Monday, July 04, 2011

Handwriting obsolete?

Starting this fall, the Indiana Department of Education will no longer require Indiana’s public schools to teach cursive writing.

State officials sent school leaders a memo April 25 telling them that instead of cursive writing, students will be expected to become proficient in keyboard use. The memo says schools may continue to teach cursive as a local standard, or they may decide to stop teaching cursive altogether.

Greene County resident and parent Ericka Hostetter has mixed feelings about the teaching of cursive. She has three children, and two will be in public schools next fall. “I’m right in the middle,” she said, noting that she learned about it on Facebook. “I don’t use cursive much. I use keyboard. I use my phone, so even for my generation, I think we use the keyboard more.”

Hostetter is concerned about signatures. “I think we all need to know how to sign our names in cursive,” she said during a visit to Terre Haute Friday. Also, children will still need to be able to read cursive written by others.

“I’m really not on one end or the other,” Hostetter said. “I see the points of both sides, but to tell you the truth, I probably lean more toward the keyboard.”

In the Vigo County School Corp., handwriting is currently part of the elementary curriculum in grades 1, 2, and 3, with cursive handwriting being taught in third grade, said Karen Goeller, deputy superintendent. “We consider our students’ needs, and right now, we do see a benefit in teaching cursive as part of our curriculum,” she said.

Currently, the SAT test and Advanced Placement exams call for handwritten essays, she said. “Speed and legibility are keys to success.”

Also, research has shown that handwriting does make a difference in the perception of a student’s knowledge and ideas. Legible handwriting may improve a student test score, while messy handwriting may detract from the writer’s ideas, she said. She noted that some employers consider cursive handwriting as important in day-to- day work.

Handwriting and reading textbook adoption will be reviewed again in 2013 by a districtwide committee. “In terms of handwriting, we will consider future student needs like college and employer expectations in writing,” Goeller said.

Keyboarding also is taught in the elementary grades through a software program available in school computer labs. More advanced keyboarding, word processing and application experiences take place at the middle and high school levels, she said. “We feel it’s important students have a healthy mix of handwriting and keyboarding skills,” Goeller said.

Susan Newton, VCSC language arts curriculum coordinator, said the state is moving from Indiana Academic Standards, which includes cursive writing in third grade, to national Common Core standards, which do not include cursive writing at all.

Most states have adopted the Common Core standards, which aim to create consistent national benchmarks for all students, regardless of their home state.


Civil rights survey: 3,000 US high schools don't have math beyond Algebra I

But is there any demand for that? Kids struggling to read are unlikely to opt for advanced math

The latest Civil Rights Data Collection shows, as never before, the education inequities that hold various groups of students back.

To better diagnose achievement gaps and help education leaders tailor solutions, federal civil rights officials on Thursday released an expanded, searchable set of information – drawn from schools in more than 7,000 districts and representing at least three-quarters of American students.

The survey’s data show, as never before, the education inequities that hold various groups of students back.

For example, in 3,000 high schools, math classes don’t go higher than Algebra I, and in 7,300 schools, students had no access to calculus. Schools serving mostly African-American students are twice as likely to have inexperienced teachers as are schools serving mostly whites in the same district.

“Transparency is the path to reform, and it’s only through shining a bright spotlight on where opportunity gaps exist that we can really make headway on closing the achievement gap,” said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

“These data paint a portrait of a sad truth in America’s schools,” she said, “that the promise of fundamental fairness hasn’t reached whole groups of students that will need the opportunity to succeed, to get out of poverty, to ensure their dreams come true, and indeed to ensure our country’s prosperity.”

Nearly all states have signed on for new “Common Core” standards, designed to ensure that students complete high school ready for college or a career. But education reformers say school districts have a long way to go to help all students achieve those standards. And this data highlight such gaps.

“To know that there are large numbers of schools, particularly schools that primarily serve students of color, that do not even offer higher-level classes that would lead to college and career readiness, that’s a significant finding and something that districts need to address,” says Robert Rothman, senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, which promotes high school improvements.

The data can show inequities between nearby districts, as well as inequities within districts.

In Boston, for instance, where nearly 80 percent of students are black or Hispanic, 13 percent of teachers are in their first or second year of teaching. In the nearby suburb of Wellesley, Mass., where 81 percent of students are white, 4 percent of teachers are new to the field.

About 1 out of 5 white students in Boston is enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement (college-level) course, compared with 1 out of 12 for both African-Americans and Hispanics. Wellesley has racial disparities as well. There, nearly 1 out of 4 white students are in AP. For Hispanics, it’s 1 out of 6. Black students are 4 percent of the Wellesley district, but not a single black student is in an AP class, according to 2009 data.

In Los Angeles, students and community groups pushed for the district to make a college-prep curriculum available and mandatory for all students, because too many students were languishing in old-fashioned cosmetology courses. They persuaded the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) to do so in 2005, but progress in implementing the plan was slow.

By 2007, 66 percent of all the district’s courses were college-prep level, up from 62 percent in 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported. But the percentage of students fulfilling entrance requirements for the public university system remained the same, at just over 47 percent.

“The kids that come from schools that don’t have AP courses have very little chance of competing” when it comes to college admissions at a place like the University of California, Los Angeles, says Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project based at that school.


Too few 'outstanding' schools are outstanding at teaching, warns British schools inspectorate

Schools are being given the top rankings by Ofsted inspectors for good management rather than the standard of teaching, claims the outgoing head of the watchdog.

The Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert said that schools were getting "outstanding" status for performance in the staffroom rather than in the classroom.

In her final speech before stepping down, she said that there was now a need for a "real focus" on the development of front line teaching. She said: "Too many outstanding schools have teaching and learning that is good but not excellent. Excellence needs to be reflected in the staffroom and the classroom."

Mrs Gilbert's comments came as Ofsted figures show that of the secondaries graded in 2009/2010 just 30 per cent received the top rating for their teaching compared to 95 per cent which were given outstanding for leadership and management. The figures for all schools currently graded outstanding less than two-thirds received the highest mark for their performance in the classroom.

The chief inspector said there was a "real work to be done around the quality of teaching" and that it was "important to reassert the need for a real focus on observation of the front line."

Reported in the Times Educational Supplement, she said continuous professional development was key to improving teaching quality and she had a "real regret" that its importance was not spelt out in the current Ofsted inspection framework.

But her comments were condemned as "punitive" by one teaching leader. "There is no evidence that teachers are not doing a good job," said Chris Keates, the general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT. "Ofsted is part of the accountability regime which, under the current Government is bringing in a whole series of measures that are shifting the focus onto teachers and away from school leaders. "We have got a punitive model that is becoming even more punitive."

She admitted that after four-and-a-half years in the job, that inspections were more about judging value for money and delivering "readable" results. She called for ministers to allow the watchdog to inspect academy schools and to be given extra powers to look at financial stability, sustainability, and added value, especially as education was becoming ever more fragmented.

Mrs Gilbert also floated the idea that one day inspection could "become wholly commercial and contractual " with schools paying for the inspections. Ultimately she said schools "could enter into an agreement about being inspected and use that report as a part of their selling device (to parents)."

The Government is currently tightening entry conditions to the profession and has made high-quality teaching a key theme of their reforms, drawing on international research showing it is a prerequisite to improving education systems.


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