This will be my final blog of 2011. So, with the two week holiday season upon us, I want to share some of the recent “interesting to read” items that have expanded my awareness on issues facing American education today. I think you’ll find one, or more, of them worth your reading time and, so, I have included the link to each of the articles. Each of them has the ability to stimulate one’s thought processes — whether one agrees or disagrees with the premise.

On the subject of Standardized Tests, Marion Brady’s article in

    The Washington Post

subsequently ignited many animated discussions:

“. . . A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America did something that few public servants are willing to do. He took versions of his state’s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he’d make his scores public. . . . ‘I won’t beat around the bush,’ he wrote in an email. ‘The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%. In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.’ . . . He continued, ‘It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. . . .”

You can read the entire article here.

    The New York Times

article, “Online Learning, Personalized” by Somini Sengupta gives us a peek into what may become one of the “classrooms of the future”:

“Jesse Roe, a ninth-grade math teacher at a charter school here (San Jose) called Summit, has a peephole into the brains of each of his 38 students. He can see that a girl sitting against the wall is zipping through geometry exercises; that a boy with long curls over his eyes is stuck on a lesson on long equations; and that another boy in the front row is getting a handle on probability. Each student’s math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he wanders the room. He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures. For an hour, this crowded, dimly lighted classroom in the hardscrabble shadow of Silicon Valley hums with the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards, pencils scratching on paper and an occasional whoop when a student scores a streak of right answers. . . .”

The rest of the article can be read here.

    The Washington Post

article, “Montgomery County School Chief Starts Special Book Club” by Michael Alison Chandler posits a most interesting idea:

“. . . The featured guest — author Carol Dweck — “attended” via Skype from her study in California. A cardboard display of her book, “Mindset,” was propped up on a side table. Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University. Her book looks at developing a “growth mindset,” or a belief that your intelligence or abilities can be developed through hard work. Research shows that people who believe this, as opposed to the notion that talents and abilities are fixed traits, are more likely to be successful.

Dweck said teaching a “growth mindset” often comes down to how we give praise. Praising students’ intelligence backfires. It makes them afraid of taking on challenges, and it makes them crumble in the face of failure. What we have to do instead is focus on the process that students engage in,’ Dweck said. ‘Does the teacher make it clear that the fastest answer isn’t always the best answer?’ she asked. ‘That a mistake-free paper isn’t always the best paper? Does the teacher praise people for taking on challenges?’ . . .”

You can read more here.

In an “the other side of the argument” piece in

    The New York Times,

“Why School Choice Fails” by Natalie Hopkinson:

“IF you want to see the direction that education reform is taking the country, pay a visit to my leafy, majority-black neighborhood in Washington. While we have lived in the same house since our 11-year-old son was born, he’s been assigned to three different elementary schools as one after the other has been shuttered. Now it’s time for middle school, and there’s been no neighborhood option available.
Meanwhile, across Rock Creek Park in a wealthy, majority-white community, there is a sparkling new neighborhood middle school, with rugby, fencing, an international baccalaureate curriculum and all the other amenities that make people pay top dollar to live there.
Such inequities are the perverse result of a “reform” process intended to bring choice and accountability to the school system. Instead, it has destroyed community-based education for working-class families, even as it has funneled resources toward a few better-off, exclusive, institutions. . . . “

The entire article can be accessed here.

The final article comes from

    The New York Times,

“Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?” by Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske:

“NO one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.
‘No Child Left Behind,’ President George W. Bush’s signature education law, did this by setting unrealistically high — and ultimately self-defeating — expectations for all schools. President Obama’s policies have concentrated on trying to make schools more “efficient” through means like judging teachers by their students’ test scores or encouraging competition by promoting the creation of charter schools. The proverbial story of the drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost comes to mind. . . .
Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates. . . . “

You can read the column for yourself here.

That’s it! Hope you find the time to read at least one. If you do, I think you’ll find some worthwhile mental stimulation. Have a happy holiday and a wonderful New Year! More on the first Tuesday of 2012 – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning
www.itclearning.com/blog/ (Tuesdays & Thursdays)
e-Mail: bwalton@itclearning.com