April 2012 Archives

Who's Right About Parental Rights?

A new report by the Schott Foundation documents policies and practices of the New York City Department of Education that create and reinforce unequal opportunities to learn ("A Rotting Apple"). It maintains that what is taking place in the nation's largest school district amounts to no less than education redlining because the census tract in which students live determines the quality of education they receive. It's a provocative argument. But there's another side of the story that needs to be told. In an ideal world, there would be equal opportunities to learn by all students regardless of the location of ...


The Instruction War

The debate pitting supporters of discovery learning against supporters of fully guided instruction seems finally settled. "Decades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance" ("Putting Students on the Path to Learning," American Educator, Spring 2012). I agree with the conclusion. But I hasten to point out that there will always be students who, for one reason or another, possess advanced knowledge or are self-directed. Teachers who happen to inherit a class of these students will post impressive results in spite of - not because ...


No Relief for English Teachers

Every subject taught in high school has its unique downsides. But as a former English teacher for 28 years in the same high school, I'd argue that grading student compositions has to be the most arduous in terms of time and effort. That's why I was elated to hear about computer scoring because its designers claim "virtually identical levels of accuracy" as essays graded by teachers. But a closer look dampened my initial enthusiasm. According to Les Perelman, a director of writing at MIT, automated readers are easily gamed ("Facing a Robo-Grader? Just Keep Obfuscating Mellifluously," The New York Times, ...


Lessons From Texas School Budget Woes

Even in a behemoth like Texas, cuts of roughly $5.4 billion to public schools made during the last legislative session to balance the state's two-year budget can't be ignored. They've resulted in larger class sizes, more layoffs of teachers and support staff, and fewer services and supplies ("At Texas Schools, Making Do on a Shoestring," The New York Times, Apr. 9). But the factors surrounding the cuts are less known. That's unfortunate because they have application to other states as well. First, the Texas Supreme Court in 2005 ruled that a cap on local school taxes amounted to an ...


Rethinking the Open Educational Marketplace

When Milton Friedman wrote in 1955 that the best way to improve schools was to empower parents, he planted the seed of a movement that is now bearing fruit. But it is turning out to be a disappointing harvest, as events in New Orleans and New York City illustrate. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 initially was a blessing in disguise for Friedman acolytes because almost all public schools in New Orleans reopened as charter schools. These new schools have posted impressive academic outcomes, but the trouble is that demand continues to outstrip supply even after seven years. ...


Why Schools Don't Teach Innovation

The call for schools to turn out students who can succeed in the 21st-century economy is so familiar by now that it hardly seems worthwhile revisiting the issue. But reading an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by a former high school teacher changed my mind ("Educating the Next Steve Jobs," Apr. 14). Tony Wagner argues that young people in this country become innovators in spite of their schools - not because of them. Although he cites a few notable exceptions, the message is quite clear: most schools are designed and operated to penalize failure. Yet unless students are allowed ...


What About Social Promotion?

With the end of the spring semester rapidly approaching, teachers once again will have to confront the issue of social promotion. For years, research seemed to be on the side of moving students to the next grade whether or not they mastered the material because it showed that holding students back is harmful. But a study released this month, "The Benefits of Florida's Test-Based Promotion System," by the Manhattan Institute's Center for State and Local Leadership found that retention is beneficial. Specifically, students in the third grade who were detained and given remediation did better in the short and long ...


The Latest on School Choice

On paper, the argument in favor of school choice is impeccable: Parents will be able to enroll their children in a school that best meets their needs and interests, bad schools will be forced to improve or close, and society will benefit from better educated graduates. But the reality is different. Consider New York City, home of the nation's largest school district. The New York City Department of Education announced on Apr. 6 that more than 2,400 children who will be entering kindergarten in the fall have been placed on wait-lists for openings at the schools closest to their ...


Textbooks and Tests Share Ills

When the New York City Department of Education ordered test publishers it does business with to avoid 50 sensitive words and topics, it instantly became the butt of jokes. Realizing that the politically correct demand had gone too far, the city's chief academic officer revised the policy ("City Revokes Testing Word Ban," The New York Times, Apr. 2). But curiously nothing was said about the textbooks used in classrooms. That omission is hard to understand because textbooks and tests are inextricably linked. The content of textbooks forms the basis of instruction. As a result, altering the policy on tests but ...


Vocational Education Needed Now More Than Ever

The monetary value of a bachelor's degree in the years ahead will not be as certain as it was in the past. Most of the 14 million new jobs that will be created in the next decade will be in fields that typically can be filled by those with an associate's degree. The trouble is that only about 25 percent of students enrolled in community colleges graduate. Equally disturbing is that too many post-secondary private vocational schools operate without state approval ("More Than 130 Vocational Schools Are Operating Without State Approval," The New York Times, Apr. 5). That's why a ...


Student Newspapers Still On Uncertain Ground

It wasn't too long ago that students newspapers were essentially considered house organs, and their staffs were little more than cheerleaders. I was reminded of how much things have changed after reading about events at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School ("TV reporter's worries leads [sic] to Bethesda school pulling student newspaper," The Washington Post, Mar. 26). The student newspaper, the Tattler, contained several articles about the media's largely negative treatment of teenagers. It illustrated the story with a photo of Andrea McCarren, a local TV journalist who had covered alcohol consumption by teens. She complained to Karen Lockard, the principal, saying ...


Holding Teachers to Higher Standard Than Officers

"A Few Good Men," the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, was responsible for my assumption that officers in the military had to abide by the most stringent rules regarding their conduct. It prompted me to look up Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: "Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." The conduct refers to behavior in an official capacity or to behavior in a private capacity that seriously compromises one's standing as an officer. It's the latter ...


Should Home-Schoolers Be Eligible for High School Teams?

When parents decide to home-school their children, they do so because they find public schools lacking for one reason or another. Although religious reasons top the list, parents also have practical concerns about curriculums, textbooks, peer pressure and bullying. The appeal of the movement is seen in its growth from 850,000 students in 1999 to 1.5 million today, according to the Department of Education. In the past, the debate about home-schooling was usually limited to whether students were being shortchanged socially. But recently, a new issue has arisen: Should home-schooled students be permitted to play varsity sports at ...


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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