust, veteran teachers may not conform and retire, students must learn more at a quicker pace, no modified test for students with disabilities, increased value on test scores, and more cost for the school district to update their material (
The Common Core Standards were developed to help students succeed in higher education and careers. The NGA Center and CCSSO focused on developing standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Some states have created standards for other subjects as well. The mission is to best position the students to compete successfully in the global economy.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Debate Over School Choice & Vouchers

Rachel Ricci    
Fundamentals of Curriculum
The Debate Over School Choice & Vouchers
            Place of residency has long been the determining factor of the public school education a child would receive unless a family chose to pay and send their child to a private school.  Since tax money funds public education, parents who send their children to private schools pay for both public and private education.  This has created a contentious debate in education.  Should you be able to take your tax money and spend it where you want to spend it whether it be in a public, parochial, in district, private or charter school?  The Interdistrict Public School Choice Program Act of 2010 18A:36B now allows families the opportunity to choose the school their child will attend outside of their geographic location with certain conditions applying.  An overview of school choice and vouchers will be discussed, as well as, the support and criticisms that go along with this change in educational choice.
            School choice gives parents the opportunity to choose the school their child will attend.  School choice does not give preference to any one form of school.  It is used when a student attends a school outside of their geographic default.  School choice allows for public funds to go to privately running schools.  A student therefore could attend a public, private, parochial or charter school or receive a voucher or tax credit for expenses related to schooling.  Private education is not then expensed out of the parent’s pocket, but paid for through the use of vouchers that are funded publicly. 
            In 2010 a new law was passed called the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program.  This law enables parents of children of school age to go to a school outside their district of residency if the selected school is participating in the choice program.  New Jersey currently has one hundred and seven school districts approved as choice districts.  According to the NJ Department of Education website, “The school choice program is an outstanding example of the department’s commitment to facilitate educational opportunities for the benefit of the children who are our ultimate clients.”  Participation in the program is optional and the decision to participate is made by the local board of education.  An application by a district to become a choice district must be submitted to the Commissioner of Education for certain criteria including;  the fiscal impact on the district, the quality and variety of academic programs offered within the district, the potential effectiveness of the student application process and the admissions criteria utilized, the impact on student population diversity in the district and the degree to which the program will promote or reduce educational quality in the choice district and sending districts.  The Commissioner will then either approve or deny the application. 
Any NJ resident student is eligible to take advantage of this program, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, economic status, academic potential, athletic ability and or handicap.  The parent must submit an application to the sending school district with their interest in a choice school.  The number of openings is set by school choice at each grade level and if there are more students requesting admission to a school than there are openings, the school will admit students based on a lottery.  Transportation, up to twenty miles and costing no more than eight hundred and eighty four dollars, will be provided to a student going to a choice school.  Any transportation outside of the twenty miles of allowed money amount will need to be provided for by the parent.  If the parent chooses to transport their child, he or she will receive eight hundred and eighty four dollars in aid.  An annual report to the State Board of Education, the Legislature and the Joint Committee will be made by the Commissioner.  That report must include the effectiveness of the interdistrict public school choice program.  That report will be made available on the Department of Education’s website.
A school voucher is a certificate issued by the government, which parents can apply toward tuition at a private school or for reimbursement of home schooling.  Parents accept the vouchers in lieu of sending their child to the public school to which their child is assigned.  A parent may also choose to use an education tax credit to apply toward educational costs of a private school.  School choice and the use of vouchers to fund private education has become the new buzz in education and the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program has enacted this into current law.  There has been public support and opposition for this new law.  Supporters see opportunity for choice in education whereas critics see a weakening of the public school system.  Both sides of the argument will be reviewed.
Vouchers and school choice give more control to the parents in educational decision making.  Parents want what is best for their children and are paying for public education, and should therefore have influence in educational decision making.   Supporters of school choice and vouchers feel that public schools could use some competition in order to raise their efficiency.  Public schools will have to compete with private schools for student enrollment by improving test scores and overall wellness.  Supporters feel good schools will prosper whereas poor performing schools will be forced to improve or shut down.    School choice allows low income children in poor performing schools the opportunity to attend private schools.
The use of vouchers and school choice would take away funding to the public schools.  Opponents of school choice argue the public school system would be weakened by diverting resources to non public schools.  In most cases, vouchers would only cover the cost of a portion of private school tuition.  Would low income families then be able to afford the remainder of the private school tuition?  If not, then private schools would still be out of reach for low income families.  Opponents argue that parents may be choosing schools for the wrong reasons.  Parents may choose a school on racial composition.  School choice, therefore, could lead to segregation.
Valid arguments have been presented on both sides of school choice and vouchers.  Whether you are a supporter or not, charter schools are popping up in New Jersey and parents have been choosing to send their children outside of their defaulted public school.  My advice would be to do the research on the different schools available for your child.  I would look up school report cards on the State of New Jersey’s Department of Education’s website for further information on schools in your community.  Also, according to the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, a choice district shall establish and maintain a parent information center. Parents may go to this center to collect information about participating programs, school information and the application process.  Below is a list of websites containing information on school choice, the laws pertaining to school choice, and NJ schools.

Internet References for Additional Information
1.      State of New Jersey’s Department of Education’s website:
2.      School Choice Overview:
3.      Interdistrict Public School Choice Program Act of 2010 law information:
6.      Approved Choice Districts in NJ:


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Classroom Instruction that Works

            In 2001, a book called, “Classroom Instruction that Works” by Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock was published.  In 2012, a second edition of the book written by Ceri B. Dean, Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, Howard Pitler, and BJ Stone was published.  The second edition builds upon the work done in the fist book.  It incorporates findings from a study that clarifies the concepts related to each of the nine categories identified in the first edition and it uses an analysis of the literature published since the first edition to provide an updated estimate of each strategy’s effect on student achievement (Classroom Instruction that Works 2nd edition p. xiii).  The nine categories include:
·      Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback
·      Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition
·      Cooperative Learning
·      Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers
·      Nonlinguistic Representations
·      Summarizing and Note Taking
·      Assigning Homework and Providing Practice
·      Identifying Similarities and Differences
·      Generating and Testing Hypothesis
The book is organized into three parts; in which each of the nine categories are divided into chapters with a final chapter devoted to Instructional Planning Using the Nine Categories.  Each chapter provides descriptions, examples, and strategies to help teachers use these practices in their own classrooms.
            In the chapter devoted to setting objectives and providing feedback it explains that the two concepts work hand in hand.  “Teachers need to identify success criteria for learning objectives so students know when they have achieved those objectives.  Similarly, feedback should be provided for tasks that are related to the learning objectives; this way students understand the purpose of the work they are asked to do, build a coherent understanding of a content domain, and develop high levels of skill in a specific domain (p. 3).”  The four recommendations given for setting objectives in the classroom are: 1.) Set learning objectives that are specific but not restrictive, 2.)  Communicate the learning objectives to students and parents, 3.)  Connect the learning objectives to previous and future learning 4.) Engage students in personal learning objectives. They also have four recommendations regarding feedback.  They are:  1.)  Provide feedback that addresses what is correct and elaborates on what students need to do next, 2.) Provide feedback appropriately in time to meet the students’ needs 3.) Provide feedback that is criterion referenced 4.) Engage students in the feedback process.   Throughout the chapter they give sample situations in which these processes are used and also examples of appropriate learning objectives and feedback. 
            Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition explains the importance of giving students recognition for their accomplishments and showing them the relationship between effort and achievement.  The three recommendations made for reinforcing effort are: 1.)  Teach students about the relationship between effort and achievement.  2.) Provide students with explicit guidance about exactly what it means to expend effort.  3.) Ask students to keep track of their effort and achievement.  With regards to the third recommendation, a sample of an effort rubric for test preparation is provided to show students the correlation between their effort and performance on tests.  There are also three recommendations that are made for providing recognition.  They are:  1) Promote a mastery-goal orientation.  2.) Provide praise that is specific and aligned with expected performance and behaviors.  3.) Use concrete symbols of recognition.  It also goes on to explain that too much praise could be negative, so it should be used intentionally, yet sparingly. 
            Cooperative Learning is another area of focus in the book.  According to Drs. David Johnson and Roger Johnson (1999) there are five elements to define cooperative learning:  positive interdependence, face-to-face promotive interaction, individual and group accountability, interpersonal and small-group skills and group processing (p.35-36).  They believe that the most essential are positive interdependence and individual accountability.  The three recommendations for using cooperative learning include:  1.) Include elements of both positive interdependence and individual accountability.  2.) Keep group sizes small.  3.) Use cooperative learning consistently and systematically.  They believe that to be effective cooperative learning should be used once a week and they caution not to over use it. 
            Cues, Questions, and Advanced Organizers is an important section in the fact that it shows teachers the specific ways to ask questions to ensure student learning.   Research has shown that 80 percent of teacher interactions with students involve cueing and questioning (p.50).  This section offers suggestions of some specific practices to make the most effective use of cues, questions, and advance organizers.  The suggestions include 1.) Focus on what is important, 2.) Use explicit clues, 3.) Ask inferential questions, 4.) Ask analytic questions.  With regards to advanced organizers, they suggest: 1.) Use expository advance organizers, 2.) Use narrative advanced organizers, 3.) Use skimming as an advance organizer, 4.) Use graphic advance organizers.  Some examples of the advance organizers are demonstrations, video clips, drawings, graphics, and skimming.  
            Nonlinguistic representations try to encourage students to create, store, and manipulate information either mentally of with concrete tools or displays (p. 64). Examples include:  creating graphic organizers, making physical models/manipulatives, generating mental pictures, creating pictures, illusions, or pictographs, and engaging in kinesthetic activity.  It is explained that the elaboration of knowledge gained by using nonlinguistic representations help students understand knowledge at a deeper level.
            The strategies of summarizing and note taking facilitate learning by providing opportunities for students to capture, organize, and reflect on important facts, concepts, ideas, and processes (p. 78).   Students’ comprehension can be increased through summarizing because they need to sort, select, and combine information.  Similarly, when note taking students must identify important information.  Some suggestions for summarizing include: 1.)  Teach students the rule-based summarizing strategy, 2.) Use summary frames, 3.) Engage students in reciprocal teaching.  The suggestions given for note taking are: 1.) Give students teacher-prepared notes, 2.)   Teach students a variety of note-taking formats, and 3.) Provide opportunities for students to revise their notes and use them for review. 
            Assigning homework and providing practice is an important category because assigning homework and proving practice allows students to learn or review content and skills on their own.  There are mixed results on the research in how effective homework is.  As a result, teachers should carefully design the assignments with the following things in mind 1.) Develop and communicate a district or school homework policy, 2.)  Design homework assignments that support academic learning and communicate their purpose, 3.) Provide feedback on assigned homework.  When providing practice, teachers should: 1.)  Clearly identify and communicate the purpose of practice activities, 2.)  Design practice sessions that are short, focused and distributed over time, 3.) Provide feedback on practice sessions. 
            Another area of focus is identifying similarities and differences, which is important because it helps us make senses of the world.  Identifying similarities and differences is the process of comparing information, sorting concepts into categories, and making connections to existing knowledge.  The recommendations made for helping students to identify similarities and differences are to: 1.) Teach students a variety of ways to identify similarities and differences 2.)  Guide students as they engage in the process of identifying similarities and differences, 3.)  Provide supporting cues to help students identify similarities and differences.  Examples include Venn diagrams, comparison matrixes, and creating metaphors. 
            The final area covered in the book is generating and testing hypotheses.  This includes the mental processes involved in asking questions and seeking answers.  It does not only take place in a science classroom.  It is a part of other content areas, however it may be referred to as other names such as predicting, inferring, deducing, or theorizing (p. 135).  In order to engage students in this process in all content areas the following recommendations are made: 1.) Engage students in a variety of structured tasks for generating and testing hypotheses, 2.) Ask students to explain their hypothesis and their conclusions.  These are important so that students can apply the information that they learn, not just recall facts. 
            Overall, “Classroom Instruction that Works” provides great tips and ideas for teachers to implement their research based strategies.  Each topic is broken down into its own chapter and provides not only tips and examples, but also explains why these are “best practices” according to the research.  My school has implemented the McRel Powerwalk through and has purchased copies of this book for all teachers and they are proving PLC’s in order to help teachers implement these strategies.