Archives for August 2007

Tourism first

Over in the trenches, Dennis Fermoyle keeps hearing that Americans want academic rigor. It’s a top priority — after vacations. The tourism industry wants long summers, so state legislators are passing laws to push back the start of school till September.

Some schools have been opening in August to get in more teaching time before state exams. California districts sometimes start earlier and lengthen the winter break, so students can go to Mexico for three or four weeks without missing classes. I think it makes more sense to teach in late June than mid-August. Why are state exams typically given in May?

Update: Miss Bennett started teaching last week in a San Jose heat wave: Temperatures at 100 degrees outside, no air conditioning, windows painted shut.

Full day, less play

Full-day kindergarten will give Maryland children more time for learning, but less for play, reports the Baltimore Sun.

In a corner of her room at Manor View Elementary on Fort Meade, kindergarten teacher Laura Hobbs neatly arranged a little kitchen set, dolls, a small bed and play-food. She likes watching her students pretend, but she worries they’ll be strapped for play time given the long list of academic requirements for the school year that begins this week.

She has only nine months to get her 5- and 6-year-olds to identify the sequential property of numbers using the calendar, learn the alphabet, recognize letter sounds, learn how to sort by color and number, and learn to share and play nice with one another.

On Early Stories, Richard Colvin thinks the “academic requirements” aren’t really that rigorous.

Isn’t this what kindergarten has always been about? Learning to count, sort, start to read and play nice? This is overly academic? This is stuffing kids’ heads with facts? These are exactly the domains and expectations in good pre-k programs and, because most of these kids will have been in pre-k, they’ve probably mastered or are very close to mastery of them all. The other idea in here that always bothers me is that, because there is the potential that a teacher, school, or district will make developmentally unwise choices, they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to make such a mistake.

Disadvantaged children benefit most from more time for learning. Surely, adding more than three hours to their school day will provide time for letters, numbers and playing dress up.

A majority of schools now offer full-day kindergarten classes.

What to do about NCLB

The “discussion draft” of changes to No Child Left Behind is a “work in progress,” says Rep. George Miller, D-California. Miller and Republican Buck McKeown plan to introduce a NCLB reauthorization bill after Labor Day. The draft uses growth models to measure schools’ effectiveness, reports Education Week.

In outlining the use of growth models, which track individual student progress instead of comparing different cohorts of students, the document says that states would need to measure schools’ and districts’ progress toward the goal of universal proficiency in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year. That’s the goal set in the current No Child Left Behind Act, which President Bush signed into law in January 2002.

The draft adds a clause that could extend the deadline, saying that students in all the demographic, racial, and ethnic subgroups that the current law tracks would need to at least be “on a trajectory” toward proficiency for a school or district to be determined to be making AYP.

In addition to reading and math scores, states could choose to evaluate science and social studies scores, graduation rates and college-enrollment rates.

The plan suggests different interventions for schools that miss one or two subgroup targets and those that miss most targets. Gadfly calls this idea the Suburban Schools Relief Act: Middle-class schools with good scores overall could escape sanctions if a low-income minority lags behind.

Students who aren’t fluent in English could be tested in their native language for five years. That would relieve the pressure to bring these students up to speed quickly.

Education Trust warns of “dumbing down” accountability for educating all students.

Although the staff draft creates an accountability fig-leaf by preserving the requirement that all students reach proficiency in reading and mathematics by the 2013-14 school year, the heart of the law has been hollowed out. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as proposed in the draft, would be confusing and reverse the federal commitment to ensuring all students can competently read and do math.

Eduwonk calls the draft a reasonable starting point.

A reputable first shot, writes Kevin Carey at The Quick and The Ed. But the system would be much more complex. Is it OK if nobody understands it?

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings discusses NCLB’s future with USA Today.

The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on NCLB reauthorization on Sept. 10. Comments can be sent to [email protected] and will be considered through Sept. 5.

Deviant behavior

Mickey Kaus predicts a scandal of the future at the next Democratic Convention:

At 1216 hours suspect tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal often used by persons wishing to criticize teachers’ unions. Suspect tapped his toes several times and moved his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly.

At 1217 hours, I saw suspect swipe his hand under the divider for a few seconds, a possible sign of support for charter schools. Suspect repeated this motion again, from the front towards the back, and I could see more of his hand. Suspect then swiped his hand in the same motion for a third time. My experience has shown that this suggests an openness to publicly funded private school vouchers.

It ends: “Suspect denied all charges and claimed he was really soliciting homosexual sex. He was immediately released.”

Between Lolita and Harriet

It’s hard to find tween couture that’s neither trampy nor dowdy, writes Emily Yoffe on Slate. Her 11-year-old daughter doesn’t want to flash her underwear by wearing low-rise jeans; she doesn’t like glitter. Mom has vetoed “Nitwit Wear.”

These are T-shirts with slogans such as: “I Left My Brain in My Locker,” “I Only Shop on Days that End in Y,” and “Spoiled and Proud of It.” (At least you only want to shake your head at these. Making you believe in corporal punishment is the Happy Bunny line of clothing, available online and at various department stores, which features phrases such as “Wow you’re ugly,” and “It’s cute how stupid you are.”) It’s a comfort to know that if your child can’t come up with her own insolent remarks, clothing manufacturers are there to help.

Yoffe’s daughter also rejects clothing that makes her look like Harriet Miers. Wise child.

More test takers, lower SAT scores

SAT scores declined slightly this year, as a wider range of students try the college-admissions test.

Last spring’s seniors scored on average 502 out of a possible 800 points on the critical reading section of the country’s most popular college entrance exam, down from 503 for the class of 2006. Math scores fell three points from 518 to 515.

Scores also fell three points on the writing section, which is still in an experimental stage, from 497 to 494.

A rising percentage of test takers speak English as a second language, come from non-college-educated families and request a fee waiver. Maine, which now requires all high school students to take the SAT, saw a sharp drop in scores as a result.

Male students, who make up 46 percent of test takers, outscore female students in math (533 to 499); boys are more likely to take advanced math classes. Female students do better in writing (500 to 489). Reading scores are similar: 504 for boys, 502 for girls.

Carnival of Education

It’s back-to-school time at the Carnival of Education, hosted by Matthew K. Tabor.

Mister Teacher writes a letter to parents. Among other things:

# Let’s agree that a 2-pound bag of Hot Cheetos and a liter of Dr Pepper does not constitute a healthy lunch.

# Dogfighting, convenience store robbery, and “making it rain” will not be tolerated. In other words, don’t let your child emulate a professional football player.

Siobhan Curious wonders if she should be “mean till Halloween.”

Performance pay for parents

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has raised and contributed $40 million to experiment with paying low-income parents to get their child a library card ($50), a dental check-up ($100) or a disabilities assessment ($150).

Some 2,500 families earning no more than $22,321 for a family of three will be eligible for Opportunity NYC payments; a control group of the same size will not. After two years, the effect will be evaluated.

Both conservatives and liberals are dubious.

One potential foe, Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, says she generally opposes any pay for good behavior, even giving teachers more money if their students do well.

I’m dubious too, but it’s all private money so why not see what happens?

Ungifted and unchallenged

Alexandria, Virginia parents are complaining the schools have made it harder for students to qualify as TAG (Talented and Gifted); kids left behind in mainstream classes aren’t being challenged, parents say. Virginia’s Standards of Learning exam is a minimum competency test for fairly bright students, writes Patrick Welsh in the Washington Post. Other students need lots of work to pass SOL.

To allay parental anxieties, Superintendent Rebecca Perry has said that the students at the top of the regular classes — i.e., the white kids who didn’t get into TAG — will help to “challenge, mentor and coach” the students struggling with the SOL material.

George Mason parent David Rainey charitably calls Perry’s statement “an interesting perspective.” But “the unanswered question remains,” he says. “What else could these students be doing instead of reviewing material they already understand as they challenge, coach and mentor their classmates?”

Welsh, who taught high school in Alexandria, isn’t a fan of the “gifted” label, but predicts white, middle-class parents will leave the public schools if their children’s needs are ignored.

Why not offer harder assignments or enrichment classes to all students willing to do the work?

My daughter was identified as gifted in reading and math in first grade. Then Palo Alto decided all students were gifted so no extra enrichment was required. As a parent volunteer, I spent half Allison’s third grade year photocopying for the teacher. Then, when I asked about the disappearance of the gifted program, she gave me some “critical thinking” questions, six or seven bright kids and an empty room. At least, I saved the kids from boring work they didn’t need, though I did lose my mad photocopying skills. In fourth grade, the teacher slipped Allison a copy of Tuck Everlasting, but told her not to tell the other kids that she was reading a “gifted book.”

Lost at the pageant

Why is it that one fifth of Americans can’t find the U.S. on a map? It’s hard to imagine a tactful answer to the question. At the Miss Teen USA pageant, Miss South Carolina settled for complete incoherence. The video is a dumb-blond joke brought to life.