Tag Archives: education

Teacher Training Overhaul Called For

A panel of education experts convened by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) reported today that a major overhaul of teacher preparation programs in the United States is needed.

The panel recommended that teacher training learn from medical schools, and increase emphasis on clinical practice, as well as bolster admissions criteria, make graduation requirements more stringent, and increase rigor in the classes offered.

The panel criticized the 10–12 week stint that most states require student teachers to spend observing and student-teaching as too little, particularly since much of that time is spent in lectures, rather than in hands-on training.

Evidence increasingly points to teacher quality as the greatest determinant factor in student achievement. Yet the states, which set their own requirements for admissions and graduation from colleges of education and licensing of teachers vary markedly, with licenses being granted—in some cases—to candidates who have not completed nationally accredited programs.

Teaching has traditionally been a career choice that attracts candidates with lower grade-point averages and lower grades on college entrance examinations than other professions. And despite some recent changes to admissions standards, it seems to be agreed that more remains to be done.

Because of lack of follow-up, an op-ed titled “Training Better Teachers” in the Los Angeles Times points out, clear connections are not being drawn between specific approaches to teacher preparation and performance. Teacher-training programs do not make it a practice to keep in touch with their graduates or the school districts that employ them to see what kind of results they are achieving. The op-ed also points to the fact that the accrediting agencies are funded by the universities whose programs they’re evaluating.

The states of California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee have already committed to implementing the recommendations of the panel including:

• increased focus on teacher practice
• shared accountability for P-12 student performance by higher education and school districts
• attracting more highly qualified and more diverse applicants into teacher training programs
• changing the monitoring of teacher training
• changing the rewards structure for teachers
• increased scrutiny of teacher preparation
• disincentives for training teachers in specialties that are not in demand
• clear research agenda to provide evidence for best practice in teacher training

NCATE’s report and more information are available on the NCATE site.

Other Sources

Wall Street Journal “Teacher Training Is Panned

The Cost of Textbooks

This is the first of a group of “back-to-school” topics for the month of August.

There have been many articles written in the past few weeks about the new federal, and in some cases state, laws that have a role in shaping the world of textbooks.

• “$200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math.” in the NYTimes speaks with Scott G. McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, about the “need” for free online textbooks.

• “Taming the Cost of College Textbooks” at Consumersearch.com notes (as do many others) that the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 came into play on July 1 this year, requiring more disclosure from textbook publishers. It quotes the oft-repeated figure of undergrads spending about $700/year on textbooks, and provides a number of suggestions for getting text materials for less.

• “Textbook law aimed at helping lower cost of higher education” discusses the “College Textbook Affordability, Accountability, and Accessibility Act,” introduced in the state of Pennsylvania by Senator Andy Dinniman, which makes greater demands that the federal law. In a sidebar, it is clarified that while the federal law only covers institutions receiving federal student aid or federal funding, the state bill would extend to all schools.

Scholars at Risk Network, hosted at New York University, says that the Pennsylvania bill would require faculty members to select “the least expensive, educationally sound textbooks,” would restrict academic freedom.

What is one to make of all this?

1. The figures for college textbooks—not only the $700/year figure, but—in at least one place—the $4000 over the course of an undergraduate career, do not take into account that many students sell many, if not all, of their textbooks, recouping much of the money.

2. They also don’t take into account that when students elect to keep a textbook, it may signals something about the lasting value of the book. Just as what goes on in the classroom in an investment for a lifetime, a textbook may be as well. Textbooks are not just the required calculus text that you’re never going to look at again. The “textbook” might be a Mamet play, the work of a contemporary philosopher, a well-regarded analysis of history or foreign policy, a dictionary of a foreign language—any of which might be consulted periodically through a lifetime and passed down as an inheritance.

3. People are crying out for differentiated instruction and attention to learning styles in classrooms, with no recognition that a key component of this happens (or at least can happen) through textbooks and accompanying material.

4. Choosing the “least expensive, educationally sound textbook” may require choosing the copy the cover of which will fall off before the end of the semester. Books are material objects: there are some that are made more skillfully, and some that are cheaply constructed: you’re not just buying what’s on the page.

5. Trying to have all educational materials available for free has some key problems:

a) Not all the teaching in a classroom is done by the teacher. Some is done by/through materials. Creating those materials is a specialized job, done by people with special training, talents, and insights into the learning process. The people who create those materials are educators—even though they are sometimes not currently in the classroom. Proposing that what’s free is what should be used either ignores the value of what has been prepared by educational professionals who create classroom materials or assumes that everything that is available is of equal value. This is no more the case than it is true that every educator in the classroom is equally qualified and effective.

b) Yes, there is a culture of open source and free material. But, as anyone who has ever researched it (and I have) can tell you, a good bit of what is free is of poor quality, which may mean that it includes misinformation, bad grammar, or was created with no concept of the learner’s needs. Besides that, trying to find free materials is an issue because—if one really cares about value—one has to find it and vet every single bit of it. This requires an enormous investment of time.

c) Anybody want to take a class in 21st century fiction or poetry or history or biography or orchestral music or philosophy? Oops – these course can’t be offered because the materials with which one could teach them are copyright. By the time they’re in the public domain, it may be the next century. Oh well …

d) Try any of these experiments: read an online textbook for four hours; take notes on an online textbook; mark an online textbook as you would a print book—underlining, highlighting, margin notes, sticky notes. You’ll find that it’s more difficult and tiring to read on-line; taking notes on any but a very large monitor (larger than what is available on laptops) is likely to be time-consuming and frustrating as you have to switch between programs constantly; marking the text is also tedious, and therefore not likely to be done. Sticky notes, which quickly can get you to key pages can be roughly imitated by keeping a list of page numbers and typing them in, one at a time—pretty tedious, too. Now consider this process for a student with any kind of learning disability…

Is material that the student just looks at and doesn’t interact with understood and retained as well? “There is growing evidence that note-taking combined with critical thinking facilitates retention and applications of the information.” (“Note-Taking: What Do We Know About The Benefits?” In short, there are personal and educational effects to trying to do everything online, but they’re not always included in the discussion.

6. Teachers are not automatons: they have different approaches and presentation styles, which may integrate more effectively or more poorly with various textbooks. Some textbooks may be “educationally sound” without being apt to a particular setting.

So these are some things to think about before taking a stance on textbooks.

Three Ways the Oil Spill Affects Education

When the terms “oil spill” and “education” are mentioned in the same sentence, the first and most obvious connection most people make is likely to be to teaching children about the oil spill. How does one convey to them the importance and impact of the situation in an age appropriate way. I have made an attempt to help educators do this with a video “Thoughts on the Oil Spill—There Is Only One Water,” which uses clips of the oil spill combined with a song from my opera Kiravanu that talks in very simple terms about the water cycle, the problem that pollution in one spot affects everyone, and the importance of stewardship.

The copyrighted words are sung by children in Kindergarten through fourth grade who are playing the roles of the Elements—Fire, Earth, Water, Air, and Wood—asking humanity to steward resources thoughtfully:

There is only one water
Only one Earth and one air.
If people pollute, it spreads to others,
Though that really isn’t fair.

Only so much water.
Only so many trees.
If folks use them up, then the whole world has less,
So please pay attention, please!

We must be true to our natures:
We cannot act as we choose,
So while we burn or flow, erupt or blow
Please go give people the news:

There is only one water.

© 2008 James Humberstone and Mary Elizabeth For question, comments, republication, or performance permissions, please contact

There are several other important connections between the oil spill and education. One that has come to the forefront through a speech last week by the Alabama State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton is that when a state has an Education Trust Fund (ETF) funded by a variety of taxes, a catastrophe that impacts those taxes—whether through loss of general sales, loss of tourism, etc.—will impact education funding of public education in that state.

An interview in the Salt Lake Tribune with a Utah resident—formerly an Alaskan fisherman, whose career in that line of work was ended by the Exxon Valdez tanker incident in the 1980s—brings out another way in which the future of education is connected to the oil spill. This article points out that with the cap that Congress put on compensation in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the way that the award from the Exxon Valdez spill dragged through the courts, parents’ ability to finance their children’s college educations was impacted.

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.”

Charter Schools in the News

When you see a news article such as “Despite Push, Success at Charter Schools Is Mixed” in the New York Times, it may get you thinking about charter schools. But the way this article is written, you aren’t given the background on what a charter school is until a good part of the way through the article. This is one of the times when you may find Educationbug.org useful.

We have articles on basic types of schools, of which charter schools are one. You can find an article that explains the background of charter schools titled “Public Schools vs. Charter Schools.” The article helps clarify that, although many people may think charter schools are private schools, they are actually a type of public school.

On Educationbug.org, you can also find explanatory articles about other types of school, including public schools, private schools, Christian schools, and homeschools. In any case when you see a news story about an education issue involving a specific type of school and want to get a little background, check out the Education Bug school articles.

Student Support

As a young adult, there are many things to consider while pursuing an education. You must figure out how to fit the expensive bill of attending an educational institution. Plus, you will need to plan for creating a class schedule and finding the right resources that you need to succeed. Many young students fail to be prepared for important things like health care. Fortunately, student support is offered for all of these items and more. There are many people and resources that are available to help you reach your educational goals. The most important thing is to know what services are offered and how to find them.

Finance is a word that sparks anxiety in many college students. However, the cost of tuition and books should not defer anyone from pursuing an education. School is an investment in your future. For this reason there are multiple organizations that can help you get by. Every educational institution should have a financial aid department. Financial assistance my be available through the school in the form of a scholarship. Also, the federal government, state agencies, and private organizations or individuals may be able to provide for you. Most financial aid departments will have you begin your search for aid with a FAFSA application. This is a lengthy government form that requires your financial information, as well as that of your parents. The application is usually done online and you will want to be prepared with your most current income tax return, as it will ask for some detailed information. However, if you have questions about completing the application, the office of financial assistance is there to help.

When the time comes to select the appropriate classes, you should probably seek the advise of your schools academic adviser. They are a great resource and can help you stay in line for a timely graduation. You will find out exactly what courses are required for your field of study and be instructed on the number of classes you should be able to handle each semester. However, schedule an appointment in advance. Academic advisers become very busy at the start of a new semester.

If you struggle academically because of a learning disability or any other reason, you will want to seek the appropriate organization for assistance. Each state requires student support services for those who are at a disadvantage when it comes to learning. You may be eligible for free tutoring, class room accommodations, or some extra help learning study and organizational skills. Ask your school counselor if you think you may be a candidate for these resources.

Due to the fact that attending an educational institute can be very stressful, young students often find themselves feeling under the weather. Some of them may be far from home or lack appropriate health care coverage. Many schools offer their own health care center. You should contact the Student Insurance office on your campus and look into a policy that ensures you will receive the proper care in the event of an illness or accident. It is required of some schools that you have medical coverage prior to attending.

Get familiar with your campus and know where to go to find help when you need it. Although attending a new educational institution can be an exciting and intimidating experience, help is available if you look around. Student support is offered in a variety of forms and is there for almost any problem you may encounter.

Classroom Size

Classroom size is consistently a number one concern for parents and teachers. No matter how many policies are put into place to reduce class sizes teachers continue to be overwhelmed by classroom size. 36 states currently have policies in place that limits the number of students in any general education classroom. In the school year of 1999 and 2000 there was $3.5 billion spent on class size reductions. 2.3 billion of this was spent by states and the remaining 1.2 billion was federal funding. Since 1999 under the Class Size Reduction Program approximately 29,000 teachers have been hired and partly due to this classroom sizes for grades 1, 2, and 3 have decreased. The classroom sizes have gone from 23 to 18.

The National Education Association states that the optimum classroom size is 15 . Most schools struggle to keep class sizes below 25 to 30 students per one teacher. The problem with this is that teachers can’t possibly be expected to hone in on every single student’s learning style when there are 30 kids in the class. It is hard enough to do this with a handful of students.
Teachers today have more demands on their time than ever. With the onset of posting grades and progress every single week online (this is a new feature in many schools) to keep parents posted and the paper work that any district requires of teachers they have very little time left to really research learning styles and put together programs that may help students with the hurdles that they encounter in their education from time to time. More schools are getting away from text books and expecting teachers to develop their own curriculum. There just simply is not enough time!
With less students in a classroom the teacher can also better deal with behavioral problems that may arise and the overall school safety is better.

Arts in Education

Increasing amounts of recent research show the importance of art in improving students achievements and getting them ready for a job in a world market that demands new and exciting solutions to ever more challenging issues. It is also shown to increase a students engagement in learning and both their social and civic development.

Studies have shown that the arts can have the following benefits on a learner.
  • Improved performance of students that may be struggling.
  • Continuously give already successful students new challenges.
  • Provide job skills and sense of satisfaction to students who are incarcerated leading to a lower rate of second time offenders.
  • Skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic are improved which helps with problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Students become more involved in learning and their schools.
  • Attendance has also been shown to improve.
  • Creates stronger relationships between students and teachers.
  • Allow the child grow creatively and foster curiosity.

Many states support Arts in Education programs and have made them requirements for graduation from high school and parts of standards and assessment tests. One of the pitfalls that art programs run into though is that they are often the first to feel the pain of budget constraints.

There is a growing movement though to keep these programs alive. One that rests on the premise that the purpose of education has a greater responsibility than to just teach basic subject matter. That the arts help students to become life time learners, creates more of a feeling of community, to appreciate other cultures and prepares a student for an ever evolving world.

Extended day programs

In this country today over 28 million parents work outside the home. It is estimated that some five to seven million children come home to an empty home after school, with the numbers topping out at fifteen million. Many areas have begun to address this by starting after school programs. These programs are designed to keep kids safe and out of trouble but also to keep them involved in activities that help them to learn.

Most people think that it is beneficial to a child to have a place to go after school that helps them develop learning skills and social behaviors in a safe environment. There are many different types of after school programs such as child care centers, tutoring centers, dance programs, sports clubs, drop in centers that are offered in conjunction with community facilities like libraries and recreational centers. There is no single cause for the success of these program, both the researchers and facilitators of the programs agree that in order for a program to be effective it must offer both academic enrichment and recreational activities.

Successful programs
  • Set milestones for the children to reach
  • Have staff that are qualified
  • Have community partnerships
  • Family involvement
  • Learning environments
  • Evaluation of program and success of activities

Children of low income families and between the ages of 5 and 9 have been shown to show the most benefit from these programs. Improved grades, better behavior and work habits are just a few of the things that have been noted.

Teens who are involved in programs like these are less likely to be involved in dangerous behavior and sustain better grades. But since these programs are not mandatory it may be that the more motivated students choose to attend the programs. Associating with these programs has also been linked to improved attendance in students.

State and Federal budgets for education, public safety, crime prevention and child care provide some of the funding for after school programs. Private companies are an additional source of support for after school programs. The majority of the support for these programs comes from the parents in the communities themselves.

Corrections Education

The United States currently has the largest prison population in the world. It is estimated that over 2.5 million people are incarcerated in the country today, compared to 1.5 million in 1995. When compared to America as a whole the education levels are considerably lower than the rest of the population. Only eighteen percent of Americans have not completed high school but in state and local systems that number is drastically different with over 40 percent of State and Local inmates not having graduated high school.

To help change these numbers over 90 percent of prisons and 60 percent of local jails have an educational program. Secondary and basic education programs being the most prevalent. Rates have decreased in the last two decades but the numbers themselves have increased with over 50 percent of inmates reporting participation. It was estimated that over 425,000 inmates were educated in prison in 1991 with that number increasing to over 600,000 by 1997.

Many states have started incentive programs to encourage prisoners to participate. Illinois grants 60 days off of a sentence for a prisoner who earns his high school diploma or receives their GED, West Virginia has since enacted similar legislature. While Arizona has removed the earned release credits for prisoners who fail to complete their diplomas while in custody.

There is still some argument as to the benefits of these programs. People in favor of them argue that it reduces the chances of repeat offenders and helps the inmate while trying to get back into the workforce. The largest complaint that people opposed to prisoner education have is that it is a waste of already strained resources.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Federal funds are provided for the education of neglected and delinquent children under title I, part D. The goal of this is to provide students with the same education and resources and allow them to reach the academic standards expected of other children. Part D states that schools in the juvenile justice system must be assessed using many different means to measure students progress. States are required to use these numbers to evaluate the schools effectiveness and make improvements on their educational systems.