Archive for the ‘Academics’ Category

Scholastic’s Survey of Teachers’ Classroom Spending

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

The education publishing company Scholastic surveyed 3,694 teachers (including 76 school librarians) and 1,027 principals this past summer and found that a majority feel their students, both low- and high-poverty, face barriers to learning outside of the classroom. To help make a difference, the surveyed teachers:

  • On average, spent $530 of their own money on classroom items.
  • On average, spent $672 in high-poverty schools


  • 70% indicated they’d bought food and snacks for their students.
  • 65% purchased cleaning supplies.
  • 26% bought clothing for their students.
  • 56% purchased classroom books.

Plus, on average, the surveyed principals spent $683 for classroom or student supplies over the past year, with those in high-poverty schools averaging $1,014.  79% indicated they’d bought food and snacks for students.

Another interesting finding: While most teachers have classroom libraries, 31% have fewer than 50 books. Those in elementary schools have, on average, 362 books; middle school teachers average 189 books, and those at the high school level have just 93.

And so it goes…


George Will on Academia

Monday, November 28th, 2016

In a USA Today commentary, George Will wrote, “… Campuses create ‘safe spaces’ where students can shelter from discombobulating thoughts and receive spiritual balm for the trauma of microaggressions. Yet the presidential election came without trigger warnings?” He continues to note that on November 7, whether elated or despondent, most “normal” folks got back to the business of their lives, but not so many college students, too traumatized to get on with their studies on campuses that are no longer bastions of free thought and dialogue among those with opposing views. No, not at all.

As Will notes:

  • A Yale professor made the day’s exam optional for students distraught by the election’s result.
  • A University of Colorado student wrote “free speech matters” on 680 posters that warned about politically incorrect speech.
  • Catholic DePaul University decried an “Unborn Lives Matter” poster as bigotry.
  • Bowdoin College offered counseling services to students “traumatized by the cultural appropriation committed by a sombrero-and-tequila party.”
  • Some Oberlin College students suffered breakdowns because schoolwork interfered with their political activism.
  • Cal State University, Los Angeles, provided “healing spaces” to help students handle a speech made 3 months earlier.

And on and on it goes , with esteemed professors (more…)

Kids Are Smarter Than We Think

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Fotosearch Test Taking 26734All along, the powers that be have said American kids come in either above or below the all-mighty grade level mark when it comes to academic performance–but not apparently on it. Really. Meanwhile, it was also determined that just 5% to 15% of our students scored in at that “above” range. Yikes, right?!

But then Johns Hopkins researchers recently went to work analyzing performance results in three key states to definitively answer the question: “How many students perform above grade level?” and targeted three states:

  1. Florida because it opted out of the Common Core State Standards adopted by most states in one form or another.
  2. Wisconsin because it adopted the Common Core but not its related SBAC  online assessment’s adaptive features, which is known there as the Badger Exam.
  3. California because it went all in for the Common Core and its related SBAC online assessment.

And here’s what they discovered:

  • In Wisconsin,  32% of 3rd graders and 45% of 8th graders scored 1+ years above grade level in English/Language Arts. When it came to math, 38% of 3rd graders and 26% of 8th graders did so. Plus, more than 33% of the 8th graders scored at or above the 11th grade proficiency level.
  • As for performance on the SBAC in California, 21% of 3rd graders and 37% of 8th graders scored 1+ years above grade level in English/Language Arts; 19% of 3rd graders and 34% of 8th graders did so in math.
  • And in Florida that has not relied whatsoever on the Common Core, 30% of 3rd graders and 42% of 8th graders scored 1+ years above grade level; 36% of 3rd graders and 38% of 7th graders did so in math. Eighth grade scores were not available.

The researchers’ conclusion: Our kids are far better off academically than that previous 5% to 15% figure.

Another interesting take-away: California, with its Common Core curriculum and related standardized test, by no means outdid the other two states…

Education Week Takes on Virtual Charter Schools

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

The special report, “Rewarding Failure,” starts off by saying, “With growing evidence that the nation’s cyber charter schools are plagued by serious academic and management problems, Education Week conducted a months-long investigation into what is happening in this niche sector of K-12 schooling…” and found that:

  • “Collectively, online charters receive more than a billion dollars in taxpayer money each year.”
  • “Online charters serve more than 200,00 students across 26 states; many are run by for-profit companies.”
  • “Stanford researchers say cyber charters have an ‘overwhelmingly negative impact’ on student learning.”

All on its own, highly touted K12 Inc. has:

  1. Hired 321 lobbyists over 14 years;
  2. Incurred lobbying expenditures of $10,585,177 since 2000;
  3. Donated $2,124,002 to candidates, party committees, PACs, and ballot measures.

Not far behind in spending your money is Connections Education which:

  1. Hired 212 lobbyists over 13 years;
  2. Incurred lobbying expenditures of $3,784,818 since 2002;
  3. Donated $62,500 to candidates, party committees, PACs, and ballot measures.

The report goes on to say that, despite their poor academic results, “Online charter advocates counter that the schools provide a safe haven for students who would not otherwise succeed in regular public schools and offer flexibility that some students and parents want. They argue that cyber charters should not be evaluated by the same measures as regular public schools.”

What measures one would wonder then, even as your tax dollars continue down the charter school drain…

Our Nation Is In Need of a History and Civics Revival

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Such is the title of Esther J.Cepeda’s commentary that appeared on October 9 in The Salt Lake Tribune; the timing couldn’t be better. As she wrote, “In our Internet-connected world where cute is king and issues of substance tend to be discussed only if there’s a catchy meme to share, people are far likelier to know that September 17 was National Apple Dumpling Day than that it marked the beginning of Constitution Week.”

And the piece just keeps getting better and better from there, including such facts as, on the NAEP, known as the nation’s report card, only 23% of tested 8th graders were at or above proficiency in civics. One reason finds the Fordham Institute: 60% of America’s largest school districts–teaching some 11 million students–have mission statements that do NOT mention civics, citizenship, or democracy–and the term “U.S. citizenship” appears on just one such statement…

Click here to read the entire piece.

Homework Helpers

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Parents are stepping aside, relegating what once was seen as a mom and/or dad imperative to a relative stranger known as a homework helper.   Really–and not to be confused with a tutor.

A tutor comes to the task with a specific expertise or two.  For instance, many kids hit a math wall when algebra is added to their rosters or have trouble comprehending their textbooks.  If a parent doesn’t get it either, then a tutor is paid to come rescue the situation.

But such is not the case here.  As explained in the New York Times article, “Like a Monitor More Than a Tutor,” homework helpers are not teachers with an expertise in a certain subject area.  Think of them, instead, as generalists and perhaps even task masters.  As New York City’s Central Park Tutors’ co-owner Mike Wallach explains it:  “This niche industry caters to students who are capable of doing the work but need someone there who can just be there with them to consistently do the work in a regular manner.”

The company’s site puts it this way:  “[Along with tutoring services] for those who need it, we also have experience focusing on organization, learning disabilities, emotional frustration, or lack of interest.” 

Homework helper or parent substitute?  You decide.

The School Trend of Bypassing Failure

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Many of us believe that failure is highly underrated, that inherent in a dismal showing are lessons to be learned.  But in a number of districts across the country, failure’s reach is limited by design.

For instance, many Texas districts establish minimum grades of 50, 60, or even 70 for assignments and report cards.  In other words, fail, then get a grade boost.

Apparently, such administrators believe that by thus helping students bypass failure, they will feel better about themselves, work harder, and meet success.

If only it were that simple.  Unfortunately, many kids figure out the system and play it like a fiddle, getting away with minimal effort, yet receiving the same grade as other students who work their butts off to pass.

Down there in Texas, Republican Jane Nelson doesn’t think that’s fair, so last year she sponsored legislation to prevent districts from setting these minimum grades, and her efforts are supported by the state’s education commissioner, Robert Scott.

National Education Association-Dallas board member, Diane Birdwell agrees and says, “We have now raised a group of students through the school system that know if you do nothing, you get a 50.  I don’t know any job that pays me half my salary for doing nothing.”

The districts in question are fighting back, though, so stay tuned.  Hopefully, they’ll lose in court, so that  whatever students earn ends up being the grades that appear on their assignments, tests, and report cards.

Valedictorians by the Number

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

In the good old days, the top grade earner in any given senior class, in any given year, was always #1–a singular distinction that came with the title valedictorian.  Come in second and be named salutatorian.  But these are new days and the old rules apparently don’t apply anymore.  Which, to my way of thinking, is a shame.

Nowadays, competition is getting a bad rap and self-esteem considerations reign with the result that, across the country, schools are naming multiple valedictorians.  Really.

Take for example:

  • Stratford High School (Houston suburbs) honored 30 valedictorians this year–6.5% of the senior class!
  • Harrison High School (north of NYC) named 13 valedictorians in a class of 221 students.
  • St. Vrain Valley District (Colorado)  named 94 valedictorians!

As reported by Winnie Hu in her “How Many Graduates Does It Take to Be No.1,” Don Haddad, St. Vrain Valley District’s superintendent said, “We have not lowered the bar to achieve more valedictorians.  More kids are now getting over the bar.”

I just don’t see it that way.  To my way of thinking, doing so dilutes the distinction usually attributed to that honor, laying it to waste.

In the real world, there will always be a top dog, a numero uno, a star who steals the show–but, apparently, that’s a lesson a number of our schools refuse to teach.