Archives for August 2005

Green Dot to the rescue?

Green Dot Public Schools, a successful charter school operator, will try to take over a Los Angeles high school known for racial violence, low test scores and a high drop-out rate. The Jewish Journal reports:

If allowed to run Jefferson as he does his other schools, (Steve) Barr would divide the campus into eight or nine schools. Teachers would lose tenure protection, but could not be fired without “just cause.” Teaching staff also would have a central role in planning curriculum and purchasing instructional materials. The staff would not belong to United Teachers Los Angeles, the powerful L.A. teachers union, but could instead join the independent union that represents faculty at Barr’s other schools. Teacher salaries would be 10 percent higher. Parents would be required to volunteer at the school. Staff currently at Jefferson, including the principal, would be invited to reapply for their jobs.

Barr has started five charter high schools in low-incme minority neighborhoods, but he’s never taken over an existing school to turn it into a charter. It will be enormously difficult to turn around a school this dysfunctional, assuming Green Dot gets the chance to try. It will work only if the new school can transfer students who are unwilling to obey the rules.

According to the LA Times, the teachers’ union president has vowed to block Green Dot and school board members are sniffy that Barr went first to teachers and parents, not to district officials.

Barr had to get the state board of education to extend the charter of his first school, Animo Inglewood Charter High, because the local school district refused. The school is ranked in the top 10 percent of comparable schools in the state, the top 30 percent compared to all schools.

Teach the controversy

Teach the controversy, David Adesnik of Oxblog argues.

Step back for a minute from the raging debate about Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design. Instead of asking yourself which of these theories provides a better explanation for life on earth, ask yourself how we should conduct this debate in order to prevent the rise of even more antagonism between secular and religious culture in the United States of America.

In a Darwinian struggle of the fittest, evolution will defeat pseudo-science.

Educating Ms. Chips

The new Carnival of Education links to Ms. Frizzle’s ideal teacher education program, which starts with an undergrad major in something other than education.

I don’t care if you’re going to teach third graders arithmetic, the 50 states, the solar system, and some reading skills, you’re a more interesting person and a better role model if you are really excited by something academic.

That’s just the start.

And don’t miss the post about the mentor who buys volume two of the Princess Diaries for a 10-year-old girl.

First paragraph ends with the word “premenstrual” and the first page ends with “My mom is having my Algebra teacher’s baby.”

Second and third pages: “Now my mother has to get pregnant out of wedlock. … Why weren’t she and Mr. Gianini using birth control? … Whatever happened to her diaphragm? I know she has one … and what about condoms? Do people my mother’s age think they are immune to sexually transmitted diseases?”

Next week’s carnival host will be David at Ticklish Ears (david[at]ticklishears[dot]com).


Click for Cathy, the sister of Day by Day cartoonist Chris Muir.

Lousy labs

Most high school lab assignments are poorly designed and ignore “basic principles of effective science teaching,” said a report released Monday by the National Research Council, reports USA Today.

The typical lab is an isolated add-on that lacks clear goals, does not engage students in discussion and fails to illustrate how science methods lead to knowledge, the report said.

Also contributing to the problem: teachers who aren’t prepared to run labs, state exams that don’t measure lab skills, wide disparities in the quality of equipment and a simple lack of consensus over what “laboratory” means in the school environment.

Labs are popular because they’re “hands on.” But it helps to have the brain on too.

Football for future felon

Brandon Jackson, a star receiver, hopes to play football for Lancaster High, reports the Dallas News. But there’s a hitch.

Jackson, who has drawn interest from major college football programs, awaits an Oct. 17 trial on six counts of aggravated robbery, each a first-degree felony punishable by a prison term of five to 99 years or life. According to a police report, Jackson admitted taking part in the robberies of six people at gunpoint during two incidents Jan. 18 in Garland and Mesquite.

Whether he should be allowed to play football while awaiting his trial is the subject of debate.

Really? In Texas?

According to police, Jackson admitted in writing to shooting at a fleeing victim in one robbery and hitting a victim with the gun in another robbery.

His would-be coach says, “Kids are kids . . . you can’t throw away a kid’s life.” Especially if he’s one of the best football players in the state.

Funding Islamic schools

In response to the bombing attacks in London, the British government plans to offer state funding to Muslim schools, bringing them under government control. Currently, there are five state-funded Muslim schools and up to 150 operating independently. The educational quality of the independent Islamic schools is poor.

Britain, which has no rule about separation of church and state, funds almost 7,000 “faith” schools, which enroll 35 percent of primary students and 16 percent of secondary students. Most are Anglican or Catholic, but there are a few Presbyterian, Jewish and Sikh schools, and a Hindu school is planned, writes Amardeep of Sepia Mutiny.

Until quite recently, no Muslim schools were able to match the strict criteria necessary to receive state support. Now a few have appeared and more are in the offing, which raises two serious questions to consider. One is, will the Islamic state schools be places where moderate, multiculturalism-friendly Islam is inculcated? The second is, will the principle of the government’s ‘supportive neutrality’ to the different faiths be challenged once more ‘foreign’ faiths enter the picture? In short, can the British public handle state support for Muslim schools?

Unlike the members of majority faiths, most British Muslims are immigrants, Amardeep points out. Islamic state schools, even if they promote a moderate form of Islam, may not help the children of immigrants “learn the ropes of British society.” Amardeep quotes screenwriter and novelist Hanif Kureishi on the dangers of Islamic monoculturalism.

When it comes to teaching the young, we have the human duty to inform them that there is more than one book in the world, and more than one voice, and that if they wish to have their voices heard by others, everyone else is entitled to the same thing. These children deserve better than an education that comes from liberal guilt.

The British-born suspects in the deadly July 7 bombings apparently attended state-run schools. One worked as a “learning mentor,” which sounds like what we’d call a community liaison, at a local elementary school. The July 21 suspects are immigrants who came as children; they also attended state schools, as far as I can tell. Government schools in heavily Muslim neighborhoods may be nearly as monocultural as independent Islamic schools.

In the U.S., the Muslim American Society is working on a pamphlet to help parents spot vulnerability to extremism in their children, and is urging Muslim youth centers to start Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.

Not-so-advanced placement

Fearing that some classes with the Advanced Placement label aren’t really advanced, College Board plans to check syllabi, sample assignments and sample exams. AP classes are supposed to reflect college-level work and look good on a high school transcript.

“Administrators are under pressure to create advanced-type classes. Parents want them. Policy-makers want them. If I’m being told to teach Advance Placement, I can put AP in front of any course name,” said Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. “Of course, it’s more than simply adding the name, and that’s where the College Board is crying foul.”

Fewer than 40 percent of AP students take the AP exam in the spring; of those who take the test, only about half earn a high enough score to qualify for college credit. Eduguestwonk suggests requiring all AP students to take the exam. (That was the rule for at least one of my daughter’s AP classes.)

It’s no shame to fail: for kids, they learn what college rigor is really like; for schools, teachers work together using the AP data to make adjustments on how to improve their classes.

And then schools with repeatedly low test-taking rates and low scores could be audited by College Board.

The exam is expensive, but there are fee waivers for low-income students — and the chance to save a bundle on college tuition by earning credits in high school.

Smart and lazy

U.S. high school students flub international exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress because they’re lazy, not stupid, writes Alexandra Starr in Slate.

Nothing is at stake for kids when they take the international exams and the NAEP. Students don’t even learn how they scored. And that probably affects their performance. American teenagers, in other words, may not be stupid. It could be that when they have nothing to gain (or lose), they’re lazy.

Students improve dramatically when they know the exam counts.

Look at Texas: In 2004, results counted toward graduation for the first time, and pass rates on both the math and English portions of the test leapt almost 20 points. According to Julie Jary, who oversees student assessment for the state, no substantive alterations were made to the test. What changed was students’ motivation: When their diplomas were hanging in the balance, they managed to give more correct answers.

Starr argues other countries do more to motivate teenagers to do their best on international exams.

Update: Alexander Russo points out that students’ lack of motivation to do well on low-stakes exams is nothing new. But scores on other low-stakes tests are rising while high school scores are not.

Is small beautiful?

New York City’s newly created small schools face tough challenges, reports the New York Times.

Nearly 70 percent of the students started the year performing below grade level, often far below, in math and reading.

The small schools – with themes like the law, performing arts, technology, and architecture – also strained to carve out identities in the face of large numbers of ambivalent students. More than half of pupils in the small schools had applied elsewhere and were rejected, or had applied nowhere and were simply assigned to a small school.

I suspect the closer student-teacher relationships are far more important than the theme.

Jose Morales, a student at the F.D.N.Y. school, said the personal attention was surprising. “This is kind of weird,” he said. At his old school, Intermediate School 292, he said, “the only way a kid would get attention is if you got in a fight or did something bad.”

At the F.D.N.Y. school, Jose said, teachers not only assigned books like “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, but also wanted him to understand them.

“They wanted, like, essays,” he said. “They wanted you to get it.”

There’s no data yet to show whether students are learning more in the city’s small schools, but attendance is better. Teachers report being exhausted by the added responsibilities of creating a new school and taking on counseling duties but hopeful it is making a difference.