Tag Archives: education reform

More on promoting reading for kids

21 Oct

In a July 2011 post, “Instilling a Love of Reading, By Whatever Means,” I commented on an article suggesting bribery to get kids to read. That’s still not a bad idea. <a href="http://wp.me/pWVCn-3V&quot; title="Instilling a Love of Reading, …"

Now I've come across even better ideas from a famous author I have newfound respect for: James Patterson who, with Hachette Book Group, took out a full-page ad in the Oct. 13, 2011, New York Times.

"We Can Get Our Kids Reading." made salient points about parent involvement, noting that to leave the development of a love for reading entirely to the schools is a tragic mistake. "Moms and Dads, it's important that your kids see you reading" was one of several statements that got my attention.

Must pass along a few great websites Patterson cited: GuysRead.com (for boys who are reluctant readers), ReadKiddoRead.com, FirstBook.org and the Kids Reading List at Oprah.com


Why We Should Cry for Change in Education, Part 5

15 Sep

Even though my day-to-day teaching duties are over, I’m enjoying the website Edutopia, founded by George Lucas and others. It seems to be a teacher-supportive mix of practical advice and progressive thinking, with thoughtful bloggers and helpful videos.

This blog headline caught my attention the other day: “The Role of Mistakes in the Classroom,” by Alina Tugend, a New York Times columnist and author of “Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong.” Tugend’s premise is that it’s OK for school kids to make mistakes in math, reading comprehension and other subjects because it’s all in the name of learning. With effort, kids might arrive at the right answers, and even if they don’t, they should be praised for embarking on that road to learning and not just shirking off an assignment because their mindset is that they can’t do it. The concept makes so much sense; the trouble is that it butts heads with our test-scores-are-everything goals right now.

I liked how Tugend called the idea “resilient learning,” and it helped me recall the times I had to coax freshmen and sophomores into writing an essay, any essay, because — I assured them — their efforts would be reflected in their grade. So many of the kids assumed that a poorly written essay would be an automatic F; thus, why put in the effort? So, sure, I graded some pretty rough patches of writing in my time — full of sentence fragments, wandering ideas, cliched openings and conclusions and, yeesh, the spelling errors. But, hey, they were writing.

I could contrast my approach to grading essays to some of my colleagues’ methods and their superciliousness when it came to catching mistakes — an attitude of “aha! I knew I’d find a noun-pronoun disagreement in there!” Should teachers fill students’ papers with critical comments in the hopes of teaching them something? That’s a whole ‘nother topic there.

I saw Francisco the other day when I was subbing. “Look, Ms. Ross, I’m still here!” The odds were so heavy against Francisco when he was in my sophomore English class. He had moved here from LA to escape the gang life, where he had survived a stabbing, only to get lured into the wannabe-gangsta life at our school. Still, he worked with all of his teachers and a magnificent ESL aide to keep up his grades. When the narrative essay assignment came up, he admitted he’d never written more than a sentence at a time. With a little encouragement, though, he handed in a long, heartfelt essay about the mistakes in his life and the quest to become a better man. Full of errors? Yes. Sophomore-level writing? No, but a triumph in narrative voice.

And in just a few months, Francisco will have a diploma.

Here’s a cogent point from the comments section of the blog, said by instructional coach and writer David Ginsburg: “You can’t win if you don’t play–and the way to get kids to ‘play’ is to stress effort more so than accuracy.”

Why We Should Cry for Change in Education, Part 4

10 Jun

OK, so I was just skimming the previous three posts on education and I figure I better keep the momentum going — I don’t get my dander up all that often!

Here’s a virtual pat on the back and a hip, hip, hooray to a parent writing a guest column for CNN.com this week:

In “Reformers, please listen to what parents want for schools,” parent Helen Gym of Philadelphia does what I wish more parents would do: She seeks out the latest information on education reform from reliable sources (not blowhards on talk radio, for instance), digests the information and relates it to her own kids and the school they attend, then synthesizes that information into direct recommendations that make a whole lot of sense. I congratulate Gym on this sincere effort of parent involvement, with a capital I.

The writer is founder of Parents United for Public Education, and I like many of her thoughts. By the way, it does take a village to not only raise but also to educate a child. Let’s not leave all the decisions on reform to highly paid education consultants and the legislators that they happened to connect with. Teachers AND parents have a voice. I wish I would have heard a bigger smattering of constructive comments on education in general from parents when I was a public school teacher.

Gym cautions against evaluating schools only by measurements on such things as teacher performance and standardized tests; instead, look at the aspects of school life that have touched families like hers: things like cultural connections, community service projects and kind words from teachers. What integrates school with home life? The answers are important.

The CNN.com column also gets into how parents and educational policy experts are often at odds in their views. For instance, parents ask for smaller class sizes to nurture teacher-child relationships (crucial all the way through high school!), while the policy makers talk about creating efficiencies (meaning bigger classes).

The writer mentions Parents Across America, a national group, and its blueprint for reform. Here’s how she summarizes some of its points:

“Among the suggestions: Address the dramatic inequity in resources within and among school districts so we can maintain smaller class sizes and early childhood programs. Create strong, effective support for teachers, provide a rich well-rounded curriculum, and create multiple ways to evaluate teaching and learning. Make parental involvement meaningful and include roles for governance.”

Well said. Here’s the link to the whole column:


Why We Should Cry for Change in Education, Part 1

3 May

I’m not one to proclaim my opinions loudly, in public or in print; in fact, I can be a bit wishy-washy. But there’s one area — the American public school system — where I have first-hand knowledge and have listened carefully to plenty of relevant discourse. It’s an area where I know I need to be more opinionated. I have been out of full-time teaching for nearly a year now, and when I’m at school to substitute I am quickly reminded of the obstacles to a better education for American kids.

So here goes: a few strong beliefs of mine that it’s time to voice.

For this blog (and more to come) I am helped by a 2009 op-ed piece in The New York Times by Harold O. Levy, a former NYC schools chancellor, and author Diane Ravitch, whom I’ve come to admire from her TV appearances.

Number 1: Lengthen the school day, lengthen the school year, even lengthen kids’ time in the school system from 13 years to 14.

Why? Consider that many kids going home from school after a 6- to 7-hour day are not going home to enriching activities. Homework and organized sports, maybe, if parents push it. But more likely, it’s brain-deadening video games and TV. For high school kids, part-time jobs are great if they can find them; but too often I’ve seen high-schoolers turn into mini-adults, letting the shifts at the pizza parlor cut into their studies, even taking “urgent” calls from their supervisor during class time.

As for the school year, many have rightly argued that a nine-month span is a fusty relic of a century ago, leaving kids with way too much time for summertime brain drain.

And Levy’s idea of using one more year past the traditional end to high school to let teens experience post-secondary education makes a lot of sense. He echoes President Obama’s recent suggestion that an additional year could be directed toward a four-year university, a community college, a vocational school or an apprenticeship — a wealth of choices. In any case, it might prevent students — diploma in hand — from taking the first minimum-wage job they are offered. High school counselors could do a better job of presenting career options to teens so that they could “buy in” to that extra year as setting them on a valuable path.

Levy would make the extra year compulsory, with the government picking up the tab. I believe we ought to quickly transition the school system into a 14-year, extended-day framework, with the message to kids that they will graduate from high school with a more solid plan for their future.

Next blog — Number 2: Push online education, special charter schools and other alternatives for kids 14 and older whose lack of motivation and classroom disruptions hurt the kids who really want to learn.

Levy, Harold O. “Five Ways to Fix America’s Schools.” The New York Times, June 8, 2009.

another good link —


Dave Eggers and co-founder of national tutoring network give good reasons as to why there’s not better teacher retention.

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