Monthly Archives: May 2010

Education Reform

People have very different ideas about what should be going on in our nation’s classroom. But beyond that, they have very different ideas about how to make sure it’s likely to happen. And this looks really different in proposed assessment of teachers’ on-the-job performance.

Here are two examples of strikingly different approaches.

The United Federation of Teachers in New York City contract proposes that after a three-year-long vetting period, teachers receive tenure for life and be paid based on their years on the job. This means that after that period of assessment, they cannot be fired, demoted, or paid less if they are not judged to be doing a satisfactory job.

A new Colorado law proposes to connect teacher evaluations to their students’ achievement test scores as a portion of evidence that shows their students’ progress, which will be 50 percent of their evaluation. Teachers found to be “ineffective” for two years running could potentially lose their jobs.

At least part of the impetus behind the change is the “Race to the Top”—the contest that offers $4.3 billion to states willing to overhaul their public schools if they are willing to enact a package of reforms that includes improved curriculum standards, among other things. But a key point is that more than a fifth of the points each state can earn for its proposal is based on the state’s commitment to get rid of the tenure-for-life approach to teachers’ job security and stop the practice of tying teachers’ compensation only to seniority, without taking account of any performance indicators.

To understand more about what’s taking place in education reform right now, we recommend two articles;

“The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand”

“Colorado education law may mark a national shift”

And for basic background on the elements involved in the reform movement, read our article “Education Reform.”

State Curriculum Standards and the News from Texas

Most people who have taught K–12 school—whether in a public or private school or a homeschool—have run across their state curriculum at one point or another.
And not a few concerned parents have had a look, too. Teachers have to hew to this curriculum, which is usually stated in fairly broad terms, leaving a lot of room for interpretation at the district, school, and classroom level.

For example, in the Vermont State History and Social Sciences Standards, students in PreK–4 are expected to “Recognize voluntary and involuntary migration factors (e.g. drought, famine, economic opportunity, conflicts, slavery).” Compare this to the specificity of Texas mandating that the curriculum reference a singer named Julius Lorenzo Cobb who sang “Old Man River” in Showboat.

Yesterday, Rod Paige, former U.S. Education Secretary, and once a superintendent of schools in Houston, addressed this point, critiquing the proposed standards for being too specific, as well as skewing history.

Others agree with Mr. Paige. Often state curriculum issues stay within the state, but the Texas State curriculum, and the Texas Board of Education who vote on it today, have steadily been in the news for making detailed and what some have called “politicized” changes to the Texas social studies curriculum. That the vote was expected to fall along party lines, speaks to this. So does the Wall Street Journal’s characterization of the new curriculum as conveying that America is characterized by its promotion of “low taxes, limited regulation and free enterprise.”

That the issue may escape the Texas borders and affect textbooks for other states concerns people because of the practice known as textbook adoptions. A number of states, including three with large populations—California, Texas, and Florida—use committees to mandate which textbooks can be used in, and therefore purchased by, public schools in the state. There are some variations in the system, but that’s the basic idea. Therefore, for the textbook publishers to be able to make their largest sales, they adapt the material to suit the state curriculum. However, to save money, the textbook publishers then try to reuse as much material from the specialized versions.

Because of this, people in other states have voiced concern that the voice of the Texas Board of Education will be evident in textbooks offered to other states. It has been pointed out, however, that Texas legislation regarding digital learning materials, may change things somewhat, but that’s not clear.

Until it is, it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on in Texas, both if you live in Texas, and if you don’t.

The Texas Social Studies process is documented here.

If you live in Texas and think that the Board of Education is being too specific and/or skewing history, you might want to get involved in the debate. And no matter where you live, you may want to become better acquainted with your state’s curriculum standards.

Both parents and teachers may also be interested in these resources for teaching social studies:

PBS Teachers Pages—A drop-down menu at the top helps you choose grade level and subject area to access activity packs, television programming, lesson plans, and more.

National History Standards from the National Center for History in the Schools

Strategies for Teaching Social Studies from Delaware Social Studies Education Project

Using Music to Teach Social Studies—song titles list by topic area: click through for free lyrics; there’s a fee to download

And homeschooler may enjoy this article about creating a “HomeSchool Social Studies Curriculum.”


For-Profit Schools

For-profit Schools have made the news the last few days as rumors that U.S. Education Deputy Undersecretary Robert Shireman is planning to resign have surfaced. Shireman has been considered a leader among those seeking tougher regulations of for-profit schools—regulations that could potentially reduce their Federal financial aid, which had increased six-fold from 2000 to 2009.

What are the for-profit companies for which Shireman has wanted to see increased regulation? They include Corinthian Colleges, Apollo Group Inc. (which owns University of Phoenix), Career Education Corp., DeVry Inc., and ITT Educational Series Inc. Upon news of his leaving, stocks rose significantly Monday for all of these companies. On Tuesday, with breaking news that Shireman would continue his relationship with the US DOE in an advisory capacity, the stocks all slid down, some more than others.

One of the main criticisms of for-profit schools is that they serve a predominantly low-income population of students who can end up with large, and sometimes unpayable, debt. Shireman had proposed that for-profit schools be required to demonstrate that graduates of the for-profit programs would have incomes commensurate with paying back their student loans.

Many of the schools that offer online technical or vocational training are for-profit schools. Certain of them have been known to have issues with proper accreditation as well as the funding issues, but careful vetting can help you sort these out. You can find useful information for making an assessment in our articles: “Distance Learning” and “Online Technical Schools.”

Technical and vocational education is also offered through schools that are not-for-profit, like high schools with technical centers, community colleges, and state-run colleges, universities, and technical colleges.


Spread the Words

Word is starting to spread about 2010’s Summer Reading Programs. Each year, organizations including bookstores, libraries, and others offer youngsters and teens incentives to keep reading while they’re not attending schools. They do this in a number of ways:

• providing lists of recommended books

• providing a reading community

• making opportunities contact with famous authors

• holding themed, book-related activities and events

• celebrating success

• offering rewards, often—but not always—in the form of books

This year, for example, you might choose to have your child who’s 12 or under enter Borders® Books Double-Dog Dare, in which they can earn a free book by reading 10 books of their choice. Alternatively, children up to 12 could join 2010 Barnes & Noble® Summer Reading—The 39 Clues and earn a free book by reading 8 books, as well as 39 Clues rewards. These are national programs, available to all, but the records that children keep need to be turned in at an appropriately branded book store.

Local libraries are going all out, too. The 2010 Summer Reading Program in the boroughs of New York City—sponsored by the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens Library, and the New York Public Library, Scholastic® and Target®— is more interactive. Here, you can create a profile page with an avatar, review movies, music, and games, as well as books, and see what other kids are reading, viewing, and playing, and what they think about it, as well as earn rewards. Check with libraries in your area to see what they have up their sleeves for the summer.

Folks who work with books are no longer the only ones encouraging kids to read. TD Bank® is sponsoring a Summer Reading Program and—upon reading 10 books—kids 18 and younger can have $10 deposited to a new or existing “Young Saver Account.

To learn more about reading in the summer, have a look at our article “Summer Reading Program.”

Homeschoolers Meet and Learn

Today in the South, in the East, and in the Midwest—in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas—homeschoolers are gathering at conferences that enable them to learn together, share ideas, see new products, socialize, and support each other. After the nine conferences ending today, there will be 10 more homeschool conferences in May in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

The conferences in session today are focused by being geared towards exploring resources or curriculum, being regional meetings, or being Christian or specifically Catholic. At the Middle Tennessee Home Education Association Curriculum Fair—where they anticipated that three exhibitors would have to cancel due to flooding—they are offering:

• speakers

• the ASVAB Career Exploration Program for students in grades 10–12 and recent graduates

• workshops in music, science, history, kindergarten instruction, pedagogy, the future of homeschooling, language arts, games, spelling, geography, career planning, earning style differences, combining marriage with homeschooling, brain development, literature for teaching, writing, character building, SAT test preparation, college admissions, Christian curriculum, misconceptions about homeschooling, and homeschooling in relation to the constitution

• 102 exhibitors from Christian and secular publishers of homeschool materials, specialists in learning disabilities, Drivers’ Ed instructors, regional educational groups, homeschool magazines, institutions of higher education, and the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)

To learn more about home school conventions and conferences, read “Homeschool Conferences” at our sister website Let’s Homeschool.


Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

If you have a child in a K–12 classroom or are a teacher in a K–12 classroom, it’s testing season. If you have a child in college or teach college, it’s final exam season. It’s actually been testing season for quite awhile. The NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) exams were given from January 25 through March 12. Since then, schools have been giving state-mandated assessments, such as the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). or the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program. Advanced Placement® exams (AP exams) run May 3–7 and 10–14, with late testing dates being May 19–21.And for some students there are high school exit exams, college entrance exams, physical fitness exams, etc.

Testing can serve a variety of purposes:

Learning—Although testing is usually thought of as a recap of what has been previously learned, it can actually be a learning experience itself. A well-conceived question can lead a student to recast what has been learned in a new light, perhaps by achieving a synthesis that could only come after everything else was done.

• Diagnosis—Reading clinicians and speech language pathologists, among others, use various testing tools to help understand students abilities and disabilities in order to make an appropriate plan

• Demonstrating Competency—When the reading clinician or speech language pathologist or other instructor has been successful in work with a student, a test can demonstrate that the goals have been achieved. In addition, sometimes you have to be proficient in A to go on to B, of necessity or because there’s a rule that says you must or because it’s necessary for your own or others’ safety that you have that skill down pat or for some other reason.

• Feedback and Placement—For the student moving to a new school environment or an adult returning to school, a singer joining an school ensemble and a child joining a sports team, a test can help to make decisions between French I and French 2, Algebra and Geometry, Tenor and Baritone, Pitcher and Outfielder.

• Gateway—There are gates in, like college entrance exams, and gates out, like high school exit exams.

• Assessment—Some tests are a certain percentage of a grade for a class, with weight only in that class.

• Accountability—Tests can be used to judge students’ learning and hold teachers, schools, and districts accountable.

With as many uses and styles as it has, testing is an area of some contention. For a greater understanding of some of the questions that have been raised about testing, read our article “Testing Issues.”


Teacher Appreciation

You might be surprised to see an article on teacher appreciation now, when last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. Teachers were celebrated in all kinds of ways, and if you didn’t see U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s YouTube® video acknowledging his favorite teacher Mrs. Darlene McCampbell, you might want to have a look.

But just as appreciation of mothers and fathers doesn’t begin and end with Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, appreciation of teachers needn’t stop as the specified dates pass by.

If you’d like to know more about the history of Teacher Day and how it is celebrated around the world, you can check out our article “Teacher Day.” But I’m going to use this post as Secretary Duncan and Mrs. McCampbell used their video to talk with you a little bit about a different way of coming to an appreciation of teachers, and that is by considering the training they go through to become teachers and considering whether you might wish to become a teacher.

There are many different types of teachers, many of whom teach in schools, but some of whom teach in community centers, art galleries, museums, theaters, aquariums, libraries, and other locations. Even “school teachers” may teach in a public school, a charter school, a magnet school, a private school, an independent school, or a homeschool. This doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the wide array of private instructors who teach children how to play instruments, ice skate, ride horses, garden, cook, and other topics that are often learned outside of a regular “school” building.

If you’re considering become a classroom teacher, then a degree from an accredited institution is likely to serve you well, and you may want to have a look at our article “Teaching Degree.”

More and more people are considering teaching as a second career, bringing the experience, training, and expertise from their first career into the classroom. In this case, your state department of education may have a special training and licenser program that bypasses the usual path taken by an aspiring undergraduate. Such programs are a way to change the old saying and make sure that “those who can, teach.”

Graduate School

In many places, Mother’s Day is not only marked by tributes to mothers, but also signals the start of the college graduation season.

And fittingly, this week in the “Your Money” column in the New York Times, Ron Lieber writes about “The New Money Rules for Recent Graduates.” In this article he touches on some of the main financial concerns that face the college graduates, and points out that these are mostly issues that students don’t have background or training in dealing with. The topics he focuses on are:

• Health Insurance

• Banking and Debit Cards

Credit Cards

• Student Loans

The column also points out that new financial legislation and regulation have changed the scene over the last year, and these are area that even people with some prior knowledge would benefit by taking a second look at. It’s well worth reading for both about-to-be-graduates and parents.

There are, however, some students for whom certain of these concerns—repaying student loans and finding health insurance, anyway—may not yet come into play, and that is those students who are going to attend graduate school. Since they will still be in school, their student loans will not come due, and they will have an opportunity to subscribe to the schoolwide health insurance offered on the campus where they will do their graduate work.

Even for those on the brink of graduation who have not yet applied, graduate school may still be worth consideration. For some fields, it’s a necessity: there are some things you just can’t do without the master’s degree or doctorate, and certainly without an M.D., or other more specialized degrees some occupations are closed. Additionally, a professional degree has been shown to provide a major income boost. To learn more, check out our article “Why Go to Graduate School.”

Online Safety

For the past several months, online safety has been in the news, primarily in relation to Facebook, a social networking site that many young people—as well as adults and businesses—use, and not for a good reason. Facebook has made a number of product changes, as well as had a security flaw, that have dealt blows to user privacy and security. These include changes to the default privacy settings, as well as changes to how users’ profile information is disclosed to others.

With charges that these changes ““violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on May 5, 2010. Fourteen other consumer advocacy groups joined in the complaint.

Besides Facebook,, a newer social networking site started in November 2009, has also made the news this week. The site is based on “honest” answers to users’ questions—answers that are allowed to be made anonymously. This translates as gossip and insults, mainly pertaining to appearance, intelligence, popularity, and sexuality. In other words, the site seems to sanction cyberbullying. The suicide in March, 2010 of Alexis Pilkington of Long Island followed the receipt of many cruel messages on Formspring.

Apparently, many tweens and teens have been joining without their parents’ realizing. There are 28 million visits each month, half of those from US members. It is not known what percentage of visits (or members) are under 18.

If you want to understand more about on-line safety, we suggest three things:

• Do an online search on “facebook privacy settings” and share your findings with family members, friends, relatives, and colleagues.

• For more on protecting privacy online, read our article “Online Safety.”

• For more on cyberbullying and other kinds of bullying, read “School Bullying” on Educationbug’s sister site,


Early Childhood Education

Early Childhood Education is in the news now because the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has released “The State of Preschool 2009,” a study that covers national trends, each state’s policies and programs, and a wide variety of charts. The report is free, and—along with the charts, as well as an interactive database—is available online, or you can receive a free printed copy by submitting your name and mailing address in an
email to NIEER

Findings include impact from the economic downturn: budget cuts and program eliminations even as more children became eligible for state-run preschool programs. But in addition, teacher and assistant teacher qualifications lagged, with upwards of twenty states failing to meet NIEER qualifications in each category.

Areas of overall improvement in Pre-Kindergarten programs include:

• in 2008–2009, 44 states met the benchmark for teachers having specialized training in Early Childhood Education, up from 29 states in 2002

• in 2008–2009, 47 states met the benchmark for Early Learning Standards, up from 14 in 2001–2002

• in 2008–2009 45 states met the benchmark for having a class size of 20 or lower and
the same number met the benchmark for having a teacher-student ratio of 1:10 or better

• in 2008–2009, there were also slight improvements in the number of states meeting benchmarks for assistants’ training and site visits.

However, some of the trends are not positive:

• the benchmark requiring the teacher to have a BA has remained at 26 states since 2006–2007, and is down from 27 states in 2004–2005

• the screening/referral benchmark held at 32 in 2008–2009, but had been 33 in 2006–2007

• the benchmark of serving at least one meal was at 22 states in 2001–2002, 2002–2003, and 2005–2006; 23 in 2004–2005 and 2006–2007; fell to 20 in 2007–2008; and crept up, but only to 21 in 2008–2009

For background on the history of Early Childhood Education, you may wish to read our article “Early Childhood Education.”