How to support your education system
Professor Charles Ungerleider wrote his book, Failing Our Kids – How we are Ruining Our Public Schools (McClelland & Stewart, 2004), after he completed a term as Deputy Minister of Education for British Columbia. For 40 years he had observed the Canadian education system from a variety of vantage points: as teacher, professor, trustee, parent, and deputy minister. During this period, he watched the largely successful Canadian educational system become so overburdened with increasing demands; he believed the system would ultimately collapse unless expectations were properly reconsidered.
Charles Ungerleider is Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of British Columbia. He is also Director of Research and Managing Director of Directions, Evidence and Policy Research Group. This week in The Global Search for Education, he discusses our big picture questions and shares his views on how to nurture and support a successful education system. (Editor’s note: Canada currently ranks in the top 10 countries in all the PISA test subjects, well ahead of the U. S.)
What kind of educational system will permit a country to have the people skills needed to compete globally?
There is an inherent tension in education between its traditional mission of social development and nation building, and the post war development of human capital and international economic competition. The extreme post war emphasis on economic development is a burden on public schools because the ability to compete economically with other nations is not entirely, or even mostly, dependent upon the education system.
I bristle a little bit when people talk about global competitiveness, because I worry we’re focused on global economic competitiveness and sacrificing social and cultural development. Every society wrestles with the question of what kind of an educational system it will create to realize its vision of itself as a nation. I worry about an education system that cultivates its human capital to produce economically and ignores the social and cultural development of its people.
What are your views on standardized testing?
I am not an opponent of standardized testing, but I am an opponent of high stakes standardized testing. I am opposed to punishing schools and teachers on the basis of standardized testing results and depriving them of the resources they need to improve learning. Anyone who thinks about assessment will recognize that a child’s performance on any given assessment is the cumulative expression of all their prior learning, not just what happened that year or in that school. Moreover, 70% of the variation in student achievement is accounted for by factors outside of the control of schools. Only about 30% of the variance in student achievement is attributable to school related factors, and only about half of those are ones that we can explain.
Recognizing the 70/30 ratio has two important implications for those who wish to improve student achievement. First, assessment is the starting point, not the end point. What you have to be able to do is identify school factors amenable to policy influence that are capable of affecting change in student achievement. Second, you will maximize the benefits of the school’s efforts if they are complemented by policies to support families and communities, such as living wages, equal pay for work of equal value, generous maternity and parenting leaves, affordable day and after school care, and the like.
What is the biggest school factor that affects change in student achievement?
The most important thing is the teachers in the classroom. You are not going to do anything of any serious consequence to improve student achievement or accomplish any serious educational purpose without ensuring that you have well-educated, well-prepared professionals in the classroom. It is not the material or the way schools are organized, but the teacher who makes most of the difference in the school’s contribution to student achievement. Excellent teaching means recruiting people who have the requisite knowledge and dispositions to the tasks, and paying them well.
What are the main steps that must be taken to improve the caliber of teachers in the public education system?
The initial professional preparation that teachers receive, and the continuing professional education that occurs over the course of their careers, influence their performance. Despite improvement over time, the preparation that teachers receive is more guided by ideology than evidence, and is not commensurate with the challenges that teachers face. Teacher certification authorities could help by strengthening the standards by which applicants for initial certification are evaluated and by applying standards that ensure currency of professional knowledge and practice.
What can be done to better address the emotional well-being of kids today given the rise in competition and the pressure to achieve?
This is the first generation in the history of mental health statistics where the mental health of the kids is not superior to that of their seniors. It is much harder to grow up today. We had a more nurturing and respectful notion of child rearing in the past.
As a society, we are not as concerned about the young as we once were. The attention of the community has moved away from being nurturing and raising the young to how am I doing. Am I going to be all right? And, how does my child’s achievement reflect on me?
We need to equip kids with the dispositions and the knowledge that they need in order to thrive in a changing world. We also need to think about the dispositions that people need to live in community with others, to contribute socially and culturally to their communities. For this, a caring and nurturing environment is important.
Aside from addressing the family and economic issues of students in poverty, what are the main steps you would take to improve the academic capabilities of these students?
Students living in impoverished circumstances often exhibit inadequate school readiness. There are a number of policies that will help to address the problems.
- Equip kindergarten classrooms with toys and materials appropriate to learning numbers, colors, and shapes.
- Provide opportunities for students to develop fine motor skills.
- Encourage oral expression. Ensure that teachers answer students’ questions, listen to their speech, respond to their requests, and help them demonstrate some achievement. Provide an environment in which children are emotionally supported and teachers use complex vocabulary and sentences in their communication with them.
- Ensure that teachers take children out of school to explore the community and to visit neighborhood institutions.
- Ensure that teachers display the products of student school work in visible places within the school and in the community.
- Administer diagnostic assessments of (1) phonemic awareness, (2) vocabulary, (3) letter naming, and (4) single word reading; provide interventions to address identified deficits, and ensure that teachers concentrate on deficiencies in these areas, monitoring student progress until students consistently meet or exceed grade level expectations.
- We should be concerned about an educational system that cultivates its human capital to produce economically and ignores the social and cultural development of its people.
- 70% of the variation in student achievement is attributable to factors outside of the control of schools. Successful education depends upon complementary social policies.
- The most important factor that affects student achievement is the teachers in the classroom.
- Professional preparation and ongoing education of teachers are essential factors in teacher performance.
Better data urged to link K-12 and Postsecondary
If high schools are going to better prepare students for college and careers, experts say they need to track graduates enrolling in higher education, whether they take remedial courses to get up to speed, and whether they earn a degree.
At a meeting in Washington Wednesday, politicians from both sides of the aisle, along with educators and nonprofit leaders, discussed the importance of using data to support the college- and career-ready agenda.
The event was sponsored by the Data Quality Campaign, a Washington-based national venture started in 2005 to encourage the use of high-quality data to improve student achievement, and College Summit, a nonprofit organization that provides college-readiness programs in high schools.
“Our educators and students will not make sufficient college-ready gains unless they have information on how their students are actually doing in college,” said J.B. Schramm, the founder and chief executive officer of the Washington-based College Summit, who, along with co-author E. Kinney Zalesne, today released a paper, “Seizing the Measurement Moment.”
While some communities around the country are creating postsecondary feedback systems, Mr. Schramm said efforts are inefficient and states need to take the lead.
“Only states have the incentive, the means, the impartiality, and the stamina to get this information in the hands of educators,” he said. Some states, with significant federal support, have made progress in building these data systems in the past six years, but more needs to be done, he said.
Mr. Schramm suggested four steps to move forward: Improve the ability to measure students’ postsecondary success; make those data available statewide; provide technical assistance to translate data into action; and reward districts whose students’ college enrollment and performance improves.
Once the information is gathered on student success after high school, Mr. Schramm said, it needs to be available in a user-friendly format for parents, the business community, and policymakers to make sound education decisions about the rigor of curriculum and teaching.
Demand is growing for linking performance between education systems, the speakers suggested. A 2010 survey of high school educators by Deloitte, a finance-consulting company, found that 92 percent felt having data on students’ academic performance in college was critical for evaluating the effectiveness of high school curricula and instruction. Yet only 13 percent of educators say they get postsecondary data for all their school’s graduates.
Knowing how students fare in college can help K-12 identify weaknesses in curriculum, such as the need for more math requirements or more rigorous writing instruction. That information can also relieve colleges from having to invest as much in developmental education and, ultimately, fortify the workforce, the College Summit report suggests.
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., applauded efforts to improve tracking of student and teacher performance through better use of data. Rather than having top-down federal policies, schools want the freedom to make decisions based on their local needs, even though good education must be standards-enforced, he said.
“If there is no stick for the federal government to use—and I don’t think there should be—then how do you make sure the job is getting done? The answer is data,” Mr. Hunter said. “There has to be sunshine and there has to be the ability to compare apples to apples from every stakeholder at the local level going to the highest level. “
The information on school performance has to be easy to see and translated by the “stay-at-home mom or the Ph.D mom,” said Rep. Hunter, adding that the idea is doable but will likely take a long time before it becomes a reality.
Lyndsay Pinkus, the director of national and federal policy initiatives for the Data Quality Campaign, said that momentum around this issue is accelerating. In 2005, 12 states were reporting the capacity to link K-12 and higher education systems, and by 2010, the number had leaped to 44.
In New York City, this year for the first time, report cards will provide data points for students on three measures: college readiness, college acceptance, and college retention, noted Bennett Lieberman, a panelist at the event and the principal of Central Park East High School. Eventually, schools will be able to compare their performance with others. Having that information will help schools make smarter decisions about where they are steering students and which schools have better supports, Mr. Lieberman said.
Charles McGrew, the executive director of the Kentucky P-20 Data Collaborative, said his state creates postsecondary information reports in formats for K-12 educators and administrators and postsecondary educators. “We put information in the hands of people who actually can make a change,” he said. “There is a hunger for it.”
The data need to be objective, and educators need to collaborate on how to make the entire education system better for kids rather than blame one another, Mr. McGrew said. “The minute it starts to be a finger-pointing enterprise is the minute things stop to work.”
U.S. Sen. Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo., a former school superintendent in Denver, said there is a big systems problem in the delivery model of K-12 education. “You can’t do this systems work unless you have data and unless you are rigorous about it and unless you actually measure what you are trying to do.”
Source: Education Week
‘Fed Up with Lunch’ exposes worst school meals
In January of 2010, an elementary school teacher decided to eat school lunch every day for a year and write about it anonymously as Mrs. Q. on her blog, Fed Up With Lunch.
She secretly photographed the meals, ate them and then described the taste and texture of heavily processed chicken nuggets, an unusual peanut butter and jelly sandwich that made her sick, mystery meats and reheated vegetables. She developed a following of thousands of people.
This week she is revealing her identity for the first time — Sarah Wu, 34, a speech pathologist in the Chicago public schools — and releasing her new book, Fed Up With Lunch (Chronicle Books). "With the blog, I really wanted a public record of these meals that I couldn't believe were being served to kids," she says. "I thought the book would reach a wider audience."
It all started one day when Wu didn't have time to pack her own lunch and bought a school lunch instead. It was a hot dog encased in soggy dough, six tater tots, a Jell-O cup and chocolate milk, she says. "I thought to myself, 'I cannot believe this is the food the kids are eating.'"
She was working in a large elementary school where more than 90% of the kids qualified for free and reduced lunches. "Many of my students were coming from poverty," says Wu, who has a 3-year-old son. "Their families were living paycheck to paycheck. Many of my students relied on school lunch for their best meal of the day."
In all, she ate 162 school lunches in a year.
She's not the first to complain
Wu is drawing attention to one of the hottest topics in child nutrition: the quality of school lunches. Many consumer advocates, parents and others have been fighting for years for healthier school meals in part because of the current childhood obesity epidemic: A third of children in the USA are overweight or obese.
Almost 32 million kids eat the school lunch every day. Some schools prepare their meals on the premises, some in central kitchens. Other districts use food service companies.
The federal government is developing new nutrition standards for foods served in schools, but in the meantime, how healthy are school meals?
"Out of 100,000 schools in the U.S., there are thousands of schools that are working hard to improve the nutrition quality of school meals, but the majority aren't there yet," says Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
"The overwhelming majority of schools are struggling to serve healthier meals with enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains and moderate in sodium, saturated (animal) fat and sugar — meals that kids will like and enjoy."
Things are slowly improving
Dayle Hayes, a registered dietitian in Billings, Mont., who consults about school lunches around the country, says there have been some "revolutionary changes" in meals the past few years. Some schools are serving pizza made with whole-grain crust and low-fat cheese, baking whole-grain rolls and using local produce or foods from school gardens, she says.
Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, agrees. "We have seen a tremendous change in the cafeterias in what they are offering and what they are promoting." Wu's story is "one snapshot in one school across the country." Parents need to find out what's happening in their own children's schools, Pratt-Heavner says.
The Chicago Public Schools said in a prepared statement that it is "committed to the health and wellness of our students" and has "increased its choices of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, and eliminated deep fat frying."
Wu says the meals at Haugan Elementary School in Chicago — where she ate the lunches but no longer works — were brought in by a food service management company, not cooked by the cafeteria staff.
"This is not about the lunch ladies who are doing the best job they can. This is about a nationwide nutrition crisis," she says. "These are American kids. They need the best food we can give them."
Source: USA TODAY
Equal Protection for Shostakovich? Justices Question Lawyers in Copyright Case
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. invoked Jimi Hendrix. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg trumpeted Dmitry Shostakovich. And Justice Stephen G. Breyer plucked out Jewish music from the 1930s.
Those musicians and other long-gone creators made cameo appearances in the marble-and-velvet arena of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, as the justices heard oral arguments in a high-stakes copyright case whose outcome will affect much of academe, dictating what materials scholars can use in books and courses without jumping through legal hoops.
At issue in the case, Golan v. Holder, No. 10-545, is whether Congress can remove works from the public domain and place them back under copyright protection. It did so in 1994 to align American policy with an international copyright treaty, restricting access to books by H.G. Wells, films by Alfred Hitchcock, and artwork by Pablo Picasso, to name just a few famous examples.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Anthony Falzone, argued on Wednesday that lawmakers violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment and Copyright Clause by yanking away millions of works that had been public property for years. For the lead plaintiff, Lawrence Golan, a University of Denver music professor, that step limited his orchestra's ability to perform canonical pieces by composers like Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev. The law he wants to overturn has also hobbled libraries' efforts to digitize and share books, films, and music.
But Mr. Falzone barely managed to get out five sentences of his argument before Justice Ginsburg tore into it. In 2003, she wrote the opinion in a key predecessor to this case, Eldred v. Ashcroft, in which the court rejected an online book publisher's challenge to another law that had extended copyrights by 20 years. On Wednesday, she seemed equally impatient with Mr. Falzone's challenge to the copyright restoration, which affected foreign works that had fallen into the public domain in the United States while still under copyright abroad.
Justice Ginsburg compared Shostakovich and Stravinsky to the American composer Aaron Copland, who got copyright protection: "What's wrong with giving them the same time that Aaron Copland got?"
What's wrong, among other things, Mr. Falzone said, is that the restoration was "unprecedented in American copyright law," and that it devalued the public domain because it means Congress might yank stuff out of it any time.
But Justice Sonia Sotomayor quibbled with Mr. Falzone's assertion that, as she summarized it, "there has never been a historical experience with Congress taking public works out of the public domain." The government, represented by Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the solicitor general, seized on that disagreement. When Congress enacted the Copyright Act of 1790, Mr. Verrilli argued, it did grant copyright protection to existing works, "including many, many, many works that were freely available."
Another of the plaintiffs' claims—that restoration violated the speech rights of people who used public-domain works—seemed to win sympathy from Chief Justice Roberts, who cited that argument in questioning Mr. Verrilli.
"There is something, at least at an intuitive level, appealing about Mr. Falzone's First Amendment argument," the chief justice said. "One day I can perform Shostakovich; Congress does something: The next day I can't. Doesn't that present a serious First Amendment problem?"
Later, prodding Mr. Verrilli further, he drew on classic rock to sketch out a hypothetical argument.
"What about Jimi Hendrix, right?" he said. "He has a distinctive rendition of the national anthem." Say the anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it lacked before. "He can't do that, right?"
Mr. Verrilli defended the restoration as "the price of admission" to the international copyright system. Otherwise, he said, the intellectual property of American creators would lack protection in foreign countries.
But several justices questioned how the restoration squares with the Copyright Clause of the Constitution, which refers to promoting "the progress of science and useful arts."
"In Eldred, there was a law that might, at least in principle, have elicited a new book," Justice Breyer said. "And in this case, by definition, there is no benefit given to anything at all that is not already created."
Outside the courthouse, one of Mr. Golan's supporters, Charles R. Nesson, saw a "breakthrough" in how the justices framed their questions in Wednesday's arguments.
"They were seeing it from the public point of view and actually valuing the public domain, as opposed to so many times in the past, just seeing it from the copyright point of view," said Mr. Nesson, a professor at Harvard Law School and founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "I didn't come here optimistic. But I leave this argument optimistic."
Another expert, however, predicted that the justices would uphold the copyright restoration.
"The court will find that the restoration provisions are a rational and reasonable exercise of Congressional power," Marshall Leaffer, distinguished scholar in intellectual property law at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law, said in a written statement.
There is no set time period in which the justices have to hand down a decision in the case, said Scott Markley, a court spokesman. But cases argued in a term are typically decided prior to summer recess, which begins at the end of June.
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education
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