You Can Google the Answer

by Robert Pondiscio
January 30th, 2010

A major U.S. corporate titan said Friday that he’s concerned kids growing up in the mobile instant information age will develop a problem with “deep reading” or reading for greater comprehension and understanding.   “As the world looks to these instantaneous devices you spend less time reading all forms of literature, books, magazines and so forth,” he told the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Guess who said it?  Hint:  It’s not Steve Jobs.

Who Censored the Washington Post’s Rhee Item?

by Robert Pondiscio
January 28th, 2010

Tensions flaring over Turquemakeastand?

Late night weirdness at the Washington Post, a paper that boasts arguably the best education coverage of any daily.  A hard-hitting blog post by reporter Bill Turque, which took on both DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and his own newspaper’s editorial page, disappeared from the paper’s website for several hours, only to return with some of the more pointed turns of phrase removed.

Turque, who has clashed with Rhee over his tough reporting, has been covering the fallout from the chancellor’s latest controversial statements—a quote in Fast Company defending her dismissal of over 200 teachers last year.  “I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school.  Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?”  she told the magazine.  Critics, including the head of the city council, erupted and demanded to know why Rhee didn’t say this at the time and whether law enforcement had been alerted. 

Turque pressed Rhee to explain her controversial statement—how many of the 266 fired teachers had abused their positions? — and got nowhere.  But on Tuesday, he read Rhee’s answer–in an editorial in his own paper.   Six teachers were suspended for corporal punishment, two had been AWOL and only one faced allegations having sex with a student.  The editorial cited “information released by the chancellor’s office on Monday.” 

Turque took to his D.C. Schools Insider blog and explained that the Post’s news desk operates independently of the editorial page, with education editorials written by Jo-Ann Armao.  That’s when it got really interesting.  Turque wrote:

The chancellor is clearly more comfortable speaking with Jo-Ann, which is wholly unsurprising. I’m a beat reporter charged with covering, as fully and fairly as I can, an often turbulent story about the chancellor’s attempts to fix the District’s public schools. The job involves chronicling messy and contentious debates based in both politics and policy, and sometimes publishing information she would rather not see in the public domain. Jo-Ann, on the other hand, sits on an editorial board whose support for the chancellor has been steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring.

Sometime around 8pm last time, Turque’s piece vanished from the Post’s website.  When it returned a few hours later, the phrase describing the Post’s editorials about Rhee as “protective and, at times, adoring” was gone.   Other sections of the piece were similarly watered down.

Here’s Turque’s original post (a cached version of which is still available):

Where this gets complicated is that board’s stance, and the chancellor’s obvious rapport with Jo-Ann, also means that DCPS has a guaranteed soft landing spot for uncomfortable or inconvenient disclosures–kind of a print version of the Larry King Show.

And the current, revised version:

Where this gets complicated is that board’s stance, and the chancellor’s rapport with Jo-Ann, means that DCPS may prefer to talk to her than me.

 Having spent the better part of my career in journalism, I was thrilled to read Turque’s original blog post, and delighted the paper showed enough respect for its readers to lift the curtain on its processes. By explaining the behind-the-scenes machinations and showing how powerful people maneuver to affect coverage and spin perceptions, they were treating readers like grownups, holding both Rhee and the paper itself accountable.   But what happened?  Why change the story?  Sounds like a great piece for Howie Kurtz, the Post’s media critic. 

I hope they let him write it.

Legislator Proposes Banning Calculators From Classrooms

by Robert Pondiscio
January 27th, 2010

A West Virginia state legislator, apparently frustrated by the inability of retail clerks to make correct change, has proposed a radical solution:  ban calculators in the state’s schools from kindergarten to eighth grade. 

This is a bit like noticing that people can’t swim and banning life jackets.  That said, I’m deeply sympathetic to the notion that de-emphasizing automatic grasp of math facts and ease with basic calculations does more harm than good.   “It’s like giving them a crutch. I don’t like using that term, but that’s essentially what it is,” state delegate Ray Canterbury tells the Charleston Daily Mail. “They really don’t learn math the way they once did.  A lot of things just need to be learned by practice and rote memorization,” he added. 

At Teacher in a Strange Land, now in its new home at Teacher Magazine, Nancy Flanagan rolls her eyes.  “I think we should require kids to memorize their times tables, too. Who doesn’t? I also think that there’s no point in not using cheap, ubiquitous technologies to solve diverse mathematical problems encountered in daily life.”

“I think in this age of technology that it’s wrong not to teach children how to use calculators in an appropriate way,” says House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, echoing Flanagan.  ”They should not be used to avoid learning how to do basic calculations, but they certainly should be used as tools for learning.”






“It seems like everywhere I go, people, particularly young people, can’t even make change,” he said.

So Canterbury, a University of Chicago graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, decided to do something about that and drafted House Bill 3235.

Popular Culture and Kids: “Know Your Enemy”

by Robert Pondiscio
January 27th, 2010

Few parents fully appreciate the corrosive effect that popular culture has on their children’s lives, writes Psychology Today blogger Jim Taylor, who observes that the music, movies, television and advertising children consume is no longer a reflection of contemporary values.  “Many heroes offered by popular culture are not heroic, many of its icons represent unhealthy values, and many of its rituals, myths, and beliefs are in its own best interests, not those of your children,” he writes.  Popular culture also dominates virtually every part of your children’s lives, he observes.

Popular culture is like a network of saboteurs that infiltrate your family’s lives with stealth and deception, hiding behind entertaining characters, bright images, and fun music. You probably don’t notice half of the unhealthy messages being conveyed to your children. Popular culture is also an invading army that overwhelms your children with these destructive messages. It attempts to control every aspect of your children’s lives: their values, attitudes, and beliefs about themselves and the world that they live in; their thoughts, emotions, and behavior; their needs, wants, goals, hopes, and dreams; their interests and avocations; their choices and their decisions. With this control, popular culture can tell children what to eat and drink, what to wear, what to listen to and watch, and children have little ability to resist.

Taylor acknowledges that not everything kids consume through their ears and eyeballs is garbage.  There is educational television for children and video games that encourage creativity and problem solving.  But even ”good” popular culture isn’t all that good for children, he points out, since it encourages them to be sedentary, have indirect social contact, and experience life vicariously instead of directly. 

His advice to parents applies equally well to teachers:  know your children’s enemy.  “Study popular culture. Watch what your children watch on television, play their video games, listen to their music, visit the Web sites they surf, read the magazines they read. Then, understand the value messages they are getting from popular culture,” he writes.

Math Anxiety: Catch It!

by Robert Pondiscio
January 26th, 2010

Teachers who lack confidence in their own mathematical abilities seem to pass that anxiety on to their female students, according to a provocative new study

“The more anxious a teacher was, the more likely a girl was to believe boys are good at math and girls are good at reading, and the more likely she was to perform worse at math relative to boys and to girls who don’t endorse the stereotype,” says Sian Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, who led the study.   

Seventeen first and second-grade teachers’ anxiety about math was assessed by the researchers at the beginning of the school year. “At the beginning of the year, there was no relationship between teacher anxiety and the students’ math abilities. In fact, there was no difference in math abilities between boys and girls,” BusinessWeek notes.  “But toward the end of the school year, the higher a teacher’s math anxiety, the lower the girls’ math achievement. Teacher anxieties did not affect boys similarly.”

The Los Angeles Times says Beilock and her colleagues ”aren’t sure exactly how the angst was transmitted from teachers to students.”

Perhaps math-anxious teachers call on girls to solve math problems less frequently; praise boys more effusively; or simply imply that it’s not important for girls to be good at math. The teachers could also telegraph their own discomfort with math by hesitating when answering questions or speaking in a different tone of voice, and some girls internalize that attitude, Beilock said.

“This is a concern, because if these girls keep getting math-anxious female teachers in later grades, it may create a snowball effect on their math achievement,” says University of Chicago psychologist and study coauthor Susan Levine.  The study was published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cyberbullying Video

by Robert Pondiscio
January 25th, 2010

Potent and cleverly done anti-cyberbullying video on You Tube.  Watch carefully.

Now How Much Would You Pay…?

by Robert Pondiscio
January 25th, 2010

Is Race to the Top a ripoff?  Over at Flypaper, Mike Petrilli does the math and calculates the cost of the program is $13 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. But throw in the additional $106 billion in ed stimulus already spent (and squandered, he argues) and it adds up to $1500 for a family of four.  One can almost hear Ron Popeil, pitching RttT alongside Ginsu knives and the Veg-o-Matic:

“You get charter caps lifted, you get teacher evaluations tied to test scores, but wait, there’s more!  We’ll throw in national standards absolutely free!  Now how much would you pay?” 

Well, how much would you pay?  Not much, says Petrilli:

Is it worth 1500 bucks to me to see a handful of states lift their charter caps, a couple more promise to take teacher evaluations seriously, and lots of states to sign a letter saying they will do national standards—unless they later decide not to? I’m an “education reformer,” for Pete’s sake, and I gotta say: I don’t think so.

Flypaper has a poll on their site that allows you to vote on how much all this reform is worth to you, at increments from zero to $10,000.  In the early balloting, “zero” is winning.

Maybe if they throw in the Pocket Fisherman?

Preschoolers of the World Unite!

by Robert Pondiscio
January 25th, 2010

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  A proletarian revolution and a worker’s paradise, apparently. 

The Texas State Board of Education, an endless source of entertaining curriculum news, has struck again, banning the classic children’s book, which was illustrated by Eric Carle.  Why?  Bill Martin, Jr., who wrote the text for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is also the author of Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.

Except he’s not. 

Bill Martin the children’s author died in 2004.  The book on Marxism was written by a philosophy professor at DePaul University.  Same name, different author, notes the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

Bill Martin Jr. who wrote the Brown Bear series never wrote anything political, unless you count a book that taught kids how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, his friends said. Bill Martin Jr.’s name would have been included on a list with author Laura Ingalls Wilder and artist Carmen Lomas Garza as examples of individuals who would be studied for their cultural contributions.

Give the Texas State Ed Board low Marx for not doing their homework.

OMG! Texting Doesn’t Harm Spelling

by Robert Pondiscio
January 22nd, 2010

u wld thnk txting might encourage poor spelling.  according to a study in the uk u wld b wrong.

A study of 8 to 12 year olds suggests that children who regularly use texting shorthand actually improve their ability to spell.  Researchers surmise texting requires the same “phonological awareness” needed to learn correct spellings. “So when pupils replace or remove sounds, letters or syllables – such as “l8r” for “later” or “hmwrk” for “homework” – it requires an understanding of what the original word should be,” the BBC reports.

“If we are seeing a decline in literacy standards among young children, it is in spite of text messaging, not because of it,” said Clare Wood, of the University of Coventry, where the research was conducted.

clr me skptcl.  Id lk 2 c mre dta.  u2?

This Teacher Is “Fed Up”

by Robert Pondiscio
January 22nd, 2010

This might be enough to make Caitlin Flanagan change her mind. 

An Illinois schoolteacher has committed to eating the same school lunches served to students in her school every day in 2010–and blogging about it, including pictures of each day’s tasty treat.  Here’s the anonymous “Mrs. Q” on Day 4:

Today’s menu: Chicken patty with peas, two slices of bread, fruit cup, and chocolate milk.

There was some strange sauce on the patty. I guess it was tomato sauce, but it was tasteless and of course you can see that it was burnt. The fruit cup was partially frozen. In fact I stabbed it with my spork.

I ate up the chicken, the bread, and the peas. Sometimes they offer butter with the bread, but I didn’t see it there this time. Of course the kids don’t get knifes so spreading the butter on the bread is a challenge. Basically you have to smear it.

The blog, Fed Up: School Lunch Project, has quickly become a cult item, leaving Mrs. Q feeling a bit vulnerable.  She confessed earlier this week that “if you lined up all the teachers and staff in my school in a search for who might possibly write a blog like this, I would be one of the last chosen.”

Now I’m feeling majorly exposed. I could absolutely lose my job over this. In just the first ten days of school lunches I’ve gotten a bigger response than I expected. It makes me nervous….I’m not a hero, but I am a whistleblower. But instead of calling a “tip line,” I’ve shouted it to thousands of people. Oops.

She’s right about one thing: schools do not take kindly to whistleblowers.  Enjoy Fed Up while you can.