Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Resources to check out this summer

When I began this blog for a class entitled Social and Cultural Politics of Education Personal and Contextual Perspectives, I had a hard time at first coming up with topics to write about. However after a couple of weeks of discussing and researching current political and social issues in the U.S. educational system, I had more then enough factors to reflect on in my blog. Looking back some of the most important topics that need to be addressed by policy makers include:
-Funding and how to make public schools more equal.
-Testing as a means of accountability and the impact it has on schools, teachers and students.
-Curriculum-what should be taught in school and how we can prepare students for the challenges of the future.
-Out-of-school factors that affect achievement and how schools and communities can support students in more effective ways.
-Capitalism and its impact on American society and public schools.

There are many books that have been recommended to my class by our insightful professor, Craig Cunningham. For anyone who wants to better understand the political and social issues of the public school system and find ways to improve it, here is a list of resources:

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Myra Bergman Ramos
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
Learning All The Time by John Holt
So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools by Charles M. Payne
The Unschooling Unmanual by Nanda Van Gestel, Jan Hunt, Daniel Quinn, and Rue Kream
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by Bell Hooks
The Undiscovered Self by Carl G. Jung
Where We Stand: Class Matters by Bell Hooks
How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development) by John Holt

Summer is a wonderful time to read and learn about new ideas and theories in the public school system. This list includes books that are not only filled with new information they are interesting as well.

Craig’s blog is also very informative about current issues. You can check it out at http://technopaideia.blogspot.com/.
Another blog that I have become very interested in is http://educationpolicyblog.blogspot.com/.
Remember that in order to change the current education system we have to first understand it and familiarize ourselves with the ways that policy makers manipulate the it and the public. As educators we must strive to enhance the school system and ensure that all students are given equal educational opportunities.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Don't Do Away With Recess

As schools are doing anything possible to pass state tests and raise test scores, recess time seems to be dwindling and some schools have even done away with it altogether. Schools in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, New Jersey, and Connecticut have eliminated recess, and new schools are being built without playgrounds! I find this very upsetting and I am still searching for research that indicates a correlation between canceling recess and raised test scores. I believe students need a break in school and actually perform better when given the chance to excise. Obviously these administrators have forgotten that running around increases blood flow and oxygen consumption, which helps to stimulate the brain and increase functioning. Kids need to have time to play and socialize; it is part of their nature. Recess is the perfect environment for these interactions because there is supervision and if a child has a problem, an adult, usually a teacher, is around to mediate. Let’s also keep in mind that childhood obesity is getting worse, and too many parents and children consider playing video games and watching television types of “play”.

There is lots of research that supports the idea that recess is invaluable, and most teachers will agree that it is a necessity for everyone’s sanity. Last year I worked at a suburban school that was one of the top performing schools in the state of Illinois. Everyday the students, grade K-3, got 3 recess breaks. There was a 15 minute morning recess, then a 25 minute lunch recess, and then another 15 minute afternoon recess. The students knew the routine and would always come back from each recess refreshed and energetic. However, they were able to settle down immediately and get right to work. This experience has made me a believer in the power of recess as an educational tool.

Here is an interesting article about recess if you are looking for more information - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/health/24well.html?_r=1&em
Blogs to check out on the importance of recess:

Sunday, May 31, 2009

How to be a culturally responsive teacher

Census data shows that the United States of America is one of the most diverse nations in the world. Accordingly, U.S. schools are also very diverse. To meet the challenges of a diverse classroom, teachers must create a classroom culture where everyone is welcomed and supported. Instructional methods must also be adapted to ensure that every child is given the best opportunities to learn.
This year I joined a very diverse school and was nervous that my usual teaching methods would not lead to success for some students. After researching how to be a culturally responsive instructor and teaching in a diverse community, I learned that there are many things to consider, but that good teachers do these things without realizing it. This is a great blog written by a veteran teacher offering some suggestions -http://successfulteaching.blogspot.com/2007/09/diverse-learners-in-one-setting.html.

Basically there are a few things to keep in mind when teaching culturally diverse learners. These may be no-brainers to most teachers with experience, but research indicates that children from various backgrounds still fail in schools because teachers are not accommodating enough.

-Involve Parents. Before the year even begins, send a letter to each child introducing yourself as their teacher and include a brief description of the upcoming school year. Throughout the year invite parents to visit the classroom and be involved in the school community whenever possible.
-Set High Standards for All Learners. At the beginning of the year explain to students what is expected of them and how they can be successful. Throughout the year have students evaluate their performance and help them determine if they are meeting expectations.
-Become Knowledgeable of Other Cultures. In order to support multicultural students it is the teacher's job to have some understanding of the various cultures represented. Acknowledging holidays and customs and using texts with characters of similar ethnic backgrounds may allow students to feel more comfortable in the classroom environment.
-Give Students Choice. Students must be allowed to have some options when it comes to literature and classroom projects. This is also useful for sparking interest and motivation.
-Acknowledge Students Differences and Similarities. Addressing the individual needs of every child and identifying strengths and weaknesses is key in any classroom. Having discussions about the importance of diversity and how everyone in the world is different will make children more accepting. Let students share their experiences and listen to others’ experiences.
-Utilize a Variety of Teaching Methods and Learning Styles. When teaching a lesson make sure to incorporate various models and mix up instructional styles. Also change up the structure of the lesson and let students work in small groups and partners frequently.

For more information and suggestions on specific activities for culturally responsive instruction check out: http://www.alliance.brown.edu/tdl/

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vouchers and Privatizing Schools

Should Schools be Privatized?

I just finished reading an article entitled Public Schools: Make Them Private, by Milton Friedman – http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-023.html and was struck by how corrupt America would become if the public school system were to become private. Turning our schools into for-profit private enterprises would truly be a nightmare, reminiscent of an Ayn Rand novel. Friedman made several points in his article that are worth discussing further.

First of all, Friedman believes that each state should have a voucher system where parents have complete freedom to choose where their child attends school. Let’s not rush into anything too fast! Remember that there has been little research done on the use of vouchers and the studies that do support privatizing schools are usually funded by policy centers that would gain a lot if vouchers did become popular. A 2005 study conducted by Columbia University found no significant difference in charter school performance compared to public school performance.

Next, Friedman states that the quality of schooling is far worse today than it was in 1955. I am not sure how he came up with this statement since accountability in the 1950’s was scarce. Most schools today are performing much more effectively and students are graduating at a much higher rate then ever before. Students with disabilities and minority children are also better off today than other time in history. Fifty years ago schools did not have special education programs and segregation was fierce. Current school systems are more accommodating and are able to meet the needs of every type of learner.

Another point made by Friedman is that an improved educational system can limit the harm to our social stability from a permanent and large underclass. I agree with him on this point, but disagree that vouchers is the answer to creating a less stratified society. The biggest problem with vouchers is that they take money away from schools that need it the most. If everyone was given a voucher there would still be lower performing schools and inequalities would become even greater. Parents that had the means to determine the best schools would have an advantage and poorer students would still be at a disadvantage.

If a school is failing its students then I do believe parents should have the right to send their children to a better performing school. However, public money should stay public. Parents should be able to send students to magnet schools or other community schools, which are public, that can better serve the needs of learners. Also keep in mind that not every public school is failing and I think we need to zero in on why certain schools are underperforming. Then we need to give those schools extra support and the tools they need to restructure curriculums, hire new teachers and adopt new materials. Punishing schools is never going to make them perform better. We also need to examine ways to improve all public schools as a whole. Higher qualifications for teachers, longer school days/years, increased funding and adding family educational opportunities would improve students’ performance immensely.

For more info on voucher systems check out: http://www.physorg.com/news158487900

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Year-Round School?

As many Chicago schools move to a year-round school schedule- (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-cps-yearroundapr22,0,6303193.story), it is important for educators to remember that the actual number of school days students attend will not increase. Advocates for the change say that by shortening summer break teachers will have to spend less time reviewing in the fall and students may have an easier transition back into the school setting. However, is simply rearranging the calendar really going to impact student learning and test scores? I believe the best way to prepare all students is to determine what works best for each district. That being said, there needs to be funding available to districts if they decide that year-rounding schooling is necessary. Growing up I spent June, July and August at various summer camps, attending art programs and working at a local retail shop. These opportunities have helped shaped the person I am just as much as my formal education. I am also aware that many children are not as lucky and send much of their free time in front of the T.V. or getting into trouble. In lower social-economic areas year-round schooling may prove to be more effective. However, before radical decisions are made both sides must be considered, and schools should take time to examine results of year-round calendars in schools similar in student populations and demographics. Public school calendars should not be regulated at the federal or state level other then making sure children have at least 180 days of attendance. This way districts can meet the needs of its learners and no child has to suffer in either situation.

For more year-round schooling pros and cons go to:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Testing in America

Testing in America originated as a way to determine if students had acquired the information taught by a teacher. If a child did poorly on such a test, he or she was unable to advance to the next grade. Over time testing has evolved into a measure of accountability, and now because of NCLB, districts, schools and teachers are penalized if students are not able to pass state tests. Standardized tests have become the only measure used to track student achievement in schools. Using tests in this way has had a tragic effect on instruction and curriculum.

Standardized testing as the primary factor for accountability is causing an imbalance between skills and the purpose behind those skills in schools. Curriculums across the country have been chiseled down to practically nothing, and since most standardized tests do not offer specific feedback, students are never given a chance to find out what they answered correctly and what they got wrong. Test results are also basically useless for teachers and parents who often do not understand the data.

This is a parent’s blog entry that addresses the problems associated with standardized tests - http://www.averynearlytea.com/2006/07/standardized-tests-american-addiction.html.

Let’s consider some reasons why we take time to educate our youth:
-They must be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
-They need to understand how to become active members of our society.
-They need to have desirable qualities and problem solving skills in order to be successful in the job force.
-They must know how to interact with people from many different cultures.
-They need to be encouraged to become lifelong learners.

“Testing is Not Teaching. Teaching is choosing the right skills based on an astute observation of the child’s needs.” Donald H. Graves, a quote from Testing is Not Teaching, a great book everyone should check out.
For information on alternatives to standardized tests go to: http://performanceassessment.org/

Saturday, May 2, 2009

In order to prepare students for the 21st century, we must make sure they are given an adequate education. Unfortunately, most schools across the country are extremely underfunded, impacting the quality of the school experience. Illinois is one of the lowest ranked states in terms of funding, and as a teacher of this state, I believe parents, teachers, administrators and local officials need to work together to change the current system of funding.

“Illinois ranks 49th out of 50th in the amount of funded the state provides for education. State funding in Illinois covers, on average, less than 30% of the cost of educating a student, far less than the national average of about 50 percent.”

This quote was taken from an insightful website designed to improve public education in Illinois. You can check it out - http://www.aplusillinois.org. This website also points out how Illinois has the 2nd biggest funding gap between wealthy and poor children as well. Leaving underfunded schools with larger class sizes, inadequate supplies, teachers who are unprepared and less student support. These factors have a direct impact on the quality of education as shown by the fact that over 1/3 of the public schools in this state failed to meet federal standards. There are many other horrific statistics included in the site that depict just how grim Illinois’s public school system really is.

Now on to the good news! The funding crisis in Illinois does not have to continue. There are many steps we can take to prevent further failure in poorer neighborhoods. Here are some ways you can help save our students:

Voice the Issue - Contact legislators, governors, and other politicians in Illinois and voice your concerns. Writing letters to editors of local newspapers and magazines is another way to communicate issues.

Educate Others – Community members can not support the cause if they are unaware of it. Before entering the field of education I was completely clueless about school funding in Illinois even after attending K-12 grade here. Talk to parents, organize groups and encourage everyone to get involved before more students fall victim to this unfair system.

Know the Facts – By understanding how the system works, it is easier to find ways to improve it. Learning about funding in other states and countries in the world is a great way to get an idea of successful funding programs.

Elect People who Care – Make sure to support leaders who are against the current funding system in schools. Check 0ut Obama’s site on the issues of education- http://www.barackobama.com/issues/education/

We need to change school funding in the U.S. and give equal opportunities to every child for education.