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

This week on America This Week, the podcast I do with @mtaibbi, the featured story in the last segment will be Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. (Due to popular demand and all that.) It’s not long, so read up! Harrison Bergeron (Vonnegut) Full Text.pdf — Walter Kirn (@walterkirn) June 16, 2023 Madison’s very well … Continue reading Revisiting Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, Madison’s English 10

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

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 … Continue reading West HS English 10: More from Pam Nash

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:> To:,,,, Laurie- Mr. Holmes and his staff will do this. Pam Pamela J. Nash Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Madison Metropolitan … Continue reading West HS English 10: Request for Data — Reply from Pam Nash

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 … Continue reading West HS English 10: Time to Show Us the Data

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

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

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

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. … Continue reading West Moves Ahead With English 10 Restructuring

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 … Continue reading The impossibility of English 10

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

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:,,,,,,,, Carol, Thank you for the response. I am somewhat confused however regarding your statement concerning the Board’s role. Maybe … Continue reading Steve Rosenblum on West’s Planned English 10: Same Curriculum for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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: The Report (PDF). Underly and our long term disastrous reading results…. WEAC: $1.57 million for … Continue reading “Some schools with less than 5% proficiency in math and English are rated as “Meets” or “Exceeds” expectations on the current report card”

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

“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 … Continue reading “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”

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 … Continue reading Italian government seeks to penalize the use of English words

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

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

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 … Continue reading School Finance Report: English Language Learners

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

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

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

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

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 … Continue reading Writing teachers: Standard English is racist

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

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 … Continue reading Where are the world’s best English-speakers?

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 … Continue reading Oxford English Dictionary extends hunt for regional words around the world

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 … Continue reading Prof: Trigger warnings ‘serious threats’ to teaching English

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 … Continue reading American Regional English dictionary closing after 54 years

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

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 … Continue reading Old English Has a Serious Image Problem

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

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

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 and ask your school bilingual resource specialist for more information. There are three … Continue reading Madison’s English Language Learner Plan Hearings

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 … Continue reading Philologisticalistic Experts (HS English Departments)

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., … Continue reading Mapping Lexical Spread in American English

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

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

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 … Continue reading The absurd history of English slang

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

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

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

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 … Continue reading Hong Kong English tests for trainee teachers

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 ( 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
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;
Varsity Academics®

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 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.