Saturday, March 12, 2005


4th Grade skills not being acquired until MUCH later. None of that evil phonics is used to teach reading, no doubt

State Academic Performance Index school rankings to be released next week will, for the first time, incorporate the results of a fifth-grade science test and an eighth-grade history and social science test. But because schools focus so much in the early grades on reading and math - both because they are seen as essential gateways to other subjects and because the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires testing in those areas - many children taking the new tests haven't had time to learn much science or history.

At junior high schools in Sacramento's Grant Joint Union High School District, students who are more than two years behind in reading or math take only reading and math. Students, like those in Wu's class at Norwood Junior High, who are one to two years behind have time for a single "combo" class. For half the year they learn science; the other half history. Adam Berman, Grant's curriculum director, estimated that up to a quarter of junior high students were receiving no history or science instruction, and 30 percent to 40 percent were on the shortened schedule.

Debbie Jones teaches one of these half-year seventh-grade world history classes at Rio Tierra Junior High. She worries her children, some of whom had no history in sixth grade, are going to be ill-prepared for the eighth-grade exam, which tests the state history standards for sixth to eighth grade. "You can't go in less depth than we're going," she said.

Although teachers receive their students' scores on the tests, the scores have no impact on grades. Nor are the results used in the strict federal school accountability system. The tests were first broadly administered last spring. The rankings released next week will use those score results. Scores released in late summer will incorporate history and science testing from this spring....

Sacramento City Unified School District doesn't even have an elementary school science curriculum. Spokeswoman Maria Lopez said the district sent each school physical, earth and life science kits last year. She said the district made a decision seven years ago to focus nearly exclusively on math and reading in the lower grades. "It was felt a strong focus needed to be placed on reading and math, because our scores were not where we wanted them to be," Lopez said.

Generally, the students who are doing the worst in reading and math are the ones with the least time for science and history. Teachers worry that this dooms them to low achievement in those areas, both because they have less time and because history and science are less accessible to those with weak math and reading skills.

Teachers in Grant junior highs have been working with the History Project at the University of California, Davis, to develop skills at teaching literacy in history classes. So even in history classes, they're working on reading. But that can come at the expense of learning history. "Oftentimes the textbook is too difficult for them," Wu said. "I have to do a lot of reading instruction within the history content. You go slowly and can't cover every standard."

Still, most teachers accept that a school's first goal must be teaching reading and math. "If you have a leak in the roof, you have to spend time on that or you're going to get wet," said Tom Bothwell, a fifth-grade teacher at Aero Haven Elementary in North Highlands. A political science major in college, he said he'd rather teach more social studies.....

More here

Making learning uncool: A British teacher speaks

The establishment disses education as much as hip-hop `playas'

In recent years, there has been concern over the underachievement of black boys in UK schools. Compared to a national average of 59 per cent, only 34 per cent of African-Caribbean boys attain five or more GCSE passes. Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), seems to think that black boys' cultural outlook is partly to blame. 'There is an anti-learning culture whereby learning isn't seen to be cool.' For Phillips, black kids just don't want to learn.

Phillips is right to blame 'an anti-learning culture'. But this has little to do with hip-hop 'playas' and everything to do with the government and the cultural elites. Blaming the gormless bravado of street culture for hostility to education suggests that Phillips is more in awe of 50 Cent and Eminem than the black kids I teach. Urban entertainers may loom large in the popular imagination, but they're hardly able to dictate the agenda on education, learning and culture. After all, it wasn't Jay-Z who grabbed headlines by declaring that 'learning history is a bit dodgy'. That was the former education secretary, Charles Clarke.

Yet this wasn't just a rash comment by Clarke. Instead, hostility to learning for learning's sake currently informs every aspect of the education system. For example, the government has long attempted to put vocational learning 'on a parity of esteem' with academic subjects. The drive to vocationalise education won't necessarily bolster the status of NVQ's in Hair & Beauty, but it has cast academic courses in a negative light. When Clarke suggests that academic subjects are dodgy, he really means that they are not 'accessible' enough. Middle managers in further education colleges are following suit. At one inner London college at which I have taught, the Sixth Form Centre was constantly threatened with closure by the management, which deemed teaching A-levels as elitist.

Such an anti-learning culture is also prevalent in today's classrooms. Teachers are discouraged from extended their students' vocabulary in case it 'alienates' them. And if students are having trouble participating in classroom discussion, teachers are recommended to introduce kindergarten-style games to pass the time. In the past, educationalists would seek to overcome the barriers to learning. Today learning is seen as a barrier to developing that all-important self-esteem. Indeed, the current teaching adverts suggest that learning is an alien concept for most schools. Classrooms are represented as similar to 'crazy' youth centres where teachers simply turn up, arrange the chairs and distribute soft drinks. The apparent upside is that adults 'get to hang out with Raj' and, in a spectacular reversal of roles, get to learn a 'new language'.

This isn't merely the outcome of a daft advertising agency. In PGCE courses, student teachers are encouraged to incorporate as many hip-hop tracks and videos into lessons as possible. But such tricks are more likely to irritate students than bring them onside. Nothing is more grating for clued-up students than teachers getting down with 'the kids'. My authority would be seriously undermined if I scribbled 'blood, this is the shiznit!' on their work, or delivered sociology in a series of raps. Compared to Trevor Phillips, most of the black students I teach don't take hip-hop's ludicrous postures seriously.

The underachievement of black boys is a concern for educationalists and wider society. But the causes of the problem are varied and complex, and can't just be reduced to students' listening habits. Because there is an obsession with interpreting social groups purely in cultural terms, it is rarely acknowledged that African-Caribbean students are predominately from poorer working-class backgrounds. This isn't to suggest that social class is the only factor in determining their educational performance. But it is an important explanation for why a significant proportion of white and Bangladeshi boys also fall behind the national average.

Nevertheless, softening the education system can't compensate for the negative effects of social and racial inequalities. In fact, the government's measures are likely to make them worse. If learning appears alien and 'uncool' to some African-Caribbean students, Trevor Phillips should look less at 'the street' and a lot closer to home.


Public Schools: Past time to end that system and others: "All taxpayers should vote NO on all school levies because all public schools in America need to be closed. Our schools are teaching multiculturalism, globalism, conservation U.N.-style, and secularism, which means no God and no faith -- all of which are un-American and go against the beliefs and values of most American people. Can we please and finally say ENOUGH! Can we please stop funding the curriculum and people training our children to be globalist socialists and not Americans who value their liberties? Since when did American schools become blatant centers of Socialist re-engineering? ... America is being changed from a free country, where individuals and their human rights lead government, to global capitalist socialism, which is Global Fascism, plain and simple."


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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