Longer year boosts learning, widens gaps

Extending the school year would improve learning significantly — and widen achievement gaps, writes Seth Gershenson on Brookings’ Chalkboard.

That’s because high achievers benefit more than low achievers from additional learning time. His research is discussed in this IZA paper.

For kindergarteners in the 10th percentile of achievement, the effect of a 250-day school year is  about 0.75 of a standard deviation in math, while the average effect is 1.75 SD for those in the 90th percentile, he writes. Results are similar for reading.

This raises an intriguing question. Is equality (or less inequality) more important than boosting the performance of low achievers?

How videos build better readers

Games, videos and other digital media can improve children’s reading argues Tap, Click, Read, a new book by Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine. Their work is funded by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

“An alarming number of children in the United States never become good readers,” Guernsey tells NPR. More than two-thirds of fourth graders — 80 percent of children in low-income families — are not “proficient” readers.

Reading isn’t just about decoding skills, says Guernsey.  Children “need to be able to understand the words they read and have a base of knowledge (in art, science, social studies and beyond) to help them make inferences and connect the dots.”

Children can “build background knowledge at the tap of a screen,” says Levine. A child who’s reading about penguins in Antarctica, can watch a video to make sense of the words she’s decoding.

In Beyond “Turn It Off,” the American Academy of Pediatrics revises its advice to parents on media use.

Silent reading — a good use of class time?

Can We Talk About Sustained Silent Reading? asks Amber Rain Chandler, an eighth-grade teacher, writing on MiddleWeb.

She gives students “30 minutes of no-strings-attached reading”  once a week. Chandler wants students to enjoy reading — and they don’t enjoy writing about it.

But she worries that she’s wasting instructional time, as Mark Pennington argues in Why Sustained Silent Reading Doesn’t Work.

Chandler also worries that SSR is “solitary.” It’s not connected to what she’s teaching in class or to what other students are reading.

She believes “social reading” is important. (Does everything have to be social?)

So, each quarter her students will do “a project to share with the class” on one of the books they’ve read.  This will be an “enticement for others to read the book and perhaps a chance to connect with fellow students who’ve already read it.”

We used to call those “oral book reports.”

Many schools abandoned SSR 15 years ago  after the National Reading Panel found “insufficient evidence to indicate that silent, independent reading without feedback and guidance had a positive effect on fluency,” Ed Week reports. However, “many teachers are fiercely dedicated to giving students uninterrupted time for pleasure reading, saying it builds a lifelong love for books.”

I built my lifelong love for books by reading at home. OK, I read in school too, under my desk, when class was boring.

Poets’ kid takes an English exam

You’ve got a big English test coming up and two of the poets on the syllabus are your parents. Interviewed for a BBC program, Frieda Hughes, daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, recalled telling her father that both parents’ works were in her O Level exam syllabus.

Ted and Frieda Hughes

Ted and Frieda Hughes

“I can tell you what I meant!” he said. He also offered to explain her late mother’s poetry.

Frieda feared the examiners would disagree with her father’s interpretation, even if she said, “I got it straight from the horse’s mouth. In fact I live with the horse.”

In the interview, she blasted “outsiders” for using her mother’s suicide to accuse her father of abusing women. (Six years after his wife’s death, Hughes’ mistress, Assia Wevill, killed herself and their child.)

Where kindergarten is the new preschool


In Finland, kindergarten is known as “preschool,” writes Tim Walker, an American who’s taught there. Children start school at six and learn by playing.

Once, Morning Circle—a communal  time of songs and chants—wrapped up, the children disbanded and flocked to the station of their choice: There was one involving fort-making with bed sheets, one for arts and crafts, and one where kids could run a pretend ice-cream shop.

“I’ll take two scoops of pear and two scoops of strawberry—in a waffle cone,” I told the two kindergarten girls who had positioned themselves at the ice-cream table; I had a (fake) 10€ bill to spend, courtesy of one of the teachers. As one of the girls served me—using blue tack to stick laminated cutouts of scoops together—I handed the money to her classmate.

. . . After a long pause, one of her teachers—perhaps sensing a good opportunity to step in—helped her calculate the difference between the price of my order and the 10€.

Once I received my change (a few plastic coins), the girls giggled as I pretended to lick my ice cream.

Many of her 15 students will learn to read by the end of the year, Anni-Kaisa Osei Ntiamoah told Walker. “We don’t push them but they learn just because they are ready for it.”

Kindergarten is “the new first grade” in the U.S., according to a University of Virginia study. As more time is spent on literacy, children spend less time on arts, music and child-selected activities, such as rotating between “stations.”

“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas told Walker in an e-mail.

(She described) three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math — on the fourth week of school.

. . . (She) has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes  “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.”

Last year, the district tried to remove the “house station with dolls and toy food” from the classroom.

Schools overlook introverts’ learning needs

Education trends such as “collaborative learning” and group projects ignore the needs of introverts, writes Michael Godsey, a California English teacher, in The Atlantic. One third to one half of students are introverts, he estimates. They do best working independently and quietly.

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was a hit, yet “classroom environments that embrace extroverted behavior — through dynamic and social learning activities — are being promoted now more than ever,” writes Godsey.

The University of Chicago library plans to turn a reading room into a “vibrant labratory of interactive learning.”

“Students must overcome isolation in order to learn to write,” according to Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric.

Recently, he visited a large public high school where all but four of 26 teachers had arranged students in groups or with partners.

I told two teachers on separate occasions that I’d feel incredibly exhausted at the end of every day if I were a student at that school. . . . One recalled learning best when arranged in rows, while the other concurred, “I know, right? How exhausting it must be to have another student in your business all day long.”

Three of the four classes where students were seated individually in rows were AP or honors courses, Godsey observes.

. . . I’m reminded of Sartre’s famous line, “Hell is other people,” when I see that Georgia College’s webpage dedicated to collaborative learning, which includes the topic sentence: “Together is how we do everything here at Georgia College. Learn. Work. Play. Live. Together.” Everything, that is, except quiet introspection, free of cost and distraction.

Diana Senechal, who teaches philosophy at a New York City high school, wrote about the need for solitary reflection in Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.

Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up in School, argued Jessica Lahey in 2013. Two thoughtful responses persuaded her to modify her views. She recommends Katherine Schultz’s Why Introverts Shouldn’t Be Forced to Talk in Class, and Susan Cain’s Help Shy Kids, Don’t Punish Them.

NCTQ rates ‘best value’ ed schools

Western Governors University, which is all online, City University of New York-Hunter College and City University of New York-Brooklyn College are the nation’s top three “best value” colleges of education, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality

The ratings consider quality, affordability, how much teachers can earn in the state and “how well the school prepares future teachers for the realities of the classroom.”

A total of 416 programs in 35 states received a grade of A or B. The list is here.

NCTQ also launched Path to Teach, a free search tool with information about the quality of more than 1,100 schools of education.

Duncan will resign as ed secretary

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan, a member of President Obama’s original Cabinet, will step down as Education secretary in December.

His deputy John B. King, Jr., will replace him.

John B. King, Jr. in April. Photo: Michael Nagle, New York Times

John B. King, Jr. in April. Photo: Michael Nagle, New York Times

As New York’s state education commissioner, King was a staunch defender of Common Core standards and tests. reported the New York Times. He was shouted down at public forums. The state teachers’ union called for his resignation.

The son of a former principal and a guidance counselor, King grew up in Brooklyn. Both parents died of illness when he was 12.

He was a fourth grader at Public School 276 in Canarsie the year his mother died of heart failure, he told the Times. “His teacher that year, Alan Osterweil, was dynamic and creative, encouraging him to read Shakespeare and memorize the leaders and capital of every country in the world. Later, Celestine DeSaussure, a social studies teacher whom the children called Miss D, made him the sportscaster in a fake Aztec newscast.”

King earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard, his master’s in teaching of social studies from Columbia, his law degree from Yale and his education doctorate from Columbia.

He taught social studies, co-founded the high-performing Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston and was a leader at Uncommon Schools, a charter network.

He is married and has two daughters.

The education of Jose Garcia

Five years after he earned his diploma, Jose Garcia returned to Rauner College Prep as a teacher. Noble Street Network of Charter Schools, which runs 16 schools in Chicago, is hiring and training its graduates, reports Becky Vevea, WBEZ education reporter, in The Education of Jose Garcia.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014. Photo: Becky Vevea, WBEZ

Garcia tutored Spanish-speaking second graders when he attended Denison, but he didn’t major in education and doesn’t have teaching license. “He got just two weeks of training over the summer and he doesn’t have a teaching license,” writes Vevea.

But he’ll spend a year assisting experienced teachers before getting his own classroom.

Like Noble’s other new teachers, Garcia is enrolled in the Relay Graduate School of Education. In late-afternoon classes, master educators teach strategies such as the “self-interrupt.”

There’s no campus, no lectures, no discussions of John Dewey or Rudolph Steiner. Mostly, it’s a lot of practice on how to manage a classroom.

He will earn a master’s degree – -but not a teaching license. “To be licensed through an alternative route, like Relay, Jose must have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA,” writes Vevea. With very low grades in his first year at Denison, he finished with a 2.8.

Mid-way through the year, already “exhausted and overwhelmed” by his co-teaching responsibilities, Garcia takes over two sophomore English classes, replacing a teacher on medical leave.

In a survey at year’s end, he’s surprised by how many students wrote, “Mr. Garcia didn’t give up on me.”

This year, Garcia is a counseling seniors on college options and teaching two sections of a new class called Identity and Justice Studies.

Teachers back college for all — at some schools

Fifty-eight percent of teachers at low-poverty schools said college and career readiness for all is a “very realistic” goal, according to an online survey by EdSource and the California Teachers Association. Only 20 percent at high-poverty schools agreed.

"Linked learning" -- programs integrating career and academic skills -- should be expanded, said California teachers in a new survey.

“Linked learning” — programs integrating career and academic skills — should be expanded, said California teachers in a new survey.

Only 30 percent of teachers said their districts have “clearly defined standards for what constitutes college and career readiness,” reports Louis Freedberg for EdSource. “Thirty-five percent say that their districts have standards, but that they are not clearly defined. Eight percent say their districts have no standards at all.”

Most high school teachers are confident they know how to prepare for college, but only 14 percent have received training in helping students pursue other options.

Teachers strongly supported offering more career pathways.

Most teachers supported Common Core standards “with reservations.”