Required Reading

by Robert Pondiscio
February 1st, 2009

A weekly roundup of the week’s most important news, information and blog posts about curriculum, teaching, education policy and other items of interest to the Core Knowledge community.

Core Knowledge

Handwriting Is Still Alive!
Guest blogger Kitty Burns Florey, author of the new book Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, observes that hardly a day goes by when the average person doesn’t have to write something on paper. “Penmanship isn’t dead,” Florey argues. ”It’s not feeling great, it’s struggling to breathe, it’s limping along. But we can keep it alive. And we should.”

Who’s To Blame for Bad Schools? Look in the Mirror
The Chancellor of Nevada’s state university system delivers a blistering address in which he defends teachers and administrators and blames the public and parents for the state’s poor education system.  “The state of K-16 education in Nevada is where the public has allowed it to sink,” said James Rogers.

No More Parent Teacher Conferences?
A Maryland school district is considering scaling back or eliminating parent teacher conferences, believing they ”eat up instructional time and create a scheduling nightmare for families.”  Meanwhile a proposed law in Colorado would give workers up to 40 hours of unpaid leave each school year to attend parent-teacher conferences and other school activities.

Best of the Blogs

Where in the World Have Geography Classes Gone? at Florida Today
Where is Sudan? What is the capital of Afghanistan? How many people live in China? Could today’s high school students tell you? Probably not.  Geography classes are disappearing from many high school course lists, and students say it shows. That has many concerned, especially as students prepare for college and the work force in an increasingly global society.

Snow Days, Recess and ‘Flinty Chicago Toughness’ at Early Ed Watch
Given what we know so far about the importance of recess, hurdles to letting kids go out and play should be overcome on days that are not dangerously cold.  “Most should agree, especially given the obesity epidemic, that children need time and space for climbing, leaping and running around,” writes Lisa Guernsey. “We should be doing everything we can to make that happen.”

Kids Say the Darndest Things at NYC Educator
Teacher-blogger NYC Educator says he ought to be happy with his literature class.  “They read the books, they pass the tests, and I must be doing a fantastic job,” he writes. ”But he’s not reaching them the way he wants to. “I’ve got another few months to fool them into thinking reading is worthwhile,” he writes.  “It’s getting tougher to compete with the new toys, though, which seem to get better each year.”

Texas’ Big Education Gamble at Dallas Morning News Opinion Blog
Will Texas legislators end up watering down the way the state measures and rank schools? “We really risk our students’ future in a very complex economy if we go wobbly here,” writes William McKenzie.

Teaching and Curriculum

Getting Accountability Right
Education Week
“The federal No Child Left Behind Act has succeeded in highlighting the poor math and reading skills of disadvantaged children,” writes Richard Rothstein. ”But on balance, the law has done more harm than good because it has terribly distorted the school curriculum. Modest modifications cannot correct this distortion. Designing a better accountability policy will take time.”

L.A. Teachers’ Union Calls For Boycott of Testing
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles teachers union and the city’s school district are battling over “periodic assessments.” The goal is to give teachers insight into what students need to learn while there remains time in the current school year to adjust instruction. The union Tuesday directed teachers to refuse to give them to students on the grounds that the tests are costly and counterproductive.

States get D-plus On Teacher Reviews
Associated Press
States are not doing what it takes to keep good teachers and remove bad ones, a national study finds.Only Iowa and New Mexico require any evidence that public school teachers are effective before granting them tenure, according to the review released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Recess Makes for Better Students
U.S. News and World Report
A study in the February issue of Pediatrics documents the value of recess: Children who have it during the day behave better in class. Although it’s unclear how much recess children in the United States are getting, some studies have documented a dramatic decrease, and this study reported that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has resulted in less recess for many children.

Education Policy

An Education Stimulus?
Washington Post
Education is the big winner in the proposed economic stimulus plan.  But it remains to be seen whether America’s schoolchildren really will be helped by the huge investment of public funds.  After all, it seems that much of the billions of dollars of new federal spending is aimed at continuing programs and policies that largely have failed to improve student achievement.

2009 Annual Letter from Bill Gates: U.S. Education
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
“Based on what the foundation has learned so far, we have refined our strategy,” writes Bill Gates. ”We will continue to invest in replicating the school models that worked the best.”  Almost all of these schools are charter schools, notes Gates, who adds that improving teacher quality will be another major initiative of the Foundation.  “Our new strategy focuses on learning why some teachers are so much more effective than others and how best practices can be spread throughout the education system so that the average quality goes up.”

Will The Recession Kill School Reform?
This time of economic hardship may represent the beginning of the end of the modern school reform movement, write Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation. “That’s because of what turns out, in retrospect, to be a tragic flaw in the strategy of many reformers in recent decades: to offer the education establishment a lot more money in return for a little reform.”

Homeschooling and Parenting

Showing Up For the Kids
Denver Post
A proposed law in Colorado would allow workers to take up to 40 hours of unpaid leave each school year to attend parent-teacher conferences or other school activities.  Why the need for a law? “Because of the parents whose kids are failing, most can’t rely on flexibility at work,” writes columnist Susan Greene.

Web-Savvy Activists Push For Educational Change
Washington Post
For a new generation of well-wired activists, it’s not enough to speak at Parent-Teacher Association or late-night school board meetings. They are going head-to-head with superintendents through e-mail blitzes, social networking Web sites, online petitions, partnerships with business and student groups, and research that mines a mountain of electronic data on school performance. These parent insurgents are gaining influence — and getting things changed.

Virginia Parents Fight for Easier Grading Standards
Residents of Virginia’s Fairfax County, the high-powered Washington suburb, have been battling the school district’s tough grading practices. Chief among their complaints is that a score of 93% gets recorded as a lowly B+.  Parents formed an official protest group and goaded the school board into voting on whether to ease the standards, a move critics consider a defeat in the war on grade inflation.

Et Alia

How Caroline Kennedy Can Best Serve the People of New York
New York Daily News
She won’t have the chance to be New York’s senator, but Diane Ravitch has another job in mind for Caroline Kennedy. “She can save New York City’s Catholic schools, which are in the throes of a fiscal meltdown.” The research on Catholic education is overwhelmingly positive and few people are better suited to ride to the rescue than Kennedy, who helped raise almost $240 million for NYC’s public schools.  “If the same amount had been raised for the city’s Catholic schools,” Ravitch notes, “not a single one of them would have to close.”