Monday, December 13, 2010

“A Failure of Education Leadership.”

A new documentary, "Race to Nowhere," discusses the prevalence of high school students doctoring their resumes and college entrance essays to look better than they really are. Parents are supporting this practice, and high schools seem to have lost control of what goes into these essays. For students whose parents have been through the college essay, the pain and desperation of their own works may drive the support of embellishment, but how can a student with no home experience and no school guidance compete with this process?

Previously, I've posted articles and others' blogs reporting on ghost writers for papers, college entrance and class essays, and even dissertations. Is this cheating? Are we encouraging academic dishonesty? Are both high schools and universities really trying to eradicate academic and personal dishonesty? Where are we headed as a nation? Where are we headed for our former place of academic leadership among the world's modern governments and trade powers? This article, first brought to my attention by a former high school English teacher, is more noteworthy for what it does not say than for what it says.

Read the post below from The New York Times and post back your thoughts on it. I'd like to know what your think.

Documentary on Pressures of School


Monday, December 6, 2010

Adolescent Online Bullying--What Can Parents Do?

How prevalent is online bullying? Do you think your child is being bullied online? Do you know that your child is being bullied online? What can you do as a parent when the schools are denying responsibility and the internet providers and site administrators make it difficult to help you find the culprits? Read the story below from the New York Times, and learn a few lessons that can help you and your child maintain online safety.

Read the NY Times article.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Turning Schools Around: 40 Years and Still No Answers

Back in the early 1970s, when I was doing work toward teacher certification, one of the top problems under discussion was improving schools in poverty-stricken communities--especially among inner city schools. Forty years later, the discussions are still going on, with apparently no new answers. However, there are grants available to impoverished schools who are trying to make a difference. In all, I think this is a great idea. But I see no new answers coming for improving schools that are not receiving such grants, or that don't have personnel still motivated to try new things.

This item appeared on the US DOE's blog site today.

Are the continuing talks and federally funded grants going to help all our schools? Will the findings be generalizable to all impoverished schools? Or will the funding and research be chiefly applicable only to the schools receiving the grants?

Besides, how will we test overall improvement in the future?


Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Ideas to Strengthen Poor-Performing Schools?

Check out this site about things that have been tried to improve poor-performing schools, and some ideas that might actually work. It takes you to a Facebook site. Enjoy!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Support Single Vendor Small Business on Cyber Monday

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

American Education Week and Arne Duncan's Blog

It's American Education Week. AEW started the Monday before Thanksgiving and lasts only 3 school days. What does this say about education? And what does Arne Duncan blog about?

The intent of AEW's placement might be that we remember to be thankful for free education, but having it during the shortest school week of the year may be sending a different message--that education does not merit a full five days of recognition. Yet, our nation has fallen so far behind the rest of the planet's modern countries, that we need an entire month of honor to get it back on its feet. Or maybe that's just it--American education may not merit a full week anymore.
Lately, I've been following Arne Duncan's blog. (In case you don't know who Dr. Duncan is, he's the Secretary of Education in the current administration.) Dr. Duncan (or one of his assistants) blogs about Blue Ribbon schools, which is great. He's also asking for ways to improve schools, teaching, and home-school communication.

Make sure to visit Arne Duncan's blog and tell him what you think will help. The more information he gets--especially from the home, not just teachers and school administrators--the bigger the impact can be. If you are parents or caregivers, you know better than anyone what is best for your child. Let Arne Duncan know, too!!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!! Remember to include a prayer of thanks for the teachers who do their best with the nation's children--especially our own!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Caring Schools Are a Worldwide Concern

Quality education is not only a concern of the United States. Great Britain, according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has also suffered declines in recent years. Interestingly, as with certain schools in the United States that require more of students and support those expectations with caring, students in Great Britain's Mossbourne Community Academy express feelings of being challenged and cared for by adults. Over 90 percent of Mossbourne's students who take Britain's national exam not only pass it, but receive the highest score rankings.

Read Duncan's blog titled "Foreign Countries Find Common Challenges."

Clearly, the education of our young has become a priority world-wide, and we are not alone in this quest.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Finally! The Current Administration Supports Community Colleges

The education policies of the current administration have disappointed me more than encouraged me, because the emphasis has shifted from preK-12 educational excellence to postsecondary support.  The truth is, no one really knows how to fix K-12 education.  No one asks the teachers and parents, either, but that's not the point here.  Finally, the Obama/Duncan team has rolled out the beginnings of a plan to stimulate successful completion rates of community college students.  This is an area of education that has traditionally been all but ignored, and I applaud this administration in its efforts.  As a political policy, I think the Obama administration has offered too little too late, as I suspect President Obama will have a very difficult time being re-elected, and the focus on community colleges will become a legacy.  The question is how sustainable the legacy will be.

Click over to the link below.  This is the opening of a summit that is actually all-inclusive in its stakeholder foundation.  This statement gives some excellent statistics and voices several historical concerns of community college supporters.

Many very bright people I know started their postsecondary education at community colleges.  The educational experience in these two-year schools is as good as the courses taken in the first two years at almost any four-year institution.  The differences are that community college tuition is usually a fraction of the traditional college tuition, yet community college students tend to have more opportunities for support with individual needs, be they academic, social/emotional, or vocational.  The quality of instructors and professors is comparable to traditional colleges, but there is a tendency among academics to look down on them because the focus of community colleges is the student, not research.  That does not mean that community college professors don't do research; it just means that the institutions value teaching over research.  Especially for low-income students, the community college allows access to postsecondary courses that are usually transferable to four-year colleges.  However, too many four-year institutions--unless they have a direct agreement with the community college--accept only a portion of the community college credits the student earned.  Why this occurs baffles me, as the materials used and topics covered are the same.  There is even disagreement in the research on transitions from community colleges to four-year institutions as to why credits are often ignored.

The point is that the Obama/Duncan team have put the community colleges in the spotlight for the first time since the late 1960s.  Because community colleges are supported by both state and local tax dollars, students do not necessarily have to take SATs before being accepted.  Many community colleges are open to anyone who wants to attempt a college education.  With SAT fees increasing faster than gasoline prices (yes, I'm probably exaggerating), the entrance exams are often too costly for many students, meaning that scholarship funds to four-year institutions may not be accessible.  (But SAT prices should be another blog's topic, so no more about them here.)

Interestingly, it is not just low-income students who attend community colleges as a prelude to four-year institutions.  I have met many people over the past ten years who hold advanced degrees (usually doctorates) and encourage their own children to attend community college first.  Two reasons: low tuition, and the guarantee of admission to a local state university upon successful (3.0 or better GPA) completion of two years of requisite courses (usually without having to take the SATs, which predict only freshman year success anyway).  Another note of interest: students who attend community college with the intent of transitioning to the affiliated four-year schools generally do not earn a degree.  These students are, however, counted as part of the 25% of students successfully completing two-year programs, as mentioned in the US Department of Education's blog, linked above.  That means that, despite the fact that community college education is cost-effective and courses are comparable to those of four-year institutions, there continue to be unknowns about why 75% of community college students drop out.

Despite treatment as postsecondary education's step-children, much energy has been put into researching the reasons for such poor completion rates among community college students--possibly more than research available on dropout from traditional colleges.  Community college attrition has not been a focus of mine, so I am unable to address what issues or characteristics are attributed to these institutions' dropouts.  However, I have either served on or chaired enough dissertations regarding community college attrition to have a feel for some of the problems--or at least what some of the problems are not.  Cost is not an important factor; neither are academic support, vocational counseling, class availability, or faculty.

Because I am a staunch supporter of lifelong learning, the problems of retention among community colleges is interesting to me.  Because I believe community colleges are an excellent resource for individuals who are either earning a two-year degree or planning on continuing to a four-year institution, I am in full support of federal funding to research the causes of both retention and attrition in community colleges.  This makes a lot more sense to me than infusing education funds into postsecondary programs whose efficacy is unknown.  Selfishly, I also feel that learning more about attrition from two-year colleges might shed some light on dropout among junior and senior year high schoolers.  It might also inform four-year colleges about their freshman and sophomore attrition rates.  Perhaps the four-year institutions' student support programs are not as effective for freshmen and sophomores as they believe.  The community college is in the perfect place to inform consumers of both secondary and post-secondary institutional attrition.

Finally!! An Obama/Duncan education plan I can feel good about!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Obama/Duncan Plan for Higher Education

Today I was thinking a lot about the Obama administration's plan to churn out more math and science teachers in the next decade.  I call it the Obama/Duncan Plan.  Now, I haven't checked on this yet, but I will bet that there are plenty of undergraduate students in math and science education programs to meet the needs of middle and high schools throughout the country.  The problem is that these people may teach for a year or two (if at all) before they are snatched up by the business sector.  No matter what the economy is doing, teachers get paid poorly for the education levels they have achieved.  You can reduce interest or forgive payment on student loans all you want if a math or science education major actually teaches.  However, that will not keep these people in their jobs.  Why?  Money.

In most modern nations--and especially in developing nations--teachers are both respected and well-paid.  In the U.S., a teacher can be one step down from God and still not have the deserved respect for an extremely difficult job.  If you are not a teacher or postsecondary instructor, imagine having 30 ten-year-olds for six or seven hours a day, all at the same time.  Teachers have to get all the children listening and working together with a learning purpose or goal in mind, while maintaining the peace between two sworn enemies, soothing a bunch of chronic complainers, patiently listening to  three or four "goody two shoes," enticing at least one student who sits in the back of the room and challenges the teacher to teach him (or her), make certain that students are improving their reading, writing, and arithmetic skills as well as learning how to take standardized tests, and modeling how to behave appropriately with each other and with the teacher.  Five days a week, at least 40 weeks a year, year after year.

Could you do that job?  Or let's look at the high school level.  Imagine teaching the same thing to five classes a day.  The high school teacher has the same difficulties as the teacher of 10-year-olds, but the high school teacher sees his/her students for 45 to 50 minutes each day, and the kids are a lot bigger.  Additionally, the teacher has to remember where each class left off in discussions, whether a particular activity was adequately covered in all of the classes, and whether--by the fifth class--the intended information was actually delivered to the students.  If a teacher is expected to teach the exact same material to all his/her classes, the teaching can become pretty stale by the end of the day, even if the teacher practices cooperative learning techniques.

That's what classroom life is like for most teachers.  At the end of the day, their work is not finished.  It is often in the evenings, after the needs of their own families have been met, that the teacher once again sits down and plans for the next day's classes, or for all of the following week.  In addition, any papers that need reading and correcting are done in the evening, as the bit of non-teaching time that is build into their day is too short to score five sets of multiple choice tests.  On top of this, both the state and the school administration expect the teacher to take continuing education and professional development classes, usually on their own time, not the school's time.  Teachers often use their summer "vacations" to do that, and to plan out their teaching strategies for the following year.  Teachers are not paid for the summer.  However, they are often given the option to be paid only during the 10 months they are actively teaching, or to have their pay spread out across 12 months so that they can manage their income better.

More often than not, teachers are constantly looking for new ideas and new items that their students might find unique and interesting.  If you have ever gone on a social outing with someone who is a teacher, you are guaranteed to hear, at least once, "Oh, this would be perfect to share with my students!" or "This will make a great anecdote when I teach (fill in the topic)!"  If you haven't shared a social event with a teacher, try it.  See if an entire evening or day trip can go by without a single reference to something that students might like.

People who teach for more that three years are teachers first and everything else second.  That is why they are willing to accept pay that is lower than they are worth to the business world.  However, when math and science teachers see that they can make double what they are making if they work for a company instead of a school, many of them think about how much better the extra money will be for their family.  So, they take the job outside of teaching, and another hole in the math/science teaching sector opens up.

The Obama/Duncan plan to supplement higher education is certainly commendable, but it is not realistic in the long run.  We will have a steady progression of science and math teachers cycling through schools just to have their student loans forgiven.  Money given directly to higher education institutions will not necessarily be used wisely to shore up the education departments and graduate schools.  Whatever plan eventually comes out of the Oval Office will need to be carefully tailored with all environmental variables considered.  So far, this administration has not shown me that they are capable of covering all the territory on any issue, much less on education--specifically higher education.  I will continue to believe that more money must go into preK-12 education--much more than the amount of money going to postsecondary institutions.  From a feasibility standpoint, the better grade school education becomes, the less money will need to go into postsecondary institutions.  It's simply a more sensible investment.  

Meanwhile, the children cannot wait a minimum of 4 years before the first graduates of the Obama/Duncan postsecondary education plan are ready to teach.  For three years. Or until their student loans go away.  And the lure of much higher salaries draws them away from teaching...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How to Recognize a Lifelong Learner

Have you ever wondered why some people seem barely aware of what is happening in their own home or work environments? Do you find that some people insist that myth is fact? Do you know people who quote others but seem to lack an opinion of their own; or people who blindly follow the leader without taking time to learn about a topic from other sources?

If the answers to the questions above are mostly "yes," then you know that these individuals are not lifelong learners. But what is a lifelong learner? How can we identify them?  Well, I found one of the better descriptions at a school district web site from the Plano (Texas) Independent School District.  Read on for the characteristics that lifelong learners display.

Lifelong Learner Traits

The students of Plano ISD will be 

Self-directed learners who
• accept and seek new challenges in learning.
• identify purpose, define courses of action and follow through with a plan.
• apply prior knowledge and processes to construct new knowledge.
• access and utilize information from a variety of sources.

Effective communicators who
• express themselves clearly and concisely.
• listen attentively, receive, interpret and respond to communication.

Complex thinkers who
• demonstrate creative thought.
• construct meaning, solve problems, make and evaluate decisions using a variety of thinking strategies.

Quality producers who
• evaluate and adjust work to reflect best effort.
• persevere to create products which achieve intended purposes.

Responsible citizens who
• demonstrate respect and concern for self and others.
• assume responsibility for own actions.
• understand and participate in the democratic process.
• demonstrate sensitivity to cultural and individual differences.
• cooperate with others.

Collaborative contributors who
• work with others, acknowledge and contribute ideas, suggestions and effort.
• demonstrate the qualities of positive leadership.

Plano, TX, is a near neighbor to Lubbock, TX (that means the cities are less then 130 miles apart) where I lived for 7 years while earning my doctorate from Texas Tech.  TTU was heavy on the teaching of lifelong learning, and the College of Education stressed that its graduates be not only lifelong learners, but enlightened practitioners. More on enlightened practitioners at another time.  The point is that The Lone Star State has a vested interest in the independence of its students and other citizens.  Independence of thought leads to independence of action, and the intent of lifelong learning is to have and display both.

Now ask yourself this:  If you are a parent, is your school district teaching your children to become lifelong learners, or merely to pass a test?  If you are a teacher, is your school more interested in the whole individual or in where your students' achievement test scores stand in relationship to the state and the nation?

Now ask yourself, "What can I do within the limitations of my family, job, community, and personal constraints that can help my children/students to become lifelong learners?"

Please feel free to express your thought in the comments section below.  Also, please take the quick surveys in the sidebar.  Thank you for your interest in this topic.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What Does Parental Involvement Mean???

Yesterday, I posted an annoyance over the political educational shunning of parents in the dialog to improve schools. Over and over I used the term "parental involvement." The intent of that post was that parents--the very people who know their children and the children's needs better than anyone else--are excluded from major educational discussion and decisions.

The response below was posted earlier today, and I realized that I was using "parental involvement" as professional jargon, without adequately explaining what the term means. This particular individual began to touch on areas that academics consider part of the idea of "parental involvement." I'll continue after you read what this individual has to say.

Needing parental involvement just means that teachers are not doing their job well enough. Being raised in China and America gives me an unique perspective into the education culture of both countries. In my opinion, American teachers rely too much on parents to encourage students, teach moral values, and completing homeworks. As an elder sister to a very young teen, I must protest for parents that teachers are shifting the burden of education onto busy parents. Students spend the bulk of their waking hours in school, how in the world can parents fit another 8 hours of "together" time after work and meals? It is a simple fact that while parents are important influences in a student's life, teachers are a much more powerful force in education if they choose to do their job to the full extend. Parents are not professional educators, that's why they need teachers. It is not fair to ask them to pick up the slack when teachers can do so much more.
(Posted SEPTEMBER 28, 2010 1:29 PM)

Although not a parent, this sibling definitely meets the criteria exemplifying "parental involvement." Aside from family expectations, this individual represents cultural expectations as well. Although not Asian, I came from a culture in which I was expected to contribute to my sister's upbringing, even though I was trying so hard to be more "American," as defined when I was growing up. I had a foot in two cultures. However, when I was attending school, there were no services provided to help students 1) whose first language was not English, and 2) came from a social unit that differed from the typical American/Western European model of--well, of Americanism. Parental involvement back then meant that the parent was expected to attend PTA meetings and parent/teacher conferences, to appropriately punish their children for misbehavior during the school day, and to make sure the child was doing their homework.

So what is it that academics teach to pre-service teachers about the meaning of the phrase "parental involvement?" In American culture, the traditional parenting parties are the child's mother and father (or guardians). It is a dyad that works together to help the child grow up into a contributing citizen. Many Asian cultures the responsibility for raising a child to the extended family--grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings and cousins, and other blood relatives. Families often have cultural traditions which require the family patriarch or matriarch to make all important decisions for the family and to participate in important events, including those related to school.

Just as "family" means different things to different people, depending on their own circumstances, so too the phrase "parental involvement" depends on a child's "family" composition. Unfortunately, for many inner city teens, "family" can easily become the local turf gang. For the purposes of discussion about education, I will exclude the gang from the definition of "parental involvement."

Another point of interest to me in this reply is the following sentence: "In my opinion, American teachers rely too much on parents to encourage students, teach moral values, and completing homeworks." I would like to address this statement in another post. As a parent and grandparent, former teacher and current mentor of educators, this statement rankles on many levels.

For now, keep the discussion going on issues of parental and teacher involvement in educational decisions. Please also feel free to add your own interpretations of "parental involvement" and "teacher involvement." Thanks for reading! Come back soon for more.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Parental Involvement and School Success

Postsecondary education in the U.S. is no longer holding its own internationally in regard to the quality of baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees. However, the difficulties start much sooner--in pre-school--and the critical and vital link to student success is parental involvement. Research over several decades has shown how important it is to involve parents in their children's education throughout pre-school to high school. This research relates most strongly to public schools. Unfortunately, it seems that the only place where parents feel comfortable is in their living rooms while they home-school their children. Interestingly, popular news media are showing that home-schooled children do very well, often surpassing achievement test scores of their public school peers.

Last evening, I missed an online forum I very much wanted to attend. It was a panel about what can be done to fix American Education. The discussion, Education Nation Panel Live Stream held on Facebook, was posted as starting at 8:00PM, but it did not state that the time was given as Eastern Time. Oh, well. I got my two cents' worth into the comment stream, and will not share them here. If you have a Facebook account, you should be able to easily link to the comments.

While reading the comments, I realized two things: No teachers were involved in the discussion, and no parents of school-age children had been invited (not counting any panel member who happened to have children). In addition, most discussion post commentary was contributed by educators, so parents were underrepresented here, as well. This made me wonder, Why not?

The importance of parental involvement in a child's education process is stressed by every college and university in the country that offers teacher training programs. Yet, beyond scheduled conferences and PTA meetings, how often does the school reach out to parents and invite their participation. Do educators look down at parents because they are not professionals? Do parents feel they are not qualified? What is going on?

Although I have not seen it yet, the documentary movie "Waiting for Superman" supposedly addresses the ills of public schools. From what I am reading about it, however, there is a lot of one-sided argument, and parental involvement is glossed over: Parents are allowed to air their complaints, but not discuss their suggestions for improvement. Just those things--especially not addressing adequately the importance of parents (other than complaining), and not showing the good things educators in the public schools are doing--makes me think this is just another attempt to incite without offering manageable solutions.

But here is the bottom line: Education research has convincingly shown that the single most important aspect of a child's success is the involvement of at least one parent or custodial adult in the educational process from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Unfortunately, during the past two years parental involvement seems to have lost its importance to the U.S. Department of Education. I blame Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. The parent websites had managed to survive through numerous presidencies, so I can only surmise that Dr. Duncan does not feel parental involvement in education is an important topic. Again, this is DESPITE RESEARCH FINDINGS.

Too many people do not understand educational research. Indeed, much of what is written up and published include professional jargon and descriptions that are difficult for non-professionals to follow. Clearly, more solid information written in ordinary English needs to be available to the general public. Government sites, such as the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), offer links to specific government education sites, including links for parents, as well as explanation of research findings written in plain English. Other links include several to both the home page and specific survey sites for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Another important site is the home page of the U.S. Department of Education, where information is available to the general public regarding long- and short-range college planning, student loan updates, and other sources related to postsecondary education. There used to be a segment of IES that specifically aimed at parents, but that seems to have fallen to the wayside during the past year, perhaps because education is the province of the state, and most states already made parent-related education materials available (not just for home-schooling), or perhaps due to federal budget cuts. Among publications, the most recent downloadable information related to parental involvement seem to be contained in a regional study, Parent involvement strategies in urban middle and high schools in the Northeast and Islands Region (published in 2009), and a program study A Study of Classroom Literacy Interventions and Outcomes in Even Start (published in 2008).

Interestingly, an event local to me (West: Leading Successful School Turnarounds: Learning from Research and Practice) is open only to very targeted individuals, with education union representative, but without any representation of parents (unless "external partners supporting turnaround efforts" counts--which I doubt). Here is the intended audience and location information, for any SoCal parents interested in finding out why they were omitted:

Date: September 30 - October 1, 2010
District and school leaders receiving School Improvements Grants (SIGs), state education agency staff, union representatives, and external partners supporting turnaround efforts in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah.
Expected number of participants: 200

Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel; Los Angeles, CA

Contact: Meg Livingston Asensio 415.615.3196

Parents and teachers, it is time to unite and put the facts before the eyes of government leaders like Dr. Duncan. Dr. Duncan seems to me to be just another pretty boy who takes advice without considering or reviewing sources, as he is too busy to keep abreast of research aimed at education. Although postsecondary education is important and the U.S. is no longer holding its own in regard to the quality of baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees, the difficulties start much sooner--in pre-school--and increase through the 12th grade. Parental involvement is a critical aspect of success, and it is time parents were spot-lighted and helped.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Back-To-School? Get Involved!

Do you have children returning to school? Take time and get involved in their education. Be there for parent night. Attend PTA meetings. If you are fortunate enough not to be employed outside the home, volunteer in the school library or become a teacher's helper. Call the teacher if you have concerns about your child at any point during the school year, whether those concerns are about assignments or about behavior changes you see in your child. Working with the teacher and school can help ensure your child's academic success or stave off problems down the line.

How do I know? Educational research shows us that there is a very strong and direct correlation between parental involvement and a child's grades. Of course, not all school involvement has to be direct. Talk to your children about their school day, their assignments, their friends, their school and after-school activities. Make certain your child knows you are there to help him succeed. Help your child with homework. Review your child's essays and help her correct spelling or grammar--even the spelling checker can miss a homonym. Encourage your child to do better by suggesting how to make an essay more colorful or stronger. If needed, brush up on your writing or math skills so you can help your child, or hire a tutor for his weakest areas. If tutors are not affordable, check your community for free tutorial services offered by the school itself, community centers, and youth groups. Or start a study club for neighborhood children.

The most important things you can do is keep communication open with your child about all school and school-related tasks and activities, and know your child's behavior, mood patterns, and friends. Changes in her behavior or general mood can be an indicator of problems with classmates, the teacher, bullies, drugs or alcohol, or a host of other difficulties. Caught quickly, such problems can be dealt with before they grow out of hand.

Your child is important to you, and you want him to get the most out of the education the school provides. To ensure that, know your child well without smothering. Your child will thank you one day.