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Revisiting Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, Madison’s English 10



Madison’s very well funded K-12 system (> $25k/student) has long attempted and often implemented one size fits all programs: English 10 and the ongoing efforts to abort AP and honors courses.

Yet, years after Madison’s one size fits all English 10 experiment…

Meanwhile:




Eliminating Advanced Classes in the name of equity: Madison’s English 10 deja vu “This is a sound pedagogical approach to education”



Sara Randazzo:

The parental pushback in Culver City mirrors resistance that has taken place in Wisconsin, Rhode Island and elsewhere in California over the last year in response to schools stripping away the honors designation on some high school classes.

School districts doing away with honors classes argue students who don’t take those classes from a young age start to see themselves in a different tier, and come to think they aren’t capable of enrolling in Advanced Placement classes that help with college admissions. Black and Latino students are underrepresented in AP enrollment in the majority of states, according to the Education Trust, a nonprofit that studies equity in education.

Culver City High School eliminated honors English classes to try to improve racial equity, but many parents disagree with the move.
Since the start of this school year, freshmen and sophomores in Culver City have only been able to select one level of English class, known as College Prep, rather than the previous system in which anyone could opt into the honors class. School officials say the goal is to teach everyone with an equal level of rigor, one that encourages them to enroll in advanced classes in their final years of high school.

“Parents say academic excellence should not be experimented with for the sake of social justice,” said Quoc Tran, the superintendent of 6,900-student Culver City Unified School District. But, he said, “it was very jarring when teachers looked at their AP enrollment and realized Black and brown kids were not there. They felt obligated to do something.”

Culver City English teachers presented data at a board meeting last year showing Latino students made up 13% of those in 12th-grade Advanced Placement English, compared with 37% of the student body. Asian students were 34% of the advanced class, compared with 10% of students. Black students represented 14% of AP English, versus 15% of the student body.

Related: Madison’s English 10 expedition (Mid 2000’s)

2017, yet Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results continue (despite spending about $23k/student).

Madison’s recent attempt to eliminate honors classes.

Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron is worth a read.




West HS English 10: More from Pam Nash



As many of you know, I have been in touch with the District and West HS administration — as well as with our BOE — with a request for “before-and-after” data on the English elective choices of West’s juniors and seniors. The reason for my request is that one of the primary reasons why English 10 was implemented was the concern that some groups of West students were not choosing to take challenging electives in their upper class years. Here are links to my earlier posts:
https://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2007/08/west_hs_english_4.php
https://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2007/08/west_hs_english_5.php
On August 29, I received the following email from Pam Nash:
Laurie-
Our Research and Evaluation staff reported today that the district does not keep course requests and course assignments beyond one year. Therefore, we cannot retrieve information that shows, historically, what English courses were chosen by whom over time.
We will be able to give you this year’s information by the end of next week.
Pam

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West HS English 10: Request for Data — Reply from Pam Nash



I received the following reply to my request for English 10 data from Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Pam Nash:
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 14:27:48 -0500
From: pnash@madison.k12.wi.us>
To: lauriefrost@ameritech.net, eholmes@madison.k12.wi.us, hlott@madison.k12.wi.us, arainwater@madison.k12.wi.us, mbking1@wisc.edu
Laurie-
Mr. Holmes and his staff will do this. Pam
Pamela J. Nash
Assistant Superintendent
for Secondary Schools
Madison Metropolitan School District
(608) 663-1635
(608) 442-2149 (fax)

And here’s what I wrote back:
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 15:21:06 -0500
To: pnash@madison.k12.wi.us, eholmes@madison.k12.wi.us, hlott@madison.k12.wi.us, arainwater@madison.k12.wi.us, mbking1@wisc.edu
From: “Laurie A. Frost”
Subject: Re: English 10 early results request
Cc: asilveira@madison.k12.wi.us, lkobza@boardmanlawfirm.com, lucym@charter.net, jwinstonjr@madison.k12.wi.us, mcole@madison.k12.wi.us, bmoss@madison.k12.wi.us, ccarstensen@madison.k12.wi.us
Thank you, Pam. I will look forward to receiving the data.
I know you all probably see me as a thorn in your side. Please try to understand, I am simply trying to keep you honest with the public … and empirically based.
If the results are positive — if English 10 is associated with a significant change in the target variable of concern (rigor of elective choices in 11th and 12th grade) — wouldn’t you want to know?
And if the results are not positive, wouldn’t you want to know?
Laurie




West HS English 10: Request for Data



Here is an email I sent to the BOE, asking them to request important outcome data for West HS’s English 10 initiative. Embedded in the email is my own request for such data. As both a content and a process issue, I should think this would be of interest to all SIS readers. By all means, feel free to write to these people with your own request. –LAF
August 22, 2007
Dear BOE (especially Performance and Achievement Committee members Kobza, Winston and Cole):
Please see my email below to various people involved with the West HS English 10 initiative. Thank you for taking the appropriate and expected responsibility to obtain these data and make them public. We need to know if the things we are doing to our high school students are actually having the desired impact, in part, to guard against our doing things for our own misguided adult reasons (things like politics and stubborn pride).
I should think that the gap-closing effectiveness (or lack thereof) of a core course in 10th grade English at one of our four high schools would be of significant interest to community members throughout the District, including parents, teachers and students at the other three high schools … and especially members of our School Board.
Many thanks,
Laurie
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2007 08:42:39 -0500
To: hlott@madison.k12.wi.us,mbking1@wisc.edu,eholmes@madison.k12.wi.us,pnash@madison.k12.wi.us,arainwater.k12.wi.us
From: “Laurie A. Frost”
Subject: English 10 early results request
Dear All:
One of the primary reasons for the implementation of English 10 at West High School was concern about the failure of some groups of West students to take rigorous English electives in their upper class years.
Can you please send me the data regarding the English electives chosen by this year’s 11th graders when they registered for classes six months ago? (Needless to say, I would also like to see the English elective data for the past few years, so that a meaningful comparison can be made between the choices of English 10-era versus pre-English 10-era students.)
This is the first group of West students to take English 10, so a look at the early results of the curricular initiative seems appropriate, as does sharing that information with the West community. I assume that the data are appropriately disaggregated by race and SES, given your concerns and your hypotheses about the impact of the new core course.
Many thanks.
Laurie Frost
West HS parent




West HS English 10: Time to Show Us the Data



According to the November, 2005, report by SLC Evaluator Bruce King, the overriding motivation for the implementation of West’s English 10 core curriculum (indeed, the overriding motivation for the implementation of the entire 9th and 10th grade core curriculum) was to reduce the achievement gap. As described in the report, some groups of West students were performing more poorly in English than were other groups of West students. Poor performance was defined as:

  1. not electing to take the more rigorous English electives offered at West during 11th and 12th grade and
  2. failing one or more English classes.

The current West 10th graders — the first class to take English 10 — has almost finished two semesters of the new course. As well, they registered for their 11th grade courses several weeks ago. Seems to me it’s about time to take a look at the early data.
I would like to know what English courses the current 500 or so West sophomores signed up for for next year and if the distribution of their course selections — broken down by student groups — looks significantly different from that of previous 10th grade classes? When final grades come out later this month, I would also like to know what the impact of the first two semesters of English 10 has been on the achievement gap as defined by the “grade earned” criterion.
Thinking about the need to evaluate the impact of English 10 brings to mind the absence of data on English 9 that became so glaringly apparent last year. [English 9 — like English 10, a core curriculum delivered in completely heterogeneous classes — has been in place at West for several years. And yet, according to Mr. King’s report, it is not clear if English 9 has done anything to reduce the achievement gap in English among West students. (More precisely, according to email with Mr. King and others after the SLC report was made public, it is not clear that the impact of English 9 on the achievement gap at West has even been empirically evaluated. Readers may recall that some of us tried valiantly to get the English 10 initiative put off, so that the effect of English 9 could be thoroughly evaluated. Unfortunately, we failed.)] I would like to know what has been done this year to evaluate the impact of English 9 on the gap in achievement between different groups of West HS students.
Bruce (King), Heather (Lott), Ed (Holmes) and Art (Rainwater), I do hope you will soon “show us the data,” as they say, for West’s English 9 and English 10. And BOE, I do hope you will insist on seeing these data asap.
While we’re at it, what do the before-and-after data look like for Memorial’s 9th grade core curriculum? (In contrast to West, Memorial implemented only a 9th grade core curriculum. TAG and Honors classes still begin in 10th grade, as does access to Memorial’s 17 AP classes.)
With the District in the process of applying for a federal grant that may well result in the spread of the West model to the other three comprehensive high schools, we should all be interested in these data.
So should officials in the Department of Education.




More Than English 10: Let’s REALLY Talk About Our High Schools



First, I want to say BRAVO, RUTH, for putting it all together and bringing it on home to us. Thanks, too, to the BOE members who overrode BOE President Johnny Winston Jr’s decision to table this important discussion. Finally, deepest thanks to all of the East parents, students and teachers who are speaking out … and to the many West parents, students and teachers who have also spoken out over the past few years.
As we begin what will hopefully be a thoughtful and thoroughgoing community-wide conversation about what’s going on in our high schools, I’d like to clear up some muddiness about what’s happened at West in the past few years. I think it’s important to have our facts straight and complete. In doing so — and in comparing what’s happened at West to what’s now going on at East — I’d like to draw on the image of an animal experiment (that apparently never happened). In one condition, a frog is put into a bath of cool water, the temperature is gradually raised to boiling, and the frog dies without a struggle. In another condition, a frog is put into a bath of boiling water, immediately jumps out, and lives to tell the tale. As I see it, West was put in the first condition. The administration implemented small changes over the course of several years, with the ultimate goal of turning 9th and 10th grades into two more years of middle school. Students and parents were lulled into thinking that everything was O.K. because, hey, what’s one small change? East, in contrast, has been put in the second condition. There, the administration seems to have the same goal of turning 9th and 10th grade into two more years of middle school, but has introduced all of the changes at once. Like the frog placed in the boiling water, East has been shocked into strong reaction.

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Still On the Slippery Slope of West HS’s English 10?



Last week, families of rising juniors at West High School received a copy of the Junior School Counseling Newsletter. On page 2, there is a section entitled “English Course Selections for 2006/07.” The paragraph reads as follows:
Students are required to earn four credits of English for graduation, and this must include one semester of composition beyond tenth grade. Students in grades 11 and 12 are given a choice of non-sequential semester electives, each providing one-half credit towards graduation. College preparatory students, however, should check the colleges of their choice to be sure about what courses are acceptable for college admisison, i.e., some colleges might not accept courses in such areas as theater or media for admission.
The second half of the first sentence (assuming it is not a typo) reflects an important change in the English requirement for graduation at West — one that has never been discussed with students and parents and one that is surprising and confusing, given the stated goals and content of English 10.
It is also not consistent with what’s stated in the 2006-07 course catalogue. (Thanks for bearing with me for including the complete entry here.)

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Good goals, flawed reasoning: Administration Goes Full Speed Ahead on English 10 at West High



At January and February school board meetings, Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater reported on the administration’s plan to go ahead with one English course for all tenth graders at West High School starting in 2006-07. The goal of the plan is to increase academic opportunity for students of color. The mechanism is to teach all students the same curriculum, leaving it up to teachers to “differentiate” their approach and give equal challenge to every student. The school board has taken no action on this plan and does not plan to adopt, modify or otherwise vote on the plan before it is implemented.
I support the goal. I am not convinced, however, that the mechanism is based, as claimed, on the best research. The presentations to the Performance and Achievement Committee have raised my level of doubt.
At the January 30 meeting, the board heard from a University of Wisconsin expert. His published research on the subject of differentiated teaching concluded that more research is needed on this subject. Where the expert found successful differentiated teaching in high schools,the circumstances of the schools were far different from the circumstances at West High School. For example, successful “differentiated” classes occurred in schools where administration could match the skills and motivation of the teachers to the classes and where students vied for spots in the classrooms. We have a staff based on seniority and teacher options within the seniority system and must accept all students at tenth grade level into the program.
We were asked to consider the Biology I/ Advanced Biology I program at West High as a basis for making the change in the English program. In that program, approximately 20 students qualify for the advanced course and all others take Biology I. We were told that taking Biology I (rather than the advanced course) had not prevented a high percentage of West students from becoming National Merit Semi-Finalists. Never mind that the tests used for selecting the semi-finalists do not test science skills. At best, this correlation shows that taking Biology I did not harm the high-scoring students skills and aptitudes in non-science areas.
Two of our teachers made more persuasive arguments for caution in moving to “differentiated” courses. One cited research showing that the teacher training for these courses is a five to ten-year process. The other teacher gave us the factual background necessary to analyze the administration’s proposal. That teacher’s testimony follows.

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West HS students speek/speak out on English 10



Here are two stories from the December 23, 2005, issue of the West HS student newspaper, The Regent Review. I reprint them here just as they appear in print (that is, with all misspellings, grammatical errors, etc.). (Note: the faculty advisor for The Regent Review is West HS English teacher Mark Nepper. Mr. Nepper has been involved in the development of English 10. Some of you may recall that Mr. Nepper joined English Department chair Keesia Hyzer in presenting the plans for English 10 at the November 7 West PTSO meeting.)
From the front page: “A new English 10 expected for next year,” by CI, a senior at West HS and co-editor of the student newspaper:

In an attempt to bridge the minority gap and continue with the smaller learning communities, Madison West High will tentativly be changing to a core English for all sophomores.
Ed Holmes, current West High principal, says he is doing his best to continue our tradition as a “School of Excellence.” To achieve this ideal excellence, Holmes recognizes that he not only has to raise the standards of the struggling students but also continue to push accelerated students to be better each day.
The goal is to have this new English ciriculum continue to push West’s excellence. The cirriculum will incorporate the current classes of FWW, IWW, With Justice for All, Writers in their Time, and Modern Literture. Now students will read and learn writing habits at the same time so that they can incorporate the new techniques that they are learning into the papers that they write.

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West Moves Ahead With English 10 Restructuring



West High School has decided to move ahead with their curriculum reduction plan. The school has posted a document explaining the changes on their website. The one concession that the school has made to parents is their decision not to require students to give up time at lunch in order to earn an honors designation. Instead, there will be an embedded honors component where students will be expected to complete more complex assignments and take more challenging exams. Support for struggling students will now occur in the classroom as well.
From the document:

The staff training necessary for full implementation of the tenth grade English program will include:
• The basics of how to differentiate in the classroom. What is really meant by differentiated instruction? How is it successfully implemented at the high school level?
• Best practice strategies for supporting struggling learners in the heterogeneous classroom.




And the (West HS English 10) beat goes on …”



Here is the email I wrote earlier today to Ed Holmes, Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, Mary Gulbrandsen, and the seven members of the BOE, followed by the reply I just received from Ed Holmes:
I wrote:
Hello, everyone. I wonder if one of you would please send us a status report on the plans for 10th grade English at West for next year? Many of us have written to you multiple times about this matter, but without any reply. We are trying to be patient, polite, collaborative and upbeat (despite the fact that we are feeling frustrated, ignored and stonewalled).
Specifically, would one of you please tell us:

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The impossibility of English 10



Forget the philosophies about heterogeneous versus homogenous classrooms. Forget English 9. Forget Shakespeare.
English 10 just ain’t gonna’ work for struggling and advanced student, who we’re told can meet with teachers twice a week during the lunch hour.
A few quick calculations show the glaring impossibility of success for these students.

* Twenty-percent of West’s 10th graders cannot read at grade level.
* Let’s assume a perfect bell shaped curve, which would mean twenty percent can handle work beyond the regular coursework.
* Soooooo, 40% of the 10th graders should be meeting with teachers during lunch.
* West has 535 9th graders this year, meaning that next year 214 10th graders will need to meet with a teacher during the lunch hour. (535 x 40% = 214)
* If they meet with a teacher twice a week, that produces 428 contacts of some sort in the week. (214 students x twice a week = 428)
* Those 428 contacts spread over five days in the week mean that 85 10th graders need to see a teacher during the lunch hour each day.
* Let’s assume that 10 English teachers will be available, meaning that each teacher will be able to meet with 8 students during a lunch hour.
* Going further, let’s assume that in between eating and getting to the class after lunch, the schedule allows 40 minutes for students to meet with teachers.
* If each teacher meets individually with each of the 8 students during those 40 minutes, each student will have 5 minutes with a teacher.

What’s a struggling student or an honors student going to learn in 5 minutes?
Or, maybe West could create 3 or 4 more sections of English 10 to meet during those 40 minutes for those 85 students each day, leading us right back to asking whether those classes should be grouped heterogeneously or not.
In short, the planning for West’s English Curriculum Reduction Plan needs to deal with the reality of only a few minutes a day during lunch to meet the academic needs of 214 students. It needs to deal with the reality of providing academic challenge and producing academic excellence for each and every student at West. The students deserve it.
ps. See what else goes on at lunch at West by visiting the school’s page on more than 100 Lunch and Learn Activities, which run AODA Use Support Group to English Help groups five days a week.




12/9/05 Reply to West Principal Ed Holmes re: English 10



Hi, Ed. Thanks for writing. I look forward to seeing the material you’re putting up on the website.
A couple of other questions —
I’m curious to know what Shwaw Vang has asked you for? In particular, did his request include outcome data for English 9? As you know, many of us think a thorough evaluation of English 9 is the wisest (and most responsible) first step to take in developing English 10. Wouldn’t it be a shame not to avail ourselves of the several years’ worth of data there for the picking?
Also, given that one of the concerns driving the English 10 initiative is concern that some students don’t take the higher level electives and some get through West without any bona fide literature and writing courses, did anyone think about requiring a certain number of upper level electives, literature courses, and writing courses for graduation? That seems to me the most straightforward approach to the stated problem.
I am glad to know that you are starting to see us as your partners in this process — not your adversaries — and that you are grappling with the Very Challenging Truth that West’s diverse student body does not have exactly the same learning needs throughout, thus the needs cannot be met effectively with standardized, cookie-cutter solutions.
Speaking of partnership and the diversity of solutions needed, later today I will be dropping off the 20-minute DVD on the Odyssey Project that Emily Auerbach sent me. I would appreciate getting it back by winter break. Feel free to share it with Keesia, Pam, Art and any others. It’s really powerful. When I think of some of the students who appear in the film being available to dialogue with students and teachers at West, well, I get really hopeful.
Finally, please know that no one is questioning the excellence or commitment of anyone involved in this conversation and struggle. Never have been. I truly believe that we all have the kids as our highest priority.
Have a good weekend.
Sincerely,
Laurie
www.odyssey.wisc.edu




Reply from West HS Principal Ed Holmes to request for update on English 10



Hi Laurie,
The discussion about 10th grade English and 10th grade core continues. There will be a statement and responses to questions that have been raised by parents, community, and staff online in the form of a link from the West High website early next week. I will also submit information to MMSD School Board member Shwaw Vang as per his request regarding direction of 10th grade English.
I have been working with some of the best eductors in the field to address the concerns that have been raised in order to develop the best plan possible to meet the academic needs of all students at West High. I am excited that we are having this discourse and that everyone’s perspective is being heard. This process challenges everyone to work hard to come up with the best possible plan to meet the academic needs of our students.
I expect to hear a strong voice and challenge from a community and parents that are as informed and concerned as the parents and community of West. I will continue to do my best as Instructional Leader at West to meet the needs of all students, maintain high academic standards, and preserve the reputation of West as a school of academic excellence.
This is indeed challenging and exciting work. Thank you for your continued interest, perspective, and concern.
Ed Holmes, Principal
West High School




Steve Rosenblum on West’s Planned English 10: Same Curriculum for All



Steve Rosenblum, writing to Carol Carstensen:

Date: Fri, 2 Dec 2005 15:07:45 -0600
To: Carol Carstensen ,”Laurie A. Frost” From: Steven Rosenblum Subject: Re: West English
Cc: raihala@charter.net, jedwards2@wisc.edu, bier@engr.wisc.edu, jlopez@madison.k12.wi.us, wkeys@madison.k12.wi.us, svang7@madison.k12.wi.us, rrobarts@madison.k12.wi.us, jwinstonjr@madison.k12.wi.us, lkobza@madison.k12.wi.us
Carol,
Thank you for the response. I am somewhat confused however regarding your statement concerning the Board’s role. Maybe you could define what is included under ‘set policy’ and what is excluded. I am aware of the situations you reference regarding the BOE and what some may consider poor decisions on subject matter and censorship. I also believe the public was able to vote boards out when the decisions made do not reflect community opinion. I thought our BOE was responsible to control the Administration’s decisions regarding just these type of issues.
With a child entering West next year, I am personally very concerned with what I perceive is a reduction in education quality at West. We see this in English, in the elimination of Advanced Placement Courses, through the homogenization of class make-up which ignores student achievement and motivation. In addition, I really do not feel we can allow much time to resolve these issues, especially when decisions can be made in closed door sessions and without supporting data.

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Carol Carstensen on West’s Planned English 10 Single Curriculum for All



Laurie:
Thank you for your email. I have been following the discussion on the proposed changes to English 10 at West. I know that there have been various conversations between West High staff and parents and downtown administrators. I believe that a number of the concerns raised by parents are being given serious consideration. I really think you need to allow some time here.
I do see a broader policy issue of the question of heterogeneous grouping. Since this is really in the area of the Performance and Achievement Committee, I will talk with Shwaw Vang about having a meeting on this topic. Given the current schedule of Board meetings it looks as if January is the earliest we can have a meeting on this.
It is important to remember that the Board’s role is to set policy not to get involved in curriculum decisions. Just to remind you of some of the pitfalls of having politicians make curriculum decisions: there is the national controversy over the teaching of evolution and the example of the Dover PA board; there is also the current push to require the use of abstinence only programs; and lastly various attempts to censor what books are used in classrooms.
Carol
P.S. If you decide to forward or post this, please use the entire response.
………….
At 08:32 AM 12/2/2005 -0600, you wrote:
Dear Carol,
I am writing to request that you put a discussion of the plans for English 10 at West HS (and the question of whether or not West’s English 9 course has been appropriately evaluated, and whether or not the results of any evaluation support the implementation of English 10) on the agenda of a BOE meeting as soon as possible.
I believe it is time for the BOE to step in and take seriously its responsibility to students by insisting that the West administration make a sound, empirically-based decision.
Many thanks,
Laurie




The History of English in 10 Minutes



Benjamin Starr:

Did you know that Shakespeare alone contributed more than 2000 new words to the English language? How about that the words cow, sheep and swine, come from English farmers while their culinary versions, beef, mutton and pork, come from French? With its many borrowed and newly invented words, the English language is one that continues to adapt to a changing world. This witty 10 minute animation (in 10 parts) looks at some of the diverse history surrounding the popular language.




Wisconsin gets $10.5M in federal redistributed tax dollars for English learner assessment



Bill Novak:

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has been awarded a $10.5 million grant to develop technology-based assessments for students learning English.

The four-year grant from the federal Department of Education will be used to develop an online assessment system to measure student progress in attaining the English language skills they need to be successful in school and, ultimately, post-secondary studies and work.

The DPI is the lead agency in a 28-state consortium working with World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison.

Presumably, this initiative has passed the “it works” DPI requirement mentioned here.




West HS English 9 and 10 Again — No Child Moves Ahead



Several of us received the following email today from Ted Widerski, MMSD TAG (“Talented and Gifted”) Resource Teacher for Middle and High Schools. Ted has been working with other District and West HS staff to find a way to allow West 9th and 10th graders who are advanced in English to grade accelerate in English, whether through the INSTEP process or some other method.
Here is what he wrote:

Parents –
On Wednesday, April 12th, Welda Simousek and I met with Pamela Nash, Mary Ramberg, Mary Watson-Peterson, Ed Holmes, and Keesia Hyzer to discuss In-STEP procedures for students in English 9 and/or 10. Through this discussion, it became clear that there was no reasonable method available at this time to assess which students might not need to take English 9 or 10 because part of what is learned in English classes comes through the processes of analysis, discussion, and critical critiquing that are shared by the entire class. An alternative assessment approach was discussed: having students present a portfolio to be juried. This approach would require a great deal of groundwork, however, and would not be available yet this spring. It will be looked at as a possibility for the future.
Please keep in mind that it is the intention of West High School to offer meaningful and challenging English courses for all levels of students. It is also the usual TAG Classroom Action Summary and In-STEP approach to have students be present in a classroom for a period of time before it is possible to assess whether they are extremely beyond their classroom peers and need a different option. Welda will follow up with teachers and students in the fall to ascertain progress for students during the first semester. The use of the Classroom Action Summary and In-STEP approach (with a brainstorming of possible options) will be reviewed again at the end of semester one.
Please feel free to contact me with further questions.

Ted Widerski
Talented and Gifted Resource Teacher
Madison Metropolitan School District

I replied to Ted (copying many others, including parents, Teaching and Learning staff, Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, the BOE, and West HS staff), saying that this is a case of unequal access to appropriate educational opportunities because of how poorly West HS provides for its 9th and 10th graders who are academically advanced in English, as compared to the other three high schools.
Here is my reply:

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West HS English 9 and 10: Show us the data!



Here is a synopsis of the English 10 situation at West HS.
Currently — having failed to receive any reply from BOE Performance and Achievement Committee Chair Shwaw Vang to our request that he investigate this matter and provide an opportunity for public discussion — we are trying to get BOE President Carol Carstensen to put a discussion of the English 10 proposal (and the apparent lack of data supporting its implementation) on the agenda for a BOE meeting.  Aside from the fact that there is serious doubt that the course, as proposed, will meet the educational needs of the high and low end students, it is clear we are witnessing yet another example of school officials making radical curricular changes without empirical evidence that they will work and without open, honest and respectful dialogue with the community.
As the bumper sticker says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!”

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West High School Presentation on 10th Grade English: Same Curriculum for All Students



Click to view the Video

MP3 audio only

Barb Schrank, Videographer

Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, and teacher Mark Nepper presented information on the planned single English curriculum for all 10th graders at West this past Monday evening. Watch the video or listen to the audio by clicking on the links just to the left of this text. Background on this matter:




Proposed West High 10th Grade English – The Male American Experience?



Meg Cooper, parent, gave permission for her observation of the proposed West HS 10th grade English curriculum to be posted:
Has anyone else noticed that 80% or more of the proposed new West HS English 10 curriculum consists of male authors? Perhaps it should be called The Male American Experience/Justice/Identity relating to The Male American Dream…! I was very shocked. It appears so traditional (in a bad way) and excludes half [the femamle’s perspective] of the American experience. How can this possibly be a better program than the current English 10 electives at West HS?




Questions About West’s Proposed One 10th Grade English Class



Below is the list of questions about 10th grade English that were sent to West Principal Ed Holmes, West English Chair Keesia Hyzer, and Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash (who will be attending the meeting).  We explained — again — that our goals in sending them questions before the meeting are to give them time to prepare answers, minimize “surprises” at the meeting, and insure that all of our questions are answered.  They are aware that we are posting the questions to this list serve and that many parents in attendance next Monday night will know that these questions have been asked of them.  We have asked Mr. Holmes to consider publishing our questions and the school’s answers to them in the next issue of the Regent Reporter (much as Mr. Rathert did with my questions about the SLC initiative a year-and-a-half ago), in order that parents who are not able to attend the meeting next week can nevertheless be fully informed.  We also included a few questions about the research on ability grouping and the SLC initiative, more generally, but made it clear that we did not necessarily expect them to be addressed next week.
We hope to see a lot of you at the meeting (7:00 p.m. in the West LMC).  Feel free to bring along any additional questions you feel we have overlooked.

(more…)




“Some schools with less than 5% proficiency in math and English are rated as “Meets” or “Exceeds” expectations on the current report card”



Will Flanders:

WILL Research Director Will Flanders’s new policy brief, Needs Improvement: How Wisconsin’s Report Card Can Mislead Parents, provides an important explanation of how Wisconsin’s school report cards work and how the various inputs work towards a school’s score. Specifically, Flanders highlights:

  • School report card scores vary widely based on student demographics. In schools with fewer low-income students, overall performance is given more weight. In schools with more low-income students, growth is given more weight.
  • Wisconsin’s report card can make some bad schools look good. Some schools with less than 5% proficiency in math and English are rated as “Meets” or “Exceeds” expectations on the current report card. This severely limits the ability of families to make use of the report card as a metric for school quality.
  • The report card harms private schools in the choice program due to a mismeasurement of disability & economic status. Disability status affects growth scores and the economic status of students effects the weight of growth in the report card score. Both of these factors are often measured inaccurately in choice schools, harming their overall scores.
  • Private school systems cannot get school-level report cards. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has made it so that private school systems must choose between byzantine enrollment and auditing systems or getting individual school report cards for their schools. Without individual school report cards, it is more difficult for schools to determine how each school in their system is doing.

The Report (PDF).

Underly and our long term disastrous reading results….

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Legislation and Reading: The Wisconsin Experience 2004-

“Well, it’s kind of too bad that we’ve got the smartest people at our universities, and yet we have to create a law to tell them how to teach.”

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?




Non-native English speaking scientists work much harder just to keep up, global research reveals



Tatsuya Amano:

These days it’s necessary to have at least a basic level of English proficiency in most research contexts. But at the same time, our collective emphasis on English places a significant burden on scientists who speak a different first language.

In research published today in PLOS Biology, my colleagues and I reveal the enormity of the language barrier faced by scientists who are non-native English speakers.

English has become essential in academic life

Scientists need to know English to extract knowledge from others’ work, publish their findings, attend international conferences, and collaborate with their peers from around the world. 

There’s no doubt this poses a significant challenge for non-native English speakers, who make up more than 90% of the global population

Yet there is a shocking lack of insight into how much extra effort non-native English speakers must invest in order to survive and thrive in their fields. 

Making these hurdles visible is the first step towards achieving fair participation for scientists whose first language isn’t English.




The English Major is Dead…



Blaise Lucey:

The recent New Yorker article “The End of the English Major” first came to my attention on Twitter. The responses rapidly rallied to deny the thesis, but The New Yorker presents compelling numbers to back up the clickbait: 

From 2012 to 2020: 

  • Tufts lost ~50% of humanities majors 
  • Boston University lost 42% of humanities majors 
  • Notre Dame lost 50% of humanities majors
  • The study of English and history at the college-level dropped by 33% 
  • More than 60% of Harvard’s class of 2020 planned to enter tech, finance, and consulting jobs 

It’s an anonymous interview subject, a “late-stage career English professor,” who drives a stake in the heart of the humanities when he tells author Nathan Heller: 

The age of Anglophilia is over… I don’t think reading novels is now the only way to have a broad experience of the varieties of human nature or the ethical problems that people face.

It is this assumption – that the study of novels must necessarily offer a solution to a problem and not just a process with its own rewards – that has effectively ended the English Major. Blame Gen Z. Just like previous generations of college students, they want to make a difference. This time around, though, paying tens of thousands of dollars to be taught how to interpret books is seen as a hobby with no attributable outcome, not a career. College, an investment, must produce capital and careers are where one finds that capital. Capital is power and power propels purpose.

In this new understanding of humanities, passion is privilege and numbers are the truth. As Heller notes, one of the most popular classes at Harvard is now introductory statistics: enrollment rose from 90 students in 2005 to 700+ today. If my math is correct, that marks a 677.78% increase. Wow, what a graph.




“But in England and the US, only a quarter of teachers are male. One quarter of English schools do not have a male classroom teacher”



Henry Mace:

Experts urge schools and parents to take a non-judgmental approach. “This is a conversation that requires acting a bit like an anthropologist,” says Barker. “Ask genuinely open-ended questions, don’t pass judgment, and don’t interfere — at first.” His organisation has put together a list of tips on how to talk to kids about radical influencers. It recommends parents do not preach or censor, but instead ask what their kids like and don’t like about a particular character. Start with open questions — such as “How does listening to them make you feel?”. After building trust, you can dig deeper: “Do you think the women in your life would be hurt by that point of view?” Parents can also talk to children about the nature of social media, about the fact that images and videos are heavily staged and produced. Sometimes the message comes best from older peers. Greater Manchester’s “Social Switch” programme trains boys from Year 10 (aged 14 and 15) to run sessions with Year 7s (aged 11 and 12), with the message that men can be emotional and do not need to treat women as inferior.




Italian government seeks to penalize the use of English words



Barbie Latza Nadeau

Italians who use English and other foreign words in official communications could face fines of up to €100,000 ($108,705) under new legislation introduced by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party. 

Fabio Rampelli, a member of the lower chamber of deputies, introduced the legislation, which is supported by the prime minister. 

While the legislation encompasses all foreign languages, it is particularly geared at “Anglomania” or use of English words, which the draft states “demeans and mortifies” the Italian language, adding that it is even worse because the UK is no longer part of the EU. 

The bill, which has yet to go up for parliamentary debate, requires anyone who holds an office in public administration to have “written and oral knowledge and mastery of the Italian language.” It also prohibits use of English in official documentation, including “acronyms and names” of job roles in companies operating in the country.




For just $5,000, students can buy their way to acing English exams.



Viola Zhou:

Watching through a camera, a proctor monitors a Chinese student taking an English exam. Sitting in a Beijing living room, the student appears to be taking the test seriously. They frown during the listening session, as if trying hard to think about the answer. And for the written portion, their arms move about, with the tapping of a keyboard being heard.

But the student wasn’t typing anything. They weren’t even looking at the screen. Sitting next to the student, just outside of the camera’s field of view, was 34-year-old Tony Wang. As he’d done for dozens of students before, Wang was answering the questions by typing on a wireless keyboard, sometimes while eating barbecued skewers. For the speaking portion, he’d type the answers on an iPad or a smartphone for students to read out. And students who couldn’t speak English at all would silently move their lips while Wang invisibly spoke aloud the answer on their behalf.

Wang, who runs an agency that helps Chinese students study abroad, told Rest of World he had helped more than 100 students cheat on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl) exam since at-home tests became available in 2020. “To insiders like us, ETS online testing is just a joke,” Wang said. (ETS, or Educational Testing Service, is the New Jersey-based company that administers Toefl and the GRE graduate school entry exam.)




We bring you over 1000 years of Black history in the German-speaking lands and show you why it matters right now



www:

There are over 1 million Black people in Central Europe today. Most Europeans still don’t know of the long history of the Black Diaspora in their countries. As a result, there is a general assumption that Black people are a relatively new presence on the continent and thus are historical and national outsiders. Through historical investigation, Black Central Europe challenges these assumptions.

In our extensive Collection, you can find a wide range of sources that trace the history of the Black Diaspora in Central Europe from as early as 1000 AD until the present day. The sources include paintings, photographs, letters, excerpts of novels, sculptures, newspaper articles and much more. We have organized them into historical categories: 1000-1500, 1500-1750, 1750-1850, 1850-1914, 1914-1945, 1945-1989, and 1989-today. Small icons indicate what type of source you find when you follow the link (text, image, etc). Most of our sources and introductions can be found in both English and German; we are still working on making the website fully bilingual.




School Finance Report: English Language Learners



Indira Dammu and Bonnie O’Keefe:

Nationwide, English learners (ELs) are a fast-growing and diverse student population in the K-12 public school system. Today, the Southeast region of the U.S. is home to more than 710,000 EL students, who speak about 400 different languages and account for 15% of EL students in the country. This number is quickly increasing as certain states in the region see unprecedented growth in EL enrollment. Despite the trends, state education finance systems in the Southeast have not adapted to support the unique learning needs of EL students.

Bellwether Education Partners’ report, Improving Education Finance Equity for English Learners in the Southeast, examines state funding policy structures and data in nine Southeastern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee — and shares a set of policy recommendations based on promising, equitable funding practices. The report includes a supplemental interactive data tool, accessible here.

As the report shows, state school funding systems in the Southeast have a lot of room for improvement in EL policy, but the region also has an important opportunity to be a leader nationally and demonstrate what transformational and equitable funding systems for EL students can look like.




The Writers Who Translated Goethe into English Became Some of the Best Writers in English



Gregory Maertz

Wherever Goethe was read, critiqued, and translated, one found the basis of oppositional cultures. This was especially true in Great Britain and New England. Bound by religious heritage and the experience of pilgrimage for intellectual and spiritual enrichment, the British mediators of German culture were, however, divided from their Boston cousins by differences in class and social influence. In New England, descendants of the original Puritans were socially dominant. In Britain, Dissenters from the Anglican majority, Scots Presbyterians, and other sectarians were politically and socially marginalized, as were women, Roman Catholics, and Jews. Nonetheless, members of all these peripheral groups formed the nucleus of the German-trained intelligentsia in Britain.

Moreover, the writings of these outsiders, chiefly translations and criticism, revealed connections between an English-speaking enthusiasm for Goethe, the American effort to declare cultural independence from Great Britain, and the migration of women writers from the margins of cultural life to its center. Margaret Fuller’s (1810–1850) efforts to critique and translate German literature and her emergence as one of the most important literary figures of the time are inseparable. And the arc of her career is similar to that of other Anglophone women writers, such as Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), Sarah Austin (1793–1867), George Eliot (1819–1880), and Edith Wharton (1862–1937), all of whose mature writings owed something to earlier apprentice work reviewing and translating German literature of the period.




Deja Vu: Taxpayer supported Madison high schools moving toward eliminating standalone honors courses for ninth, 10th grades



Scott Girard:

Madison Metropolitan School District high schools plan to move away from “standalone honors” courses for freshmen and sophomores in the next few years, with an Earned Honors system expected to replace them.

The goal, MMSD leaders told the School Board Monday, is to bring rigor to all classrooms for all students and give more students access to the level of learning that goes on in standalone honors classrooms. Disparities in the demographics of standalone honors classrooms are driving the change, with ninth grade moving to entirely Earned Honors by the 2022-23 school year and 10th grade the following year.

“We should see high level of rigor and an equal quality of programming across every single one of our classrooms,” executive director of curriculum and instruction Kaylee Jackson said.

The Earned Honors system, which began in MMSD for ninth-graders in 2017-18 and expanded to 10th grade the next year, allows students an “opportunity to earn honors designation at the end of each semester/course by meeting predetermined criteria,” according to the district’s presentation. That opportunity is offered across all classrooms, rather than students needing to enroll in honors-specific classes that can be intimidating for students of color who are unfamiliar with them, have been given low expectations by staff or do not see students who look like them in those classrooms.

“This is about levelling the playing field of providing access for all,” co-chief of secondary schools Marvin Pryor said.

East High School principal Brendan Kearney, who expressed support for the change along with the other three comprehensive high school principals, recalled his first day of teaching at the school. His first class, he said, was non-honors and included just one white student, whereas in his second-hour honors class, there were about three students of color, “and that’s in a school that’s fully two-thirds students of color.”

“Whatever the intentions, whatever the efforts that have been made, our current honors system has the effect of sorting students by race, by ethnicity, by language and by disability,” Kearney said.

Deja Vu: one size fits all, 2007 Madison… English 10.

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.




When ‘tsunami’ was introduced to the English language, and what it means



Lisa Lim:

“On the evening of June 15, 1896, the northeast coast of Hondo, the main island of Japan, was struck by a great earthquake wave (tsunami), which was more destructive of life and property than any earthquake convulsion of this century in that empire.”

This was perhaps the first time the word “tsunami” was introduced to English users – in an article in the September 1896 issue of National Geographic magazine, given in parentheses and in italics as the Japanese word for “great earthquake wave”.

“Tsunami” is, in fact, composed of the Japanese tsu meaning “port, harbour”, and nami meaning “wave”, and pronounced with the initial “ts” as in the Japanese.

In spite of its appearance in National Geographic, the word did not, in fact, gain much traction in the English-speaking world in the 19th century, though its use is noted in geological articles in the early 20th century.




Why Are Some Bilingual People Dyslexic in English but Not Their Other Language?



Neuroscience news:

Summary: The characteristics of language structure and writing system may explain why some bilingual people are dyslexic in English, but not in their other proficient language.

Source: Brunel University

In the English-speaking world, dyslexia is a learning disorder we’re all familiar with – if we don’t have it ourselves or have a friend or family member that struggles with it, we’re likely to have known someone at school or university who found reading and writing trickier than their peers.

n fact, more than 1 in 10 people that grew up with English as their first language are said to have dyslexia, with wide consensus pointing towards a person’s genetic history as the leading cause. One, it would appear, is either born dyslexic or not.

So, how then have we ended up with the phenomenon that some people who speak both English and another language can be dyslexic in one, but not the other?




Writing teachers: Standard English is racist



Joanne Jacobs:

In the name of “linguistic justice,” college writing instructors have agreed that teachers should “stop using academic language and standard English as the accepted communicative norm,” writes Matthew Stewart, associate professor of humanities and rhetoric at Boston University, on the Martin Center blog.

The executive committee of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the largest and most important association of college-level writing teachers, has approved “demands” by six professors, writes Stewart. CCCC is closely associated with the National Council of Teachers of English, an even larger group predominantly made up of middle and high school teachers.

The CCCC statement, written in academic/woke English with a “cain’t” here and a “respeck” there, includes:

Teachers (must) develop and teach Black Linguistic Consciousness that works to decolonize the mind (and/or) language, unlearn white supremacy, and unravel anti-Black linguistic racism!

. . . teachers STOP telling Black students that they have to ‘learn standard English to be successful because that’s just the way it is in the real world.’ No, that’s not just the way it is; that’s anti-Black linguistic racism.

In short, writes Stewart, the CCCC has declared that teaching black students standard English is racist and therefore “destructive and injurious.”




You can learn to read Middle English



Plover:

It helps to understand why Middle English is the way it is.

English started out as German. Old English, also called Anglo-Saxon, really is a foreign language, and requires serious study. I don’t think an anglophone can learn to read it with mere tricks.

Over the centuries Old English diverged from German. In 1066 the Normans invaded England and the English language got a thick layer of French applied on top. Middle English is that mashup of English and French. It’s still German underneath, but a lot of the spelling and vocabulary is Frenchified. This is good, because a lot of that Frenchification is still in Modern English, so it will be familiar.




Ohio graduates won’t have to be “proficient” in math or English, under state superintendent’s plan



Patrick O’Donnell:

High school students won’t have to be “proficient” in either math or English to graduate, under minimum required test scores proposed by State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria.

They will just need to know enough to do the most basic of jobs.

New high school graduation requirements passed this summer require most students to show “competency” in math and English through scores on Ohio’s Algebra I and English II tests to qualify for a diploma. The new requirements start with the class 2023, this year’s high school freshmen.

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.




Where are the world’s best English-speakers?



the Economist:

ENGLISH IS THE most widely spoken language in the world. And of the roughly 1.5bn speakers globally, the vast majority speak it as a second language. So where are the world’s best non-native English speakers? According to a new report by EF Education First, an international education company, Northern Europeans are the most fluent (the Netherlands tops the rankings, followed by Sweden, Norway and Denmark). Middle Easterners are the least proficient (Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia all rank near the bottom).

These results are not comprehensive, however. Nor are they representative. EF’s index is based on the results of a free online test taken by 2.3m volunteers in 100 countries. Only people with an internet connection and time and willingness to take a test are included in the sample, which means the results are biased towards richer countries interested in English. As a result, many African countries do not have enough test-takers—at least 400—to be included in the index.




The inescapable weight of my $100,000 student debt



MH Miller:

On Halloween in 2008, about six weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, my mother called me from Michigan to tell me that my father had lost his job in the sales department of Visteon, an auto parts supplier for Ford. Two months later, my mother lost her job working for the city of Troy, a suburb about half an hour from Detroit. From there our lives seemed to accelerate, the terrible events compounding fast enough to elude immediate understanding. By June, my parents, unable to find any work in the state where they spent their entire lives, moved to New York, where my sister and I were both in school. A month later, the mortgage on my childhood home went into default.

After several months of unemployment, my mother got a job in New York City, fundraising for a children’s choir. In the summer of 2010, I completed my studies at New York University, where I received a BA and an MA in English literature, with more than $100,000 of debt, for which my father was a guarantor. My father was still unemployed and my mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She continued working, though her employer was clearly perturbed that she would have to take off every Friday for chemotherapy. To compensate for the lost time, on Mondays she rode early buses into the city from the Bronx, where, after months of harrowing uncertainty, my parents had settled. She wanted to be in the office first thing.




Oxford English Dictionary extends hunt for regional words around the world



Alison Flood:

The Oxford English Dictionary is asking the public to help it mine the regional differences of English around the world to expand its record of the language, with early submissions ranging from New Zealand’s “munted” to Hawaii’s “hammajang”.

Last year, a collaboration between the OED, the BBC and the Forward Arts Foundation to find and define local English words resulted in more than 100 new regional words and phrases being added to the dictionary, from Yorkshire’s “ee bah gum” to the north east’s “cuddy wifter”, a left-handed person. Now, the OED is widening its search to English speakers around the world, with associate editor Eleanor Maier calling the early response “phenomenal”, as editors begin to draft a range of suggestions for inclusion in the dictionary.

These range from Hawaii’s “hammajang”, meaning “in a disorderly or shambolic state”, to the Scottish word for a swimming costume, “dookers” or “duckers”, and New Zealand’s “munted”, meaning “broken or wrecked”. The OED is also looking to include the word “chopsy”, a Welsh term for an overly talkative person; “frog-drowner”, which Americans might use to describe a torrential downpour of rain; “brick”, which means “very cold” to residents of New Jersey and New York City; and “round the Wrekin”, meaning “in a lengthy or roundabout manner” in the Midlands.

The dictionary has already found that, depending on location, a picture hanging askew might be described as “agley”, “catawampous”, “antigodlin” or “ahoo” by an English speaker, while a loved one could be called a “doy”, “pet”, “dou-dou”, “bubele”, “alanna” or“babber”.




Evolution of the English Alphabet



Useful Charts:

I made this chart last year as a bonus award on Kickstarter but am now making it available as a free download. Just right click on the above image (or long press on your mobile) and then select save.

UPDATE: I shared this on Twitter and it’s my first tweet to reach over 10k RT’s! Anyway, here’s a few comments based on the feedback I’ve received:




Prof: Trigger warnings ‘serious threats’ to teaching English



Toni Airaksinen :

In a list of six possible consequences of trigger warnings, he argues that they “foster a culture where student fragility is promoted over the development of resilience,” and can “encourage students to avoid intense literary moments that they may perceive as too powerful.”

Trigger warnings could also “handicap English teachers by censoring or casting certain literary moments as taboo,” and cripple “artistic freedom by arbitrarily sanctioning what is and what is not appropriate for class discussion and student experience,” he notes.

Reflections on functioning in a Trigger Happy America.




American Regional English dictionary closing after 54 years



Mark Johnson:

“A dictionary is never done,” said George Goebel, the third and, it turns out, final editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, also known as DARE.

In January, 54 years after it was launched in an age of print and paper, America’s last national dialect dictionary and one of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s signature humanities projects, will close its doors forever.

The university archivist has hauled away boxes. Many more remain, containing decades’ worth of research and fieldwork. The shelves are emptying of books, the files of their paper slips describing each word. Some of the words themselves have vanished from use.

In the end, it was a lack of funding that did in DARE.

But on Friday, the staff refrained from tears, choosing instead to go out with a farewell celebration in the Lowell Center dining room, not far from the dictionary offices.




Honoring the English Curriculum and the Study of U.S. History—Sandra Stotsky



Sandra Stotsky, via Will Fitzhugh:

“Advocates of a writing process tended to stress autobiographical narrative writing, not informational or expository writing.”

It sounds excessively dramatic to say that Common Core’s English language arts (ELA) standards threaten the study of history. In this essay we show why, in the words of a high school teacher, “if implemented as their authors intend, the Common Core will damage history education.”

But we first clarify how the study of history in K-12 ever got tangled up in Common Core’s ELA standards.

How Common Core Came to Include Study of History

The sad story begins with the reason for the contents of a document titled Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.

The bulk of the document is on ELA standards. But the last seven pages (pp. 59-66), titled Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, provide “literacy” standards for these subjects in grades 6-12. The introduction to the whole document explains why these standards are in this document.

The standards establish guidelines for English language arts (ELA) as well as for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Because students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, the standards promote the literacy skills and concepts required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines.

The College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards form the backbone of the ELA/literacy standards by articulating core knowledge and skills, while grade-specific standards provide additional specificity. Beginning in grade 6, the literacy standards allow teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science, and technical subjects to use their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields.

It is important to note that the grade 6–12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are meant to supplement content standards in those areas, not replace them. States determine how to incorporate these standards into their existing standards for those subjects or adopt them as content area literacy standards.

As indicated, Common Core’s literacy standards are justified on the grounds that college readiness means being able to read, write, and speak in all subject areas—a reasonable expectation if the “all” doesn’t mean every subject taught in college or a level of proficiency beyond the level of the coursework in the subjects taught in a typical high school.

The first public draft of the ELA standards—in September 2009—made the standards-writers’ vision even clearer than the final version does. It expected students in English classes to “demonstrate facility with the specific reading demands of texts drawn from different disciplines, including history, literature, science, and mathematics.” As the draft explained, “Because the overwhelming majority of college and workplace reading is non-fiction, students need to hone their ability to acquire knowledge from informational texts…[and] …demonstrate facility with the features of texts particular to a variety of disciplines, such as history, science, and mathematics.” That is the basis for entangling the study of history in the final version of Common Core’s ELA document and for the standards-writers’ misconceptions about how students learn to read and write intelligently in other subjects.

The attempt to make English teachers responsible for teaching high school students how to read history, science, and mathematics textbooks relaxed during 2009-2010 after critics made it clear that English teachers could not possibly teach students how to read textbooks in other disciplines. This criticism was supported by the common sense argument that teachers can’t teach students to read texts in a subject they don’t understand themselves, as well as by the total lack of evidence that English teachers can effectively teach reading strategies appropriate to other disciplines and thereby improve students’ knowledge in that discipline.

Nevertheless, Common Core’s ELA standards still expect English teachers to teach “informational” texts about 50 percent of their reading instructional time at every grade level. At least, that is what K-12 curriculum specialists nationwide sees as the curriculum implications of 10 standards for reading “informational” texts and only 9 for reading literary texts at every grade level in the ELA part of the ELA document, even if “informational” texts are called “nonfiction.”

Research on Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum (RAWAC)

Although it is now agreed that English teachers can’t be expected to teach students how to read texts in other subjects in order to improve student learning in these subjects, is it possible that teachers of these other subjects can teach reading strategies that improve students’s knowledge of their subject? The lack of a reference to even one study in a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) 2011 research brief on RAWAC and in a review of the research titled Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices, issued in August 2008 by the Institute of Education Sciences, strongly implies that there is little if any research to support the expectation that subject teachers can effectively teach reading skills in their own classes in ways that improve student learning. Not only are subject teachers reluctant to teach reading in their own classes (as the research indicates), there’s no evidence that even if they do, student learning will be enhanced.

So how do secondary students learn how to read their history books or their science and mathematics textbooks? We will return to this hugely important question at the end of this section—after we look at some literacy standards for history in Common Core—to better understand the problem the standards writers created for the entire secondary curriculum—and at the reasons for the failure of the movement called RAWAC.

What Are Common Core’s Literacy Standards?

Common Core’s literacy standards are clearly not academic, or content, standards, as the introduction to its ELA document promised. They are statements of different purposes for reading and writing in any subject. Here are three standards for History/Social Studies in grades 11/12 as examples:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.8
Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9
Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

What is telling in the introduction to the whole document is the expectation that subject teachers are to use the content of their subject to teach students how to read, write, and talk in their subjects, not the other way around. Teachers are not to draw on students’ reading, writing, and speaking skills (i.e., their intellectual or thinking processes) to learn the content of their disciplines. Secondary school learning has been turned on its head without any public murmur in 2010, so far as we know, from history, science, or mathematics teachers or their professional organizations, probably because most subject teachers did not know they were being required to teach reading and writing in a document ostensibly designated for English and reading teachers. (The National Council for the Social Studies apparently knew what the ELA standards writers intended, according to this article, but did not communicate any concerns to its members, so far as we know.)

This stealth requirement should have sparked broad public discussion when the final version of the Common Core standards was released (in June 2010) and before state boards of education voted to adopt them. But, so far as we know, there is no record of any attempt by a state board or commissioner of education to hear from a broad range and large number of secondary teachers in all subjects (including English and mathematics teachers).

Why Earlier Efforts at RAWAC Failed

A major attempt to get subject teachers to teach reading and writing skills called Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) or Reading and Writing across the Curriculum (RAWAC) took place in the 1960s and 1970s at the college level and in K-12, and it had gradually fizzled out with little to show for it. There was no explanation in the Common Core document of how Common Core’s effort was different, if in fact it was. Perhaps the standards writers simply didn’t know about these failed movements and why they failed. As noted above, NCTE’s 2011 policy research brief did not reference even one study after boldly declaring that the “research is clear: discipline-based instruction in reading and writing enhances student achievement in all subjects.”

RAWAC failed for many reasons, and we suggest some of the most obvious ones first.

No systematic information available: On the surface, the effort to make secondary subject teachers responsible for assigning more reading to their students and/or teaching them how to read whatever they assigned sounded desirable and eminently justifiable. But there was no systematic information on what the average student read, how much they read, or why they were not doing much reading if that were the case. Why assign more reading and/or try to teach students how to read it if there were reasons for not assigning much reading to begin with (e.g., no textbooks available, students couldn’t read whatever textbooks were available on the topic, students wouldn’t do much homework)?

Misunderstanding of what history teachers do: Part of the demise of RAWAC in K-12 may be attributed to a misunderstanding by its advocates of what history teachers actually do in a classroom when teaching history. They might ask their students, for example, to describe and document Lincoln’s evolving political position on how best to preserve the Union from the beginning to the end of the Civil War—after giving them a range of documents to read or look at. Such a directive requires application of CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 (integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media in order to address a question or solve a problem) to a history lesson, which is how the general skill gets developed. But, in doing so, history teachers are not trying to teach a literacy skill; they are aiming to expand students’ conscious knowledge base.

Take another possible example—a lesson on totalitarianism. History teachers might assign and discuss a reading on a totalitarian state in the 20th century—how it controls resources and people’s behavior. They might then ask directly: “According to this reading, what is a totalitarian state like? What does it try to do? What were the weaknesses of the Soviet Union as an example of a totalitarian state? History teachers are unlikely to talk about (or think in terms of) “main idea” or “supporting details” in discussing what students have read about a totalitarian state, but they are clearly talking about a main idea and supporting details when they raise specific questions for discussion about a specific topic. They are asking students to apply these general skills in topic-related language for the classroom lesson and thereby develop the skills.

History teachers (like science teachers) use the specific content of their discipline in ways that require students to apply their intellectual processes and their prior knowledge to what they have been assigned to read or do. If students cannot answer the questions on the grounds that they couldn’t read the assignment, other issues need to be explored.

Less and less reading outside of school: The demise of RAWAC in K-12 can also be traced to the diminishing amount of reading and writing done outside of school hours. How much reading have students been doing on the topic under discussion? In other words, do they have any prior knowledge? Are they familiar with the vocabulary related to the topic? The two are related. Students can absorb some of the discipline-related vocabulary of a discipline-based topic by reading and re-reading the material carefully (as in history) or by working carefully with material named by these words (as in a science lab) without constantly consulting a glossary. But how to get students to do more reading (or re-reading) is not the purpose of a standard. Getting students to address questions about particular topics in a discipline with adequate and sufficient information (i.e., to develop their conscious understanding of the topics) is one purpose of a standard.

Reading and writing as homework is the student’s responsibility, not the teacher’s. This responsibility is not shaped by the words in an academic standard. It is dependent on a student’s self-discipline and motivation, elements of the student’s character beyond the teacher’s control. Teachers can set up incentives and disincentives, but these must be reinforced by policies set by a school board, parents, and school administrators. They are not governed by academic objectives.

History teachers’ self-image: Needless to say, the demise of RAWAC in K-12 can in part be traced to content teachers’ self-image, an issue highlighted in the research literature. The need for writing in subject-based classrooms makes sense to most teachers, but significantly more writing activities didn’t take place in the secondary school in response to RAWAC efforts in large part because content teachers, with large numbers of students to teach on a daily or weekly basis, did not see themselves as writing teachers. They continue to see English teachers as teachers of writing (and literature), and themselves as teachers of specific subjects like math, science, or history. Students who read little or read mainly easy texts are unlikely to be able to do the kind of expository writing their subject areas require because the research is clear that good writing is dependent on good reading. This points to another possible reason for the demise of RAWAC.

Stress on autobiographical, narrative, or informal writing: The emphasis on non-text-based writing in the ELA class beginning in the 1970s. Advocates of a writing process tended to stress autobiographical narrative writing, not informational or expository writing. Students were also encouraged to do free “journal” writing because it was shapeless and needed no correction. Subject teachers were fighting an overwhelming emphasis on non-reasoned and non-text-based writing in elementary classrooms, secondary English classes, and teacher workshops from the 1970s on and may have decided that asking for reading-based writing and re-shaping what students submitted was not worth the effort. We simply don’t know because there is no direct and systematic research on the issue.

Professional development on different history content, not discipline-based reading: There may be yet another reason that subject teachers avoided implementing RAWAC. There is little in-depth research on this issue, and for good reason. We know little about the quality of the professional development they received. The focus of professional development for history teachers at the time RAWAC was being promoted was often the content or view of the content that was being introduced in the name of critical pedagogy or multiculturalism. The workshops described in “The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America’s History Teachers”
have a decided focus on teaching teachers and their students what to think about U.S. and world history rather than on how to read and write in a history class. Reading and writing activities were included in these workshops, but the development of “literacy” skills was not their goal.

Providing professional development is a huge and very profitable industry because most of it is mandated by local, state, or federal authorities. But it has almost no track record of effectiveness in significantly increasing students’ knowledge of the subject. This was the conclusion of a massive review of the research on professional development for mathematics teachers undertaken by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMAP) in 2008. There is no reason to consider the situation different for history teachers. Note that we are not talking about professional development to teach history teachers how to teach reading and writing in their own subjects; we are talking about workshops to teach teachers the content of the subjects they are already licensed to teach so they can better teach the content to their students.

No information on qualifications of workshop providers: Professional development to teach history teachers how to teach students to read and write in their disciplines presents an even bleaker picture. Not one study showing the effectiveness of the practice is cited in the NCTE report in 2011 or in an IES report in 2008 despite both reports lauding its benefits. None of the studies reviewed by the NMAP for its task group report on professional development looked at the adequacy of the academic qualifications of the professional development providers in the reviewed studies. Yet the qualifications of professional development providers was such a serious issue in implementing the state’s Education Reform Act of 1993 that the Massachusetts Department of Education required the involvement of historians in the “content” workshops for history teachers it funded even though it could not establish criteria for the organizers of these workshops.

How Common Core Damages the K-12 History Curriculum

The underlying issue is revealed by the titles offered in Appendix B as “exemplars” of the quality and complexity of the informational reading that history (and English, science, and mathematics) teachers could use to boost the amount of reading their students do and to teach disciplinary reading and writing skills. The standards writers do not understand the high school curriculum.

Inappropriate exemplars for informational reading: While English teachers in grades 9-10 may be puzzled about the listing for them of Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention,” Margaret Chase Smith’s “Remarks to the Senate in Support of a Declaration of Conscience,” and George Washington’s “Farewell Address”—all non-literary, political speeches—history teachers in grades 9/10 may be even more puzzled by the exemplars for them. Among a few appropriate exemplars (on the history of indigenous and African Americans) we find E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art, 16th Edition, Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, and Wendy Thompson’s The Illustrated Book of Great Composers. It’s hard to see any high school history teacher comfortably tackling excerpts from those books in the middle of a grade 9 or 10 world history or U.S. history course. Yes, these titles are only exemplars of the quality and complexity desired. But what would be appropriate for the courses history teachers are likely to teach in grade 9 or 10?

The informational exemplars in Appendix B for history teachers in grades 11/12 are even more bizarre. Along with a suitable text, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, we find Julian Bell’s Mirror of the World: A New History of Art and FedViews, issued in 2009 by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. These two titles clearly don’t fit into a standard grade 11 U.S. history course or a standard grade 12 U.S. government course. These exemplars are out of place not just in a typical high school history class but in a typical high school curriculum.

The standards writers wanted to make teachers across the curriculum as responsible for teaching “literacy” as the English teacher, which at first sounds fair, almost noble. But to judge from the sample titles they offer for increasing and teaching informational reading in other subjects, informational literacy seems to be something teachers are to cultivate and students to acquire, independent of a coherent, sequential, and substantive curriculum in the topic of the informational text. Strong readers can acquire informational literacy independent of a coherent and graduated curriculum. But weak readers end up deprived of class time better spent immersed in the content of their courses.

Inappropriate literacy strategies—a nonhistorical approach to historical texts: Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Common Core’s approach to literary study is the advice given teachers by its chief writer David Coleman, now president of the College Board, on the supposed value of “cold” or “close” (non-contextualized) reading of historical documents like the “Gettysburg Address.” Doing so “levels the playing field,” according to Coleman. History teachers believe doing so contributes to historical illiteracy.

Aside from the fact that “close” reading was not developed or promoted by Yale English professors Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren as a reading technique for historical documents, no history or English teacher before the advent of Common Core would approach the study of a seminal historical document by withholding initial information about its historical context, why it was created at that particular time, by whom, for what purposes so far as the historical record tells us, and clear language archaisms. Nor would they keep such information from being considered in interpreting Lincoln’s speech. Yet, David Coleman has categorically declared: “This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students.”

As high school teacher Craig Thurtell states: “This approach also permits the allocation of historical texts to English teachers, most of whom are untrained in the study of history, and leads to history standards [Common Core’s literacy standards for history] that neglect the distinctiveness of the discipline.” Thurtell goes on to say that the “study of history requires the use of specific concepts and cognitive skills that characterize the discipline—concepts like evidence and causation and skills like contextualization, sourcing, and corroboration. These concepts and skills are largely distinct from those employed in literary analysis. Both disciplines engage in close readings of texts, for example, but with different purposes. The object of the literary critic is the text, or more broadly, the genre; for the historian it is, however limited or defined, a wider narrative of human history, which textual analysis serves.”

Causes of Poor Reading in High School

Not only did the writers of the Common Core English language arts standards profoundly misunderstand how reading in a history class differs from reading in a literature class, they basically misunderstood the causes of the educational problem they sought to remedy through Common Core’s standards—the number of high school graduates who need remedial coursework in reading and writing as college freshmen and the equally large number of students who fail to graduate from high school and go on to a post-secondary educational institution.

The architects of Common Core assumed that the major cause of this educational problem is that English teachers have given low-achieving students too heavy a diet of literary works and that teachers in other subjects have deliberately or unwittingly not taught them how to read complex texts in these other subjects. This assumption doesn’t hold up.

High school teachers will readily acknowledge that low-performing students have not been assigned complex textbooks because, generally speaking, they can’t read them and, in fact, don’t read much of anything with academic content. As a result, they have not acquired the content knowledge and the vocabulary needed for reading complex history textbooks. And this is despite (not because of) the steady decline in vocabulary difficulty in secondary school textbooks over the past half century and the efforts of science and history teachers from the elementary grades on to make their subjects as text-free as possible. Educational publishers and teachers have made intensive and expensive efforts to develop curriculum materials that accommodate students who are not interested in reading much. These accommodations in K-8 have gotten low-performing students into high school, but they can’t be made at the college level. College-level materials are written at an adult level, often by those who teach college courses.

Higher levels of writing are increasingly dependent on higher levels of reading. Students unwilling to read a lot do not advance very far as writers. The chief casualty of little reading is the general academic vocabulary needed for academic reading and writing. The accumulation of a large and usable discipline-specific vocabulary depends on graduated reading in a coherent sequence of courses (known as a curriculum) in that discipline. The accumulation of a general academic vocabulary, however, depends on reading a lot of increasingly complex literary works with strong plots and characters that entice poor readers to make efforts to read them. The reduction in literary study implicitly mandated by Common Core’s ELA standards will lead to fewer opportunities for students to acquire the general academic vocabulary needed for serious historical nonfiction, the texts secondary history students should be reading.

Recommendations:

There are several possible solutions to the problem Common Core’s architects sought to solve—how to help poor readers in high school.

1. Schools can establish secondary reading classes separate from the English and other subject classes. Students who read little and cannot or won’t read high school level textbooks can be given further reading instruction in the secondary grades by teachers with strong academic backgrounds (like Teach For America volunteers) who have been trained to teach reading skills in the context of the academic subjects students are taking. It’s not easy to do, but it is doable.

2. A second solution may be for schools to enable English and history teachers to provide professional development to each other in the same high school. The context and philosophical/moral antecedents for our seminal political documents (e.g., Declaration of Independence, Preamble to the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) can be explained/taught to English teachers by their colleagues in the History department, while an analysis of their language and other stylistic features can be explained/taught to history teachers by their colleagues in the English department. ]

3. The most important solution to the problem of poor reading in high school is for state boards of education, governors, and state legislatures to require U.S. history courses in which all students, high- or low-income, native or immigrant, study together the common civic core spelled out in Paul Gagnon’s Educating Democracy. Surely the American Federation of Teachers could make this essay available in bulk to honor a historian who dedicated his academic life to advancing the education of the low-income students he taught in the Boston area.

We are left with an overarching question. Why were intelligent and educated people (state board of education members, state commissioners of education, and governors) so eager to accept the opinions of standards writers who had no understanding of the K-12 curriculum in ELA and were not literary scholars, historians or “experts” in history or English education, either? Why didn’t intelligent and educated people read Appendix B for themselves, especially in the high school grades, and ask how subject teachers could possibly give “literacy” instruction in the middle of content instruction? Self-government cannot survive if citizens are unwilling to ask informed questions in public of educational policy makers and to demand answers.

Will Fitzhugh @ The Concord Review.




Old English Has a Serious Image Problem



Mary Dockray-Miller:

“Old English,” also termed “Anglo-Saxon,” was and is simply the form of the English language that predates the Norman Conquest of 1066. The first line of the earliest poem in Old English, a prayer called “Cædmon’s Hymn,” largely unfamiliar to modern English speakers, offers a taste of this forgotten language: Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard (“Now we must praise the guardian of the heaven-kingdom”).

Scattered American antiquarians and scholars, including Thomas Jefferson, investigated Anglo-Saxon in the early years of the American republic. The study of the language became more widespread in the decades following the Civil War, when many of the growing numbers of American universities and colleges added it to their curricula. As with any endeavor in nineteenth-century higher education, many more men than women took part.




The foreign words that seem like English – but aren’t



Matthew Anderson

Before a special night out, a glamorous Parisienne might treat herself to un brushing, at which her hair will be blow-dried and styled. In Moscow, would-be clubbers must first make it past feyskontrol (‘face control’), to ensure that only the beautiful people come in. And those Berliners who just can’t let the party end can carry on at eine Afterhour until well after the sun comes up.

These words – brushing, feyskontrol, Afterhour – seem odd to English ears. We recognise them, sort of, but we’d never use them ourselves – not in those ways, at least. They are borrowed from English but their meanings are new and different; linguists call them pseudo-anglicisms. Sometimes they are English words used to mean something else, other times they are combinations that native speakers find plain weird. Occasionally they’ve been made up to sound like English, but have nothing to do with the language of Shakespeare at all.




Americans can study in Germany for free, in English. An increasing number are doing it.



Rick Noack:

Tuition to U.S. universities has surged 500 percent since 1985 and continues to rise. But German universities offer free education to everyone — including Americans.

The number of American students enrolled in German universities has risen steadily in recent years. Currently, an estimated 10,000 U.S. citizens are studying at German colleges — nearly all of them for free, according to NBC News.

German universities in most federal states have traditionally been free for German citizens as well as many foreigners, including many American, Chinese and British students. One reason German taxpayers foot the bill is to help attract more skilled workers to the country.




Madison’s English Language Learner Plan Hearings



via a kind reader:

Join us for this important opportunity for Spanish and Hmong-speaking families to provide input and make important decisions for their children’s education. Please help spread the word. Learn more about our draft English Language Learner Plan at mmsd.org/ell and ask your school bilingual resource specialist for more information.

There are three information and feedback sessions for the community:

Oct. 7, 2015, 6-7:30 pm at Centro Hispano (810 W. Badger Rd.). In Spanish with English interpretation.

Oct. 14, 2015, 6-7:30 pm at Goodman Community Center (149 Waubesa St.). In English with interpretation in Spanish and other languages, as needed.

Oct. 15, 2015, 6-7:30 pm at Centro Hispano (810 W. Badger Rd.). In Spanish with English interpretation.




Philologisticalistic Experts (HS English Departments)



Will Fitzhugh:

When it comes to Words, our High School English Departments are the Rulers. They dominate reading and writing, partly because the other departments—including the History and other Social Studies departments—don’t want to assign book reports or term papers and they certainly don’t want to read and grade them.

The English Word Experts are supported in this by the K-12 Literacy World, which never saw a student history research paper they could not ignore. Everywhere you look, reading and writing mean fiction, and for fiction, the Literacy World is adamant that the responsibility for that belongs to English (English Language Arts) Departments.

College professors and employers, with near unanimity, complain about the nonfiction reading, research, and writing abilities of the young people they work with. Talking to the schools and/or the Literacy World about their concerns is just exactly like talking to a dead phone. They cannot hear what they are being told.

Students are not lobbying, in most cases, for the chance to write a serious 5,000-6,000-word term paper, and only later will they face the consequences of their lack of preparation.

Since 1987, The Concord Review has published 106 issues, with 1,165 history research papers by secondary students from 44 states and 40 other countries. The average length of the eleven papers in the Winter issue last Fall was 7,500 words, with endnotes and bibliography. Some of those papers came from International Baccalaureate schools, which still require an Extended Essay for the full Diploma. Some came from private schools, where faculty (and parents) still expect students to write at least one serious term paper before college.

Many of the papers lately have been from an Independent Study, or from Summer programs, like the Stanford Summer Humanities Institute and the TCR Summer Program for high school students. But in general, our public high schools, in my experience, even including an exam school like Boston Latin School, not only do not assign serious term papers, they also do not even want students to see the exemplary work that has been published by their peers, so that they cannot be inspired by them to work harder on reading history and on writing research papers themselves.

Thanks to the Web, more and more students are finding such examples anyway, and they take advantage of them. (e.g. www.tcr.org) One example of hundreds:

————————-

“Thank you so much for publishing my essay on the Irish Ladies’ Land League in the Spring issue of The Concord Review. I am honored that my writing was chosen to appear alongside such thoughtful work in your journal.

“When a former history teacher first lent me a copy of The Concord Review, I was inspired by the careful scholarship crafted by other young people. Although I have always loved history passionately, I was used to writing history papers that were essentially glorified book reports. A week before a paper was due, I would visit the local university library, check out all available books on my assigned topic and write as articulate a summary as possible. Such assignments are a useful strategy for learning to build a coherent argument, but they do not teach students to appreciate the subtleties and difficulties of writing good history. Consequently, few students really understand how history is constructed.

“As I began to research the Ladies’ Land League, I looked to The Concord Review for guidance on how to approach my task. At first, I did check out every relevant book from the library, running up some impressive fines in the process, but I learned to skim bibliographies and academic databases to find more interesting texts. I read about women’s history, agrarian activism and Irish nationalism, considering the ideas of feminist and radical historians alongside contemporary accounts.

“Gradually, I came to understand the central difficulty of writing history: how do you resurrect, in words, events that took place in a different place and time? More importantly, how do you resurrect the past only using the words of someone else? In the words of Carl Becker,

History in this sense is story, in aim always a true story; a story that employs all the devices of literary art (statement and generalization, narration and description, comparison and comment and analogy) to present the succession of events in the life of man, and from the succession of events thus presented to derive a satisfactory meaning.

“Flipping through my note cards, the ideas began to fit themselves together in my mind. I was not certain, but there was an excitement in being forced to think rigorously; in wrestling with difficult problems I knew I could not entirely solve. Writing about the Ladies’ Land League, I finally understood and appreciated the beautiful complexity of history.

“In short, I would like to thank you not only for publishing my essay, but for motivating me to develop a deeper understanding of history. I hope that The Concord Review will continue to fascinate, challenge and inspire young historians for years to come.”

Sincerely,
Emma Curran Donnelly Hulse
[North Central High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
and Columbia University]

===========

Let’s do make an effort to free our high school students from the English Department/Fiction-Only Monopoly, and allow them to be inspired, by the serious academic expository writing of their peers, to attempt real term papers themselves, before they go on, as most now do, to find themselves both unprepared and a Literacy Problem for their professors and their future employers.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
www.tcr.org




Mapping Lexical Spread in American English



Jack Grieve:

New words are regularly identified by lexicographers, linguists, and the media, but very little is known about how new words spread across time and space.

This is primarily because we haven’t had access to sufficiently large geo-coded and time-stamped corpora to identify and map words as they spread (although see Eisenstein et al., 2014).




Middle School Reading Lists 100 Years Ago vs. Today Show How Far American Educational Standards Have Declined



Jason Stevens:

There’s a delightful and true saying, often attributed to Joseph Sobran, that in a hundred years, we’ve gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English in college.

Now comes even more evidence of the steady decline of American educational standards.

Last year, Annie Holmquist, a blogger for better-ed.org, discovered a 1908 curriculum manual in the Minnesota Historical Society archives that included detailed reading lists for various grade levels.

According to her research, the recommended literature list for 7th and 8th graders in Minnesota in 1908 included the following:




The Long Tail of the English Language



Words API:

In the English language, the most common words are incredibly common. Though there are at least 1 million words in the English language, “you”, “I”, and “the” account for 10% of the words we actually use. By the time you reach “is”, at number 10, you’ve covered 20%.

The top 100 most common English words account for over 50% of the words we use, which is about how many words a 2-year old know. A 3-year old would probably know most of the top 1,000 words, which covers 75%. And by the 10,000th most common word, “remorse”, you’ve covered over 88% of the words we commonly use. That leaves a lot of words you don’t hear very much.

If you put word frequency on a graph, like the one below, you quickly see an interesting distribution called the Long Tail. It happens when a small number of items account for a disproportionate number of occurrences, such as the books that Amazon sells.




7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free)



Rick Noack:

Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they’ve done the opposite.

The country’s universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens — and even of foreigners.

Explaining the change, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, said tuition fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

What might interest potential university students in the United States is that Germany offers some programs in English — and it’s not the only country. Let’s take a look at the surprising — and very cheap — alternatives to pricey American college degrees.




The absurd history of English slang



Jonathan Green:

Slang’s literary origins are widespread and ever-expanding. Its social roots, however, are narrow and focused: the city. If, as has been suggested, the story of standard English is that of a London language, so too is that of English slang. And the pattern would be repeated elsewhere as colonies became independent and rural settlements became major conurbations. London’s chroniclers had always noted the urban vocabularies, though none before the eighteenth century had rendered their discoveries lexicographical. The pioneer of such investigations, John Stow, laying out Elizabethan London in his Survey of London (1598), had barely touched on language (his text offers gong farmer, a latrine cleaner, night-walker, a thief, and white money, meaning silver coins). In time those who told London’s story would offer a far more central position to the city’s speech, alongside its population and topography. The first of these were the Jacobean city playwrights, but they suborned the language to their plays. For those whose work helped showcase the city’s particular way of speaking, one must look at the turn of the seventeenth century’s Ned Ward and Thomas Brown, and on to their successors.




Splitting classes by ability undermines efforts to help disadvantaged children, finds research into English primaries



Richards Adams:

Splitting pupils as young as six into classes based on ability – known as streaming – makes the brightest children brighter but does little to help the rest to catch up, according to new research into schools in England.

The analysis of the progress made by 2,500 six and seven-year-olds in state primary schools in England, conducted by academics at the Institute of Education in London, found that the use of streaming appears to entrench educational disadvantage compared with the results of pupils who were taught in all-ability classes.

But, does the other approach make a difference? Madison’s experience with English 10 and small learning communities has not moved the needle.




Nearly 40% of Fairfax County, VA Requires additional English Instruction



at Rees Shapiro

The kindergartners of the Class of 2026, who finished their first year in Fairfax County schools Wednesday, constitute the largest and one of the most ethnically, culturally and socioeconomically diverse groups of students the county has seen, a fact that school system administrators say could pose significant challenges in the decade to come. 

Long an enclave of predominantly white, middle-class families with a top-class school system, Fairfax has experienced a dramatic demographic shift in recent years that is nowhere more obvious than in the county’s kindergarten classrooms. The white student population is receding and is being replaced with fast-growing numbers of poor students and children of immigrants for whom English is a second language. 

More than one-third of the 13,424 kindergartners in the county this year qualified for free or reduced-price meals, a federal measure of poverty, and close to 40 percent of the Class of 2026 requires additional English instruction, among the most ever for a Fairfax kindergarten class.

The demographic changes in Fairfax are likely to have long-term implications for the school system: Most of this year’s kindergarten class will spend the next 12 years in county schools. Schools officials believe that the challenges that come with a less-affluent and less-prepared population will exacerbate the system’s struggles with a widening achievement gap for minorities and ballooning class sizes.

The rising enrollment — the overall student body has surged by more than 22,000 since 2004 — is not sustainable at the current funding level, schools officials said, which could intensify already contentious battles for tax dollars with the county’s Board of Supervisors. School Board member Ted Velkoff (At Large), chairman of its Budget Committee, said the increasing number of immigrant families in Fairfax has affected — and will continue to affect — the school system’s bottom line.




School outside school: No English spoken here



Gayle Worland:

Monday through Friday, Maya Reinfeldt is an eighth-grader at Savanna Oaks Middle School in Fitchburg.
But on Saturdays, while her classmates are at soccer practice or gymnastics lessons, the 13-year-old is back at a desk studying literature in her mother’s native Russian.

Maya is one of more than 50 students enrolled at the Madison Russian School, a weekly immersion program where students can take classes in math, language, literature and drama, often using the same texts as their counterparts in Russian schools.

It’s not all academics. Students also do many performance events, sing together in a choir and participate in cultural gatherings with their families. And because they spend years together in the same classroom, they often develop deep friendships linked by a faraway culture.

“Sometimes I get more out of it than normal school,” said Maya, whose mother helped co-found the Russian School in 2003 so that her daughter, then 2, could master the language. “It’s a pretty good way to spend a Saturday morning. Otherwise I’d just be wasting my time.”




Some Brief Spoken Comments on Comp/Rhet, Academic Labor, and the Future of English Studies



Brian T. Hill:

FFor the time being, I’m going to talk about material realities shared by comp/rhet and its others, rather than their differences.

There are all kinds of things I could say about the disciplinary and labor crises in our field, but for now I will focus on an interrelated set of areas with some brief comments, criticisms, or proposals for each: academia’s prestige economy, organized labor, graduate admissions, advisement, the “star system,” and, last and most importantly, undergraduates. Some of these thoughts and recommendations are very small, and some are quite a bit larger.

For starters, campuses, programs, and departments have few if any internal material incentives to make transformational structural changes to the existing divisions of labor. The current arrangement exists for a number of interrelated reasons, but surely one of the most pertinent reasons is that it’s economically beneficial for institutions to organize labor in a tiered wage and title system, with no-contract or low wage or no-benefits work, with labor delivered ‘just-in-time,” etc. Hence the enduring importance and prominence of labor strikes as one of the few bargaining tools still available to workers.




New York to shorten math, English exams



Jessica Bakeman:

The state Board of Regents fleshed out proposals to reduce and reform testing in New York schools at their regular meetings Monday and Tuesday, including a plan to shorten math and English exams.
The state plans to cut down the amount of time students spend taking math exams by 20 minutes in all grades and will also cut the number of questions to relieve concerns about students not being able to finish.
In grades five through eight, the state will reduce questions on English exams, but maintain the maximum testing time, giving students more time for each question.
The state is moving forward seeking a federal waiver to relieve eighth graders in advanced Algebra from taking both the eighth-grade and the high school-level assessments. While about 57,000 students would be affected by that change, the state is expanding the waiver request to include another 2,000 students, including seventh graders who are also taking the algebra course as well as eighth graders who are taking high-school geometry.




Red Balloon School In Brazil Helps Students Learn English By Correcting Celebrities’ Grammar On Twitter



Huffington Post

In an awesome attempt to help its students learn English, a school in Brazil named Red Balloon challenged a group of eight to 13-year-olds to play “grammar cops” for their favorite celebrities on Twitter. The kids picked out grammatically incorrect tweets from big-name stars like Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton and responded directly with their edits. The results were, unsurprisingly, hilarious and wonderful.
Check out a sampling, below, and watch the video above to learn more about the creative school project.




English Letter Frequency Counts: Mayzner Revisited



Peter Norvig:

On December 17th 2012, I got a nice letter from Mark Mayzner, a retired 85-year-old researcher who studied the frequency of letter combinations in English words in the early 1960s. His 1965 publication has been cited in hundreds of articles. Mayzner describes his work:

I culled a corpus of 20,000 words from a variety of sources, e.g., newspapers, magazines, books, etc. For each source selected, a starting place was chosen at random. In proceeding forward from this point, all three, four, five, six, and seven-letter words were recorded until a total of 200 words had been selected. This procedure was duplicated 100 times, each time with a different source, thus yielding a grand total of 20,000 words. This sample broke down as follows: three-letter words, 6,807 tokens, 187 types; four-letter words, 5,456 tokens, 641 types; five-letter words, 3,422 tokens, 856 types; six-letter words, 2,264 tokens, 868 types; seven-letter words, 2,051 tokens, 924 types. I then proceeded to construct tables that showed the frequency counts for three, four, five, six, and seven-letter words, but most importantly, broken down by word length and letter position, which had never been done before to my knowledge.

and he wonders if:

perhaps your group at Google might be interested in using the computing power that is now available to significantly expand and produce such tables as I constructed some 50 years ago, but now using the Google Corpus Data, not the tiny 20,000 word sample that I used.

The answer is: yes indeed, I am interested! And it will be a lot easier for me than it was for Mayzner. Working 60s-style, Mayzner had to gather his collection of text sources, then go through them and select individual words, punch them on Hollerith cards, and use a card-sorting machine.




The World’s 10 most influential Languages



George Weber:

One hardly risks controversy with the statement that today English was a more influential language world-wide than Yanomami. To a child’s question why that should be so, the well-informed parental brush-off would be that English had hundreds of millions of speakers while Yanomami could with difficulty scratch together 16,000. Really difficult and well-informed off-spring could then point out that in this case, Chinese would be the most important language of the world. At this point, the experienced parent would send the brat off to annoy someone else.
Every language, including Yanomami, is the most important language of the world – to its speakers. Rather than “important” we shall here, therefore, use the world “influential” in its stead. Chinese is a very influential language, no doubt about it, but is it more so than English? Clearly not. The number of speakers is relevant but quite insufficient for a meaningful ranking of languages in order of current world-wide influence, the stress being on the word “world-wide”. There are many other factors to be taken into account and this is what we shall attempt to do in the following.
Ranking the world’s current top languages is not just an idle past-time. The world is growing closer and this historical development is matched by large-scale linguistic adjustments, the most dramatic of which being the explosive growth of the English language. It does matter how major languages stand and evolve in relation to each other. Like the weather, many developments make sense only if one looks at the world-wide picture, not just parochial bits of it.




Hong Kong English tests for trainee teachers



Dennis Chong:  

The Institute of Education, which specialises in training teachers, is fighting back against the declining level of English literacy by making all students take an internationally recognised examination.
Students will not be prevented from graduating if they fail to achieve a 6.0 grade (on a 9-point scale) in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam – equivalent to the level most universities in the English-speaking world require of new undergraduates.




Putting our minds to helping immigrants learn English



Steve Lopez:

In my back-to-school column two weeks ago, I wrote that parents ought to look in the mirror before pinning all the blame for the state of education on schools and teachers.
Readers were with me on the idea that parents ought to be more engaged in their children’s education, whether they do so at home, on campus or by marching on Sacramento. But reactions split over my suggestion that parents who make no effort to learn English aren’t helping their kids or themselves.
As promised, here’s the follow-up.
And let me begin by saying that lack of parental involvement is a problem regardless of income or race. Are any parents more annoying than those who impose no discipline at home, then blame their child’s disruptive antics or lousy grades on the school, the curriculum or the teacher’s inability to recognize what a genius the child is?




Hong Kong’s English Schools Foundation at a Crossroads



Anna Healy Fenton:

Heather Du Quesnay and Carlson Tong Ka-shing make an unlikely double act. Fate has thrown together the lofty, rather intimidating British chief executive of the English Schools Foundation (ESF) and the organisation’s new chairman, an engagingly eager retired accountant. Their mission: to forge a new deal that will secure the future of ESF’s 15 publicly funded schools.
On the way they run the gauntlet of parents fuming at the prospect of already high fees rising by another 3.3 per cent this year, teachers grumpy at their 3 per cent pay rise, a government whose view on funding the ESF is unclear and some taxpayers who are asking why they should subsidise privileged parents anyway.
At the heart of the matter is the foundation’s subvention or subsidy. The colonial administration created the ESF in 1967 to provide affordable British-style education for English speakers. The foundation, set up by government ordinance, was given land and buildings and provided with the same recurrent funding per child as government and aided schools.
“They needed to provide both an English curriculum and also Chinese-style education through the local system, whether that meant teaching in English or Chinese,” says Professor Mark Bray, an expert on international education at the University of Hong Kong.




Call for revolution in English teaching: Professor says multilingual teachers who grew up speaking Cantonese provide a better model for Hong Kong children than native English speakers



John Carney:

English should be taught in Hong Kong by multilingual teachers, not native English speakers, according to a Hong Kong education professor who is organising an international conference on English as a lingua franca, being held in the city.
“It’s a revolutionary shift that we’re arguing for, and it’s that the multilingual way becomes the linguistic model for teaching kids English here, not that of a native English speaker,” says Andy Kirkpatrick, chair professor of English as a professional language at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.




As Thomas Jefferson High School adds help for poor English skills, some Va. parents fume



Kevin Sieff:

As Northern Virginia became home to more immigrant families in recent decades, Fairfax County officials say they started programs to teach English as a second language at every school – about 200 of them. Except one.
The holdout was the region’s hallowed magnet school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, where many assumed that steep admissions standards rendered such a program for English language learners unnecessary.
But next year, at the behest of the school’s teachers, Thomas Jefferson – often called TJ – plans to hire its first instructor to cater to a growing number of students who thrive in math and science classes but sometimes struggle with English.
The decision to hire the half-time teacher has reinvigorated a debate about TJ’s mission – namely, how heavily the school’s admissions policy should favor math and science standouts over well-rounded applicants with superior reading and writing abilities.




Former Waukesha Mayor Nelson teaches English at Waukesha County’s juvenile center



Laurel Walker:

Nine months after Waukesha voters gave Larry Nelson a swift kick out of the mayor’s office, denying him a second term, he’s back to teaching – if in a distinctively different place and position than the one he left four years earlier.
Nelson is the English teacher at the Waukesha County Juvenile Center, where he teaches 11- to 17-year-olds who either are in shelter care or have been court-ordered to secure detention.
“I’ve always loved teaching, and even when I was mayor I felt I was teaching on a bigger scale,” he said.
Since Nelson, 55, was granted a leave of absence from his Butler Middle School teaching job in Waukesha when he was elected mayor in 2006, the School Board allowed him to return this fall, his 31st year of teaching.
Nelson comes to work at 8 a.m. every day to find out how many students he has, and who they are, he said. He could have one, or 10. They may be around for a day, a week or a month. The longest has been two months. With much of his teaching one-on-one or in small groups, he can customize what he teaches, he said.




Madison Preparatory Academy School Board Presentation 12/6/2010



Kaleem Caire, via email:

The initial proposal for Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men will be presented to the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education’s Planning and Development Committee on MONDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2010 at 6:00pm in the McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building (545 West Dayton St., Madison 53703). The committee is chaired by Ms. Arlene Silveira (asilveira@madison.k12.wi.us). The Madison Prep proposal is the first agenda item for that evening’s committee meeting so please be there at 6pm sharp. If you plan to provide public comment, please show up 15 minutes early (5:45pm) to sign-up!
Please show your support for Madison Prep by attending this meeting. Your presence in the audience is vital to demonstrating to the Board of Education the broad community support for Madison Prep. We look forward to you joining us for the very important milestone in Madison history!
The Mission
Madison Prep will provide a world class secondary education for young men that prepares them to think critically, communicate effectively, identify their purpose, and succeed in college, 21st century careers, leadership and life. For more information, see the attachments or contact Ms. Laura DeRoche at lderoche@ulgm.org.
Get Involved with Madison Prep

  • Curriculum & Instruction Team. This design team will develop a thorough understanding of the IB curriculum and define the curriculum of the school, including the core and non-core curriculum. They will also develop a thorough understanding of the Harkness teaching method, outline instructional best practices, and address teacher expectations and evaluation. Both teams will address special education and English Language Learners (ELL).
  • Governance, Leadership & Operation Team. This design team will help develop the school’s operations plan, define the governing structure, and address the characteristics and expectations of the schools Head of School.
  • Facility Team. This team will be responsible for identify, planning, and securing a suitable facility for Madison Prep.
  • Budget, Finance & Fundraising Team. This team will be involved with developing Madison Prep’s budget and fundraising plans, and will explore financing options for start-up, implementation, and the first four years of the school’s operation.”
  • Community Engagement & Support Team. This team will develop strategies and work to establish broad community support for Madison Prep, develop criteria for partnering with others, and establish partnerships that support teaching, learning, leadership, and community engagement.

Related: an interview with Kaleem Caire.
Madison Preparatory Academy Overview 600K PDF and executive summary.




Commissioner: Teachers will be tested for English fluency



Katie Davis

Rhode Island’s education commissioner said she’s promising new checks on educators to determine if they can speak, write and read fluent English, however union leaders say the problem is being blown out of proportion.
The issue came to light this week after a Board of Regents meeting. Commissioner Deborah Gist said she learned about it when parents came to her with concerns.
“I think any Rhode Islander would have the same reaction I would have, which is to be truly stunned about this,” Gist said.




‘I was not allowed to take AP English’



Jay Matthews:

My column on Charles Hebert Flowers High School requiring a 3.0 grade point average to take an Advanced Placement course, then dropping the rule after I asked about it, inspired many people who have been barred from AP and college prep courses to offer their stories. Here are two accounts from people who suffered because of the still widespread and wrongheaded view that only top students should be challenged. Carolyn Elefant is a lawyer in Washington. Evelyn Nolan is a retired teacher from Prince George’s County, where Flowers High is located.
From Elefant:




66th NACAC Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, October 1, 2010



Panelists: Christopher Burkmar, Associate Dean of Admissions at Princeton;
Will Fitzhugh, Founder, The Concord Review; Jonathan Reider, Director of College Counseling, San Francisco University High School
Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
I propose a thought experiment for what it may be worth.
What if we change the name of our organization from the National Association of College Admissions Counselors to:
The National Association of College Completion Counselors?
Note that the new name is more comprehensive, as Completion presupposes Admission, but, as is all too obvious these days, Admission cannot assume Completion.
You are all at least as aware as I am of the numbers about the need for academic remediation in Higher Education and the numbers of dropouts from college, but I will review a couple of them. Tony Wagner of Harvard reports that in general, including community colleges, half of college freshman do not return for a second year, and a huge percentage of our HS graduates take six years or more to complete a Bachelor’s degree, and four years or more to complete an Associate’s degree.
Students who need remediation in basic academic skills are more likely to drop out, and the more remedial courses they have to take, the more likely they are to drop out.
The California State College System reported at a conference last Fall that 47% of their Freshman students are in remedial reading courses.
We may assume that these students have had 12 years of reading in school already, but they still can’t read well enough to do college work, at least by California standards.
Reading is not calculus or chemistry, it is just a basic academic skill in which we expect that the schools have offered practice for 12 years.
Now, a youngster can start to play Pop Warner football at age 6. By graduation from HS, he could have had 12 years of practice at the basic skills of football. Imagine athletes reporting for a college football team, only to be told that they need a year of remedial blocking and tackling practice before they can be allowed to play. It seems unlikely that they would not have learned basic blocking and tackling skills in their previous 12 years of playing football.
I am not just talking about improvement here. Of course, students in college can learn to read more difficult material in new academic subjects. And of course college athletes can get better at all the skills needed for success in their sports.
But we are talking about basic, entry-level academic skills. 47% of freshmen in the California State College System don’t have them in reading, after 12 years of practice in school.
When I went into the Army in 1960, I had never fired a rifle before, but in a week or two on the range in Basic Training, I was able to meet the standard for “Sharpshooter.” I missed “Expert” by one target.
I am convinced that if I had had 12 years of practice with my M-1 Garand, I really could have scored “Expert”–perhaps even by the higher standards of the U.S. Marine Corps.
I have to confess I am stunned that so many of our high school students, having been awarded one of our high school diplomas, and having been accepted at one of our colleges, are found to be unable to read well enough to do college work.
The Diploma to Nowhere report of the Strong American Schools project said that more than one million of our high school graduates are now in remedial courses when they get to college.
It also notes that these students, having satisfied our requirements for the high school diploma, and graduated–having applied to college and been accepted–are told when they get there, that they can’t make the grade without perhaps an additional year of work on their academic fundamentals. Naturally this experience is surprising to them, given that they satisfied our requirements for graduation and admission to college, and embarrassing, humiliating and depressing, as well.
As you may know, my particular interest since 1987 has been in student history research papers at the high school level. I have published 912 essays by secondary students from 44 states and 38 other countries over the last 23 years.
Some of the students who wrote the required Extended Essays for the IB Diploma and were published in The Concord Review, and some of our other authors as well, have told me that in their freshman dorms they are often mobbed by their peers who are facing a serious term paper for the first time and have no idea how to do one.
It is absurd to contemplate, but imagine a well-prepared college basketball player being mobbed for help by his peers who had never been taught to dribble, pass, or shoot in high school.
If even colleges like Harvard and Stanford require all their Freshmen to take a year of expository writing, that may not exactly be remedial writing, but I would argue that a student who has completed an Extended Essay for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, and a student who has published a 12,000-word paper on Irish Nationalism or a 15,000-word paper on the Soviet-Afghan War for The Concord Review, should perhaps be allowed to skip that year of remedial writing. The author of the Soviet-Afghan War paper, from Georgia, is now at Christ Church College, Oxford, where I believe he did not have to spend a year in an expository writing course, and the author of the Irish Nationalism paper is at Princeton, where she may very well have been asked to spend a year in such a course.
If so many of our students need to learn how to do academic writing (not to mention how to read), what are they spending time on in high school?
I believe that writing is the most dumbed-down activity we now have in our schools. The AP program includes no research paper, only responses to document-based questions, and most high school Social Studies departments leave academic writing tasks to the English Department.
Now, in general, English Departments favor personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, but college admission requirements have given them an additional task on which they are working with students. Teaching writing takes time, not only in preparing and monitoring students, but more especially in reading what students have written and offering corrections and advice. Time for one kind of writing necessarily means less time for another kind.
Personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay have already taken a lot of the time of English teachers and their students, but as college admissions officers ask for the 500-word personal essay, time has to be given to teaching for that.
While high school English departments work with their students on the 500-word personal essay, they do not have the time to give to serious term papers, so they don’t do them, and I believe that is why so many students arrive in our colleges in need of a one-year course on the expository writing they didn’t get a chance to do in school.
Lots of the public high school students whose work I publish simply do their papers as independent studies, as there is no place for serious academic writing like that in the curriculum.
I would suggest that if college admissions officers would ask instead for an academic research paper from applicants in place of the short little personal essay, while it would be more work for them, it would make it more likely that students they accept would arrive ready for college work, perhaps even ready enough to allow them to skip that year of expository writing they now have to sit through, and they could take an actual academic course in its place.
Making sure that our high school students arrive in college able to manage college-level nonfiction reading and academic expository writing might really help us earn our new credential as professionals who work not just to help students get accepted at college, but to help them complete college as well.
==============
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®
www.tcr.org/blog




4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong



Sam Dillon

A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.
Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.
Their efforts paid off quickly. In 2001 testing, more students passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any other school in Massachusetts. The gains continued. This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. And its turnaround is getting new attention in a report, “How High Schools Become Exemplary,” published last month by Ronald F. Ferguson, an economist at Harvard who researches the minority achievement gap.

Related: Small Learning Communities and English 10.




2010 United States Blue Ribbon Schools



US Department of Education:

Blue Ribbon Schools must meet either of two criteria:
High performing schools: Regardless of the school’s demographics or percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the school is high performing. These are schools that are ranked among a state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments in both reading (English language arts) and mathematics or that score at the highest performance level on tests referenced by national norms in at least the most recent year tested.




What Can Parents Expect To See in English Language Arts Classrooms After Common Core’s Standards Begin To Be Implemented? A Worst Case Scenario–But Probably Not Far from Reality



Sandra Stotsky:

In June 2010, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) offered the nation two sets of English language arts standards: one set called “college and career readiness anchor standards,” and the other, grade-level standards that build towards these anchor standards. With few exceptions, both sets of standards consist of content-empty and culture-free generic skills. Why are they so bereft of substantive content? In large part because they reflect a faulty diagnosis of why many American students are unprepared for authentic college-level work. The misdiagnosis comes from CCSSI’s reliance on the results of ACT surveys to guide the development of its standards.
Several years ago, ACT surveyed thousands of post-secondary instructors to find out what they saw as the chief problems in their freshman students. Not surprisingly, the chief complaint was that high school graduates cannot understand the college texts they are assigned to read. Without an explanation for its reasoning, ACT leaped to two conclusions: (1) college students are not expected to read enough complex texts when they are in high school; and (2) they are not given enough instruction in strategies or skills for reading complex texts in high school.




Madison Urban League Job Openings – Deadline July 21, 2010 at 5pm



Kaleem Caire, via email:

The Urban League of Greater Madison’s Learning Department, which oversees Schools of Hope and other educational initiatives for middle and high school youth, is currently seeking dedicated, energetic and qualified candidates for various positions. Please click the position titles below or visit www.ulgm.org for a detailed job description and instructions on how to apply. Deadline for application is July 21, 2010 at 5:00pm.
Manager, Learning
Manager, Learning (Bilingual English/Spanish)
Volunteer Coordinator, Community Partnerships
Tutor and Youth Recource Center Coordinators
AmeriCorp Tutor Coordinators




Hysteria in Egypt’s streets over English exam failures



Matt Bradley:

On Monday, amidst the car horns and chatter, the sound of broken dreams echoed through Egypt’s streets.
Young girls fainted in the arms of their sobbing mothers. Fathers screamed with rage, their faces contorted into grotesque expressions of indignation. In some areas, ambulances were called in to treat victims of shock.
The source of all this madness: the English test in the thanawaya aama, Egypt’s annual nation-wide high school examination.
“They were suffering. The girls were crying, they were screaming. It was so difficult. All of them were suffering,” said Ahmed Ghoneim, a high school English teacher at Imbaba Secondary School outside Cairo, whose telling of the sorrowful scene inside the examination room might have recalled a motorway accident or a vicious murder.




Once struggling to learn English, student now heads for Harvard med



Jim Stingl:

When he moved to Milwaukee from a tiny town in Mexico, Carlos Torres couldn’t speak a word of English. Not even hello or goodbye.
He was a frightened kid, plunked into fifth grade at a south side Milwaukee school. His family – he’s the youngest of 10 children – rented a place near 14th and Lincoln.
Now, a mere dozen years later, Carlos is a standout graduate of Marquette High School and, as of last weekend, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Faced with an enviable choice among four medical schools that accepted him, he has chosen Harvard on a full-tuition scholarship. He’s the first member of his family to graduate from college.
As American dreams go, this one’s pretty vivid.
Carlos became an American citizen, by the way. You may already be wondering about that. We’re living in sensitive times when it comes to immigration issues. Carlos admits he was tempted to wear a shirt to UW graduation saying, “Do I look legal? Want to see my papers?” but he thought better of it.




How English erased its roots to become the global tongue of the 21st century



Robert McCrum:

‘Throw away your dictionaries!’ is the battle cry as a simplified global hybrid of English conquers cultures and continents. In this extract from his new book, Globish, Robert McCrum tells the story of a linguistic phenomenon – and its links to big money.
Globalisation is a word that first slipped into its current usage during the 1960s; and the globalisation of English, and English literature, law, money and values, is the cultural revolution of my generation. Combined with the biggest IT innovations since Gutenberg, it continues to inspire the most comprehensive transformation of our society in 500, even 1,000, years. This is a story I have followed, and contributed to, in a modest way, ever since I wrote the BBC and PBS television series The Story of English, with William Cran and Robert MacNeil, in the early 1980s. When Bill Gates was still an obscure Seattle software nerd, and the latest cool invention to transform international telephone lines was the fax, we believed we were providing a snapshot of the English language at the peak of its power and influence, a reflection of the Anglo-American hegemony. Naturally, we saw our efforts as ephemeral. Language and culture, we knew, are in flux. Any attempts to pin them down would be antiquarianism at best, doomed at worst. Besides, some of the experts we talked to believed that English, like Latin before it, was already showing signs of breaking up into mutually unintelligible variants. The Story of English might turn out to be a last hurrah.




Celebrity English tutor K.Oten arrested; Customs raids see eight people detained over alleged exam copyright infringements



Elaine Yau, Tanna Chong & Phyllis Tsang:

Celebrity English tutor Karson Oten Fan Karno, also known as K. Oten, was arrested for suspected infringement of copyright of public examination papers along with seven people in a raid by customs officers on tutorial centres.
K. Oten and the tutorial company through which he delivered video lessons both denied they had breached copyright rules in offering lessons to around 60 Form Six students at two centres in Admiralty and Yau Ma Tei.
The tutorial firm, Advanced Contemporary Education Centre, said yesterday it had never copied exam papers. “The handouts used in tutorial classes offered by us were written, printed and distributed to students by the tutors themselves,” it said.
It had suspended classes taught by Oten and refunded cash to students. It said it would reserve the right to pursue damages.




Grade 10 Diploma Not a Wise Idea



Ze’ev Wurman, Sandra Stotsky:

In February, the national press reported on a pilot program that will give high school sophomores in eight states a chance to earn a diploma and head straight to credit-bearing math and English courses at a state college. To do so, they will have to take special course work and can try to pass academic tests known as board exams as early as grade 10.
The idea of a grade 10 diploma is the latest brainchild of the National Center on Education and the Economy, the originator of the unsuccessful school-to-work initiative in the 1990s. The project is funded by the Gates Foundation, which has abandoned its initiative to create small high schools as a way to get more low-achieving students through high school.
The center’s so-called fast-track approach ups the ante and aims to get at-risk students out of high school and into college – and supposedly on a quick credit-bearing path to a degree. It also aims to get bright high school students into college sooner for supposedly better course work. However, the center’s proposed 10th-grade “diploma” is the wrong answer to the wrong problem for three groups of students: those with a strong academic orientation, those without it but who are willing to stay in school and those who drop out.




The Fordham Institute’s expert reviewers have analyzed the draft Common Core K-12 education standards (made public on March 10) according to rigorous criteria. Their analyses lead to a grade of A- for the draft mathematics standards and B for those in Eng



Sheila Byrd Carmichael, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Gabrielle Martino, Kathleen Porter-Magee, W. Stephen Wilson, Amber Winkler:

Two weeks ago, American education approached a possible turning point, when the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released drafts of proposed new academic standards in English language arts and math for kindergarten through high school. Already the object of much interest–and some controversy–these are standards that, once revised and finalized, will be candidates for adoption by individual states in place of those they’re now using.
For months before they were made public, the “Common Core” standards were much discussed. Between now and April 2–the end of the public comment period on this draft–there will be plenty more. That is a healthy thing, both because the more thoughtful scrutiny these drafts receive, the better the final product is apt to be, and because the only way for these standards ever to gain traction in our far- flung, highly-decentralized, and loosely-coupled public education system is if peo- ple from all walks of life–parents, educators, employers, public officials, scholars, etc.–take part in reading, commenting, and shaping the final product.
But ought they gain traction? We think so. Assuming this draft only improves in the process of revision, the Common Core represents a rare opportunity for American K-12 education to re-boot. A chance to set forth, across state lines, a clear, ambi- tious, and actionable depiction of the essential skills, competencies, and knowledge that our young people should acquire in school and possess by the time they gradu- ate. Most big modern nations–including our allies and competitors–already have something like this for their education systems. If the U.S. does it well and if–this is a big if–the huge amount of work needed to operationalize these standards is earnestly undertaken in the months and years to follow, this country could find itself with far-better educated citizens than it has today. Many more of them will be “college- and career-ready” and that means the country as a whole will be stronger, safer, and more competitive.




The Dictionary of Old English explores the brutality and elegance of our ancestral tongue.



Ammon Shea:

“Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.” So said Samuel Johnson, according to James Boswell–and if any man can get away with making a pithy, slightly nonsensical, yet somehow illuminating statement about the merits of dictionaries, repositories of our language, it is Johnson.
Watches and other kinds of clocks may not “go quite true” yet, but they have managed to attain such a degree of exactness that the point is largely moot. The most accurate form of timekeeper available today, a cesium fountain atomic clock, is expected to become inaccurate by no more than a single second over the next fifty-plus million years (although it is by no means clear what other clock might be used to judge the world’s most accurate timekeeper).
What of dictionaries? Have they been improved to the same extent as clocks? Is there somewhere a dictionary that is expected to be wrong by only one word in the next fifty million years?




In English-Crazy China, 8D World Teaches Kids To Speak In Virtual Worlds; Lands A Deal With CCTV



Erick Schonfeld:

In China, learning spoken English is giving rise to a huge and growing market. For instance, in addition to English classes in public schools, parents send their children to about 50,000 for-profit training schools around the country, where English is the most popular subject. Instead of American Idol, on CCTV, the national government-owned TV network, they have the Star of Outlook English Talent Competition. This is possibly the largest nationwide competition in China. Last year, 400,000 students between the ages of 6 and 14 took part in it.
This year, the competition is adding a virtual twist, and a startup based in Massachusetts called 8D World is at the center of it. 8D World runs a virtual world called Wiz World Online for Chinese-speaking kids who want to learn English. In what is a huge coup for the startup, this year’s CCTV English competition will use Wiz World Online as its official training and competition platform. Wiz World will be used to screen contestants and will be promoted to millions of Chinese viewers.




New Critiques on the Proposed “Common Core” English & Math Standards



via a kind reader. Math 627K PDF:

This document provides grade level standards for mathematics in grades K-8, and high school standards organized under the headings of the College and Career Readiness Standards in Mathematics. Students reaching the readiness level described in that document (adjusted in response to feedback) will be prepared for non-remedial college mathematics courses and for training programs for career-level jobs. Recognizing that most students and parents have higher aspirations, and that ready for college is not the same as ready for mathematics-intensive majors and careers, we have included in this document standards going beyond the readiness level. Most students will cover these additional standards. Students who want the option of entering STEM fields will reach the readiness level by grade 10 or 11 and take precalculus or calculus before graduating from high school. Other students will go beyond readiness through statistics to college. Other pathways can be designed and available as long as they include the readiness level. The final draft of the K-12 standards will indicate which concepts and skills are needed to reach the readiness level and which go beyond. We welcome feedback from states on where that line should be drawn.
English Language Learners in Mathematics Classrooms
English language learners (ELLs) must be held to the same high standards expected of students who are already proficient in English. However, because these students are acquiring English language proficiency and content area knowledge concurrently, some students will require additional time and all will require appropriate instructional support and aligned assessments.
ELLs are a heterogeneous group with differences in ethnic background, first language, socio-economic status, quality of prior schooling, and levels of English language proficiency. Effectively educating these students requires adjusting instruction and assessment in ways that consider these factors. For example ELLs who are literate in a first language that shares cognates with English can apply first-language vocabulary knowledge when reading in English; likewise ELLs with high levels of schooling can bring to bear conceptual knowledge developed in their first language when reading in a second language. On the other hand, ELLs with limited or interrupted schooling will need to acquire background knowledge prerequisite to educational tasks at hand. As they become acculturated to US schools, ELLs who are newcomers will need sufficiently scaffolded instruction and assessments to make sense of content delivered in a second language and display this content knowledge.

English Language Arts 3.6MB PDF
Catherine Gewertz:

A draft of grade-by-grade common standards is undergoing significant revisions in response to feedback that the outline of what students should master is confusing and insufficiently user-friendly.
Writing groups convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association are at work on what they say will be a leaner, better-organized, and easier-to-understand version than the 200-plus-page set that has been circulating among governors, scholars, education groups, teams of state education officials, and others for review in recent weeks. The first public draft of the standards, which was originally intended for a December release but was postponed until January, is now expected by mid-February.




Grant great, but Hillsborough district must find $100 million



Sherri Ackerman:

The Hillsborough County school district is getting $100 million in a private grant over the next seven years to overhaul education.
But the money comes with a catch: The district must come up with $100 million from other sources to finish the job.
Where to get the money in a sparse economy remains a question, leaving some district leaders defensive while others shrug.
“We don’t have $100 million,” acknowledges school board member Dorthea Edgecomb.
One thing is for certain: There is give in a district budget that runs about $3 billion a year, so administrators are confident they can shift money from other programs to initiatives prescribed in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant.
Among the possible sources:
•$16 million over three years to create a computer lab to prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to move online.

A useful article. Grants should not drive strategy, as we’ve often seen. Rather, they should be considered in light of an organization’s plans. It would also be quite useful to see how effective past initiatives have been.




Give diligencing its due in the lexicon of 2010



Michael Skapinker:

The New Oxford American Dictionary has announced its 2009 word of the year. It is “unfriend”, as in “I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight”.
Unfriend has “currency and potential longevity”, says Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford’s US dictionary programme. It is true, she says, that most words with the prefix “un-” are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant) but there are some “un-” verbs, such as unpack and uncap. “Unfriend has real lex-appeal,” she says.
“Unfriend” will irritate those who oppose the nasty habit of turning nouns into verbs. But nouns have been turning into verbs for ages. In his book The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker estimates that a fifth of English verbs started as nouns, including “to progress”, “to contact” and “to host”.
Also, many supposedly new words are not new at all. “Unfriend” has an ancient past, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1659, Thomas Fuller wrote in The Appeal of Injured Innocence: “I hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Unfriended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.”
I am interested in the words that did not make word of the year. They included “paywall” (admitting only paying subscribers to part of a website) and “birther” (someone who believes Barack Obama was not born in the US).




Learning English



La Opinion:

Fluency in English is part of the foundation necessary for a good quality of life in the United States. The school system must be set up so that students who are in an English language learning [ELL] programs are able to master the language and transition out of the program, as soon as possible, to join the rest of the student body to continue their studies.
An analysis by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, appropriately entitled “¿Qué Pasa? Are ELL Students Remaining in English Learning Classes Too Long?” points to delays in reclassifying as “fluent English proficient” students who began school as English language learners so that they can transition into regular academic programs. The detailed study shows that 30% of students who started First Grade as English language learners were still in the same classification eight years later. This situation puts students at greater risk of academic failure, as Ninth Grade is seen as critical for success in High School.
The problem is that students who are not reclassified by school authorities as fluent English proficient are at a disadvantage even when they get to the California High School exit exam.




Many L.A. students not moving out of English language classes



Anna Gorman:

Nearly 30% of Los Angeles Unified School District students placed in English language learning classes in early primary grades were still in the program when they started high school, increasing their chances of dropping out, according to a new study released Wednesday.
More than half of those students were born in the United States and three-quarters had been in the school district since first grade, according to the report by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC.
The findings raise questions about the teaching in the district’s English language classes, whether students are staying in the program too long and what more educators should do for students who start school unable to speak English fluently.
“If you start LAUSD at kindergarten and are still in ELL classes at ninth grade, that’s too long,” said Wendy Chavira, assistant director of the policy institute. “There is something wrong with the curriculum if there are still a very large number of students being stuck in the system.”




Nearly 1 in 10 in California’s class of 2009 did not pass high school exit exam



Seema Mehta:

Nearly one in 10 students in the class of 2009 did not pass the state’s high school exit exam, which is required to receive a diploma. The results, released Wednesday, were nearly stagnant compared with the previous year.
By the end of their senior year, 90.6% of students in the graduating class had passed the two-part exam, compared with 90.4% in the class of 2008.
“These gains are incremental, but they are in fact significant and they are a true testimony to the tremendous work being done by our professional educators . . . as well as our students,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, whose office released the data.
Beginning in their sophomore year, students have several chances to take the exit exam. A score of at least 55% on the math portion, which is geared to an eighth-grade level, and 60% on the English portion, which is ninth- or 10th-grade level, is required.
The achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates persisted. More than 95% of Asian students and nearly 96% of white students passed the exam by the end of their senior year, compared with nearly 87% of Latino students and more than 81% of black students. But the data did show the size of the gap narrowing. English-language learners and lower-income students also lagged but have made notable gains since the exam was first required.




What Should Colleges Teach? Or, becoming Alarmed at College Students Inability to Write a Clean English Sentence



Stanley Fish:

A few years ago, when I was grading papers for a graduate literature course, I became alarmed at the inability of my students to write a clean English sentence. They could manage for about six words and then, almost invariably, the syntax (and everything else) fell apart. I became even more alarmed when I remembered that these same students were instructors in the college’s composition program. What, I wondered, could possibly be going on in their courses?
I decided to find out, and asked to see the lesson plans of the 104 sections. I read them and found that only four emphasized training in the craft of writing. Although the other 100 sections fulfilled the composition requirement, instruction in composition was not their focus. Instead, the students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization. These artifacts and topics are surely worthy of serious study, but they should have received it in courses that bore their name, if only as a matter of truth-in-advertising.
As I learned more about the world of composition studies, I came to the conclusion that unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham, and I advised administrators to insist that all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else. This advice was contemptuously dismissed by the composition establishment, and I was accused of being a reactionary who knew nothing about current trends in research. Now I have received (indirect) support from a source that makes me slightly uncomfortable, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which last week issued its latest white paper, “What Will They Learn? A Report on General Education Requirements at 100 of the Nation’s Leading Colleges and Universities.”




How Should We Teach English-Language Learners?



Claudio Sanchez:

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Arizona has not violated federal laws that require schools to help students who do not speak, read or write English. Despite the federal mandates, these kids often fail to do well in school. So why haven’t schools figured out the best way to teach English to non-English-speaking students?
“The research certainly has in the past shown dual language programs to be the most effective,” says Nancy Rowe.
Rowe oversees instruction for English-language learners in Nebraska. She swears that building on a child’s native language, rather than discarding it, has proven to be the best way to help kids make the transition to English — but that’s neither here nor there, because the actual programs that schools use have less to do with research than with politics and funding.




End Is Near in a Fight on Teaching of English



Tamar Lewin:

When Miriam Flores was in third grade at Coronado Elementary School, her mother, also named Miriam, was surprised to learn that she was getting in trouble.
“Her teacher said she was talking in class,” said Mrs. Flores, who speaks limited English. “She had always been a quiet child, but she said she had to ask other students what the teacher was saying because she didn’t understand.”
At the time, the state provided only $150 extra for each non-English-speaking student like Miriam. Few teachers were trained to help English language learners, and many students in this small, largely Hispanic border town were floundering. So Mrs. Flores and other parents sued under a federal civil rights law, charging that non-English-speaking children were being denied equal educational opportunity.
Much has changed since then: Miriam is now a 23-year-old college student. Under a new Arizona law, Coronado Elementary provides four hours a day of intensive English, in small classes, for students struggling with the language. These days, the Nogales schools spend 10 times as much on their English language learners.
Next month, after 17 years of litigation, the United States Supreme Court will rule on the Flores case, deciding whether Arizona is complying with federal laws requiring public schools to teach children to speak English.




Immersion from an early age is the best way to teach English



Lyle Kleusch:

The Hong Kong education system has become far too complex and exam-oriented with regard to teaching English. For example, the Education Bureau’s websites are so difficult to understand and navigate that many public schools are hiring native-English-speaking consultants to break down new senior secondary curriculum guides and assessment modules.
This is all being done in the name of the HKCEE, an acronym that strikes fear into many a secondary student. This is a dysfunctional system. English needs to be taught as a means to communicate, not as an end product used to pass exams. The bureau is neglecting the core, instinctive method of learning a language.
The driving forces behind learning a language remain the same whether it is the mother tongue or a secondary one. They include: the need to understand others and to communicate effectively, and the desire to express ones ideas and opinions. It is hard-wired into our brains from birth to strive to master communication, in any form or language. There is what we call “intrinsic motivation”. Our children are born with an innate desire to hear and be heard. They seek to mimic, emulate and ultimately understand others. This is not theory, it is fact.
There is a language explosion between the ages of two and six. The average child’s vocabulary expands from about 50 words at the age of 18 months to an average of more than 10,000 words by the age of six. Children are not concerned at this age with what language it is, as long as it allows them to communicate their thoughts, emotions and ideas.
If fluent English is the goal for local students, then the whole language and education system in Hong Kong needs to be overhauled and simplified to allow for this crucial period in children’s linguistic development. Teaching children in one language and then switching to another simply to prepare for exams ignores the underlying principles of why and how children learn a language. It favours only those who have been immersed in that second language from an early age.




Korea to Raise Spending on English Education



Kang Shin-who:

The government said Sunday it will expand the education budget to develop training programs for English teachers and recruit more native English-speaking teachers. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced Sunday that it will spend a total of 19.5 billion won ($15.9 million) next year, up 12.2 billion won from a year earlier, for English education programs at elementary and secondary schools.
Under the plan, the ministry will recruit more native English speakers as well as ethnic Koreans for the “Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK)” program, which was introduced last April to give opportunities for students in rural areas to learn English from native English speakers.
Also, the ministry will introduce intensive English training programs for state-run universities specialized in fostering elementary school teachers across the country and distributing English teaching manuals to school teachers.




English Learners Put High-Tech Blackboards to New Use



Emily Alpert:

Small hands flock into the air, fluttering before the oversized computer screen. Teacher Maria Vazquez picks a first-grader from the crowd. She bounds up to the interactive board, takes the stylus from Vazquez’ outstretched hand, and neatly highlights a few Spanish words, touching the tool to the 6-foot-wide screen. There’s no ink, no paper, no projectors — just the wide, kid-level touch screen, upon which every child’s eyes are fixed.
With that screen, Vazquez can conjure up images from the web, play videos, display textbook pages, give and grade quizzes, craft diagrams and broker chats with kids from afar; she can swap notes and lessons with fellow teachers, track students’ answers and how fast they respond. Hours spent grading are a thing of the past. Kids are rapt before the glowing screen.




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