The Institute for Progressive Learning – Session 6: The Ideal School

We have studied many of the problems and possible reforms to the education system throughout this course, however, the only way to make a real difference in the future of education is for future educators such as ourselves to implement some these changes in our classrooms throughout our careers as educators.  Personally, if I had all the necessary resources at my fingertips, I would create a school of my own. This is what I hope to accomplish with my idea for a new type of school – The Institute for Progressive Learning, the slogan for which would read “Enabling minds to focus on learning.”

The Institute for Progressive Learning would be a school for children grades 7 -9 in suburban communities that employs the progressivist and social reconstructionist philosophies of learning in order to ignite passion in students and rekindle their love for learning.  Much like John Dewey’s philosophy of progressivism, the lessons in the Institute would tie in to real world issues and encourage the students to discover new ways to approach the problems facing today’s society. To do this, the students would be encouraged to use technology, as well as tangible materials – books, newspapers, design materials, etc. – in order to support and present their solutions and view points.  Lessons would also employ the core principles of George Counts philosophy of social reconstructionism in that the lessons would have a segment focusing on how the curriculum being explored relates the the current societal issues and problems and/or solutions the materials.

The main differences between traditional schools and the Institute for Progressive learning are that the Institute will focus on lessons relevant to issues that effect the students’ every day lives and that it will do so in a way that feeds off of the students interests and not only encourages but enables the students to apply their curiosity surrounding the subject matter outside of the classroom. In other words, the Institute will focus on real world lessons and will base these lessons around what the students are most concerned about thus reinforcing their desire to learn. In his article “Questionable Assumptions about Schooling,” Elliott W. Eisner states that, “that the major aim of schooling is to enable students to become the architects of their own education so that they can invent themselves during the course of their lives.”  By adopting a similar mindset, the Institute for Progressive Learning will remind students that their interests and their views are not only important, but valuable as well – especially in respects to making a difference in their society.  The Institute will also back the statement made by Steve Denning in his article “The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education” that the goal of education needs to “shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.”

In order for the Institute for Progressive Learning to be the school it is designed to be, it is crucial to integrate more cross-curricular lessons. By having more lessons that tie together multiple disciplines, students will see the impact that their interests can have on multiple areas of today’s society and culture. It will also be important for teachers to be attentive to the student’s suggestions and interests in order to create an environment conducive to not only fostering a desire to learn but to keeping the flame of learning alive. Without the support of the teachers, student ideas and interests are extremely likely to fall by the wayside thus pushing the Institute closer to the instructional methods of current schools.

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Technological Leaps and Bounds (Session 5: BYOT in GA Schools)

Bring your own technology or BYOT is the concept of students bringing their own technology or devices into the classroom in order to integrate real life scenarios, so to speak, into the curriculum. The purpose of BYOT/BYOD initiative is to incorporate today’s modern technology into the classrooms to provide students with multiple way to assess various situations.

There a pros and cons to a program such as bring your own technology or device.  The most obvious problematic aspect is the cost.  It is no new concept that today’s technology is updated on an almost constant basis. A prime example of this can be found in operating systems, especially for Macs.  It seems that every time you turn around OSX has been updated in some way shape or form.  Not only are operating systems constantly being updated but computers, E-readers, iPods, etc are as well. As mentioned in Nelson’s article “BYOD: An opportunity schools cannot afford to miss,” the cost of the equipment as well as the maintenance and upgrades for the equipment is a big concern.  Another pressing concern is the issue of device accessibility.  It is easy to assume that all students have access to modern technology and portable technological devices, however, as Adams mentions in the article “Bring your own device (BYOD) and equitable access to technology,” not all students have access to the same caliber of technology and more often than not students from low to mid-income households are at a disadvantage when it comes to current or up-to-date technology. Despite these negatives, there are positives to the BYOT/BYOD incentive as well. Programs such as these have been shown to benefit students in many ways, from higher test scores to instruction tailored to the individual needs of students.  BYOT/BYOD programs have also helped to create unified and succinct visions across departments and schools as a whole.

Overall, I think BYOT/BYOD is a positive incentive to put into place in today’s schools provided all students have access to similar caliber technological devices. This is where the schools would have to have technology on hand for the students who may not have technological devices of their own as well as setting guidelines for what devices can and cannot be brought from home. I think if schools set guidelines such as these, technology can truly help to assist students in discovering real world applications for their studies as well as equip them with modern problem solving methods.

Soruces:

Adams, H. R. (2012). Bring your own device (BYOD) and equitable access to technology. School Library Monthly, 28(8), 25-26. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1491084812?accountid=15017

Hundley, P., & Scigliano, M. (2012). TECHNOLOGY: Finds its place in silicon valley schools. Leadership, 42(2), 16-19,38. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1291061873?accountid=15017

Nelson, D. (2012). BYOD: An opportunity schools cannot afford to miss. Internet@Schools, 19(5), 12-15. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1153782427?accountid=15017

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Advancement or Digression – Session 4: Approaches to Curriculum

There is no doubt in my mind that the topic of Common Core standards and curriculum have come up at many a teacher staff meeting, dinner table conversation, and various college classrooms.  With this topic being such a hot-button issue, it is important to ask ourselves the following questions: What exactly is the Common Core and whether or not we agree with it.

According to www.corestandards.org, “The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA).” The main purpose of the Common Core is to set learning goal for what students should be able to know and accomplish after completing each grade level. The hope is that by the time students graduate high school they will be equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in college and later in life.

Sounds simple enough and perhaps there is some merit to the idea. After all, how could setting up a system to equip all students with the skills necessary to succeed in life be a bad thing? There are many teachers and critics that echo this exact sentiment – Common Core it the way to go.  Tim Walker’s NEAToday article, “10 Things You Should Know About the Common Core,” emphasizes that the “Common Core is a set of voluntary K-12 standards in English language arts/literacy and mathematics” and allows teachers flexibility when it comes to creating lesson plans. According to Walker, under the Common Core, teachers are able to implement creative lesson plans as the Common Core provides guidance but does not dictate material. Walker also points out that under the Common Core, teachers have the opportunity to extend the their curricula across multiple courses and the schools and teachers are responsible for determining how best to help students meet the standards.

The above arguments all sound well and good, but opponents of the Common Core are quick to make their voices heard as well.  According to Allie Bidwell’s USNews article “Common Core, College Cost and Quality Among Education Issues to Watch in 2014,” while many state, as in Walker’s article, that the Common Core is state-led, “Others claim the standards are state-led in name only, and that support from the federal government – such as financial incentives through Race to the Top grants – pressured many of the 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt the standards.” Critics have also stated concerns that the Common Core is an echo of the “one size fits all” approach of No Child Left Behind and that insistence on the Common Core and implantation of standard-aligned assessments will only serve to perpetuate the culture of over-testing in the US.

There is no doubt that both sides have compelling arguments, but as futures teachers, future parents, and current students, it is essential to figure out where we stand on the issue of Common Core and not just go with the flow of standardization. Personally, I am not an advocate for the Common Core.  While the Common Core is marketed as a voluntary state run system of standards, it is not exactly voluntary when the government is bribing states with financial grants in order to persuade them to adopt the Common Core. Not only does the adaptation of the Common Core call for higher standards, it also calls for further teacher education that many schools and institutions cannot afford.  With teachers being evaluated on the basis of their students academic success, hight standards will prove to be detrimental to teacher evaluation. By raising the standards and making course work more rigorous, students will inevitably score lower on standardized exams and thus the US will continue to drop in ratings on the global education scale. In turn, the worse the students perform, the greater the risk that teachers will lose their jobs due to poor student performance. Also, despite the fact that the Common Core is marketed as being a system of guidelines that allow teachers to decide the material they will teach, the Common Core has a very specific focus and goal, thus the so-called guidelines are likely to be even stricter than current educational guidelines which effective take away a teacher’s ability to choose their own course material.

Basically what it all come down to is this: while presented as a means of advancing student success not only in school and in life but on a global scale as well, the Common Core is more detrimental than it is beneficial because not only will higher standards result in lower academic performance, but it also strips teachers of job security and a sort of creative freedom surrounding their curriculum.

For further reading, please refer to:

http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/

http://neatoday.org/2013/10/16/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-common-core/

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/12/31/common-core-college-cost-and-quality-among-education-issues-to-watch-in-2014

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Resourceful in Poverty (Session 3: Poverty in Education)

Poverty in education is more of an issue than many people realize. According to the “Color of Child Poverty” article found on Course Den, 2006 Census Bureau findings showed that in 2005, 4.5% of white children under 18 in two-parent households and 12.5% of blacks in the same group live in poverty.  The poverty rates rose to 33% and 50.1% respectively for children under 18 who live with single mothers.  While the poverty rate drastically increases when we look at children in single-mother homes, it is not necessarily the mothers to blame but rather the societal constructs of today. That said, it is unfair to say that it is only the children of single-mothers that suffer the effects of poverty. Poverty also effects children in lower income family who live with both parents.  Regardless of family structure, poverty effects all children in a similar way. Children who live in poverty are more likely to be exposed to toxins and unstable living conditions.Poverty often necessitates low-income or rental housing which, more often than not, is not found in areas of pristine environmental cleanliness.  Most of time such housing is found near industrial plants, treatment facilities, and other environmentally unsound areas. Living in such areas can lead to excessive or prolonged illness in children which can lead to lack of attendance in school. Children in low-income families often spend significantly less time with their parents than their financially stable peers.  Since their parents often work multiple jobs in order to provide food, shelter, and clothing, children in low-income families are often left to their own devices when it comes to homework and other school related tasks.  The lack of parental assistance is often discouraging for children, which can lead them to believe that either their education is not a top priority or that said education can do little to help them in the future. Many of these children go to school each day not knowing where their next meal is coming from.

I am in no way saying that the above description is the case for all impoverished students – I have seen first hand the effects of such situations and am well aware that income does not always directly correlate with poor academic achievement, but in most cases it does.  With so many children living at or below the poverty line, it is naive to say that we have the situation under control.  There are many adjustments and programs that can be put into effect to help alleviate the effects of poverty on students, some of which include free or reduced price lunches and other supplemental snacks, free/extra tutoring – especially in core subjects, and providing resources to families in, or at risk of being in, poverty.

Nutrition is a major factor when it comes to a student’s ability to focus and be successful in school.  By providing students of low income and impoverished families with reduced price or free lunches, we are insuring that the students receive at least one balanced meal a day.  It would also be beneficial to provide breakfast for those students identified as members of low income or impoverished families.  It is important, however, that these efforts be carried out somewhat discretely as to avoid embarrassment on the part of the student.

Another way we can assist such students is by providing extra assistance when we see them struggling.  Often times, students are embarrassed when they are unable to perform at the same level or with the same ease as their classmates.  It is important that we encourage these students and help them to live up to their potential.  Yes, this may lead to extra hours on our part, but by doing so we are not only encouraging our students, but also reminding them of the value of their education – one day they may be able to leave the life of poverty due to said education.

Perhaps one of the most important ways we can help financially struggling students is by providing them and their families with resources that would enable them to access programs such as SNAP (food stamps), energy assistance, CHIP (children’s health care), and unemployment.  It is also important that when we point the families and students towards these resources that we do so without being judgmental and do so in a rather discrete manner – often times families in these situations are more ashamed of their circumstances than they would be willing to admit.

 

 

https://westga.view.usg.edu/d2l/le/content/837241/viewContent/11742362/View?ou=837241

http://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2010/09/pdf/reducing_student_poverty.pdf

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Teaching to the Test or For Disadvantaged Students? (Session 2: Big Picture in US Education)

Urban and Wagoner’s discussion on President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) initiative is very enlightening. As Urban and Wagoner noted, the NCLB act was met with lots of confusion in the public sphere. The act was not signed into law until January 8, 2002 and its primary focus was to standardize student performance to that of their grade level for all students by the year 2014. The NCLB act mandated standardized testing to assess student progress and encouraged students enrolled at lower performing schools to transfer to a school with higher academic achievement levels. What NCLB failed to take into account however, was the varying factors such as socioeconomic status of families, students for whom English was a second language, and the number of students with special needs and the effect these factors have on the academic success of an institution.

According to the article “What the No Child Left Behind law means for your child” found on greatschools.org, the NCLB law is beneficial to students and more restrictive for teachers. The article echoes the sentiments of Urban and Wagoner with regards to benefits for students. Students are able to transfer to higher performing schools if their school is performing at sub-standard levels for two years and if this continues for a third year, the students are entitled to free tutoring provided by the school. This article also expands on the affects on the teachers. “No Child Left Behind” adds a heightened sense of responsibility to what is already a demanding job. In addition to successfully conveying subject material to their students, teachers now face the pressure of making sure their students perform at or above their grade level and excel on standardized tests. The requirements for teachers have also become more rigid and require more education and subject specialization. It is pressures such as these that almost encourage teachers to “teach to the test,” especially considering the schools’ individual abilities to replace teachers who appear ineffective in successfully conveying course material as they see fit.

The article on edweek.org entitled “No Child Left Behind” emphasized that the law was written in an attempt to employ Title I funds to assist disadvantaged students. This is also mentioned by Urban and Wagoner in American Education in the Twenty-First Century. The article also notes that while the law was put into place to assist disadvantaged students and hold the states responsible for the education of their students, the law also had adverse effects. The edweek.org article states that the percentage of schools not meeting the standards for adequate yearly progress increased from 29 percent in 2006 to 38 percent in 2010.

An article on huffingtonpost.com entitled “States Escaping No Child Left Behind Can Get More Time On Teacher Evaluations,” echoes the sentiment expressed by Urban and Wagoner that the strict guidelines and requirements set about by the NCLB law tend to lead to teachers “teaching to the test.” The article quotes the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, as saying, “”Testing should never be the main focus of our schools … No test can ever measure what a student is, or can be … Testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” There seems to be a similar critique throughout the four sources mentioned in this post – there is no real way to measure the academic achievements of students through standardized testing, especially without taking into consideration the circumstances in which the students find themselves.

 

 

Below are the additional websites I used in this post:

http://www.greatschools.org/improvement/quality-teaching/61-no-child-left-behind.gs

http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/no-child-left-behind/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/21/obama-teacher-evaluations_n_5697616.html

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The languge of testing (Session 1: USA vs. The World)

It’s easy to look at the educational systems of developing nation and say that the US is at the top of the heap and that our educational system is one of the best, but that is like comparing apples and oranges. In order to get a more accurate view of our educational system, we have to compare ourselves to our equals, countries such as Germany, England, China, and even Finland. It is only after we make these comparisons that we are presented with an adequate picture of our educational system as a nation.

I’m not sure I would go as far as to say that American schools are failing, however it is becoming more and more apparent that we are not competing with other nations at the level of which we are capable. I think one of the many reasons we are not as successful academically as we can be is standardized testing. By focusing all of our attention on test scores and allocating funds based on those scores, teachers are more apt to teach to the test, especially since better scores lead to better funding.

Another mistake I feel we have made regarding American education is allowing our educational system to be heavily influenced and driven by international achievement tests such as PISA. The danger here lies not in the focus on the results but rather in the test itself. In order for the results to be presented in a comparative manner, it needs to be taken into account, not only by the test makers and administers but by analysts as well, that the PISA examination is not given in only one language. More often than not, as noted in Ruth Alexander’s article for BBC news entitled “How accurate is the Pisa test,” the meaning and general concepts of the questions often get lost or altered in translation. The nature of language pretty much guarantees differences in question when they are translated.

While I would not go as far as to say that American schools are failing, there are definitely some valuable practices we can learn from the Finnish educational system. I think one of the most valuable lessons we can learn from the Finnish example is to teach to the students as opposed to teaching at them. By placing more value on student input and class contribution instead of always focusing on the right answer and how the student failed to achieve it, school becomes a more pleasant and safe environment. When students are encouraged to contribute without the aspect of constant correction looming in front of them, students are apt to become more engaged in the classroom and take a greater responsibility for their education.

Another important premise we can learn from Finland’s educational system is a somewhat different means of using technology. More often than not, technology in the classroom is seen as a means to assist the teacher and nothing more. I think something we need to consider is, what would happen if the primary purpose of classroom technology was to assist the students and not the teachers. In today’s increasingly digital age, many students are more comfortable working with technology than with textbooks, paper, and pencils. There are also some students who have a better attention span when working with technology as opposed to being told to sit still and take notes while a teacher teaches to/at them. Keeping these scenarios in mind, it might in fact be beneficial to use technology as a means of supplemental instruction or even as somewhat of a bridge between teachers and students.

I think it is also important to note that the Finnish educational system does not mandate that students continue on a rigorous academic path once they reach the 10th grade. By shifting the focus from solely college prep and academics to an equal focus on college prep and vocational training, there is less pressure on students who may not feel college is the right fit for them to continue on with increasingly rigorous coursework. More often than not, when students are pressured to study certain materials that they may not feel drawn to, those students do not care as much about that topic as the students who are interested in it and therefore put less effort into the coursework which, in the long run, negatively effects test scores.

All in all, I think one of the most important things we can do is remember that today’s students are tomorrow’s America. If the education in American schools focuses solely on test scores we are not only doing the students a disservice, but ourselves as well. If we fail to equip the next generation of Americans with the skills needed to thrive in our ever-changing society because we are focused solely on what the test scores show and how much money those scores could provide our schools, we are not really educating them, rather showing them that being the best is far more important that doing your best and living up to your potential.

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