Monday, March 17, 2008

Singapore math in LA

Fifth-graders at a Title I LAUSD elementary school in Hollywood went from 45% of its students meeting math standards in 2005 to 76% in 2006 and 2007. This is an extremely impressive (and extremely rare) 31 percentage point increase especially when only 43% of fifth-graders district-wide scored proficient or above on the 2007 California Standards Test (CST) in math. How did they accomplish this impressive feat? The answer may be Singapore math.

Teaching Singapore math is like playing a classroom game ("On your mark . . . get set . . . THINK!") that encourages math thinking from “concrete to pictorial to abstract”. Critics say it is “drill and kill” but a math coach at the school describes it as “drill and thrill”. The students are excited to do math and, if test scores are any indication of learning, students are learning. The article points out that the math “drills” are “carefully thought out to reinforce patterns of mathematical thinking that carry through the curriculum." Singapore students rank at the very top while U.S. students rank somewhere in the middle in 4th and 8th grade math tests in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). According to the U.S. ED, "Singapore's textbooks build deep understanding of mathematical concepts through multi-step problems and concrete illustrations that demonstrate how abstract mathematical concepts are used to solve problems from different perspectives….By contrast…traditional U.S. textbooks rarely get beyond definitions and formulas, developing only students' mechanical ability to apply mathematical concepts." If this comparison is accurate, it would seem that U.S. math is more “drill and kill” than Singapore math.

Usually a skeptic when it comes to reports of improvements in student achievement due to a new curriculum, I could not ignore the 31 percentage point increase. A 69% increase in test scores from just a two year period is worthy of our attention. Also, since California has become the first state to add the Singapore textbooks on its list of state-approved elementary math texts, it is imperative that we study the learning of students who are taught using Singapore math. While I am certainly not advocating that all schools replace their current curriculum for Singapore math, I am suggesting that we need to continue monitoring the progress of U.S. schools that have chosen to use this alternative curriculum.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Getting tough on truancy

I was reading the Orange County Register on Tuesday and came across an interesting news story. The article covered an intervention for truant children in some of Orange County’s most disadvantaged school districts. To deal with the high number of children not attending school, a force was put together consisting of school personnel and police officers. Members would call homes when a child was absent if the child had over 18 days of missed school. These phone calls were to warn the parents that not sending their children to school was against the law and that their children were missing out on their education.

So far so good, right? Well, I was disturbed by the second format the task force used to make sure students came to school. If a child was absent from school, members of the force would go to children’s homes, speak to the parents (if possible) and drive the students to school in a police car! I understand that we want children to take school seriously and that we also want to strictly enforce compulsory education, but this may be taking it a step too far. First, this scare tactic can have a negative impact on the child, who may associate a ride in the back of the police car with possible future transgressions. Second, these children, who are already at risk due to their negative environmental settings (i.e. dangerous neighborhoods, subpar schooling, etc.), may come to believe that they deserve this treatment, and that their future may consist of more “police car rides.”

Lastly, and related to this course, this type of intervention may not be getting to the root of the truancy problem. We must ask, why are their higher truancy rates in disadvantaged schools over schools in more affluent areas? Most likely, truancy occurs because of inequalities between school and neighborhood settings. For example, students in disadvantaged schools may have “rational” reasons why they should not take school seriously. Students are not ignorant of the subpar quality of the schools they attend as compared to their more affluent counterparts. Perhaps lowered attendance rates reflect this more structural, rather than individual problem. In other words, we should arrive at solutions that will get to the heart of the truancy problem, rather than slap another band aid on the situation, especially one that involves scare tactics such as these.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

California slashes school spending

1,836 expected teacher layoffs in Orange County alone. The news stems from a suspension of Prop 98 proposed in January which permits the state to spend less than the minimum amount guaranteed to schools next year. We're talking $4 billion dollars in cuts. That’s a four followed by nine zeros.

The state worries itself so much lately with its own deficit that the governator decides to bring the pain to the public schools to relieve its own stresses. It’s easy to see the results in the micro/immediate sense, but what of the macro/big-picture sense? We have invested human capital in the young students generated from these very schools. To take away their resources in school is to guarantee that fewer of them will succeed in school and life. It seems as though most school officials and parents agree that this suspension is a bad idea, but what power and what say do they have against big government? Groups and organizations form to protest against the suspension of Prop. 98 but the decision is ultimately in the hands of California Legislators. This is just the bureaucracy trying to please the people by skimming the budget as much as possible. They fail to see that the students who will be affected by this suspension will end up being the adults and leaders of California one day. If we force schools to spend less than they already do, there would be less teachers, desks, buses, outdated textbooks, but of course, more and more students.

What time period do we live in, 1900? This is definitely an issue we need to worry about.


Friday, March 7, 2008

The Finnish Miracle

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Finnish teenagers are the “among the smartest in the world.” Interestingly, high schools in Finland do not have honor societies, valedictorians, school uniforms, or gifted classes. Students complete about a half hour of homework per night and there is little standardized testing.

57 countries were tested in an international measure and U.S. teens were rated as “C students.” This, given the current national focus on standardized testing and rigorous standards. In addition, U.S. high school students have hours of homework, especially if the children are labeled as gifted. On a personal note, I see gifted children in the U.S. as a standardized test “cash cow” for schools. They are the work horses that help pull schools’ average test scores up. In Finland, however, there are no gifted programs, and advanced children seem to cope and thrive just fine. For example, the WSJ reported that “Fanny earns straight A’s…and sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up.” Furthermore, Fanny states, “It’s fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class.” I don’t think “relaxing” occurs very often in U.S. gifted classrooms.

Finnish high school students are “way ahead” in math, science, and reading, and adult Finns are among the world’s most productive workers. Yet there doesn’t seem to be strong social differences between Finnish and U.S. teens – in general, both groups spend hours online, “rebel” through dress and hair styles, and listen to hip-hop and rap.

So why is this? One reason might be the value Finnish culture places on its’ teachers. The teaching profession is highly competitive in Finland and Finnish teachers must hold master’s degrees. Teacher training also appears to differ (from the U.S.). The high school described in the WSJ piece is run “like a teaching hospital.” Interestingly, Finnish teachers are paid about the same as U.S. teachers. However, Finnish teachers purportedly have more academic freedom. Finland has national standards, but the teachers are allowed to “customize” lessons as they see fit.

The most likely reason for the Finns’ success, however, is the homogeneity of the population in terms of language and social class. Very few students do not speak Finnish and there are few disparities in income level among Finns. Furthermore, the Finns spend less per pupil than the U.S., but Finland has a “high-tax government” that ensures that schools receive roughly equal funding (unlike the U.S.). The gap between Finland’s low and high performing schools is the smallest of any country on the international measure. Finally, college is free in Finland. The fortunate Finns enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.

An interesting side note is that Finnish children begin formal education at the age of 7. This agrees with what the LLT (language literacy technology) PhD students have learned in our psychology of reading class. According to the WSJ article, Finnish children seem to be “less pressured” by their parents and more independent. In contrast, U.S. parents worry about academic preschools for their 3- and 4-year olds and play Baby Einstein videos for their infants and toddlers.


Bureaucratic debacle at LAUSD

More than a year after David L. Brewer was named superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, several key positions in the district's senior management positions remain unstaffed. The issue is more complicated because the people that hired the “new” superintendent are no longer in power and it is plausible that he feels that his job is already on shaky ground so he will not stand up to them for fear of his job. In the clash of these conflicting agenda's the district's work has ground to a stand-still.

With that said is the idea of a bureaucratic school district a bad one? Ideally, no. Having a centralized curriculum and a board to problem solve other issues as well as a pecking order for these problems to progress through are good concepts. Why then does it seem to work so poorly? The article ends with a poignant point. “This is the conundrum that faces the L.A. public schools: To attract good leadership, it has to have good leadership.” This pecking order is not going to work if you do not have good people in place to lead the schools. Why does this seem to be the case for LAUSD since many of us have been alive? That I do not know. However the red tape that ties up the time of many people within the district that are attempting to accomplish positive things for the students is at times sickening. With the differing agendas within a district of this size it is hard to work collectively toward a common goal which would make the bureaucracy most effective. Imagine if you had all of the staff in the nations second largest district working for a common goal just how much could be accomplished in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case in LAUSD and it doesn’t look like that will be the case anytime soon.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

After-school programs on the cutting block

Its here! The proposed 2009 federal education budget is up for our viewing pleasure.
(FYI, you can go to the “Eliminations” section to see if your favorite programs are on the cutting block). Yes, I’m being cynical here… The reason for this is a proposed cut in programming that is near and dear to me – afterschool and summer programs. The only solid Federal funding available for these programs comes from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which has been close to $1 billion for the last several years. The proposed budget would eliminate about $200 million of this funding! Jeez….

If the federal government would think about the number of families who need this funding in order to provide their children with quality supervision and programming in the out-of-school hours, they might think twice about this cut. In fact, we should be putting more rather than less money towards out-of-school funding since the supply of programming does not meet the demand. Moreover, research has found that quality out-of-school contexts have significant developmental benefits, especially for children living in poverty.

Unfortunately, like most of what we have learned about in this class, these cuts have more negative impact on poor children. First, lower-income parents are less likely to afford high-quality out-of-school programming. Second, children living in poverty often face more dangerous neighborhoods in the afterschool hours, suggesting a higher need for structured activity settings during this time. Related, the rate of crime significantly increases between the hours of 3-6pm, perhaps due to the number of unsupervised youth during this time. And lastly, afterschool programs are positive developmental contexts that may ameliorate the academic disparities between poor and non-poor youth that we have talked about in class.

In other words, we should hope that this portion of the proposed budget does not get passed.


Monday, March 3, 2008

More high stakes testing...

In the state of Texas more than 135,000 youth are lost from the state's high schools every year. Dropout rates are highest for African American and Latino youth, more than 60% for the students followed in a new study. The study included student-level data for more than 271,000 students in a high-poverty urban district over seven years. The findings show that there is a direct relationship between the exit exam policy and the dropout rate. The authors say their “findings show that disaggregation of student scores by race does not lead to greater equity, but in fact puts our most vulnerable youth, the poor, the English language learners, and African American and Latino children, at risk of being pushed out of their schools so the school ratings can show ‘measurable improvement.’" This study talks about the “avoidable losses” of these students who drop out or are shuffled out as schools pursue accountability targets.

This raises two questions. First, given that schools have been historically unable to meet the unique educational needs of low SES students and students of color, is it fair to hold the students individually accountable for learning? And, second, the Pettit and Western article we read this week says, “Among black male high school dropouts, the risk of imprisonment has increased to 60 percent, establishing incarceration as a normal stopping point on the route to midlife.” Given that the Texas article shows a effect of education policies on the differential dropout rate of African American and Latino students, can it be argued that school policies are contributing to putting these young men at risk for incarceration?


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Learning from Facebook

The phenomenon of social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) requires researchers' consideration because the use of Facebook has spread dramatically. There are 55 million registered Facebook users worldwide (Facebook website, 2007). Due to Facebook's digital compositions, users can generate not only linguistic forms but also visual images (e.g. photos and video and audio clips) which increase their meaning transmissions in online communications. The digital composition of Facebook allows users to generate not only linguistic forms but also visual images which increase their meaning transmissions in on-line communications, especially across potential language barriers.

In fact, immigrant students' human, social, and intercultural capitals are intertwined while engaging in Facebook. Human capital is defined by Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco (2001) as education, resource, and skill. Social capital refers to networks and connections (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001). Intercultural capital is defined by Luke (2004) as "the capacity to engage in acts of knowledge, power and exchange across time/space divides and social geographies, across diverse communities, populations and epistemic stances" (p. 229). Immigrant students' hybrid semiotic performances on their Facebook profile pages help them create transcultural identities, make friends with native and non-native English speakers, and connect themselves with the global audience. Through exploiting diverse linguistic and multimodal strategies, immigrant students are able to use Facebook to reach out in the mainstream society. In summary, Facebook provides immigrant students with a supportive and playful environment to build a strong social relationship with their classmates, friends, and even school teachers. In this spirit, the issue of how to integrate the advantage of this technology into teaching requires the attention from both school teachers and researchers.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cooling out in higher ed

The "cooling out" function of higher education is visible at the community college. The multiple missions of the community college such as transfer, vocational training, remedial education, and community engagement make an easy argument for some campuses to deflect from a transfer curriculum to that of a vocational degree. Specifically, Burton Clark in The "Cooling-Out" Function in Higher Education defines "cooling out" as the deflection from transferring from the community college to selecting a vocational training career. Students may voluntary choose to change their career choice to a vocational degree because of less rigorous academics, time of completion, etc. In Clark's argument reorienting students from a transfer track to a vocational track is still a success because the student will still have a return to their education and in his words, "the effect is to let hopes down gently and unexplosively." A student discouraged by grades and the length of transferring and completing a four-year degree may choose to complete a shorter terminal vocational degree and be "cooled out" from their original goal. The idea is keep the students by all means possible.

Arum and Howt in The Early Returns argue that in respect to economic return of vocational degrees, the time to degree and specialized training reflect the rate of return. Vocational degree recipients would earn less than a Bachelor's recipient but greater than a recipient of only a High school diploma. All in all, vocational degrees have positive labor market outcomes and increase social mobility.

A great community college culture accommodates to all its missions and creates a campus culture that is fluid and open to the mission's cross-sections. I heart the community college and its web of complexity and majesty!


Can you wear cultural capital?

How is cultural capital signaled through dress? I had not given this question much thought until I met Dario and Dagoberto (pseudonyms) a little under a week ago. They are Juniors at a local high school and volunteered to participate in my qualitative study about Latina/o students’ perceptions of their educational environment. Both Dario and Dagoberto are successful students—they participate in a college preparation program, are taking AP courses, have high educational aspirations and a strong sense of direction about how to achieve their academic and professional goals. They interacted with me respectfully, they answered my questions thoughtfully and intelligently—I got the sense that they are ‘serious students’. Stop for a moment to recognize the image of a ‘serious student’. Who/what does that look like?

Dario and Dagoberto were dressed like “cholos”. Matute-Bianchi (1991) asserts, “students who affect the stylistic symbols of this category are frequently identified by others [students, school personnel, and police] as ‘gang-oriented’, ‘gang bangers’, or ‘gang sympathizers’. Some of the most common identifying characteristics of cholo attire can be generalized as baggy pants (often Dickies or Ben Davies brand), solid colored t-shirts (white, black, navy blue, etc), and perhaps a flannel shirt in the winter.

Through our interviews I learned that neither of these students were gang members. I also learned that they were aware that dressing like ‘cholos’ and being ‘good students’ was perceived as contradictory by their peers and their teachers. Dario felt it necessary to explain that “just because I dress like this doesn’t mean I can’t do good in school” and Dagoberto recounted an experience where he was confronted by a bona fide ‘gang banger’ who confused him with a member of the rival gang. I got the sense that they recognized their attire evoked negative reactions—that it was a liability. I also implicitly understood that the unintended consequences of their dress were simply collateral damage and that it was worth it to them. I got the sense that shedding their ‘cholo’ attire would leave them vulnerable—that they would also be shedding their hard image and this image was their protection.

Dario and Dagoberto are doing all the right things, but is their dress making all the wrong statements? What does ‘cholo’ attire signal to school personnel? Are they perceived as threatening and dangerous like the ‘other gang bangers’? Are they perceived as less serious about academics? Does it signal a lack of cultural capital in the schools and the right cultural capital in their neighborhoods? Are the social consequences of shedding this attire greater than the educational consequences? Are they compromising?


No subject left behind

“In 1942, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” is a phrase that many of us are familiar with, which was ingrained in our minds since elementary school. Surprisingly, a survey showed that one in four students thought that Columbus sailed to the new world after 1750. 17 year olds in a phone survey were asked to answer 33 multiple choice questions about basic history and literature facts. Sadly, the results show that 25% of students could not correctly identify Hitler and 80% could not identify the basic plot of “To Kill a Mocking Bird” a reading done in most schools. The most recognized figure by students was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Following this study educational reform is moving towards an emphasis on teaching liberal arts in public schools. Since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, education has focused primarily on math and reading skills. Because schools are held accountable for reading and math, history and literature are neglected and often ignored. The article discusses the importance of reading and math skills, but the need to cover all subjects.

I believe this can be done by changing the standardized tests. Instead of being held accountable for only reading and math, other subjects should be included. Since teachers are now “teaching to the test” because of accountability the tests should become all encompassing. In other words the tests should include more of the other subjects so that they would be covered and not overlooked, because they would be included in the tests.

History and literature are vital parts of education. Knowledge of past mistakes can make our society better equipped to deal with the issues of today. Literature is important in building one’s cultural capital. Reading and literature give us a broader sense of the world, and gives us the ability to take the perspectives of others. In essence literature helps us know the system, it also gives us the opportunity to gain social networks in that it creates a common ground. There is no denying that reading and math are imperative, but history and literature are just as important. As the article says “if you can’t read, you can’t read anything at all.”


Friday, February 29, 2008

Education, Social Mirroring, and Immigrant Students

In the United States, unfortunately, many immigrant students receive negative social mirroring from the classroom and outside world. Immigrant students tend to feel segregated and discriminated against in school. In comparison with European immigrants, Latino and Asian immigrant students tend to have a hard time assimilating into mainstream society due to their skin color. Some immigrant students believe their skin color is the barrier keeping them from fitting into the mainstream society. Some have experienced being laughed at for their foreign accents and non-fluent speaking skills. Immigrant students consider "being white" and speaking "correct," "fluent," and "native-like" English as pathways to success in American society. Their painful experiences usually lead to negative feelings towards school and then contribute to their low academic achievement in comparison with white students.

Moreover, as white students regard receiving higher education as pathways towards higher socioeconomic (highly-paid) occupation, immigrant students have a tendency to believe that many doors are closed, many job opportunities are limited, and social stratification exists in the society even when they obtain educational credentials. In fact, immigrant students tend to get low-paid jobs and the least desirable jobs because of the class stratification and restricted social mobility. Limited job opportunities may hinder immigrant students' motivation towards going to school, and they may consider going to school as a waste of time. Developing the above perspectives, the issue of to what extent formal education can help immigrant students succeed in the society should be taken into serious consideration. How can schools provide all students with a supportive environment and offer them equal opportunity for future development? Could the supportive school environment compensate for negative social mirroring that immigrant students receive from the outside world?


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Possible blog topics

For those of you still looking for a topic to post on, here's a summary of a new study on mentoring for men and women who earned PhDs Chemistry in the early 1990s. The gender differences here are pronounced, and they stretch from undergraduate education all the way through graduate school. Men report getting more help from professors as undergrads and they seem more satisfied with advising that they received from the dissertation advisors.

Do you think that these mentoring gaps persist in higher education today? What do you think their implications are? What can be done to do away with them? Post away!

UPDATE: Hey! Here's another blog-worthy article. Education Week takes a close look at the subtle differences between Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's approaches to educational policy. Do any of the debates that we've entertained during the course of this quarter shed light on any of the issues that the candidates disagree about?


Deconstructing whiteness

Following along with our discussion of race and how it relates to education, I just read an article called Deconstructing Whiteness as a Part of a Multicultural Framework (Rhoads & Ortiz, 2000). This was a fascinating article in that it looked at how we as educators on a university level should approach multicultural education. The authors challenge the "universalization of whiteness" and propose a framework where "deconstruction" of whiteness is important when taking a multicultural approach.

One of the main claims of the article is that "whiteness" is often overlooked as a race or ethnic identity, and that we don't talk about the social construction of the white race. The authors propose that in order to effectively engage in discourse about race and truly enable multicultural education in classrooms that there must be a discussion about white race as well as other racial and ethnic identities. In addition, there must be a critical evaluation of how whiteness has been socially constructed and become seen as the "dominant" race and associated with power and privilege. Finally, they propose a multistep process to deconstruct whiteness and implement a multicultural educational plan into college campuses.

I found this article fascinating and important because the white race is often "universalized", or seen as the norm, while not ever really being talked about. White people in America are not normally thought of as having race and the authors assert that this reinforces whiteness as the dominant culture. I agree that these issues must be addressed, in particular in college classrooms as they suggest in the article.


LAUSD takes on the home advantage

By teaching immigrant parents simple ways to help their children and to reinforce what is being learned in class, kindergarten teachers at Lillian Elementary in Los Angeles are taking practical steps to reduce immigrant children's drop out rates in Southern California. Parents are instructed to direct their children in tracing numbers in salt on cookie sheets, make letters with play-doh, or simply improve children's verbal abilities through increased communication. The teachers believe that lack of parental help sets children up for a disadvantage when they enter school, so the course emphasizes parents acting as the primary educators.

I think this program sounds very beneficial as long as there are parents, like the ones mentioned in the article, who are eager to help their children achieve academically and have the time to consistently make the extra effort to build their children's academic foundation. The article mentions how the principal gave incoming kindergarten parents exercises and goals the May before the school year to help their children catch up, however when they entered kindergarten the same children were still behind. While parents may want to try and help their children, it may just come down to a time issue rather than simply not knowing how to help their children. However, if parents can make the commitment, I can see that teaching them how to help their children will be extremely beneficial and will effectively reduce the dropout rate, especially since LA Unified policy does not aid these children until second grade.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A comment on universal pre-K

As the graduate student who presented on Early Child Education, it is obvious that I think your post is right on target! Early education is an important addition to the public school system (or funding system in general). First, parents (especially low-income and working-class parents) may have difficulty finding and affording supervision for their children. Second, a child's early years are an opportunity to decrease the disparities between high and low SES students. Because these disparities are seen even before entry into traditional public schooling, and because we may "harvest" the benefits of early education for longer periods of time (Heckman, 2004), we should be pushing for federal, state and local initiatives that make early childhood education a priority. Unfortunately, traditional ideas about who should care for children (i.e. Why should the "government" take care of children?)seem to impede progress towards making quality early childhood education available to all families.
One note of caution, however: It may not be true that *any* type of childcare is beneficial for children. There has been an extensive amount of research showing that only *quality* early childcare can have these positive developmental impacts on children's social, emotional and academic functioning. In fact, some studies find that lower quality care may have detrimental influences on development such as weaker reading and academic skills (i.e. NICHD ECCRN, 1999). Vandell & Wolfe (2000) discuss some of the indicators of quality care. These include, but are not limited to, low child-adult ratios, small class sizes, formal education/training for teachers, adequate health and safety provisions within the site, warm interactions with caregivers and peers, using age-appropriate materials, and involvement in language reasoning experiences, motor activities and creative activities. Obviously, the list is extensive! This may be the reason that most early childcare and education offered in the U.S. is of fair to poor quality (see Vandell & Wolfe, 2000).

In other words, not only do we need to advocate for early child care, but *quality* early childhood education. Interestingly, a government initiative that almost reached fruition in 1971 included both these features. The Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971 called for universal funding for early child care and after-school care. It also included quality requirements and a focus on children in poverty. The comprehensive bill was certainly ahead of its time, and it was passed by both the House and the Senate. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by Nixon! If you’re interested, you should definitely take a look at this act and compare it to the segmented system we have now. My how things could have been different!


Pre-school education for all!

After the presentation about the importance of early education we had in class today, it got me thinking about how much we prioritize the schooling we have before kindergarten. On an article talks about a situation in Idaho where a movement is afoot to change state law to include funding for children less than 5 years old (a.k.a. money for Pre-School programs). The current law prohibits the use of money for public schools for children under 5.

The question is: Should we use money, coming from taxpayers, for a public system of education geared towards children who are not yet in formal public education. A survey done by a group called Kids Count suggests that the public would like to see money go into pre-schooling. I would also agree that the early we get children into the classroom, the better the entire system will be. Despite costing a lot of money, the time we spend in the early years of their development will have exponential returns. Kids Count also says that an early education could save state money by reducing later costs for special education and social services. It is shown that any type of pre-school received by a child better adapts them to any schooling in the future: socially and mentally, so this supports the idea that it will save money over time.

In the end, the responsibility lays on parents to decide whether their child needs education before Kindergarten. I would imagine the idea of free public pre-schooling is very attractive for the working class. It would give an option to have your children in a highly stimulated area of learning while you wouldn’t have to look for a babysitter. I see a trend of starting children their educational process at a younger and younger age.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Narrow economic inequality: Provide financial ed for all

Financial management is a skill is that many young people of this generation lack. Today, only 17 states require economic course in public schools as a graduation requirement, and most teens are unaware of the consequences of irresponsible spending. Educators are beginning to propose more financial education programs in schools across the United States. According to the the chief executive offer of the National Endowment for Financial Education "there's been a steady building in recognition that we need to give students basic financial skills." Although different organizations have been providing assistance on the education of high schoolers through interactive lessons, more effort is needed to assist kids to understand the concept of credit, loan, saving, and stocks. The national economy is heavily affected by financial choices people make. As a result, it is crucial for educators to teach teens about financial decisions.

The articles also points out that, "Many parents are unwilling or unable or uncomfortable about providing financial education to their own kids, or they've made mistakes themselves, or are part of the unbanked population." The lack of financial knowledge among lower class kids is a reflection of the theory of social and cultural capital. Without having parents that are well versed with managing money, kids from disadvantaged communities lack the knowledge needed to achieve greatly mobility. Because many parents do not expect their kids to be able to handle money well, their children find it hard to achieve financial independence in adulthood. People who lack such background really miss out on opportunities as well as economic success. Elites on the other hand, tend to do a better at teaching their children about investment and economic strategies.

A great way to narrow this gap is to provide financial education for pubic school kids. Instead of having people learn the hard way, funding of financial education programs is a small investment to make considering the potential benefit to the economy. Whether if it is accepting a credit card offer, buying a car, or opening a checking account, financial improvement comes from knowing all the options and consequences of different decisions. Curricula in economy will provide the much needed resources that lower class kids would otherwise not get.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Teaching -- or reinforcing? -- cultural capital

Last month the President of Johns Hopkins University, William R. Brody, opted to take time out from his administrative duties to teach two courses during intersession. One of his courses, Uncommon Sense: A Practical Approach to Problem Solving for Your Personal and Professional Life, strikes me as an overt attempt to build the cultural capital of JHU students. In his course President Brody aims to give undergraduates specific approaches to everyday problems that are rooted in “intuition and judgment” that aren’t taught in a traditional academic setting. In essence, President Brody is drawing on his vast experiences to supplement the cultural capital of JHU undergraduates so that in the future they can appear savvy in the workforce. I commend President Brody for stepping out of his office and attempting to teach students the untaught but I have to wonder is he preaching to the choir? As a prestigious university, I imagine that Hopkins admits the upper echelon, students that may already be “in the know” or have immediate access to individuals who are “in the know”. So, are President Brody’s efforts wasted on the undergraduate population of Hopkins? My brief look at the student demographics yielded only a description of the racial distribution of Hopkins (it’s mostly white and Asian) and omitted any data on socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, this data gives little insight as to whether Hopkins undergraduates are likely to possess the cultural capital valued by the dominant white-middle class.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Free for the taking

The Los Angeles Times has two front page stories that are endemic of education today. First up is a story about Stanford University, which has pledged to use part of its $17 billion endowment to fully pay for tuition for students who come from families earning less than $100,000/year. This follows the move of other private universities with large endowments (Harvard, Yale, Pomona, and others) who have pledged to fund tuition for their lowest income students. While these actions are laudable, it is worth asking how many students are actually affected by these policies. At Stanford, 15-20% of students come from families who earn less than $60,000/year and Stanford has pledged to pay all fees for these students (room, board, and tuition). The truth of the matter is that the bread and butter of these schools are rich, often legacy, students with stratospheric family incomes. How else could they amass endowments greater than $1 billion? Its a nice PR move, but it doesn't change the imbalance in elite, private institutions which weighs heavily toward reproduction of cultural and economic elite.

The second article looks at the looming budget crisis in California's K-12 system. The budget see-saws in California have been a significant drag on the state's efforts to adequately educate its students. This most recent crisis, like most of the ones before it, will disproportionately affect students in poor, often urban districts. These are, ironically, the same types of students whom Stanford, Harvard, and Yale, are willing to give a free ride to. I guess the elite colleges figure that if a student is strong enough to make it out of Compton, for example, that should be worth something. How many students, however, are going to make it out of Compton, to stick with the example, to actually take Stanford et al up on their offers? When you do the math, you see how it is possible for these elites to make these "generous" offers.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

An article in the Washington Post led me to think about the emphasis placed on developing critical thinking skills in schools. Critical thinking, according to the article, “has become a mantra among educators from pre-kindergarten through graduate school …yet there is no agreed-upon definition of what it is or how it can be developed.” According to Jean Anyon, working-class and middle-class schools largely fail to foster critical thinking skills in their students. She claims that there is a “hidden curriculum” of schoolwork that is implicitly preparing working-class children for low wage, low prestige jobs, while preparing upper-class children for positions of social power and prestige. Although this assertion may be overly simplistic, and it seems to paint a gloomy and deterministic view of the educational system, I think it raises an important question: Can critical thinking skills be taught to students at all levels?

Without a firm grasp of factual knowledge, I do not think students are able to think critically about subjects. As one educator in the article put it, “You can’t acquire these processes in the absence of facts.” With this in mind, perhaps the curriculum in working-class schools is structured this way out of necessity and not to covertly prepare students for their future societal roles. Considering the strong link between family background and achievement, working-class students may start school with less content knowledge (and less cultural capital) than their more affluent counterparts, and thus may be less equipped to handle tasks requiring higher level critical thinking. Another factor to consider is the role that NCLB has played in forcing schools to place a higher emphasis on standardized testing. Educators may be more apt to teach to a test than try to develop a student’s critical thinking skills by teaching at a more conceptual level.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Even Stephven: Cash for Grades

For those of you who don’t know what Even Stephven is, here’s a clip:

I strongly recommend you to watch that clip, get a sense of what Even Stephven is, before you read on.

--------------------------------Even Stephven---------------------------------
Stephen: Tonight’s topic. Should we pay students for good grades? NO!

Steve: YES!

Stephen: NOOO!

Steve: YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!!! You get pay for doing your job, and students should get pay for good grades.

Stephen: Steve, we are already paying them. We pay them in the forms of free lunch, free books, and free teachers. Why should we pay students to do something that they are supposed to do anyway? They are students; thus they should study. Just like I never paid the babysitters. It’s their job to baby-sit.

Steve: You have children?

Stephen: No, I just like to have high school girls at my place on Friday nights.

Steve: (Looked Confused) Anyway, I, unlike someone who sounds like a pervert sitting in front of me, care about students’ academic achievements. According to a recent study* students who participant in an incentive program also increase their participation in AP classes and receive higher scores on the exams.

Stephen: It is people like you that are making our country not the greatest in the human history. We are now the second greatest country in the human history, second to the U.S in the 60’s. Give students money for good grades will decrease their intrinsic motivation. Students who are intrinsically motivated to learn are persistent, happy, and challenges-driven. Money for grades will only create you a generation of test-taking machines. Yes, machine! I don’t want the terminator to lead our country or my state for that matter, in the future.

Steve: Intrinsic motivation? Have you been to a high school classroom recently? Those students are not intrinsically motivated whatsoever. By offering money, you are not damaging their intrinsic motivation because they have none! To give them money, you can at least jump start their motivation, and maybe later on, you can do your intriguing motivation thing.

Stephen: It’s intrinsic motivation.

Steve: Don’t you correct me! You judgmental, condescending piece of Sh..

Stephen: Watch your language, this is a class website not cable TV.

Steve: I am sorry.

Stephen: It’s ok. Incentive program will also increase the chance of cheating. I can see students trying to play the system, find the loophole, and then cash in. That’s not learning! That’s cheating! Do you want to create a group of cheaters?

Steve: Have you cheated before?

Stephen: Let’s not talk about me… (Act nervously)

Steve: Have you? Stephen? It’s ok. You can trust me. It’s just you and me here.

Stephen: ……(Long silent) I just wanted to pass kindergarten.

Steve: So, what did you do, Stephen? (Very motherly voice)

Stephen: (With tearing eyes) I wrote the alphabet on my panty.

Steve: Your WhAt?!!?!

Stephen: I am Stephen Colbert.

Steve: And I am Steven Carell.

Stephen/Steve: This has been Even Stephven

*Jackson, C., K., (2007). A little now for a lot later: A look at a Texas advanced placement incentive program


The Community College and Latino/as

The community college is in large part the major entry institution of higher education for Latina/o students. The community college is one of the 3 levels of public higher education outlined in California's Master Plan of Education, which admits a large number of students seeking vocational certificates, remediation courses, workforce training, community services courses, and finally but not least to the long list of community college missions is the lower division education for university transfer. In May 2007, a Latino Policy and Issues Brief from UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center examined the Latino transfer function to 4-year institutions.

According to the CA Postsecondary Education Commission (2004), of 100 Latina/o first time college students, 75 will enroll in a community college. Just 7 of these students will transfer to a public 4-year institution, 1 to a UC and 6 to a CSU. The need to increase the pipeline for more transfers to higher education institutions is critical and requires policy attention. Why aren't Latina/o students transferring from the community college? The answer is multifaceted and under critical research. Key theorists would argue that the community college is an institution of stratification and social reproduction. Sorokin would argue that society places individuals in their proper position within society and the community colleges are societal sorting machines. In addition, some community college administrators would also mention that the community college goals are not simply to transfer students but to address all of its missions. The article recommends the need for more effective transfer programs in which the responsibility is on the institution to disseminate information. How can the community college balance all of it missions while serving their respective community and exhibiting appropriate 'transfer cultures' for Latinas/os?


Friday, February 15, 2008

Do cash rewards boost student motivation?

Thanks to a new cash incentives scheme, Baltimore students are being paid a hundred dollars for improving their scores on Maryland's high school exit exam. This will create an incentive for students to improve their test scores. The program will cost an estimated nine hundred thirty five thousand dollars. The advocates of this reward system feel that for the progress that students could make, the investments are a small price to pay. However, opponents argue that money should not be used as means of motivation. By money being the motivation for these students, it devalues both their human capital and their cultural capital.

Each student's worth is somewhat decreased because of the superficial nature of the reward. Money leads students to a hollow understanding of what they are being taught. Whereas a student learning information on their own would gain a thorough understanding that would most likely stay with them throughout their educational careers. This follows with the ideal of cultural capital in that these students that follow the economical motivation will most likely not gain the necessary background to succeed. The families of the students who are succeeding in school are usually high income families. These families already have expectations from their children. A student's human capital would also inevitably be affected. Schultz would argue that this would be an investment that each student would be involved in.

Instead of actually helping students in lower classes, we think that this incentive scheme could be an instance of "the rich getting richer". High income families will take advantage of this opportunity because of the advantage that they themselves already have academically and socially.

-GROUP 5, ED175

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New study: Poverty matters more in U.S. schools

We have all heard it before – the education offered in U.S. schools trails much of the developed world. In science, American 15-year olds ranked 17th out of the 30 industrialized nations that participated in the 2006 Program for International Student Assesment (PISA). American students did even worse in math, ranking 23rd.

That’s bad news, but for poor students in the U.S., the news gets even worse. In America, student socioeconomic background is considerably more closely related to student math and science performance than in other PISA countries. While affluent students in the U.S. are globally competitive, poor students in the U.S. do far, far worse than their peers in high-performing nations like Finland and Canada.

Ross Wiener of the Education Trust says the exam’s results are not surprising. “We give students less of everything that makes a difference in school.” Wiener argues that the PISA study “demonstrates that we’re simply not doing as well as we can for these students.”

Every student should have an equal opportunity in having a distinguished education. This relates to the class reading by Bourdieu where he speaks upon the stratification in terms of status and money. We can simply make a change in the structure of our financial allocations to schools, instead of just complaining about how low our PISA scores are. This way we will see a more productive outcome among all the students in America, not just the privileged. Making an effort to make education an equal opportunity for all students should not just be a concern for few but rather an obligation.

-GROUP 4, ED175

Monday, February 11, 2008

Postsecondary Tracking

I think it would be interesting to note that in some ways, the current post-secondary educational system is one extremely large multi-tracking system. We have stratified everything from two year community college schools, certificate programs, and vocational schools, to the very elite, top tiered and Ivy League status universities. Furthermore, within the post-secondary educational system, tracking stratifies by major, educational goals, career ambitions which can or may determine admissions into graduate schools, professional schools, or employment.

For example, the desire to attend an elite school or an elite program is a motivating force behind the post-secondary stratification system. It comes down to a matter of resources: time and money. Prestigious program offer elite professors and researchers, doctors, and business corporations who carry clout, experience, and large foundations as a consequence of their accomplishments. It could be in the best interest of any students to attempt to gain admission into those types of programs. Having said that, if all of us came out with the same education, with no means to signal the most hardworking from the least, how would anyone ever be able to advance? Lets say, you really wanted a job with corporation X because they could pay you a lot of money. How much time would it take corporation X to interview and try out with every equally eligible applicant until they found the one with the most potential to employ? The “signal” is informative in such circumstances. Perhaps the opposition against tracking is an opposition against the idea that the educational systems serve to “signal” ability and accomplishment; a signal that stratifies to be efficient.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tracking and School Inequality

The elementary school I described yesterday in ED175 provides us with an example of within-school inequality as well as tracking. To recap, the student population is highly diverse, with 70% Latino, 16% White, 10% Asian, 2% Filipino, and 2% African American students. However, achievement, as measured by the 2006 California Standards Test (CST) in English Language Arts (ELA), shows that groups of students are much more successful than others. Specifically, 83% and 70% of Filipino and Asian students, respectively, are achieving at the proficient or advanced levels, however only 57%, 42%, and 34% of White, African American, and Latino students, respectively, are proficient or advanced. Which sociological concepts could explain this disparity?

Sorokin would argue that schools in the U.S. serve to sieve students into their proper place within our stratified society. Thus, highly successful Filipino and Asian students are meant to fill jobs as doctors, lawyers, and the like. White students will fill white collar jobs, such as managerial positions. African American and Latino students will take menial positions that reflect their low status. Bourdieu would concur with Sorokin that this school is effectively doing its job of reproducing the social classes.

Another possible explanation lies within the distribution of human, social, and cultural capital. As we have seen, these forms of capital are distributed unequally within our society. More specifically, Coleman would say that it is likely that Asian, Filipino, and White families have a higher level of social capital. It may be that these families have closed social networks in which many of the mothers know each other and can serve as a support system for their children. The parent-teacher network is more likely to be closed as well; when a problem arises for a child at school, the parent has access to speak to the teacher about it and come up with solutions. Schultz would say that higher levels of human capital are also at work in this example. The highly successful children most probably have parents who possess skills and knowledge that are conducive to school learning, such as literacy, computer skills, and math skills. If the parents don’t possess the skills themselves, they probably have access to outside resources, such as tutoring, to help their children. Finally, cultural capital comes into play as parents provide their children with what Bourdieu calls “cultural wealth”, in the form of exposure to literature, the arts, science, etc. This cultural knowledge provides children with a rich background knowledge from which to draw that helps them to be successful in school.

Oakes would argue that the summer achievement gap probably also comes into play in this particular example. Only 33% of the students on free lunch (economically disadvantaged) achieved at the proficient or advanced levels on the ELA CST. It is highly likely that the high- and possibly middle-SES students at the school have access to enriching summer activities, such as museum visits, summer library reading program, science camp, etc. that enable them to continue their cognitive growth. The lower SES children probably don’t have access to these activities, resulting in flat growth over summer, and this is reflected in lower test scores at the end of the academic year. We don’t know this for sure, because this school, like most schools, only tests students once per year (in May).

The outcomes of this inequality are evident in the numbers of students represented within the gifted (GATE) classes at the school. Rather than mirroring the general student population of the school, the 5th grade gifted class is comprised of 38% Latino, 35% Asian, 21% White, 3% African American, and 3% Filipino students. We can see that early tracking in 1st grade occurs, with English only (EO) students tracked into 2 classes (one high achieving) and English Language Learners (ELL) tracked into 4 classes by their English language abilities (beginning, middle, or high ELL). The EO classes are comprised of White, Asian, African American, and Latino students. Virtually no White students and very few Asian students are enrolled in the ELL classes. This tracking actually begins in Kindergarten; all children are assessed on skills such as alphabetic knowledge and counting in the summer. This data is used by the teachers to sort students into Kindergarten classes that are distributed roughly by language status and Kindergarten readiness. The tracking continues in a less prominent way in 2nd and 3rd grades. The students are all tested for gifted in 3rd grade, then in 4th grade tracking become much more prominent again, with students sorted very clearly by achievement into 4th grade GATE and regular education classes. Students are retested in 4th grade and any newly identified students or “gifted potential” students join the GATE students in the 5th grade GATE class. 6th grade also has a GATE class. We know that school readiness, such as phonological awareness (e.g., ability to rhyme words, knowledge of letter-sound relationships), is predictive of later reading success. Thus student differences in pre-Kindergarten may account for achievement gaps later on in students’ academic careers. Don’t forget only 20% of all ELL at this school achieve at the proficient or advanced level of achievement. So language is clearly an important factor.

This example brings up some very interesting issues. Oakes’ (1985) research questions related to her study of tracking within high schools seem appropriate here. Namely,

· Do the children at this school have the same opportunity to learn content (e.g. math, science, social studies, and literature)? Or are the differences only in terms of pace of instruction or mode of presentation?

· Do some groups receive more instruction than others?

· Are some children exposed to more highly valued content?

· What is the role of school opportunities in determining how much students learn?

Food for thought…


Monday, February 4, 2008

To Track or Not to Track: That is the Question!

School tracking has been a major topic of controversy since the Reagan Administration backed A Nation at Risk. This document declared, "The educational foundations of our society are being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people". With the increased curricular requirements as well as standardized testing, more and more schools have begun to turn to tracking and pathway systems to keep up with the rigid demands placed on the school systems. The question is whether these tracking systems are beneficial or detrimental to the student body. Many say the tracking system is detrimental.

Tracking is a common part of the education system within the United States, but when does it go to far, where should the line be drawn? In the article written by Damien Jackson, he describes how eighth graders in North Carolina are being forced into a "pathways" program in which the students must choose one of four pathways or career options. They choose from a four-year college or university track, a community college or technical college track, a direct entry into job market track, and lastly an "occupational" pathway that is reserved for students with disabilities. There is much controversy over this system.

Many argue that students are too young to make such an important decision. Others argue that once a student is in one pathway it is very difficult to change to another pathway. Some guidance counselors think that the system will result in more summer school students and less students graduating in four years. They say it may take many students five years to graduate. One parent in the article, Idola Scimeca wonders what this system will do for black and brown children. She says, "It's like they're categorizing these kids by the eight grade and telling some you're going to work at IBM and you're going to work at McDonald's". The negative view of tracking is not only demonstrated in Jackson's article, but it is also seen in Jeannie Oakes article, The Distribution of Knowledge. Oakes shows that there are a disproportionately larger number of non-white students in the lower tracks and a disproportionately smaller number of non-white students in the higher tracks at multiple schools. Oakes also demonstrates the overwhelmingly large difference in what the students learn in the high tracks vs. the low tracks. Student responses in the higher tracks demonstrate a general positive interest in the topics being learned where as the responses in the lower tracks demonstrate a lack of interest and enthusiasm in the topics being learned. Both authors depict an overall theme of inequality due to the tracking and pathways systems. It seems that students who fall into the lower tracks are at a definite disadvantage. Maybe tracking is not the answer to improving out education systems. It may be that tracking is causing more inequality and making the achievement gap even larger.

Students should be encouraged by their parents, teachers, school counselors, mentors, and peers to challenge themselves to take college-prep courses. All courses should be open for all students. School should look at the student's ability in each subject (their previous level grade and performance in classes, not only on one-spot placement tests) before placing them in classes. Offering after school programs (although it is a lot of work to accomplish this in public schools) such as more extra help or classes to catch up for students who are behind in their classes. Students should not be limited to classes that they have chosen as their "pathways". Many teenagers, even college students and adults cannot decide their future path. It is important to let the students and their parents know the importance of education.

One of the biggest problems with the tracking system is the difficulty of switching "pathways" in the event that a student does change their mind. Countless number of college students who reconsider their majors and have changed them--on some occasions even numerous times. This system does not allow for a sort of "trial and error" period for students, as the path they choose right out of high school is what will determine the rest of their academic and professional future. Because of this, the pathway system, in and of itself, is highly unforgiving.

Above all, it seems most unfair to sort students based on their potential. This sort of program seems to show school administrators focusing on an elite set of students whom they deem full of potential, and simlpy give up on those who fall short. When in hindsight, the sole job of a teacher is foster whatever potential the student does have--regardless of the
amount--and utilize it to help the student grow into the best they can be. These sorts of systems seek to show how students are failing in their school system, when in reality, it is the school system that is failing its students.

-GROUP 3, ED175

Achieving real integration

Desegregation is not integration when SES factors play a critical role in the social stratification of schools. A completely heterogeneous school is not entirely possible since access to resources, as a result of SES, will inadvertently influence the students’ core educational foundation. Students of dissimilar SES backgrounds will be exposed to different experiences, whether cultural, or ideological, that will color their interest and the identities they develop. Whom students choose to affiliate themselves with will vary as a reflection of their interests, identities, and academic talents. Ultimately, the establishment of stratified and segregated micro communities becomes inevitable within the “integrated” school.

Secondly, desegregation as a means of access to new resources does not entirely equate to adaptation and achievement. It is only a part of the equation. Human capital without cultural capital cannot necessarily be perceived as a complete formula to anything. All the resources possible may be available but without the right circumstance, knowledge, and motivation, the student will not succeed. The problem of low achievement is present not just as a consequent of financial and racial inequalities; rather it varies based on SES, ethnicity, and geographic location. In the end, perhaps it is not the students we should be focused on integrating but rather the parents, teachers, and school administrators.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Enrollment Down, LAUSD Scraps Building Plans

The Los Angeles Unified School District is cutting back on plans for expanding new schools and new classrooms. The reason stated is that there has been a sharp decline in school enrollment over the past couple of years so the expansion and creation of new schools would seem useless. The reasons for the lack of enrollment point to lowering birth rates as well as the expense of living in and around L.A. More families move out of L.A. because of the expense of living in such a costly city, thereby lowering the enrollment.

According to Orfield, "many of the inequalities in schools, derive from the concentrated poverty that is the result of both historic and contemporary job discrimination and housing segregation." This case is no exception -- minority students and low-income white students would be the ones dropping out or leaving the L.A. schools, segregating the low-income students from middle to upper-middle class students.

The article quotes L.A. residents who support the cut-back, saying they don't believe the birth rates would rise as projected by the district. It is questionable as to whether this is really the only reason why the residents would want the cut-back because it also means that existing L.A. schools will enjoy increased support. The children of those who can afford to live within the school district would benefit from the smaller classes and the individual attention while ridding of the low-income students. The Coleman Report states that, "a pupil's achievement is strongly related to the educational backgrounds and aspirations of the other students in the school" It brings into question as to whether residents of children attending schools in the district are afraid of the negative effect of such a statement.

With this said, Orfield argues that desegregation can work in a metropolitan district like that of LAUSD by desegregating both the inner city and the suburbs. This, he argues, not only allows for the highest levels of integration while creating a framework of interracial area wide concern and involvement, but also stabilizes enrollment. We can see both a social capital good, and a human capital good evolve from this idea.
But, how many suburban white families are going to send their child to Jordan High in Watts?

-GROUP 2 , ED175

A Very Serious Defense of Standardized Testing

Is standardized testing all bad? No, of course not! How can a practice focusing on accountability be a bad thing? All other occupations have some kind of standard, so what makes teaching so special? If a doctor never actually cures a single patient or his patients never get better, should he be allowed to continue his practice?

Teachers teach, and we must have a way to measure their performance. After all, this is how society works. Teaching is not like babysitting in which we send over our children to school, and as long as they come home safely for dinner, we are happy. We want our children to learn, to compete, and to have sufficient knowledge when they graduate from high school. In order for that to happen, teachers need to teach. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that teachers are not teaching, but I want to see the results on paper!

Please don’t tell me that standardized tests encourage teachers teaching to the test. There are countries (e.g., Japan and Taiwan) that required students to take a college entrance exam. They are not complaining, aren’t they? In fact, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, their students are doing so much better than the U.S. Can we say that by having a national academic standard, Japanese students and Taiwanese students are doing better in school? Standardized testing gives students a goal to achieve, so they do it!

“But we are not Japan! Our students are so heterogeneous. One size won’t fit all!” Well, this is a good argument. How is it possible for teachers to teach students coming from numerous cultural backgrounds and still expect all of them to achieve to the same level? Nobody said it’s going to be easy, but we have to try! By having a unified standard, we can educate our children in a much more effective way. Scholars around the country are researching the best way to teach lessons. The author of “The Teaching Gap”, James Hiebert, is currently leading a longitudinal study to figure out a lesson plan for all teachers to use at classrooms. It is possible.

Standardized test is necessary for our nation to be on the top of the world. Education is important. We realized how behind we were when Sputnik went up to the sky. It’s time for us to wake up and push our children to be the best they can be.


Taiwan Moves from Meritocracy

In Taiwan, people strongly believe that education is the best way to improve social mobility and shorten the gap between the wealthy and the poor. The main reason is because of our entrance examination and tuition.

Junior high school graduates need to take an entrance exam to study in senior high school, and senior high school graduates need to take another entrance exam to study in college. Students have better opportunities to get a good job if they get a high grade that helps them to study in a good school and popular program. Their future job is a reward of their hard work. Diligent and smart students from low SES families have chances to move from lower to higher stratification. As a result, social mobility occurs through this mechanism.

Different levels of tuition also improve this social mobility. Tuition at national/public colleges is much cheaper than at private schools, and most of the top schools in Taiwan are national universities. Therefore, another reward for diligent and smart students is cheaper tuition.

When educational reform started ten years ago, however, it gradually undermined these mechanisms. Before this reform, exam scores were the only criteria that schools used to choose students. Now students have multiple routes to enter a college. They can either apply to a program or take the exam. If they win a prize in an international competition, such as International Mathematical Olympia, they will be recommended to the best school. This policy, however, results in rural-urban inequality. Students can take advantage of their cultural capital to outperform others. Parents also use their physical capital to send their children to all kinds of cram schools, even for Chinese and music!

In sum, though the entrance exam oversimplifies individual differences, this exam and tuition policy helps to reduce inequality.


Pell Grants for Kids?

President Bush called again for a voucher-like program for low-income families in his final State of the Union address. Thinking about Kozol, one can see there are both liberty and equity arguments at play in the voucher debate.

Equity in public education hasn’t been particularly evident throughout history. Nonetheless, the argument against vouchers is that they will further enlarge the gap between the haves and have-nots, siphoning money from public schools to private, often religious, schools. Bush and other voucher supporters take more of a liberty approach, arguing that students and families should have the freedom to opt out of public schools when those schools are failing them. Without vouchers, one might argue, private schools will continue to be the domain of wealthy elite and failing public schools the domain of poor, often minority, students.

This is a highly contentious issue. But when one reads accounts of education in private schools, as in the Byrk, Lee, and Holland study of Catholic high schools, one cannot help but think that these schools are doing something right. Is the answer to allow more low-income students the opportunity to attend a Catholic or other private school, as the Bush proposal would do? I know that if I were a low-income parent faced with the thought of sending my kid to a public school with a poor reputation for positive educational outcomes, I wouldn’t reject out-of-hand a program that offered to help me give my kid a chance for a better schooling situation.

There will always be valid arguments that parents in a position to take advantage of these programs will be the higher-income, higher-social and cultural capital families. However, vigorous outreach programs aimed at parents and children in low-income schools could alter this dynamic. It remains, however, a tough idea to swallow for those of us who believe in public education.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Missing Group

Having read a fair amount of articles in the field of educational psychology and taken a few sociology classes focus on inequality in the school system. I've noticed that there is one group of students that has been consistently skipped. Because of their social-economic status and academic achievements, they are just not that interesting to be looked at.

Stereotypically speaking, when investigating school performance and students’ academic achievements, a dichotomized method is often used. Generally, researchers study high performance schools vs. low performance schools, and/or high academic achieving students vs. low academic achieving students. Many significant findings are found from these comparisons between the high and the low. Educational psychologists study high-achieving students from high performance school because they want to know what contribute to these students’ success and assure they reach their potentials. These students can be found in the GATE program. High-achieving students from low performance schools are often studied to figure out why they are able to perform well in an environment that is not optimal for studying. These students were often rewarded with scholarships to pursue higher education. Low-achieving students form low performance schools become an interest of study for people’s desire to help, to close the gate between the high and the low, and to reach social equality. Many intervention programs are the results of this line of study.

One group in this 2X2 matrix is missing.

Few studies have investigated the low-achieving students from high performance school. Why is that? I don’t have an empirical answer for this question. This question has been in my mind for quite a while. I was in this group. I was a so-so student in a high performance high school. I will not go so far by saying nobody cared about my well-being, but I believe this is one area where a lot of educational psychologist and sociologist missed. In depth qualitative researches in the form of interviews (but not inclusively) have been done on all other three groups but not so much in this group. I would like to know more about this group’s emotional development, self-esteem formation, perception of schools and peers, future outlook…etc

As a person who is studying to become an educator, my responsible is to make sure schooling is as rewarding as possible to all students. When there is a group of people that has been consistently overlook because of their fortune being in a nice school, I want to make sure they are receiving equal amount of attention as everybody.


Waller’s 1930s expectations of teachers alive and well in 2008

An initial read of Willard Waller’s “The School and the Community” might have a lot of us asking, “Why is this article important today with its outdated notions of teacher propriety?” However, after reading a recent article on states wanting “tougher penalties for abusive teachers”, we might see that Waller’s ideas are not as antiquated after all.

The article discusses how 15 states want stronger oversight and tougher punishment for teachers who engage in “sexual misconduct” with students. A nationwide investigation puts the figure at over 2,500 teachers from 2001 through 2005 whose teaching credentials were revoked or denied due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Of course, the number is bigger due to underreporting.

I think the vast majority of people would agree that it is not acceptable for teachers (both male and female) to have romantic/sexual relationships with students, who are minors. This is an extreme case where I would argue that expecting teachers to uphold certain societal expectations (ex. no sex with students allowed) is a good thing for society. The questions each society/culture must address are—what are the boundaries to limiting teacher behavior? Should we have a moral teacher checklist that individuals will need to meet in order to become a teacher? Who in society gets to determine the moral standards teachers should have?


Publics, Privates, and Charters

Eli Broad believes that in situations where there is a lack of mayoral control, such as in Los Angeles, one needs to redevelop the schools from "bottom up". In response, Broad is donating more than $23 million to LA charter schools because of their successful ability to raise test scores in low income, urban communities. His views are supported by evidence that students attending these charter schools, such as KIPP and ASPIRE, are more efficiently tackling the academic obstacles that these students are facing.

This is an example of a public school adopting some of the positive aspects of a private school, such as increasing the salary of teachers and putting them through more intensive training. Students who live in low income communities and are unable to pay for the high private school tuition are able to attend these free charter schools and potentially achieve higher test scores than students who are attending public schools in the same district.

-GROUP 1, ED175

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Rich Get Richer

While California’s public schools are bracing for budget cuts, some of the country’s richest prep schools are feeling flush. According to the New York Times, both Andover and Exeter posted more than 20% gains on their already sizeable endowments last year, despite a looming recession and a sluggish stock market.

The secret to their financial success? Well-connected alumni. Both schools are famous breeding grounds for future Wall Street tycoons. And after Andover and Exeter grads make their fortunes; they give back to the alma mater – not just with donations, but also with investment advice. With big-name investors minding their portfolios for free, these schools make a killing, which allows them to spare no expense as they train the next generation of Wall Street tycoons. Bowles and Gintis couldn’t have invented a more apt example of social reproduction in American education.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Fate of the Black Middle Class

Seven years ago, Adam Gamoran predicted that in the 21st century educational disparities between Blacks and Whites would decline by means of the “virtuous cycle” and other factors. The virtuous cycle, he asserts, is the result of upward social mobility in the Black community, “just as Blacks who attended high school in the 1980s and 1990s benefited from the educational accomplishments of their parents, so their children will benefit from the further narrowing of educational inequalities” (p. 137).

But perhaps Mare’s position is more in line with the Pew Research Center’s disturbing and counterintuitive report documenting a trend in downward mobility among the Black middle class. The Pew Research Center found that 45% of the children of Black middle class parents “end up near poor”. How can this be? I will summarize a possibility offered by a columnist of USA Today:

1. The two-paycheck family is the most important factor driving up income and living standards in America. Yet, the percentage of married African Americans dropped 26 percentage points between 1969 and 1998. Although martial rates also dropped for White Americans, they were not as affected because of a much higher starting point.

2. African American women have a much higher college graduation rate than their male counterparts—this report says they graduate at twice the rate. Between 1974 and 2007 the media income for African American men fell by 12% and rose by 75% for African American women. Quoting directly, “a high-earning woman has little incentive to marry a low earning man”. Similar trends are noticeable in the Latina/o community.

3. Perhaps the most disturbing possibility, that “achieving middle class status is no guarantee that children will start achieving in school”. What about our discussions on social, cultural, and human capital and mobility through education? For those who are as disturbed as I, see Claude Steele’s stereotype threat for a potential (psychosocial) explanation.

4. The report also documented higher perceptions of racial discrimination among African Americans than among Whites. This reminded me of our discussion about the differences in market / economic returns for educated women/men and black/white people.

What would Adam Gamoran say?

The Intersection of Contest and Sponsored Mobility

According to Turner, America is by and large a country where contest mobility prevails. I agree with Turners assessment as Americans wholeheartedly buy into the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. That is why it is particularly ironic to find parents and children clamoring to participate in the rare but flagrant examples of sponsored mobility.

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Whitney High School, a public school in Cerritos for 7-12th graders that is well known for its amazing curriculum rich with AP courses and a talented cadre of teachers some of whom are Whitney alum. Not to mention the schools well developed college center that doubles as the library. The mission of Whitney High School is to “prepare academically proficient students for entrance to and success at their best matched colleges or universities.” By academically proficient the school means only the 13 strongest test-takers at each of the 19 elementary schools located in the same district as Whitney. Once identified these students are invited to join the Whitney community replete with quality college preparatory resources where they will be shaped into tomorrow’s college freshman. Not surprisingly, the parents of the chosen few are quick to make arrangements for their child to attend Whitney, even if that means relocating.

The selection of promising young people to attend Whitney is sponsored mobility at its best but what I find interesting is the thread of contest mobility woven into the selection process. A student is only deemed worthy of Whitney High School after outperforming all the other students in their elementary schools.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Coeducation in Afghanistan

"...women are seen as the repository of family honor, and the education of girls--whether in terms of the design of school buildings or in the way in which classes are conducted--needs to reflect that reality"

This quote looks like one that could be taken from the pages of American education history as we read about in the words of Tyack and Hansot. But, it is very current indeed, coming from an article in this week's TIME Magazine. The article is about the slow move toward educating girls in Afghanistan. Cultural values prohibit the mixing of girls and unrelated men, and families see no finanical benefit to educating girls in a society where their employment options are restricted.

It is interesting to hear the central conflict of our own nation as we moved toward co-education echoed in the words of a country and culture that is so different from our own. I tend to think of the inequalities that have existed in terms of gender in education as a tradition of devaluing females. But, this article makes clear that keeping girls from school has been, in part to protect a valued role girls play in society. It is clearly a moral issue described in this article. Seen from that light it is hard to criticize the decision to exclude girls, and my esteem for those young ladies and teachers who are breaking the mold has gone up exponentially.

Friday, January 25, 2008

'Helicopter Parents', Cultural Capital, and College Life

"According to a UCLA survey released today, a whopping 84% of college freshmen nationwide reported that Mom and Dad showed the right amount of involvement in the decision to go to college. Of those, 80.5% said they were fine with the amount of input their parents offered in choosing a school."

This article by the LA Times based on a UCLA survey of undergraduates shows a trend that is becoming more and more prevalent among young adults of this generation. Parental involvement in students' lives into the "college years" and beyond seems to be increasing all around the country. Some even go so far as to call these parents who hover over their child's every move, "helicopter parents". However, parents' input and oversight of their children also poses an interesting question about cultural capital: Are parents using their cultural capital to not only get their children into college, but also help advance their children through college on a path towards graduation?

The interesting part about this article is that the children seem to welcome their parents' involvement when it comes to academic affairs and do not feel that their parents are too overbearing. In effect, children are allowing their parents to use the cultural capital that parents learned from going through the college system. On the other side, parents are doing everything they can to make sure their child has the maximum benefits from a college education. However, not all students have the luxury of relying on their cultural capital and parental involvement.

This study found that Latino and Asian parents seemed to lack attention towards their college students which was often a result of language barriers or because parents were immigrants to the United States and did not know how to deal with the college system. Since parents seem to be greatly involved in the lives of their college students, what changes can be made to improve the parental involvement and build cultural capital amongst those marginalized groups?