Differences in Teaching Math and Reading to Low-Income Students!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article on the differences in teaching mathematics and reading to low-income students.  Citing several studies as well as first-hand accounts, the article concludes that urban school districts are having more success in raising math scores than reading scores among low-income populations.  Here is an excerpt:

“Studies have repeatedly found that “teachers have bigger impacts on math test scores than on English test scores,” said Jonah Rockoff, an economist at Columbia Business School. He was a co-author of a study that showed that teachers who helped students raise standardized test scores had a lasting effect on those students’ future incomes, as well as other lifelong outcomes.

Teachers and administrators who work with children from low-income families say one reason teachers struggle to help these students improve reading comprehension is that deficits start at such a young age: in the 1980s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that by the time they are 4 years old, children from poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than children with professional parents.

By contrast, children learn math predominantly in school.

“Your mother or father doesn’t come up and tuck you in at night and read you equations,” said Geoffrey Borman, a professor at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin. “But parents do read kids bedtime stories, and kids do engage in discussions around literacy, and kids are exposed to literacy in all walks of life outside of school.”

Reading also requires background knowledge of cultural, historical and social references. Math is a more universal language of equations and rules.

“Math is really culturally neutral in so many ways,” said Scott Shirey, executive director of KIPP Delta Public Schools in Arkansas. “For a child who’s had a vast array of experiences around the world, the Pythagorean theorem is just as difficult or daunting as it would be to a child who has led a relatively insular life.”

Education experts also say reading development simply requires that students spend so much more time practicing.

And while reading has been the subject of fierce pedagogical battles, “the ideological divisions are not as great on the math side as they are on the literacy side,” said Linda Chen, deputy chief academic officer in the Boston Public Schools. In 2011, 29 percent of eighth graders eligible for free lunch in Boston scored at proficient or advanced levels on federal math exams, compared with just 17 percent in reading.”

Interesting article!


Ten State University Systems Sign Contracts with Coursera for MOOC Development Services!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that Coursera, the Silicon Valley-based provider of massive open online courses, announced a series of deals with state universities to provide MOOC development services.

Under the new deals, Coursera is recasting itself as a platform for credit-bearing courses that would be offered to students enrolled at multiple campuses within a public-university system.

The deals mark a shift for Coursera, which until now has focused on making free, online versions of courses taught by professors at elite colleges.

The company’s new partners are the State University of New York system, the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee systems, the University of Colorado system, the University of Houston system, the University of Kentucky, the University of Nebraska system, the University of New Mexico system, the University System of Georgia, and West Virginia University.

The Chronicle obtained a copy of Coursera’s contract with the University of Kentucky, and the document provides details on how the partnerships might work.

“The document differs substantially from the ones Coursera signed with its early university partners. Those contracts focused on the dynamics of producing and collecting revenue from MOOCs open to the public.

The Kentucky contract deals with additional kinds of collaboration. For example, the document outlines how the university would administer “guided” or “adopted” courses—courses that are developed, either by Kentucky or another Coursera partner, for use by students at the university. It also addresses how the university and the company would go about licensing Kentucky’s Coursera courses to other colleges, and how they would divide revenue generated by any of those courses.”

This has to be considered a major step forward in the MOOC movement.



New York’s School to Prison Pipeline!

Dear Commons Community,

One of the serious problems in our public education system that does not get anywhere near enough attention is what is generally referred to as the “school to prison pipeline”.  A New York Times editorial calls on officials particularly here in New York to examine policies that all too often remove our children, mostly black and Latino boys, from their schools for minor issues and subjects them  to the risk of a criminal justice system that simply does not deal with them properly.  As the editorial states:

“School officials across the country responded to a surge in juvenile crime during the 1980s and the Columbine High School shootings a decade later by tightening disciplinary policies and increasing the number of police patrolling public schools. One unfortunate result has been the creation of a repressive environment in which young people are suspended, expelled or even arrested over minor misbehaviors — like talking back or disrupting class — that would once have been handled by the principal.

The policies have not made schools safer. However, by criminalizing routine disciplinary problems, they have damaged the lives of many children by making them more likely to drop out and entangling them, sometimes permanently, in the criminal justice system. The policies are also discriminatory: black and Hispanic children are shipped off to court more frequently than white students who commit similar infractions.

The need to chart a new course in school discipline is underscored in a report scheduled to be released on Thursday by the New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force, a working group led by Judith Kaye, the former chief judge of the State of New York, and composed of people from the fields of law enforcement, education, philanthropy, civil rights and child advocacy.

The task force examined disciplinary practices in the city’s 1.1 million-student system during the 2011-2012 school year. It found that “the overwhelming majority of school-related suspensions, summonses and arrests are for minor misbehavior, behavior that occurs on a daily basis in most schools.”

The numbers are startling. The city schools imposed nearly 70,000 suspensions in the 2011-2012 school year, 40 percent more than the period six years earlier. Of the 882 arrests during the school year studied, one in every six was for “resisting arrest” or “obstructing governmental administration,” charges for which there is often no underlying criminal behavior. The authorities also issued more than 1,600 summonses — tickets that require the student to appear in criminal court and that can lead to arrest for those who fail to appear. “

The Times editorial is on target.  This is an issue that needs attention and rectification.


Michelle Bachmann Won’t Seek Re-Election in 2014!

Dear Commons Community,

Michelle Bachmann announced yesterday that she would not seek re-election for a fifth term to her congressional seat in 2014.  Bachmann did not give any clear reason why she was leaving the Congress at this time. Bachmann announced her retirement in a video posted on her website and assured supporters her decision has nothing to do with recent ethics probes surrounding her 2012 presidential campaign and that she is confident she could win a fifth term. Bachmann beat Democrat Jim Graves in 2012 by just over one percent.

“My good friends, after a great deal of thought and deliberation I have decided next year I will not seek a fifth Congressional term to represent the wonderful people of the 6th District of Minnesota,” Bachmann said. “After serious consideration I am confident that this is the right decision.”

Gail Collins has a review of her tenure in politics:

“[Last year’s] presidential race was pretty much the peak of Bachmann’s career. Remember her high point, when she swept to victory in the Iowa straw poll? Which was followed by the low point of coming in sixth in the actual Iowa caucuses.”

In my opinion, Ms. Bachmann at times was an embarrassment to the Congress and  the Republican Party with her lack of command of facts and her wild assertions.  A lot like Sarah Palin in 2008.



Caution and the Common Core – New York Times Editorial!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times in a recent editorial urged the U.S. Department of Education not to rush the implementation of the Common Core curriculum.   The editorial recommended:

“[The Common Core curriculum]  will require states to change just about everything: curriculum, principal and teacher training, textbooks. At the same time, agreements that most states have made with the Department of Education will require them to institute teacher and school evaluation systems that take student test scores into account, based on year-to-year progress. In many states, the first evaluation will be partly based on old tests that have nothing to do with new learning standards. This could undermine confidence in the reform and give teachers an incentive to ignore the new curriculum.

The answer is not to stop the reform effort. The states should proceed with the new curriculum and non-test aspects of the evaluation system, like classroom observation of teachers, and critiques of lesson plans. But the Education Department should give states the flexibility to refrain from penalizing schools or teachers based on the test data for at least a year, until an evaluation system for the Common Core is validated. This would only be common sense.”

This indeed makes sense.  The U.S. DOE has to refrain from accelerating its program and allow states and localities the time to fit the new curriculum requirements into schools.




Fifty-Eight Harvard Professors Express Concern about MOOC Development!

Dear Commons Community,

The online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that professors in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences have signed a letter to their dean asking for formal oversight of the massive open online courses offered by Harvard through edX, a MOOC provider co-founded by the university.

“While “some faculty are tremendously excited about HarvardX,” the professors wrote, referring to the university’s brand within the edX platform, “other are deeply concerned about the program’s cost and consequences.”

The letter, published on Thursday in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, was signed by 58 professors in the university division, which is known as the FAS.

The authors go on to ask Michael D. Smith, dean of the FAS, to appoint a committee of arts and sciences faculty members “to draft a set of ethical and educational principles” that would govern their colleagues’ involvement in Harvard-branded MOOCs.

The letter comes several weeks after the philosophy department at San Jose State University wrote an open letter to Michael Sandel, a government professor at Harvard, expressing concerns about how edX’s plans to license its MOOCs to cash-strapped colleges like San Jose State might have devastating consequences for professors at those colleges.

That letter was on the minds of Harvard’s FAS professors when they convened to discuss MOOCs at a meeting this month, said Peter J. Burgard, a professor of German at Harvard. In their letter to Dean Smith, the Harvard professors allude to “many critical questions,” as yet unanswered, about “the impact online courses will have on the higher-education system as a whole.”

But, perhaps more immediately, the professors were irked that Harvard had become so deeply involved in MOOCs before consulting with them, said Mr. Burgard.”



Bob Dole: The Republican Party Should Be “Closed for Repairs”!

Dear Commons Community,

Former Senate Majority Leader and former Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole, said Sunday during a Fox News interview that the current Republican Party ought to be “closed for repairs” because it lacks a vision and is unable to strike deals with Democrats.

The Kansas Republican said he was disturbed by his party’s obstructionist behavior on Capitol Hill.  “It seems almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget or legislation,” he said.

President Obama also deserves blame for failing to reach out to Republicans in his first term and cultivate better relationships across party lines, Dole said.

Asked whether he would be welcomed by the Republican Party today, Dole said, “I doubt it. Reagan wouldn’t have made it, certainly Nixon wouldn’t have made it, because they had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it.”

Dole said his party needs stronger leadership. “Somebody has to stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to do this,’” he said.

The comments from the one-time leader of the GOP reflect broad dissatisfaction with the state of the Republican Party, even among rank and file supporters. Nearly half of self-identified Republicans in an April Washington Post-ABC News poll said their party is “out of touch” with the concerns of most Americans, while barely one in five Democrats said their own party was out of sync. And in a January Post-ABC poll, 67 percent of all Americans said Republicans in Congress were not doing enough to compromise with Obama on important issues, compared with 48 percent who saw Obama as too stubborn.


Memorial Day 2013!!!

We thank our soldiers past and present for their service to our country

Memorial Day 2013 2

We especially honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Memorial Day 2013 1

Nicholas Lemann: Must Read New Republic Essay on Michelle Rhee!

Dear Commons Community,

Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and author, has a must-read essay on Michelle Rhee  in the New Republic that exposes her essentially as a self-promoter who simplifies education reform to abolishing teacher tenure, establishing charter schools, and imposing pay-for-performance regimes based on student test scores.  Entitled, How Michelle Rhee Misled Education Reform, Lemann comments that she has little time and maybe little understanding of “pedagogical technique, a hot research topic these days, or of curriculum, another hot topic owing to the advent of the Common Core standards, or of funding levels, or class size, or teacher training, or surrounding schools with social services, or of the burden placed on the system by the expensive growth of special-education programs”.

Lemann points to events in Rhee’s life as told in her own book that helped shape her views:

“ a year she spent back in Korea as a child, in a large classroom in which every student was numerically ranked against the others every day, as a season in paradise, because it taught her “that it was not only okay but essential to compete.” Later on she grouses that her daughters have too many soccer medals and trophies even though “they suck at soccer,” which is an example of the way in which “we’ve gone soft as a nation.”

Lemann also attempts to explain why Rhee and the entire education–reform movement appeal to the big donors:

“Surely one reason that the education-reform movement comports itself in this limited manner is that it depends so heavily on the largesse of people who are used to getting their way and to whom the movement’s core arguments have a powerful face validity. Only a tiny percentage of American children attend the kind of expensive, non-sectarian private schools where many of the elite send their children. It is worth noting that these schools generally avoid giving their students the standardized achievement tests that state education departments require, making the results public, and paying teachers on the basis of the scores, and that they almost never claim to be creating hyper-competitive, commercial-skills-purveying environments for their students. Sidwell Friends, of presidential-daughter fame, says it offers ‘a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders.’  That doesn’t sound like it would cut much ice with Michelle Rhee.”

Nor would any discussion involving issues of complexity, nuance, or compassion cut much ice with Rhee.  Hers is a cold-hearted, humorless, and strident approach that turns off the dedicated educators who work day in and day out in schools.


New York City School Principals Rebelling Against New State Tests!

Dear Commons Community,

As reported in The Huffington Post and other media, school principals around New York City are fighting back against what they see as flawed state tests.

A group of 15 principals from selective middle and high schools around the city sent a letter on Tuesday to parents, students and educators explaining they would not be taking recent state tests into consideration when evaluating fall admissions spots, reports DNAinfo. The letter, which you can read for yourself below, expressed their disapproval of recent state English and math tests, which they felt “[took] away time for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing.”

The tests, which were given in late April to students in grades third through eighth, were supposed to align with recently adopted Common Core Standards. Common Core assessments theoretically call for more critical thinking and in-depth knowledge of English and math than previous state tests.

However, after the tests, education leaders complained that the exams were “more difficult than they expected,” according to the New York Times. Some educators also noted that pressures regarding the tests were making their students sick.

The principals’ letter to parents and students came in the same week that a larger group of 50 principals sent a letter to the New York State Education Commissioner John King expressing concern over the recent state tests. In the letter, the educators said they found the exams “limiting” and “unbalanced,” and said they had concerns about its “timing, format.” Furthermore, while they noted that they were hopeful the test would live up to Common core ideals, they felt the exam “fell short of the aspirations of these Standards.”

More principals, teachers, and education policy makers need to take similar actions if we are ever going to stop the testing mania that has gripped our public education systems.