Friday, July 18, 2014

Massachusetts Example

Every state in the country could take a lesson from Massachusetts, especially states in the southwest.  The state of Massachusetts and its educational system understand that success often starts with a good education, and this belief is what has led to the rising test scores and percentages when it comes to the state of Massachusetts and the children who go to school there.
The Education Week Research Center, is a nonpartisan group that works to accurately measure indicators such as preschool and kindergarten enrollment, high school graduation rates, and higher education attainment.  This group produces its results yearly and also takes into account family income and parental employment.  These aspects are incorporated into the study because they have been linked to educational achievement and can help the group produce accurate results.
What’s amazing is that the state of Massachusetts beats the national average in almost every category listed.  Some of the categories are: More than 60 percent of children living in Massachusetts have a parent with a post-secondary degree, which is fourteen points higher than the average.  Also nearly 60 percent of three and four year olds are enrolled in preschool, which is more than ten points higher than the national average.
It doesn’t stop there, because almost half of Massachusetts children who are in the fourth grade are proficient on their National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests.  Also more than 54 percent of Massachusetts eighth graders got proficient scores on their NAEP math tests.  Both of these tests results were the highest rates in the country.
So what has Massachusetts been doing right, that so many other states have been failing at?  The main reason researched is the state’s bipartisan commitment to education reform.  In 1993, Massachusetts passed a major reform package.  This reform package increased spending.  This spending was primarily focused in poorer districts which raised assessment standards.  The increased spending also went to making licensure exams more difficult for new teachers.  Massachusetts was not the only state to improve their standards around this particular time, but the difference was that partisan priorities shifted in other places.  What Massachusetts did right was have both Republicans and Democrats continue investing heavily in education, equally.
There is still a drastic achievement gap among low-income and minority students compared to higher income schools, which is the case for every other state and improving their scores is still a challenge.
However, even though every school faces the same challenge in improving lower-income scores the Eastern Seaboard states perform best in the Education Week rankings. States like New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland and Virginia join Massachusetts in the top ten, along with Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.
Unfortunately the Southwest has not seen the same success.  Three of the bottom five states- Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada – fall into this geographical region.  It is hard to determine an exact reason for these results.  In general highly ranked states spend more per capita on their students than average.  However, this is not a deciding factor and higher spending doesn’t necessarily equal success.  For example, Alaska spent more than seventeen thousand dollars per pupil in fiscal year 2012.  But the state still landed in the bottom half of Education Week’s rankings.

I really think that states here in the west and throughout the country should take a good look at Massachusetts and see what is working for them.  Apparently they have it figured out.








Monday, July 7, 2014

Internet access and education

There is a little program that offers funding to school programs that many people have never heard of and don't know anything about.  Even though it is not well-known it is extremely important in modernizing the educational system and providing a better learning environment for not only students but teachers and staff as well.  The program is eighteen years old and is called "E-Rate" which is formally the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund administered under the auspices of the Federal Communications Commission.  This program offers discounts for schools and libraries to get Internet access and telecommunications, and this week is a big deal for the program, some are even calling it a watershed moment.

This week the FCC will be voting on the possibility of modernizing the E-rate program.  This vote could potentially redirect billions of dollars in the E-Rate funds out of unnecessary reserves and into classroom Wi-Fi installations and upgrades.  This first step in the restructuring would positively impact six million students in the coming year and tens of millions more students in the years to come.  Both Julius Genachowski, managing director of The Carlyle Group and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and Jim Coulter of the bi-partisan Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission and co-founder and chief executive officer of TPG Holdings believe that the FCC should approve the modernization and have multiple explanations as to why.

Debate remains over when and how best to proceed with the E-Rate Reform, however, both Genachowski and Coulter believe that it is time to cut through the debate and act.  After the first step in relocating the funds they would focus on additional broadband access over the following three years which would require and additional three million dollars which can come from savings from further E-Rate modernization.  These modernization's include improved purchasing practices, and phasing our spending on antiquated technologies like paging and land-line phone services.

Genachowski and Coulter describe this modernization as being so important because it will create the necessary backbone for the deployment of technology in education.  They believe that technology is the transformative lynchpin for moving the nation's education system forward and that it is in the best interest for teachers to be armed with appropriate 21st century tools.  For the first time the economics of education technology makes sense, five years ago digital learning investments were a lot more expensive.  Now, the falling costs of laptops, tablets, and other digital learning devices, as well as innovative cloud-based software and enterprise Wi-Fi technology makes bringing the power of the Internet to every student more feasible and beneficial.

Perhaps one of the biggest deciding factor for my support of modernizing these funds is the studies through experience that shows how digital learning has transformed education.  When digital learning is utilized effectively, it can personalize learning and in turn multiplies teachers' impact.  This digital learning can even the playing field for schools in every city and every demographic giving the same access and benefits to every possible student.  I really hope that the FCC decides to vote in favor of the E-Rate program's modernization so that students and teachers can start benefiting from this wonderful opportunity and that they can work to implement it in as many schools as they possibly can before the traditional school year starts.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Maryland's agreement

On Friday, Maryland education officials, teachers unions and many other education organizations signed a written agreement during a meeting of the Maryland State Board of Education.  There were leaders representing teachers, principals, superintendents and various other policymakers gathered in Baltimore to formalize the 12-point document, which in general promised to strengthen the evaluation system.
Principal and teacher evaluations have been a controversial topic across the country and Maryland's agreement on Friday came amid continuing tensions over other aspects of educator evaluations.  Bill Slotnik, founder of the Community Training and Assistance Center, a nonprofit group that has worked with thirty states on teacher and principal evaluations, stated that, "This level of statewide collaboration is unprecedented nationally."  He goes on to say that in Maryland the main people involved in this agreement are saying that if they are going to have effective implementation, they are better off working together to make that happen.
Maryland's agreement focuses on setting learning objectives for students and carefully planning goals that each student is expected to learn over a given period of time.  These objectives which were developed between the educators and their supervisors are a key factor in Maryland's evaluation system.  Under this agreement, those who are involved will work together to develop "rigorous and measurable, but obtainable" objectives.
The President of the State Board of Education, Charlene Dukes, said that the Friday agreement was an important advance that shows a shared commitment to classroom success.  She also said that it would mean "listening to each other, talking to each other and putting forth the best strategies."
Betty Weller, the president of the Maryland State Education Association, which is the state's largest teacher union said that, "For us, it is an attempt to help our members be able to do this right so that it is a benefit to them and to their students in terms of offering the best opportunities to learn and grow."  
Although this agreement recognized the importance of flexibility from a local standpoint it also is aiming for consistency and a common language that can be used and expressed across the state.  In the agreement, they also called for a study that must be done by August 2016 which will focus on the implementation of student learning objectives.
Betty Weller added that the whole collaboration emerged form many teachers' efforts to get grants for more professional development.  This partnership is going to be extremely helpful, says Weller, because they are all trying to do the education-reform stuff, and many times they are doing this in different directions.
Jack Smith, a chief academic officer of the Maryland State Department of Education, said that the effort will draw on the best practices and emerging research and involve a wide range of educators and policymakers.  He said, "The coming together and the collective IQ are really important."
I commend Maryland for the ability they had as educators to see the big picture, and to visualize what the students needed and needed to happen for everything to take place.  As a whole, the entire state's educational system was able to set aside differing opinions and ideas to come together on common ground so that a change could be made that would benefit them as a state and as a collective whole.  I believe that this type of agreement may not be in the best interest of other state educational systems, however I believe that everyone could benefit from Maryland's example of coming together in a common interest to help better a situation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Educating Girls

This story and post is very important to me because not only am I a girl, I am also a mother to three girls.  I believe that the world in general does not fully understand how important it is for girls to receive a proper education.  The U.S. government has started a campaign to support girls' education worldwide called the "Let Girls Learn" initiative.

Dozens of actors and athletes such as Jennifer Garner, Susan Sarandon, Alicia Keys, Ann Hathaway, Tyler erry, and pro basketball player DeAndre Jordan.  These stars have joined the U.S. government in spreading the word through where thy are speaking out about the importance of education for girls around the globe in an online video for this new initiative.

The "Modern Family" star Julie Bowen says in the two-minute video that, "A threat to girls' education anywhere is a threat to progress everywhere."  This is so true.  I believe that a lot of these starts like me are parents and are starting to realize actually how important their daughters education is to their future family and posterity.  The online video for the "Let Girls Learn" initiative premiered on Friday and was made after the recent kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria and the Taliban's 2012 attempted assassination Malala Yousafzai, who is a Pakistani schoolgirls and education activist.

These tragedies emphasize how important girl's education really is.  The U.S. Agency for International Development is supporting the effort by giving $231 million dollars for new education programs and also announced on Friday that they will help provide safe learning opportunities for girls in Nigeria, Afghanistan South Sudan, Jordan and Guatemala.

People all around the world are realizing the injustice that has been done to these many girls and want to help change it and make a difference.  The video that was presented on Friday is hoped to educate the world with the fact that empowering women can change the course of our world.  There is also the Let Girls Learn website that offers many ways for individuals and organizations to get involved and help with the cause.

I wasn't shocked to learn that an educated girls is more likely to educate her children and that a girl with a basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.  Each additional year of education can increase a woman's earning potential by as much as twenty five percent.  These are things that have fueled my desire to spread the word and to teach my girls how important it is to get an education.  I want them to understand how their children and their children's children can be positively effective if they get an education.  I want them to know how sad I am when I hear that more than sixty million girls around the world that are not in school.

Soledad O'Brian who also appear in the video states that girls' educations are just as important in the United States as they are in other countries.  Cath Russell, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues said that, "An educated girl really is the key to a healthy, more stable, more prosperous country...Educating girls is really one of the best investments we can make."

I want not only my girls but every girl to hear and believe this.  I want them to realize that with them getting an education it can benefit boys also, because girls are the mothers of boys.  I want them to know that research show that countries where women constitute at least thirty percent of political representation are more democratic, and that women comprise about twenty percent of American elected officials in the House and Senate.  In general I just want them to know how important they are to society and the world and how getting a proper education will not only benefit them but many other people as well.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Parents who home-school, rally against "common core" standards

I have always entertained the idea of homeschooling my children and wondered if educating them at home would help or hinder their academic abilities.  Unfortunately, I feel like I just don't have the time to give them the proper education I think they deserve and I also like the social aspect that going to public school gives them.  I understand that there are an array of reasons why parents decide to home-school their children and every case is different.  Children learn differently and some may thrive on the social learning environment that public school gives them while others may need the one on one personalized attention and curriculum that home-schooling presents.  I have read that some parents have pulled their children out of public school solely because of the new common core standards that have been adopted by many states.  They do not want their children learning math and English through these new guidelines.

It seems like pulling your children out of public school could solve the problem for these parents, if the desire to teach their children what they want is the purpose.  Unfortunately many home-schooling parents feel that their home-schooling children could still feel the effects of common core and that if they don't fight against common core standards their children's future could be in jeopardy.  Parents, like Jenni White from Oklahoma, who pulled her two sons our of public school as soon as common core standards were implemented, feel that her children are going to still be negatively effected from the standards.  This belief has led Jenni, the president of Restore Oklahoma Public Education, to organize rallies and send letters to legislators to encourage a repeal of common core standards.  Recently, Jenni must have cheered loudly as Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed lesislatioin to repeal the Common Core education standards.

Many supporters of the Common Core standards do not understand why home-schooling parents are fighting it, since it seems like they are not directly effected by the standards at all.  In essence home-schooling parents can choose what and how things are taught.  However those parents along with Jenni White disagree.  These parents are concerned that as Common Core because more mainstream and is becomes more established authors of most textbooks will write material specifically pointed toward Common Core standards.  They are also more than concerned that ACT and SAT (which affiliates support the new standards) will restructure the tests to reflect the Common Core standards, this worries Jenni because then her children will be at a disadvantage.  The ACT and SAT programs have stated that it is not restructuring the exams and that the test itself focuses on multiple standards of learning and not one specific aspect.

I do understand these parents' concern when it comes to the unknown.  They can't predict the future and they can't tell if not following the new Common Core standards will effect their child's future when it comes to college and taking the ACT and SAT tests. It seems all they can do is ignore it and teach their children what they want or fight against the standards like in Jenni White's case.



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Oklahoma and Common Core

I believe that the education system in a lot of colleges are greatly biased to athletes and I feel that a greater responsibility should be placed on the coaches, teachers, and athletes.  It seems that athletes in general receive special treatment when it comes to academics, however I believe that special tutors should be assigned to athletes who are struggling to help them maintain eligibility.  But those tutors do not have a right to do the work for the athletes and teachers and administrators along with coaches do not have the right to fake grades or assign bogus classes just so that their star players can continue playing for the team.  College is meant for higher education, and athletes should be held to the same standards as every other student.
I recently read an article that talks about how a former North Carolina basketball player Rashad McCants has gone public with his experience regarding the colleges educational requirements or lack thereof when it comes to their athletes.  This isn't the first time North Carolina has face scrutiny over its academic practices, in 2011 the Raleigh News & Observer reported about academic fraud at the university.
Rashad McCants who was the second-leading scorer on the North Carolina basketball team that ended up winning the 2004-05 national title told reporters that tutors would write his term papers and that he rarely went to his classes but continued to remain able to play mainly because he took bogus classes that were designed to keep athletes academically eligible.  McCants went on to say that under any other circumstance he would have been ineligible to play during the championship season but was provided assistance from the college.  The assistance McCants is referring to is the "paper-class" system at UNC which doesn't require students to go to class, and students are only required to submit one term paper to receive a grade.  The school's basketball head coach, Roy Williams was very familiar with this system.
McCants even commented that he made the Dean's list in the Spring of 2005 even though he never attending any of his four classes in which he received straight A grades in.  He was advised by tutors and advisers who worked with the basketball program to take the paper classes within the African-American Studies program.  This program has been at the center of the school's investigation from the years 2007 to 2011.  The fifty four classes that are in the department of African and Afro-American Studies were either "aberrant" or "irregularly" taught.   
McCants, who played for North Carolina for three years before turning pro told reporters that the athletic department knew "100 percent" what was going on and even encouraged it.  He even said that William arranged to have his fall 2004 failing grades replaced by the summer semesters grades that proceeded it on his official transcript.
I just feel disappointed that our college educational system has turned to this and that athletes aren't held to the same standard as other students.  Politics and money seem to take precedence over education and academic honesty.   I am glad that investigations have started and that more and more college sports programs are having to answer for their dishonesty.  Getting a college education is important and everyone should be given the right to earn one, athlete or not.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Connecting Educational Scholars to Educators

I recently read an article titled, "Network routers: A new proposal to put education research into practice," written by Valerie Strauss.  She explains in the article that the there is a distinct gap of information sharing between scholars who have the time to research effective educational strategies and teachers and principles who spend all day working with the children.  Valerie explains that much is lost between this faulty communication, and that there is much to gain if these two separate groups of people could work together sharing their expertise and experiences.  She likened this possible connection to installing 'network routers' connecting these separate 'home networks' to each other.

Right now our educational system seems to continually fail when it comes to tapping into resources that are available to us, literally in our own backyard.  Educational scholars could readily give advice and counsel to schools to help expand their knowledge network.  Scholars could establish an informal partnership with principles and help advice them in areas of hiring new staff by seeking counsel on interviewing techniques, HR Cycles, and the traits of effective teacher.  Principles could also use the researchers expertise on structuring professional development, by asking about the frequency, length, and content of successful professional development.  The possibilities are endless and could save school administration a lot of time.  All of these tasks could be done by principles, however there aren't enough hours in the day for them to accomplish this and also deal with the politics and managerial tasks that go with the job.  On the other hand, scholars do this for a living and have the time and interest in researching these topics.

This scenario goes both ways though.  Researchers can receive just as important information and feedback from educators as they give.  Principles can serve the necessary function to connecting academics to real school environments.  It is one thing to know the statistics and most effective way to run things, it is an entirely different situation interacting directly with children.  Valerie Strauss is an educational scholar and mentioned that every time she has a conversation with a teacher of a school leader she learns something new which makes her a better scholar.  This relationship can give scholars greater relevance and can also open possibilities for future research projects.

This cohesive interrelated relationship can only exist if someone on either side takes the initiative, and it seems like due to the amount of time available to each side, scholars are the ones needing to take the first step by contacting principles of schools.  It is important that researchers live near the school they are contacting and working with so that they can have a better understanding of the surroundings and environment the school is in.  In conclusions, I believe that if more relationships like the one Valerie Strauss has with the school near her are developed the educational system will see a positive increase in the way things are ran and developed.  I also believe that this benefit can help improve the students learning also when things are ran more efficiently and efforts are made to find the best teachers and teaching techniques.