Archives for February 2007


A majority of high school students say they’re bored in class every day, according to an Indiana University survey. Twenty-two percent say they’ve thought about dropping out.

More than half said they spent an hour or less per week reading and studying.

Yet, three of four students surveyed said they expected to earn a high school diploma and go on to college.

Where the ones who slumbered through high school will be bored.

Carnival time

The Carnival of Education, hosted by Dr. Homeslice, has a great post by math teacher Dan Meyer on teaching vs. caring. It’s not that he thinks teachers shouldn’t care about their students. But he thinks it’s more important that they teach them effectively.

Movies like Freedom Writers glorify the caring teacher who hosts dance parties for her students.

The fact that MTV portrays these caring strategies as Erin Gruwell’s means, end, aim, and goal, while relegating grammar, syntax, and vocabulary instruction to a one-line mention, depresses me even weeks later. . .

This is how teachers want to be portrayed, he writes.

. . . if I could print any slogan on a mug to get me through an eighteen-hour day, it’d be those five words.

This is just a job.

This is just a job, which means my objective has been well-defined, though we may disagree on how best to measure it. This is just a job, which means I was hired to teach students a particular skillset.

There isn’t any romance in my objective and MTV will never make a movie about really effective phonics instruction, but there is extraordinary, enduring value in effective phonics instruction, in learning, in breaking life’s possibilities wide open for students by teaching. There it is: I have been hired to teach. Any inspiring, difference-making, role-modeling, surrogate-fathering, or dance-partying is strictly incidental.

. . . Again: teaching and caring (passion, if you want) are inextricably linked.

But: only one of them is difficult.

It is easy for me to greet my students warmly at the door each day, to ask after the trivial travails of their lives, to follow up on that girl who dumped you or the parents who grounded you for missing cheer practice. It is easy for me to bake cookies, cancel class, and dance.

. . . Caring is easy. Keeping students engaged and operating at full capacity over a two-hour block is difficult. Serving every student the highly specific smoothie of success and failure — just enough success to encourage them, just enough failure to challenge them — is difficult. Making the leap from single-variable equations to two-variables without losing anybody is frighteningly difficult. (Three years and three tries and I still haven’t found the right inroad.)

Talk about caring and intangibles distracts from the larger question, Meyer writes. How to teach well.

This week’s Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted by Homeschool Cafe, has a snazzy newspaper format.

Schools within schools

In Sacramento, students at career academies are combining academics with vocational courses. Arthur Benjamin Health Professions High School is considered a model.

In algebra class, the experts saw students calculate proper doses of medicine for a child. In Spanish class, they heard a discussion of herbal remedies. In biology, they observed teenagers with microscopes checking whether bacteria grow more in water, alcohol or hand sanitizer.

In Illinois specialty academies within large high schools make students feel connected.

Aneesh Rangnekar begins his mornings in a Bartlett High School technology lab where students use everything from hacksaws to computerized milling machines to churn out robots, high-mileage vehicles, even bass guitars.

The 17-year-old takes other classes on the sprawling campus, but he’s most comfortable at the school’s Science, Engineering and High Technology Academy.

In the first story, a Berkelely professor warns that creating ambitiously named academies isn’t enough. The teaching has to be change.

Color-coded pep talks

At a Bay Area high school, students were separated by race and ethnicity for pre-testing pep talks.

(Mt. Diablo High) held separate assemblies for students of different ethnicities to talk about last year’s test results and the upcoming slew of state exams this spring.

Jazz music and pictures of Martin Luther King greeted African-American students, whereas Filipino, Asian and Pacific Islander students saw flags of their foreign homelands on the walls. Latinos and white students each attended their own events, too, complete with statistics showing results for all ethnicities and grade level.

“They started off by saying jokingly, ‘What up, white people,'” said freshman Megan Wiley, 14. Teachers flashed last year’s test scores and told the white crowd of students to do better for the sake of their people.

“They got into, ‘You should be proud of your race,'” Wiley said. “It was just weird.”

The principal said she wanted to “avoid one group harassing another based on their test scores.” Asians, who make up about 5 percent of enrollment, post the highest scores, with whites (30 percent) next, blacks (15 percent) third and Latinos (50 percent) trailing. Scores are rising, with blacks and English Learners showing the most growth.

It’s common for schools to encourage students to do their best on state tests. I’ve never heard of school officials encouraging students to focus on their membership in a racial or ethnic group as a way to improve scores.

It’s all about them

Gen Y college students are number one in narcissism, concludes a new study, “Egos Inflating Over Time.” Self-esteem has social costs, notes the Los Angeles Times.

People with an inflated sense of self tend to have less interest in emotionally intimate bonds and can lash out when rejected or insulted.

Researchers analyzed psychological surveys taken by more than 16,000 college students across the country, starting in 1982.

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory asks students to react to such statements as: “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place,” “I think I am a special person” and “I like to be the center of attention.”

Two-thirds of recent college students outscored the 1982 average; 30 percent of those tested in 2006 showed high levels of narcissism, though few heads were sufficiently swollen to rate a psychiatric diagnosis.

Some of the increase in narcissistic attitudes was probably caused by the self-esteem programs that many elementary schools adopted 20 years ago, the study suggests. It notes that nursery schools began to have children sing songs that proclaim: “I am special, I am special. Look at me.”

Those youngsters are now adolescents obsessed with websites, such as MySpace and YouTube, that “permit self-promotion far beyond that allowed by traditional media,” the report says.

Also blamed were “permissive parenting, increased materialism and the fascination with celebrities and reality TV shows.”

My daughter went through school at the height of the self-esteem frenzy. Every year, there were “I am Special” or “Student of the Week” or “Star Student” activities. She quickly figured out that being “special” wasn’t all that special. She does think that if she ruled the world it would be a better place. In her case, she’s right.

Update: Go to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s blog for a series of posts on self-esteem.

Rating college alternatives

Online Education Database (OEDb) has published its first ever Online College Rankings. Degree-granting undergraduate online colleges are rated on acceptance rate, financial aid, graduation rate, peer Web citations, retention rate, scholarly citations, student-faculty ratio and years accredited. Grand Canyon University tops the list with Florida Metropolitan as number two.

Speaking of college alternatives, Alexander Russo of This Week in Education defends University of Phoenix against an attack by Stephen Burd of the New America Foundation.

Come on, Stephen, you’re at New America now. Blaming Wall Street and slamming for-profits without acknowledging the massive problems facing higher ed in general (tuition costs, lending practices, lack of accountability to name a few) seems like something that’d come out of some other, less interesting think tank.

Phoenix has a low graduation rate but very few traditional, full-time students, as Russo has pointed out here and here.

Teachers vs. JROTC

At a 5,000-student, nearly all Latino high school in Los Angeles, the Junior ROTC program has lost nearly half its cadets in recent years, reports the LA Times. Some Roosevelt High teachers are trying to get the program dropped.

Teacher Gillian Russom said (color guard drill) training instills the wrong values: following orders, dressing the same and relying on rote memorization rather than critical thinking. “That’s necessary for a successful military, but does it create the kind of citizens we want?”

Presumably she oppposes the marching band too.

Nationwide, “40% of students who graduated from high school with two or more years of JROTC ended up in the military,” according to a recent survey. But only three Roosevelt cadets have enlisted in the last three years, says First Sgt. Otto Harrington, the instructor. They’re not qualified.

Only 5% of his cadets would even qualify to enlist, he said, because the rest are in the country illegally, couldn’t pass the military aptitude test, are in trouble with the law or are overweight.

One of LA’s lowest performing schools, Roosevelt is being “reorganized” in the hopes of improving student achievement and boosting the graduation rate.

Teen brains

Multitasking teens may be rewiring their brains, warns a Washington Post story.

It’s homework time and 17-year-old Megan Casady of Silver Spring is ready to study.

She heads down to the basement, turns on MTV and boots up her computer. Over the next half hour, Megan will send about a dozen instant messages discussing the potential for a midweek snow day. She’ll take at least one cellphone call, fire off a couple of text messages, scan, volunteer to help with a campus cleanup day at James Hubert Blake High School where she is a senior, post some comments on a friend’s Facebook page and check out the new pom squad pictures another friend has posted on hers.

In between, she’ll define “descent with modification” and explain how “the tree analogy represents the evolutionary relationship of creatures” on a worksheet for her AP biology class.

Call it multitasking homework, Generation ‘Net style.

Some neuroscientists “fear that the penchant for flitting from task to task could have serious consequences on young people’s ability to focus and develop analytical skills.” Developing young brains may get stuck in fast ‘n shallow mode, they fear.

There’s no research. For all we know, multitasking builds fast ‘n flexible thinking.

On Sand in the Gears, Tony Woodlief thinks teen stupidity is spreading because teenagers spend too much time with each other — in person and virtually — and not enough time with adults.

I’m not sure there’s any less adult interaction than in my generation, when teens talked to each other on the phone instead of texting each other. But I loved his intro:

I recently crushed the dreams of about 400 high school students. I was asked to give them career advice, and so I told them to stop believing that they can achieve anything they want simply by wanting it. “I Believe I Can Fly” may be an uplifting song, but it’s a stupid life philosophy. You can’t fly. If you study about ten times harder, and have an ounce of common sense, and work really long hours, then perhaps you can build yourself a plane, and then you can fly. Otherwise, get used to walking.

It was not altogether well-received. I think they are used to being told that they will achieve their dreams, as if dream-achievement is some kind of massive entitlement program, and one is enrolled in it simply by aching for things.

Via Constrained Vision.

Art on the walls, but not by students

Detroit Public Schools are losing students to charter, suburban and private schools, forcing schools to close and programs like art and music to be cut. But the district spent at least $1.6 million on professional art, all of it going to a gallery owner who takes a 20 to 50 percent commission. The Detroit Free Press has a photo of an uninspiring work.

At Cass Tech High School, for example, artist Nora Chapa Mendoza was commissioned to create work showing the school’s legacy of excellence. One piece depicts past principals.

The district isn’t sure how much it spent out of a $1.5 billion bond designed to refurbish schools or how much art was purchased. Teachers and parents say fixing leaky roofs should come first.

Bad teachers he has known

In what Chalkboard calls the most depressing post ever, NYC Educator recalls bad teachers he’s known.

Let’s say I go out to lunch with a Spanish teacher. I converse in Spanish with the restaurant employees, but he cannot. That may not be much, but it qualifies.

Let’s say another day I find him gleefully telling anti-Semitic jokes to a bunch of young Latinas, and encouraging them to respond with Hispanic jokes. Let’s say the next day he’s sitting in front of his classroom eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and reading the cereal box while the kids in his class are doing God knows what.

Or what about the one who calls a female student the most vulgar word I’ve ever heard in my life, a Spanish word I’d never heard before that manages to be both sexist and racist at the same time? The one who takes his shirt off in front of his classes to show them his muscles. The one who calls a kid out to fight him behind the school in front of the class, and then says his wife will beat the kid up too.

Or one who wears sunglasses in the building, talks to herself half the time, whistles the other half, spends her free periods in the bookroom in the dark and refuses to teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

It goes on.

NYC Educator doesn’t say these are typical New York City teachers. He does say they’re collecting a salary. I wonder if the one who seduced a student was fired.