I’ve got rhythm, I’ve got fractions …

Children are clapping, drumming and chanting to learn fractions at a California elementary school. It seems to be working, concludes a study which will be published in Educational Studies in Mathematics.

 ”If students don’t understand fractions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling,” said Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education at San Francisco State University.

Students in Academic Music scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test than students in the regular math class. Lower-performing students narrowed the gap with high achievers.

Fourth-grade math scores have soared since a San Bruno school adopted Academic Music, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

On Tuesday, 29 children at Allen Elementary School tapped out a rhythm with drumsticks as (Endre) Balogh stepped and clapped in 4/4 time at the front of the class. He stepped four times per beat. One clap equaled a whole note, two claps indicated two half notes, and so on.

“Which is larger, the whole note or the half note?” he asked.

“Whole note,” one of the third-graders replied.

“Whole note, but why?” the teacher said.

“Because it’s longer,” another student called out.

Toones Academic Music, a nonprofit, is working to expand the program to more schools.

Coach G has tips for teaching “the dreaded f word, fractions.”

Choosing public school

If her daughter doesn’t get into a top-choice public school in San Francisco, Rhiana Maidenberg plans to send her to a not-so-great public school, she writes on Babble.

. . . if every parent with the means and time to improve a school environment takes their children out of the public school system, how do these systems stand a chance at improving?

Maidenberg, a freelance writer, visited dozens of schools to develop a list of 14 favorites that are good or getting good and not too far away. Like all choice systems, public school choice favors savvy parents with time to research the options and develop a strategy.  It’s very unlikely her daughter will lose the entrance lottery at all 14 schools.

However, many San Francisco public elementary schools offer PE, music and art only once a week, she writes.

. . . with the $24,000 we’ll be saving by not enrolling our daughters in private school, I can chauffeur them to a plethora of extracurricular, afterschool activities. As an educated and involved parent, I can make sure that my children receive a fully rounded education.

Has it ever been common for elementary schools to teach music and art more than once a week?

The main thing private schools can’t provide that public schools can is diversity. The experiences my kids will receive in a classroom filled with children of varying backgrounds, native languages, and races will help them grow to be well-rounded world citizens. While I can make up for a lack of music class, if we chose private school, I couldn’t enroll them in diversity training.

Most California private schools enroll many students from immigrant families of varying backgrounds, native languages and races. There’s much less socioeconomic diversity, of course, and it’s less likely seriously disabled students will be mainstreamed. (San Francisco friends moved their child from an excellent public school to private school because the kindergarten teacher wasn’t able to control two violent boys diagnosed with behavioral disabilities.)

Educated, involved parents can do a lot to ensure that their children are well-educated even if their schools isn’t ideal. And they may be able to improve a school, if they can recruit similar parents. It’s much harder for poorly educated parents, especially if they’re working full-time or more.

Placido Domingo: Require music in schools

Opera star Placido Domingo calls for requiring music education in an interview with John Merrow. Learning Matters’ full music education story will air on PBS NewsHour this week. It features Domingo conducting a concert of New York city students from P.S. 129 and 152 as part of the Harmony Program, which offers free after-school music education to mostly low-income students.

( Click here to download the podcast )

 

Reading, math crowd out untested subjects

Language arts and math are crowding out untested subjects, such as art, music, foreign language and sometimes science, say 3rd-to-12th grade public school teachers surveyed by Common Core. The problem is greatest in elementary school.

  • Among those who say crowding out is taking place in their schools, virtually all (93%) believe that this is largely driven by state tests
  • 60% say in recent years there’s been more class time devoted to test-taking skills
  • Almost two out of three teachers (65%) say they’ve “had to skip important topics in [my] subject in order to cover the required curriculum”
  • 80% report that “more and more” of the time they should be spending on teaching students is spent on “paperwork and reporting requirements to meet state standards”

Most teachers say their school is offering more help to students struggling in math and language arts.  However, the strong focus on reading and math affects all students, not just those who need extra help, according to 77% of teachers.

Voc ed vs. music, art, foreign language

Music and art teachers are complaining about a new California law that expands graduation requirements:  Students can take one career or technical education course in place of art, music or a foreign language, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Arts and foreign-language courses are twice as likely as vocational classes to be certified as college-prep courses, so students who choose career tech could be ineligible to go from high school directly to the University of California and California State University systems.

Some urban districts, such as Oakland Unified, San Jose Unified and East Side Union in San Jose, use UC’s college-prep curriculum as their graduation requirement.

The new law will lead to two tiers, of college-prepared and unprepared students, opponents say.

Proponents disagree. “We already have a two-track system,” said Eric Guerra of (Assemblyman Warren) Furutani’s staff. “It’s called college or nothing.” Students who aren’t on a college track leave school without useful skills, he said. California’s class of 2010 graduation rate is a dismal 74.4 percent. “There’s got to be a different way to deliver secondary education,” he said. “The status quo is not working.”

The law’s opponents seem to think that many students will prefer career tech to music, art or foreign language. If so, why force them to take  art or music to earn a diploma?

Nearly all schools teach art, music

Music and visual art are nearly universally available in public schools, writes Robert Morrison, founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, in School Band & Orchestra Magazine.

The data hasn’t changed much since 1994 for music and visual art. Dance and theater instruction has declined in secondary schools and is rare in elementary schools.

Ninety-one percent of elementary schools employ specialist music teachers, according to a federal report.

Via Common Core.

College shouldn’t be only K-12 goal

Higher education shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of K-12 education, writes “edu-traitor” Cathy Davidson, an English professor, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.

Higher education is incredibly valuable, even precious, for many. But it is bad for individuals and society to be retrofitting learning all the way back to preschool, as if the only skills valuable, vital, necessary in the world are the ones that earn you a B.S., BA, or a graduate and professional degree.

Many jobs require specialized knowledge, intelligence and skills, but not a college education, Davidson notes.  Yet our educational system “defines learning so narrowly that whole swaths of human intelligence, skill, talent, creativity, imagination, and accomplishment do not count.”

Schools are cutting art, music, P.E. and shop to focus on college prep, Davidson complains. (I’d say schools are cutting electives — especially shop — to focus on basic reading and math skills.)

. . . many brilliant, talented young people are dropping out of high school because they see high school as implicitly “college prep” and they cannot imagine anything more dreary than spending four more years bored in a classroom when they could be out actually experiencing and perfecting their skills in the trades and the careers that inspire them.

We need value “the full range of intellectual possibility and potential for everyone,” Davidson writes.

The brilliant, talented kid who drops out to pursue a passion for art, carpentry or cosmetology is a rare bird, I think. But Davidson is right about the college-or-bust mentality in K-12 education. Many students who are bored by academics could be motivated — maybe even inspired — by a chance to develop marketable skills.

Some 80 percent of new community college students say they want to earn a bachelor’s degree. They sign up for remedial or general education courses.  Few succeed.  Students who pursue vocational goals — a welding certificate, an associate degree in medical technology — are far more likely to graduate.

Secret school success

We’re not all going to hell in a hand basket, argues Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. ”The last 15 years have seen tremendous progress for poor, minority, and low-achieving students — the very children that have been the focus of two decades of reform.”

 . . . For instance, between 1990 and 2009, black fourth graders made 35 points of progress on the mathematics NAEP exam; black eighth-graders gained 24 points. The corresponding numbers for Latino children were 28 and 21 points respectively. In reading, black fourth-graders gained 13 points between 1992 and 2009; black eighth graders gained 9 points. In the just-released geography exam, black fourth-grade students gained 28 points between 1994 and 2010; Latino fourth-graders gained 21 points. Similar progress was seen in history and civics.

This means low-income and minority students are “achieving one, two, and sometimes three grade levels higher than their counterparts in the early 1990s were,” Petrilli writes.

What happened? States that adopted accountability systems made big gains in the ’90s and “the stragglers made big progress once No Child Left Behind forced them to follow suit,” he argues.

NCLB doesn’t hold schools accountable for history, civics, and geography; neither do most states. But “poor and minority kids are stronger readers now, so they can better read the social studies exams and answer more questions correctly,” Petrilli theorizes.

The debate should be about trade-offs, he writes. Poor and minority kids are learning more, but their schools may be turning to scripted lessons and squeezing out art and music. Poor and minority kids are learning more, but principals and teachers have more incentive to cheat on tests. “Poor and minority kids are learning more, but their more affluent, higher-achieving peers are making fewer gains. Is it worth it?”

Learning from Finland

Finland’s schools rank very high in international comparisons.  The secret is highly trained, well-paid teachers and few standardized tests, writes Samuel Abrams in The New Republic.

Today, teaching is such a desirable profession that only one in ten applicants to the country’s eight master’s programs in education is accepted. . . . High school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what their fellow university graduates do. In the United States, by contrast, they earn just 65 percent.

In first through ninth grade, Finnish students take art, music, cooking, carpentry, metalwork, and textiles.

Instead of standardized testing for all students, the Finns give exams to a small sample of students.

Teachers in Finland design their own courses, using a national curriculum as a guide, not a blueprint, and spend about 80 percent as much time leading classes as their U.S. counterparts do, so that they have sufficient opportunity to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues. The only point at which all Finnish students take standardized exams is as high school seniors if they wish to go to university.

Ability tracking doesn’t start till 10th grade.

Finland’s schools don’t fit Abrams’ agenda that neatly, responds Quick and the Ed’s Kevin Carey.

For example, Finnish teachers don’t make more than U.S. teachers. Finnish doctors, lawyers and other college graduates make less money.

It’s true that only 10 percent of applicants are accepted by Finnish teacher education programs, he writes. But . . .

I have never, ever heard a serious proposal from the anti-testing / school of education crowd to raise admissions standards into teacher preparation to anything approaching the levels that would result in a 10 percent admission rate — or, heck, a 50 percent admission rate.

The only U.S. program that sets the bar that high is Teach for America, which Abrams “predictably critiques.”

Finland has a national curriculum and administers a high-stakes national test to seniors who wish to go to university, Carey writes. Here, each state sets its own standards, which aren’t enforced.

I’ll add that most U.S. schools do not track students by ability before 10th grade or after, though there’s de facto tracking in high school. For that matter, U.S. students do a lot of art and music in elementary and middle school, though they’re less likely to have access to shop classes, cooking or sewing.

There’s a lot we can learn from Finland’s very successful schools, Carey writes. “But anyone arguing that the evidence from Finland cleanly supports either side of the American education reform debate is being dishonest,” he concludes.

The very young conductor

A three-year-old boy conducts Beethoven’s Fifth, despite an itchy nose. The kid is amazing.