War on education, war on teachers: A little historical perspective

March 16, 2011

A post from Nicholas Meier at Deborah Meier’s Blog:

Perennial Headlines on Education

Here are some Headlines from newspapers over the years. Can you guess when they were written?

1. “Attack Mounted on Dropouts/City Sets Standards for Schools”

2. “New York’s Great Reading Score Scandal”

3. “Diagnostic reading tests are being given this week to 150,000 high school students as the first step in a new program—the largest and most systematic ever. …We intend to follow through…to overcome deficiencies.”

4. “The University of California (Berkeley) found that 30 to 40 percent of entering freshmen were not proficient in English.”

5. “Hope for the Blackboard Jungle: … Every year New Yorkers’ performance had been getting a little worse, until by YEAR? only 32 percent of the city’s pupils [were] doing as well or better than the national average.”

6. “Even Boston’s ‘brightest students’ didn’t know ‘whether water expanded or contracted when it freezes.’ And while 70 percent of this elite group knew that the U.S. had imposed an embargo in 1812 only five knew what ’embargo’ meant.”

7. “Tougher Standards in Our High. The average freshman is a year and three months behind national standards in reading.”

8. “City Pupils Remain Behind … Official Asserts the Tests Suggest Difficulty in Early Grades. Last fall 40.1 percent were reported on grade level or above … but in March, 43 percent … were reading at grade level or above”; and “Bleak drop out stats are raising concern.”

9. “Our standard for high school graduation has slipped badly. Fifty years ago a high school diploma meant something. … We have misled our students. … and our nation.”

10, “During the past 40 or 50 years those who are responsible for education have progressively removed from the curriculum … the western culture which produced the modern democratic state.”

The quotes above come from mainstream publications over the past 150 years. The earliest is 1845, the latest . . .

[Answers below the fold]

Read the rest of this entry »

Broad Prize, for best urban schools, to Gwinnett County, Georgia

October 20, 2010

It’s a million-dollar gold star for the administrators and board of the school system in Gwinnett County, Georgia: They won the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The trophy for the Broad Prize for Urban Education

The trophy for the Broad Prize for Urban Education

(It’s pronounced with a long “o” as in “road.”)

NPR reported:

Gwinnett County beat out Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, and Socorro Independent School District and Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, for the award.

The prize, created in 2002 by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, is the nation’s largest education award given to school districts. It is designed to reward schools for increasing graduation rates, improving low-income students’ performance, and reducing differences in achievement rates between minority and white students. Winners are chosen from the country’s 100 largest school systems serving a large percentage of low-income and minority students.

This is big news to a select few in Dallas.  Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa urged Dallas teachers on to win the Broad Prize by 2010.  Dallas ISD did not count among the finalists this year, nor in any previous year.

News in many places is about the districts who gained the finalist list, but did not win.  Interesting prize.

Next year.  Next year.


Getting a great education that the tests can’t measure

December 11, 2009

As I sit with officials from the Texas Education Agency and the Dallas ISD discussing what goes on in our classrooms, I often reflect that the drive to testing frequently pushes education out of the classroom.

One of my favorite education blogs, the Living Classroom, comes out of a the West Seattle Community School where, many days — perhaps most days — education goes on in wonderful ways.  No test could ever capture the progress made.

Latest example:  This boy made this squid.  He had fun doing it.  He learned a lot.  Look at the excitement.

(Somebody get P. Z. Myers’ attention:  P. Z.!  Look at this squid!)

Asher and his amazing squid, The Living Classroom, West Seattle Community School

Asher and his amazing squid, The Living Classroom, West Seattle Community School

It’s pretty colorful, even for a squid, but I’ll wager the kid now knows more about squids than most Texas ninth grade biology students.  Of course, sewing squids is not among the list of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.  What Asher now knows . . . such learning would have to be smuggled into a Texas classroom.

When education is outlawed, only outlaws will have education.

Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, Michael Hinojosa, Arne Duncan: Are you listening?

March 17, 2009

NYC Educator spells out the difficulties.  It’s not the teachers’ fault when the major systems needed to run a school don’t work — like the lights, heat, phones, furniture, plumbing, etc.

But these guys who tell us the teachers need to be fired — do you think they ever feel the pain?

When was the last time one of these school superintendents had to run a copy machine, let alone repair it before it would run, or bring their own paper to have something to make copies on?

We’re coming up on National Poetry Month; I’d like to find who was the author of this poem:


It’s not my job to run the train, the whistle I can’t blow.

It’s not for me to say how far the train’s allowed to go.

I’m not allowed to blow off steam, nor even clang the bell.

But let the damn thing jump the tracks, and see who catches hell!

Another version here.

Class size debate heats up; does size matter?

March 2, 2009

Several states tried to reduce class size, but generally class sizes have not been reduced and are increasing again.

So, does class size affect student achievement?

The New York Times featured a story about a week ago on class size creeping up in New York City; and now there are comments in the letters section.

At recent legislative hearings on whether to renew mayoral control of the New York City schools, lawmakers and parents alike have asked, again and again, why Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein have not done more to reduce class size. On Tuesday, the Education Department issued a report that found the average number of children per class increased in nearly every grade this school year.

“If you’re going to spend an extra dollar, personally, I would always rather spend it on the people that deliver the service,” Mr. Bloomberg said when asked about the report on Thursday, calling class size “an interesting number.”

“It’s the teacher looking a child in the eye, and teachers can look lots of children in the eye,” he added. “If you have to have smaller class size or better teachers, go with the better teachers every time.”

Is that even the issue?

Does class size matter?  Can a great teacher teach 40 students in a class, 200 students a day, better than a mediocre teacher can teach a smaller number?

How could we possibly know?

Faith and Freedom speaker series: Barbara Forrest at SMU, November 11

November 10, 2008

Update:  Teachers may sign up to get CEU credits for this event.  Check in at the sign-in desk before the event — certificates will be mailed from SMU later.

It will be one more meeting of scientists that Texas State Board of Education Chairman Dr. Don McLeroy will miss, though he should be there, were he diligent about his public duties.

Dr. Barbara Forrest, one of the world’s foremost experts on “intelligent design” and other creationist attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution, will speak in the Faith and Freedom Speaker Series at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.   Her evening presentation will serve as a warning to Texas: “Why Texans Shouldn’t Let Creationists Mess with Science Education.”

Dr. Forrest’s presentation is at 6:00 p.m., in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center in the Hughes-Trigg Theatre, at SMU’s Campus. The Faith and Freedom Speaker Series is sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network’s (TFN) education fund.  Joining TFN are SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, Center for Teaching Excellence, Department of Anthropology, Department of Biological Sciences, and Department of Philosophy.

Hughes-Trigg is at 3140 Dyer Street, on SMU’s campus (maps and directions available here).

Seating is limited for the lecture; TFN urges reservations be made here.

Dr. Forrest being interviewed by PBSs NOVA crew, in 2007.  Southeastern Louisiana University photo.

Dr. Forrest being interviewed by PBS's NOVA crew, in 2007. Southeastern Louisiana University photo.

From TFN:

Dr. Barbara Forrest
is Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. She is the co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (2004; 2007), which details the political and religious aims of the intelligent design creationist movement.  She served as an expert witness in the first legal case involving intelligent design, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the National Center for Science Education and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Widely recognized as a leading expert on intelligent design, she has appeared on Larry King Live, ABC’s Nightline, and numerous other television and radio programs.

Also see:

Testing boosts memory, study doesn’t

March 7, 2008

This is why football players remember the games better than they remember the practices.

Is this really news? It was a jarring reminder to me. Ed at Not Exactly Rocket Science (just before his blog was swallowed up by the many-tentacled Seed Magazine empire) noted a study that shows testing improves performance more than study.

But a new study reveals that the tests themselves do more good for our ability to learn that the many hours before them spent relentlessly poring over notes and textbook. The act of repeatedly retrieving and using learned information drives memories into long-term storage, while repetitive revision produced almost no benefits.

More quizzes instead of warm-up studies? More tests? Longer tests? What do you think? Certainly this questions the wisdom of high-stakes, end of education testing; it also calls into question the practice of evaluating teachers solely on the basis of test scores.  Much grist for the discussion mill.

Here’s the citation to the study: Karpicke, J.D., Roediger, H.L. (2008). The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning. Science, 319(5865), 966-968. DOI: 10.1126/science.1152408

Karpicke is at Purdue; Roediger is at Washington University in St. Louis.

Boost geology, boost science education

March 7, 2008

Kevin Padian’s article in February’s GeoTimes urges improvements in geology in textbooks, as a means of boosting science education and achievement overall.

I don’t want to imply that every geologist should be visiting third-grade classrooms and discussing radiometric dating with the students. That wouldn’t be comfortable for most of us, or most of them. But we can support a strong geological curriculum by getting involved in state and local textbook adoption procedures and curriculum development. Those folks need good scientific advice, and we need to listen to them to see how we can best meet their needs.

I’m actually going to suggest something even easier — something that most of us who teach in colleges and universities do all the time: improve the textbooks we use.

Texas’s state school board is running in exactly the opposite direction, undertaking several initiatives to dumb down science texts, even after approving a requirement for a fourth year of science classes required for graduation.

We can hope Texas’s policy makers will listen to veteran scientist educators like Padian.

Evolution of tetrapods, from Kevin Padian

Click thumbnail for larger chart to view. Evolution of Tetrapods, courtesy of Kevin Padian.

“Padian is a professor of Integrative Biology and curator in the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley, and president of the National Center for Science Education.”

Struggling schools get struggling teachers

February 8, 2008

Everyone who knows him thinks highly of him. When the rest of the teachers in the department need help, they turn to him. The school is struggling to achieve the state’s testing standards, and much hope rides on this guy.

So, yesterday in the staff meeting, when he complained the news media were aiming specifically at him, the generally noisy teachers fell suddenly silent.

Studies may be generally accurate, but they are, by nature and design, generalizations. Across Texas yesterday, good teachers in struggling schools took a hit they don’t deserve.

I’m sure that’s not what the authors intended.

See this story in the Dallas Morning News. Check it out in the Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Look at the report, from the Education Trust, here.

So far, I can’t tell if the study said anything about improving conditions for teachers to encourage the good ones to stay in the profession and take the tougher assignments. Conservatives will see this as a call to fire more teachers, I’m sure. Reaction will start any moment now.

Tip of the scrub brush to Aunt Betsy.

Evangelism vs. scholarship: Bible study in public schools

September 15, 2006

Last year the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) published a revealing study showing that most curricula for Bible study in public schools promote Christian faith more than they study the Bible. The study was done by a witty and amusing professor of religion from Southern Methodist University, Dr. Mark Chancey.

This week they followed up that study with a detailed look at Bible studies courses in Texas public schools, as they are actually presented to students. It’s not pretty.

In their press release, TFN said:

Clergy, Parents Voice Concerns About Public School Bible Classes

New Report Reveals Poor Quality, Bias, Religious Agendas in Texas Courses

September 13, 2006

AUSTIN – Clergy and parents are voicing serious concerns that Bible classes in Texas public schools are of poor quality and promote religious views that discriminate against children from a variety of faith backgrounds.

“The study of the Bible deserves the same respect as the study of Huck Finn, Shakespeare and the Constitution,” said the Rev. Dr. Roger Paynter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin. “But in some public schools, Bible courses are being used to promote an agenda rather than to enrich the education of our schoolchildren.”

Dr. Chancey is a solid scholar of the Bible. His criticisms are detailed and often understated, in a business where criticism is generally more hyperbole than substance. Especially if you live in Texas, you should read the report.

In the original study, Chancey noted that some nationally-promoted curricula for Bible studies had plagiarized some of their most important materials, in one case including the entire section on honesty as defined by the Ten Commandments. Dr. Chancey does not write drily — he really does a great job turning words. Both studies are well worth the reading.

First Amendment charlatans are fond of quoting the Supreme Court’s decisions in school-and-religion cases since World War II, in which the Court urges critical studies of scripture, saying such studies are legal and good. Then the charlatans go on to advocate Bible studies that are devotional, confusing a Sunday school class-style of scripture study with the critical literature study the Court actually urged. These reports leave little room for squirming by those advocates.

Last time around, TFN held a meeting here in Dallas featuring Dr. Chancey talking about the report and the reaction to it from the religious right (they were stunned into saying many really stupid things). It was a fun night, and I hope TFN will do it again.

Other coverage of the report:

If you see a particularly good story on the study, will you please send me a link?

Patriots and Christians don’t let children take crappy Bible studies courses:

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