A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, August 19, 2006

And filed under the category of: "DUH!"

This one's interesting.
Across the country, middle and high school students like Oakley are being required to spend more class time on English and math as officials try to raise test scores and meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Variations of the double-dose approach are being used in districts in such places as Kansas, Missouri, Texas, New Jersey and California.

Some students attend two class periods each day of English and math, and often one of those English classes is devoted to reading instruction -- something that traditionally ends when students leave elementary school.

Some schools offer longer classes, or classes that meet every day instead of every other day, or classes that are offered for a full year instead of a single semester.

The approach appears to pay off at test time, but some educators worry that youngsters forced to give up some of their electives are being deprived of a well-rounded education and the opportunity to explore new subjects.

Havenscourt Middle School in Oakland, California, decided to require two class periods of the core subjects for all students. The change left no time for electives and forced the school to drop wood shop, art, music and Spanish. Now, those electives and others are offered before and after school as extras.

"We can't say it's OK to spend so much time on the basics that we let the broader curriculum slide," said American Federation of Teachers spokesman John See, a former math teacher.

The union said 87 percent of its members -- across all grade levels -- reported in an April 2005 survey that increases in testing have pushed important subjects and activities out of the curriculum.

In March, the Washington-based Center on Education Policy released a survey that showed 71 percent of a sampling of 299 of the nation's 15,000 school districts were spending more time on math and reading to the exclusion of other subjects.

In Kansas, students at Oakley's high school have switched to a new program that requires freshmen and sophomores to prove they understand math concepts on two tests to get credit for a skill. Also, all ninth-graders are enrolled in two English classes, with one aimed at improving their reading skills.

Steve Gering, the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in the district, said it is a balancing act between basic skills and electives.

"We are constantly trying to figure out, how can we get this young person in band because it's the right thing and double-block math and English," Gering said. "What's wrong is to wholesale eliminate electives."

I've seen it among some of the people in my own district who teach social studies. They've been informed that their sole raison d'etre is to raise English scores.

And if the kids learn a bit about history, sociology, or citizenship?

Pure bonus. But not considered important.


At 8/19/06, 9:37 PM, Blogger Ms. Q said...

While my district and school refrain from explicitly saying that we (social studies teachers) exist merely to raise the reading and writing scores of our students, what are we to think when we are forced to attend literacy prof dev days, or not allowed to attend a social studies conference, but a reading one? I don't mind, since I have taught and continue to teach both. Is it wrong to want to raise the scores? Yes, in that if that's the purpose. No, if we are truly trying to give our students academic skills necessary for later in life. What is wrong is not focusing on our subject as valid, need to know information. Same with music, art, PE, and all the other electives that are falling off the curriculum totem pole. Do we need to remind everyone of the benefits of these programs? What are we going to do when these kids are readin' and writin' out?

At 8/19/06, 9:58 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I taught English at the start of my career, and many of my students woud argue that I still teach English.

But making social studies tangential? Am I the only person who gets a bit paranoid over that?

At 8/20/06, 12:05 PM, Anonymous Lady S said...

I would guess that Sect. Spellings thinks they will learn social studies and history when they work for the government and travel the world on tax payer dollars.

At 8/20/06, 7:39 PM, Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

I've just read a couple of E. D. Hirsch books, and he argues that the reason for low reading scores is that kids don't have enough general knowledge. He says that if you don't have enough background knowledge, it doesn't matter how good your de-coding skills are, you won't understand what you're reading. In other words, kids perform poorly on reading tests because they don't know enough about history, science, the arts, etc. So if schools are cutting back on some of those things to spend even more time on reading skills, they might be doing exactly the wrong thing.

At 8/20/06, 7:46 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

That is one part of Hirsch's work with which I completely agree. I found out last week that not ONE of the students in my US history class knew what "leaving a trail of breadcrumbs" means, much less its origin as an idiom.

I used to teach a whole unit of folklore and fairy tales when I taught middle school reading for just that reason. Frame of reference or vocabulary-- it's a toss-up to me as to which one is the more glaring weakness. But they are both critical weaknesses if we really want to increase reading comprehension. English has one of the richest vocabularies, and it is a language of allusion and idiom.

THAT'S what I would address, if I were queen of the school....

At 8/20/06, 8:01 PM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Hear, hear! (Or is is more appropriate to say "Here, here!"?) I'm all for a good queen! Especially one who speaks and writes impeccable English--and knows her fairy tales too! All those in favor of Ms. Cornelius as Queen of the School say, "Aye!" Opposed say, "Nay!" Motion carried! Long live the queen!

Now, go get 'em!

At 8/20/06, 9:53 PM, Blogger Janet said...

Our school has placed an overall focus on reading and math literacies, but the joke is going to be on them. Science portions have already been field tested on state tests and Social Studies aren't that far behind.

Then again, if you teach all subjects equally there's really no reason you can't do English during Science and vice versa.

Where things like music and art fall in though? Damned if I know.

At 8/21/06, 7:38 AM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Janet, music fits in quite nicely just about anywhere. I've written songs for math and had the kids sing them--and they loved it! I've also done art lessons based on math. With a little ingenuity, you can fit everything in.

At 8/21/06, 4:52 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

I have fourth graders being pulled from my history classes to work with the "early intervention program" teacher on reading skills. Seems they'll "get" the history because they are using our text.

On the flip side, however, elementary texts are improving in content for teachers that only took survey courses in college. They are also chock full of reading strategies, etc. to teach the kids.

At 8/22/06, 9:19 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Awwww, thanks CTG-- Are real queens elected?

Let them eat test scores!!!!!!


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