Archives for September 2007

Teacher-bloggers: Is there a line?

In reading the California Teachers Association magazine, teacher Darren Miller learned that teacher-bloggers’ free-speech rights may be limited by rules barring “immoral or unprofessional conduct.” Or not. The courts haven’t ruled.

Are there reasonable limitations, in addition to the obvious Privacy Act issues, on what teachers can post on their personal blogs when done outside of school hours and not on school equipment? Are there reasonable limitations on what actions or activities a teacher may participate in outside of school hours? If you believe that these limitations exist, how would you square them with the First Amendment?

Teachers who blog have no guidance on what’s OK and what might be considered “unprofessional.”

Is English the difference?

Low-income English Learners in Denver learn much faster if they attend low-poverty schools instead of high-poverty schools, according to a study of elementary reading and writing by the Piton Foundation and the University of Colorado. Why? The Rocky Mountain News offers one explanation:

A key difference between the schools is that students in poorer schools typically learn English with help in their native language, generally Spanish.

In wealthier schools, students learning English are typically immersed in English.

Researchers were looking for evidence that all low-income students learn more in low-poverty schools. They found significant gains — very significant — only for English Learners.

Between third and fifth grade, ELL students in high-poverty schools gained on average less than one point per year on their CSAP writing scores. Meanwhile, ELL students in the lowest poverty schools (30 percent or less free and reduced lunch) gained an average of 26 points per year.

Essentially, ELA students’ reading and writing skills barely improved from third to fifth grade, while English immersion students nearly caught up with their classmates. Researchers aren’t sure that teaching in Spanish is slowing students’ progress.

“I don’t want to say teaching kids in English is the only model,” (Alan) Gottlieb said. “Another possible answer is they have unqualified teachers in the ELA (English Language Acquisition) program teaching kids in Spanish and they’re not learning anything. The other possibility is that the curriculum is so watered down . . .

“DPS needs to take a hard look, at least, at what’s happening in the ELA program in elementary schools . . . because there’s something very wrong.”

A federal court order requires Denver Public Schools to offer an ELA program “where teachers use Spanish to transition students to English over three years,” if there are significant numbers of students who speak Spanish and aren’t fluent in English, reports the News.

Good neighborhoods, mediocre schools

Parents pay a premium to live in a “nice” neighborhood, assuming the public schools will be good. But hundreds of California schools in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods are Not As Good As You Think, concludes a new book by the Pacific Research Institute.

In nearly 300 schools with few low-income students, a majority of students in at least one grade level performed below proficiency on California’s state exam in 2006.

In Orange County, California — where home prices range from $600,000 to $1 million — in more than a dozen schools located in areas such as Newport Beach, Capistrano, and Huntington Beach, 50% to 80% of students failed to test proficient in math at their grade level.

In the Grossmont area of San Diego—where the median price of a home is approximately $500,000—in seven high schools, 50% to 70% of students failed to test proficient in English at their grade level.

In the New York Sun, co-author Vicki E. Murray says middle-class parents need school choice, including vouchers and charter school options.

The book includes the Upscale Home Guide: Buyer Beware listing California neighborhoods with high housing prices and mediocre schools.

You can Order here from the Pacific Research Foundation.

Teaching without heroes

Hero teachers won’t improve inner-city schools, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution. There aren’t enough of them.

What we need to save inner-city schools, and poor schools everywhere, is a method that works when the teachers aren’t heroes. Even better if the method works when teachers are ordinary people, poorly paid and ill-motivated – i.e. the system we have today.

There is such a method, writes Tabarrok, citing author Ian Ayres’ support for Direct Instruction in Super Crunchers, a book about the use of data to make decisions. Large experimental studies have shown Direct Instruction, which requires teachers to follow a “carefully designed and evaluated script,” is the most effective teaching method, Ayres concludes. He writes:

DI is scalable. Its success isn’t contingent on the personality of some uber-teacher … You don’t need to be a genius to be an effective DI teacher. DI can be implemented in dozens upon dozens of classrooms with just ordinary teachers. You just need to be able to follow the script.

“The data also show that DI does not impede creativity or self-esteem,” Tabarrok adds.

The education establishment, however, hates DI because it is a threat to the power and prestige of teaching, they prefer the model of teacher as hero.

It’s my impression that DI requires competent, though not necessarily heroic, teachers who check continuously for student understanding; just following the script isn’t good enough. Perhaps teachers who’ve used DI can elucidate.

At D-Ed Reckoning, Ken the DI blogger writes about the dangers of ambiguity in teaching, a danger that DI works to avoid.

Beware of sutdents

A “Scohol’ Zone” warning in Seminole County, Florida will be repainted today after a motorist reported the misspelling.

What citizens should know

To qualify for citizenship, immigrants will have to answer civics and history questions drawn from a new list of 100.

Just as with the current test, applicants will have to correctly answer six of 10 questions asked orally and pass the English proficiency portion of the exam.

About 42 civics questions were dropped or revised to reach the final 100. Among those that were dropped was, “Who said ‘give me liberty or give me death?’ ” The answer is Patrick Henry.

. . . One question that survived the cut is “What did Martin Luther King Jr. do?” Among the possible answers are: Fought for civil rights and worked for equality for all Americans.

Susan B. Anthony also makes the list; Francis Scott Key is history, so to speak.

The revised list of questions is supposed to ask for less trivia (applicants no longer will be asked to name the colors of the flag) and more understanding of democratic values. The current list is here and the new list, which will be used starting Oct. 1, 2008, is here.

However, the test seems to be somewhat easier. Ninety-two percent of applicants who volunteered to take the pilot exam passed, compared to an 84 percent passing rate for applicants taking the current test for the first time.

Lead poisoning?

At Education in Texas, Mike is asking for help in figuring out if a child who’s struggling to learn could be suffering from lead poisoning. He’s googled for the symptoms but wonders if anyone has first-hand experience.


A pet rabbit named Sugar Bunny was stolen from a Spokane preschool last week. Animal rights fliers protesting the Ringling Brothers circus were left in the empty cage.

“Somebody stoled him,” 5-year-old Zion told The Spokesman-Review, which gave only the first names of him and other children in a report on the heist. “I’m sad.”

Lori Peters, a teacher, said watching, petting and playing with Sugar Bunny helped the little children overcome separation anxiety.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which co-sponsored the anti-circus flier, doesn’t endorse bunny-napping, said Daphna Nachminovitch, director of PETA’s domestic animal department.

“Just like dogs and cats, (rabbits) have been domesticated, so we encourage people who have the knowledge and ability to adopt rabbits from their local shelters,” Nachminovitch said.

I’ve been anti-bunny since my toddler daughter stuck her finger in the mouth of her baby sitter’s rabbit, which happened to have unusually strong jaws, and lost the tip of her finger. Still, I join Zion and her friends in mourning the disappearance and probable demise of Sugar Bunny.

Via Education Gadfly.

The Oakland story

Is Oakland, California, a troubled school district trying to reform, a National Model or Temporary Opportunity? A Center for Education Reform study by writer Joe Williams questions whether Oakland’s progress will continue. Oakland is the most improved large district in the state, but still scores well below the state average.

“Without question, the Oakland school district has made some dramatic improvements in recent years,” said Jeanne Allen, CER president and leading authority on school reform. “But those improvements have been dependent on people, not the substantive, statutory reforms that can outlive personnel changes.”

The report finds Oakland didn’t start to change until the state took control, stripping the elected school board of power. The state-appointed manager, Randy Ward, used the prospect of charter schools to gain “an upper hand in negotiations with teachers and central office staff,” concludes CER.

Although the success of charters for some of the city’s most poor had been ignored by many in the district, their existence fueled the move to restructure and create smaller schools which had a positive effect on student achievement.

Despite his success, Ward didn’t have the local political support to survive in the job. His successor also left after a year.

The state has handed some control back to the district.

Redemption, after Little Rock

In the photo, taken 50 years ago, a white girl screams hatred at a nicely dressed black girl, who’s trying to get through an angry crowd to integrated Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. Vanity Fair tells the story of Elizabeth Ecksford, the most emotionally fragile of the Little Rock Nine, and her belated reconciliation with Hazel Bryant Massery, who became ashamed of her racism. (Via Eduwonk.)

For a time, the two women became friends, but the friendship cooled.

Central High School looks as imposing as ever, but over the past 50 years, its innards have changed unimaginably: the school is now more than half black. It’s all misleading, of course, because Central is really two different schools, separate and unequal, under one roof. The blacks go to different classes, sit on separate sides of the cafeteria, have different, and far lower, levels of performance and expectations.

Shelby Steele believes Little Rock was “the beginning of a profoundly different America.

Every day for weeks (Americans) saw white people so consumed with racial hatred that they looked bestial and subhuman. When white racism was a confident power, it could look like propriety itself, like good manners. But here, in its insecurity, it was grotesque and shocking. Worse, it was there for the entire world to see, and so it broke through the national denial. The Little Rock crisis revealed the evil at the core of segregation, and it launched the stigmatization of white Americans as racists that persists to this day.

. . . We are a nation with a powerful investment in the idea of our own fundamental innocence. Our can-do optimism and ingenuity are based on the faith that we are a decent, open, and generous people. This is our identity. And when we shame ourselves, as in Little Rock, there is an impulse to get busy; to do something big that redeems the shame and proves that its implications about us are false.

The Great Society was our attempt to redeem ourselves from racism, Steele writes.

. . . on this 50th anniversary of the Little Rock crisis, it is important to remember that this evil did happen in America, and that no engineered redemption can make us innocent again. And we might also remember that it is better to be chastened than innocent. Innocents don’t learn from their sins; the chastened are informed by them.

Via Power Line, which notes that the face of the civil rights movement has gone from “innocent black school children who were trying to get an education” to “black teenagers who beat a white student unconscious and apparently were overcharged by a prosecutor.”

Update: An HBO documentary on Little Rock Central, 50 Years Later shows the self-segregation persists, writes Liam Julian on Education Gadfly. White and black students rarely interact with each other in class or in the lunchroom; few blacks take advanced classes.