Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Silver Lining of the Education Crisis

As I was catching up on news from family and friends on Facebook, I came across this item from the Huffington Post,  Changing Education in an Ever-Changing World )

The author may have gotten a little carried away with other thoughts, but the bottom line of the item is that educators have a golden opportunity to teach students at all levels the skills they need to critically evaluate what they read on the Internet--using the very media that students prefer. I'm not sure what the statistics are, but I would say that there are 100 pieces of garbage on the web for every 1 piece of solid information. What the author failed to address is the practical use of all the gadgets that kids use to not only "surf the net" and share photos and movie clips, but also as a means to discuss with teachers and classmates what might make the article (or clip or photo or blog) "good" or "garbage." This can be done in any school subject, whether the topic is a review of a particular book, an online posts of "how-to's" for arithmetic calculations, an "academic discussion" on the start of the US Civil War, a first aid blog on how to treat a paper cut, or a YouTube clip of a lake's ecology. Thus, critical thinking can be taught for any subject and for any level of education, using the very instruments that students use for communication already.

Of course, I have always been a proponent of using the current tendencies and behaviors within a class and use them to learning advantage. Interestingly, teaching critical thinking skills by using the latest technologies can be a great classroom and learning management tool, as well.

Your thoughts?


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Out of Poverty?

In yesterday's post, I talked a bit about the relationship between poverty and dropout.  Today, I'm posting a link to an interesting article about opportunities available to even the poorest inner-city student of color.  Read this article carefully.  It comes from a regular blogger for Forbes.

What's wrong with this picture?

Every time I read something, I try very hard to read with an open mind.  As I went through this article, I vacillated between identifying with some of his remarks and feeling frustrated over feelings that the writer does not know what he doesn't know.  Even if he has an awareness of the kids who live a few miles from him, and even if he has listed a few ways inner city kids can access some opportunities to help them rise out of poverty, I think there is a lot of information which he is missing.  Part of what he is missing is the lived experience of poverty.  I don't believe he has spent much time actually talking to these kids and learning about what life in poverty really means.  I readily admit that I am also ignorant of the level of poverty many inner city kids experience, although I know what it is like to live from parent paycheck to paycheck, and having to get a job at an early age to help fund my own basic needs.  Still, I am aware that I do not know what life actually is like for these kids, as there was always enough food in the home, and always enough money to provide me with warm outerwear in the winter.

Yet, here is a writer who has experienced nothing but "middle class" life writing about how--with enough intelligence, desire, and access to information--any inner city student can move up to the middle class.  If he were a photographer, I might think he posed the subjects of his composition.  I mean, his photo might make it into his photo album, but would never make it into an art gallery because it is so commonplace.

Or maybe I just look at life through a different lens...

Here's a different perspective...from an individual who actually grew up in the depths of poverty:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mixing It Up: How to Seat Students

Want your students to Mix It Up?  Here is a great suggestion from Teaching Tolerance about a lunch-time activity.  But I think this is an excellent strategy for getting students to know each other in any classroom.  So often, no matter how hard a teacher tries to get all students to interact, kids manage to keep "cliques" together, or ignore the "outsiders."  Maybe deliberately breaking up groups of friends and spreading them out among other groups can help forge new friendships.  Oh, the possibilities for after the winter holiday break--sharing their activities in smaller groups instead of in front of the whole class, putting together of list of ideas for the teacher to use as discussion topics, reviewing class rules, debating current events...and the list goes on.

How to Seat Students | Teaching Tolerance

Please share your thoughts.


Student Test Scores as Evaluation of Teacher Performance

There was an interesting item posted in the New York Times a few weeks ago regarding the use of student mandatory test scores as the source for evaluation of teacher performance.  The original article can be found here:

My first surprise when reading this article is that not all principals were happy with linking test scores to teacher effectiveness.  That was actually wonderful to hear.  Here in Southern California, there are so many schools within solid districts that pull the district's state standings down.  The problem is that these schools are generally in the poorest (and predominantly Latin) neighborhoods, where parents, although holding education important, hold family survival higher.  In such districts, many students come to school exhausted or hungry, mainly because they are in charge of younger siblings and cousins while parents are working several jobs each to keep even scraps of food on the table.  A tired and hungry student--no matter how old or how young--will not be as responsive in class as a well-fed and well-rested student from a household with better financial resources and only 1--maybe 2--jobs per adult.  No matter how good a teacher is and no matter how much he/she cares about the students' overall welfare as well as academic growth, the growth will be slow.

When I wrote my dissertation looking for specific characteristics of Hispanic dropouts from across the country (I used the NELS:88 database from the National Center for Education Statistics--now part of the government's Institute of Education Sciences), I missed an important piece of information that I want to explore more fully in the future.  First, among Hispanic students who had ever dropped out, whether they return to school before the age of 21 is inexorably linked to level of poverty before beginning high school.  Since I was looking for predictive characteristics in 8th grade (the first available in this database) as a regression on final dropout/completion status by traditional college graduation (8 years later), I found that the deeper the family poverty, the less likely the dropouts would even attempt to return to school.  In fact, it was interesting to note that NCES never considered that a lot of their targeted students would have already withdrawn from the school establishment before the spring of 1988 when the data was originally collected.  A more critical finding was the incredibly high correlation between reading and math skills (.97) AND the reading/math correlation to poverty indexes (.95).  My first reaction was that the co-variance of math and reading was due to the fact that much of math includes written instructions and word problems, so that reading would be the driving factor, and that reading materials are very hard to come by when staying alive is a family's major goal. 

Over the years, in speaking to educators who work with students in such circumstances, I have come to believe that there was much truth to all the ado during the late 1960s and 1970s about free lunch programs.  But even back then, a student's family responsibilities seemed to be subsumed by just how early in life many of these kids have to contribute to whatever stability a family unit can attain. Students who are actively involved in keeping things together at home while Mom and Dad are out working at incredibly poor-paying jobs for 16 hours a day are not going to do well in school, no matter the quality of academic resources.  We've all heard reports on the number of middle and high school students who come to school for free breakfast and lunch, and disappear before the afternoon classes start. Many of these students' basic skills are so low that there is no longer any understanding of class materials.  According to NELS:88, most Hispanic dropouts during that era had reading levels at or below 2nd grade, with no indication of learning disabilities (at the time, students with any identified exceptionality were excluded from the surveys), or ESL/ELL needs. 

There are depths upon depths upon depths of information that educators--terachers, administrators,researchers--are unable to fathom. Yet these have little or nothing to do with teacher quality or how effective the teacher would be in a class of less impoverished students.  It doesn't even seem to to be related to the language spoken in the home.  My suspicion is that, as a society, we are not providing for the basic human needs of our poorest citizens--food, shelter, clothing, medical care.  I cannot believe that all the nation's poor want to be poor.  I cannot belive that most very poor parents are happy about keeping their eldest children home from school to care for the youngest.  I cannot believe that most poor parents like the idea of being home only long enough to eat a piece of bread and catch a few hours of sleep before returning to one of their several below-subsistence paying jobs, while leaving the oldest child (even if only 7 or 8 years old) in charge of younger ones, in essence guarateening that the child will get no homework assignments done, and probably will not get enough sleep. 

To blame a teacher when a class of students with similar problems performs poorly on tests is unconscionable.  Most of these teachers are among the most dedicated educators I have ever met.  They work so hard to help each individual in their classes learn as much as possible.  Yet, they are threatened with being fired if her/his classes continue to score below some predetermined level.  

I guess what I am trying to say is that this is not an issue that should be blamed solely on educators and educational institutions.  This is an issue that needs to be more thoroughly explored at its social roots. 

Your thoughts?


Monday, December 12, 2011

Autism boom: an epidemic of disease or of discovery?

Before you convince yourself that your two- or three-year-old child may be autistic, please read the following article.

Autism boom: an epidemic of disease or of discovery?

Next, talk to your pediatrician. If the pediatrician determines that your child needs to be evaluated, she/he will refer your child to a developmental pediatrician or a pediatric neurologist. When you speak to the pediatrician, make certain to mention any complications that arose during your pregnancy or the birth process.  Some difficult births are associated with certain neurological problems that can be handled with medications and minimal special services for your child, and chances are extremely good that your child will outgrow the neurological problem before the age of seven.

The point is this: When attentional and hyperactivity disorders (ADD and ADHD, respectively) first began to appear in the media during the early 1970s, the proportion of diagnosed cases increased astronomically. It is not uncommon for general pediatricians to either misdiagnose, or to defer to a parent's frustrations over normal inquisitiveness and simple tendency to enjoy running, jumping, climbing, and other activities that drive parents nuts. True hyperactivity is when a child is never able to stop him/herself until physical exhaustion occurs. However, only a qualified developmental, neurological, or related specialty pediatrician can diagnose the child's activity/attention level and determine whether the child is within normal limits or truly has ADD or ADHA.

The same applies to autism. Although early intervention is always welcome, even in some milder cases of developmental problems that children tend to outgrow, the initial diagnosis by a specialist is paramount to appropriate care. No parent wants a child to receive unnecessary medications.

Before settling on a course of treatment for a diagnosed child, make certain to get a second--even a third--opinion. Make sure to ask all your questions--make a list before you see the general pediatrician and add to it as you speak to specialists--about your child's symptoms, test results, etc.  Once you have settled on a specialist, make certain to make your child's and your own needs a top priority for any treatment program that is recommended. No one knows your child like you do. Your input is valuable, and should be an integral part of whatever treatment program may be recommended. Remember that your input is also helpful in determining whether your child should be "labeled" autistic. Labels follow children around for many years, and may become a source of more gradual social withdrawal on their own.

The following list comes from some of the best sources of knowledge available on autism. Use them as reference, or to guide you to additional sound information. There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet, so you want to start with the best sources so that you can evaluate other sources.

National Institute of Health: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development:

National Institute of Mental Health: has an excellent article called "Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Sorting It Out":

From WebMD:

From the CDC (Center for Disease Control):

From the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

Best wishes for your child, you, and your family in determining whether your child is truly autistic!