Is NCLB a Red Herring?

For years now, we have heard how No Child Left Behind was at the root of everything that was wrong with our schools.  We’re spending too much time on high-stakes testing.  We’re spending too much money on NCLB requirements.  We’re asking too much of our teachers.  We’re expecting too much from our students.  If only NCLB were tucked back into the drawer, then our schools would improve, all students would be on their way to Nobel Prizes, and achievement gaps would be a thing of the past.  Oh, if only we could go back to the good ole days.

Today’s Washington Times reports on the NCLB study released by the Center for Education Policy.  It is an interesting read.  http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080520/NATION/766555380/1002  Under the header, “Many states leave behind education law,” Amy Fagan reports that more than 20 states have “procrastinated” in meeting NCLB requirements, meaning they likely will not hit the 2014 targets laid out in the law.

Imagine that.  Nearly half of states are not implementing NCLB with the zealousness called for in the law.  According to CEP, states like California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and others aren’t in a position to bring all students to proficiency in reading and math in six years.  Even Washington, DC, which has to answer to the feds, falls into the laggard bucket.

Interestingly, many of the states that join DC on the laggard list are the states that have been most vocal about the high costs and powerful problems caused by NCLB.  We’ve heard the cries from Oregon, for example.  They’re on the list.  We’ve heard from states like Wisconsin that NCLB’s Reading First doesn’t work.  Yes, America’s Dairyland is on the list as well.  Even states who are about to lose their chief state school officers — like Rhode Island and Indiana — are also on the hit list.

It makes Eduflack wonder, is NCLB really to blame?  Are these states having such difficulty implementing the law with fidelity that they have fallen so far behind?  Or have they been slowly addressing the law, hoping a reauthorization or a new president would again change the game?  Are they diligent in doing it right, or are they simply waiting it out?

Like many, I still believe our national goal should be every child proficient in math and reading.  That’s a baseline that should be required in every school, every state across the nation.  How can it not be?  Do we identify now which third-graders don’t have to be proficient?  Do we brand those fourth graders who we figure will drop out, and won’t factor into our high school data?  Of course not.

As long as half the states are failing to keep up with NCLB implementation, we can’t say the law is failing.  NCLB doesn’t work if the states can’t implement it, or if we find the states can’t make it work. The majority of states have been able to implement the law, and will meet the 2014 requirements.  So the first box is checked. 

The second box is the unanswered question.  We are seeing states that are making NCLB work.  We are seeing others with the potential.  We are seeing math scores on the rise.  We have identified what works and what hasn’t with Reading First.

It seems, to this uneducated soul, that 2014 is our moment of truth.  Then, we’ll see how successful the states have been in gaining math and reading proficiency for all.  Until then, we need to stop the blame game and focus on implementing the law with full fidelity.  Maybe, just maybe, NCLB has a few solutions to what ails us educationally.

How Does My High School Rate?

It’s that time of year again.  The national high school rankings are out. The number one spot has changed.  Most of the schools in the top 20 are the same as previous years.  The formula has been adjusted, but it is still a measure of AP and IB courses offered.  The DC area did particularly well (as those of us paying taxes in the suburbs expect).  And The Washington Post has an article today saying that these schools are eliminating honors classes to pump in more of those AP and IB classes needed for the rankings.

It’s all got Eduflack thinking, though.  We rank colleges and universities, in part, so consumers can make educated choices about their higher education futures.  We compare national research universities. We compare liberal arts colleges.  We compare private or public institutions.  We use the data to make decisions, and to make us feel better about past decisions (and past tuition bills).

But do the same comparisons apply to high schools?  As a product of public schools, Eduflack never had a choice in the high schools I attended.  I spent 9th and 10th grades at Santa Fe High School in New Mexico.  Eleventh and 12th grades were at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia.  Neither is a top high school.  Jefferson High only offered three AP classes when I was there many moons go.  And neither school was a choice.  They were simply my assigned public secondary school.  I don’t expect to see either on a top 100 list in my lifetime.

That said, what good do the high school rankings play?  We can’t use them to make a choice as to what high school we send our children to.  Are we expected to use the rankings to force changes in our own high schools?  Do we use them as part of a school choice push?  Do we use them to separate the haves from the have nots, or to demonstrate to the world that we have successful schools?

As with colleges, we can only effectively compare high schools if we are comparing apples to apples.  The Newsweek rankings simply don’t do that.  We have one list that ranks, theoretically, every high school in the United States.  Urban, rural, and suburban.  High per pupil expenditure and low per pupil expenditure.  Schools in states with stringent grad standards and those with none at all.  Everyone is in the same pool.  Everyone is measured by the same yardstick.

I’ll ring the bell again.  The first step to allowing us to use the same yardstick is to adopt national standards.  If every high school is held to the same standard, they can be commonly measured.  If high school graduation requirements are universal in all 50 states, they can be commonly measured.  If we want to offer a national ranking for our high schools, we should have a national standard they are all held to.

I don’t mean to take away from those schools that scored highly.  Congrats to all, including to my children’s future high school here in Falls Church, Virginia (George Mason High was ranked 58th, due in large part to its IB offerings).  But I’d feel a whole lot better knowing, if we should have to move from our school district, that my son (and his sister, who will hopefully officially join the family by the end of summer) was weighed and measured against fellow students from all 50 states, and was not found wanting.  National standards is the only way to provide that peace of mind to those families not sending their kids to the top 100.

Well Wishes for a Senator

Eduflack’s thoughts are with Senator Ted Kennedy and his family as the Senate HELP Chairman is under the watchful eye of Beantown’s best doctors today.  I just can’t imagine anyone else at the helm of the Senate Education Committee, particularly as we prepare for a new Congress and a new President in eight months.

Senator Kennedy is actually the first politician to spark Eduflack’s interest in American government, and he deserves some credit for inspiring my years of service as a Senate and House staffer.  As a young child growing up in Massachusetts, I was fortunate enough to be there for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston (my father was dean of the University of Massachusetts at Boston at the time, and helped with the creation of the library).  After visiting it for the first time, I wrote to Senator Kennedy, telling him how much I enjoyed the library and learning about his brother.  Even included a drawing of the library for him. 

A few weeks later, I got a letter of appreciation back from Kennedy.  It was signed in a powerful blue ink, and even included a PS noting that his son was named Patrick too.  I treasured (and still treasure) that letter.  Even had it framed and hanging on the wall of many a bedroom over the decades.  It is still in my box of prized mementos.

After working on Capitol Hill (and learning of the wonders of the autopen), I am still certain that Kennedy hand-signed my letter himself.  It meant too much to me to believe otherwise.  I though to ask him about it when I was working for a member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation back in the mid-1990s, but never wanted to bother him with something so trivial or silly.

But I digress.  Our thoughts and well wishes are with the distinguished Senator from Massachusetts.  We look forward to having him back at the gavel, and getting NCLB 2.5 passed into law.

Golden Parachutes for Supes?

We all know it is tough to be a superintendent, particularly in an urban area.  We hear the average tenure is now less that two years for these educational leaders.  We read stories of superintendents bouncing from district to district to district, hoping that the same approach may result in a different outcome in a new school system.  And, unfortunately, we’re now hearing the stories about supes using their positions to protect their careers.

There are very few supes who would ever be able to secure a true golden parachute from their districts, a long-term financial commitment that would be honored whether the leader is heading the schools or not.  But what about those superintendents who give the perception that they are acquiring their own parachutes?

Case in point, Pinellas (FL) schools superintendent Clayton Wilcox.  The full story is in today’s St. Petersburg Times (thanks, www.ednews.org).  — http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/article509020.ece.  The song is a simple tune with a common refrain.  Education company does a lot of business with the district.  Supe gains some benefit from that business (albeit not a lot).  Supe senses his tenure is coming to an end.  Education company hires supe to an executive position.

Let Eduflack be clear.  There is a lot of smoke in this article, but I just don’t see the fire.  Scholastic was a long-time vendor to Pinellas before Wilcox got there.  Spending didn’t go up while he was there.  He even released a report criticizing Read 180’s effectiveness in the district.  Scholastic acquired some Broadway tickets for him, which he promptly paid for.  And as they did for virtually every other supe in the nation, Scholastic picked up the tab for a few breakfasts and dinners over the years.  Heck, I’m guessing most education companies have done that for Wilcox and his brethren during the same time period.

The issue here becomes one of a job.  Again, if we break down the facts and relate it to our own lives, it isn’t that big of a deal.  Wilcox suspected his time in Pinellas was coming to an end.  Like most of us would do, he contacted friends and colleagues about possible opportunities.  Scholastic got serious about the discussion, and asked him join their team.  So?

Do we think Scholastic now gets an extra benefit in dealing with Pinellas?  Of course not.  In fact, it may be just the opposite.  A new supe in Florida is going to think twice about signing a new Scholastic contract.  He’ll want to carve out his own path, and not follow in Wilcox’ footsteps.  And he’ll know everyone is watching him, particularly on his dealings with Scholastic.  It’s not the scrutiny Scholastic wants, even if Scholastic may be the greatest thing ever to be introduced into Pinellas.

It just doesn’t matter, particularly if we believe in what goes bump in the night.  Truth is often a subjective thing.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  As a result, we believe in urban legends.  We listen to a series of facts, and make a blind leap into what we believe the truth is.  We believe what we want to believe.  We expect that something crooked must be up in the Scholastic-Pinellas-Wilcox triumvirate.

What’s the solution?  Non-competes and cooling off periods.  We all know Members of Congress or federal officials must wait a year (or longer) before they can lobby the federal government.  I’ve had to sign non-compete agreements stating I will not go to a competitor or to a client within 12 months of ending a job.  Maybe the time has come for such agreements in K-12 education.

We all know education is big business.  The line between for-profit and not-for-profit is blurring.  And many believe that former supes are the answer to lagging sales, thinking the thick rolodex leads to closed deals.  So why not a one-year waiting period before a school official can sell into his or her former district? 

It may be the only way to lessen the impact of conspiracy theories and the unfounded belief that a couple of tickets to Hairspray will get you $1.6 million in education spend. 

Let this be a warning to all other administrators.  Perception is the new reality.  Seems instead of leaders and innovators, we’re looking for Ned Flanders to run our school districts these days.

The Nexis of Eduwonk and Eduwonkette

Over the last week or two, Eduwonkette (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/eduwonkette/) has posted some interesting pieces on the TNTP study in NYC and the impact of the Absent Teacher Reserve.  Today, Eduwonk (http://www.eduwonk.com/) points to the trickle-down impact of such issues on good teachers in Providence, RI.

If you’ve missed it, check out the following article.  http://www.projo.com/education/juliasteiny/content/se_educationwatch11_05-11-08_PCA1S0R_v8.22a279c.html  The short and dirty — an award-winning science teacher has been bumped from his job because a teacher with more seniority needed it.  Doesn’t matter how effective he was.  Doesn’t matter how much the students loved him.  If he hasn’t been around the school yard for enough years, he’s got to step aside.

(And for the record, Andy, I’m grateful for road flare on the Providence Journal article.  I wish there were fewer of these articles.  I wish we had more positive stories.  But I’ll gladly take Eduwonk’s help in sorting the wheat from the chafe any day of the week.)

Such stories are usually the exceptions to the rule, but they are a very real reality.  They are why so many people believe education is the furthest thing from a meritocracy.  We all want to believe that we do what we can to attract and keep the best teachers.  We all want to believe that success should trump all.  We all want to believe that classroom effectiveness trumps the number of punches on the timeclock.  Then we hear stories like those of John Wempel, a Providence Teacher of the Year.

This is contrasted with national newspapers, which have been littered in recent weeks with letters regarding the need for increased teacher pay and defenses of teachers taking sick time.  They rightfully defend the profession, citing the challenges of the job.  But they also continue to classify teaching as a nine-month job with no vacation time.

So what is a union flak supposed to do?  How do the AFT and the NEA defend the rights of their veteran teachers who have paid two decades of dues, but also defend the rights on less-senior teachers who are the future of the profession and are making a real difference in the classroom?

Eduflack is a simple man with simple thoughts.  With ATR, my first question was why doesn’t NYC use this teacher pool to fill their need for substitute teachers?  We always hear how expensive subs are.  Seems if ATRs are drawing a check from the NYCDOE, they should be able to sub for no additional charge.

Providence becomes a more challenging scenario.  “Bumping” is a scary practice for an school district on the decline.  This gets further complicated because of the added layer of charter schools in Providence.  We should say that a successful teacher — a teacher like Wempel — should always have a job as long as he wants it.  The district, the school, his fellow teachers, and his students all recognized his value.  But he was chronologically challenged, and had to pay for that.

Sure, Rhode Island legislators are now introducing bills to eliminate the “bumping” process.  But that won’t solve the problem.  Collective bargaining agreements are pretty clear.  Veteran teachers, teachers with tenure, are guaranteed jobs.  If we don’t put them in a classroom, they draw a salary to stay home and rediscover daytime television.  So what is the answer?

The unions need to step up and figure out a solution before someone finds one for them.  It is fine (and noble) to fight for each and every member of the profession.  But at some point, they are also fighting for the future of teaching.  We all believe we have good teachers in our schools.  Don’t let instances like this one change our thinking and diminish our trust in our local schools.

If we don’t want to measure teachers based on student assessment numbers, give us an alternate measure.  And years of service doesn’t count.

Bloggin’ with Ed in 08

Most folks who read the education blogs know that today was Ed in 08’s big education blogger’s summit.  The crowd seemed to be an interesting mix of both bloggers and ed policy folks (particularly those with education orgs that either deal with the tech issue or have a strong online presence).  At first blush, the cynic in me says the primary focus of the summit was to get Ed in 08’s name in a significant number of blogs all at the same time.  But after a few hours of reflection, I can also see some real benefits.

What has stuck most with Eduflack is the opening speech by Ed in 08 head Roy Romer.  Forget debate questions or campaign commercials or grassroots organizing or even a movie about two million minutes.  The most intriguing — and most valuable — contribution that Ed in 08 is now making is Romer’s continued push for national standards.  This is the third time I’ve heard Romer touting the Ed in 08 line.  Each time, after delivering the stump speech, he focuses on the long-term value of national standards and his dream of locking up a dozen or so well-meaning governors, have them identify standards that tie to international assessments, and then send us on our way to better performance.  I thought it was a good idea when I first heard him lay it out last fall at Jobs for the Future’s conference.  And it is even a better idea today.

So why does the issue of national standards fail to gain the attention it deserves?  It should be a campaign issue, it’s not.  It should be a national policy discussion, it’s not.  It should be a primary goal of the education blob and those in the blob’s shadow, it’s not. 

It’s as if we seem to think our traditional of local education control means we can’t have national standards.  Such thinking is just lazy.  Groups like NGA and CCSSO have had the courage to talk about a common set of U.S. learning standards.  More need to follow that lead. 

If it is the only thing that Romer and company do from this point forward with Gates’ and Broad’s money, it will be well worth it.  National standards deserve a national debate.  We should all be for high expectations, global competition, and improved skills.  A national dialogue provides us the rhetoric to discuss such goals.  And Eduflack is ready to sign up as a town crier on the issue today.

What else came out of the blogger summit?  I personally loved Romer’s stat that the average American student is a year or a year and a half behind their international peers in math instruction.  We hate to hear it, but we know it is true.  And I am still scratching my head on having Newt Gingrich as the keynoter for an ed event focused on national policies.  It was only a decade ago that Gingrich and his team was calling for the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education.

Alexander Russo tried to push his panel on the issue of merit pay, but few wanted to bite.  It was good to hear the AFT say that merit pay is a local issue, to be embraced in local CBAs.  Let’s just hope the locals know that.

The hot issues seem to be preK and assessments (high-stakes, differentiated, multiples, take your pick and political line).  No buzz at all for high school reform, despite the ducats coming from Gates.  And with all our lip service to the P-16 education continuum, higher ed is still the gawky girl at the ed dance, with no one paying her much attention either.

And big surprise, few seem to see a future for NCLB.  Some, like Ed Trust’s Amy Wilkins, want to see the law strengthened and more strongly enforced.  But the majority seemed to lean toward “improving” by weakening and adding Elasticman-level flexibility.

More later this week on the notion of changing the structure of the school day.  It is an intriguing issue that could have some legs.

Some Ed Reccs for Senator McCain

Thanks to the Fordham Foundation’s Flypaper blog (http://www.edexcellence.net/flypaper/) we now have a good sense for the great minds advising expected Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain on education policy.  As to be expected, it is an impressive bunch.  Their challenge, though, will be to get education issues to stand out on the Arizona Senator’s proposed domestic policy agenda.

No, McCain is not known in DC circles as one of the Senate’s leaders on education.  But that doesn’t mean he can’t rise to the occasion.  The presidential bully pulpit is a strong one, and education remains a top five domestic policy issue for most.  If you can’t figure out how to fix the economy in the short term, you certainly can focus on education for the long-term economic benefit.

More than a year ago, Eduflack offered a top-five list of education ideas for the Republican nominee to think about when constructing an education platform.  A lot has changed since then.  The latest State of the Union seemed to de-emphasize the future of vouchers.  Research still isn’t sure the long-term impact of charter schools.  And the expected Democratic presidential nominee has been known to talk about merit pay for teachers. 

That said, let’s take a look at those March 2007 recommendations:

1.  National standards benefit the nation.  Such standards don’t mean we are denying local control.  They empower our local districts to remain competitive in their state, across the nation, and throughout the world.  National standards, both for students and teachers, are the only way today’s students can succeed in tomorrow’s global economy.

2. Invest in education R&D.  We all understand the value of investing in medical or technology R&D.  Now is the time to invest in research focused on improving our schools and educational quality in our classrooms.  Such investment is key to triggering true innovation at the state or national level, leading to improved economies, better jobs, and better lives.

3. Respect the practitioners.  It is easy for some to say our schools have failed because our teachers have failed.  If any Republican wants to engender change in our schools, they need to respect the teachers delivering the curriculum.  They are on the front lines.  Without their support, reform will fall flat, destined for a garbage heap of good but failed ideas.

4. Don’t fear additional spending.  NCLB scared off many a Republican, particularly with increased federal education spending.  The feds are still only responsible for about 8 cents of every dollar spent on public K-12 education.  Additional funding is good for the system, as long as we are spending it on research-proven instruction and improvements we know will boost student achievement.

5. Focus on what works.  For decades, our schools have been bombarded with the latest in snakeoils and silver bullets.  Today’s educators want to see what works in schools like theirs, with kids lke theirs.  NCLB is all about replicable school reforms.  Now is the time to spotlight what is going right in your hometown or your home state, and use it as the model for why we need to continue federal education reforms.  Many of today’s improvements are directly tied to NCLB efforts.  Take credit for it.”


Interestingly, these reccs ring as true today as they did 15 months ago.  But I’d offer a few caveats to Arizona’s senior senator:

* Don’t hitch your wagon to NCLB, attach yourself to the intent.  It isn’t about “NCLB” the proper, it is about doing what works and funding what is proven effective.  Forget the title of the law.  Focus on the outcomes.  The federal government has a role in public education.  Claim that role, focusing on the future and expected goals.

* Don’t forget, you were a teacher too.  As a leader in the Navy, you instructed and taught.  You molded and trained young men.  It may not have been the ABCs or the quadratic equation, but you understand the importance of good teaching.  Remind us of it.

* Shine your education agenda through the filter of economic opportunity.  Too often, we view education in a vacuum.  We can’t afford to do that in today’s economy.  Education policies should be positioned as opportunities to better prepare today’s kids for the opportunities of tomorrow.  That doesn’t mean turning our K-12 schools into trade schools, but it does mean an education that is relevant to both the student and the world.

* Borrow (and steal) from the Arizona experience.  As you are looking at what is relevant, take a close look at what your Governor has been doing.  Her focus on innovation and STEM education shows what we need to be thinking about in education reform.  Speaking from the Arizona experience, you can let the home state serve as a model for others in need.  You come from a state that gets it.

Eduflack isn’t naive.  I recognize that education is not going to be a primary discussion topic for you between now and November.  I don’t expect it will be an issue for a keynote speech during the Minneapolis convention.  But I know it is a basic bread-and-butter issue that can play well in the blue states and with independent voters. 

The days when a GOP president wanted to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education are over.  Now, you have the opportunity to strengthen the Department, making it more efficient and better focused on the end result.  You have a team of advisors who understand data, how to use it, and the importance of measurement and assessment.  Take advantage of it.  Improve the system.  Reject the status quo.

And please, Senator, don’t lose sight of recc #1.  It may not be popular with some, but national standards are worth a good, long look.  Someone, some day is going to adopt national standards.  And it will result in a legacy many seek, but almost none achieve.

Just my three cents (inflation, after all).  Feel free to crib from, improve, or adopt wholesale.

What Happens in 2014?

Yesterday, a who’s who of the education blob gathered to discuss the future of education research.  Hosted by Education Sector, AED, AIR, and the Knowledge Alliance, folks gathered for “Towards 2014: Education Research on the Leading Edge of School Improvement?” 

It was an opportunity to soak in all that Checker Finn, Russ Whitehurst, Rick Hess, Mike Smith, and the like have to say about the state of education research.  The forum was a follow-up to a similar event hosted by similar organizations back in 2002, when we were all just learning to let scientifically based research roll of our tongues (and before IES was even part of our vocabulary).

For those who missed it, you can get the main thrust from Knowledge Alliance President Jim Kohlmoos’ guest blog on edbizbuzz — http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edbizbuzz/2008/05/friday_guest_column_is_educati.html#more.

What is particularly interesting is how little seems to have changed over the past six years.  Yes, we are all now aware of what SBR is, and why it is important.  But we seem to still struggle in two key areas, agreeing on what SBR is and applying it to practice.

For many, SBR is like the popular definition of pornography — we know it when we see it.  Ask us to define scientifically based research (as it applies to education) and we grasp for words.  Show us a recently completed research study or a journal article, and we can tell you whether it makes the cut or not.  Isn’t diagnosing SBR after the fact what has gotten us in the trouble we’re in?  Shouldn’t we know if a study meets the scientific standards BEFORE we have spent millions of dollars on its execution?  Without a firm understanding of methodologies and research models, we risk a system where we simply slap an SBR label on the outcomes we happen to like.

We don’t seem to have this problem in medicine.  We know what are scientifically based studies and what are surgically enhanced fluff.  So why is education so different? 

Some will use the statistic Russ Whitehurst uses — that the research portion of the U.S. Department of Education’s budget is less than one half of one percent of the total budget, where Health and Human Services is spending nearly 42 percent of its budget on research.  Doesn’t that mean it is even easier for ED to ensure that its research dollars are wisely spent?

I’ll be the first to advocate for additional spending on educational research.  In many urban school districts — those with schools branded as dropout factories — we are spending $10,000, $12,000, even $15,000 per student on education.  As taxpayers, we have a right to know our money is well-spent.  As parents, we have a right to know that our kids are getting effective instruction.  As members of our social community, we have the right to know our schools work.  Research is the cornerstone to all of that.

Which gets us back to the previous issue — we’re still struggling to put SBR to use in the classroom.  We understand the power of the buzzword, and are quick to describe our ideas or solutions as research-based or proven-effective.  But have we really studied what is happening the classroom?  Are we really measuring the effectiveness of specific interventions over the long term?  Are we really looking at the comprehensive research base available before deciding on a textbook or supplemental material?  Are we making sure what works is what we are using?

Unfortunately, “no” seems to be used an awful lot to answer those questions.  And it doesn’t have to be that way.  At the forum, Checker Finn called for one-stop shops on educational research, where we all have more access to statistical information.  Add to that the means to train teachers, administrators, and decisionmakers to both understand and apply SBR, and we may have a real winner here. 

Data is important, but it is also dangerous.  Put it in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand what they are looking at (or worse, thinks they do when they don’t), and you can do far more damage than just maintaining the status quo.  As part of our ed R&D investment, we should be training a cadre of educator scientists who help practitioners distill the facts, identify what works, and move that research into practice.  That was the goal, six years ago, with NCLB and SBR.  And that should still be our goal today.

Yes, Eduflack knows he is a cynic.  But after this forum, he is cautiously optimistic.  SBR is no longer a punchline to a status quoer’s ed reform joke.  We all seem to understand the importance of sound, replicable research.  Now, we are starting to break it down and see what makes the cut and what hits the trash.  With luck (and real commitment), we should see some wholesale understanding and implementation by 2014.  Let’s just hope we’re all there to see it (and still give a damn about it).

     

Keep Reid-ing

Earlier this week, Eduflack recommended anyone with an interest in reading instruction should check out the www.ednews.org interview with Reid Lyon.  In recent days, the links back to that interview have grown and grown.  While I’d like to think it is my influencer, I know it is simply the value of the information Reid provides.  It doesn’t hurt that these are Reid’s first read comments on RF since leaving NICHD nearly three years ago.

Yes, the interview is an interesting one.  But if you checked it out at the start of the week, you’ve missed out on the comments that are now attached to the piece.  Those of us who write on the internet expect comments to be a sentence or two, either bouquets or brickbats.  Those who have read Reid’s interview have provided some interesting in-depth opinion.  Real thoughts from real practitioners and real researchers.  How novel!

Check it out — http://ednews.org/articles/25335/1/Interview-with-Reid-Lyon-Reading-First-is-the-largest-concerted-reading-intervention-program-in-the-history-of-the-civilized-world/Page1.html.

It doesn’t matter if your are and SBRR disciple or you’ve drunk the whole language kool-aid.  It’s worth a read.

A Name Is a Name Is a …

The cyclone that hit southeast Asia this past weekend was truly a tragedy.  But it does provide us both a teaching moment and a learning concern.

Every year, we hear how poorly U.S. students perform when it comes to geography.  Many are lucky to find Canada on the map, forget southeast Asia.  We tell ourselves geography isn’t so important any more.  Our kids have more important things to do than to study maps and memorize capital cities.

So when an event like the cyclone hits, and it dominates the news, it provides us a real teaching moment.  It lets us bring out the maps and find the affected country.  It lets students study the region, and learn about its geography, its history, and its government.  It allows us to use breaking news as a hook for learning.

But that’s where we start getting into trouble here.  Pick up most major newspapers — including The Washington Post and USA Today (both of which are delivered to the Eduhouse) — and we read about the cyclone that hit Burma.  Listen to TV news or read some of the coverage on the Internet, and the people of Myanmar were hit by a cyclone Saturday.  It’s enough to confuse even the most well-intentioned of student.

We don’t expect all media outlets to use the same style guidelines.  Back in the 1980s, there was massive disagreement on the spelling of the dictator of Libya.  Just a few years ago, we had multiple spellings for bin Laden’s first name.  And let’s not even touch those classroom globes that still have Czechoslovakia printed on them.

Social studies and geography teachers, help me out here.  How do we teach children the nations of the world if we can’t even agree on the names on their “Welcome to …” signs?