Category Archives: Curriculum – Languages

The lowest score – 6% – was in the US

BBC:

William Shakespeare is the UK’s greatest cultural icon, according to the results of an international survey released to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth.

Five thousand young adults in India, Brazil, Germany, China and the USA were asked to name a person they associated with contemporary UK arts and culture.

Shakespeare was the most popular response, with an overall score of 14%.

The result emerged from a wider piece of research for the British Council.

The Queen and David Beckham came second and third respectively. Other popular responses included JK Rowling, Adele, The Beatles, Paul McCartney and Elton John.

Related: wisconsin2.org.

Trying to Improve Status Quo Education Models; Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Motoko Rich:

DC Prep operates four charter schools here with 1,200 students in preschool through eighth grade. The schools, whose students are mostly poor and black, are among the highest performing in Washington. Last year, DC Prep’s flagship middle school earned the best test scores among local charter schools, far outperforming the average of the city’s traditional neighborhood schools as well.

Another, less trumpeted, distinction for DC Prep is the extent to which it — as well as many other charter schools in the city — relies on the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic group governed by the family that founded Walmart

Since 2002, the charter network has received close to $1.2 million from Walton in direct grants. A Walton-funded nonprofit helped DC Prep find building space when it moved its first two schools from a chapel basement into former warehouses that now have large classrooms and wide, art-filled hallways.

One-third of DC Prep’s teachers are alumni of Teach for America, whose largest private donor is Walton. A Walton-funded advocacy group fights for more public funding and autonomy for charter schools in the city. Even the local board that regulates charter schools receives funding

Related: Madison’s long term disastrous reading results, at $15k/student annual spending.

OED Goes out of Print

Padraic Flanagan

It’s all academic for now anyway, they say, because the third edition of the famous dictionary, estimated to fill 40 volumes, is running at least 20 years behind schedule.

Michael Proffitt, the OED’s first new chief editor for 20 years, said the mammoth masterpiece is facing delays because “information overload” from the internet is slowing his compilers.

His team of 70 philologists, including lexicographers, etymologists and pronunciation experts, has been working on the latest version, known as OED3, for the past 20 years.

Michael Proffitt revealed to Country Life magazine that the next edition will not be completed until 2034, and likely only to be offered in an online form because of its gargantuan size.

“A lot of the first principles of the OED stand firm, but how it manifests has to change, and how it reaches people has to change,” said the 48-year-old Edinburgh-born editor.

Work on the new version, currently numbering 800,000 words, has been going on since 1994. The first edition, mooted in 1858 with completion expected in 10 years, took 70 years.

“Although the internet has made access easier,” said Mr Proffitt, “it’s also created the dilemma of information overload.

“In 1989, we looked for five years’ recorded usage before a word entered the dictionary. Now, it’s 10 years because there is so much more material to sift through.

Secret Military Test, Coming Soon to Your Spanish Class

Michael Erard:

Imagine a test that could tell you how good you can ultimately get in any foreign language, from Hindi to Welsh, from Igbo to Spanish, before you’ve even learned how to say “hello” or “please pass the butter.” Tres alléchant, no? Most adults would have to put in 10 years or more of dedicated work to find out if they have what it takes to end up with the vocabulary, accent, and grammatical sensibilities of a near-native speaker. This test could direct them from the debút.

And it may be coming your way soon.

Called the Hi-LAB (or “High Level Language Aptitude Battery”), it was developed by University of Maryland researchers working on a government contract in order to predict a person’s ability to learn a language to a very high level. Since its release in 2012, the Hi-LAB has been rolled out to government agencies and military training schools and will eventually be available for civilians as well. (Details of the Hi-LAB were only recently released to the public.) In the same way that America’s space program and the Cold War created spin-off products and technologies that altered civilian life, the Hi-LAB could become one of the first civilian benefits to come out of America’s war on terror.

Annie E. Casey study highlights problems; Pilot projects in Milwaukee work on answers

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

The Annie E. Casey Foundation published “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children” earlier this month. This is another chance for Wisconsin to see how its children are faring in comparison to the rest of the country.

Taking into account 12 separate factors, only some of which are related to education, Wisconsin white children scored 11th out of 50 states for opportunity, while Wisconsin black children scored last out of 50 states.

Looking at just the 4th grade reading proficiency rates, Wisconsin scored in the bottom half for its white students and last for black students. Our proficiency rate for white students (41%) was lower than 28 states, the same as 4 others, and higher than 18. Our proficiency rate for black students (11%) was the same as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio. 38 states had higher percentages of black students reading proficiently, and no states were lower.

These reading results echo the results coming out of the past several administrations of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) reading exam, and underscore the need for more than tweaking our current teacher training and instructional practices. To access the report, go to http://www.aecf.org/KnowledgeCenter/Publications.aspx?pubguid={5B863B11-62C7-41EC-9F7F-6D12125C4DC2}

Under the auspices of Milwaukee Succeeds, a cradle-to-career initiative in the city of Milwaukee, several pilot reading tutoring programs taking an explicit, systematic approach to beginning reading skills are showing favorable early results. Alan Borsuk comments in his column, “In Milwaukee’s reading crisis, seeds of hope sprout.” Three of the programs utilize volunteer tutors trained and coached by professionals. If you are interested in being a volunteer tutor during the 2014-15 school year, contact Milwaukee Succeeds for more information.

We Need to Talk About the Test: A problem with the common core

Elizabeth Phillips

I’D like to tell you what was wrong with the tests my students took last week, but I can’t. Pearson’s $32 million contract with New York State to design the exams prohibits the state from making the tests public and imposes a gag order on educators who administer them. So teachers watched hundreds of thousands of children in grades 3 to 8 sit for between 70 and 180 minutes per day for three days taking a state English Language Arts exam that does a poor job of testing reading comprehension, and yet we’re not allowed to point out what the problems were.

This lack of transparency was one of the driving forces that led the teachers at my school to call for a protest rally the day after the test, a rally that attracted hundreds of supporters. More than 30 other New York City schools have scheduled their own demonstrations.

I want to be clear: We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools. (Among other things, test scores help determine teacher and principal evaluations, and in New York City they also have an impact on middle and high school admissions to some schools.) We were protesting the fact that it is our word against the state’s, since we cannot reveal the content of the passages or the questions that were asked.

In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.

Teachers and administrators at my school have spoken out against the overemphasis on testing for years, but our stance is not one of “sour grapes.” Last year we were one of the 25 top-scoring schools in New York State. We have implemented the Common Core standards with enthusiasm, and we have always supported the idea that great teaching is the best test preparation. But this year’s English Language Arts exam has made a mockery of that position.

It is frightening to think what “teaching to the test” would mean, given the nature of the test. We won’t do it, but some schools will, or at least will try, despite a new state law that mandates that schools limit test prep to 2 percent of instructional time. How does one even begin to monitor or enforce such a mandate?

When people are forbidden to talk about something it is almost always because someone has something to hide.

Over the past few years, as higher stakes have been attached to the tests, we have seen schools devote more time to test prep, leaving less time and fewer resources for instruction in music, the arts, social studies and physical education. This is especially true for schools with a high proportion of low-income students, who tend to do worse on the test, and whose teachers and principals have to worry more about the scores.

At Public School 321, we entered this year’s testing period doing everything that we were supposed to do as a school. We limited test prep and kept the focus on great instruction. We reassured families that we would avoid stressing out their children, and we did. But we believed that New York State and Pearson would have listened to the extensive feedback they received last year and revised the tests accordingly. We were not naïve enough to think that the tests would be transformed, but we counted on their being slightly improved. It truly was shocking to look at the exams in third, fourth and fifth grade and to see that they were worse than ever. We felt as if we’d been had.

For two years, I have suggested that the commissioner of education and the members of the Board of Regents actually take the tests — I’d recommend Days 1 and 3 of the third-grade test for starters. Afterward, I would like to hear whether they still believed that these tests gave schools and parents valuable information about a child’s reading or writing ability.

We do not want to become cynics, but until these flawed exams are released to the public and there is true transparency, it will be difficult for teachers and principals to maintain the optimism that is such an essential element of educating children.

Elizabeth Phillips has been the principal of Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for 15 years.

Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

Michael Rosenwald:

Claire Handscombe has a commitment problem online. Like a lot of Web surfers, she clicks on links posted on social networks, reads a few sentences, looks for exciting words, and then grows restless, scampering off to the next page she probably won’t commit to.
 
 “I give it a few seconds — not even minutes — and then I’m moving again,” says Handscombe, a 35-year-old graduate student in creative writing at American University.
 
 But it’s not just online anymore. She finds herself behaving the same way with a novel.
 
 “It’s like your eyes are passing over the words but you’re not taking in what they say,” she confessed. “When I realize what’s happening, I have to go back and read again and again.”

What impact did Hans Christian Andersen have on children’s literature?

Oxford Dictionaries:

An extract from the Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, available on Oxford Reference.

Although Andersen considered himself a novelist and playwright, his novels, dramas, and comedies are almost forgotten today, while his unquestionable fame is based on his fairy tales. He published four collections: Eventyr, fortalte for børn (Fairy Tales, Told for Children, 1835–1842), Nye eventyr (New Fairy Tales, 1844–1848), Historier (Stories, 1852–1855), and Nye eventyr og historier (New Fairy Tales and Stories, 1858–1872), which were an immediate, unprecedented success and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. Yet only a handful of his fairy tales and stories are widely read today.

Sources of his stories: from folklore to literature

Although Andersen could have read Grimms’ fairy tales, the sources of his stories were mostly Danish folk tales, collected and retold by his immediate predecessors J. M. Thiele, Adam Oehlenschlæger, and Bernhard Ingemann. Unlike the collectors, whose aim was to preserve and sometimes to classify and study folktales, Andersen was primarily a writer, and his objective was to create new literary works based on folklore, although some of his fairy tales have their origins in ancient poetry (“The Naughty Boy”) or medieval European literature (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”). He also found inspiration in the literary fairy tales by the German Romantics such as Heinrich Hoffmann and Adelbert von Chamisso.

How to get British kids reading

Henry Mance:

Pavan’s favourite activity is playing football outdoors. His second favourite is playing football indoors, and in third place is practising football skills against the sofa. Reading – the pursuit that Francis Bacon claimed “maketh a full man” – comes further down the eight-year-old’s list, behind school, going to discos, buying stuff, chatting to people, watching TV and playing on his Xbox games console.

Would he ever pick up a book for pleasure? “No,” Pavan shoots back jovially. “If I’m bored, I will ask my mum if I can play on her phone.” By this point, I am relieved that Michael Gove is not part of our conversation at a homework club in Harlesden Library, north London.

The UK education secretary has long feared that British children are “just not reading enough”. The same concern has been raised by publishers and literacy charities, which worry that new distractions – computer games, online videos, social networking – are pushing books off the shelf. More than 60 per cent of 18-to-30-year-olds now prefer watching television or DVDs to reading, according to a survey for the charity Booktrust. A similar proportion of young people think the internet and computers will replace books in the next 20 years.

The literacy debate received fresh impetus last October when a study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggested that vast numbers of young people were leaving school without the ability to read well. Of the 24 industrialised countries covered by the research, England was the only one that went backwards, with literacy and numeracy skills lower among the young – those aged 16 to 24 – than the old. (The results were little better in Northern Ireland; Scotland and Wales were not included in the study.)

Race, gender, schooling and university success – six key charts

George Arnett:

Does any part of how you are born and raised mean you are more likely to be successful after reaching university?
 
 A report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) looked at how students from a variety of different backgrounds performed at English universities after entering a full-time degree course in 2007-08.
 
 The key element of the analysis is seeing which students were more likely to achieve first or upper second class honours than others who have the same A-Level results but come from different backgrounds.
 
 Each of the charts below is broken down by A-Level grades so the left-hand side shows how those with the highest marks performed compared to those on the right hand side who had the lowest marks.

Check out the terrible paper that earned a player an A- at North Carolina

Jay Busbee:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of our nation’s finest universities, ranking 30th in the latest U.S. News and World Report list of top schools and eighth on Forbes’ list of top public colleges. And the bit of drivel above apparently earned an A-minus, according to ESPN.
 
 Why? Simple. That paper was written by an athlete for a class specifically designed to keep them moving through the university.
 
 “Athletes couldn’t write a paper,” Mary Willingham, a specialist in the school’s learning-support system-turned-whistleblower, told ESPN. “They couldn’t write a paragraph. They couldn’t write a sentence yet.” She said that some of the students were reading at a second- or third-grade level, which is considered illiterate for a college-age student. As Willingham notes, in the “AFAM” classes, players were notching As and Bs, but in actual classes such as Biology and Economics were receiving Ds and Fs.

Scabs: Academics and Others Who Write for Free

Yasmin Nair:

In February, Nicholas Kristof bemoaned the fact that academics don’t write for larger audiences.

The piece was inane and sloppy, typical of Kristof’s writing, but its central thesis struck a nerve. It was subsequently critiqued by several people, including Corey Robin, who kindly pointed me out as one of those who do in fact write for non-academic audiences, but that’s not the only reason I cite his response. To the best of my knowledge, Corey’s piece is the only one which considers the issue of academic writing within the material conditions of academia today. He writes, “The problem here isn’t that typically American conceit of “culture” v. nonconformist rebel. It’s the very material pressures and constraints young academics face, long before tenure. It’s the job market. It’s the rise of adjuncts. It’s neoliberalism.”

I’ve been following these kinds of conversations about academia for a while, and watched as they’ve dovetailed with questions about writing for “the public.” Over the years, I’ve steadily embarked upon a career of freelance writing, and the bulk of my livelihood comes from writing.

So when there’s a conversation about academics writing for the public, I’m as hopeful as I am anxious and trepidatious. Hopeful, because voices like Corey’s situate such writing within the economic conditions of neoliberalism, but anxious and trepidatious because more often than not, such conversations eventually paint academia in unrealistic terms, hewing to Kristof’s wild fantasy about it as a quiet, cosy corner where the life of the mind continues unabated and untouched by trivial concerns like rent and bills. In this Shangri-La, writing for “the public,” a barely understood entity amongst most academics, is seen as an act of public service.

How babbling to babies can boost their brains

The Economist:

THE more parents talk to their children, the faster those children’s vocabularies grow and the better their intelligence develops. That might seem blindingly obvious, but it took until 1995 for science to show just how early in life the difference begins to matter. In that year Betty Hart and Todd Risley of the University of Kansas published the results of a decade-long study in which they had looked at how, and how much, 42 families in Kansas City conversed at home. Dr Hart and Dr Risley found a close correlation between the number of words a child’s parents had spoken to him by the time he was three and his academic success at the age of nine. At three, children born into professional families had heard 30m more words than those from a poorer background.

This observation has profound implications for policies about babies and their parents. It suggests that sending children to “pre-school” (nurseries or kindergartens) at the age of four—a favoured step among policymakers—comes too late to compensate for educational shortcomings at home. Happily, understanding of how children’s vocabularies develop is growing, as several presentations at this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science showed.

One of the most striking revelations came from Anne Fernald of Stanford University, who has found that the disparity appears well before a child is three. Even at the tender age of 18 months, when most toddlers speak only a dozen words, those from disadvantaged families are several months behind other, more favoured children. Indeed, Dr Fernald thinks the differentiation starts at birth.

The sound of a word tells us something about how it is used, Cornell study shows

Franklin Crawford:

For more than 100 years the standard view among traditional language theorists was that, with the exception of onomatopoeia like “fizz” and “beep,” the sound of a word tells us nothing about how it is used. This seemingly arbitrary relationship between words and their meaning in human language is hailed as singular to our species.
definition or risk to illustrate noun-verb connection
A new Cornell study takes that view to task.
“What we have shown is that the sound of a word can tell us something about how it is used,” said Morten Christiansen, associate professor of psychology at Cornell. “Specifically, it tells us whether the word is used as a noun or as a verb, and this relationship affects how we process such words.”
Christiansen, along with Thomas Farmer, a Cornell psychology graduate student, are co-authors of a paper about how the sounds of words contain information about their syntactic role. Their work will be published in the Aug. 8 print issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

10 Tips on Writing Well from David Ogilvy

Maria Popova:

How is your new year’s resolution to read more and write better holding up? After tracing the fascinating story of the most influential writing style guide of all time and absorbing advice on writing from some of modern history’s most legendary writers, here comes some priceless and pricelessly uncompromising wisdom from a very different kind of cultural legend: iconic businessman and original “Mad Man” David Ogilvy. On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled “How to Write”:

Madison Read Your Heart Out Day set for Feb. 10

A. David Dahmer:

Research supports parental involvement as a viable means of enhancing children’s academic success. Once again, Michelle Belnavis, a cultural relevance instructional resource teacher (K-5) for MMSD, has organized an event that brings African American community leaders, families, staff, students, and neighborhood organizations together to provide inspiration and information to schools and neighborhoods in honor of National African American Parent Involvement Day.
“We have been doing a lot of research in looking at the effect of having parents’ actively involved in their children’s education and a big part is that relationship-building,” Belnavis tells The Madison Times. “This gives an opportunity for teachers and families and parents to come together for the purpose of celebrating unity. I think a lot of times when parents come into school there’s a feeling like, ‘I don’t really belong here’ or ‘My children go to school here but I don’t really have a connection with the teacher.’

Metro Denver Promotion of Letters

Metro Denver Promotion of Letters:

We envision a writing community for students in Denver where they can enjoy writing. More often than not, schools cannot provide a place in which creativity and discovery receive one-on-one attention. Students too often view writing as yet another task for which they will be assessed and graded. We hope to help them understand that writing is a vehicle for expression and communication, for publication and storytelling.

Great.

English Is Global, So Why Learn Arabic?

Room for Debate:

In a recent essay in The Times, Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard University, wrote about preparing American students for the future. In the essay, he said that international experience was essential, arguing that English’s emergence as the global language makes the investment in other languages less essential.

WordPress.com: Academic Writing is Really Academic Reading–Blogs Vs. Term Papers

Is a writing a blog as valuable a writing experience as writing an academic term paper? Can the writing of a blog be made academically more rigorous in order to compete with the more traditional term paper? Or does the blog vs. term paper argument cloud a more critical academic problem… that our students do not read well enough to write in either format?
Matt Richtel, a reporter who writes about technology in education in the New York Times, recently published a piece, Blogs vs. Term Papers (1/20/12) regarding Duke University’s English professor Cathy N. Davidson’s embrace of the blog in place of the traditional term paper. He writes that, “Professor Davidson makes heavy use of the blog and the ethos it represents of public, interactive discourse. Instead of writing a quarterly term paper, students now regularly publish 500- to 1,500-word entries on an internal class blog about the issues and readings they are studying in class, along with essays for public consumption.”
The traditional term paper in any number of disciplines of prescribed lengths of 5, 7, 10 or more pages has been centered for decades on a standard formula incorporating thesis, evidence, argument and conclusion. In the article, Davidson expresses her dislike for formula writing, including the five paragraph essay taught in middle and high schools and claims that, “This mechanistic writing is a real disincentive to creative but untrained writers.” She notes that, “It’s a formula, but good writing plays with formulas, and changes formulas.”
Davidson is not alone. Ritchel claims that “across the country, blog writing has become a basic requirement in everything from M.B.A. to literature courses.” This movement from term paper to blog has many academics up in arms.
Running parallel to this argument of academic writing was the position offered by William H. Fitzhugh, author and founder of The Concord Review, a journal that publishes high school students’ research papers. In the NY Times article, Fitzhugh discussed how high school educators “shy away from rigorous academic writing, giving students the relative ease of writing short essays.” Fitzhugh makes the argument that students are required to read less which directly impacts their ability to write well.
Fitzhugh wrote about academic writing in Meaningful Work for American Educator (Winter 2011-2012) taking the position that reading is at the core of good academic student writing; “To really teach students how to write, educators must give them examples of good writing found in nonfiction books and require students to read them, not skim them, cover to cover.” Good writing reflects knowledge and understanding that comes from reading, not skimming. Fitzhugh recommends that, “Reading nonfiction contributes powerfully to the knowledge that students need in order to read more difficult material–the kind they will surely face in college. But more importantly, the work of writing a research paper will lead students to read more and become more knowledgeable in the process. As any good writer knows, the best writing emerges from a rich store of knowledge that the author is trying to pass on. Without that knowledge and the motivation to share it, all the literacy strategies in the world will not make much difference.”

From my experiences in the classroom, I see the veracity of both Davidson and Fitzhugh’s positions. I believe that the form of student writing is not the problem, and the blog vs. term paper debate, at least at the high school level where I teach, is not as controversial as at the college level. My job is to teach students to write well, and a great deal of my average school day is currently given to encouraging students to write in these multiple formats in order to prepare them for the real world. I know that students can be taught to write well in term papers, blogs, essays, letters or any other format. However, the students need to read well in order to write well about a topic. The conundrum is that unless today’s high school students are provided time in class, they do not read the material.
A student’s inability to read independently for homework results in a reduction in both the amount of reading assigned and the class time to process the reading. Students who do not read well at the high school level are unprepared for the rigors of college curriculum which requires much more independent reading in non-fiction. Ultimately, the problem for teachers in high school is not the form in which students write. The problem is getting students to both read and understand assigned readings that come from many disciplines-fiction and non-fiction. Only then can the blog vs. term paper debate be addressed as a measure of academic writing.

Can computers teach writing?

Jay Matthews:

Like many people, I am appalled at how little writing American students are asked to do. But when we crotchety advocates complain about this to teachers, we have to shut up when they point to a seemingly insoluble problem.
If we required students to write a lot, teachers would have to do many extra hours reading and commenting on that work. They would have no lives and would have to quit. If we could cut ­English class sizes in half, the teachers might be able to handle the load, but that won’t happen unless oil is discovered under the football field.
A 21st-century solution, proposed by former Gates Foundation education executive director Tom Vander Ark, is to let computers read and grade the ­bumper crop of essays. Assessment software, already used to grade essays on the GMAT business school entrance test and other standardized exams, doesn’t need a life and doesn’t cost as much as breathing, pencil-wielding English teachers.

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.

D.C. is ranked the most literate city in the U.S.

Bob Minzesheimer:

For the second consecutive year, Washington, D.C. , is ranked as the most literate city in the country, according to an annual statistical survey to be released today.
Here is the top 10 for 2011, as ranked by Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller, based on data that includes number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and Internet resources:

Learning to Write Teaches Westerly Students Science
“Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.”

Posted by Julia Steiny Columnist EducationNews.org on January 25, 2012

Back in December 2009, excited 4th graders at Westerly’s State Street School (http://sss.westerly.k12.ri.us/) sat down to take a practice science test. Like little sports jocks, the kids approached the task as if it were training for the big game coming in the spring, the statewide science NECAP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NECAP).
In 2008, the whole Westerly district had performed so poorly on that test that teachers actually volunteered their time to form a K-12 Science Task Force focused on redeeming their sullied academic reputation. (See last week’s column about this Task Force (link to my column from last week) .)
Then, insult to injury, in 2009 State Street’s scores tanked again.
The heat was on. State Street had already started implementing the Task Force’s recommendations, including its strong emphasis on teaching writing.
Wait. Writing? That’s English, not science.
But more on this in a moment.
Westerly’s students had struggled particularly with the “inquiry” part of the NECAP, where kids to do a hands-on task and draw conclusions from what they see in front of them.
State Street’s Principal Audrey Faubert says, “Science (NECAP) is only given at the 4th grade (and later at 8th and 11th), so K-3 weren’t exposed to the rigors of testing. We decided to give all the kids an inquiry task to complete. And the faculty also took some of the released test items from the RIDE website. (http://www.ride.ri.gov/assessment/necap_releaseditems.aspx) Even though they’d been teaching inquiry with the science kits (http://www.uri.edu/hss/education/GEMSNET-URI/index.html) , it was interesting for the teachers to be on the other side of a test.”
But the spotlight’s glare was on those 4th graders.
Faubert smiled sadly, “The room was buzzing. The kids thought they did fantastic.”
Working in pairs, the school’s entire teaching staff scored the kids’ work. The results were enough to induce clinical depression.
But as it turns out, the school’s good efforts hadn’t quite paid off yet. The Task Force was onto a good thing when they decided writing was key to learning science. State Street’s instruction had only just started to take root.
Here’s the problem: Old science was about answers. When a test asks a question like: “How does wind change sand dunes?” somewhere in the science textbook was an answer that the kid was supposed to have memorized.
New science is about thinking and reasoning. The way Faubert puts it is: “The (NECAP) science test is a thinking test, not a knowledge test. Science isn’t about recall any more, but about synthesizing information.” New science poses essential questions, such as the sand dunes example, but now the kids need to derive the answer themselves, by sorting through data. Teachers provide techniques, tools, research methods, and experiences. But like scientists themselves, students must do their own research and figure out what their discoveries mean.
Writing is always the product of thinking. Writing forces a kid to organize her thoughts to be expressive and communicate clearly.
Middle-school principal Paula Fusco says “Prior to the work of the Task Force, we’d left writing up to the English teacher. But whatever the kids did or didn’t know, they weren’t able to communicate their understanding of science.
To work on that understanding, Fusco says, “we’ve been taking the vocabulary out of NECAP–infer, predict, explain. So the kids aren’t afraid of the words they’re encountering.”
The ability to define “predict” doesn’t help at all if the ability to MAKE a prediction isn’t also a familiar habit. Kids need to demonstrate, by their writing, that they understand what they need to DO when the test asks them to predict, infer or explain.
Similarly, Fusco’s teachers began to work with the kids on “sentence starters” to guide their thinking–However, In conclusion, Whereas, Therefore.
Fortunately, Westerly’s students were in the habit of writing in science journals. But they had used them mainly to record observations. Faubert says, “Every teacher brought in examples of their students’ science journals. Oh, here are the strengths and weaknesses right in our own notebooks. We’d never had the kids prove their thinking in their journals. Think like a scientist, based on what’s in front of you. Prove your thinking. Prove your thinking. We said that so many times.”
At the end of the day, teaching the kids to EXPLAIN their predictions and reasoning was the clearest way to teach them habits of scientific thinking. And those explanations also helped the teachers assess kids’ understanding and misunderstanding.
By February, State Street dared to try another practice test with the 4th graders. Again, the staff scored it together. Ahhh, much better. So much so, Faubert felt more confident about improving on the 49 percent proficiency they’d managed in the prior year’s test.
In fact, when the results were released last Fall, State Street kids hit 80 percent proficiency, 8th highest in the state, out of over 150 schools that take that test. (And Westerly is the 8th lowest-income community in the state.)
Superintendent Roy Seitsinger’s take on the situation is this: “Nobody (meaning veteran educators) signed up for what we’re doing now. Most of the people weren’t trained to bring students through a thinking process. Now the educators’ job is to teach kids how to sift through all that information and to be critical, reflective and make decisions. We have too much information and not nearly enough sorting skills.”
Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationViews.org and GoLocalProv.com. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

Public speaking for normal people

Jason Freedman:

I just gave a presentation on 42Floors to 150 people. It went well. I was really proud of: 1) our team, 2) our product and 3) the way we were able to present it. It was as if we were telling people about it in our living room, but there just happened to be 150 people there. Afterwards, several people told me that it felt like it was a very polished presentation. But the reality is we didn’t practice at all. In fact, three minutes before we went on stage, my co-founder turned to me and said, “Jason, we really should’ve practiced.” I said, “Nah, don’t worry. We’ll be fine.” And we winged it, and it came off ever so naturally.
Before I pat myself on the back too much, let me tell you how I felt inside. Thirty seconds before I was supposed to go on, I was standing there on the side and all of a sudden my heartbeat went from normal to racing like I was in the middle of marathon. Uggghhh. I hate it when this happens. It’s kind of like how you feel when you blush: you’re reminded how little control you have over your own body. For a brief moment, I was upset with my body for reacting this way. I was upset with myself for reacting this way, actually. I should be more confident than this.

Nothing Ever Happens

This Recording:

One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours — all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.
In spring of 1947, the English department of the University of Mississippi had William Faulkner address one class a day for a week. The teacher of each class was barred from attending the sessions. Faulkner spent the entire time answering questions from students.

Wisconsin Governor Walker says education bill based on task forces is nearing

Erin Richards:

Before a crowd of hundreds of school district officials and school board members in Milwaukee, Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday that recommendations from a variety of state education task forces will soon be solidified in formal legislation.
The work of three main groups spearheaded by Walker over the past year – a reading task force, a team that’s looked at how to design a statewide teacher and principal evaluation system, and a group figuring out how to rate school quality – will make up a reform package of education legislation, Walker said.
Meanwhile, some critics questioned the governor’s tone of collaboration and cooperation Thursday, saying that after cutting education spending and limiting collective bargaining, he’s trying to play nice now only because he’s likely facing a recall election.
Even state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who has worked closely with Walker on the task forces and praised the work of those involved, made it clear he was concerned about being left out of the legislation-drafting process.

Matthew DeFour:

The proposed legislative reforms have been developed over the past year by three statewide task forces working separately on improving literacy, developing a teacher evaluation model and creating a school accountability system to replace No Child Left Behind.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who helped lead all three groups, said he wasn’t involved in drafting the education legislation, but would support any actions that are the direct product of the task forces “and deliver on the intent of these collaborative groups.”
“Many students’ schools are already planning for more budget cuts next year on top of cuts made this year,” Evers said in a statement. “Education reforms must be fully funded and not simply be more unfunded mandates that result in further cuts to educational programming for our students.”
Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, ranking Democrat on the Assembly Education Committee, said in a statement she has concerns the work of the task forces was “being hijacked for political gain.”
“It is unnerving to hear that (Evers) was not consulted during the drafting of this legislation,” Pope-Roberts said. “Cutting our state’s foremost education experts out of the process at this time is very shortsighted and reckless.”

Much more on the Read to Lead Task Force, here.

Emergent Spanish for Educators @ Madison’s Cherokee Middle School

Rafael Gomez, via a kind email:

Dear Cherokee Staff:
We have an opportunity to have Emergent Spanish for Educators (Jan. to April 2012) The class will take place at Cherokee every Mondays starting Jan. 23 at 3:30 to 5:45 except the session it will be from 3:45 to 4:45.
Calender:1/30, 2/6, 2/13, 2/20 2/27 3/5 3/12 3/ 19 3/26. 4/4 4/11 4/16 4/23 4/30
All participants will get 3 PAC credits. It is 30 hours of instruction.
Description of the course:
This course will provide participants with skills needed to make an easy transition from English only into Emergent Spanish and have fun while doing it. Participants will be assisted to become more comfortable using their Spanish pronunciation, construction of basic statements and conversing in Spanish with instructor and/or participants.All participants will end up with a learning center to continue learning Spanish.
Objectives:
1. Acquire a repertoire o Spanish vocabulary
2. Increase comfort level to use Spanish
3. Increase awareness of culture and language
4. Gain skill to use their learning center.
Ritual:Participants will interact with parents and students who are native Spanish speakers.
If you have any questions, please contact me.
Rafael Gomez

Writing is the Greatest Innovation

Tom Standage

The greatest invention of all must surely be writing. It is not just one of the foundations of civilisation: it underpins the steady accumulation of intellectual achievement. By capturing ideas in physical form, it allows them to travel across space and time without distortion, and thus slip the bonds of human memory and oral transmission, not to mention the whims of tyrants and the vicissitudes of history.
Its origins are prosaic: it was invented by accountants, not poets, in the 4th millennium BC, as a spur of the counting system with which farming societies kept track of agricultural goods. At first transactions were recorded by storing groups of shaped clay tokens – representing wheat, cattle or textiles – in clay envelopes. But why use tokens when pressing one into a tablet of wet clay would do instead? These impressions, in turn, were superseded by symbols scratched or punched into the clay with a stylus. Tokens had given way to writing.
As human settlements swelled from villages to the first cities, writing was needed for administrative reasons. But it quickly became more flexible and expressive, capable of capturing the subtleties of human thought, not just lists of rations doled out or kings long dead. And this allowed philosophers, poets and chroniclers to situate their ideas in relation to those of previous thinkers, to argue about them and elaborate upon them. Each generation could build on the ideas of its forebears, making it possible for there to be species-wide progress in philosophy, commerce, science and literature.

William Gibson: Opening Lines The Seminal Cyberpunk Author Reveals How He Learned to Write Fiction

Nowness:

To mark the beginning of 2012, sci-fi pioneer William Gibson recalls the first sentence of fiction he ever wrote. The Vancouver-based author releases his first collection of non-fiction essays this month, Distrust That Particular Flavor, tackling subjects as varied as Yakuza films, cyborgs, and Steely Dan. In the following extract from his essay African Thumb Piano, Gibson remembers his early attempts at fiction in a revealing glimpse into his writing process, influences and obsessions.
From African Thumb Piano by William Gibson
When I started to try to learn to write fiction, I knew that I had no idea how to write fiction. This was actually a plus, that I knew I didn’t know, but at the time it was scary. I was afraid that people who were somehow destined to write fiction came to the task already knowing how. I clearly didn’t, so likely I wasn’t so destined. I sat at the typewriter, the one on which I’d written undergraduate essays, trying to figure out how to try.
Eventually I began to try to write a sentence. I tried to write it for months. It grew longer. Eventually it became: “Seated each afternoon in the darkened screening room, Graham came gradually to see the targeted numerals of the academy leader as hypnagogic sigils preceding the dreamstate of film.” I’m not sure it was Graham. Maybe it was Bannister. It was a sentence far too obviously in the manner of J.G. Ballard, and Ballard gave his protagonists sturdy, everyman British middle-class surnames.

More Commentary on Proposed Wisconsin Teacher Licensing Content Requirements.

Alan Borsuk

In 1998, Massachusetts debuted a set of tests it created for people who wanted teaching licenses. People nationwide were shocked when 59% of those in the first batch of applicants failed a communications and literacy test that officials said required about a 10th-grade level of ability.
Given some specifics of how the tests were launched, people who wanted to be teachers in Massachusetts probably got more of a bum rap for their qualifications than they deserved. But the results certainly got the attention of people running college programs to train teachers. They changed what they did, and the passing rate rose to about 90% in recent years.
One more thing: Student outcomes in Massachusetts improved significantly. Coming from the middle of the pack, Massachusetts has led the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade scores in reading and math on National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP) tests for almost a decade.
Could this be Wisconsin in a few years, especially when it comes to reading?
Gov. Scott Walker and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers released last week the report of a task force aimed at improving reading in Wisconsin. Reading results have been stagnant for years statewide, with Wisconsin slipping from near the top to the middle of the pack nationally. Among low-income and minority students, the state’s results are among the worst in the country.

Six things he gave the modern world

Alex Hudson:

With the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens quickly approaching, and an entire series of events planned, what is the lasting legacy of his work and his causes?
Charles Dickens is one of the most important writers of the 19th Century. But his influence goes far beyond just literature. Many of his phrases, characters and ideas have engrained themselves in modern culture.
Two centuries on, what are the things still seen today that Dickens first offered us in his writing?

Spanish unlocks doors to other languages in Cal State program

Carla Rivera:

Priscilla Castro grew up enthralled with French culture despite understanding few words of the movies and music in which she delighted.
Now Castro’s facility with Spanish, which her family spoke at home, is serving as an unlikely bridge to mastering le Français in a unique Cal State Long Beach program designed to exploit Spanish speakers’ existing language skills.
“I’m not 100% fluent, but I can hold a conversation,” said Castro, 21, a journalism major. “A lot of things in Spanish are very similar, although because I learned Spanish at home, I didn’t know a lot of the grammatical rules. So learning French is actually helping me to improve my Spanish grammar.”
The French for Hispanophones program was developed more than five years ago but recently surged in popularity at the Long Beach campus, where more than 30% of students are Latino.

Michigan School Banishes 2011 List of Overused Words

Jacob Kittilstad:

Michigan’s amazing Lake Superior State University put out it’s amazing list of the most overused words of 2011.
Topping the charts – the word ‘amazing’. But there’s plenty more clichés that you might be amazed made it.
Occupy Duluth, Occupy Minneapolis, Occupy Wall Street.
Folks over at Lake Superior State University, however, have a new protest and it’s one of words they want banished in 2012 because of their over usage.
Like this one: “occupy (vb) 1. to be a resident or tenant of, to dwell in.”
“I hear that word thrown around all the time,” Allison Wegren said. “People using it seriously talking about the Wall Street occupation as well as using it jokingly. Like something to carve into a pumpkin.”
Or how about “ginormous (adj) 1. an adjective combining the words giant and enormous.”

MTEL 90: Teacher Content Knowledge Licensing Requirements Coming To Wisconsin….

The Wisconsin adoption of teacher content knowledge requirements, on the form of MTEL 90 (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure) by 2013-2014 would (will?) be a significant step forward via the Wisconsin Read to Lead Report), assuming it is not watered down like the oft criticized (and rightfully so) WKCE
There are significant implications for :Education School preparation/curriculum with the addition of content knowledge to teacher licensing requirements. 
Much more on Read to Lead, here and a presentation on Florida’s Reading Reforms
www.wisconsin2.org

Wisconsin Read to Lead Report Released

Wisconsin Read to Lead Final Report (PDF), via several readers.  Mary Newton kindly provided this summary:

Summary of the Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Recommendations, January, 2012
 

    Teacher Preparation and Professional Development
    All teachers and administrators should receive more instruction in reading pedagogy that focuses on evidence-based practices and the five components of reading as defined by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

  1. There must be more accountability at the state level and a commitment by institutions of higher education to improving teacher preparation.
    Licensure requirements should be strengthened to include the Massachusetts Foundations of Reading exam by 2013.
    Teacher preparation programs should expand partnerships with local school districts and early childhood programs.
    Information on the performance of graduates of teacher preparation programs should be available to the public.
    A professional development conference should be convened for reading specialists and elementary school principals.
    DPI should make high quality, science-based, online professional development in reading available to all teachers.
    Professional development plans for all initial educators should include a component on instructional strategies for reading and writing.
    Professional development in reading instruction should be required for all teachers whose students continually show low levels of achievement and/or growth in reading.

  2. Screening, Assessment, and Intervention
    Wisconsin should use a universal statewide screening tool in pre-kindergarten through second grade to ensure that struggling readers are identified as early as possible.
    Proper accommodations should be given to English language learners and special education students.
    Formal assessments should not replace informal assessments, and schools should assess for formative and summative purposes.
    Educators should be given the knowledge to interpret assessments in a way that guides instruction.
    Student data should be shared among early childhood programs, K-12 schools, teachers, parents, reading specialists, and administrators.
    Wisconsin should explore the creation of a program similar to the Minnesota Reading Corps in 2013.
     

  3. Early Childhood
    DPI and the Department of Children and Families should work together to share data, allowing for evaluation of early childhood practices.
    All 4K programs should have an adequate literacy component.
    DPI will update the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards to ensure accuracy and alignment with the Common Core State Standards, and place more emphasis on fidelity of implementation of the WMELS.
    The YoungStar rating system for early childhood programs should include more specific early literacy criteria.
     
     

  4. Accountability
    The Educator Effectiveness Design Team should consider reading outcomes in its evaluation systems.
    The Wisconsin School Accountability Design Team should emphasize early reading proficiency as a key measure for schools and districts. Struggling schools and districts should be given ongoing quality professional development and required to implement scientific research-based screening, assessment, curriculum, and intervention.
    Educators and administrators should receive training on best practices in order to provide effective instruction for struggling readers.
    The state should enforce the federal definition for scientific research-based practices, encourage the use of What Works Clearinghouse, and facilitate communication about effective strategies.
    In addition to effective intervention throughout the school year, Wisconsin should consider mandatory evidence-based summer school programs for struggling readers, especially in the lower grades, and hold the programs accountable for results.
     

  5. Family Involvement
    Support should be given to programs such as Reach Out and Read that reach low-income families in settings that are well-attended by parents, provide books to low-income children, and encourage adults to read to children.
    The state should support programs that show families and caregivers how to foster oral language and reading skill development in children.
    Adult literacy agencies and K-12 schools should collaborate at the community level so that parents can improve their own literacy skills.

Related:  Erin Richards’ summary (and Google News aggregation) and many SIS links

What makes some people learn language after language?

The Economist:

CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI of Bologna was a secular saint. Though he never performed the kind of miracle needed to be officially canonised, his power was close to unearthly. Mezzofanti was said to speak 72 languages. Or 50. Or to have fully mastered 30. No one was certain of the true figure, but it was a lot. Visitors flocked from all corners of Europe to test him and came away stunned. He could switch between languages with ease. Two condemned prisoners were due to be executed, but no one knew their language to hear their confession. Mezzofanti learned it in a night, heard their sins the next morning and saved them from hell.
Or so the legend goes. In “Babel No More”, Michael Erard has written the first serious book about the people who master vast numbers of languages–or claim to. A journalist with some linguistics training, Mr Erard is not a hyperpolyglot himself (he speaks some Spanish and Chinese), but he approaches his topic with both wonder and a healthy dash of scepticism.

Paper pursues a political agenda as it accuses teacher of pursuing a political agenda

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

It’s dangerous to be away. I briefly left the country a few weeks ago, and while I was gone, the district superintendent announced her retirement and The Spokesman-Review (SR) launched what I see as a media “lynching” of a local high school teacher.
Did you read about the attack on Jennifer Walther, an Advanced Placement English teacher (news.google.com search) at Ferris High School in Spokane, WA? Are you shocked by the newspaper’s biased coverage? I’m not shocked. Nowadays, the SR doesn’t bear much resemblance to the newspapers I’ve enjoyed reading. Smaller, thinner and nastier, it contains less content, less local news and more ads. Often biased, incomplete or hypocritical, the paper tolerates questionable material that fits an editorial agenda.
I’m an avid newspaper reader, but I canceled the SR in 2008 when it kept quoting unsubstantiated rumors from the ex-boyfriend of the daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Things have not improved since then.
Now, the SR is using its bully pulpit to accuse Walther of doing something the SR appears to do nearly every day of the week – pursue a biased political agenda. Evidence suggests that, rather than stand up for this teacher, the school district and teachers union initiated or are assisting with the pile-on.

ROOTLESSNESS

Two of our overriding efforts in Lower Education in recent years have been: 1) raising the low math and reading scores of black and Hispanic students, and 2) increasing the number of our high school and college graduates capable of employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM}.
Very recently evidence has been allowed to surface pointing out that while students in the bottom 10% of academic performance have indeed improved, students in the top ten percent of academic performance have stagnated, where they have not dropped out from boredom. Related evidence now suggests that complacency with secondary public education in our more affluent suburbs may have been quite misplaced as well.
As Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their recent book, That Used To Be Us, “average is over.” That is to say, students in other cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) and countries (Finland, South Korea, Japan) take their educations so much more seriously than our students (and teachers) do that their economies are achieving gains on our own that are truly startling, if we take the time to notice.
If we are to retain good jobs, restart our manufacturing, and otherwise decide to compete seriously with others who seem to take both education and work more seriously than we have come to do, it might be wise to increase the interest of our students in STEM fields. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our students aged 8-18 are spending, on average, more than seven hours a day with electronic entertainment media.
Now of course we want our young people to buy our electronic entertainment hardware and software and we definitely want them to have a good time and be happy, but probably we would like them to be employable some day as well. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out that not only blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, but increasingly sophisticated professional work can be done to a high standard at a much lower cost in other countries than it can be done here.
Having our students spend 53 hours a week on their electronic entertainment media, while their high school homework tops out, in many cases, according to ACT, at three to four hours a week, is not a plan that will enable us to resume our competitive position in the world’s economies.
So perhaps we should assign students in high school 15 hours a week of homework (which would reduce their media time to a mere 38 hours a week) and pass on to them the information that if they don’t start working to a much much higher academic standard they will probably face a more depressing future in a greatly diminished nation than they currently imagine they will have.
But, is STEM enough? I remember the story told about a visit Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, made to the gleaming new Salk Laboratory in La Jolla. A young biologist, thrilled to be a guide to the Nobel Prize-winner, was very proud to be able to show off all the bright new spotless expensive state-of-the-art research equipment. When they finished the tour, the young man could not stop himself from saying, “Just think, Sir Alexander, with all this equipment, what you could have discovered!” And Sir Alexander said, “not penicillin.”
Because the discovery of penicillin relied on serendipity and curiosity. Fleming found some petri dishes contaminated by something that had come in, probably, through one of the dirty old badly-closed windows in his lab in England. Instead of washing the dishes so he could start over with them, as most scientists would have done, he asked himself what could have killed off those bacteria in the dishes. And a major breakthrough was made possible.
Just in passing, amid the rush for more STEM, I would like to put in a word for serendipity, which often fuels creativity of many kinds, by making possible the association of previously unrelated ideas and memories when in contact with a new fact or situation not deliberately sought out.
I argue that serendipity is more likely to occur and to be fruitful if our students also have a lot of experience with the ROOTS of civilization, that is, the history, literature, art, music, architecture and other fields which have provided the background and inspiration for so much that we find worthwhile in human life. Steve Jobs found his course in calligraphy useful when he came to think about Macintosh software, but there are countless examples of important discoveries and contributions that have been, at least in part, grounded in the ROOTS of civilized life. So let us push for more STEM, by all means, but if, in the process we neglect those ROOTS, our achievements will be fewer, and our lives will be the poorer as a result, IMHO.
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

High School Flight from Reading and Writing

Academic Questions, the journal of the
National Association of Scholars: 90K PDF
:
As concerns mount over the costs and benefits of higher education, it may be worthwhile to glance at the benefits of high school education at present as well. Of course, high school costs, while high, are borne by the taxpayers in general, but it is reasonable to hope that there are sufficient benefits for such an outlay.
In fact, 30 percent of ninth-grade students do not graduate with their class, so there is a major loss right there. In addition, it appears that a large fraction of our high school graduates who go on to college leave without taking any credential or degree within eight years. On November 17, 2008, the Boston Globe reported, “About two-thirds of the city’s high school graduates in 2000 who enrolled in college have failed to earn degrees, according to a first-of- its-kind study being released today.”1 The fact that this is a new study shows that the days of taking not just college, but high school education for granted may be ending as well. If public high schools were preparing their graduates (the 70 percent) adequately, they should be able to read and write in college.
Alternatives to high school are coming only slowly. Charter schools, some good and some bad, are being tried. Homeschooling serves some 1.5 million students, and some edupundits (and computer salesmen) are pushing for ever more use of virtual distance learning at the high school level.

After Kim Jong Il’s death, a Korean language class shifts format

Geoff Decker, via a kind reader’s email:

Students in Democracy Prep High School’s Korean classes typically learn words that boost their vocabulary and develop basic grammar — standard fare for introductory foreign language instruction. But this week the lessons took a turn for the geopolitical.
Youngjae Hur greeted his students yesterday with an unusual pop quiz in English and asked them to define words such as “despotism,” “denuclearize,” and “repressive.”
For Hur, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il’s abrupt death over the weekend offered the school a unique opportunity to infuse what students learn about the South Korean language and culture every day with the politics that have shaped life on the Korean Peninsula for decades.
“It’s important to let them know not just the skills to understand the language, but also the culture, the history, the politics,” said Hur, a first-year teacher who moved to the United States from South Korea three years ago. “Especially at this special moment.”

On New Florida Academic Standards

Laura Isensee:

Thirteen high schools won high praise for their soaring graduation rates during the Miami-Dade School Board’s last meeting for the year Wednesday.
Overall, Miami-Dade County’s public schools hit their highest graduation rate ever, nearly 78 percent — higher than Broward County’s and just shy of the state’s 80 percent rate.
But the celebration came with a warning: Next year could be very different.
There is a new FCAT 2.0 and, in the pipeline, a new scoring scale for that exam, plus more weight on reading and a new grading model for state-issued letter grades. Other changes in 2012: More tests will be administered via computers and new end-of-course exams will be given in geometry and biology.
“As we celebrate this year’s outstanding graduation accomplishments, it’s important to inform the community what’s happening in Tallahassee and across our state,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “The new standards are going to change the game for all of us.”
Parts of the new standards are still being developed. On Monday, the State Board of Education will consider proposed new scoring levels for the FCAT 2.0 and the algebra end-of-course exam.

Related: Excellence in Education explains Florida’s reading reforms and compares Florida’s NAEP progress with Wisconsin’s at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting.

An Exemplary Historian: An interview with Will Fitzhugh Publisher of The Concord Review

XIAO HUA:

What inspired you to start The Concord Review?
Diane Ravitch, an American historian of education, wrote a col- umn in The New York Times in 1985 about the ignorance of his- tory among 17-year-olds in the United States, based on a study of 7,000 students. As a history teacher myself at the time, I was interested to see that what concerned me was a national problem, and I began to think about these issues. It occurred to me that if I had one or two very good students writing his- tory papers for me and perhaps my colleagues had one or two, then in 20,000 United States high schools (and more overseas) there must be a large number of high school students doing exemplary history research papers. So in1987, I established The Concord Review to provide a journal for such good work in his- tory. I sent a four-page brochure calling for papers to every high school in the United States, 3,500 high schools in Canada, and 1,500 schools overseas. The papers started coming in, and in the fall of 1988, I was able to publish the first issue of The Concord Review. Since then, we have published 89 issues.

Dissident Prof (Mary Grabar, Ph.D.)

Will Fitzhugh
Editor’s Note: Once again, I have to thank NAS for providing the opportunity for meeting contributor Will Fitzhugh. Will has an AB in English Literature and Ed.M. in Guidance from Harvard. After a number of years in industry, he taught high school for ten years in Concord, Massachusetts. In 1987 he started The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, which has now published 978 history essays from 44 states and 38 other countries. These essays truly are examples of outstanding writing and scholarship. Most of us who teach at the college level wish all high school teachers would heed Will’s advice.
What follows below is a speech given at the 2010 meeting of NACAC, prefaced by his introductory note.
by Will Fitzhugh
At the 2010 Conference of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, the primary organization for admissions professionals, I spoke about the way the emphasis on little 500-word personal “college” essays erodes students’ chances to learn to do actual academic term papers at least once before they get to college.
“The College Essay”
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 high school 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.
Does anybody read any more?
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 high school, 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 [by ACT] 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 each year 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 discouraging, 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 978 essays by secondary students from 44 states and 38 other countries over the last 25 years.
Start young!
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 college admissions officers ask 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 would arrive ready for college work.
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.
Will Fitzhugh’s website is www.tcr.org, and he can be reached at Fitzhugh@tcr.org

The History of English

The History of English:

By Creating from Scratch
Some common words have no apparent etymological roots
Many of the new words added to the ever-growing lexicon of the English language are just created from scratch, and often have little or no etymological pedigree. A good example is the word dog, etymologically unrelated to any other known word, which, in the late Middle Ages, suddenly and mysteriously displaced the Old English word hound (or hund) which had served for centuries. Some of the commonest words in the language arrived in a similarly inexplicable way (e.g. jaw, askance, tantrum, conundrum, bad, big, donkey, kick, slum, log, dodge, fuss, prod, hunch, freak, bludgeon, slang, puzzle, surf, pour, slouch, bash, etc).
Words like gadget, blimp, raunchy, scam, nifty, zit, clobber, gimmick, jazz and googol have all appeared in the last century or two with no apparent etymology, and are more recent examples of this kind of novel creation of words. Additionally, some words that have existed for centuries in regional dialects or as rarely used terms, suddenly enter into popular use for little or no apparent reason (e.g. scrounge and seep, both old but obscure English words, suddenly came into general use in the early 20th Century).
Sometimes, if infrequently, a “nonce word” (created “for the nonce”, and not expected to be re-used or generalized) does become incorporated into the language. One example is James Joyce’s invention quark, which was later adopted by the physicist Murray Gell-Mann to name a new class of sub-atomic particle, and another is blurb, which dates back to 1907.

The Extraordinary Syllabus of David Foster Wallace What his lesson plans teach us about how to live.

Katie Roiphe:

Lately David Foster Wallace seems to be in the air: Is his style still influencing bloggers? Is Jeffrey Eugenides’ bandana-wearing depressed character in The Marriage Plot based on him? My own reasons for thinking about him are less high-flown. Like lots of other professors, I am just now sitting down to write the syllabus for a class next semester, and the extraordinary syllabuses of David Foster Wallace are in my head.
I am not generally into the reverential hush that seems to surround any mention of David Foster Wallace’s name by most writers of my generation or remotely proximate to it; I am not enchanted by some fundamental childlike innocence people seem to find in him. I am suspicious generally of those sorts of hushes and enchantments, and yet I do feel in the presence of his careful crazy syllabuses something like reverence.
Wallace doesn’t accept the silent social contract between students and professors: He takes apart and analyzes and makes explicit, in a way that is almost painful, all of the tiny conventional unspoken agreements usually made between professors and their students. “Even in a seminar class,” his syllabus states, “it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can’t always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good and serious students. On the other hand, as Prof — points out supra, our class can’t really function if there isn’t student participation–it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways.”

The Decline of the English Department

William M. Chace:

During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history. As someone who has taught in four university English departments over the last 40 years, I am dismayed by this shift, as are my colleagues here and there across the land. And because it is probably irreversible, it is important to attempt to sort out the reasons–the many reasons–for what has happened.
First the facts: while the study of English has become less popular among undergraduates, the study of business has risen to become the most popular major in the nation’s colleges and universities. With more than twice the majors of any other course of study, business has become the concentration of more than one in five American undergraduates. Here is how the numbers have changed from 1970/71 to 2003/04 (the last academic year with available figures):

English Teacher Reaches Through Student’s Haze

John Burnett:

Christine Eastus was a double major in English and chemistry with plans to go to medical school. Instead — to the chagrin of her parents — she became a teacher.
In the 1970s, she taught English at Greenhill School in Addison, Texas.
“Once I started teaching, it was a completely new world, sort of frightening in a sense, because you’re dealing with students who are so impressionable, but it’s heady stuff particularly when people like you, catch the bug and become writers and let you know about it,” she tells NPR’s John Burnett. “That is a real high, to hear from someone who’s your age still remembering me and I’m sure many of them curse me because I guess I was a bit demanding.”

Madison Schools’ dual-language program prompts concerns

Matthew DeFour:

Students in the Madison School District’s dual-language immersion program are less likely than students in English-only classrooms to be black or Asian, come from low-income families, need special education services or have behavioral problems, according to a district analysis.
School Board members have raised concerns about the imbalance of diversity and other issues with the popular program.
As a result, Superintendent Dan Nerad wants to put on hold expansion plans at Hawthorne, Stephens and Thoreau elementaries and delay the decision to the spring on how to expand the program to La Follette High School in 2013.
“While the administration remains committed to the (dual-language) program and to the provision of bilingual programming options for district students, I believe there is substantial value in identifying, considering and responding to these concerns,” Nerad wrote in a memo to the board.
In Madison’s program, both native English and Spanish speakers receive 90 percent of their kindergarten instruction in Spanish, with the mix steadily increasing to 50-50 by fourth grade.

Lady Gaga Makes It to Harvard

[well, at least these guys don’t have students reading history books, writing history papers–stuff like that!!]
Charlotte Allen:

What is it about academics and Lady Gaga? Last year it was a freshman writing course at the University of Virginia titled “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity.” This fall there’s an upper-division sociology course at the University of South Carolina titled “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.” Meghan Vicks, a graduate student in comparative literature at the University of Colorado, co-edits a postmodernist online journal, “Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga,” in which the names “Judith Butler” and “Jean Baudrillard” drip as thickly as summer rain and the tongue-tripping sentences read like this: “And her project?–To deconstruct the very pop culture that creates and worships her, and to explore and make problematic the hackneyed image of the pop icon while flourishing in the clichéd role itself.”
And now Gaga has reached the very pinnacle of academic recognition: a Harvard affiliation. On Nov. 2 she announced that she and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet Society will launch a nonprofit foundation, to be called Born This Way (after one of Gaga’s songs), which will focus on mentoring teenagers and combating bullying.
What is fascinating is how, well, gaga the tenured scholars and highly placed academic administrators are for the 25-year-old singer whose main claim to fame is her rise from unknown to superstar and multiple Grammy winner in just three years. She managed this feat mostly on the basis of outré costumes and transgressive dancing–plus her world-class flair for self-promotion–rather than her ho-hum musical ability. Mathieu Deflem, the sociology professor who is teaching the Gaga course at South Carolina, for example, owns more than 300 of her records, maintains a fan website called gagafrontrow.net, and (according to a 2010 New York Times article) has attended more than 28 of her live concerts, following her from city to city around the world. Similarly, Harvard’s Berkman Center is a well-funded interdisciplinary think tank whose faculty consists of prestigious professors of law, engineering, and business at Harvard (two of the biggest names are Lawrence Lessig and Charles Ogletree). But when the forthcoming Gaga-Berkman partnership went public last week, the center’s mental heavyweights sounded as besotted as the teen-age girls and starstruck gays who hang onto every Gaga Twitter tweet. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor who is the Berkman Center’s co-director, praised as “impressive” the “research” that Gaga had done and hailed the forthcoming partnership as “a good chance for Harvard to be one University.”
Gaga’s faculty fans like to clothe their obsessive interest in her with a dense coat of academic-speak. Christa Romanosky, the graduate student at U.Va. who made Gaga the centerpiece of her freshman writing course last year, told the student newspaper, the Daily Cavalier, “We’re exploring how identity is challenged by gender and sexuality and how Lady Gaga confronts this challenge.” The reading list for Deflem’s course at South Carolina includes several articles about Gaga by Victor Corona, a postdoctoral fellow in sociology at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Corona’s writing is a kudzu-like tangle of po-mo jargon: “Gaga’s hypermodern gospel of liberation hints at the irrelevance of truth or, rather, the creation of one’s own truth, a performance that is relentlessly enacted until some version of it becomes true.
Yet Corona has nothing on Judith “Jack” Halberstam, English professor and director of the Center for Feminist Research at the University of Southern California. In an essay analyzing Gaga’s Grammy-nominated 2010 music video “Telephone” for Gaga Stigmata, Halberstam drops trendy poststructuralist surnames like coins into a wishing well: “[I]t is a [Michel] Foucaultian take on prison and ‘technological entrapment’; here… it has been read as the channeling of [Judith] Butler’s ‘Lesbian Phallus’; it is obscene, murderous, cruel to animals, misogynist, man-hating, homophobic and heterophobic; and I think you could safely place it as a [Gilles] Deleuzian exploration of flow and affect not to mention an episode in Object Oriented Philosophy. So whether the philosophy in question is drawn from [Slavoj] Zizek on speed, [Avital] Ronell on crack or [Quentin] Meillassoux on ecstasy, this video obviously chains a few good ideas to a few very good bodies and puts thought into motion.” Neither Halberstam nor Corona permit any negative assessments of their idol. Corona characterized a recent critical biography, Poker Face: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga, as “embittered.”
Since Gaga’s academic fan base indulges heavily in “theory,” as the po-mo types like to call it, allow me to indulge in my own “theory” about why college professors and other self-proclaimed avant-garde intellectuals have taken her to their bosoms. Take note of the academic fields represented by the scholars I have quoted above: sociology (Deflem and Corona), English (Halberstam), comparative literature (Vicks), and creative writing (Romanosky). Once those were real fields, with genuine bodies of knowledge to be studied and then enlarged by their scholarly practitioners. English professors taught and wrote about the literature of English-speaking nations. Sociologists studied the writings of Emil Durkheim and C. Wright Mills and built upon their paradigms for understanding how human beings function in social groups. Instructors of freshman writing focused on teaching their students how to write, often using models of particularly effective rhetoric and style.

Now, it seems, professors and their graduate students want to do anything but teach or do research in the fields with which they are supposedly affiliated. Sociologists want to devote class time to their record collections. English professors want to gush on about music videos. Writing instructors want to immerse their students in “gender and sexuality,” not the mechanics of constructing a coherent term paper. In short, professors want to teach pop culture and nothing but pop culture. Christa Romanosky, for example, was hardly unusual in turning her freshman writing class into a class about something else besides writing. The freshman writing course list for this fall at U.Va. includes sections titled “Gender in Film,” “Graffiti and Remix Culture,” “Cinematic Shakespeare,” “Queer Studies,” “Race Matters,” “Pirates,” and “Female Robots.” Fortunately for themselves, those professors who have turned the humanities and social sciences into vehicles for indulging their hobbies have the vast and unintelligible apparatus of postmodern theory to give their fanboy preoccupations intellectual respectability. Or at least to make it look that way to outsiders–such as parents–who might wonder why they are spending up to $6,000 per course so that little Johnny or Jenna can write an essay about “Telephone.”
I admit that I’m not much of a fan of Lady Gaga. I find her music monotonous, although she cleverly camouflages that defect with histrionic visuals and shocking costumes. I give her an A+, however, for brains, a sure market sense, and an entrepreneurial spirit worthy of Henry A. Ford. She has also snookered an entire generation of academics into deeming her profound. The Harvard Business School has just added Lady Gaga to its curriculum, with a case study of the decisions she and her manager made that catapulted her to fame. Now that’s where Lady Gaga belongs as an object of scholarly study.

Spanish in America: Language of the ghetto?

The Economist:

As it happens, one of Johnson’s first posts was on this subject. The short version: Spanish causes anxiety among many non-Latino Americans. Many believe that while previous waves of immigrants quickly learned English, today’s Latino immigrants do not, retaining Spanish and refusing or ignoring English, enabled by widely available television and radio in Spanish.
All of the evidence is to the contrary. The first generation raised in America overwhelmingly learns English–one study has found that 94% of immigrants raised in concentrated communities like South Florida and Southern California speak English “well” or “very well” by 8th grade (roughly age 13). As the charts I posted last year demonstrate, the language Latino children growing up in America don’t speak so well is Spanish. English abilities quickly improve through the generations; Spanish skills quickly decay. Typically the pattern is one of three generations: the arriving generation speaks Spanish and learns only limited English. The first generation raised in America speaks fluent English and some Spanish. The third generation is completely immersed and fluent in English, speaking little to no Spanish.

Stepping Back on Madison Prep Governance Rhetoric

Susan Troller:

Late last week I got an email from Kaleem Caire, Urban League CEO and champion of the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal.
Caire was unhappy with the way I had characterized the latest version of the charter school proposal.
In a blog post following the Madison Prep board’s decision late Wednesday to develop the proposed school as what’s known as a “non-instrumentality” of the school district, I described this type of school as being “free from district oversight.”
While it’s true that the entire point of establishing a non-instrumentality charter school is to give the organization maximum freedom and flexibility in the way it operates on a day-to-day basis, I agree it would be more accurate to describe it as “largely free of district oversight,” or “free of routine oversight by the School Board.”
In his message, Caire asked me, and my fellow reporter, Matt DeFour from the Wisconsin State Journal, to correct our descriptions of the proposed school, which will be approved or denied by the Madison School Board in the coming weeks.
In his message, Caire writes, “Madison Prep will be governed by MMSD’s Board of Education. In your stories today, you (or the quotes you provide) say we will not be. This continues to be a subject of public conversation and it is just not true.”

I wonder if other Madison School District programs, many spending far larger sums, receive similar substantive scrutiny compared with the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school? The District’s math (related math task force) and reading programs come to mind.
Ideally, the local media might dig into curricular performance across the spectrum, over time along with related expenditures and staffing.
From a governance perspective, it is clear that other regions and states have set the bar much higher.
Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”.
In my view, the widely used (at least around the world) IB approach is a good start for Madison Prep.

Mandarin & The Sun Prairie Schools

sp-eye:

Not the food. That would be just fine. The course is the problem.
It passed the committee level this past Monday and on the 14th it goes to the full board.
Problem #1
Here’s our first problem. This is a major shift; an introduction of a whole new language. One with a plan to offer II,III, and IV plus AP all in the next several years. Yet, it’s lumped in with 7 other courses within the agenda heading, where you vote Yes/No on the entire suite: 2012-2013 New Courses: AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination); Chinese I; Arts of Industry; African Literature; Native American/Latin American Literature; Science of Motion; Weather and Climate
Solution: It takes a board member motion to pull out the Chinese I for a separate discussion/vote.

Game-changing steps needed to improve Wisconsin reading

Alan Borsuk:

The new results once again underscore how true it is that the reading proficiency of African-American students is in a crisis. But the smugness about kids elsewhere in the state, especially white kids, is misguided.
Here are a few slices of how Wisconsin kids did in the latest round of National Assessment of Educational Progress tests:
White fourth-graders scored below the national average for white kids by a statistically significant amount. White eighth-graders scored exactly at the national average.
Wisconsin fourth-graders who don’t qualify for free or reduced-price lunch – that is to say, who aren’t poor – scored below the national average for such kids, again by a significant amount. Eighth-graders were, again, exactly at the national average.
Only 35% of Wisconsin eighth-graders were rated as proficient or advanced readers. The figures haven’t budged since at least 1998.
(In fairness, the national figure is 32%, and it hasn’t budged in a long time, either. But there are states such as Massachusetts and Florida, where there have been significant improvements.)
NAEP is a strict grader – Wisconsin’s own tests last year rated 86% of eighth-graders proficient or advanced. Some argue NAEP is too strict. However, it uses the same measuring stick for everyone, so comparisons to other states and the nation are fair.

Related: Comparing Rhetoric Regarding Texas (10th) & Wisconsin NAEP Scores: Texas Hispanic and African-American students rank second on eighth-grade NAEP math test; and Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading.

Why I Might Stop Assigning Essays

Jason Fertig:

In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey characterizes job tasks as either important or urgent. We desire to focus our time on important activities; the urgent ones are the persistent fires we must extinguish in order to focus on those important projects. The dissonance between putting off important work because of the need to tackle urgent tasks often causes people to become dissatisfied in their job performance. Hence, I’ve been thinking about Covey’s book a lot lately as I question whether essay grading is an important or urgent part of my job.
In addition to Covey, my latest copy of Rutgers magazine features an article on giving great lectures. The article presented several members of the university faculty describing how they engage a classroom while lecturing. Reading through the lengthy article leaves me to ponder – am I doing too much in my classes? Why don’t I just lecture?
My creative writing time has been sparse these past few months because my current courses involve grading 50-75 essays per week, along with fulfilling my university service requirements (another story for another day). I have spent around 20 hours per week grading essays, and my cost-benefit radar is telling me to question whether such assessments are worth it. Some readers may wonder why I am not more efficient, but I do aim for efficiency- I even stagger submission dates.

“Chinglish” on Broadway Lost in translation

The Economist:

IN “CHINGLISH”, a new Broadway play by David Henry Hwang, an American businessman goes to China to rustle up business for his family’s ailing sign-making company. The title of the play refers to those famously kooky translations found in China, where a mundane phrase in English such as, “Please keep off the grass” is translated into, “I like your smile, but unlike you put your shoes on my face.”
Set in Guiyang, a “small” city of 4.3m in south-west China, Mr Hwang’s shrewdly funny play, directed by Leigh Silverman, is performed in English and Mandarin with English supertitles, and features plenty of faux pas and intrigue. But what is surprising is just how well Mr Hwang, a Chinese-American playwright, manages to capture the nuances of rapidly changing China and a shifting global order. He also conveys the skewed expectations that Westerners and Chinese have of each other–and themselves.
Now 54, Mr Hwang pioneered plays with Asian and Asian-American themes in the 1980s. Since then he has worked on a variety of projects, including co-writing the libretto for Elton John’s Broadway musical “Aida”. He is best known for his 1988 play “M. Butterfly”, about a French diplomat who has a 20-year affair with a Chinese singer who turns out to be a man, which won a Tony award and was a Pulitzer prize finalist. At the time Mr Hwang’s plays were, as he recalls, “exotic ethnic theatre”. But now that China plays a bigger role on the world stage, the country is becoming more visible on a theatrical one.

9.27.2011 Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Notes

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

Guest Speaker Mark Seidenberg (Donald O. Hebb and Hilldale Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, UW-Madison): Professor Seidenberg gave an excellent presentation on the science of reading and why it is important to incorporate the findings of that science in teaching. Right now there is a huge disconnect between the vast, converged body of science worldwide and instructional practice. Prospective teachers are not learning about reading science in IHE’s, and relying on intuition about how to teach reading is biased and can mislead. Teaching older students to read is expensive and difficult. Up-front prevention of reading failure is important, and research shows us it is possible, even for dyslexic students. This will save money, and make the road easier for students to learn and teachers to teach. Seidenberg endorses using the Massachusetts model exam for teachers of reading (MTEL 90), which was developed with input from reading scientists. He also supports universal assessment to identify students who are at risk, and he mentioned the Minnesota Reading Corps as a model of reading tutoring that would be good to bring to Wisconsin.
Lander: Can Seidenberg provide a few examples of things on which the Task Force could reach consensus?
Seidenberg: There is a window for teaching basic reading skills that then will allow the child to move on to comprehension. The balanced literacy concept is in conflict with best practices. Classrooms in Wisconsin are too laissez-faire, and the spiraling approach to learning does not align with science.
Michael Brickman: Brickman, the Governor’s aide, cut off the discussion with Professor Seidenberg, and said he would be in touch with him later.

Much more on the Read to Lead Task Force, here.

Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading

Wisconsin Reading Coalition E-Alert, via a kind Chan Stroman Roll email:

The 4th and 8th grade NAEP reading and math scores were released today. You can view the results at http://nationsreportcard.gov. The presentation webinar is at http://www.nagb.org/reading-math-2011/.
Following is commentary on Wisconsin’s NAEP reading scores that was sent to the Governor’s Read to Lead task force by task force member Steve Dykstra.
2011 NAEP data for reading was released earlier than usual, this year. Under the previous timeline we wouldn’t get the reading data until Spring.
While we returned to our 2007 rank of 25 from our 2009 rank of 30, that is misleading. All of our gains come from modest improvement among Black students who no longer rank last, but are still very near the bottom. The shift in rank is among Wisconsin and a group of states who all perform at an essentially identical level, and have for years. We’re talking tenths of points as the difference.
It is always misleading to consider NAEP scores on a whole-state basis. Different states may have very different demographic make-ups and those difference can either exaggerate or mask the actual differences between the two states. For instance, the difference between Florida and Wisconsin (all scores refer to 4th grade reading) at the whole-state level is only 3 points. In reality, the difference is much greater. Demographic variation masks the real difference because Florida has far more minority students and far more poverty than Wisconsin. When we look at the subgroups, comparing apples to apples, we see that the real differences are vast.
When we break the groups down by gender and race, Florida outperforms Wisconsin by a statistically significant margin in every group. The smallest difference is 8 and some are as large as 20. If we break the groups down by race and school lunch status Florida outperforms Wisconsin by a statistically significant margin in every group, except black students who don’t get a free lunch. For that group Florida does better, but not by enough to declare statistical certainty. The smallest margin is 9, and many are at or above 15.
10 points are generally accepted as a grade level for this range of the NAEP. Every Florida subgroup except one exceeds it’s Wisconsin counterpart by a nearly a full grade level, and most by a lot more.
When we compare Wisconsin to Massachusetts the story is the same, only worse. The same groups are significantly different from each other, but the margins are slightly larger. The whole-state difference between Wisconsin and Massachusetts (15+ pts) only appears larger than for Florida because Massachusetts enjoys many of the same demographic advantages as Wisconsin. In fact, Wisconsin students are about the same 1.5 grade levels behind both Florida and Massachusetts for 4th grade reading.
If you want to dig deeper and kick over more rocks, it only gets worse. Every Wisconsin subgroup is below their national average and most are statistically significantly below. The gaps are found in overall scores, as well as for performance categories. We do about the same in terms of advanced students as we do with low performing students. Except for black students who don’t get a free lunch (where the three states are in a virtual dead heat), Wisconsin ranks last compared to Florida and Massachusetts for every subgroup in terms of percentage of students at the advanced level. In many cases the other states exceed our rate by 50-100% or more. Their children have a 50 -100% better chance to read at the advanced level.
We need a sense of urgency to do more than meet, and talk, and discuss. We need to actually change the things that will make a difference, we need to do it fast, and we need to get it right. A lot of what needs to be done can be accomplished in a matter of days. Some of it takes a few hours. The parts that will take longer would benefit from getting the other stuff done and out of the way so we can devote our attention to those long term issues.
Our children are suffering and so far, all we’re doing is talking about it. Shame on us.

What Kids Demand in a Novel

Maile Meloy:

Sometimes you find yourself part of a trend accidentally: Some old, beloved jacket in your closet becomes fashionable, or your private, favorite novel is discovered by the world. Having written four books of fiction for adults, I wrote a novel for kids, and looked up from the first draft to find that other writers were doing the same thing–and adults were reading the books.
My plunge into the world of children’s publishing surprised my friends as much as it surprised me. One asked, “How did you make the change? Did you have some kind of magical elixir?” I did, if you consider that magical elixirs are slow and difficult and sometimes frustrating to make, and involve wrong turns and unexpected discoveries. But here’s the basic recipe:
1. Don’t worry about what category the book belongs in. I thought I was writing a young adult novel and discovered that there was a type of book called “middle reader” only when my publishers told me I’d written one. I worked in a state of utter naïveté about what the rules are for writing children’s books, which was liberating.

Is This the Future of Punctuation!? On the misuse of apostrophe’s (did your eye just twitch?) and our increasingly rhetorical language

Henry Hitchings:

Punctuation arouses strong feelings. You have probably come across the pen-wielding vigilantes who skulk around defacing movie posters and amending handwritten signs that advertise “Rest Room’s” or “Puppy’s For Sale.”
People fuss about punctuation not only because it clarifies meaning but also because its neglect appears to reflect wider social decline. And while the big social battles seem intractable, smaller battles over the use of the apostrophe feel like they can be won.
Yet the status of this and other cherished marks has long been precarious. The story of punctuation is one of comings and goings.
Early manuscripts had no punctuation at all, and those from the medieval period suggest haphazard innovation, with more than 30 different marks. The modern repertoire of punctuation emerged as printers in the 15th and 16th centuries strove to limit this miscellany.

Bidding Adieu to the Madison School Board; “Facts are an Obstacle to the Reform of America”

Lucy Mathiak, via a kind email:

Dear Friends,
I am writing to thank you for your encouragement and support in my decision to seek election to the MMSD Board of Education in late fall 2005. Your help in getting elected, your support during tough times, and your help in finding solutions to problems, have made a great difference to my service on the board.
I am writing to let you know that I will not seek re-election in 2012. I continue to believe that the Board of Education is one of the most important elected positions for our community and its schools, and encourage others to step forward to serve in this capacity. MMSD is facing significant challenges, and it is more important than ever that thoughtful citizens engage in the work that will be needed to preserve the traditional strengths of our public schools while helping those schools to change in keeping with the times and the families that they serve.
At the same time, I do not view school board service as a career, and believe that turnover in membership is healthy for the organization and for the district. I have been fortunate to have had an opportunity to serve on this board, and to work with many fine community organizations in that capacity. For that I am grateful.
Again, thank you for your interest, support, and collegiality.
Lucy J. Mathiak
716 Orton Ct.
Madison, WI 53703
Madison School Board
Seat #2

I am appreciative of Lucy’s tireless and often thankless work on behalf of our students.
Every organization – public or private, deteriorates. It is often easier to spend more (raise taxes), raise fees on consumers – or a “rate base”, reduce curricular quality and in general go along and get along than to seek substantive improvements. Change is hard.
Citizens who seek facts, ask difficult and uncomfortable questions are essential for strong institutions – public or private. Progress requires conflict.
Yet, very few of us are willing to step into the theatre, spend time, dig deep and raise such questions. I am thankful for those, like Lucy, who do.
Her years of activism and governance have touched numerous issues, from the lack of Superintendent oversight (related: Ruth Robarts) (that’s what a board does), the District’s $372M+ budget priorities and transparency to substantive questions about Math, reading and the endless battle for increased rigor in the Madison Schools.
In closing, I had an opportunity to hear Peter Schneider speak during a recent Madison visit. Schneider discussed cultural differences and similarities between America and Germany. He specifically discussed the recent financial crisis. I paraphrase: “If I do not understand a financial vehicle, I buy it”. “I create a financial product that no one, including me, understands, I sell it”. This is “collective ignorance”.
Schneider’s talk reminded me of a wonderful Madison teacher’s comments some years ago: “if we are doing such a great job, why do so few people vote and/or understand civic and business issues”?
What, then, is the payoff of increased rigor and the pursuit of high standards throughout an organization? Opportunity.
I recently met a technical professional who works throughout the United States from a suburban Madison home. This person is the product of a very poor single parent household. Yet, high parental standards and rigorous academic opportunities at a somewhat rural Wisconsin high school and UW-Madison led to an advanced degree and professional opportunities.
It also led to a successful citizen and taxpayer. The alternative, as discussed in my recent conversation with Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is growth in those who don’t contribute, but rather increase costs on society.
Lucy will be missed.

It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s ‘Repurposing.’

Kenneth Goldsmith:

In 1969 the conceptual artist Douglas Huebler wrote, “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.” I’ve come to embrace Huebler’s idea, though it might be retooled as: “The world is full of texts, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.”
It seems an appropriate response to a new condition in writing: With an unprecedented amount of available text, our problem is not needing to write more of it; instead, we must learn to negotiate the vast quantity that exists. How I make my way through this thicket of information–how I manage it, parse it, organize and distribute it–is what distinguishes my writing from yours.
The prominent literary critic Marjorie Perloff has recently begun using the term “unoriginal genius” to describe this tendency emerging in literature. Her idea is that, because of changes brought on by technology and the Internet, our notion of the genius–a romantic, isolated figure–is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one’s mastery of information and its dissemination. Perloff has coined another term, “moving information,” to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved by that process. She posits that today’s writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine.

How to Improve Vocabulary: 101 ways

DictionUP:

1. Read: Any thing and Everything.
2. Write: Use new words that your learn in your writings.
3. Listen: When someone uses a word you don’t understand, ask them what it means or look it up later.
4. Carry a Dictionary.
5. Watch Frasier: Get your hands on Frasier Dvds. An entertaining way to Improve Your Vocabulary.
6. Make sticky notes of new words and post them in strategic places.
7. Download a words and definitions screensaver.

The Origins of Writing

Ira Spar:

The alluvial plains of southern Mesopotamia in the later half of the fourth millennium B.C. witnessed a immense expansion in the number of populated sites. Scholars still debate the reasons for this population increase, which seems to be too large to be explained simply by normal growth. One site, the city of Uruk, surpassed all others as an urban center surrounded by a group of secondary settlements. It covered approximately 250 hectares, or .96 square miles, and has been called “the first city in world history.” The site was dominated by large temple estates whose need for accounting and disbursing of revenues led to the recording of economic data on clay tablets. The city was ruled by a man depicted in art with many religious functions. He is often called a “priest-king.” Underneath this office was a stratified society in which certain professions were held in high esteem. One of the earliest written texts from Uruk provides a list of 120 officials including the leader of the city, leader of the law, leader of the plow, and leader of the lambs, as well as specialist terms for priests, metalworkers, potters, and others. Many other urban sites existed in southern Mesopotamia in close proximity to Uruk. To the east of southern Mesopotamia lay a region located below the Zagros Mountains called by modern scholars Susiana. The name reflects the civilization centered around the site of Susa. There temples were built and clay tablets, dating to about 100 years after the earliest tablets from Uruk, were inscribed with numerals and word-signs. Examples of Uruk-type pottery are found in Susiana as well as in other sites in the Zagros mountain region and in northern and central Iran, attesting to the important influence of Uruk upon writing and material culture. Uruk culture also spread into Syria and southern Turkey, where Uruk-style buildings were constructed in urban settlements.

Study: No real progress in Chicago Public grade school reading in 20 years

Rosalind Rossi:

So after waves and waves of reform, you thought Chicago public elementary schools had made tremendous progress in the last 20 years?
Think again.
Despite millions of dollars in fixes and programs, Chicago’s elementary grade reading scores have barely budged over the last two decades, a new report by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research has found.
Math scores improved only “incrementally” in those grades, and racial gaps in both subjects increased, with African American students falling the most behind other groups, especially in reading — an area pushed heavily under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
But the good news in a unique study called “Trends in Chicago’s Schools Across Three Eras of Reform: Summary of Key Findings” is that Chicago Public Schools made “dramatic improvement” in its high school graduation rate over almost two decades. Less than half of CPS freshmen graduated by age 19 in 1990, compared to about two thirds today, the study said.

Rebecca Vevea

In 20 years of near-constant reform efforts, Chicago’s elementary school students have made few gains, high school students have advanced, and the achievement gap between poor and rich areas has widened, a major University of Chicago study found, contradicting impressions created by years of Chicago Public Schools testing data.
The report examined performance across three eras of reform over the last two decades — a span including the Argie Johnson, Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan regimes. Researchers for the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that most publicly available data measuring the success of public schools in Chicago did not provide an accurate picture of progress.
One of the most striking findings is that elementary school scores in general remained mostly stagnant, contrary to visible improvement on state exams reported by the Illinois State Board of Education. The consortium study used a complex statistical analysis of data from each state-administered test over the last 20 years, controlling for changes in the test’s content and how it was scored, said Stuart Luppescu, a lead consortium researcher.

Writers on Writing

The Washington Post:

In honor of the National Book Festival, running Sept. 24 – 25 on the National Mall, we asked some of the authors participating to share their thoughts on a few writerly subjects.
What do writers think about writing? Here’s a small selection of what they had to say.
THE THING I’M HAPPIEST ABOUT IN MY WRITING CAREER IS . . .
That rarest of occurrences: being able to finance my writing life with the writing itself.
— Russell Banks
The sound of my father’s voice on the telephone when I told him that I had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. That the book, “Thomas and Beulah,” dealt with my home town and was about my maternal grandparents made the announcement that much sweeter.

Texas Students of all backgrounds outperform Wisconsin Students

Allison Sherry, via a kind reader’s email

While Perry has been outspoken against the Common Core, he and his education commissioner have pulled the quality of Texas tests up to a level respected among education reformers. Test scores among kids of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are higher in Texas than in Wisconsin, for example, which has fewer students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunch.
Though Perry will probably make this point on the campaign trail, he’s not likely to promise to take over the nation’s schools. On the contrary, he’ll likely pick up on his recent call to repeal No Child Left Behind and let states take charge of their education systems. In his book released last year, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Perry argues that Washington has taken power away from states. At a speech in November in Washington, Perry took aim at two of former President Bush’s signature accomplishments, No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug benefit program, saying they were examples of areas in which Washington need not be.
“Those are both big government but more importantly, they were Washington-centric,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “One size does not fit all, unless you’re talking tube socks.”

National Center for Education Statistics State Education Data Profiles.
much more at www.wisconsin2.org

Rick Hess’s Critique of Achievement-Gap Mania

By Reihan Salam
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the latest issue of National Affairs, which includes Rick Hess’s fascinating and at times provocative discussion, or perhaps I say “devastating takedown,” of “achievement-gap mania.” The following paragraph gives you a hint as to Hess’s conclusion:

In essence, NCLB was an effort to link “conservative” nostrums of accountability to Great Society notions of “social justice.” The result was a noble exercise hailed for its compassion. The sad truth, however, is that the whole achievement-gap enterprise has been bad for schooling, bad for most children, and bad for the nation.


I found his discussion of the neglect of advanced and gifted education particularly convincing, as well as his recounting of how the “delusion of rigor” has undermined quality control across many domains. Hess ends his essay with an accounting of where “achievement-gap mania” has left the politics of K-12.
(1) Reforming education has become someone else’s problem:

First, achievement-gap mania has signaled to the vast majority of American parents that school reform isn’t about their kids. They are now expected to support efforts to close the achievement gap simply because it’s “the right thing to do,” regardless of the implications for their own children’s education. In fact, given that only about one household in five even contains school-age children — and given that two-thirds of families with children do not live in underserved urban neighborhoods, or do not send their kids to public schools, or otherwise do not stand to benefit from the gap-closing agenda — the result is a tiny potential constituency for achievement-gap reform, made up of perhaps 6% or 7% of American households.
Because middle-class parents and suburbanites have no personal stake in the gap-closing enterprise, reforms are tolerated rather than embraced. The most recent annual Gallup poll on attitudes toward schooling reported that just 20% of respondents said “improving the nation’s lowest-performing schools” was the most important of the nation’s education challenges. Indeed, while just 18% of the public gave American schools overall an A or a B, a sizable majority thought their own elementary and middle schools deserved those high grades. The implication is that most Americans, even those with school-age children, currently see education reform as time and money spent on other people’s children.


(2) Reforming education for the majority of students who come non-poor families is seen as somehow unnecessary:

Second, achievement-gap mania has created a dangerous complacency, giving suburban and middle-class Americans the false sense that things are just fine in their own schools. Thus it’s no surprise that professionals and suburbanites tend to regard “reforms” — from merit pay to charter schooling — as measures that they’ll tolerate as long as they’re reserved for urban schools, but that they won’t stand for in their own communities. …
Gap-closing strategies can be downright unhelpful or counterproductive when it comes to serving most students and families, and so can turn them off to education reform altogether. Longer school years and longer school days can be terrific for disadvantaged students or low achievers, but may be a recipe for backlash if imposed on families who already offer their kids many summer opportunities and extracurricular activities. Policies that seek to shift the “best” teachers to schools and classrooms serving low-achieving children represent a frontal assault on middle-class and affluent families. And responding to such concerns by belittling them is a sure-fire strategy for ensuring that school reform never amounts to more than a self-righteous crusade at odds with the interests of most middle-class families.


This is one reason why Hess rightly bristled at the crusader mentality that informs films like the recent Waiting for ‘Superman.’

Continue reading Rick Hess’s Critique of Achievement-Gap Mania

How to Stop the Drop in Verbal Scores

E D Hirsch:

THE latest bad but unsurprising news on education is that reading and writing scores on the SAT have once again declined. The language competence of our high schoolers fell steeply in the 1970s and has never recovered.
This is very worrisome, because the best single measure of the overall quality of our primary and secondary schools is the average verbal score of 17-year-olds. This score correlates with the ability to learn new things readily, to communicate with others and to hold down a job. It also predicts future income.
The decline has led some commentators to embrace demographic determinism — the idea that the verbal scores of disadvantaged students will not significantly rise until we overcome poverty. But that explanation does not account for the huge drop in verbal scores across socioeconomic groups in the 1970s.

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

Geoffrey K. Pullum

April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.
I won’t be celebrating.
The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
The authors won’t be hurt by these critical remarks. They are long dead. William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte’s Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately. After Strunk’s death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.

Language learning: No, she’s foreign!

The Economist:

LANGUAGE-learning is fascinating, but not for those who can’t take the occasional humiliation.
I live in São Paulo and though I’m sure my Portuguese accent is horrible, it’s horrible in a recognisably Paulistano way. I say the “e” in duzentos (two hundred) with a twang; and I don’t say “sh” for “s”, as Cariocas, or residents of Rio, do. Generally people in São Paulo understand what I’m trying to say–and so do taxi drivers and hotel staff in Rio. Indeed, they are usually so delighted to meet a foreigner who speaks any Portuguese at all that they are highly complimentary, which even if it is more to do with Brazilian hospitality and courtesy, is delightfully confidence-inducing.
Not so Cariocas who don’t have regular contact with tourists. On holiday in Rio with my family recently, I tried to strike up conversation with some children aged around 11 or 12 on the top of the Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain, one of Rio’s most famous tourist spots. I asked one if they were visiting with their school. (This was an easy guess; they were wearing uniform. But I wanted to practise.) He stared at me, bemused. I repeated: “Vocês estão aqui com sua escola?” No good. He called over a friend. By now I was getting embarrassed, but I tried again. This time he turned to her and said: “Não entendi nada” (I didn’t understand a thing). Only when a teacher came over and repeated my sentence to the children did we get anywhere. Very depressing.

Speculations on the future of reading

Shreeharsh Kelkar:

In 2008, Nicholas Carr published an essay in the Atlantic Monthly titled “Is Google making us stupid?” The article got a lot of play and was later turned into a book titled “The Shallows.” At its heart, Carr’s thesis is a simple one. He argues that the extensive internet reading – meaning the the copious amount of reading that we do on the internet as well as our need to be always “plugged in” into, for instance, email and Facebook – is changing the way we think. He is explicitly worried about the future of reading. He thinks that the art of reading deeply – think about being immersed in a novel for a few hours – is dying out; that, instead, reading has become a “sampling” activity: a little bit here, then a quick glance through email, another little bit there. Since reading did not come naturally to the human brain and in fact helped shaped the brain as we know it today, this new form of reading – all stops and starts – will change it as well. If that happens, will the decline of quiet contemplative deep reading result in the decline of deep thinking? (Obviously Carr poses this question rhetorically; his answer is an emphatic yes.)

Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force 8.25.2011 Meeting Summary

Wisconsin Reading Coaltion, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

Summary of the August 25, 2011 Read to Lead Task Force Meeting
Green Bay, WI
The fifth meeting of the Read to Lead task force was held on August 25, 2011, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Governor Walker was delayed, so State Superintendent Tony Evers opened the meeting. The main topic of discussion was accountability for reading outcomes, including the strategy of mandatory grade retention. Troy Couillard from DPI also presented an overview of reading reform in Milwaukee Public Schools.
Accountability
Superintendent Evers said that Wisconsin will seek a waiver from the No Child Left Behind proficiency requirements by instituting a new system of accountability. His Educator Effectiveness and Accountability Design teams are working on this, with the goal of a new accountability system being in place by late 2011.
Accountability at the educator level:
The concept of using student achievement or growth data in teacher and principal evaluations is not without controversy, but Wisconsin is including student data in its evaluation model, keeping in mind fairness and validity. The current thought is to base 50% of the educator evaluation on qualitative considerations, using the Danielson Framework http://www.danielsongroup.org (“promoting professional learning through self assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversations”), and 50% on student data, including multiple measures of performance. 10% of the student data portion of the evaluation (5% of the total evaluation) would be based on whole-school performance. This 5% would be based on a proficiency standard as opposed to a value-added measurement. The 5% is thought to be small enough that it will not affect an individual teacher adversely, but large enough to send a message that all teachers need to work together to raise achievement in a school. The task force was asked if it could endorse whole-school performance as part of teacher evaluation. The task force members seemed to have some support for that notion, especially at the principal level, but had some reservations at the level of the individual teacher.
Kathy Champeau was concerned that some schools do not have the resources to serve some children. She also felt it might not be fair to teachers, as they have no control over other teachers in the school or the principal.
Steve Dykstra said it is important to make sure any value-added system is designed to be fair.
Rachel Lander felt it would be better to use value-added data for whole-school performance rather than a proficiency standard, but supported the importance of schoolwide standards.
Rep. Steve Kestell supported the 5% requirement, and questioned what the qualitative half of the evaluation would be based on. He felt perhaps there could be some schoolwide standards to be met in that part of the evaluation, also.
Tony Evers responded that the Danielson Framework was research-based observations, and that the evaluators would need to be highly trained and consistent in their evaluations.
Tony Pedriana had questions about the type of research on which the Danielson Framework is based.
Evers said he would provide further information to the task force.
Mara Brown said she cannot control what the teacher down the hall does, and that the 5% should apply only to principals.
Linda Pils agreed with the 5%, but felt principals need to be watching and guiding new teachers. She agreed with Dykstra’s comments on measuring growth.
Sen. Luther Olsen was concerned that the 5% portion of a teacher’s evaluation may be the part that tips the balance on job retention for an individual, yet that individual has no control over whole-school performance. He understood the principle of getting everyone involved and committed to a goal, but was concerned with possible consequences.
Mandatory Retention:
The task force was asked to consider whether Wisconsin should implement a mandatory retention policy. If so, what would it look like, and if not, what can be done to make sure students are reading at grade level?
After a guest presentation and discussion, the consensus of the task force was that Wisconsin should not have mandatory retention. Reasons cited were negative effects on later achievement, graduation, self esteem, and psychological well-being. Third grade was felt to be far too late to start intervention, and there needs to be more emphasis on developing teacher expertise and focusing on the responsibility of teachers, principals, and higher education as opposed to threatening the students with retention. Retention without changing the curriculum for the student the following year is pointless.
Dr. Elaine Allensworth, a director at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, joined the task force by telephone to summarize the outcomes of a mandatory retention project in Chicago. Students more than 1 year below the cut-off level on certain tested skills were retained unless they passed the test after a summer bridge program. Students identified as at-risk were given after-school tutoring during the year. Retention was thought to have three primary mechanisms that would affect student performance: motivation for students, families, and teachers to work harder, supplemental instruction after school and during the summer, and an additional year in the grade for failing students. All students in the school could be affected by the motivation and the supplemental instruction, but only the retained students by the extra year of instruction. The study found that the threat of retention worked as a positive motivator for teachers, parents, and some older students. However, there were also negatives in terms of higher-achieving students receiving less attention, more time on test preparation, and an instructional shift to focus on tested skills. The supplemental instruction, especially the summer bridge program, was the biggest positive of the retention project. There was high participation, increased personal attention, and higher-quality instruction. Retention itself had more negative effects than positive. Academic gains were either non-existent or rapidly-disappearing. Multiple year retentions resulted in a problematic mix of ages in classrooms, students unable to finish high school by age 18, and a negative overall attitude toward school.
Dykstra said it appeared that the impetus to do things differently because of the threat of retention had some benefit, but the actual retention had either no effect or a negative effect. He wondered if there was some way to provide the motivation without retention.
Allensworth agreed that the challenge was to provide a motivation without having a threat.
Pils asked if third graders could even understand the threat of retention.
Allensworth replied that they understood if teachers helped them. She also said that some schools with low-quality instruction had no way to improve student learning even with the threat of retention.
Rep. Jason Fields asked how you could avoid teaching to the test.
Allensworth replied that teaching the skills on the test was productive, but not the excessive time that was spent on test-taking strategies. She also said the tendency to teach more narrowly could cause problems later in high school where students needed to be able to participate in broader learning.
Marcia Henry inquired about students who returned to their old rate of learning when they returned to the regular classroom after successfully completing the summer bridge.
Allensworth replied that the summer program used higher quality curriculum and teachers, there was more time provided with students, and the students were more highly motivated.
Dykstra asked if it was possible to determine how much of the summer gain was due to student motivation, and how much due to teachers or parents.
Allensworth said those factors could not be pulled apart.
Champeau questioned whether the summer bridge program taught to the test.
Allensworth replied that it taught in a good way to the skills that the test assessed.
Brown asked if intervention was provided for the first time in third grade.
Allensworth replied that some schools began providing intervention and retaining in first or second grade.
Dykstra asked if the project created a situation where a majority of the school’s resources were concentrated in third grade, leaving other grades short.
Allensworth said they didn’t look at that, though some schools appeared to put their better teachers at certain grades.
Dykstra thought it was the wrong approach to tie services and supports to a specific grade rather than a specific student.
Are some types of consequences necessary to achieve the urgency and intensity necessary for performance improvement? Should there be mandatory summer school or other motivators? The task force did not seem to arrive at a consensus on this.
Lander said schools need the resources to do early intervention, plus information on what should be done in early intervention, and this is not currently the case in Wisconsin.
Pils questioned where teachers would find the time to provide intervention. She liked the idea of after-school and summer programs as well as reading the classics to kids. Providing a model of best instruction is important for teachers who don’t have that background.
Mary Read commented on Bill Gates’ experience with spending a lot of money for minimal results, and the conclusion that money needs to go into teacher training and proven programs such as the Kipp schools or into a national core curriculum.
Dykstra noted that everyone agrees that teacher training is essential, but there is disagreement as to curriculum and training content. His experience is that teachers are generally unable to pinpoint what is going wrong with a student’s reading. We must understand how poor and widespread current teacher training is, apologize to teachers, and then fix the problem, but not at teachers’ expense.
The facilitators asked what the policy should be. Is there an alternative to using retention? Should teacher re-training be mandatory for those who need the support?
Evers said that a school-by-school response does not work. The reforms in Milwaukee may have some relevance.
Olsen suggested that there are some reading programs that have been proven successful. If a school is not successful, perhaps they should be required to choose from a list of approved instructional methods and assessment tools, show their results, and monitor program fidelity. He feels we have a great resource in successful teachers in Wisconsin and other states, and the biggest issue is agreeing on programs that work for intervention and doing it right the first time.
Kestell said some major problems are teachers with high numbers of failing students, poor teacher preparation, the quality of early childhood education, and over-funding of 4K programs without a mandate on how that money is used. There has been some poor decision-making, and the kids are not responsible for that. We must somehow hold schools, school board, and individual educators accountable.
Champeau said teachers have no control over how money is spent. This accountability must be at the school and district level. More resources need to be available to some schools depending on the needs of their student population.
Lander: We must provide the necessary resources to identified schools.
Dykstra: We must develop an excellent system of value-added data so we can determine which schools are actually doing well. Right now we have no way of knowing. High-performing schools may actually be under-performing given their student demographics; projected student growth will not be the same in high and low performing schools.
Pedriana: We have long known how to teach even the most at-risk readers with evidence-based instruction. The truth is that much of our teacher training and classroom instruction is not evidence-based. We need the collective will to identify the evidence base on which we will base our choices, and then apply it consistently across the state. The task force has not yet taken on this critical question.
Pils: In her experience, she feels Wisconsin teachers are among the best in the country. There are some gaps we need to close.
Pedriana: Saying how good we are does not help the kids who are struggling.
Pils: We need to have our best teachers in the inner city, and teachers should not need to purchase their own supplies. We have to be careful with a limited list of approved programs. This may lead to ethics violations.
Pedriana: Referring to Pils’ mention of Wisconsin’s high graduation rates in a previous meeting, what does our poor performance on the NAEP reading test say about our graduation standards?
Michael Brickman (Governor’s aide): There is evidence of problems when you do retention, and evidence of problems when you do nothing. We can’t reduce the failing readers to zero using task force recommendations, so what should we do with students who leave 3rd grade not reading anywhere near grade level? Should we have mandatory summer school?
Henry: Response to Intervention (RTI) is a perfect model for intervening early in an appropriate way. A summer bridge program is excellent if it has the right focus. We must think more realistically about the budget we will require to do this intervention.
Olsen: If we do early intervention, we should have a very small number of kids who are still behind in 3rd grade. Are we teaching the right, most efficient way? We spend a lot of money on K-12 education in Wisconsin, but we may need to set priorities in reading. There is enough money to do it. Reading should be our mission at each grade level.
Facilitator: What will be the “stick” to make people provide the best instruction?
Dykstra: Accountability needs to start at the top in the state’s education system. When the same people continue to make the same mistakes, yet there are no consequences, we need to let some people go. That is what they did in Massachusetts and Florida: start with two or three people in whom you have great confidence, and build from there.
Facilitator: Is there consensus on mandatory summer school for failing students?
Michele Erickson: Summer school is OK if the right resources are available for curriculum and teachers.
Kestell: All grades 4K – 3 are gateway grades. They are all important.
Champeau: Summer school is a good idea, but we would need to solve transportation issues.
Dykstra: We should open up the concept of summer school beyond public schools to any agency that offers quality instruction using highly qualified instructors from outside the educational establishment.
Lander: Supports Dykstra’s idea. You can’t lay summer instruction on schools that can hardly educate during the school year.
Brown: Could support summer school in addition to, but not in place of, early intervention during the school year.
Erickson: Look at the school year first when allocating resources. Summer school is a hard sell to families.
Pedriana: Agrees with Olsen that we probably have sufficient funds for the school year, but we need to spend it more wisely. We cannot expect districts to make the commitment to extra instruction if there is no accountability at the top (including institutions of higher education). We need to resolve the issue of what knowledge and content standards will be taught before we address summer school or other issues.
Milwaukee Public Schools’ tiered RTI system was presented by DPI’s Troy Couillard as an example of an accountability system. MPS chose a new core reading program for 2010-11 after submitting its research base to DPI. Teachers were provided with some in-service training, and there are some site checks for fidelity of implementation. Tier 2 interventions will begin in 2011-12, and Tier 3 interventions in 2012-13. He felt that the pace of these changes, plus development of a data accountability system, student screening with MAP and other testing, progress monitoring, and professional development, has MPS moving much faster than most districts around the county on implementing RTI. DPI embedded RTI in the district’s Comprehensive Literacy Plan. DPI is pushing interventions that are listed on the National RTI site, but teachers are allowed to submit research for things they are using to see if those tools might be used.
Pils: Kids in MPS are already struggling. Reading First would suggest that they have 120 minuets of reading a day instead of the 90 minutes provided in the MPS plan.
Couillard: Tier 2 intervention for struggling students will add onto the 90 minutes of core instruction.
Olsen: Can this system work statewide without DPI monitoring all the districts?
Couillard: Districts are trained to monitor their own programs.
Pils: Veteran schools with proven strategies could be paired with struggling schools as mentors and models.
Pedriana: We have no way of knowing what proven strategies are unless we discuss what scientific evidence says works in reading. The task force must grapple with this question.
Brickman: Read to Lead task force needs to start with larger questions and then move to finer grain; this task force may not be able to do everything.
Pedriana: Is there anything more important for this task force to do than to decide what evidence-based reading instruction is?
Brickman: Task force members may submit suggestions for issues to discuss at the final meeting in September. Tony could submit some sample language on “evidence-based instruction” as a starting point for discussion.
Henry: The worst schools should be required to at least have specific guidelines, whether it is a legislative or DPI issue. Teacher retraining (not a 1-day workshop) is a necessity. Teachers are unprepared to teach.
Olsen: Wisconsin has always been a local control state, but one of the outcomes of the task force may be that we have a method for identifying schools that are not doing well, and then intervene with a plan. The state is ultimately responsible for K-12 education. Districts should take the state blueprint or come up with their own for approval by the state.
Erickson: Can we define what will work so districts can just do it?
Evers: MPS experience shows there is a process that works, and districts can do their own monitoring.
Dykstra: Sees value in making a list of things that districts are not allowed to do in reading instruction; also value in making a list of recommended programs based on alignment with the convergence of the science of reading research. That list would not be closed, but it should not include programs based on individual, publisher-funded studies that do not align with the convergence of the science. This could be of benefit to all districts. Even those doing relatively well could be doing better. Right now there is no list, and no learning targets. The MPS plan contains the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, which contain errors. DPI needs to correct that information and distribute it right now. That would be a good example of accountability at the state level.
Couillard: The new statewide data collection system will help districts monitor their own data.
Champeau: School needs change depending on demographics. The goal should be to build decision-making capacity at the local level, not dictation from outside. We should be talking more about people than programs. Have MPS teachers been doing a better job? What will they do if their program goes away? We need to work on the underlying expertise and knowledge base.
Facilitator: There appears to be agreement that the state can intervene in failing districts.
Lander: We might have some consensus as to what teachers need to know, and then go into schools to see if they know it. If not, we need to teach them.
Pedriana: What is so bad about providing a program, with training, of course? It would help people.
Facilitator: There is consensus around training of teachers.
Dykstra: Some of the distinction between training and programs is artificial. You need both.
Other things the state could require: weighting of reading in evaluation systems, grading of schools etc.
Dykstra: If giving schools grades, they should get separate grades for how they do in teaching separate content areas. In addition, everything should be reported in the best value-added system we can create, because it’s the only way to know if you’re doing a good job.
Pils: Doesn’t like grading of schools. She has a whole folder on cheating in districts that have grading of schools and high stakes tests.
Evers: Do we just want to measure what schools are doing, or do we want to use it to leverage change?
Erickson: Wisconsin has gone from 3rd to 30th on the NAEP, so of course we should be seeking change.
Walker: The idea is not to pick on failing schools, but to help them. We must be able to deploy the resources to the things that work in accordance with science and research to teach reading right.
Dykstra: We should seek small kernels of detailed information about which teachers consistently produce better results in a given type of school for a given type of student. There is a problem with reliability when using MAP data at an individual student level.
Supt. Evers talked about the new state accountability system as being a better alternative to no Child Left Behind. Governor Walker said the state is not just doing this as an alternative to NCLB, but in response to comments from business that our graduates are not well-prepared. Parents want to know what all schools are doing.
Olsen: We need a system to monitor reading in Wisconsin before we get into big trouble. Our changing population is leading us to discover challenges that other states have dealt with for years.
Kestell: The accountability design team is an excellent opportunity to discuss priorities in education; a time to set aside personal agendas and look for solutions that work.
Next Meeting/Status of Report
Michael Brickman will try to send out a draft of a report the week of August 29 with his best interpretation of task force consensus items. The final meeting will be Sept. 27, perhaps in Madison, Eau Claire, or Wausau. Some task force issues will need to be passed on to other task forces in the future.

Related: A Capitol Conversation on Wisconsin’s Reading Challenges and Excellence in Education explains Florida’s reading reforms and compares Florida’s NAEP progress with Wisconsin’s at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting and www.wisconsin2.org.

Beyond the Standard Essay

Scott Jaschik:

Throughout his career as a psychology scholar, Robert Sternberg has critiqued the limitations of standardized testing and looked for ways that colleges might identify valuable qualities that have little chance of showing up in an SAT or ACT score. He has argued that the right kind of essay prompts or project-oriented questions can reveal creativity, commitment to community and other qualities that might well merit admission to college — even for applicants whose test scores might be a bit lower than those of others.
When Sternberg was a dean at Tufts University, he worked with admissions officials there to create such a system, and the university has found that applicants who submitted these (optional) questions were in many cases ideal candidates for admission whose best qualities might not have been visible. Last year, Sternberg became provost of Oklahoma State University. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that his new university has just launched an experiment to apply his ideas to admissions there. Oklahoma State is currently doing a pilot test of a “Panorama” approach to admissions. (Sternberg’s original project was called Rainbow, and the Tufts program is known as Kaleidoscope.)

Science can lead to better (Wisconsin) readers

Marcia Henry, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

Fifteen years ago, Wisconsin fourth-graders placed third in the country in state rankings of reading ability known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. By 2009, our fourth-graders’ scores plunged to 30th, with a third of the students reading below basic levels. The scores of minority youth were even bleaker, with 65% of African-American and 50% of Hispanic students scoring in the below-basic range.
As a member of Gov. Scott Walker’s blue ribbon reading task force, I am one of 14 people charged with reversing that drop. And, as a 50-year veteran educator, I have a partial solution. Let me spell it out for you: We need better teacher preparation.
How many of you remember your very best teachers? I remember Miss Hickey at Lincoln School and Miss Brauer at Folwell School in Rochester, Minn. They taught me to read.
I travel throughout the country consulting and providing staff development for school districts and literacy organizations. I’ve met thousands of dedicated teachers who tell me they are unprepared to teach struggling readers.
This situation is not the teachers’ fault. Some teachers in Wisconsin had only one course in reading instruction. Most were never exposed to the latest research regarding early reading acquisition and instruction. In contrast, several states require three or four classes in courses that contain the latest in science-based reading instruction.

Related: Wisconsin’s “Read to Lead” task force and “a Capitol Conversation” on reading.

A Capitol Conversation on Wisconsin’s Reading Challenges

UW-Madison Professor Mark Seidenberg and I had an informative conversation with two elected officials at the Capitol recently.
I am thankful for Mark’s time and the fact that both Luther Olsen and Steve Kestell along with staff members took the time to meet. I also met recently with Brett Hulsey and hope to meet with more elected officials, from both parties.
The topic du jour was education, specifically the Governor’s Read to Lead task force.
Mark kindly shared this handout:

My name is Mark Seidenberg, Hilldale Professor and Donald O. Hebb Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, seidenberg@wisc.edu, http://lcnl.wisc.edu. I have studied how reading works, how children learn to read, reading disabilities, and the brain bases of reading for over 30 years. I am a co-author of a forthcoming report from the National Research Council (National Academy of Sciences) on low literacy among older adolescents and adults. I’m writing a general audience book about reading research and educational practices.
We have a literacy problem: about 30% of the US (and WI) population reads at a “basic” or “below basic” level. Literacy levels are particularly low among poor and minority individuals. The identification of this problem does not rest on any single test (e.g., NAEP, WKCE, OECD). Our literacy problem arises from many causes, some of which are not easy to address by legislative fiat. However, far more could be done in several important areas.
1. How teachers are taught. In Wisconsin as in much of the US, prospective teachers are not exposed to modern research on how children develop, learn, and think. Instead, they are immersed in the views of educational theorists such as Lev Vygotsky (d. 1934) and John Dewey (d. 1952). Talented, highly motivated prospective teachers are socialized into beliefs about children that are not informed by the past 50 years of basic research in cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience.
A vast amount is known about reading in particular, ranging from what your eyes do while reading to how people comprehend documents to what causes reading disabilities. However, there is a gulf between Education and Science, and so this research is largely ignored in teacher training and curriculum development.
2. How children are taught. There continue to be fruitless battles over how beginning readers should be taught, and how to insure that comprehension skills continue to develop through middle and high school. Teachers rely on outdated beliefs about how children learn, and how reading works. As a result, for many children, learning to read is harder than it should be. We lose many children because of how they are taught. This problem does NOT arise from “bad teachers”; there is a general, systematic problem related to teacher education and training in the US.
3. Identification of children at risk for reading failures. Some children are at risk for reading and school failure because of developmental conditions that interfere with learning to read. Such children can be identified at young ages (preschool, kindergarten) using relatively simple behavioral measures. They can also be helped by effective early interventions that target basic components of reading such as vocabulary and letter-sound knowledge. The 30% of the US population that cannot read adequately includes a large number of individuals whose reading/learning impairments were undiagnosed and untreated.
Recommendations: Improve teacher education. Mechanism: change the certification requirements for new teachers, as has been done in several other states. Certification exams must reflect the kinds of knowledge that teachers need, including relevant research findings from cognitive science and neuroscience. Instruction in these areas would then need to be provided by schools of education or via other channels. In-service training courses could be provided for current teachers (e.g., as on-line courses).
Children who are at risk for reading and schooling failures must be identified and supported at young ages. Although it is difficult to definitively confirm a reading/learning disability in children at young ages (e.g., 4-6) using behavioral, neuroimaging, or genetic measures, it is possible to identify children at risk, most of whom will develop reading difficulties unless intervention occurs, via screening that involves simple tests of pre-reading skills and spoken language plus other indicators. Few children just “grow out of” reading impairments; active intervention is required.

I am cautiously optimistic that we may see an improvement in Wisconsin’s K-12 curricular standards.
Related: Excellence in Education explains Florida’s reading reforms and compares Florida’s NAEP progress with Wisconsin’s at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting and www.wisconsin2.org.

Wisconsin Reading program plans questioned Concerns raised about DPI’s approach to developing a model curriculum

Amy Hetzner:

So far, this has been the summer of education task forces in Wisconsin.
There’s one addressing school accountability, another tackling how to help school districts implement new academic standards and a third devoted to improving third-grade reading proficiency. That doesn’t even count other groups already in existence that are looking at reforming statewide tests or increasing teacher effectiveness.
“There’s so many work groups and task forces operating right now, it’s hard to keep track of them,” said state Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake), chairman of the Assembly Education Committee and a member of some of those task forces.
Keeping all of the task forces on track may also prove difficult.
Earlier this month, a member of the group charged with helping school districts implement new reading standards sent an open letter to members of the governor’s Read to Lead Task Force expressing concerns about the approach that the state Department of Public Instruction was taking in developing a model reading curriculum. That letter was followed by another that recommended specific approaches that the task force should take. Dan Gustafson, a Madison-based pediatric neuropsychologist, said he wrote the letters because he was concerned that the DPI was moving ahead with a model reading curriculum without input from differing viewpoints on reading instruction.

The Secret Language Code

Gareth Cook:

Are there hidden messages in your emails? Yes, and in everything you write or say, according to James Pennebaker, chair of the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Pennebaker has been a leader in the computer analysis of texts for their psychological content. And in his new book, “The Secret Life of Pronouns,” he argues that how we use words like “I,” “she,” and “who” reveal secrets of our psychology. He spoke recently with Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.
COOK: How did you become interested in pronouns?
PENNEBAKER: A complete and total accident. Until recently, I never thought about parts of speech. However, about ten years ago I stumbled on some findings that caught my attention. In the 1980s, my students and I discovered that if people were asked to write about emotional upheavals, their physical health improved. Apparently, putting emotional experiences into language changed the ways people thought about their upheavals. In an attempt to better understand the power of writing, we developed a computerized text analysis program to determine how language use might predict later health improvements. In other words, I wanted to find if there was a healthy way to write.

Synthesis: Politics and the English Language in the 21st Century

Katherine Bell:

In 2009 three professors published a Harvard Business School working paper about a Germany-based technology multinational that had adopted English as its official language. The policy requiring English for all work-related communication among employees was intended to improve efficiency and collaboration, but Tsedal Neeley, Pamela J. Hinds, and Catherine Durnell Cramton found that it created anxiety and resentment instead. Some of the Germans at headquarters felt awkward communicating in English. They avoided speaking in meetings, left native English-speakers out of discussions, and sometimes “code-switched”–drifted back into speaking German–during a conversation or an e-mail thread to more efficiently make a point. Meanwhile, native English-speakers (along with Indian employees who’d achieved near-native fluency in English) interpreted their German colleagues’ avoidance of English as rude and exclusionary. This led to extra tension on teams and less-effective problem solving.

English Too Easy for Hungarians

Gergo Racz:

Hungary’s government wants to dethrone English as the most common foreign language taught in Hungarian schools. The reason: It’s just too easy to learn.
“It is fortunate if the first foreign language learned is not English. The initial, very quick and spectacular successes of English learning may evoke the false image in students that learning any foreign language is that simple,” reads a draft bill obtained by news website Origo.hu that would amend Hungary’s education laws.
Instead, the ministry department in charge of education would prefer if students “chose languages with a fixed, structured grammatical system, the learning of which presents a balanced workload, such as neo-Latin languages.”

Should My Kid Learn Mandarin Chinese?

Tom Scocca:

I started to truly appreciate the power of early childhood Chinese-language education when our son, at the age of two, started speaking English wrong. “The blue of cup,” he would say, meaning his blue cup.
This wasn’t a random preschool linguistic hiccup, we realized. He was trying to use Chinese syntax: “of” was standing in for the Mandarin particle “de” to turn the noun “blue” into an adjective. And his odd habit of indicating things by saying “this one” or “that one”-he was rendering the Chinese “zhege” and “neige” in English. That is, he was speaking Chinglish.
The usual arguments in favor of Mandarin education say that he should be on his way to conquering the world. An extra language, the theory goes, supplies extra brainpower, and Chinese in particular is a skill that will prepare young children to compete in the global 21st-century marketplace of talent.

Globally Challenged: Wisconsin Lags 12 States & Numerous Countries in Math Proficiency





Paul E Peterson, Ludger Woessmann, Eric A. Hanushek, Carlos X. Lastra-Anadon, via a Chan Stroman email:

Given recent school-related political conflicts in Wisconsin, it is of interest that only 42 percent of that state’s white students are proficient in math, a rate no better than the national average.
At a time of persistent unemployment, especially among the less skilled, many wonder whether our schools are adequately preparing students for the 21st-century global economy. This is the second study of student achievement in global perspective prepared under the auspices of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG).
In the 2010 PEPG report, “U.S. Math Performance in Global Perspective,” the focus was on the percentage of U.S. public and private school students performing at the advanced level in mathematics.1 The current study continues this work by reporting the percentage of public and private school students identified as at or above the proficient level (a considerably lower standard of performance than the advanced level) in mathematics and reading for the most recent cohort for which data are available, the high-school graduating Class of 2011.
Proficiency in Mathematics
U.S. students in the Class of 2011, with a 32 percent proficiency rate in mathematics, came in 32nd among the nations that participated in PISA. Although performance levels among the countries ranked 23rd to 31st are not significantly different from that of the United States, 22 countries do significantly outperform the United States in the share of students reaching the proficient level in math.
In six countries plus Shanghai and Hong Kong, a majority of students performed at the proficient level, while in the United States less than one-third did. For example, 58 percent of Korean students and 56 percent of Finnish students were proficient. Other countries in which a majority–or near majority–of students performed at or above the proficient level included Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands. Many other nations also had math proficiency rates well above that of the United States, including Germany (45 percent), Australia (44 percent), and France (39 percent).

Much more at www.wisconsin2.org.

We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading

Alan Jacobs:

While virtually anyone who wants to do so can train his or her brain to the habits of long-form reading, in any given culture, few people will want to. And that’s to be expected. Serious “deep attention” reading has always been and will always be a minority pursuit, a fact that has been obscured in the past half-century, especially in the United States, by the dramatic increase in the percentage of the population attending college, and by the idea (only about 150 years old) that modern literature in vernacular languages should be taught at the university level.
At the beginning of the 20th century, perhaps 2 percent of Americans attended a university; now the number is closer to 70 percent (though only about 30 percent get bachelor’s degrees). A particularly sharp acceleration occurred in the years after 1945, when the GI Bill enabled soldiers returning from World War II to attend college for free, thus leading universities across the country to throw up quonset huts for classrooms, and English professors to figure out how to teach 40 students at a time, rather than 11, how to read sonnets. (And those GI’s wanted their children to have the same educational opportunities they had, or better ones.) These changes have had enormous social consequences, but for our purposes here, the one that matters is this: From 1945 to 2000, or thereabouts, far more people than ever before in human history were expected to read, understand, appreciate, and even enjoy books.

What does it mean to be a proficient 8th grade reader in Georgia? Not much.

Maureen Downey:

The U.S. Department of Education released a new analysis of state standards this week that maps the standards against federal ones to assess rigor. We don’t look strong on the mapping, especially in eighth grade reading where we trail the nation.
The analysis using National Center for Educational Statistics data superimposes a state’s standard for proficient performance in reading and mathematics onto a common scale defined by scores on NAEP, a federal test administered to student samples in every state to produce a big picture view of American education. (This report offers a lot of data and great graphics.)
The most alarming mapping revealed that Georgia’s standard for proficiency in 8th grade reading is so low that it falls into the below basic category on NAEP scoring. (We don’t look in 8th grade math, either, but the feds warn that our change from QBE standards to Georgia Performance Standards undermines comparisons.)

Don’t Filter Information

Joshua Kim:

The context for this advice was some technical information about e-learning system downtime that we needed to communicate with our leadership. I was thinking of how to present this information to communicate the meaning I thought most essential, and therefore drive toward the conclusions and actions I thought we should take. Controlling the message and managing the information might be an understandable desire, but when it comes to technology (and perhaps everything else), a controlled message is sometimes the wrong approach.
Deciding not to filter information does not mean that we cease thinking about how to effectively communicate. We need to understand the recipient of the information, and have insight into the most effective manner to package our communication. We should also be aware of how the communication will be perceived, and be prepared to address concerns or questions.

Madison’s Dual language immersion program faces challenges

Matthew DeFour:

As the Madison School District’s dual language immersion program enters its eighth year, the increasingly popular option for native Spanish and English speakers is experiencing growing pains.
The district is expanding the program to all of its high school attendance areas, and is looking into possibly adding French and Chinese dual language programs, which would also pair native and non-native English speakers.
National research has shown dual language programs improve student learning better than programs that teach English to non-native speakers or two languages to non-English speakers.
But some School Board members have concerns about the expansion, especially after a recent report highlighted some of the program’s shortcomings.
“I’d rather fix the red flags and make sure we’ve got it right before we expand,” said School Board member Lucy Mathiak. “I don’t see how you expand a program and attend to the things that need to be dealt with at the same time.”

Excellence in Education explains Florida’s reading reforms and compares Florida’s NAEP progress with Wisconsin’s at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting



Excellence in Education’s PowerPoint presentation: 1MB PDF, via a kind Julie Gocey email.
Related links: Video: Governor’s “Read to Lead” Task Force Meeting.
Wisconsin Reading Coalition.
Much more on Wisconsin’s Read To Lead Task Force, here.
How does Wisconsin compare? Learn more at www.wisconsin2.org

More leave UK primary with good ‘three Rs’ grasp

Katherine Sellgren:

The number of children leaving primary school in England with a good grasp of reading, writing and maths has increased again, government data shows.
Some 67% of 11-year-olds gained the expected level, Level 4, in all of these subjects in national curriculum tests, known as Sats.
Last year 64% of primary pupils left school having reached this level.
But one in three youngsters still failed to achieve the level expected of them in all three subjects.
This means that nearly 183,000 pupils left school without a good grasp of reading, writing and maths this summer.

Chinese teachers are on a U.S. mission

Ricardo Lopez:

The large ballroom in UCLA’s Covel Commons resembled a bustling day-care center one recent day, as laughter rang out across the room.
A boisterous game of Twister was being played in one corner, charades were set up near the refreshments and the occasional shout of “Uno!” sounded from the front.
But the participants, speaking in rapid-fire Mandarin, were not children. They were dozens of Chinese teachers in Los Angeles for a nine-day crash course to prepare them for what they consider the opportunity of a lifetime: to teach Mandarin in American schools.
In a few weeks, 176 Chinese teachers will head to kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms across the country, from rural Kentucky towns to the tidy suburbs of Salt Lake City. Only two will remain in California, assigned to schools in Redding and Ojai.

July 29 Wisconsin Read to Lead task force meeting

Julie Gocey, via email:

The fourth meeting of the Governor’s Read to Lead task force took place in Milwaukee on Friday, July 29. The meeting was filmed by Wisconsin Eye, but we have not seen it offered yet through their website. We will send out a notice when that occurs. As always, we encourage you to watch and draw your own conclusions.
Following is a synopsis of the meeting, which centered on reading improvement success in Florida and previously-discussed task force topics (teacher preparation, licensing, professional development, screening/intervention, early childhood). In addition, Superintendent Evers gave an update on activity within DPI. The discussion of the impact of societal factors on reading achievement was held over to the next meeting, as was further revisiting of early childhood issues.

In addition to this summary, you can access Chan Stroman’s Eduphilia tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/eduphilia
Opening: Governor Walker welcomed everyone and stressed the importance of this conversation on reading. Using WKCE data, which has been criticized nationally and locally for years as being derived from low standards, the Governor stated that 80% of Wisconsin students are proficient or advanced in reading, and he is seeking to serve the other 20%. The NAEP data, which figured prominently in the presentation of the guest speakers, tell a very different story. Superintendent Evers thanked the task force members and indicated that this is all about “connecting the dots” and putting all of the “puzzle pieces” together. The work of this task force will impact the work going on in other education-focused committees.
The Florida Story: Guest speakers were Patricia Levesque, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, and Mary Laura Bragg, the director of Florida’s statewide reading initiative, Just Read, Florida! from 2001 to 2006.
In a series of slides, Levesque compared Wisconsin, Florida, and national performance on the NAEP reading test over the past decade. Despite challenges in terms of English language learners, a huge percentage of students on free/reduced lunch, and a minority-majority demographic, Florida has moved from the scraping the bottom on the NAEP to the top group of states. Over the same time period, Wisconsin has plummeted in national ranking, and our students now score below the national average in all subgroups for which NAEP data is disaggregated. 10 points on the NAEP scale is roughly equivalent to one grade level in performance, and Florida has moved from two grade levels below Wisconsin to 1/2 grade level above. For a full discussion of Wisconsin’s NAEP performance, see our website, http://www.wisconsinreadingcoalition.org.
Levesque and Bragg also described the components of the reading initiative in Florida, which included grading all schools from A to F, an objective test-based promotion policy from third to fourth grade, required state-approved reading plans in each district, trained reading coaches in schools, research assistance from the Florida Center for Reading Research, required individual student intervention plans for struggling students, universal K-2 screening for reading problems, improved licensure testing for teachers and principals, the creation of a reading endorsement for teaching licenses, and on-line professional development available to all teachers. As noted above, achievement has gone up dramatically, the gap between demographic groups has narrowed, early intervention is much more common, and third grade retention percentages continue to fall. The middle school performance is now rising as those children who received early intervention in elementary school reach that level. Those students have not yet reached high school, and there is still work to be done there. To accomplish all this, Florida leveraged federal funds for Title 1 and 2 and IDEA, requiring that they be spent for state-approved reading purposes. The Governor also worked actively with business to create private/public partnerships supporting reading. Just Read, Florida! was able to engineer a statewide conference for principals that was funded from vendor fees. While Florida is a strong local control state, reading is controlled from the state level, eliminating the need for local curriculum directors to research and design reading plans without the resources or manpower to do so. Florida also cut off funding to university professors who refused to go along with science-based reading instruction and assessment.
Florida is now sharing its story with other states, and offering assistance in reading plan development, as well as their screening program (FAIR assessment system) and their online professional development, which cost millions to develop. Levesque invited Wisconsin to join Indiana and other states at a conference in Florida this fall.
Questions for, or challenges to, the presenters came from three task force members.

  • Rachel Lander asked about the reading coaches, and Bragg responded that they were extensively trained by the state office, beginning with Reading First money. They are in the classroom modeling for teachers and also work with principals on understanding data and becoming building reading leaders. The coaches now have an association that has acquired a presence in the state.
  • Linda Pils stated her belief that Wisconsin outperforms Florida at the middle school level, and that we have higher graduation rates than Florida. She cited opinions that third grade retention has some immediate effect, but the results are the same or better for non-retained students later, and that most retained students will not graduate from high school. She also pointed out Florida’s class size reduction requirement, and suggested that the NAEP gains came from that. Levesque explained that the retention studies to which Pils was referring were from other states, where retention decisions were made subjectively by teachers, and there was no requirement for science-based individual intervention plans. The gains for retained students in Florida are greater than for matched students who are not retained, and the gains persist over time. Further, retention did not adversely affect graduation rates. In fact, graduation rates have increased, and dropout rates have declined. The University of Arkansas is planning to do a study of Florida retention. The class size reduction policy did not take effect in Florida until last year, and a Harvard study concluded that it had no effect on student reading achievement. Task force member Steve Dykstra pointed out that you cannot compare the NAEP scores from two states without considering the difference in student demographics. Wisconsin’s middle school scores benefit from the fact that we have a relative abundance of white students who are not on free/reduced lunch. Our overall average student score in middle school may be higher than Florida, but when we compare similar cohorts from both states, Florida is far ahead.
  • Tony Pedriana asked what kinds of incentives have been put in place for higher education, principals, etc. to move to a science-based system of instruction. The guests noted that when schools are graded, reading performance receives double weight in the formula. They also withheld funding for university programs that were not science-based.

DPI Update: Superintendent Evers indicated that DPI is looking at action in fours areas: teacher licensure, the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, the use of a screener to detect reading problems, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

  • The committee looking at licensing is trying to decide whether they should recommend an existing, off-the-shelf competency exam, or revise the exam they are currently requiring (Praxis 2). He did not indicate who is on the committee or what existing tests they were looking at. In the past, several members of the task force have recommended that Wisconsin use the Foundations of Reading test given in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
  • DPI is revising the WMELS to correct definitions and descriptions of phonological and phonemic awareness and phonics. The changes will align the WMELS with both the Report of the National Reading Panel and the Common Core State Standards. Per the suggestion of Eboni Howard, a guest speaker at the last meeting, they will get an outside opinion on the WMELS when they are finished. Evers did not indicate who is doing this work.
  • DPI is looking at the possibility of using PALS screening or some other tool recommended by the National RTI Center to screen students in grades K-2 or K-3. Evers previously mentioned that this committee had been meeting for 6-7 months, but he did not indicate who is on it.
  • Evers made reference to communication that was circulated this week (by Dr. Dan Gustafson and John Humphries) that expressed concern over the method in which DPI is implementing the Common Core. He stated that districts have been asking DPI for help in implementing the CC, and they want to provide districts with a number of resources. One of those is the model curriculum being developed by CESA 7. DPI is looking at it to see how it could help the state move forward, but no final decision has yet been made.

Task force member Pam Heyde, substituting for Marcia Henry, suggested that it would be better to look at what Florida is doing rather than start from ground zero looking at guidelines. Patricia Levesque confirmed that Florida was willing to assist other states, and invited Wisconsin to join a meeting of state reading commissioners in October.
Teacher Preparation: The discussion centered around what needs to change in teacher preparation programs, and how to fit this into a four-year degree.
Steve Dykstra said that Texas has looked at this issue extensively. Most schools need three courses to cover reading adequately, but it is also important to look at the texts that are used in the courses. He referenced a study by Joshi that showed most of the college texts to be inadequate.
Dawnene Hassett, UW-Madison literacy professor in charge of elementary teacher reading preparation, was invited to participate in this part of the discussion. She indicated we should talk in terms of content knowledge, not number of credits. In a couple of years, teachers will have to pass a Teacher Performance Assessment in order to graduate. This was described as a metacognitive exercise using student data. In 2012-13, UW-Madison will change its coursework, combining courses in some of the arts, and dropping some of the pedagogical, psychological offerings.
Tony Pedriana said he felt schools of education had fallen down on teaching content derived from empirical studies.
Hassett said schools teach all five “pillars” of reading, but they may not be doing it well enough. She said you cannot replicate classroom research, so you need research “plus.”
Pils was impressed with the assistance the FCRR gives to classroom teachers regarding interventions that work. She also said spending levels were important.
Dykstra asked Mary Laura Bragg if she had worked with professors who thought they were in alignment with the research, but really weren’t.
Bragg responded that “there’s research, and then there’s research.” They had to educate people on the difference between “research” from vendors and empirical research, which involves issues of fidelity and validation with different groups of students.
Levesque stated that Florida increased reading requirements for elementary candidates from 3 to 6 credits, and added a 3 credit requirement for secondary candidates. Colleges were required to fit this in by eliminating non-content area pedagogy courses.
Kathy Champeau repeated a concern from earlier meetings that teacher candidates need the opportunity to practice their new knowledge in a classroom setting, or they will forget it.
Hassett hoped the Teacher Performance Assessment would help this. The TPA would probably require certain things to be included in the teacher candidate’s portfolio.
Governor Walker said that the key to the effectiveness of Florida’s retention policy was the intervention provided to the students. He asked what they did to make sure intervention was successful.
Levesque replied that one key was reading coaches in the classroom. Also, district reading plans, individual intervention plans, student academies, etc. all need to be approved by the state.
There was consensus that there should be a difference in reading requirements for elementary vs. secondary teachers. There was no discussion of preparation for reading teachers, reading specialists, or special education teachers.
Licensing: The discussion centered around what teacher standards need to be tested.
Dykstra suggested that the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading, written by Louisa Moats, et al, and published by the International Dyslexia Association in 2010, would be good teacher standards, and the basis for a teacher competency exam. There was no need for DPI to spend the next year discussing and inventing new teacher standards.
Champeau said that the International Reading Association also has standards.
Pedriana asked if those standards are based on research.
Dykstra suggested that the task force look at the two sets of standards side-by-side and compare them.
Professional Development: The facilitators looked for input on how professional development for practicing teachers should be targeted. Should the state target struggling teachers, schools, or districts for professional development?
Rep. Jason Fields felt all three needed to be targeted.
Heyde asked Levesque for more details on how Wisconsin could do professional development, when we often hear there is no money.
Levesque provided more detail on the state making reading a priority, building public/private partnerships, and being more creative with federal grant money (e.g., the 20% of each grant that is normally carved out by the state for administration). There should be a clear reading plan (Florida started with just two people running their initiative, and after a decade only has eight people), and all the spending should align with the plan to be effective. You cannot keep sending money down the hole. Additional manpower was provided by the provision that all state employees would get one paid hour per week to volunteer on approved reading projects in schools, and also by community service requirements for high school students.
Bragg suggested using the online Florida training modules, and perhaps combining them with modules from Louisiana.
Dykstra also suggested taking advantage of existing training, including LETRS, which was made widely available in Massachusetts. He also stressed the importance of professional development for principals, coaches, and specialists.
Bragg pointed out that many online training modules are free, or provided for a nominal charge that does not come close to what it would cost Wisconsin to develop its own professional development.
Lander said there were many Wisconsin teachers who don’t need the training, and it should not be punitive.
Champeau suggested that Florida spends way more money on education that Wisconsin, based on information provided by the NAEP.
Levesque clarified that Florida actually is below the national average in cost per student. The only reason they spend more than Wisconsin is that they have more students.
Rep. Steve Kestell stated that teachers around the entire state have a need for professional development, and it is dangerous to give it only to the districts that are performing the worst.
Sarah Archibald (sitting in for Sen. Luther Olsen) said it would be good to look at the value added in districts across the state when trying to identify the greatest needs for professional development. The new statewide information system should provide us with some of this value added information, but not at a classroom teacher level.
Evers commented that the state could require new teacher Professional Development Plans to include or be focused on reading.
Pils commented that districts can have low and high performing schools, so it is not enough to look at district data.
Champeau said that administrators also need this professional development. They cannot evaluate teachers if they do not have the knowledge themselves.
Dykstra mentioned a Florida guidebook for principals with a checklist to help them. He is concerned about teachers who develop PDP’s with no guidance, and spend a lot of time and money on poor training and learning. There is a need for a clearinghouse for professional development programs.
Screening/Intervention: One of the main questions here was whether the screening should be universal using the same tools across the state.
Champeau repeated a belief that there are districts who are doing well with the screening they are doing, and they should not be required to change or add something new.
Dykstra responded that we need comparable data from every school to use value added analysis, so a universal tool makes sense. He also said there was going to be a lot of opposition to this, given the statements against screening that were issued when Rep. Keith Ripp introduced legislation on this topic in the last biennium. He felt the task force has not seen any screener in enough detail to recommend a particular one at this time.
Heyde said we need a screener that screens for the right things.
Pils agreed with Dykstra and Heyde. She mentioned that DIBELS is free and doesn’t take much time.
Michele Erickson asked if a task force recommendation would turn into a mandate. She asked if Florida used a universal screener.
Levesque replied that Florida initially used DIBELS statewide, and then the FCRR developed the FAIR assessments for them. The legislature in Florida mandated the policy of universal kindergarten screening that also traces students back to their pre-K programs to see which ones are doing a better job. Wisconsin could purchase the FAIR assessments from Florida.
Archilbald suggested phasing in screening if we could not afford to do it all at once.
Evers supports local control, but said there are reasons to have a universal screener for data systems, to inform college programs, and to implement professional development.
Lander asked what screening information we could get from the WKCE.
Evers responded that the WKCE doesn’t start unitl third grade.
Dykstra said we need a rubric about screening, and who needs what type and how often.
Pedriana said student mobility is another reason for a universal screener.
There was consensus that early screening is important. Certainly by 4K or 5K, but even at age three if a system could be established. Possibilities mentioned were district-run screenings or pediatrician screenings.
Walker reminded the task force that it only makes sense to screen if you have the ability to intervene with something.
Mara Brown wasn’t sure that a universal screener would tell her anything more about her students than she already knows.
Levesque said she could provide a screening roadmap rubric for the task force.
No one on the task force had suggestions for specific interventions. The feeling was that it is more important to have a well-trained teacher. Both Florida and Oregon started evaluating and rating interventions, but stopped because they got bogged down. Wisconsin must also be careful about evaluations by What Works Clearinghouse, which has some problems.
Pedriana asked if the task force is prepared to endorse a model of instruction based on science, where failure is not an option.
The facilitator said this discussion would have to wait for later.
Early Childhood: The task force agreed that YoungStar should include more specific literacy targets.
Rep. Kestell felt that some district are opening 4K programs primarily for added revenue, and that there is wide variability in quality. There is a need to spend more time on this and decide what 4K should look like.
Evers said we should use the Common Core and work backward to determine what needs to be done in 4K.
Wrap-Up: Further discussion of early childhood will be put over to the next meeting, as will the societal issues and accountability. A meeting site has not yet been set, but Governor Walker indicted he liked moving around the state. The Governor’s aides will follow up as to locations and specific agenda. The next meeting will be Thursday, August 25. All meetings are open to the public.

Related: An Open Letter to the Wisconsin Read To Lead Task Force on Implementing Common Core Academic Standards; DPI: “Leading Us Backwards” and how does Wisconsin Compare? www.wisconsin2.org.
Much more on Wisconsin’s Read to Lead Task Force, here.

An Open Letter to the Wisconsin Read To Lead Task Force on Implementing Common Core Academic Standards; DPI: “Leading Us Backwards”

Dan Gustafson, PhD 133K PDF, via a kind email from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition:

WRC recommends reading the following open letter from Madison neuropsychologist Dan Gustafson to the Governor’s Read to Lead task force. It reflects many of our concerns about the state of reading instruction in Wisconsin and the lack of an effective response from the Department of Public Instruction.
An Open Letter to the Read-To-Lead Task Force
From Dan Gustafson, PhD
State Superintendent Evers, you appointed me to the Common Core Leadership Group. You charged that the Leadership Group would guide Wisconsin’s implementation of new reading instruction standards developed by the National Governors’ Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
It is my understanding that I was asked to join the group with the express purpose of bringing different voices to the table. If anything, my experience with the group illustrates how very far we need to go in achieving a transparent and reasoned discussion about the reading crisis in Wisconsin.
DPI Secretly Endorses Plan Created by Poor Performing CESA-7
I have grave concerns about DPI’s recent announcement that Wisconsin will follow CESA-7’s approach to implementing the Common Core reading standards. DPI is proposing this will be the state’s new model reading curriculum.
I can attest that there was absolutely no consensus reached in the Common Core group in support of CESA-7’s approach. In point of fact, at the 27th of June Common Core meeting, CESA-7 representative Claire Wick refused to respond to even general questions about her program.
I pointed out that our group, the Common Core Leadership Group, had a right to know about how CESA-7 intended to implement the Common Core Standards. She denied this was the case, citing a “non-disclosure agreement.”
The moderator of the discussion, DPI’s Emilie Amundson, concurred that Claire didn’t need to discuss the program further on the grounds that it was only a CESA-7 program. Our Common Core meeting occurred on the 27th of June. Only two weeks later, on July 14th, DPI released the following statement:
State Superintendent Evers formally adopted the Common Core State Standards in June 2010, making Wisconsin the first state in the country to adopt these rigorous, internationally benchmarked set of expectations for what students should know and are expected to do in English Language Arts and Mathematics. These standards guide both curriculum and assessment development at the state level. Significant work is now underway to determine how training will be advanced for these new standards, and DPI is currently working with CESA 7 to develop a model curriculum aligned to the new standards.
In glaring contrast to the deliberative process that went into creating the Common Core goals, Wisconsin is rushing to implement the goals without being willing to even show their program to their own panel of experts.
What Do We Know About Wisconsin/CESA-7’s Model Curriculum?
As an outsider to DPI, I was only able to locate one piece of data regarding CESA-7’s elementary school reading performance:
4TH GRADE READING SCORES, 2007-08 WKCE-CRT,
CESA-7 IS AMONG THE WORST PERFORMING DISTRICTS.
CESA-7 RANKED 10TH OF THE 12 WISCONSIN CESA’S.
What Claire did say about her philosophy and the CESA-7 program, before she decided to refuse further comment, was that she did not think significant changes were needed in reading instruction in Wisconsin, as “only three-percent” of children were struggling to read in the state. This is a strikingly low number, one that reflects an arbitrary cutoff for special education. Her view does not reflect the painful experience of the 67% of Wisconsin 4th graders who scored below proficient on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
As people in attendance at the meeting can attest, Claire also said that her approach was “not curriculum neutral” and she was taking a “strong stand” on how to teach reading. Again, when I pressed her on what these statements meant, she would only reference oblique whole language jargon, such as a belief in the principal of release from instruction. When I later asked her about finding a balance that included more phonics instruction, she said “too much emphasis” had been given to balanced literacy. After making her brief statements to the Common Core group, she said she had already disclosed too much, and refused to provide more details about the CESA-7 program.
Disregarding Research and Enormous Gains Made by other States, Wisconsin Continues to Stridently Support Whole Language
During the remainder of the day-long meeting on the 27th, I pressed the group to decide about a mechanism to achieve an expert consensus grounded in research. I suggested ways we could move beyond the clear differences that existed among us regarding how to assess and teach reading.
The end product of the meeting, however, was just a list of aspirational goals. We were told this would likely be the last meeting of the group. There was no substantive discussion about implementation of the goals–even though this had been Superintendent Evers’ primary mandate for the group.
I can better understand now why Emilie kept steering the discussion back to aspirational goals. The backroom deal had already been made with Claire and other leaders of the Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA). It would have been inconvenient to tell me the truth.
WSRA continues to unapologetically champion a remarkably strident version of whole-language reading instruction. Please take a look at the advocacy section of their website. Their model of reading instruction has been abandoned through most the United States due to lack of research support. It is still alive and well in CESA-7, however.
Our State Motto is “Forward”
After years of failing to identify and recommend model curriculum by passing it off as an issue of local control, the DPI now purports to lead. Unfortunately, Superintendent Evers, you are now leading us backward.
Making CESA-7 your model curriculum is going to cause real harm. DPI is not only rashly and secretly endorsing what appears to be a radical version of whole language, but now school districts who have adopted research validated procedures, such as the Monroe School District, will feel themselves under pressure to fall in line with your recommended curriculum.
By all appearances, CESA-7’s program is absolutely out of keeping with new Federal laws addressing Response to Intervention and Wisconsin’s own Specific Learning Disability Rule. CESA-7’s program will not earn us Race to the Top funding. Most significantly, CESA-7’s approach is going to harm children.
In medicine we would call this malpractice. There is clear and compelling data supporting one set of interventions (Monroe), and another set of intervention that are counter-indicated (CESA-7). This is not a matter of opinion, or people taking sides. This is an empirical question. If you don’t have them already, I hope you will find trusted advisors who will rise above the WSRA obfuscation and just look at the data. It is my impression that you are moving fast and receiving poor advice.
I am mystified as to why, after years of making little headway on topics related to reading, DPI is now making major decisions at a breakneck pace. Is this an effort to circumvent the Read-To-Lead Task Force by instituting new policies before the group has finished its scheduled meetings? Superintendent Evers, why haven’t you shared anything about the CESA-7 curriculum with them? Have you already made your decision, or are you prepared to show the Read-To-Lead that there is a deliberative process underway to find a true model curriculum?
There are senior leaders at DPI who recognize that the reading-related input DPI has received has been substantially unbalanced. For example, there were about five senior WSRA members present at the Common Core meetings, meaning that I was substantially outnumbered. While ultimately unsuccessful due to logistics, an 11th hour effort was made to add researchers and leadership members from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition to the Common Core group.
The Leadership Group could achieve what you asked of it, which is to thoughtfully guide implementation of the Common Core. I am still willing to work with you on this goal.
State Superintendent Evers, I assume that you asked me to be a member of the Leadership Group in good faith, and will be disappointed to learn of what actually transpired with the group. You may have the false impression that CESA-7’s approach was vetted at your Common Core Leadership Group. Lastly, and most importantly, I trust you have every desire to see beyond destructive politics and find a way to protect the welfare of the children of Wisconsin.
Sincerely,
Dan Gustafson, PhD, EdM
Neuropsychologist, Dean Clinic

View a 133K PDF or Google Docs version.
Related:
How does Wisconsin Compare: 2 Big Goals.
Wisconsin Academic Standards

Wisconsin Teacher Content Knowledge Requirement Comparison

Chesterton on Dickens on education

Chan Stroman:

It is singular that Dickens, who was not only a radical and a social reformer, but one who would have been particularly concerned to maintain the principle of modern popular education, should nevertheless have seen so clearly this potential evil in the mere educationalism of our time — the fact that merely educating the democracy may easily mean setting to work to despoil it of all the democratic virtues. It is better to be Lizzie Hexam and not know how to read and write than to be Charlie Hexam and not know how to appreciate Lizzie Hexam. It is not only necessary that the democracy should be taught; it is also necessary that the democracy should be taught democracy. Otherwise it will certainly fall a victim to that snobbishness and system of worldly standards which is the most natural and easy of all the forms of human corruption. This is one of the many dangers which Dickens saw before it existed. Dickens was really a prophet; far more of a prophet than Carlyle.

Words to the wise: the art of reading to toddlers

Andrea Li:

Alice Wong considered herself an avid reader, but it didn’t occur to her that she might have to learn how to read to her two young children. She was even less aware that courses were available to teach this skill.
“I never used to understand the power of reading,” says Wong, who has a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.

‘Honors’ Should Mean a Challenge, Not an Upgrade to First Class

For example, most of our honors students place out of the first-year composition course, so it is entirely possible for them to graduate without having taken a course that involves heavy-duty writing. I would argue that the ability to write effectively is the most important skill a student should have. Is there some way to build this into an honors program before a student begins work on a senior thesis?


Kevin Knudson:

April really is the cruelest month. I discovered that firsthand this year, as the changes I have made during my two years as director of the University of Florida honors program began to take effect. Our application procedure, once a mere formality, now de-emphasizes standardized-test scores and has caused some students to be turned away. The resulting torrent of angry phone calls and e-mails made me dread going to work all month.
May put an end to that, but it gave rise to a new stream of questions, mostly about housing. One parent made multiple requests for a layout of the honors dorm so she could ensure that her son’s room location was optimal.
Has it really come to this? Are honors programs devolving into concierge services? I approach my role as director from the point of view I held as a student more than 20 years ago–that honors is a challenge to engage–but find myself confronted with parental and student expectations that honors is nothing more than a reward for a job well done in high school.
Which raises the question: Why do students want to be in our honors program? I hope they want to surround themselves with serious, like-minded peers to form a real intellectual community. But my darker suspicions about their motivation were confirmed when, during dinner with a few students, one said that the impression he’d received during his visits to the campus was that honors was like flying first class. You know: smaller classes, easier access to advising, better dorm. Further reflection led me to realize that students at universities like Florida have always been “honors students,” and that the label is important to them (and their parents). Why would they accept being just a “regular” student here? I suppose that attitude is a natural outcome of today’s K-12 achievement culture, but it is shocking nonetheless.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. Honors programs were created with good intentions, but it did not take long for them to be perceived as “better” than the regular university experience. Today’s parents and students pursue any avenue they think will give them an advantage, beginning in elementary school; hence the proliferation of honor societies, tutoring services, test-preparation courses, and leadership programs. Students are sorted and ranked by their test scores and other metrics from the time they enter school, so they expect that the process will follow them to college.
Critics of honors programs, most notably Murray Sperber in his book Beer and Circus, say this division between “regular” and “honors” students should not exist. Sperber recalls his undergraduate days at Purdue, in the 1960s, when all classes were of reasonable size, taught by regular tenure-track faculty. State flagship institutions, he argues, should stop exploiting large numbers of undergraduates (and taking their tuition dollars) to support ever-expanding research enterprises and instead return to a focus on education. He asserts that while students would like smaller classes and more individual attention, universities cynically ply them with permissive alcohol policies and large athletics programs to keep them quiet. Honors programs, he argues, are a “life raft” for a few lucky students to navigate those treacherous seas.
I agree with some of Sperber’s arguments, but I am enough of a realist to know that the ship has sailed. Business-minded legislatures are demanding more education while offering less money to pay for it. They expect flagships to produce cutting-edge research that will drive states’ economies. They are also loath to authorize tuition increases, thereby forcing universities to increase class sizes and find other ways to generate revenue. So a return to the glory days is unlikely.
But Sperber misses an important point: Many students view college simply as a means to an end and are not especially engaged in the educational process. This does not make them unintelligent or unworthy of attending a selective public university, but it does not obviate the need for an honors program to challenge students who are seeking more.
So what does the future hold for honors programs at large public research universities? I suspect that those institutions that have the resources to do so (usually via endowments designated to support honors) will very likely continue much as they always have–offering small sections of lower-division courses, recruiting faculty to teach interesting electives on offbeat topics, providing specialized advising, facilitating undergraduate research. In short, offering what they advertise: a liberal-arts-college environment within a large university.
Since honors students at selective public universities meet most of their general-education requirements through advanced placement, perhaps it is time to shift the focus of the honors curriculum to the sorts of skills that these students may still need to improve. For example, most of our honors students place out of the first-year composition course, so it is entirely possible for them to graduate without having taken a course that involves heavy-duty writing. I would argue that the ability to write effectively is the most important skill a student should have. Is there some way to build this into an honors program before a student begins work on a senior thesis?
I also worry that, by skipping general-education courses, students may miss out on acquiring a deeper understanding of material they learned in high school. One step I am taking to combat this at Florida involves a new course built around the concept of justice, to be offered to all first-year students in the honors program as of next spring. The goal is to give our students a common intellectual experience that will help hone their critical-thinking and writing skills. We also encourage our students to pursue double majors, to study abroad for a semester, or to get involved in research.
But those are technical matters. In my view, a philosophical change is needed. We should move away from the notion that honors is an upgrade to first class, one to which students are entitled merely because they scored well on some dubious standardized tests. When I speak to groups of prospective students, I emphasize this point, explaining that honors is a challenge, not a reward, and that moving from high-school honors to university honors is shifting from a culture of achievement to a culture of engagement.
That should be an honors program’s true function–engaging students who want to push the boundaries and helping them find ways to do it, rather than providing further empty rewards for students who jump through hoops with style.

Does Language Shape What We Think?

Joshua Hartshorne:

My seventh-grade English teacher exhorted us to study vocabulary with the following: “We think in words. The more words you know, the more thoughts you can have.” This compound notion that language allows you to have ideas otherwise un-haveable, and that by extension people who own different words live in different conceptual worlds — called “Whorfianism” after its academic evangelist, Benjamin Lee Whorf — is so pervasive in modern thought as to be unremarkable.
Eskimos, as is commonly reported, have myriads of words for snow, affecting how they perceive frozen percipitation. A popular book on English notes that, unlike English, “French and German can distinguish between knowledge that results from recognition … and knowledge that results from understanding.” Politicians try to win the rhetorical battle (“pro-life” vs. “anti-abortion”; “estate tax” vs. “death tax”) in order to gain the political advantage.

Regents set English standard for Rhode Island teachers

Associated Press:

A state school board has set a minimum score on a language-competency test for teachers who have not mastered English.
The Providence Journal reports that the state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education voted on Thursday to set a minimum score. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist described the score as the “bare minimum” of fluency.