They don’t read ‘Evangeline’ any more

In 1908, Minnesota’s recommended reading list for 7th and 8th graders included Longfellow’s Evangeline and the Courtship of Miles Standish, and works by Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson and others, writes Annie Holmquist on Better-Ed. Most of the books were 50 to 100 years old.

She found the 2014 reading list for 7th and 8th graders in Edina, one of the state’s best school districts. Other than Tom Sawyer, The Diary of Anne Frank and Fahrenheit 451, the books were written in the last 20 years.



The 1908 list “is full of historical references and settings which stretch from ancient Greece (Tanglewood Tales) to the Middle Ages (Harold, Last of Saxon Kings) to the founding of America (Courtship of Miles Standish),” Holmquist writes. Children are introduced to classic writers.

The 2014 books touch on “current political and cultural themes such as the Taliban (The Breadwinner), cloning, illegal immigrants, the drug war (The House of the Scorpion), and deeply troubled youth (Touching Spirit Bear).”

In addition, the modern books use simple language and familiar vocabulary, she writes. It’s easy reading.

Nothing But the Truth starts:

 Coach Jamison saw me in the hall and said he wanted to make sure I’m trying out for the track team!!!! Said my middle school gym teacher told him I was really good!!!! Then he said that with me on the Harrison High team we have a real shot at being county champs. Fantastic!!!!!! He wouldn’t say that unless he meant it. Have to ask folks about helping me get new shoes. Newspaper route won’t do it all. But Dad was so excited when I told him what Coach said that I’m sure he’ll help.

Evangeline is a more challenging read:

 “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”

Apparently, it wasn’t too challenging for kids in 1908.

Via The Federalist Papers.

Ohio charters show mixed results

Ohio charter schools work well for low-income blacks, but overall do worse than district schools, concludes a new CREDO study.

CREDO estimates that low-income black students receive 22 additional days of learning in math and 29 days in reading when attending a charter instead of a district school. Cleveland charters also are outperforming the district.

Stand-alone charters do better than those run by non-profit and for-profit charter-management networks.

Charter middle schools perform well, notes Education Gadfly. Charter high schools do not, perhaps because some specialize in “dropout recovery.” Online charters also perform poorly.

Abolish middle school

Middle schools should be abolished, writes David Banks in The Daily Beast. These “educational wastelands” should be combined “with the guidance and nurturing that children find in elementary school, or with the focus on adult success that we expect from our high schools.”

A former high school principal, Banks heads the Eagle Academy Foundation for Young Men, which operates five all-male schools in New York and New Jersey. The district-run Eagle schools serve low-income, minority students in grades 6 to 12.

Reading and math achievement declines in middle school, Banks writes. Even good students have trouble with the transition.

Too often in middle school the teachers have never received real professional development training to help students succeed in high school.  And, more importantly, there is little to no time for teachers to focus on establishing strong relationships with their students, which has a tremendous impact on how students perform in the classroom, particularly for boys.  A teacher’s ability to relate to his or her students is not icing on the cake of serious academics—I believe it is the whole cake.

. . . communication from peers can drown out the wiser voices of parents, teachers and mentors, trapping our young people—and especially our boys—in an echo chamber of voices as inexperienced and impulsive as their own.  Students struggling academically may decide to give up, while the bright but under-unchallenged may conclude they don’t really need to learn how to study, because middle school seems to prove that they’re smart enough to wing it.

The neediest students will get the most benefit from either K-8 schools or middle/high schools, he argues.

Banks’ book, Soar, which will be published in September, focuses on “how boys learn, succeed and develop character.”

Wiggly boys aren’t disabled

Little boys who aren’t ready for reading need tutoring — not a disability label, writes Jane Goodwin (Mamacita). If they can’t sit still, that means they’re normal.
wiggly little boy reading, Harry Potter
Many of scientists, inventors and innovators were late bloomers, she writes. “Edison wasn’t even allowed to continue at his school; he was so slow, he held the others back!”

“Save the (disability) labeling for the children who genuinely need the help,” writes Mamcita. “Don’t fill up the room with little boys who just need a few more years to mature.”

As for the kids who can’t sit still, “that’s how little children are SUPPOSED to be.”

What would be genuinely worrisome would be a little child who CAN sit still for hours and hours without any desire to be wiggly and energetic. There is the occasional child who genuinely needs Ritalin or whatever in order to function at all, but there are an awful lot of children (usually little boys) whose energy and creativity and imagination and, yes, wiggles, are being seen as “disabilities” by frustrated adults and drugged into mediocrity.

Her “quick fix” for wiggly kids was to assign them two seats and let them shift from one to another when they needed to move.

There were conditions – no bothering other kids on the way, no touching other people’s things, no sidetracking or talking, etc, but when a person’s gotta get up and move, a person’s gotta get up and move.

She taught middle school, “but the students were still children even though they didn’t think they were.

D.C. faces middle-school slump

As Washington D.C. gentrifies, more educated parents are sending their children to neighborhood elementary schools. But choosy parents aren’t choosing district-run middle schools, reports the Washington Post.

Ross Elementary in Dupont Circle has a long wait list for pre-k, but few fifth graders. Many D.C. charters start in fifth grade. Those who finish at Ross typically go to charters, private schools or the suburbs, reports the Post. “In the past three years, just one Ross fifth-grader out of 47 went on to attend the assigned public middle school, which many parents consider substandard.”

Among parents who send their children to a D.C. public school, 31 percent say they’d send a child to a DCPS middle school, 30 percent would seek a charter middle school and the rest say “they would look to private schools or leave the city.”

‘Breaking Bad,’ the middle-school musical

The hit viral video, Breaking Bad: The Middle School Musical, was created by Rhett & Link (Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal.)

‘Cool’ math

PBS Math Club, a new web series, hopes to persuade middle-school girls that math is “cool.”

Short videos try to connect math to students’ interests. The video on positive and negative integers uses YouTube’s rating system as an example, reports reports Education Week Teacher.

Each video ends with a brief quiz.

Maine likes laptops, but do kids learn more?

Ten years after Maine started giving a tax-funded laptop to every public school student in grades 7 and 8, teachers and students are enthusiastic, but it’s not clear students are learning more, writes Ricki Morell of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting on the Hechinger Report.

FREEPORT, Maine — At Freeport Middle School, students in algebra class play “Battleship” on their laptops as they learn to plot coordinates on a graph. At Massabesic Middle School, eighth-graders surf the web on their laptops to create their own National History Day websites. And at King Middle School, students carry their laptops into the field as they chronicle the civil rights movement through eyewitness interviews.

Laptops “revolutionized the classroom,” says Raymond Grogan, principal of Freeport Middle School, who was a teacher when the program started. Teachers stop lecturing and started individualizing lessons, Grogan says.

Middle school teachers said “the laptops have helped them teach more, in less time, and with greater depth, and to
individualize their curriculum and instruction more,” according to an August 2011 report. However, the program has been implemented unevenly.

“The benefits are difficult to quantify,” says David Silvernail, the report’s author and co-director of the nonpartisan Maine Education Policy Research Institute. “So many other things are going on in schools, it’s difficult to classify what makes the difference. The laptop is a tool, just like a pencil.”

Students can use the laptops at school and at home. There have been problems with “distraction from unrestricted access to the Internet,” educators say. Breakage problems have improved over time.

The free laptop idea spread to other states and school districts, but has faded because of funding pressures and mixed results, Morrell writes.

Beginning in 2004, the nonprofit Texas Center for Educational Research compared the test scores of students at 22 Texas middle schools where students and teachers received laptops with the scores of students at 22 middle schools where they did not. The study concluded that laptops had a positive effect on some math scores but generally not on reading scores.

In Maine, statewide evidence of how laptops affect achievement is scarce. Test scores for Maine from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, show that the percentage of students scoring proficient or above in eighth-grade mathematics rose from 30 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2011, but that was part of a national trend of rising math scores and can’t be linked directly to laptop use. Between 2002 and 2011, the percentage of Maine’s eighth-graders scoring at or above proficient on the national reading test barely changed, rising from 38 to 39 percent.

 Angus King, who pushed through the laptop program as governor, is now running for U.S. Senate. His opponent charges the free laptops have been a waste of money. The state pays Apple a discounted rate of $242 per laptop per year, which adds up to $10 million this year, less than half a percent of the state’s $2 billion education budget.

Can we make middle school less awful?

How Can We Make Middle School Less Awful? ask Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen on Slate. They call for giving  “as much attention to emotions and values” as to academics.

Every morning, the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at Paul Cuffee Middle School in Providence, R.I. join together in what’s called a Circle of Power and Respect. In this “CPR,” they discuss anything from an upcoming science project to how to get boys to stop purposefully clogging the toilets.

Students write a social contract for the school.  Here’s this year’s version:

1. Respect the environment, yourself, and the community.
2. Cooperate: Teamwork makes the dream work.
3. Support each other even when the odds are against us.
4. Be yourself, do what you love, and try!
5. Be resilient: Fall 7 times, stand up 8.

When students behave badly, Principal Nancy Cresser asks which part of the contract they’ve broken.

“They know exactly which ones they’ve violated and they figure out how to fix it,” she says. Instead of storming off or pouting about the unfairness of the rules, Cresser says that Paul Cuffee students are OK with being held accountable. They’re the ones who created the rules, after all. So the students in question come up with a plan to fix what happened.

Creating a safe, supportive school pays off academically, write Glenn and Larsen. Although most students come from low-income families, Cuffee outscores a wealthier school across town in reading and math.

Start school later for more learning

Middle schoolers do better when school starts — and ends — later, according to a North Carolina study by economist Finley Edwards described in Education Next.

. . . delaying school start times by one hour, from roughly 7:30 to 8:30, increases standardized test scores by at least 2 percentile points in math and 1 percentile point in reading.

Starting early has the most effect on older middle schoolers, supporting the theory that hormonal changes make it hard for adolescents to get to sleep in the early evening, Edwards writes. Students get more sleep and have fewer absences. But late starts have other advantages:  With less unsupervised time after school, latebirds spend more time on homework and watch less TV.

“The effect of a later start time in both math and reading is more than twice as large for students in the bottom third of the test-score distribution than for students in the top third,” Edwards found.

Start times had no effect on elementary students, the study found, but elementary schools start later than middle schools, so that could obscure the effect.

Districts could swap elementary and secondary school start times to improve achievement without spending more on busing, Edwards suggests. Or districts could invest in more buses to start all schools at 8:30 or later. The achievement gain would be similar to the effect of cutting class sizes at a fraction of the cost.