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November 30, 2008

Teacher Qualification and Support

Charlie Rose, a journalist who hosts the nightly PBS news program “Charlie Rose,� hosted a dialogue on issues regarding the quality of teachers in a roundtable discussion on July 10, 2008, which can be viewed on his website, http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9167. During this roundtable, Jason Kamras, the 2005 national teacher of the year, suggested “not tolerat[ing] mediocrity,…[giving] challenges to high performing teachers,…[and paying] teachers more and more smartly� to improve the educational system in the United States (Rose Interview 10 minutes, 40 seconds)*. I strongly believe that many teachers in the workforce currently are providing a disservice to students in their classrooms because they are not qualified enough to be teaching, and at the same time, exceptional teachers do not have the support necessary to make a difference in their students’ academic careers.

I like the idea that Jason Kamras suggests about not accepting mediocrity from teachers. What tends to happen is that qualified teachers accept job offers from the same types of schools, typically those with higher budgets and more resources. Therefore, students coming from low-income families or minority backgrounds (which tend to be related) get stuck with unqualified teachers. These children do not receive the same quality education as a student with a highly qualified teacher. Instead, they have teachers that may not be any more knowledgeable on the subject than the students are. So, how can teachers test the comprehension level of their students if they themselves do not understand what they are teaching? Furthermore, these types of teachers are typically less enthusiastic about what they are teaching and are less likely to motivate their students to be passionate about the topic at hand.

Thanks for reading!

** Quote taken from “An hour on Education with National Teachers of the Year.� Charlie Rose. http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9167. July 10, 2008.

Posted by ksackett at 01:06 PM

November 27, 2008

Problems with No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind is a touchy subject and has been criticized heavily since it was enacted in 2001. According to “Growing Chorus of Voices Calling for Changes in NCLB� on the National Education Association website (http://www.nea.org/esea/chorus1.html), one of the most important problems with this act is that the bureaucrats and politicians that wrote the bill did not take into account the “recommendations by teachers, education support professionals, administrators, and others� (NEA 1).* It is interesting that those who have a limited interaction with students or teachers are trying to fix the situation. These officials do not know what is best for the classroom, because they are not there on a day to day basis. Other criticisms of the act include a heavy reliance on standardized test scores; pressure to teach to the test, not the material; lack of funding to implement the proposed articles; and it does not address problems in the classroom such as students who do not speak English or classroom size.

Besides not focusing on the opportunity gap, I think that one of the most critical problems with No Child Left Behind is that the law does not focus on the needs of individual students, but instead on how the school as a whole performs. NCLB does not address issues of overcrowded classrooms. Therefore, students are still stuck in classrooms with twenty-nine other students and one overworked teacher. Under this system, students do not receive individualized attention, and many times, do not have their work evaluate thoroughly either. Therefore, I think that NCLB needs to take into account this type of issue to actually improve the system.

In addition to a lack of individualized attention, the curriculum is increasingly more focused on math, science, and what is known as the traditional curriculum. With this focus, there is less emphasis on the arts and other subjects that may be more interesting to students. Many children are not naturally proficient in math and science, but are talented in other areas such as music, dance, the fine arts, writing, or another subject not considered a part of the traditional curriculum. Many times, these students are labeled as struggling because of inadequacies in math and science, and under No Child Left Behind, the abilities that they do possess are not necessarily recognized. Therefore, they are led to believe that they are underachieving students, when the case might just be that they excel under other circumstances.

Thanks for reading!

Cartoon courtesy of http://mmsdamps.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/nclb-cartoon.gif.

** Quote taken from NEA website. http://www.nea.org/esea/chorus1.html.

Posted by ksackett at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2008

More on the Achievement and Opportunity Gaps

The problem is that the government does not seem to know how to deal the opportunity gap, or they do not know that it exists. Jim Horn, in his blog entry “Addressing the Problem Rather Punishing the Victims: BoldApproach.org on http://schoolsmatter.blogspot.com/2008/06/addressing-problem-rather-to-punish.html, notes that “evidence demonstrates…that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite the impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can close these gaps in a substantial, consistent, and sustainable manner� (Horn 1).* Therefore, there is something beyond classrooms that may contribute to the problem. Schools cannot improve the situation because all of the policies that try to improve the system are aimed at fixing the problem are designed to address the achievement gap.

What Horn describes, and what is really going on, is the opportunity gap. Children start off on different levels to begin with. Children who grow up in a trailer part are not going to have the same experiences as those who grow up in a mansion. They are going to have different backgrounds, different ways of understanding and learning, and different access to resources.

How are students from low socioeconomic backgrounds supposed to compete on standardized tests with students who have Smartboard Technology in every classroom, private tutors, and enough money to take the SAT’s three different times to improve scores? How can we ask students to compete if we do not give them the resources to compete and succeed? Therefore, I think it is absolutely vital to address the opportunity gap before addressing the achievement gap. If students have the same resources, we will probably observe a more evident change in achievement scores. This is just one reason why No Child Left Behind alone cannot solve the education problem.
Thanks for reading!

* Quote taken from Jim Horn’s Blog http://schoolsmatter.blogspot.com/2008/06/addressing-problem-rather-to-punish.html on November 16, 2008.

Posted by ksackett at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2008

Opportunity vs. Achievement Gap

One of the biggest challenges to fixing the problems with educational system is figuring out what the root problem is. It seems to me that there are a variety of issues, such as a more subtle form of superiority, lack of funding, etc. that are compounded by each other. If you solve one problem, you create or make another one worse. It seems that all of the issues are interconnected, and therefore, we cannot find a simple solution. Instead, I think that we have to make changes a little bit at a time. The first aspect that we need to focus on is not the achievement gap, as NCLB does, but on the opportunity gap.

The achievement gap, as defined by my colleagues in my education 118 class, is the difference in testing scores of students across the country on standardized tests. The opportunity gap, also defined by my education class, is the inequity in access to resources. For example, lower socioeconomic students are not able to afford to go to private school, so they are stuck going to the public school, even if the quality of the education is horrible. Another problem associated with the opportunity gap is that the school district is a reflection of the community within. Therefore, if you live in a poor neighborhood, chances are the school system will not have sufficient funds. Without money, schools cannot hire the most qualified, sought-after teachers, do not have access to technology, such as Smart Boards in the classroom, and do not have the resources necessary for those students who need extra assistance. Many times, minorities are in the lower socioeconomic brackets and do not have access to an adequate education. They then cannot compete in high schools, colleges, and the workplace, so they become stuck in a cycle and cannot get out.

A major issue in regards to No Child Left Behind is that the act focuses on this achievement gap. Under the act, every action is determined by test scores. Therefore, we place more pressure on parents and teachers to perform well on these standardized tests, punishing them if they do not perform up to par. However, there are some problematic implications of this type of situation, as stated in “The Dangerous Consequences of High-Stakes Standardized Testing� on http://www.fairtest.org/facts/Dangerous%20Consequences.html, “high-stakes testing leads to increased grade retention and dropping out,…misinforms the public,…[and] drives out good teachers� (FairTest.com 1).** What does not make sense to me is that many times, the schools that do not meet the standards each year do not have enough funds to do so. We are just furthering the problem by taking away more funds. This type of system seems to add too much pressure and actually decreases the quality of education because teachers do not actually instruct students in how to understand the material beyond taking the standardized test.

Thanks for reading!

Cartoon courtesy of http://www.cartoonstock.com/newscartoons/cartoonists/mbc/lowres/mbcn732l.jpg.

** Quote taken from “The Dangerous Consequences of High-Stakes Standardized Testing� from http://www.fairtest.org/facts/Dangerous%20Consequences.html on November 18, 2008.

Posted by ksackett at 06:58 PM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2008

The State of Education in the United States

The educational system in the United States is riddled with problems, as I have observed in my Schooling and Multicultural Society Class (Education 118). No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a 2001 reincarnation of the Elementary and Secondary School Education Act of 1965, attempts to improve many of these inequities by increasing the accountability of schools for children who do not make progress every year. WrightsLaw.com provides parents with a list of key terms associated with No Child Left Behind in “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Terms Every Parent Should Know: US Department of Education� (http://www.wrightslaw.com/nclb/info/nclb.terms.usdoe.htm). The list includes information on Title I funds, state assessments, adequate yearly progress, school in need of improvement, supplemental educational services, and highly qualified teachers. With these tools, NCLB tries to close the achievement gap (to be discussed in a later entry), which is essentially the gap between test scores. NCBL determines whether schools are measuring up by the test scores of their students. Schools that do not show enough progress are then punished with a decrease in funding.

My education class has examined many of the inequities in our educational system. We looked at the differences in the physical resources students have (such as access to technology, desks and school supplies, and a clean, safe building), and we have also looked at teacher quality, teacher expectations for their students, teacher biases, lack of administration support, and lack of accountability. It is shocking to understand the difference between the conditions a white student encounters and a minority student encounters in a school setting. The same is true for a poor student versus a rich student.

I have been very fortunate in my schooling to have access to high quality resources and teachers. I have gone to private school every year except for kindergarten, and I believe that I have received the best education possible. My parents decided to send me to private school after I repeated the majority of the material that I had learned in pre-school in my kindergarten class. Originally, they had planned for me to go to public high school, but when the time came, I was given a choice. I chose to continue in private schools. I knew, I guess, that there was a difference in the atmospheres of private and public schools, but I mostly felt that private schools best facilitated my learning style. I did not realize how many inequities there were between public and private schools, as well as within the public school system itself.

NCLB information courtesy of Elisabeth Moje’s Education 118 Class University of Michigan Fall 2008.

Thanks for reading!

Posted by ksackett at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2008


Education in the United States has become increasingly more dependent on high stakes standardized testing to compare the progress of individual students and schools, especially in the age of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Under NCLB, schools are held accountable for students not performing up to par on these types of tests.

With this type of accountability, schools place massive amounts of pressure on teachers to get their students to perform. In response, teachers tend to teach to the test verses actually teaching the skills needed to understand the topic at hand. While NCLB does attempt to improve the quality of schooling and even the playing field for all students in the United States, this emphasis does not seem to be the best method for improving the educational system.

My blog will examine the effects of the problems of the educational system in the United States on students and teachers. I plan to address the achievement gap and the opportunity gap, teacher quality and support, and the effectiveness of No Child Left Behind.

Thanks for reading!

Picture Courtesy of http://www.mybrilliantkidz.com/wp-content/uploads/child-test.jpg

Posted by ksackett at 08:05 PM | TrackBack