Obama’s education legacy

What will be Obama’s lasting education legacy? asks PBS NewsHour.

“In President Obama’s first state of the union, he said . . . that every American needs at least one year of post-secondary training to succeed in today’s economy,” says Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik.

Congress “never touched” the president’s proposal for “free” community college, but “districts all over the country took the idea and ran with it,” he says.

President Obama scored some first-term “victories on teacher quality, academic standards, and school turnarounds,” writes Ed Week‘s Alyson Klein but second-term “backlash threatened the longevity of his signature initiatives and made it virtually impossible to enact similarly sweeping change in new areas, including early-childhood education.”

On the new administration’s way in the door, Obama and (Education Secretary Arne) Duncan were handed $100 billion for education, including more than $4 billion to push almost any K-12 policy they chose, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was crafted to jump-start the stalled economy.

Obama and Duncan took the money—which came with few congressional strings—and . . . created the Race to the Top competition, which sought to reward states with grants of up to $700 million for embracing the president’s priorities on school turnarounds, tests, state data systems, and teacher evaluation based in part on student outcomes.

Obama’s Education Department used its financial clout to push states to adopt Common Core standards, undercutting its credibility as “state standards.”
Graduation rates are up. Reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are down.

‘I can’t answer test questions on my poems’

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I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems, writes Sara Holbrook in the Huffington Post.

Old STAAR questions are released so teachers can prepare students for the exam. Holbrook checked out the questions on A Real Case, which appeared on the 2014 Grade 7 STAAR Reading Test, and Midnight, appearing on the 2013 Grade 8 STAAR Reading Test. Both poems are published in Walking on the Boundaries of Change.

A teacher wrote to ask her how to answer this question on Midnight:

“Dividing the poem into two stanzas allows the poet to?

A) compare the speaker’s schedule with the train’s schedule.

B ) ask questions to keep the reader guessing about what will happen

C) contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays

D) incorporate reminders for the reader about where the action takes place.

The answer is C) to contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays.

The teacher had been given test-prep materials that omitted the stanza break. Holbrook sent him an image of the published poem.

Why had she put the stanza break there? “When I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there.”

Holbrook includes all the questions on A Real Case. She concludes, “any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead.

“I protest.”

Busy work kills love of reading

School assignments killed his son’s love of reading, writes Tony on Leading Motivated Learners.

Reading logs and summaries became a chore, he writes. Written responses were “never checked or responded to.”

“Book reports . . . became more about drawing some amazing picture to go on the cover of the report than anything else,” Tony complains. “They were also so formulaic that little thought went into completing them.”

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Instead of reading a passage, then answering comprehension questions, his son “would just read the questions and the multiple choice answers and then scan the passage for the correct answer – no reading really involved there.”

Close readings, a Common Core staple, meant “reading the same book for months and doing endless assignments around that one book.”

Even before the close reading era, my daughter would complain that it took forever to read a book, hunt down its symbolism, “journal” about it and beat it to death in class.

We did almost none of this when I was in school, except for writing book reports.

My fifth-grade teacher told us to write a 1 1/2-page book report for every book we read. I was reading a book a day, so it was a lot of work. I suspected she didn’t read the reports. One day, in my largest handwriting and widest margins, I wrote:

Johann Sebastian Bach is a book about Johann Sebastian Bach. Sometimes Johann Sebastian Bach was called Johann Sebastian Bach, but sometimes Johann Sebastian Bach was called Johann, Johann Sebastian or Bach. However, Johann Sebastian Bach was not called Sebastian or Sebastian Bach.

That was the first page. On the second page, I wrote:

 Johann Sebastian Bach is a very good book for boys and girls who are interested in reading about Johann Sebastian Bach.

The teacher never said a word about it. I kept churning out book reports, because that’s the sort of person I am. did not lose my love of reading.

In sixth grade, we just had to fill out an index card for every book we read. For years after, the teacher used my stack — 184 books, I  think — to terrify her new students.

Robert Pondiscio wrote on Facebook: “You know what REALLY kills the love of reading: Not teaching kids how to @#%*! read…. ”

How can teachers teach reading without boring readers?

Update: A New Jersey district lets teachers assign short excerpts from a novel for close reading, then show a movie based on the book. In my school days, we watched the movie of Julius Caesar (James Mason!) and Pride and Prejudice (Laurence Olivier!), but we read whole books, not excerpts.

 Tired of school

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“Academic apathy” is common in high school, writes Laura Handby Hudgens on The Federalist. She thinks  students are burning out in middle school.

“Up until sixth grade I had never made less than an A in any of my classes,” Leo told her. “By seventh grade, I was just tired. I just didn’t care anymore. I just quit trying.”

When her son started kindergarten, she “looked around his classroom and saw rows of tiny tables and chairs, but not a single toy. Where was the little kitchen with the miniature pots and pans? Where were the blocks?”

Fast-forward six years, and Johnny sounds a lot like Leo. On the one hand, he’s happy at school. He likes his friends, and he enjoys their time together at recess (all 15 minutes of it). Johnny thinks his teachers are cool. He rarely gets into trouble. He loves P.E.

 On the other hand, he dislikes actual school—the lessons, the homework, the constant rigor combined with a classroom full of apathetic peers.
By nature Johnny is inquisitive. He likes to learn. But the school day is hectic and exhausting. There’s little time for enjoying what he’s learned and even less time to enjoy being 12 years old. School has become a source of nearly constant frustration, and Johnny is tired. At the age of 12, Johnny is weary of school.
As a mother and a teacher, she thinks kids need more play, more recess, more sleep and age-appropriate instruction to avoid 12-year-old burn out.

Who is Betsy DeVos? What will she do? 

On the eve of confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten blasted Betsy DeVos as “the most anti-public education nominee” ever.

Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

DeVos is a “fairly traditional, center-right education reformer,” not a radical, argues Michael Q. McShane in Education Next.

She “has a long history of supporting the kinds of accountability and school-choice policies that a broad swath of the education-reform community has championed over the last two decades,” he writes.

DeVos grew up in a wealthy family, then married an Amway heir. She and her husband, Dick DeVos, are major donors to Republican candidates and conservative causes, as well as to education, the arts, their community, etc.

As a whole, the DeVos family has given $1.33 billion to charity, according to Forbes’ list of America’s Top Givers of 2015.  That’s one-quarter of their current net worth, making them the “24th most-generous philanthropic family in the United States,” writes McShane.

DeVos’ interest in education reform was spared by a visit to The Potter’s House, a “Christ-centered” school that serves low-income students in Grand Rapids, she said in a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable. She and her husband started by funding private-school scholarships for low-income students, but worried about the many children who needed better schools.

Potter's HousePotter’s House school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I’m most focused on educational choice,” she said. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the ZIP Code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible.”

DeVos founded the pro-choice American Federation for Children, and the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which advocates for “choice, quality and accountability” in Michigan.

Betsy and Dick DeVos also founded West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school in Grand Rapids.

Some conservatives are dubious about DeVos, reports McShane. GLEP backed Common Core standards, when they were adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education in 2010.

“When governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense,” writes DeVos on her web site. She abandoned the Core when the U.S. Education Department intervened, she claims.

Ed Week rounds up the nominee’s backers and detractors.

Update: DeVos’ confirmation hearings have been postponed by one week.

Sex-change guide for kids riles Brits

Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?, which will be introduced at some British primary schools, is — surprise! — causing controversy, writes Ian Miles Cheong on Heat Street.

Some are saying “no” to the book, which will be distributed by a government-funded organization, Educate and Celebrate, for use in primary schools.

Written by CJ Atkinson, a self-described “trans advocate,” the book aims to teach children as young as seven about gender identity and is told from the point of view of a child unhappy with their gender.

Kit, who’s 12, explains:

“When I was born, the doctors told my mum and dad that they had a baby girl, and so for the first few years of my life that’s how my parents raised me. This is called being assigned female at birth. I wasn’t ever very happy that way.”

Kit takes puberty-blocking drugs, wears boys’ clothes, becomes “he” and discusses sex-change surgery. “His friends include a genderfluid student who goes by ‘they’ and another who uses the ‘xe’ pronoun,” writes Cheong.

‘If you want a great gay novel, write it’

More than 50 years ago, a Tulsa high school student wrote a novel about the conflict between “greasers” and rich kids. S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders became a young adult classic. It was made into a movie in 1983.

Hinton wrote other young-adult novels featuring working-class Oklahomans in the ’60s and ’70s.

Now the author is under fire for not including openly gay and black characters, reports Heat Street.

Some readers think two of her Outsiders‘ characters are gay. Hinton says they’re not.

“Want a great gay novel,” she tweeted. “Write it.”

She added: “I am a heterosexual writer writing about heterosexual characters. Being attacked for being heterosexual.”

How am I supposed to know what a gay character goes through? Not writing about the black experience either. I can’t know that!

If she did feature gay or black characters, wouldn’t she be guilty of cultural appropriation?

PC bans kids’ books: Slave chefs must go

If the main character of your children’s book is a slave, watch out, warns Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal. It’s hard to satisfy the PC police.

A Birthday Cake for George Washington was criticized “for an excessively jolly portrayal of enslaved people,” writes Gurdon.

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“The picture book valorized Hercules, Washington’s chef, who is regarded as America’s first celebrity cook and who, in the story, dazzles his daughter by confecting a cake without sugar.”

The author is Ramin Ganeshram, a woman of Iranian-Trinidadian descent, and the illustrator and editor are African-American. That didn’t help. Scholastic pulled the book after weeks of criticism.

A 2015 picture book with an enslaved chef, A Fine Dessert, was called “degrading” because it showed a mother and daughter, slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1810, enjoying making “blackberry fool.”

“In some images, the daughter is smiling,” notes the New York Times.

Critics especially disliked a scene in which the black cooks hide in a closet to “lick the bowl clean” after serving the white family. (You’d think this would imply that being a slave is not all fun in the kitchen. )

Author Emily Jenkins, who is white, apologized in an online statement on Reading While White. “I have come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive,” she said. She pledged to donate her writing fee to the campaign We Need Diverse Books.

 If I were writing children’s books, I’d eliminate all slave characters, unless they’re escaping on the Underground Railroad. It’s not OK if they’re successful masters of a craft. It’s not OK if they’re humiliated. What’s left?

Video trike for toddlers: More screen time!

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Fisher-Price’s new Think & Learn Smart Cycle is designed for screen-addicted toddlers, reports the New York Post.

The $150 kiddie exercycle works with various apps on Apple TV, Android TV and more.

The pitch to parents is that pedaling in front of a screen is educational, writes Susan L.M. Goldberg on PJ Media.

Youngsters who otherwise might be tiny couch potatoes can burn calories — and may even learn a thing or two — thanks to an app included with the bike that incorporates subjects like reading, math, science and social studies.

 . . . But anyone who has watched their child with an electronic toy knows how quickly they’re able to pick up on simple button-smashing sequencing without ever really processing what they hear when the button is smacked.

Preschool children spend 19 hours a week watching TV or videos, according to a Fisher-Price survey. That amounts to 21 percent of their play time.

From the age of two to five, kids should spend no more than a hour a day consuming “digital media,” recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Maybe toddlers need a $20 trike they can pedal outside?

Warning to theology students: Jesus is crucified

University of Glasgow theology students receive trigger warnings before studying the crucifixion of Jesus, reports the Daily Mail. Those who believe they’ll be upset by seeing images of crucifixion can skip the lesson.