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More Funding and More Academics for Preschool

by Julie 28. January 2015 10:38
“Pre” means “before,” so using logic, “preschool” should mean “before school.” However, it doesn’t necessarily mean “before education.” Children’s brains develop rapidly in the first years of life. They are constantly learning about their surroundings and themselves, creating a great opportunity to start shaping their academic and social skills. This realization though, has led to questions, which have recently been topics of conversation thanks to President Obama’s Preschool for All initiative.


1. High-quality preschool programs can be expensive. How can we increase the number of lower-income children who have access to these programs?

When children’s parent(s) work and can’t be at home, they need to find a place where they feel their children will be well taken care of. Unfortunately, many high-quality preschool programs are too expensive for families. Many times, relatives and friends aren’t an option either. So, they need to either stay home and lose income or send their children to less expensive, lower-quality programs.

President Obama’s Preschool for All initiative would direct more government money towards low- to moderate-income children going to high-quality early learning programs. In addition, funding would be used to create more full-day programs, allowing parents to work full-time without worrying about finding a second place for their children to be in the afternoon.

In December 2014, the White House Summit on Early Education was held. Here, many organizations decided to direct more of their money into early learning. With their investments and some federal funding, a $1 billion package to provide funding for preschool programs was created. Companies like Disney are even using their money to make educational apps and books more accessible. This package is just the beginning.

2. Are parent’s choices about their children’s early years being taken away?

No! When Libby Doggett from the U.S. Department of Education spoke to Education Week, she made sure to state that programs are voluntary. The plan does not require preschool. It simply makes it more accessible and actually gives lower-income families more options. Parents are still welcome to keep their children at home with them if it is a possibility (though it may be beneficial to teach children some academic basics so they won’t fall behind). If not, parents can choose a preschool program for their children. The additional funding would give them the opportunity to focus on academics and childcare rather than affordability when selecting a program.

3. What is meant by academics? What will happen to play, creativity, and imagination?

Unfortunately, these questions are harder to answer at this time. According to a press release from The White House, states would need early learning standards, qualified teachers, and assessment systems in order to get funding. The standards ensure that children reach certain benchmarks and understand what they need to know to help them in their lives. The assessments ensure that the program is working and the funding isn’t going to waste. But from what we have seen in elementary school, with assessments looming, the creative play aspect seems to get left behind. The facts are taught as facts and reviewed with problems on paper instead. Will the same thing begin to happen in preschools across the country?

I think this is up to teachers. Creativity and play should not be lost while striving for academic success. We recently shared an article about the importance of play on Facebook. Play is a way to learn not only core subjects, but also social skills. For example, playing with building blocks teaches special recognition and creation through combining shapes. It can also teach children to share and work together.

Many skills, whether academic or social, can be taught through creative play:
  •         *hopscotch can teach counting while providing physical activity
  •         *Simon Says can teach listening skills
  •         *shopping (real or fake) can teach counting, reading, and food groups as children find the right items in the right quantities.
  •         *dramatic plays can teach teamwork, public speaking, and even history depending on the topic
These methods can also increase critical thinking skills. The children aren’t just repeating the facts; they are working with the ideas and learning how to apply them.
 
What do you think about the Preschool for All initiative? And how would you address academic standards in early learning environments? Leave a comment to let us know!


Hunger Games

by Patrick 23. December 2014 09:09
Thanksgiving has come and gone, the turkey-induced naps are over, and for many of us (myself included) it’s time to start eating healthier again… if only to make room for the next holiday’s overindulgence. We are not the only ones to have their diets reconsidered as of late. School lunches across the country have been put under the microscope in an attempt to improve student health. So how have they faired?

The latest initiative to improve the nutritional quality of school lunches – spearheaded by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Program – has met with mixed reviews. On the plus side, a report recently released by JAMA Pediatrics shows that lunches provided by schools have generally become healthier than lunches brought from home. They have fewer sugars, fats and processed foods than lunches brought from home, as well as more fruit and vegetable options. And though school lunches may still not meet the ideals of 


a truly health-focused meal,   as suggested by research from both Johns Hopkins and Baylor Universities, it’s a marked improvement over school lunches provided in past decades.

But improving lunch options are only half the battle, and it is clear that students across the country have not universally embraced the change. Many have taken to Twitter to post pictures of some truly head-scratching meals with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama. Though students are placing the blame on the wrong person – the first lady has no role in choosing which specific foods will go onto a lunch menu – the social media storm sheds light on the fact that, while school lunches may be healthier, they haven’t all distanced themselves from the stereotyped idea of the disgusting school lunch. As a result, while school-provided lunches may be healthier, students aren’t necessarily eating them. A recent study finds that students are most likely to throw away their fruits and vegetables, the very foods that they are meant to be eating more of. Thankfully, the study is quick to point out that students are not now throwing away a larger percentage of their entire meal than in the past, only that more of that percentage come from fruits and vegetables. So just because students have to pick a fruit or a vegetable, this does not mean that they pick one, immediately throw it away and go without one entire portion of their lunch.

So how do schools tackle these problems with their new lunches?  Something has to be done to erase the potential that unappetizing food, healthy though it may be, is leading students to not eat. Not only does this undermine the entire point of improving school lunches, but who among us can’t say that when our favorite lunch, or even just a particularly good lunch, was served, we had a better second half of our day? 

Obviously schools are still working to figure out how to implement a healthier menu that their students will like, and feedback from initial rollout stages will invariably lead to even more improvements. But the issue of funding lies central to the some of these problems. Healthier foods are more expensive than processed foods, and many schools do not have the money to serve vegetables with enough secondary ingredients to make them more appealing to picky students. Of course schools have opportunities to find creative ways to make tasty, healthy lunches more cheaply. But without increasing spending, on both ingredients and preparation, food quality can only improve so much. In the end, it will be up to schools and their communities to determine if and how much they are willing to spend to give their students the best possible lunches.

Tell us what you think. How should schools try to give students healthy, appetizing lunches? Has your school introduced new meals, and were they successful? Leave us a comment.



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A Special Thanks to Teachers

by Julie 26. November 2014 16:20
We would like to extend a very special thank you to all the teachers out there. To do so, we asked the Lorenz Educational Press team and others at our parent company, The Lorenz Corporation, to complete the following sentences (they were also welcomed to include more details):

- I am thankful for teachers because...

- I am thankful for teachers who…


The responses included everything from just the sentence endings to paragraphs and stories. I was in charge of compiling the responses, and I was thrilled to see so many people excited for the opportunity to thank teachers. Some people included notes that showed the emotion behind the responses, such as the ones below:

  • - What a great idea!...You hit on a passion of mine, so if I’m too long or wordy, let me know. ~Patti (Don’t worry; it is all there.) 

  • - I am a huge cheerleader for teachers – so many made an enormous impact on my life over the years, and I feel that the profession is overlooked and severely underestimated in terms of what it really provides our culture (youth and otherwise). ~Sarah

  • - Come to think of it, I could literally write an entire blog post about why I love teachers. So I definitely have more examples if you need any! … I seriously love school and teachers and knowledge. ~Elisabeth (She sent a second response to say this.)

Before I share the responses with you, I want to encourage you to reach out to a teacher(s), even if you are one yourself, and say thank you (in person, by phone, mail, email, or social media even). They dedicate time before, during, and after school (even on their weekends and breaks) to their students and have a lasting impact because of it. The comments section is just waiting for you to add to our list of responses. Let teachers know that you care!

Our thanks:

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they are molding our future generations! I am thankful for teachers who don’t get thanked very often, but always go the extra mile anyway! ~Katie H.

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they influence and inspire young minds! ~Deb

  • -I am thankful for teachers who made me feel good about being smart when everyone else thought I was a nerd/geek. ~Ted

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they helped make me a better me. I am thankful for teachers who go the extra mile because they care – really care. ~ Pete

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they have the most important job in the world. They shape our future. There are more than a thousand “most valuable lessons” that I have taken away from all levels of education, but one of my favorites, which is often overlooked, is patience. I am thankful for the teachers that were patient with me. Patient when I didn’t get it yet. Patient when I thought I had it, but I didn’t. Patient when I thought I would never get it. Patient when I was in a bad mood. Patient when I was in an off-the-wall good mood. Patiently teaching me the value of patience and consideration. This lesson informs my interactions with friends, strangers, colleagues, students, and family in all parts of my life. I am thankful for that ongoing lesson, and the teachers who continue to teach it, every day. ~Kirsten

  • - I am thankful for teachers because what they write on the blackboard of life can never be erased. ~Mary

  • - I am thankful for teachers who have a genuine interest and investment in the intellectual and emotional well-being of their students. ~Mark

  • - I am thankful for the teachers who had more confidence in me than I had in myself. They never gave up on me, and that will always mean the world to me. ~Katie L.

  • - I’ll never forget the afternoon I spent with my physics professor discussing instantaneous velocity. He re-did the math, drew pictures, and tried explaining the concept several different ways, but 10 sheets of scrap paper later and I still wasn’t getting it. Finally, after about 40 minutes, it clicked. My professor’s eyes lit up and he threw his pen down, relieved. The relief suddenly gave way to panic, however, as he sprang out of his seat, grabbed his cane, and hobbled out the door yelling, “My class started 30 minutes ago, gotta run!”  This is why I love teachers. They love nothing more than a chance to paint a clearer picture of the world for their students, and they often go above and beyond to make that happen, working long hours (and sometimes losing track of time!). My professor put everything aside to help me work through that problem, and it is to dedicated people like him—people with a real passion for sharing knowledge with others—that I owe all my intellectual growth. ~Elisabeth

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they work tirelessly to inspire and mold the minds of the next generation. I am thankful for teachers who show their passion for teaching and learning in all that they do. ~Paul

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they care for children and help them to find their places in the world.  I am thankful for teachers who provide a safe place for the most vulnerable members of society. ~Erika

  • - I’m thankful for teachers because, coming from a family of several teachers, including my daughter, I have seen first-hand the dedication it takes to be a teacher. I have witnessed the long evenings and weekends doing lesson planning and preparation. I’m aware of the many purchases using your own money, (including providing hats and mittens to students who don’t have them). I know that many planning periods (if you are lucky enough to have one), are spent in meetings or writing notes and talking to parents. I know that you do all of this not for the money or accomplishment, but to ensure the success of your students. Thank you for all you do! ~Patti

  • - I’m thankful for teachers because they give kids more than just textbook knowledge. Some of my best teachers encouraged things like creativity, confidence, and perseverance that continue to serve me as an adult. I’m thankful for teachers who, despite having to endure many unpleasant situations and standards, selflessly dedicate their lives to helping students grow. ~Kate K.

  • - I’m thankful for teachers who see and cultivate their students’ individual talents. ~Jenny

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they help students learn more than just their subject. They encourage collaboration and individual achievement, teaching students how to work as a team or on their own. They help students learn a work ethic with the need to complete classwork. They even teach critical thinking skills that can be applied in all areas of life. (Just to mention a few.) I am thankful for teachers who challenge their students. I was more involved in classes where more than memorization was needed and I had to earn the grades rather than coast through. It made me learn the material on a deeper level so I could apply it in different situations. ~Julie

  • - I am thankful for teachers because several of those in my personal history have gone above and beyond the standardized curriculum, teaching their students HOW to learn and apply that knowledge in the real world. (I really do use Algebra every day, Mr. Allison!)  I am thankful for teachers who care; who take an interest in their students’ lives and can recognize when individual needs change despite the challenges of large classroom sizes and curriculum parameters. ~Sarah 

  • - I am thankful for teachers who are passionate about what they teach. Their energy is contagious, and it encourages a love of learning in the students. ~Kate M.

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they help students recognize their true potential and then give them the tools to harness it. I am thankful for teachers who treat each student like an opportunity to change the world. ~Jonathan

  • - I am thankful for teachers—and there were many of them—who continued to challenge me even when I thought I had too much to do. ~Steve

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they are dedicated to bringing the thirst of knowledge to our children, who will be our future leaders.  I am thankful for teachers who see the unique strengths of each of their students and provide them opportunities to learn and grow using those strengths. ~Barbara

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they are invested in our future.  I am thankful for teachers who take the time to make a difference in each student’s life. ~Josclynn

  • - I am thankful for teachers because they (1) are training the next leaders of our country; (2) dedicate their lives to enriching future generations; (3) touch the lives of so many people; (4) carry the burden for turning our children onto doing positive things with their lives; (5) carry the spark of inspiring and opening up minds to new thoughts and goals; (6) build better foundations; (7) are the role models that our children try to emulate; (8) make such a difference; (9) help students find their callings in life. ~Geoff



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Celebrations | Holidays | Teacher Evaluation

Does Holding Students Back Hold Them Back?

by Patrick 7. November 2014 14:27
This week I chose a subject that I’ve been thinking about since I was asked to write for the LEP blog, and it begins with a little story. While a graduate student, I taught discussion sections – those classes held once a week in which a 300-student course breaks into 20-student sections  – for a couple of history classes. Every so often, around midterms, teaching assistants would grade exams together and inevitably, we would share some of the more creatively incorrect answers we received. I distinctly remember reading about a Russia run by the communist leader Zeppo Marx (how was it not Groucho?). It was all in good fun, we knew that most of the time students had the right ideas and just stumbled a bit on the execution, and we never mentioned any of it in front of our students. But I distinctly remember one day coming across the following answer to a question which, for our purposes, is irrelevant:


“Renaissance was from coming different to the older ways. They started away from wat there previous teachers told them and painting different things”…

This was a native English speaker who had absolutely no problem holding an intelligible conversation and had no diagnosed learning disability. But after reading the sentence I had to wonder how a student with such objectively poor writing skills had gotten into a university (a university which, mind you, requires an essay as part of their admission application). Something, somewhere, had gone wrong, I thought, and among us graduate students a conversation about holding students back a grade began.

How teachers and schools handle students who do not meet certain academic markers is not a new question. In the most extreme cases holding a student back a grade (or “retention”) has always been an option. Amid the constant efforts to improve the country’s education system, the past few years have seen the topic of retention pick up a bit of steam among researchers and politicians alike. There is much research to suggest that retaining students has limited short-term goals but also the possibility for causing long-term problems for students. On the one hand, arguments have been made that repetition of a grade simply gives a student with more of the same teaching and the same material that did not help them the first time around. At the same time, researchers suggest that the social dangers of retaining a student – less contact with their friends, the stigma of being held back, etc. – can be as detrimental, if not more, over the years. This has led many to justify “social promotion,” with the seeming hope that students will be able to catch up to their peers as they move through subsequent grades.

Instead of student retention, teachers and researchers have started implementing ways of catching students up to expectations before they start to fall behind. In-school tutoring and programs specifically designed for students having problems are the most commonly proposed. Key academic years – third, sixth and ninth grades, specifically – have been singled out for particular emphasis; student achievement at these three grade levels is relatively indicative of future progress. It has also been argued that these more proactive responses are less expensive for schools than student retention.

But as comparatively inexpensive as these measures might be, they do still constitute potential increases in financial burdens, and for some school systems it might be a burden that just cannot be met. And though there are private tutoring options available if a school can’t provide, these can be even more expensive for parents. And in some cases individual schools are not in charge of deciding whether to retain a student or not. Over a dozen states have passed laws mandating that students who do not meet certain reading comprehension criteria by the end of the third grade must be held back.

What, then, is to be done about students who fall behind? It’s usually at this point that I give my best judgment on the matter, but in this case I have no good answers. This seems to me a subject that is so dependent on the individual student that any blanket answer immediately appears implausible. Rather, I’d prefer to hear about your experiences. How have you as teachers worked with your school officials and parents to help students who aren’t keeping up with the material? Have you seen the effects of retention first-hand, and has the outcome been more positive or negative? Has your school started programs to help students avoid retention? Please let us know in the comments, and maybe we can get some discussion going.

And in case you were wondering, I sent my student to a writing tutor on campus to help her out. She didn’t go.


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Classroom Topics | Education

Is Pluto a planet again?

by Julie 23. October 2014 15:01

Eight years after Pluto was demoted, the debate still rages on. Everywhere, people are sticking up for the little guy. Now, word on the Internet has it that a new vote decided Pluto was a planet. So, is it?


The vote that occurred on September 18 was at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The results were in favor of Pluto as a planet, but this was not an official vote by the International Astronomical Union. Instead, it was a vote by three scientists and the audience members of the debate they had. Officially, Pluto remains a dwarf planet.



Why isn't Pluto a planet again?


When they threw Pluto out of “My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas,” the world was thrown for a loop. What did mother serve? But scientists had decided on an official definition for “planet,” and Pluto didn’t fit.

Planet: A celestial body that
  1. 1. orbits the Sun
  2. 2. is round or nearly round, and
  3. 3. has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit

Pluto doesn’t fit because it doesn’t clear its orbit. That little “and” in the definition means it must do all three to be a full-fledged planet.

What now?

A spacecraft (New Horizons) is heading to Pluto to get a closer look. In fact, New Horizons crossed Neptune’s orbit only a week after the debate. Who knows? Maybe its status will change again.

For now, Pluto will remain a dwarf planet. Its previous status shouldn’t be ignored though. Here at LEP, we think Pluto still deserves to be taught, even if it is “just a dwarf planet.” In fact, Pluto may be more important than it ever was before:

  • - Before Pluto was just the smallest of nine planets, way out there beyond our reach. Now, it is the most well-known dwarf planet/plutoid.
  • - Pluto was the center of debate and one of the driving factors in the creation of at least three new definitions:
    1. 1. Planet: A celestial body that orbits the Sun, is round or nearly round, and has cleared its neighborhood.
    2. 2. Dwarf planet: A celestial body similar to a small planet but that has not cleared its neighborhood.
    3. 3. Plutoid: An ice dwarf that is round and orbiting beyond Neptune.
  • - Pluto has been on both sides of planethood. It can be used as a clear example of the difference between a planet and a dwarf planet because you can teach why Pluto is different and why that isn’t a bad thing.

If Pluto regains its status, we will jump on board and welcome Pluto back as a planet. Until then, we encourage you to teach Pluto’s official status but include its controversial history. And please remember Pluto’s friends, the other dwarf planets: Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What will you teach your students about Pluto? Is Pluto still a planet to you? Or have you accepted its new status?


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Science

Preventing Bullying In the Digital Age

by Patrick 17. October 2014 14:32
In recent years the subject of bullying has increasingly become part of the wider public consciousness. Part of this is likely explained by bullying’s entrance into the internet and social media, where interactions that were once limited to those who witnessed them firsthand have become available to a far larger audience. And while bullying is probably as old as human civilization, cyberbullying is a new phenomenon, one which teachers, parents and students are still trying to figure out. 

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and as such I’d like to take some time to take a look at some of the more commonly suggested means of combatting bullying and how these may or may not work to help stop cyberbullying.

The concept of “changing the social climate” in schools is being used as something of a catchall term for stopping bullying before it starts. It is to this social climate that many state anti-bullying laws refer when they declare schools must create a “safe learning environment” for students. Several organizations have developed anti-bullying curricula with the goal of clearly defining for students the negative consequences of bullying, both for themselves and for those they may bully. Most of these curricula, however, are geared toward K-5 classrooms (or thereabouts), presumably under the assumption that, one in their early teens, kids will understand, at least on some intellectual level, that bullying is wrong.

For students in middle school and high school, the “education” in anti-bullying seems to stop. This is not to say that schools no longer promote a safe learning environment or that they tolerate bullying to any lesser degree, but that the conversation about bullying seems to become one centered less on prevention and more on stopping it after the fact. This is indicative in much of the literature about bullying prevention that focuses on the victim. One look at the federal government’s Stop Bullying campaign website shows a much stronger lean toward dealing with bullying that already exists. Many organizations looking to end cyberbullying take the same approach, giving countless examples of things children should avoid doing on the internet to protect themselves from bullies (see some examples here, here, and here). There have also been a number of high-profile cases of school districts tackling the technology used to cyberbully, the most recent of which involved the banning of the Streetchat and Yik-Yak apps. 

With the advent of cyberbullying – a familiar yet strikingly different form of bullying – renewed emphasis on proactive education about bullying has become, I would argue, very important. First, cyberbullying is more likely to happen outside of school – where a teacher might otherwise be able to intervene – and away from the eyes of parent who might be able to do the same. Second, the anonymity and/or lack of face-to-face interaction allowed by the internet make cyberbullying much easier than “traditional” bullying; the cyberbully does not even need to be in the same city as their victim. Third, the internet provides instant gratification for a cyberbully. Imagine a scenario in which a teenager, sitting at home, becomes angry at one of their fellow students for something they had done earlier in the day. The internet provides an immediate retaliatory tool, whereas without it, the kid might be able to cool off and move past it before the next day of school. And lastly, bullying on the internet and social media has much greater potential to become permanent. Whereas name-calling on the playground has something of an ephemeral quality, an internet meme or a post on Facebook can go viral within an hour, even if it is only within one school’s population. Good luck removing that from the public consciousness.

All of this is to say that cyberbullying is so easy, so easily imitated, and so instantaneous that emphasis on prevention through conflict resolution runs the risk of being far too passive. The point is not to be alarmist; there is no indication that cyberbullying is about to replace or even occurs more frequently than “traditional” bullying. But with cyberbullying comes a set of problems, specifically for schools, that have yet to be addressed. Because cyberbullying and the conflict it creates can both begin and become heated all between the end of one school day and the beginning of the next, the classroom or the school hallways might become the first place where the two parties meet as bully and victim. This is to say nothing of the possibility that the bully might remain unknown to the victim for days or weeks. If the victim doesn’t know, how can a teacher or guidance counselor possibly mediate?

The question of whether all bullying can be prevented is a daunting one to say the least. Good strides are being made daily by students, teachers and school authorities across the country. To earn even more success, it might help to consider going back to the basics. 

Tell us what you think. Does your school have an anti-bullying policy? Has it seemed to work? How have you had to deal with bullying or cyberbullying in your classroom? Leave us a comment.

Politicians weigh in on Common Core… or Hoosier-Core?

by Patrick 3. October 2014 15:06
It’s election season, and to nobody’s surprise the Common Core State Standards have become a major talking point for candidates across the country. Governors, State Superintendents, and even 2016 Presidential hopefuls are cementing their positions on the new standards, and one of the prevailing themes is the widespread discontent expressed at how the Common Core has been implemented.  

And while there have been many important arguments made against the Common Core, including criticisms leveled by teachers unions about testing and teacher evaluation, today I would like to address only one such reproach. But don’t worry… it’s a long election cycle, and I’m sure we’ll have another blog about this topic in the future. 

In March, Indiana Governor Mike Pence explained his decision to sign a bill dropping the Common Core, claimed that Indiana would be better served by standards “that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers…” and that he believes, “our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level…” When asked by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about his position on the Common Core, Governor Scott Walker similarly stated that “…I want high standards set by people in Wisconsin -- and not from Washington, D.C.” And in the words of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a former supporter of the Common Core, “We need Louisiana standards, not Washington, D.C., standards.” 

Now on the surface, these rebuffs of the Common Core come in the wake of increasing backlash equating the new standards to a federal takeover of public education; the word “Obamacore” has been making the rounds in news outlets. While President Obama has incentivized the adoption of the Common Core by counting it as one condition for receiving Race to the Top grant money, the federal government did not create the standards, has not formed a new national curriculum (see our Myths about Common Core blog post for more on this topic), and does not require states to adopt them. Nor have politicians who utilize this rhetoric specifically outlined what about the Common Core – other than its “otherness” – is insufficient for use in their states. In fact, many states that have received criticism for adopting Common Core – or just wish to stem potential criticism – have simply renamed the standards without changing their content (see Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards).

So the current debate about Common Core standards not being up to snuff for individual states seems to be incomplete at best, pandering at worst.

And that’s kind of a shame.

The idea of states having their own educational standards isn’t an inherently flawed one. Sure it would make difficult the Common Core’s goal of comparing student performance across different states, but the potential benefits of states competing to have the best possible standards could far outweigh this downside. The problem in the current debate, though, is that governors and gubernatorial candidates crying foul over standards made outside their state are rallying against something that was never meant to wholly define their state’s educational system in the first place. The Common Core was not developed as an end to education reform or as the pinnacle of curriculum or pedagogy. On the contrary, they represent the most basic of expectations; they are the floor, not the ceiling. And they have been largely accepted as either equivalent to or more rigorous than existing state standards. They are a new, relatively innocuous minimum, and any state that wants to go above and beyond them is free to do so.

It is therefore slightly confusing that so many state leaders are trying to completely rid themselves of the Common Core rather than use it as a stepping stone with which to make their state stand out even further. If they think their students could learn certain math subjects at a faster rate than the Common Core outlines, fantastic. If they want to have more thorough standards for science and social studies, I doubt many would try to stop them. But now that the Common Core has come into the public eye, and now that calls for higher educational standards (in whatever form) have reached the public consciousness, it might behoove states to consider using every resource they have available to them, lest they risk hurting themselves by trying to reinvent the wheel.

Let us know what you think. Should Common Core be abandoned completely? Post a comment below.

Why are so many Schools Dropping iPads?

by Patrick 16. September 2014 10:44
Just a few months ago the Los Angeles United School District put a highly-publicized halt to its program aiming to give each of its students an iPad. Though they are trying to revitalize the effort, the staggering cost of the project and the almost complete mulligan called by administrators has left a sour taste in the mouth of a public whose tax dollars were used to fund it. A similar situation recently played out in the Fort Bend Independent School District in Texas. 
But unlike in LA, Fort Bend scrapped their iPad project altogether, resulting in $16 million spent with no discernible results. These are very extreme examples of failed one-to-one tablet initiatives, but school districts across the country are finding it difficult to implement similar plans and several have removed tablets from classrooms. The question becomes, why? What problems are these districts facing? 

One major misstep has come from poor planning in the rollout stage. Getting tablets to work in classrooms is much more difficult than simply handing them to students and teachers and saying, “go!” Most schools do not possess Wi-Fi networks capable of handling such an influx of connected devices, especially schools in lower-income districts looking to use tablets to bridge the technological gap. 

The LAUSD faced just this problem when it was determined that upgrades to their internet connections could not be completed before iPads were handed out. Fort Bend experienced similar difficulties. On the other hand, some schools found that successful improvements to their Wi-Fi were equally burdensome. When the Hoboken School District gave each of their middle- and high-school students laptops, they found that students would give away the password to their school’s network, giving non-students in the community free access which eventually bogged down their servers and ruined internet speeds. And when the Coachella Valley USD gave each of its students iPads, the increased internet activity caused connection speeds in two neighboring districts – which shared a connection with Coachella – to drastically decrease.

In the cases of LA and Fort Bend, as well as several other districts in Texas, the introduction of iPads into classrooms coincided with specific educational goals. Fort Bend wanted to improve its science test scores, and Los Angeles planned on aligning iPad use with Common Core-based lessons pre-loaded on the tablets. Unfortunately for both districts, the apps and programs were incomplete or not functioning by the time the tablets reached the students. In both cases it appears that administrators had not done their due diligence in choosing their software developers. Existing, fully-developed software had been passed up for new, made-for-the-district programs that either simply were not finished in time (LA) or which were never delivered from the developer (Fort Bend).

But not all problems with integrating tablets into the classroom were caused by missteps in the planning stages. Broken screens, faulty cases and a melting charger were enough for the Guilford County (North Carolina) School District’s Superintendent to issue a recall of 15,000 tablets. Many schools have found that once their iPads updated to the newest operating system, the security software installed on the tablets became obsolete. And then there is the issue of students being… well… students. Despite the problems facing the LAUSD iPad program, the tablets were not taken away until it was discovered that students had found ways to bypass security measures restricting access to the internet and social media sites. The Center Grove School District in Indiana has faced similar setbacks, though there appear to be no plans of abandoning the iPads. In Hoboken, more of the same. Reports from many districts state that, despite often coming with external cases designed to protect them, tablets are being broken at alarming rates, very often from student misuse.  

But there is a silver lining to (most) of these setbacks; they do not mean that tablet use in classrooms will inevitably fail in all cases. Had these districts given themselves more time to prepare and had they ensured that third-party support had been in place before they introduced their tablets, we likely wouldn’t be hearing about multi-million dollar boondoggles we hear about today. Yes, there will always be students who want to undermine the educational intentions behind these tablets, and given how fragile some of these devices can be, the question of basic maintenance will likely be around for a while. But the issues that threaten entire one-to-one programs are largely avoidable, and many school districts are already learning from other districts’ shortcomings. Teachers are being given tablets well before rollout dates so that they can have time to experiment with them and address complications early. More time is being spent ensuring quality infrastructure. And schools are looking at a wider range of tablets as alternatives to iPads, allowing the potential to better pair their specific classroom needs with an appropriate tablet. It must be said, none of this will guarantee that tablet use in classrooms will improve students’ learning experiences. But schools are beginning to get their tablet programs to a place where this much more important conversation can be had.

Let us know what you think. Are you working in a school that has a one-to-one program? What have your experiences been? Have you tried using a tablet in your classroom, even if your students don’t have them? Leave us a comment.

Myths about the Common Core Standards

by Patrick 2. September 2014 14:32
The Common Core Standards have become something of a staple in the news as of late. Politicians, pundits, celebrities and educators have discussed potential benefits and pitfalls of the adoption and implementation of the new standards. As with any social and political debate, however, the discussion about Common Core has been plagued by a number of misconceptions. By no means a comprehensive list, here are four of the more prominent myths about Common Core.

Myth 1: The Common Core Standards represent a national curriculum and implementing it means that the standards tell teachers precisely how and what they must teach.

This is one of the big ones. Many teachers are worried that Common Core dictates the exact material that needs to be taught in the classroom, and these concerns have been compounded by several public figures making accusations about the standards’ educational and political bias. It could be argued that the Mathematics Standards do fit this description; they do set content-specific goals to be reached by the end of each grade level. But in the English Language Arts Standards very few specific content requirements are made. Most specific authors and works they list are merely suggestions and do not need to be adopted by the teacher (with the notable exception of Shakespeare; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7; sorry students). Otherwise, Common Core gives teachers flexibility to choose their own material, as seen in its call for student proficiency with “eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9). As another example, the standards for history (limited to grades 6-12) do not even list specific historical topics through which the standards can be met, let alone do they determine what content would be required in the classroom. We find the same trend in the science and writing standards. Rather than specific curricula, Common Core tends to focus more on outlining the requisite critical thinking skills students could learn through any of thousands of individual curricula. Crafting lesson plans, choosing reading materials, and deciding on a teaching method are still left up to the teacher and the school.

Myth 2: Common Core decreases the amount of fiction and literature students will read.

This comes from a commonly cited set of figures which have Common Core proposing that, in elementary school, half of what students would be reading would be fiction. By middle school 40% would be fiction, and by high school it would be 30%. This myth is founded on the idea that these percentages represent the fiction/nonfiction ratio in English classes only. However, the standards mean for this 30% high school fiction rate to be a cumulative total from all of their classes. This means that the (probable) majority of texts from history, science, and math classes will count toward that 70% nonfiction total. English teachers will not have to worry that they will have to cut literature out of their curricula.

Myth 3: English Teachers will be forced to teach Social Studies and Science

This most likely comes from a misunderstanding of how the creators of Common Core categorized their standards. The two main categories are English Language Arts and Mathematics. Social Studies, Science, and Writing are subsumed under the former. But, this does not mean that history and science education now falls under the purview of English teachers. To be fair, some of the placement of certain standards under certain categories can be a little confusing; the standard outlining students’ need to be able to analyze the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7) is not listed under the History standards but rather under Reading Informational Texts, which itself is listed under the broad English Language Arts category. English teachers, however, will not suddenly become responsible for teaching American history or science.

Myth 4: No teachers were involved in creating the Common Core Standards.


The initial formation of the Common Core standards was in fact not carried out by K-12 teachers. The “Work Groups” – those who wrote the first versions of the standards – were made of diverse education and assessment experts from a number of associations, namely Achieve and The College Board. The “Feedback Groups” were made up mostly of university professors, understandable given that Common Core is aimed at promoting college and workplace readiness. You can see the full list of people who worked on the early stages of Common Core here. But K-12 teachers have had numerous opportunities to share their input. According to the NEA, “When the first drafts of the Common Core [standards]… were released, the Common Core State Standards staff and writers met with two groups of NEA members.  One was a group of mathematics teachers and the other was a group of English language arts teachers.  All the teachers in the groups were National Board Certified Teachers.” Similarly, the AFT has noted the involvement of its teachers in developing and implementing Common Core.


So there you have it, some of the more widespread myths about the Common Core Standards. Let us know what you think. Have you read or heard anything about Common Core that’s sounded somewhat dubious that we could address in a future blog? Leave us a comment, and stay tuned for our next post!




The SAT’s Shifting Strategies

by Julie 27. March 2014 11:09

Standardized tests are changing left and right, and the SAT is no exception. The test is being updated to align more closely with what students are required to do in high school. While these changes are being made, others will be included as well.


Keeping the Common Core in Mind


Dave Coleman, president of College Board, was also the “architect” of the Common Core, so it is no wonder he has decided to align the SAT more closely to the new standards. This is a smart move. 

•  It makes the SAT more relevant to testing students’ knowledge. 

•  It also makes the Common Core more relevant because it will be used on the SAT, which colleges look at during the admission process.


•  If states actually follow the Common Core, their students should be prepared for the SAT, which leads into the next change.

Leveling the Playing Field

By keeping the Common Core in mind and making a few additional changes, the College Board hopes to reach more lower-income students than in the past. According to Coleman, this country needs more opportunities and the College Board is renewing its commitment to delivering them.
•  Because of the Common Core connection, students should be prepared for the SAT without outside tutoring, SAT-specific lessons, or practice books. (Although, those additional services can still increase test scores.)
•  To prepare test-takers who want more help, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to create test-preparation materials. (We have also partnered with Kahn Academy, including some of their lessons in our Show What You Know® Online programs to prepare students for the Common Core or for STAAR with online assessments, lessons, and games.)
•  Income-eligible students will also receive fee waivers to apply to colleges.

Updating the Sections

In order to make the SAT more accessible, some of the sections are being updated in ways other than keeping the Common Core in mind.
•  The dreaded vocabulary section of the SAT will be updated to align closer to what students should already know. This means that it will test their current knowledge. However, there is an advantage to also testing the peculiar and challenging words: it tests college readiness. Students will likely come across words that they don’t know as they read. The current vocabulary section tests their ability to strategize and connect the words to similar words and their context to determine the meaning. While students will love the updates to this section and it will test what they have learned, it takes the strategy out of the test and reduces the test of their college readiness.
•  In addition, the essay will be optional and will be paired with a reading selection. Students will need to explain how the author used certain techniques to get their point across. They will not need to write their own persuasive essay. Students will be recognizing the techniques rather than recalling them and putting them into practice. This decreases the value of the essay because it does not show that the students are able to use what they know, which is needed in college and in many careers.

Taking and Scoring the Test
•  Students will have the option to take the SAT on the computer.
•  Students will no longer lose a 1/4 point when they answer a question wrong. This will encourage students to select the best answer for each question rather than skipping questions.
•  The test will return to a 1600-point scale with the essay being scored separately.

Find out more:
•  At EdNet Insight
•  From the New York Times
•  More from the New York Times
•  From NPR

 

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