December 12, 2013 at 4:03 PM
As we adapt to the Common Core, our traditional grading system of A-F is on the chopping block, and rightfully so. This system, grading on a curve, has tended to perpetuate the status quo.
Because of socioeconomic factors, students with access to fewer educational resources have made lower grades, and students with greater access to educational resources have made higher grades. There are numerous exceptions, but this method has not championed equal opportunity and upward mobility — at least not in accordance with the American dream we tout.
A bell curve on a graph describes random variations in naturally occurring outcomes. But education is not a random undertaking, so critics have rightfully begun to question whether a grading curve is appropriate. In other intentional efforts — such as building a bridge or removing an appendix — we do not expect or tolerate a bell curve. If a bridge collapses into a river, or a patient dies from surgery, we do not chalk it up to a bell curve. Rather, we examine the situation to determine what went wrong and how we can prevent future calamities.
Our A-F grading system has been built on the assumption that it is natural for only a certain percentage of students to excel. Standards based education (SBE), via the Common Core, seeks to correct this. In SBE, students are not ranked against their classmates — or sorted like so many potatoes or apples. Rather, students are evaluated in terms of progress towards objective standards.
Just as engineers want all their bridges to be strong, and doctors want all their patients to thrive, we want all our students to be educated to a high standard. Implementing the Common Core is a step in the right direction, but it won’t be easy or cheap.
As the standards are refined, educators, students and families need to be included in the conversations. Teachers and principals certainly need a place at the table so they can explain conditions in classrooms while specifying the supports necessary to help each student achieve his or her potential.
It is clear that a higher teacher-student ratio is the key to achieving ambitious new goals. A kindergarten teacher with 27 students, half of whom are still learning English, cannot realistically help all her students achieve the standards specified for kindergarten. Some teachers work 60 hour weeks, spend their own money on supplies, and “work miracles” — before burning out. To maximize teacher potential, and build on their expertise, we need to provide released time for teachers to develop and share curriculum and instructional strategies with their colleagues. Professional development must be vastly expanded.
The above steps can ensure the standards are addressed through an engaging curriculum and not “taught to” as if cramming for a test. The diversity of our community is a resource, and families can contribute much to our increasingly global curriculum. Community volunteers can also play an important role, but family involvement depends on smaller class sizes, so that home-school partnerships can be cultivated.
SBE is not just another system. Rather, it is part of a national vision in which education is more democratic and effective. The borders between academic and vocational paths need to be flexible as students prepare for careers in an increasingly complex world. And all students should have courses in social studies and technology such that they can participate fully in our democratic society and in an increasingly connected world.
Some students will still have an uphill battle due to poverty or language barriers. But, standards-based education has this goal: Every student, regardless of starting point, or challenges along the way, will successfully arrive at the finish line.
Joan Tornow, Ph.D., is a Federal Way-based curriculum specialist and author of Link/Age: Composing in the Online Classroom (Utah State University) and Every Child is a Writer (Heinemann). Her articles have appeared in numerous educational journals.
December 12, 2013 at 12:33 PM
Hour of Code draws 10 million students: The classroom coding campaign from Seattle-based Code.org is approaching 11 million sign-ups, as of Thursday morning. The global initiative includes free classroom tutorials designed to get students — and teachers — excited about computer science.
"Flipped classrooms" shake up Detroit-area high school (PBS Newshour): Flipped classrooms, where students watch video lectures at home and complete tradition homework assignments at school, are catching on around the country. Clintondale High School in suburban Detroit is the first U.S. high school to do a total flip, and, so far, educators there say it's working.
In Minnesota, early ed advocates say investments are paying off (MPR): About 13 percent more Minnesota children were prepared to start kindergarten in 2012 than in 2010, according to a new report from the Minnesota Department of Education. Early education advocates attribute the increase to the state's investments in preschool scholarships for low-income children.
- Celebrity tutors thrive in grade-fixated Hong Kong (AP)
- What autonomous automobiles will mean for adolescence (Education Next)
- After setbacks, online courses are rethought (The New York Times)
- When teachers talk about their students on Facebook (The Atlantic)
December 12, 2013 at 6:00 AM
With the growing amount of educational materials offered on the Internet for free, are textbooks on their way out?
They soon may be. In the Lake Washington School District, for example, educators are investigating whether they can replace their high-school science texts with e-books built from free materials available online.
Up until recently, district officials didn’t think there was enough online curriculum to replace traditional textbooks, said Linda Stevens, director of curriculum and assessment.
Now, the district believes online materials may be equivalent or superior to what’s in print — and cheaper, too.
“We’re going to dive in and see whether we can build a really great science textbook out of Open Education Resources,” Stevens said. “If we can, that’s our most fiscally responsible way to go.”
Washington’s community colleges have provided a number of free e-textbooks for a few years now, and the Legislature recently passed a bill aimed at helping public schools districts move in that direction, too.
Lake Washington is one of a handful of districts that recently received state grants stemming from that bill to help it use, adapt or create online curriculum. Much of what’s already available has been developed by people who are eager and able to spread what they’ve made.
Most of the materials are licensed, meaning districts need to give credit to the creators. They include videos, games and simulations as well as e-books. But they are all free, can be adapted to a district’s or teacher’s needs, and updated quickly.
Textbooks, in contrast, can cost more than $100 each, and can’t be adapted or updated.
In Lake Washington, the district already provides all middle- and high-school students with laptops, Stevens said, so the district wouldn’t even have to pay for printing out the free materials.
If Lake Washington teachers come up with science e-books they like, the district will vet those materials alongside what’s available in print, Stevens said. They are looking to see what they can do in three subjects: biology, chemistry and physics. One big criteria will be how closely they follow the new, voluntary national science standards, which Washington state has decided to use.
The potential savings for the district are large — maybe as much as a quarter million dollars per subject.
But Stevens stressed that the primary goal is to provide students with the best, most rigorous materials available.
One added benefit: Many students prefer screens to paper.
“These kids have all been through Nintendo boot camp for many years now,” Stevens said, “and they’re ready to learn digitally.”
Plus, think how much lighter their backpacks would be.
December 11, 2013 at 5:14 PM
Sunday's story focused on a Chicago program that serves as a national model for family engagement, but several other efforts exist locally. For a brief sampling, check out the map below.
Know of other programs we missed? Send us an email, and we'll be sure to add them in.
December 11, 2013 at 1:02 PM
Washington charter school applicants expect parents to volunteer (KUOW): Eleven of Washington state's proposed charter schools plan to ask parents to pledge to volunteer at school, with several calling for commitments of 30 to 40 hours per year. Critics say the expectations, though not a requirement in the legal sense, could deter low-income families.
Report: New teachers lack comprehensive training in classroom management (The Atlantic): A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality shows many undergrad and graduate education programs include lessons in classroom management, but few teach the skill set in a comprehensive way. The most neglected skill, according to the report? How to praise students.
"Invisible Child": NYT tracks daily life of homeless student in five-part series (The New York Times): The latest mega-project from The New York Times examines the life of 11-year-old Dasani, a bright girl who lives in a Brooklyn shelter with her parents and seven siblings. Much of the series is devoted to the solace and promise provided by Dasani's school, the Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts.
- Westneat: GET program is no Ponzi scheme
- Parents worry schools overlook girls who are not college-bound (NPR)
- Budget deal could offer school districts relief from sequestration (Education Week)
- The secrets of "million-dollar ready" colleges (The Chronicle of Higher Education
December 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM
In our Sunday story about tapping into the power of parents in education, we summed up some of the research into ways parents can help students achieve.
But there's much more, including studies from the “social capital” camp — researchers who study the webs of relationships that can bring benefits to individuals, families and schools.
That concept was at the heart of “Bowling Alone,” a book that got a lot of play a few years back for tracking the demise of social ties in America.
The studies ring true to anyone who has ever gained from being part of a school community, getting advice and information from other parents as well as teachers and principals.
As University of Chicago sociologist Mario Small wrote in the preface to his book, “Unanticipated Gains:”
The thousands of books and articles spawned by social capital theory have probably convinced even the toughest skeptics that better connected people enjoy better health, faster access to information, stronger social support, and greater ease in dealing with crises or everyday problems.
To jump to the punch line, Small, in his study of childcare centers in New York City, found that even small, seemingly inconsequential decisions can help parents build social networks. One example: the centers with set drop-off and pick-up times gave parents a better chance to interact with each other, which led them to ask each other for ideas, advice and sometimes help. One review called that time a “social capital gold mine.”
A second study looked at family social networks versus the ones that exist at schools. The authors suggested that family social capital – defined in part as how much time parents spend checking homework, having discussions with their children and attending school events — increased student achievement more than the quality of their schools.
Their conclusion: To help students do better in school, we might look at building stronger social networks for families rather than focusing so much on improving schools.
December 10, 2013 at 5:00 PM
Did you miss our live chat on family engagement and the Logan Square parent mentor program? Scroll through below to see a recap.
- Joanna Brown, lead education organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association
- Monica Espinoza, former parent mentor and current mentor coordinator at Burbank Elementary in Chicago
- Pachomius Schmidt, Federal Way teacher
- Linda Shaw, Seattle Times reporter
December 10, 2013 at 3:30 PM
Spokane district to pay for PSAT, SAT exams (The Spokesman-Review): Spokane Public Schools will pay for all its high-school juniors and seniors to take College Board exams through the end of the next school year, at an estimated cost of $104,000. Officials plan to use the PSAT to determine whether students are on track to learn college-level math after graduation.
Calif. districts fear losing millions over income-verification rules (Los Angeles Times): Education officials in Los Angeles, San Diego and other California metro areas are urging state lawmakers to delay the implementation of a new rule that requires them to verify the incomes of low-income families each year. The requirement is tied to a new law that gives districts extra money for students who are low-income, learning English or in foster care.
Survey: Parents worried about lack of P.E. (Education News): A new survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Heath and NPR finds one in four parents feel their child's school does not do enough to emphasize physical education.
- In a small Missouri town, immigrants turn to schools for help (NPR)
- Getting into college—and paying for it: a look at five students (The Hechinger Report)
- Chicago Public Schools to add computer science as core subject (Chicago Tribune)
- Newtown massacre prompts more vigilance in schools and elsewhere (The New York Times)