Monday, February 28, 2011


Lots of interesting stuff over at the HuffPo Education Page this morning. The lead article by Martin Blank concerns community schooling, an approach I've long favored:

Given our nation's fiscal challenges, we have no choice but to organize public, private, and community resources more effectively and collaboratively. A recent report from the Coalition for Community Schools shows that for every $1 that the school system invests in a community school, the community invests an additional $3. That's real leverage. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the return was even greater during his tenure organizing 150 community schools in Chicago.

And the research is clear: students in community schools learn better, attend school more, and are healthier.

Parents at my daughter's school are up in arms over a personnel change, organizing meetings and firing emails back and forth. We would have killed for that level of parental involvement at the school I taught at last year. Because parental involvement makes such a difference in kids' achievement, it stands to reason that anything that gets parents more invested in the school is worthwhile. The above statistics bear that out.

Moreover, while it's undeniable that teacher quality makes a huge difference, piling all the accountability on the backs of teachers makes no sense. So much of what affects educational outcomes is far beyond the teacher's control. Which brings us back to measures that increase community involvement; again, they pay for themselves. As Kevin Drum has pointed out, our schools do a pretty good job by international standards – it's just our high-poverty schools that are lagging.

So again, anything that helps the community surrounding the school is desirable. If we ever get to a place where we stop cutting budgets, this kind of thing will, everyone now: pay for itself.

Next up is a study that shows student hunger to be the third worst problem that teachers face.

This was certainly part of my experience. Even though 95% of the school was eleigible for free lunch and breakfast, not all kids showed up in time to eat the breakfast. So their blood sugar was low to begin with, and took wild swings based on smuggled-in candy and school-sanctioned chocolate milk in the cafeteria. I tried to explain this in a LTTE responding to yahoo who wanted "the feds out of the lunchroom:"

Apparently your correspondent has never tried to teach a classroom full of dozens of squirmy kids giddy from sugary snacks, or dazed from the resulting crash in blood sugar.

Among the basic nutrition facts I try to teach my students is that complex carbohydrates – like those found in fruits and vegetables – enhance learning by sending a steady supply of energy to the brain, rather than causing spikes as junk foods do.

Moreover, agribusiness subsidies make junk foods and sodas far cheaper than the free market would allow – rendering healthy, unsubsidized produce relatively costlier. Impoverished parents may accordingly make unhealthy purchases, but we needn’t let their children suffer the consequences.

Directing federal dollars towards healthier choices is cheaper than allowing millions of kids to grow up malnourished and undereducated. All taxpayers have a collective self-interest in raising more productive citizens.

Also weighing in was filmmaker George Lucas, who said he didn't enjoy school much, but feels like wider application of gee-whiz technology would help a lot:

What we need today and in the future are citizens who can wield the tools of technology to solve complex problems. Which means we need students who can:

• find information
• rigorously analyze the quality and accuracy of information
• creatively and effectively use information to accomplish a goal

The good news is that in pockets across our country, schools and districts are unleashing contemporary technology -- combined with classic methods of inquiry-based learning that date back to Plato and Socrates -- to transform the learning process into a rigorous and more relevant experience.

I applaud the sentiment, but simply putting computers in the classroom is not enough. Last month I taught a bunch of high school students who could easily navigate to their favorite games and videos, but seemed incapable of using the Internet to do basic research. One student, tasked with writing and illustrating a paragraph about the cultural impact of radio in the 1920s, simply used Google Image to locate a picture of a radio and explained that that's what they looked like back then.

What's needed is an approach that teaches critical thinking, which is being neglected under the uber-testing regime of NCLB. Which brings us to the last post, from a teacher who identifies a serious problem in language acquisition skills, but proposes an excessively draconian solution:

In elementary school, I'd split the day in half. Intensive English-only Language Arts in the morning, math in the afternoon, through fifth grade. Any sort of Social Studies, which, in these years, amounts to knowing where you live and who carries the mail, can be taken care of as part of the English program. Science can wait.

Gawd save us from the education reformers; educate yourself about what kind of education they wish on our kids.

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