Saturday, November 17, 2012

Education's Public Defender

Education's advocate, Diane Ravitch is revealed in an article in the New Yorker by David Denby. At one time she was a supporter of No Child Left Behind, but due to disappointing results for students, she has tirelessly fought for a better system for our nation's children and grandchildren. According to Ravitch the reform movement took on a business format when test-based accountability (NCLB) spearheaded a detour from professional teachers to teaching technicians by turning schools over to non-union for-profit charter school, including some that are totally online charter schools.

The constant test prep in reading and math has required schools to cut back on science, history, languages, art, and in some cases physical education. A 2009 survey, conducted by Stanford, concluded that only 17% of charter schools outperformed the local public schools in math and 37% had worse results than the public schools. Plus cheating scandals were found in some states and some states made the tests too easy so students would pass.

Even Rupert Murdoch, of the British News Corporation phone tapping scandal, has put his wallet into the education game by forming an education subsidiary in the US called Amplify. Education is a place to make millions or billions in the software business for testing and Charter schools. If you look at the website, it looks really amazing. But when you see what they do, they develop technological software for devices. It's all about the money. The rest is smoke and mirrors. Do we really need a guy who ran a company that invaded people's privacy for profit involved in our educational system for our children?

Miss Ravitch believes that poverty is one reason that student achievement is low. That does not mean that poor students can't learn. It means that their needs may be different and need to be addressed. We have immigrant children, who may not speak English, students with disabilities (some which may be caused by lack of nutrition), and kids with no quiet place to study or even sleep. Combine this with the growing number of autistic children with special needs in public schools, educationally motivated families moving to charter schools, and increasing class size due to lack of funding, and it is not rocket science to see why public schools are at a disadvantage.

Although the future is uncertain, Diane Ravitch believes in public education. She believes in tenure for teachers and believes that union representation gives professionals a seat at the table when state legislatures try to make cuts in school funding. She does not believe  merit pay should be the primary measurement for teacher performance.  She is tentatively supporting Common Core Standards which began to be implemented in 2010 in some states (not California), but reminds us that they have not been field tested anywhere. If you are a teacher, Diane Ravitch believes in you. She believes teachers are highly dedicated. She believes neighborhood public schools fulfill a democratic function where those of all faiths, races, countries, ethnicity's, and social status can meet, learn, and support each other. Daily, as teachers teach each subject, they help children learn to work and play together in peace. If you are a parent or grandparent, she believes American public schools are not failing your child. Need more information take a look at Diane Ravitch's blog.

Common Core Standards

On March 12, 2012, State School Chief of California, Tom Torlekson,  introduced a plan to Implement Common Core Standards in California.

What are Common Core Standards and where did this come from?
These are a set of standards for Math and English Language Arts that were designed for all states to adopt so learning could be more uniform across the country.  In 2010 the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association released the standards that spell out what children are expected to learn in those two subjects from kindergarten through the end of high school. To find these standards through high school go to Common Core Standards for San Francisco and the bay area. These are very detailed and you have to go through many pages to find the standards for each subject and grade level. The high school standards are set to provide students with the skills to compete in the global marketplace. The idea is to uniformly boost student achievement across the country. President Obama and his education cabinet member, Arnie Duncan, both support this effort to improve public education.

What are these standards for elementary school?  The California Common Core Standards from the California Department of Education for elementary is specifically for each grade k-8. They are much easier to read and include history, art, science, physical education, music, visual and performing arts, and school libraries. The link I have given you in this paragraph states that standards unique to California are in bold print, such as write fluidly and legibly in cursive or joined italics in fourth grade. Some schools stopped teaching cursive a while ago.

How do these standards affect our children? Many of the standards are the same standards that students have had in the past. However, there seems to be more emphasis on creativity. This is fantastic for students and teachers. Creativity puts the joy back in schools and makes students critical thinkers. The writing standards for 3rd grade are higher than in the past. Students will be expected to use technology to produce and publish writing, gather information from print or digital resources, take notes, and write over extended time frames for specific purposes. Implementation will begin in 2013-2014. However textbook materials will not be ready until 2016.

What challenges are ahead? If students are expected to use computers to write over extended time frames and gather information, schools will need to update computers and provide plenty of them. With 30 kids in the classroom the logistics of providing time for all students to have access to computers, could be a nightmare. They will also need to have access to Google Docs or some form of digital saving that is easy to set up and use. Ink will also be necessary as teachers will want to print some. New Haven has applied for the federal grant Race to the Top. New Haven is one of 61 that has made it to the next round of approval. One of the things New Haven have asked for is mini ipads for every 2 elementary students. This would certainly help with the technology needed. However, schools will need to expand their technicians to keep all these computers or mini tablets running without delay. Just the updates on mini ipads will be demanding. Technicians are going to cost $$$$.

 Maureen Tecson's students using 
ipads and itouch's in the classroom.

I also see committees on new report cards being formed. This is just my initial post on what lies ahead for children and schools. I am sure I will have more to say about this. Having common goals with the rest of the nation is good. However, schools still have to fund it (provide resources), provide training for teachers, and figure out some kind of sensible testing or portfolio system to evaluate the child. Hopefully this is goodby to NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.