Required Reading

by Robert Pondiscio
February 8th, 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

21st Century Skills and the Tree Octopus Problem
Sometimes a little knowledge can solve a problem that can’t be helped by all of the innovation, creativity and information literacy lessons under the sun. The tree octopus, a clever Internet hoax, regularly fools “information literacy” students who think it’s real.  With a little background knowledge, however, you get the joke. 

21st Century Snake Oil
“It’s hard to get people to think critically about people who push a focus on critical thinking,” observes Jay Greene. ”To be for critical thinking is like being for goodness and light.  The tricky part is in how you get there.”

Best of the Blogs

Alfie Kohn Is Bad For You and Dangerous For Your Children at Britannica Blog
Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham doesn’t really  believe reading what Kohn has to say about homework, testing and praising children is bad for you.  “But if Kohn were writing about his own work, that would probably be his takeaway message,” says Willingham. ”Kohn has made a virtual industry out of finding interesting and provocative insights in the psychological literature and following them off the edge of a cliff.”

Unions Are Not the Problem at Bridging Differences
“If getting rid of the unions was the solution to the problem of low performance, then why,” ask education historian Diane Ravitchm ”do the southern states—where unions are weak or non-existent—continue to perform worse than states with strong unions? And how can we explain the strong union presence in Massachusetts, which is the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP?”

The Club, the Stiletto, and Evolution in Texas at Curriculum Matters
Texas state senator Rodney Ellis, having witnessed the latest hubbub over the teaching of evolution on his state’s board of education, has filed a bill to strip the board of the bulk of its authority over textbooks and curriculum.

Teaching and Curriculum

Teachers’ Staff Training Deemed Fragmented
Education Week
A new report finds American teachers are not given as many opportunities for on-the-job training as their international peers, and their effectiveness appears to suffer as a result.  The time U.S. teachers actually spend in professional training largely continues to take place in isolation, rather than in school-based settings that draw on teachers’ collective knowledge and skills.

Curriculum and Quality in Pre-k Programs
Early Ed Watch
Most policymakers who don’t primarily work with young children in their day to day lives don’t intuitively have a sense of what types of content and skills are appropriate for young children to learn. This confusion about and discomfort with the notion of quality pre-k curriculum is apparent when we look at how states and advocacy groups define quality pre-k programs.

Is Black History Month Still Needed?
Chicago Tribune
Founded by historian Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week, Black History Month was a way to highlight to non-blacks the myriad contributions that blacks have made to this country.  “Over the years, so much has changed,” notes the paper’s Exploring Race blog, “not the least of which was the recent inauguration of a man of color as the 44th President of the United States.”

Rhee seeks to stop off-site suspensions
Washington Times
Washington D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wants to reduce the number of off-site suspensions and safely keep unruly students at school.  Officials say the current policy is too focused on removing students from the classroom and not focused enough on guidance.

Education Policy

A Vital Boost for Education
New York Times
The stimulus measure being debated in Congress would more than double the Education Department’s discretionary budget and give the federal government unprecedented leverage over a school-reform effort that has been controlled primarily by the states. Congress has to make sure, however, that the spending does not actually undermine reform.

To Duncan, Incentives a Priority
Education Week
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is eager to use a proposed $15 billion federal incentive-grant fund in part to reward states, districts, and even nonprofit organizations that have set high standards for the students they serve.  “With this fund, we really have a chance to drive dramatic changes, to take to scale what works, invest in what works,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview last week.

In stimulus bill, US funds for schools double 
Christian Science Monitor
The economic stimulus bills before Congress contain a $140 billion boost for education. The legislation is part short-term stimulus, intended to create jobs via school renovation projects and to prevent massive teacher layoffs in the face of state and local budget deficits. But it is also part social policy, channeling federal dollars to programs designed to improve the academic achievement of low-income and other struggling pupils.

School vouchers for all under GOP bill
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia would be the first state to offer vouchers to all public school students under a Republican plan introduced in the state Senate on Monday. The bill would allot parents about $5,000 in taxpayer money to use toward private school tuition.  It would also allow parents to switch their children from one public school to another.

Palo Alto Superintendent: Achievement Gap Can’t Be Eliminated
San Jose Mercury News
When it comes to closing the achievement gap, Palo Alto, California schools Superintendent Kevin Skelly says educators are deluding themselves.  Totally eliminating the gap would be “the triumph of hope over experience,” said Skelly.  When educators set that lofty goal, “we’re not being honest, and it’s to our detriment.”

Homeschooling and Parenting

Click and Jane
New York Times Magazine
In a hundred ways, we pretend that screen experiences are books — PowerBooks, notebooks, e-books — but even a child knows the difference. Reading books is an operation with paper. “I need to admit this to myself, too, writes mother Virginia Heffernan. ”I try to believe that reading online is reading-plus, with the text searchable, hyperlinked and accompanied by video, audio, photography and graphics. But maybe it’s just not reading at all.”

Dallas Parents With Truant Kids Taught a Lesson
Dallas Morning News
Dallas parents are being hauled into court in record numbers to account for their children’s truancy.  In 2008, 750 cases filed by the Dallas Independent School District involved parents being fined for “contributing to truancy”– up from 79 in 2005. 

Et Alia

In Cutting Sports Funding, Everyone Loses
Washington Post
Times are tough, particularly in our schools. We don’t have the money, beleaguered education officials say, for every student who wants to play games after class. ”Many of us remember some competitive activity, usually in high school,” writes Jay Mathews, “that became a vital force in our adolescence. It gave us a self-awareness and self-confidence that changed us forever.”