Archive for February, 2012

Why Homeschool?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Homeschooling has come to the forefront in 2012 because of GOP candidates’ resolve to wipe out the United States Department of Education as a way to reduce federal spending. One candidate assures everyone that homeschooling is the way to go.

Homeschooling? The idea of teaching all children started in Germany in the 17th century. Until then most people were not educated unless a tutor was hired for the home as many aristocrats did.

Of course, when the Puritans, who did not consider themselves aristocrats, landed in what became Massachusetts, they believed in the education of children and set up schools, mainly in homes, in which teachers taught the ABCs as well as the religious doctrines of the community. The schools, however, were open to all and indeed all children were expected to attend. The beginning of public schools. However, public schools in the United States were not compulsory until the 1850’s, and children, if taught at all, were taught at home. Native Americans on reservations still resist compulsory education as their traditional form has always been in the home.

Nowadays, American citizens who homeschool often dislike public and private schools that are thought to teach too rigid a curriculum in the 21st century, neither religious nor moral.

Research by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 1999 gives the reasons families surveyed choose homeschooling. Most important are concerns about the traditional school environment; provision for religious and/or moral instruction; dissatisfaction with the academic instruction provided; and parenting styles. For instance, some families may live in isolated or rural areas; some athletes and actors have such harried schedules that homeschooling provides an option. Two experiences by this blogger provide examples of homeschool variety of thought. One very intelligent girl was home schooled and then attended the University of California. One home school mother took on a summer German group of high school students who objected to any speeches by ministers she had arranged. She was nonplussed.

In general, although much is being researched and discussed about current public and private education, homeschool curriculum ranges over widespread and worthy studies and is subject to statewide regulations. Most well-known are Unit Studies. Also are All-in-One Curricula which are similar to those used in traditional schools. Interest in homeschools can be found in reduced learning and natural learning similar to Montessori and Waldorf Schools. In addition by the late 20th century, homeschool teachers used on-line curricula and community resources. One can find these groups all over the internet.

How did homeschool information become known in the 20th century? John Holt, who wrote to criticize poor education strategies that intimidated children, who taught in Boston schools during the busing turmoil of the 1960’s, became an advocate for homeschooling by the 1980’s in his search for ways to improve education for all children. Have you ever heard of Rousas Rushdoony, a Calvinist minister? He was the strongest advocate for Christian homeschooling about that same time. He had worked with students he considered poorly served by traditional schools. By the end of his life, he had many conservative Christian ideas, but is well-loved by some. In addition, unless you have long been part of the education world, have you heard about Raymond and Dorothy Moore? They were writing about the disadvantages of Early Childhood Education just about the time improvement in early childhood education was gaining prominence in education circles. They thought homeschooling for small children was beneficial.

Although a brief history of one alternative attempt to educate children, for those parents homeschooling has reached a group of near 2 million enthusiasts in the U.S.

Turn Around Teacher Evaluation

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Who pays attention to the latest in the education world? Those organizations that think they can help make a difference in academic achievement. That’s who.

See the article in Sunday’s Denver Post (February 19, 2012) which was not thrilled with the outcomes after Colorado received one of the U.S. Department of Education grants to turn around schools that have not performed well on state tests. According to the article, groups have rushed to outbid each other to implement the perfect plan for the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Other states that have received turn-around grants have the same issue. Does anyone in the state know what is needed at a school?  Are the groups offering services really needed?

What do such plans have to do with teacher evaluation? What does every group attack first? The poor quality teachers. Every school district knows it has hired someone who thinks they can, but who probably should not be, teaching. And now…

When looking up “teacher evaluation” just on Google, one finds a full page out of many telling about systems for “teacher evaluation.” But any teacher can tell you the state doesn’t need to think up a new solution. Does the plan have these qualities?

1)      Spend money on data analysis. Several times a year. In all languages being taught–so student success can be compared. How are students improving? Does the school and district look at improvement data to make further decisions about students and teachers?

2)      Align tests to standards in the state so that quality analysis is prepared and can be compared.

3)      Spend money for tutors and teach them how to help students. Don’t think money is saved by not rehiring when the budget is low. Even Los Altos-Mountain View High Schools have tutors-and those schools have high summative scores.

4)      Use the many tools that keep computerized records of a teacher’s work. Much easier to use and more informative than voluminous paper work. Have more than one person in charge.

5)      Celebrate successes for a school and district rather than concentrate on the failures.

6)      If you know it works, stick to the plan. It takes many years to see change.

One doesn’t want to read about the school in Oakland, California, where the parents want to reorganize the elementary school. Everyone wants students to succeed.


Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The education world has heard the word “achievement” many times, usually commenting on the current data or survey and explaining the wonder about the “student achievement gap.”

Monday on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, there was conversation with Education Trust’s Amy Wilkins and American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess about more questions showing an achievement gap. The discussion did not organize itself around student academic achievement data. Thank goodness since such statements always set off a flurry of comment about testing. Data involving current test scores can be argued for years.

Instead the study looked at income data. Generally speaking (there are always exceptions), students in low-income areas do worse on tests than children raised in high-income areas. Mr. Hess was talking about GIFTed children in low-income areas needing support while Ms. Wilkins looked at all children.

Now, what does such data tell the lay folk? It seems that it has been said for a long time that policies need to be started that help neighborhoods, regions, and states. Unfortunately, that policy alone is not supported by Congress as a whole. Those members don’t have the political will.

As the program went on, speakers applauded teachers who are doing well and reminded the listener that those teachers do well no matter where they are, but in the long term such teachers would do more for low-income children as long as the policy of Congress or the state addressed the same problem. Isn’t happening.

The United States Department of Education is meeting with teachers today, Wednesday, February 15, 2012. It starts by offering $5 billion in grants to revisit teacher policies and is backed by the National Education Association. Who would of thunk it?

What will be said? Reform evaluation for schools and teachers; improve tests-standardized or criterion-referenced; buy technology like in Mooresville, North Carolina schools; promote parents to help with homework; provide places to do homework; decrease dropouts from high schools and promote graduation; raise taxes- suburban areas are affected when students don’t improve; stop doing what doesn’t help-use money granted in useful ways. Re-establish funds for college (Ghana and many other countries pay for students to finish). Quit arguing. See our website for ideas how to succeed without arguing.

All of the above solve part of the problem and have been written about over and over. The low-income versus high-income gap is real. Congress will have to grab political will.

Or ways to make end runs will have to be found. Mr. Hess spent a good amount of time stressing high-achievers who must be allowed to think of the change. Let’s watch and see.

Three CA Money Initiatives

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Three initiatives for the November ballot are now being argued in California. Guess what the argument is about? Of course, money. For schools. Has your state done such a thing?

Now that almost everyone is nodding their heads in agreement that California does need to raise taxes, the rate of tax increase is the bugaboo.

There is more complication and more intransigence toward each initiative as the days go by. Each has a title: the governor’s  no-name initiative; “Our Children, Our Future” which is supported so far by the rich Molly Munger; and “The Millionaire’s Tax of 2012″ organized by the California Federation of Teachers, the Courage Campaign, and the California Nurses Association to name the most important.

If you voted for the governor’s initiative you would allow a ½ cent sales tax increase for four years and an income tax increase that would last five years supposing you make more than $250,000. The increase would be used to balance the current budget so there is money to fund K-12 education, low-level offender housing, and the counties. The governor’s initiative committee has raised $1.7 million by January 2012 from the American Beverage Association, the California Hospital Association, Occidental Petroleum, and big contributors from all areas in the state.

Look at the “Our Children, Our Future” Initiative which has received a lot of attention in the news. This initiative is now supported by Molly Munger, affluent civil rights attorney with support from her wealthy family. Looking at the website, the initiative has been well-thought-out to expect about $10 billion. The tax collected will be placed in a trust fund and one will pay taxes on a sliding scale, according to income. The details are spelled out. In the first four years 30% of the money collected would pay the state debt to reduce the cost of servicing bonds which afflict the state’s budget. Sixty percent would go to local schools, whether public or charter, to improve instruction. Ten percent is set aside to raise standards and support Early Childhood Education programs. In the eight following years, more money goes directly to pupils without the interference of Sacramento (one way to offset Proposition 13). After 12 years the initiative must be re-approved, depending on student improvement and accountability which has not been discussed on the website.

Now for “The Millionaire’s Tax of 2012.” The initiative supports the idea that our tax code needs to reflect the interests of middle-class Californians, not the special interests of corporate CEOs and their lobbyists. The initiative focuses on the 99% who play by the rules, not just the 1% who lobby hard and re-write the rules. This initiative most like the Occupy lovers has also received a lot of media attention. Of course, wealthy business owners and other conservatives spend a good deal of blogging time with criticism of the initiative which is still collecting signatures to make it on the ballet. It is not as detailed as either the governor or “Our Children, Our Future.” However, the objectives are similar:

It asks those making more than $1 million a year in personal income to pay their fair share in taxes so “we” can raise an estimated $6 billion or more. The money will re-hire laid off teachers to reduce class sizes; roll back college tuition increases; restore cuts to essential services for children, seniors, and disabled persons; re-hire laid off emergency responders; and create jobs by repairing roads and bridges.

Jerry Brown is talking to each proposition’s biggest supporter in an effort to have only one tax initiative on the November ballot. He says that past studies have shown that multiple initiatives with few differences all go down as voters refuse to choose. Supporters of opposing measures say that this time will be different and that democracy allows voters to choose. So far, only the “Think Long” initiative backers have pulled theirs.

This blog likes anything that helps students.

Until June

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

I’m now beginning the last semester for my Master’s degree. It’s been a long haul to take classes, work on a thesis based on a need of my current students, and teach fourth grade full time.

public elementary school in the bay area

public elementary school in the bay area

Last week I watched the State of the Union message and was caught by the section that school districts should be helping students so they don’t drop out and instead graduate from high school. I had a hard time, thinking about my school district that was not in the least concerned when I didn’t finish high school as long as I had already completed the basic courses I needed. The district just took me off their records. I wasn’t counted as a “dropout.” I took Adult Ed classes to finish. It was only my family that forced them to let me be part of the graduation exercises.

My students this year are strong and willing to pursue their education. Let’s see what happens when they get to high school. Are they like me who went on to community college, then a four year college, and am now finishing a Master’s degree- in spite of the fact that I hated high school? Or are the high schools changing? Right now, I’m doing my best to make what is on the state standards relevant and interesting to fourth graders.

Then I saw an article in Tuesday’s New York Times that told about exaggerating SAT scores at one well-regarded private college to improve its ratings in the US News annual College Bound manual. Am I supposed to resolve this latest revelation?

Stop worrying about me, the teacher.

Start worrying about the money needed to run the institution of public education. Worry about those kids who aren’t upper or middle class and whose parents are just glad they are going to school much less their SAT score since the parents did not have any education. It’s going to take a long time to change their status.