October 2011 Archives

Graduation Rate Is No Guarantee of Learning

Whenever reformers want to score points about their bleak view of the state of K-12 education, they invariably cite data showing that only 76 percent of students in public schools graduate within four years of entering the 9th grade. Before going any further, however, I hasten to point out that four-year graduation studies are not the same thing as dropout studies. Although they are related, they have to be viewed differently. For example, students may not graduate on time because of illness, family problems or incarceration. Too many reformers automatically assume that academic failure is the only factor or that ...


Teachers Speak Out at Their Own Peril

The latest blow to freedom of speech for teachers occurred at Occupy Los Angeles when a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District made an anti-Semitic remark and was subsequently fired by the district's superintendent. According to the Los Angeles Times, Patricia McAllister said in a taped interview with Reason TV that "The Zionist Jews who are running these big banks and the Federal Reserve ... need to be run out of this country" ("Free speech -- within limits," editorial, Oct. 20). Although McAllister wasn't at work when she spoke and stressed that she was not speaking as a ...


New View on IQ

The long smoldering debate over the role that environment plays in intelligence was reignited by researchers at University College London who found that IQ is more malleable than previously believed. Although genes still play a powerful role, biology is not destiny. Experience has the potential to alter the brain by affecting neural synapses ("As Brain Changes, So Can IQ," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20). That view was notoriously challenged in 1994 by the publication of The Bell Curve (Simon & Schuster, 1994) by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. They placed overwhelming reliance on the biological basis of intelligence and the ...


Nothing New about Teaching from Bill Gates

One of the perks of being a billionaire is that anything you submit to a newspaper is definitely going to be published. No one has been more successful in this respect than Bill Gates opining about education. His latest essay, which appeared in The Wall Street Journal, was nothing more than a rehash of what others have proposed as a way of improving educational quality ("Grading the Teachers," Oct. 22). Yet Gates believes that he has broken new ground. The heart of his claim is based on a recent survey of teachers undertaken with Scholastic. It found that "teachers are ...


The H-1B Visa Teacher Scandal

The controversy over H-1B visas to date has largely centered on their issuance to engineers and scientists who are willing to work in the private sector at lower wages than their American counterparts. Despite the 50 percent decline in the number of petitions this year below last year and 80 percent decrease below 2009, the debate has merely subsided, rather than disappear. What is less known is how the issuance of visas is being abused by school districts. According to The New Republic, Prince George's County in Maryland, for example, now has more than 10 percent of its entire teaching ...


Founding Parents at Charter Schools

The justification for charter schools is that they provide parents with a wide range of choices at public expense. But what is increasingly happening in Los Angeles, which has more charter schools than any other city in the nation, serves as a warning that all is not well with the movement. Even though a lottery is required whenever demand for places in a charter school exceeds the supply, officials at a coveted school can rig the lottery to favor parents they prefer ("Charter Schools: Getting Your Child on the List," L.A. Weekly, Oct. 13). They do so by invoking ...


Taking Standardized Tests to an Extreme

Any hope that the controversy over the misuse of standardized test scores had finally run its course evaporated when news about the practice used by a high school in Orange County, California made the headlines. In an attempt to motivate students, Kennedy High School in La Palma issues color-coded identification cards to students based solely on their individual standardized test scores. The Orange County Register reported that students are required to carry their black, gold or white cards in addition to a spiral-bound homework planner with a cover of a matching color ("Student IDs that reveal test scores deemed illegal," ...


The Role of Technology in Learning

Just as a drowning person reaches out in desperation to anything that offers the possibility of rescue, so too are many financially strapped school districts spending heavily on software and hardware that offer the possibility of improving learning. According to a front-page story in The New York Times, sales of computer software to schools in 2010 amounted to $1.89 billion and spending on hardware was five times that amount ("In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores," Sept. 4). At the heart of the debate is whether these expenditures are justified today. If standardized test scores are the sine qua non ...


Overhauling Bilingual Education

The new school year is guaranteed to intensify the already contentious debate about ways to narrow the achievement gap between the nation's second largest ethnic group and its white counterparts. I'm referring to the performance of Hispanics, whose numbers have grown dramatically over the past four decades until they now constitute 21 percent of the public school student population. Although test scores of Hispanic and white students have risen, the gap today is the same as it was in 1990, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The usual explanation is that there are four million Hispanic students in ...


The Changing Demographics of the Teaching Profession

There was a time when most students in K-12 could expect to be taught by veteran teachers. But this is no longer the case, as the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future points out ("Classroom 'crisis': Many teachers have little or no experience," msnbc.com, Sept. 26). In the 1987-88 school year, for example, 14 years was the most common level of experience. But by 2007-08, it was one or two years. The trend is expected to continue as more Baby Boomers retire, better paying jobs open up in the private sector, and pressure to boost test scores mounts. ...


Mind and Body Deserve Equal Attention in Schools

You'd think that the rise in childhood obesity, along with childhood diabetes and hypertension, would provide reformers with an incentive to make physical education a high priority in K-12. But that has not been the case. Most states in this country have either watered down the requirement for physical education or eliminated it entirely because of budget cuts. Consider New York City, where an audit released on Oct. 4 found that none of 31 elementary schools that officials visited out of a total of about 700 were in full compliance with the state's guidelines on physical education ("Audit Finds Paucity ...


It's Hypocritical to Demand Merit Pay for Teachers

Misunderstanding contentious issues in education is common among those who have never taught, as an op-ed about merit pay for teachers written by FranTarkenton, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants, illustrates ("What if the NFL Played by Teachers' Rules?" Oct. 3). Tarkenton argues that if each player's salary were based on seniority, rather than on performance, "the on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt?" He claims that "the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers' salaries have no ...


Teaching Controversial Issues

It's axiomatic that democracy depends on an educated populace. Part of the process is to expose students to issues that by their very nature are controversial, and help them develop the ability to analyze conflicting arguments. In "Discussions That Drive Democracy," Diana Hess writes: "This means teaching young people that they should not shun, fear, or ignore such issues. Students need to have experiences respectfully discussing authentic questions about public problems and the kinds of policies that can address those problems" (Educational Leadership, Sept. 2011). I agree with Hess's position, but I hasten to point out that the freedom of ...


The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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