Thursday, June 05, 2008

Education Links We Like to Link to

I wanted to have an Education Week about a month ago, but that quickly fizzled into an education post that I never got around to amending or serializing. So, in an effort to broaden all of our horizons, I offer the second Education Links Post, which will more-or-less periodically appear as a special edition Links We Like to Link to." Please, for your reading and enlightening pleasure:

Small Kids, Big Words
Timmy [a pre-K student] insists he didn’t hear [the thunderstorm last night]. No one believes him, but he stands his verbal ground. “I didn’t want to hear it and so that is why I didn’t listen,” he says.

Molly, who’s four, adds, “I guess he was ignoring it.”

It is, of course, always cute when small kids use big words. But a growing body of research and classroom practice show that building a sophisticated vocabulary at an early age is also key to raising reading success—and narrowing the achievement gap. At schools like Lee Academy, teachers are overcoming the age-old habit of speaking to young children in simplified language and instead deliberately weaving higher-level word choices into preschool and primary grade classrooms.

Moral Dimensions of Educational Decisions:
The essential place of values-rich curricula in the public schools
There is a widely held notion that public schools (which, of course, most students attend) should not teach values. In effect, schools do. Moreover, there are next to no significant decisions a school administrator or classroom teacher can make that do not have a normative dimension...

Schools are under considerable pressure from the community to focus on academics, which in effect means serving the utilitarian, economic futures of pupils. Parents, school boards and news media that push for higher academic achievements are not seeking to turn the students into scholars but to equip them to compete in the marketplace (and in the competitive college admissions arena) by teaching them math, writing skills (memos, not poetry), foreign languages and so on.

In contrast, schools are, and ought to be, concerned with human and social development, ensuring graduates are able to work out differences with others verbally and nonabusively; to walk in the other person’s shoes; to resist temptations to act in unethical ways; and to care about higher purposes than self. Many curriculum decisions reflect the balance those who run schools and education systems strike between these two competing set of values, the academic and the social....

[W]e do not always keep in mind that all selections of books and other materials to be used in teaching students reflect a choice of values. Take, for instance, the Civil War. It can be taught as a grand struggle for liberty and equality; as a political strategy for keeping the union together; as a tragic failure to resolve differences without mass killing and enormous suffering; or something else. Whatever we choose reflects our values and helps transmit them to the students.

Education decision makers are understandably reluctant to view these issues as involving normative choices because framing the decisions in this way forces the question: Whose values are going to be taught? Instead, decisions often are deliberated and made on other grounds, such as “this textbook is highly recommended by …” Furthermore, modifications to curricula are made in terms of “we need to give more room to …” rather than openly reviewing the normative implications that all books, narratives, songs, plays and course outlines have.

What do teachers want?:
Teachers Speak on the Profession, Unions, and Reform (pdf):
Today’s teachers have different expectations than teachers in the past, and they expect different things from their professional lives. Yet, they recognize the problems that undermine their profession, including job lock, weak evaluation and reward structures, and too much bureaucracy. With reformers pushing hard for change and teachers unions holding tight to tradition, teachers are caught in the middle, unsure of how their profession should change but very aware that it needs to.

Teachers see problems with their unions as well. For example, many say that the union sometimes fights to protect teachers who really should be out of the classroom. But teachers still see the union as essential, and they value the union’s traditional role in safeguarding their jobs. New teachers are more likely today than they were in 2003 to call unions “absolutely essential.” And many teachers would like to see their unions explore some new activities, especially some of the ideas associated with the “new unionism” agenda, and take the greater role in reform, but not if that comes at the expense of the union’s core mission.

The fluid environment presents both challenges and opportunities for education leaders and policymakers. Teachers unions may claim a deep loyalty from their members but the relationship seems to be based mostly on the practical benefits that the union provides.

Racist Attitudes Challenged at Alabama School
A south Alabama town that was the inspiration for the setting in Harper Lee's book "To Kill a Mockingbird" is finding itself as the backdrop for a real-life legal case involving allegations of racism at school....

The parents [who filed the suit] say black students who got into fights with white students were given off-campus suspensions for longer periods of time while white students were given shorter in-school suspensions. They also said black students were disciplined for minor dress code violations like untucked shirts and for violations that weren't even in the code, such as loose or missing buttons.

The lawsuit also describes an incident in which a student was being teased by white classmates who called her a "black monkey." The student told the white teacher, who responded by saying "sit back down because you do look like a black monkey," the suit claims...

"There are policies and practices that serve to criminalize youth and push them out of classes - primarily children of color," [ACLU Attorney Catherine] Kim said.
(Jasdye's note: What's sad is that this is the only case like this that I've heard about. If you add on the fact that black students are labeled for Special Education at a rate of 2:1 that of Latino and White students [Click here for related story on the disparity in Florida] - and 4:1 students of Asian heritage - than this could be just about Anywheresville, USA. Sadly, even in Chicago.)

All links provided by the Public Education Network Newsblast (via email).

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