Friday, October 29, 2010

Raising school standards is a dream while Leftist educational theories prevail

Passing a law to say that students MUST learn doesn't mean that they will

More than half of Illinois public schools — including, for the first time, many of the state's academic powerhouses — failed to meet test targets this year, raising questions not only about the schools, but also the standard by which they are judged.

In Illinois, high schools fared the worst. Nine out of 10 high schools — 609 of 665 in the state — missed the mark on math and reading tests and risk federal sanctions, according to information released Wednesday by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Statewide, 44 percent of elementary and middle schools fell short.

Educators say it was bound to happen. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that schools bring every student to proficiency in reading and math by 2014, a goal that most teachers have thought impossible from its inception. The standard ratchets higher every year as the deadline nears.

"Everybody knew it would get to this point. It had to," said Superintendent Linda Yonke of New Trier Township High School, which missed the test target for the first time this year.

This year, 77.5 percent of students had to read and do math at their grade level on state tests, up from 70 percent a year ago. Smaller subsets of students — as defined by race or income, for example — had to meet the target too.

New Trier, among the state's best schools by virtually any measure, posted some of its highest scores ever on the college-entrance ACT test, which comprises half of the Prairie State Achievement Exam given to juniors. But the performance of a small group of students, those with learning disabilities, fell short of the testing target.

The entire school failed as a result, revealing one of the troubling limits of the law: Schools that narrowly miss the mark with one group of kids get saddled with the same failing label as schools where virtually all students languish below grade level, and are subject to the same penalties. The sweeping designation muddies the issue for parents trying to make sense of it all, and threatens to make the federal standard irrelevant.

"When we've got 98 percent of kids going to college, you can't tell me that we're a failing school," Yonke said. What's more, she added, the very subset of learning-disabled students that failed to meet the federal standard, called "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, scored an average of 22.6 on the ACT — two points above the state average.


MN: School board says classroom isn't place to address sexual orientation

An Anoka-Hennepin school official said for the first time Wednesday that the district's sexual orientation curriculum policy will not change anytime soon. School board chairman Tom Heidemann said the board will not address the controversial policy. "They believe the policy is fine how it is now," said Superintendent Dennis Carlson.

Carlson also addressed charges that the district was not GLBT-friendly, saying he felt "frustrated" about how Anoka-Hennepin schools were being portrayed.

Anoka-Hennepin, the largest school district in Minnesota, has been in the national spotlight over gay bullying and harassment issues after seven students — five from the school district and two affiliated with area schools — took their lives in the past year. Of those students, activists said four were harassed because of a perceived gay orientation.

In recent months, community members have criticized the district's "neutrality" policy, which they say prevents teachers from talking about and standing up to bullying and harassment against gay students. Critics include Tammy Aaberg, mother of openly gay student Justin Aaberg, who took his life in July.

School officials say teachers should and can protect gay students and address bullying and harassment whenever they see it. But they say the classroom is not the place to raise politically charged or religious issues, including those dealing with sexual orientation. Instead, if those issues arise in the course of schoolwork, the district states that staff should remain "neutral."

In addition, district officials say bullying and harassment policies are already in place to make all students feel welcome. "We are not neutral to the safety of our students." Carlson said.

This week, the Anoka-Hennepin school board revised those policies to more prominently place and more clearly word that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation will not be tolerated.

The move was not good enough for some community members who said the district's "neutrality policy" also must be revised so sexual orientation could be talked about in classrooms.

"It sounds like they're trying to enforce (anti-bullying and harassment) more," Aaberg said, but she believes teachers still are getting confused over what they can and can't say and do.

Carlson said he believes the district has been used as a center for debate over a polarizing issue sweeping the country. "We don't need to be a battlefield for this type of political and religious issue," he said.

In looking at the students who took their lives, Carlson said the parents of two said their son or daughter was gay, and parents of the others have not disclosed their child's sexual orientation.

Carlson said the larger issue should be about making sure students get the support and help they need. He said suicide rates are up nationally and that at least two other metro area school districts have a larger percentage of suicides than Anoka-Hennepin.

"We have more needs than we have resources," Carlson said. "We have to ask 'what's the role of a school district in mental health issues and what are the roles of others?' This is not just ours to answer."

Meanwhile, Carlson said he and others are doing what they can to make clear to staff that the district will not tolerate bullying or discrimination against students based on their sexual orientation.

He has spoken to all 2,700 teachers in his district since the beginning of the school year. This summer, the district developed a GLBT training program for its teachers. So far, all secondary school teachers have gone through the orientation on how to indentify GLBT harassment and how to intervene. "We will not tolerate harassment," Carlson said. "If a teacher isn't tolerant, we will seek their dismissal."

Carlson said the bad reputation the district has gotten has taken its toll on a staff that cares and advocates for its students.

"My question for others is — are you here to hurt us or are you here to help us?" he said. "For us, it's a serious matter. We are trying to keep kids alive."


How pushy parents DO improve British schools: Commitment by families 'drives up standards'

It will surely be a green light for pushy mothers and fathers everywhere. Forceful parenting really does help children – and even their schools – to do better, according to research published today. Their efforts towards boosting their children’s educational achievement is highly significant, the study suggests.

In fact, researchers found it is even more important than the amount of work put in by the pupil – or their teachers. This is believed to be because parents’ conscientiousness rubs off on everyone around them, driving up standards across the board.

The study from Leicester University and Leeds University Business School suggests head teachers should deter pushy parents at their peril.

Researchers examined data from the National Child Development Study, which follows 17,000 people born in March 1958 throughout their lives. They focused on about 10,000 children aged 16 – from both state and private schools – who were asked questions about their effort in lessons, such as whether they thought school was a ‘waste of time’.

Their parents had been asked about their interest in education, for example whether they read to their child, knew about their progress and attended meetings with teachers. Teachers were also asked about their perceptions of this level of parental interest.

Researchers compared the findings to the exam results of these youngsters at age 16 and 18 and discovered that parents who showed even a small interest in their child’s education improved the probability of the average child getting four GCEs (now GCSEs).

Pushy parents were four times more likely than the school and six times more likely than the child to be able to instigate these improvements.

Professor Gianni De Fraja, head of economics at Leicester University, said: ‘If parents exert more effort, then the child also exerts more effort by working harder. ‘Separately and independently of this, the school results improve. What we found surprising is that the parent’s effort matters more than the school effort or the child’s effort.’

Children’s propensity to try hard at school was not influenced by their social background. However the socio-economic background of parents not only affected their child’s educational attainment – it also affected the school’s effort. Teachers were more likely to be more conscientious in response to middle-class parents than less advantaged ones.

Professor De Fraja said: ‘Why schools work harder where parents are from a more privileged background we do not know. ‘It might be because middle-class parents are more vocal in demanding that the school works hard.’

Last month, research claimed that private schools are being turned into ‘exam factories’ amid pressure from pushy parents to achieve results. The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 250 leading independent schools, found that teachers are being put under ‘considerable pressure’ by families to deliver top grades.


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