A look back at the future of education

The History of the Future of Education - Medium - via ChalkbeatNY

Dissecting a frog: When virtual isn’t enough

Dissecting a frog is a middle-school rite of passage, reports Will Huntsberry on NPR.

Students get their first look inside a frog in Rob Glotfelty's life sciences lab at Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore. Will Huntsberry/NPR

Baltimore seventh graders get their first look inside a frog.
Will Huntsberry/NPR

At Baltimore’s Patterson Park Public Charter School, Rob Glotfelty’s life sciences lab contains a stack of “dead frogs, vacuum-sealed and piled five high,” writes Huntsberry. “Once those seals are broken, these leopard frogs emit a pungent odor.” And they’re slimy.

In 1987, a 15-year-old California refused to dissect a frog in her biology class and took her case to court. California and nine other states require that students be given an alternative to dissecting a real animal.

Glotfelty uses computers to help his seventh-grade students understand anatomical theory. But they look forward to dissection, he says. It’s the real deal.

“There’s something visceral and important about the real thing,” says David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. “What does this particular organ feel like? How stiff is it? Is it compressible?”

Glotfelty’s students have cut open an earthworm, and later a chicken wing. Frogs are a step up. The teacher reminds the class what they’re studying. Not frogs. Humans.

Frog dissection diagram

Frog dissection diagram

Taylor Smith says she doesn’t like science. She thought cutting into an animal would make her throw up.

Instead, she uses tiny scissors to cut through the frog’s collarbone. Taylor and her lab partners lay the organs on a sheet of paper. “I’m not a chicken anymore,” she says. “I like this.”

“The smell was awful, but it was worth it,” says Melissa Torres-Gutierrez.

Parents held responsible for ‘unsubstantiated’ neglect

“Free-range” parents have been found “responsible” for “unsubstantiated” child neglect because they let their kids — ages 10 and 6 — walk home from a park near their Maryland home, reports the Washington Post.

Montgomery County Child Protective Services investigated Danielle and Alexander Meitiv’s parenting for two months before reaching that Orwellian verdict.

An “unsubstantiated” finding is made when Montgomery County Child Protective Services has “some information supporting a conclusion of child neglect, or when seemingly credible reports are at odds with each other, or when there is insufficient information for a more definitive conclusion,” an official told the Post. 

CPS will “keep a file open” on the family for at least five years. If the parents are caught again giving their kids a bit of independence . . . Who knows?

A new education law — or more waivers?

No Child Left Behind (aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) expired in 2007, but Congress hasn’t come up with a rewrite. House Republican leaders have postponed a vote on their version, the Student Success Act, because some conservatives think it doesn’t go far enough to curb federal mandates.

“My district doesn’t like it. They just feel that we’re moderating No Child Left Behind. They hate No Child Left Behind,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.

In the Senate, Republican leaders hope to work with Democrats on a bipartisan bill.

Conservatives should back the Student Success Act, argues Rick Hess.

The Student Success Act (SSA) jettisons NCLB’s invasive system of federally mandated accountability and gives states the freedom to gauge school performance and decide what to do about poor-performing schools. It also puts an end to NCLB’s remarkable requirement that, as of 2014, 100 percent (!) of the nation’s students would be “proficient” in reading and math.

The SSA repeals the “highly qualified teacher” mandate, a bureaucratic paper chase whose most significant accomplishment was lending fuel to lawsuits attacking Teach For America (litigants had some success in California’s courts by arguing that TFA teachers failed to meet the “highly qualified” standard). It eliminates or consolidates 65 programs. It includes expansive new language intended to finally stop federal officials from pushing states to adopt Common Core (or any other particular set of academic standards).

The bill also boosts funding for charter schools, though it doesn’t authorize school vouchers.

Conservatives don’t like the requirement for annual testing, but “shorn of NCLB’s pie-in-the-sky accountability mandates, once-a-year tests will no longer distort schooling and infuriate parents in the way they have in recent years,” Hess argues.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. Education Secretary Arne Duncan attacked the provision letting federal dollars follow low-income students if they move from high-poverty to low-poverty schools. Urban school districts could lose millions of dollars, he said.

With NCLB in limbo, Duncan has used waivers to get states to adopt his education policies, notes the Washington Post.

If a Republican wins the White House in 2016, the Democrats could regret opening the door to rule by waiver, Hess writes. He imagines President-elect Rick Perry nominating Michele Bachmann as secretary of education.

Chris Wallace: Are you worried you’ll be unable to make the legislative changes that you and the President think necessary?

SecEd Nominee Bachmann: Once upon a time, that might’ve been a concern. Happily, the Obama administration provided a path for driving educational change even when you don’t have the votes. That’s why we’ve promised that, come inauguration day, we’ll be ditching the Obama administration’s requirements for waivers from No Child Left Behind and substituting our own. They’ll be drawn from the President’s plan that we’ve been calling the Freedom Blueprint.

If states want a waiver, says Bachmann, they’ll need “to institute a moment of silence in all “turnaround” schools, adopt a statewide school voucher plan for low-income students and those in failing schools, require abstinence education, restrict collective bargaining to wages and prohibit bargaining over benefits or policy, and ask states to revise their charter laws to ensure that for-profit operators are no longer discriminated against on the basis of tax status.”

It’s not looking good for reauthorization, concludes Hess.

Alyson Klein reports on the politics. “In the end, House Republicans are going to have to decide whether they want to pass a bill that — while maybe not perfect — is clearly an improvement to NCLB from their point of view; or they can do nothing and let the President and Federal government have unchecked control over education policy for the remainder of his term,” says Vic Klatt, a former aide to Republicans on the House education committee.

A principal who matters

Vidal Chastenet

Vidal Chastanet on Humans of New York

Asked about the most influential person in his life by the Humans of New York photo blog, eighth-grader Vidal Chastanet named Nadia Lopez, his middle-school principal. “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us,” he said. “She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” The post went viral.

Lopez, who’d founded Mott Hall Bridges Academy in 2010, had been thinking about quitting, reports The Atlantic in Why Principals Matter. She worried her work wasn’t making a difference. Then came the wave of publicity, $1.2 million in donations and a visit with President Obama for the principal and her student.

Lopez told The Atlantic how she’s made Mott Hall a safe haven in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the city’s poorest neighborhood. “In this building, my kids are going to feel like they’re successful,” she said.

NYC union’s failing K-8 charter will close

Running a charter school is harder than the United Federation of Teachers thought. The New York City union will close its failing charter school’s elementary and middle school, but ask for authority to continue its high school.

Students read at UFT's charter school in 2013. Photo: Geoffrey Knox

A reading class at UFT’s charter school. Photo: Geoff Decker

“When the school opened in 2005, then-UFT President Randi Weingarten said its success would demonstrate that unions could play a starring role in efforts to improve the school system,” write Geoff Decker and Sarah Darville on Chalkbeat NY. Weingarten also hoped to show that a union contract was not an “impediment to success.”

The UFT Charter School has been one of the lowest-performing charters in the city.

“Under Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s new school-grading system, the school earned the lowest of four marks in all four categories, including the school environment and its success at closing the achievement gap,” write Decker and Darville.

Curiously, only 2 percent of the school’s students are English Learners and 10 percent –below the public-school average — have an Individual Education Plan.

Unions and charter schools don’t mix, writes Darren. Two California charters run by schools of education — UC Davis and Stanford — also closed due to poor performance, he observes.

How to parent like a German


Photo by Metro Centric

Parenting like a German means giving kids more freedom, Sara Zaske writes in Time.

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Despite the stereotypes, Germans are mellow parents, she writes. “Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone.” It’s not called “free-range parenting.” It’s normal.

Kindergarten is considered a time for play and social learning. Children are learn to read in first grade, but “academics aren’t pushed very hard.”  A half day of instruction includes two outdoor recesses.

German children play outside every day. If it’s cold, they bundle up.

Starting first grade is marked by a big party called Einschulung.

 In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

There’s another big party when a child turns 14.

Lena Dunham tries teaching on ‘Girls’

Alexander Russo is “horrified and fascinated” by the new plot development on HBO’s Girls. After dropping out of her MFA writing program, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah decides to be a teacher.

The character says she wants to help people. Her friends remind her she’s selfish.

“Those who can’t teach” is “uttered, with an unclear amount of irony,” writes Russo.

Apparently, Hannah gets a job as an English teacher at a private school called St. Justine’s. (Dunham attended St. Anne’s School in Brooklyn.)

Will this be good for the teaching profession? Bad for teaching?

No, I won’t raise your grade

On the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stacey Patton asked college professors and TAs how they’d respond if a student who received a C grade on a paper asked for a higher grade because they “worked so hard on it.”

This appears to be a sore subject. Several offered to consider raising — or lowering — the grade on a second read. Others vented.

“The grade you received is reflective of the fact that what I got was a mash-up of poorly constructed sentences and last minute fooleywang,” wrote Takiyah Nur Amin, associate professor of dance at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Jennifer P. Simms, an adjunct visiting professor of sociology at University of Wisconsin at River Falls, advised the C student that “grades in college are based on performance, not effort.”

 I know elementary school teachers, coaches, and your parents told you that all that matters is that you do your best. Unfortunately, they all lied to you. In the real world, of which my college classroom is a part, trying hard does not count for squat. Demonstrated mastery of the material, no matter how much or little effort it takes to achieve it, is what is important.

I know that it is unfair that some students spend no time at all on schoolwork and get A’s while others struggle and barely scrape C’s. I suggest you quickly cry a river, build a bridge and get over it. In the meantime, reflect on whether you want other students graded based on how hard they try. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather that papers for Surgery 101: How Not to Kill the People You Cut Open and for Architecture 101: How to Build Bridges That Do Not Collapse and Leave People Plummeting to Their Deaths were graded on students’ demonstration of correct understanding of the concepts, not how much effort they put into writing it.

Many of the commenters thought the academic snark was mean.

Should high schools pay for remediation?

Tennessee high schools would have to pay for recent graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges under a proposed bill, reports the Times Free Press.

Seventy percent of new community college students are placed into at least one remedial class, according to state estimates. Last year, the remediation bill totaled $18.45 million.