Friday, February 29, 2008
Survey Finds Teenagers Ignorant on Basic History and Literature Questions
By SAM DILLON
Published: February 27, 2008
Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492.
The survey results, released on Tuesday, demonstrate that a significant proportion of teenagers live in “stunning ignorance” of history and literature, said the group that commissioned it, Common Core.
The organization describes itself as a new research and advocacy organization that will press for more teaching of the liberal arts in public schools.
The group says President Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind, has impoverished public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics, but in no other subjects.
Politically, the group’s leaders are strange bedfellows. Its founding board includes Antonia Cortese, executive vice president of the AFT, a union that is a powerful force in the Democratic Party, and Diane Ravitch, an education professor at New York University who was assistant education secretary under the first President George Bush.
Its executive director is Lynne Munson, former deputy chairwoman of the National Endowement for the Humanities, and former special assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne.
“We’re a truly diverse group,” Mrs. Munson said. “We almost certainly vote differently, and we have varying opinions about different aspects of educational reform. But when it comes to concern that all of America’s children receive a comprehensive liberal arts and science education, we all agree.”
In the survey, 1,200 17-year-olds were called in January and asked to answer 33 multiple-choice questions about history and literature that were read aloud to them. The questions were drawn from a test that the federal government administered in 1986.
About a quarter of the teenagers were unable to correctly identify Hitler as Germany’s chancellor in World War II, instead identifying him as a munitions maker, an Austrian premier and the German kaiser.
On literature, the teenagers fared even worse. Four in 10 could pick the name of Ralph Ellison’s novel about a young man’s growing up in the South and moving to Harlem, “Invisible Man,” from a list of titles. About half knew that in the Bible Job is known for his patience in suffering. About as many said he was known for his skill as a builder, his prowess in battle or his prophetic abilities.
The history question that proved easiest asked the respondents to identify the man who declared, “I have a dream.” Ninety-seven percent correctly picked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
About 8 in 10, a higher percentage than on any other literature question, knew that Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is about two children affected by the conflict in their community when their father defends a black man in court.
In a joint introduction to their report, Ms. Cortese and Dr. Ravitch did not directly blame the No Child law for the dismal results but said it had led schools to focus too narrowly on reading and math, crowding time out of the school day for history, literature and other subjects.
“The nation’s education system has become obsessed with testing and basic skills because of the requirements of federal law, and that is not healthy,” Ms. Cortese and Dr. Ravitch said.
“You can be supportive of N.C.L.B. and also support strengthening the teaching of history and literature,” a spokeswoman for the Education Department, Samara Yudof, said. “It’s good to talk about expanding the curriculum, but if you can’t read, you can’t read anything at all.”
A string of studies have documented the curriculum’s narrowing since Mr. Bush signed the law in January 2002.
Last week, the Center on Education Policy, a research group in Washington that has studied the law, estimated that based on its own survey that 62 percent of school systems had added an average of three hours of math or reading instruction a week at the expense of time for social studies, art and other subjects.
The Bush administration and some business and civil rights groups warn against weakening the law, saying students need reading and math skills to succeed in other subjects.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
U. S. Secretarty of Education Margaret Spellings visited Oklahoma today as a part of her nationwide tour to discuss the No Child Left Behind federal mandates.
Spellings spoke to the senate and house education committees and about a hundred guests in the house chamber. She also answered questions from the audience about the reauthorization of NCLB.
“While measuring yearly progress and seeking proficiency from all students are worthy goals, the high-stakes standardized testing has undermined the quality of teaching,” said OEA president Roy Bishop.
Educators agree that children are more than just a test score, he said, and multiple measures are needed to accurately gauge student progress.
Not only did students improve at a faster rate before NCLB, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but the narrow focus on reading and math test scores has forced school districts to cut curriculum time in areas like social studies, science, music and art.
The shifts in instructional time towards reading and math has caused time in other core subjects like science and social studies to be cut by more than 70 minutes per week, according to a report released this month by the Center on Education Policy.
“No Child Left Behind makes it increasingly difficult for our teachers to develop the well-rounded citizens our nation needs to compete in a global economy,” Bishop said.
There has also been an increasing gap in federal funding between what is given to implement the program and what is needed. In Oklahoma, the funding gap between authorized and actual appropriated funds was $206 million in 2007 and has accumulated to $753 million since its implementation in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Education budget data.
At a time when our common education fund is $37 million short and legislators are projecting shortages for next year, educators are concerned the districts will once again be left to absorb the costs of NCLB.
More quality time, not just more time
OKC-The Oklahoma Education Association believes House Bill 3122 passed by the House to reduce teacher training days in order to extend the school year is detrimental to the future of Oklahoma’s children.
The single best determinant of a student’s success is the quality of the teacher, said OEA President Roy Bishop.
“It is essential that we have quality teachers in the classroom, but the bill takes away the professional development that helps provide teacher quality,” Bishop said.
The legislation eliminates three of the five state-authorized professional development days and converts the days to instructional time.
OEA President Roy Bishop said research consistently reaffirms how essential professional development is to success in the classroom.
“In a time of more accountability and high-stakes testing, we cannot afford to cut professional development. Oklahoma’s students deserve better and OEA is committed to ensuring great public schools for every child.”
The bill authored by Rep. Tad Jones (R-Claremore) would also convert the 180-day school year to 1,080 hours.
“We support the flexibility the bill gives local school districts, but not at the expense of professional development,” said Bishop.
Calendar swap: School days proposal raises questions
Lawmakers wasted no time in giving the initial go-ahead to a bill that would keep Oklahoma students in the classroom for the equivalent of three more days. It may not be the victory proponents of a longer school year had hoped for.
State law authorizes a 180-day school year, including five days for teacher professional development. The bill that passed a House subcommittee would convert three of the professional days to instructional days for students. It also changes the way schools count school days, requiring 1,080 hours of instruction — the equivalent of 180 six-hour school days — so schools with longer school days would have more flexibility in meeting the mandate.
Students undoubtedly need more time in school. It's been pointed out many times that Oklahoma has one of the nation's shortest school years. Students also are expected to know more than ever before, beginning in elementary school.
State Superintendent Sandy Garrett's time reform task force recommended the school year eventually be extended to 197 days but wanted just five new days for the coming school year. The $90 million cost estimated for a five-day addition to the school calendar is certainly part of the problem, especially now that the state faces a standstill budget.
Adding days to the school year makes sense as long as schools use the days wisely. It makes less sense, though, to do so at the expense of mandated teacher training. Evolving technology, ever-increasing academic standards and scientific research make it critical that teachers continue to explore new and better ways to improve education for all students.
The swap approach means the state wouldn't face the sticker shock of truly lengthening the school year. But if it means teachers are less prepared while having students longer, will Oklahoma really be any closer to the goal of better-prepared students?
Monday, February 25, 2008
The keynote session was presented by Robb Gray, the State Project Coordinator for the Center on Budget and Policy Profiles in Washington, D.C. Rob works with State Fiscal Analysis Initiative organizations and other nonprofit groups. His presentation discussed the current state of Oklahoma’s budget and tax structure and the threats confronting the state’s ability to provide for a quality education system long-term. This program is part of OEA’s commit to our program on Taxation, Economic Development and School Funding (TEF).
We would like to thank Sen. Judy McIntyre of Tulsa for not hearing Senate Bill 2148 that would give tax credits to Oklahomans who donate to private schools. Tax credits and vouchers reduce the resources available to ensure great public schools for every child.
Senate Bill 2100 threatens your local association's right to negotiate a contract. The bill would allow the State Board of Education to establish a Charter District Pilot Program. Ten school districts in Oklahoma could apply for the pilot program and function similar to charter schools. SB 2100 would allow school districts to:
*Not follow all state regulations, only a select few.
*Eliminate contract negotiations.
*Reduce standards for teacher certification.
*Eliminate due process.
Contact your senator to voice your opposition against this bill.
House Bill 2681 threatens to change the date of notification of reemployment from April 10 to June 10. The two-month delay would allow less time for teachers to find other employment if the contract was not renewed. It would also leave districts strapped for time to hire a new teacher. This bill is detrimental to students, teachers and school districts. Contact your legislators and let them know the harm this bill would cause our Oklahoma schools.
Icy conditions didn’t keep a number of education support professionals from attending the 2008 OEA ESP Lobby Day at the Capitol. The ESP came to lobby for living wages and benefits for the people who provide the school’s operational services. These men and women are some of the lowest paid workers in our state and are part of what many in our country call the “working poor”. Ironically, because they have access to our kids on a day to day basis, they can provide tremendous influence and help to those kids.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
A recent exhibt at the National Geographic Society entitled " Frogs", with photography by Mark W. Moffett aka. Dr. Bugs, is a great way to get kids interested in lesson plans about our environment. There are a number of great ways you can address the issues the exhibt can bring up and I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
After the program finished up, the Cadre spent two days in Lawton presenting workshops to the Special Needs Teachers and their aides. The programs were well received and in cooperation and collaboration with the Lawton Public Schools and Judy Runnels, President and the outstanding members of the Professional Educator's Association of Lawton.
I had the honor of addressing both gatherings before the start of the programs and it was another OEA succesful teaching and learning project.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Thank you Mr. Greene!
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Getting kids and adults to write letters is a challenge in this day and age. It is so easy to use email or telephone, but to actually write a letter is rare. This would be a chance to show people how letters have played such a significant role in our country and culture. I hope that it encourages you to put together a letter writing lesson plan for your students.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
It is important that we take immediate action in support of Senate Joint Resolution 40. The measure would amend the constitution and permit local school districts to let their district voters decide if the budget should be increased up to five additional mills. The bill would provide:
Non-chargeable funds that would not reduce state aid.
More money for districts to use at their discretion.
More Money for things like classroom supplies that normally fall on the teacher to fund.
We are asking OEA members to call or email Senators Mike Morgan (405-521-5565), Glenn Coffee (405-521-5636), Charlie Laster (405-521-5539) and Owen Laughlin (405-521-5626) to make sure the bill is heard in the Senate Education Appropriation Subcommittee. We do not want to let an additional source of funding slip through the cracks.