Father, er Obama, Knows Best

by Robert Pondiscio
March 3rd, 2008

Democratic front-runner Barack Obama got all Bill Cosby on a predominantly African-American audience in Texas last week, and the crowd ate it up. Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for pointing to this Los Angeles Times article that I’d overlooked.

Spending alone will not cure what ails education, scolded Obama. “It doesn’t matter how much money we put in if parents don’t parent,” he said. “It’s not good enough for you to say to your child, ‘Do good in school,’ and then when that child comes home, you’ve got the TV set on,” Obama lectured. “You’ve got the radio on. You don’t check their homework. There’s not a book in the house. You’ve got the video game playing.”

“So turn off the TV set. Put the video game away. Buy a little desk. Or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don’t know how to do it, give ‘em help. If you don’t know how to do it, call the teacher.”

“By now,” reports the Times, “the crowd of nearly 2,000 was lifted from the red velveteen seats of the theater, hands raised to the gilded ceiling. ‘Make ‘em go to bed at a reasonable time! Keep ‘em off the streets! Give ‘em some breakfast! Come on! Can I get an amen here?’”

“Whooooooooooooooooo, went the crowd. “You know I’m right,” Obama laughed. “And, since I’m on a roll, if your child misbehaves in school, don’t cuss out the teacher! You know I’m right about that! Don’t cuss out the teacher! Do something with your child!”

Tellingly, the first of many comments on Joanne’s blog is from a teacher who posts, “Up to now I’ve been sitting on the fence, but Barack Obama may have just gotten my vote!”

Bet there are more than a handful of teachers thinking the same thing today.

Thinking Outside the Bubble

by Robert Pondiscio
March 3rd, 2008

Core Knowledge board member Diane Ravitch is advocating testing that goes well beyond simply bubbling in answers to multiple choice reading and math tests. Our pre-eminent education historian is worried about history education. “I also worry about the future of literature, the arts, and all the other subjects that are left out by today’s policymakers,” says Ravitch. “Is the answer to test them all? I would say not. With so many tests, there would be no time for instruction or reading or projects or discussion or activities.”

History News NetworkWriting for the History News Network, Ravitch notes the time available for history and other subjects “is being squeezed by legislative efforts to boost reading and math skills in grades 3-8, as well as the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects in middle schools and high schools.” Hence Ravitch’s co-chairing Common Core, which debuted last week “to advocate on behalf of the subjects that are neglected by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation and by pending STEM legislation.”

“The board of CC is not opposed to testing. We view it as a necessary but not sufficient part of education,” Ravitch writes. “For myself, I would prefer to see development and implementation of more thoughtful kinds of testing than those that are now in general use; in particular, I would hope for new tests that call on students to describe, analyze, explain, and demonstrate what they know and can do, not just asking them to pick a bubble.”

“American education is in serious trouble today,” Ravitch concludes. “The people in the drivers’ seats mistakenly think they are running a business, with a bottom line. They have forgotten—or maybe they don’t know—that our schools are responsible for educating future citizens who will need and hopefully use far more than basic skills.”

It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finnish

by Robert Pondiscio
March 3rd, 2008

Lots of homework? No. Ambitious and pushy parents? Nope. Standardized testing? Universal Pre-K? Gifted and talented classes?? No, no, no. So what is it that makes students in Finland outperform just about everyone in the world academically? According to the Wall Street Journal, “Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.”

The Journal reports that educators from more than 50 countries have come to Finland in recent years to find out how the Finns do it. “What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students….One explanation for the Finns’ success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.”

“In November, a U.S. delegation visited, hoping to learn how Scandinavian educators used technology. Officials saw Finnish teachers with chalkboards instead of whiteboards, and lessons shown on overhead projectors instead of PowerPoint. Keith Krueger was less impressed by the technology than by the good teaching he saw. ‘You kind of wonder how could our country get to that?’ says Mr. Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school technology officers that organized the trip.