A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education

by Robert Pondiscio
June 10th, 2008

The Edusphere goes for a We Are The World moment, with full page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post today in support of an initiative called A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. Led by Helen F. Ladd of Duke University, NYU’s Pedro Noguera, and Tom Payzant of Harvard, and with signatories from Diane Ravitch to Richard Rothstein, the ads argue that schools can’t go it alone in closing the achievement gap, and call for:

  1. Continued school improvement efforts.
  2. Developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school and kindergarten care and education.
  3. Routine pediatric, dental, hearing and vision care for all infants, toddlers and schoolchildren.
  4. Improving the quality of students’ out-of-school time.

Blogosphere reaction breaks along expected lines. Eduwonk Andy Rotherham takes issue with “the conspicuous soft-pedaling of a focus on results and the explicit rejection that perhaps schools are even a substantial part of the educational problem. At Fordham, Mike Petrilli says “amen” to the homilies but likewise complains “it’s REALLY squishy on school accountability.” Fellow Fordhamite Liam Julian, having none of it, wonders why there’s no call to provide “housing for every family and daisies for all schoolchildren.” Eduwonkette, on the other hand offers “big props” and provides a link for others to sign the statement. Joanne Jacobs plays it down the middle, but wants to see a “privately funded campaign that promotes good parenting: how to help your child develop language and reading skills and how to teach good behavior, for example.”

I’m going to avoid the Blogging 101 temptation to cop an attitude, quip and move on. This is an interesting discussion — it’s the discussion — and I’ll do my small part to encourage a low-temperature, thoughtful discussion, not knee-jerk reactions. The plain truth is, I could argue much of this round or flat, especially the accountability piece, the umbrella which covers everything else.

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Teachers vs. Policymakers

by Robert Pondiscio
June 10th, 2008

An eloquent and important post on Bridging Differences this morning from Diane Ravitch:

No matter how frequently or how beautifully you describe the joys of childhood, those who are making education policy will not be deterred or persuaded. Their agenda is competitiveness. They are in the throes of data-driven decision-making, which has become a sort of mantra that takes the place of actual thinking. How can you measure the joys of childhood? How can you measure wonder and awe? Go where the numbers tell you to go, they say; but what if the numbers are measuring trivial things? Do what the numbers tell you to do, they say; but people—not numbers—devise policy alternatives.

A humane approach to educating children, says Ravitch, “has a huge constituency among teachers, but none among policymakers. What I am suggesting is that we should talk not about a past that has been lost, perhaps irretrievably, but how to change and mitigate the policies that are now destroying joy, wonder, and any hope of a better education.”

Ed Research Drive-Thru Window

by Robert Pondiscio
June 10th, 2008

A potentially useful service is being offered up by the What Works Clearinghouse — “quick reviews” to help educators grasp the soundness of research studies that have made news. 

“There are all kinds of studies coming out daily that are cutting-edge,” Mark Dynarski, tells Education Week.  “The idea is whether the clearinghouse can help the public in determining whether studies are well crafted, if they use sound methods and make good inferences.”

The Clearinghouse’s quick reviews offer three possible ratings: “consistent with WWC evidence standards,” “consistent with WWC evidence standards with reservations, or “not consistent with WWC evidence standards” —the lowest of three possible ratings.

For example, a recent study in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management looked at the affects the behavior and academic performance of sixth graders who are placed in middle school instead of elementary school and conclude they are about twice as likely to have a disciplinary problems as sixth graders in elementary schools.   The WWC’s quick review noted reservations about the results “because they may be affected by differences between the research groups that were not controlled for in the analysis.”

Wonder what they’d make of the Canadian fitness study…

Fit for Higher Scores

by Robert Pondiscio
June 10th, 2008

A Canadian study suggests schools that push fitness and nutrition may also boost standardized reading and math scores.

A landmark study of 33 Ontario schools that are part of a health drive called Living Schools — where students exercise each day, play extra sports and are discouraged from eating junk food — saw overall scores climb by 18 per cent over two years in reading, writing and math, compared to about 4 per cent for similar schools not in the provincially funded program, reports the Toronto Star.

The link between fitness, nutrition and student achievement “is a wake-up call for Canadians shamed last week by a study showing children across the country spend four to six hours a day in front of a screen – landing the nation an F in physical activity,” the paper reports.

Permission Slips Not Required

by Robert Pondiscio
June 10th, 2008

Rising fuel prices, and increasing access to broadband Internet hookups in schools is creating a boom in virtual field trips, notes the Christian Science Monitor.

Low-End Grade Inflation

by Robert Pondiscio
June 10th, 2008

USA TodayNot content with making 50 the new zero, one North Carolina school district is considering imposing a lowest possible grade for tests or assignments of 61.

Proponents of eliminating zeroes as grades for work not submitted point out that A, B, C, and D letter grades are typically signify increments of ten — an A is 100 to 91; B is 90 to 81, etc. — but there is a 60-point spread between D and F, which makes it mathematically impossible for some failing students to ever catch up.

“There is little or no evidence that repeated failure makes people more responsible,” Sherri Martin the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district’s director of high school programming said at a Board of Education meeting last week. “The threat of a low grade is more likely to motivate high-achieving students than low-achieving students.”

Many parents and teachers disagree. “The system for years had talked about raising expectations for all children in the district, and I don’t feel that demonstrates raised expectations for everybody,” said Beth Ann Ghio, whose son is an East Chapel Hill High junior. “I don’t think that’s fair for children who actually submit the work — even if it’s not passing quality — that they receive the same grade as a student who doesn’t submit anything.”