on education

thoughts from a graduate student at the university of mary washington

class time and student achievement. week ten.




A newscast about year-round school offered at one elementary school in Ralston Public Schools, located near Omaha, Nebraska. Parents, teachers, and students all seem to be on board with year-round school. But does it work?  Are there other options?


“Several national reports, including A Nation at Risk and Prisoners of Time, have recommended providing more time for teaching and learning. Possible approaches include extending the school year, lengthening the school day, or offering after school and summer learning programs” (Orenstein, Levine & Gutek, 2011, p. 520). Below, I’d like to go over some options in this vein for extending class time and what research has shown.

The standard school calendar is 180 days. There are 365 days in a year, which leaves students with 185 days that they aren’t learning. Accounting for random student holidays and weekends, there is still a 3-month gap with no instruction whatsoever. This time is critical, especially for at-risk students. In his article, Why and How Communities Should Focus on Summer Learning, Ron Fairchild explores the origins of the school calendar. While it is a common understanding that our calendar is based entirely around an old, agrarian society and calendar, Fairchild argues that our 180-day, summers-off calendar actually stems from schools catering to wealthy families that would frequently flee large cities during the summer months. This was due to “heat, threat of communicable diseases, and poor municipal sanitation during the early 1900s…” (Fairchild, 2011). His main point is that since times have changed, so, too, should the school calendar.

Even though there are numerous studies indicating that this huge gap in instruction time is bad for students, especially at-risk, working-class students, there has been much resistance to changing this calendar. Fairchild argues that this is because of substantial business interests in keeping summers learning-free. For example, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions supports lobbying efforts to keep the school calendar the same (Fairchild, 2011). Do you really want our students’ learning time being dictated by Six Flags?! Here’s the scary part: “In the past decade, it has been successful in restricting the official start date of the school year to September in over a dozen states. The association also funds The Coalition for the Traditional School Calendar, which fosters grassroots opposition…by middle and upper-income families…” (Fairchild, 2011). Are you kidding me?! I had no idea! Did you?!

Ultimately, Fairchild goes on to say that even though there are a few driving forces behind this aversion to changing the school calendar, cost is ultimately the most important. He gives facts and figures for students in Boston, stating that adding just 30 days to the school calendar would cost taxpayers an additional 155 million dollars (Fairchild, 2011).

But, this is the evidence: most students suffer some loss during the summer, but low-income students suffer the worst. On average, they lose over 2 months of reading achievement each summer! Middle-income students are more likely to actually make gains, making the disparity even worse when school finally starts up again. “All students, regardless of family economics, lost roughly equal amounts of math skills over the summer…” (Fairchild, 2011). So, what’s his solution? If it isn’t financially feasible to extend the school calendar, how do we fix this serious issue?

Summer school!

The results of the Teach Baltimore study, a 3 year study of summer school effects, found that “when such summer learning programs are begun early, before disadvantaged students have had the opportunity to fall so far behind, they can help prevent the anticipated growth in the achievement gap attributable to summer” (Fairchild, 2011). Fairchild also points out that many major cities and schools are actually partnering with non-governmental and public entities for enrichment and summer activities, such as universities and other community-based organizations. On average, programs like this that have been put in place cost significantly less than adding 30 days to the traditional, instructional calendar. The cost per pupil in that Boston figure was almost $2,800. These enrichment programs cost between $1,000 and $2,000 per pupil. They involve the public-private partnerships that I previously blogged about here.

Ultimately, Fairchild’s point is that in order to address the major educational inequity in US public schools, we need to re-think what we do with our summers and how we specifically involve low-SES students so that they gain, and not lose, critical achievement and knowledge.

The next bit of research I’d like to present you with focuses not on summer learning, but extending the school day with after-school programs. Researchers Ken Springer and Deborah Diffily studied 719 2nd through 8th grade members of the Boys and Girls Club in the greater Dallas, Texas area from 2009-2010. In their report, The Relationship Between Intensity and Breadth of After-School Program Participation and Academic Achievement, they found that participating in such programs positively affected GPA, especially for elementary students. However, they found that student achievement is only positively affected when students are very involved in such programs (Springer & Diffily, 2012).

In other words, students only demonstrated substantial gains when they not only went to the program multiple times a week, but spend a good deal of time each day in the program. In the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Dallas, students are expected to complete any homework (which the club provides aids and tutors for) before they are allowed to engage in other provided activities, like sports or character building (Springer & Diffily, 2012). “Consistent monitoring and support of homework activities and the completion of homework in a group setting are the mechanisms that may link club participation to academic benefits, over and above any benefits conferred by participation in specific, academically-oriented programs (Springer & Diffily, 2012).

We’ve looked at both summer and after school programs. Which do you think is better? Or, do you think it would still be better to find money to extend the school year like the school seen in the video? Do you agree with the current 180-day school calendar?




Fairchild, R. (2011). Why and how communities should focus on summer learning. National Civic Review,100(4), 13-20.   doi: 10.1002/ncr.20079

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Springer, K., & Diffily, D. (2012). The relationship between intensity and breadth of after-school program participation and academic achievement: Evidence from a short-term longitudinal study. Journal of Community Psychology40(7), 785-798. doi: 10.1002/jcop.21478


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cross-cultural education. week nine.


This week, we have been asked to look at the differences between cultures and how it will affect our classrooms. The cultural patterns and values of Asian Americans is of special importance. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the Asian population in the United States grew 46% (United States Census Bureau, 2011). As of the 2010 census, 17.3 million people identified themselves as Asian (United States Census Bureau, 2011). This means a growing number of students in our classrooms will come from this ethnic makeup, and it is important for us as educators to know their cultural backgrounds so that we can be more effective.

cultural patterns of asian americans

It is important to note that “Asian American” actually encompasses many different people that share similar cultural traits. The ethnic group of Asian includes Cambodians, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Mien, and Vietnamese peoples (Uba, 1994, p. 1). While some of the overarching cultural traits are the same for these groups, they also have their own nuances that make each subset of Asian Americans unique. Some of the broad brushstrokes we can apply to this ethnic subset of the population are as follows:

  • They typically do not show intense emotion. In fact, such a display is seen as as a “loss of face” (Elliott, 2010).
  • Social status is important, and one’s place in the caste should always be known. Direct eye contact, especially with people of a higher station or in an authority position, is avoided (Elliott, 2010).
  • They are group-oriented, placing less emphasis on the individual and more on the collective. Identity and status are intimately tied to the status of the family throughout life (Elliott, 2010).
  • They tend to take the long view of things, and are much better at being patient than their Anglo-American counterparts (Elliott, 2010).
  • They are not blunt, to-the-point people. Rather, they tend to talk in circles and may seem evasive when they answer questions (Elliott, 2010).

the impact of gender roles on teaching and learning

According to an article in the Journal of School Psychology, girls are more prone than boys to display learned helplessness, or attributing a failure to a lack of ability and giving up easily on the task (Meece, Glienke, & Burg, 2006). Girls tend to see themselves as excelling in the arts and language, whereas boys see themselves stronger in science and mathematics.

There has been much research on the achievement expectations of girls vs. boys in the classroom. Studies have shown that teachers tend to give much more time to boys than to girls for any kind of feedback, positive or negative, and also for providing time to reach content mastery (Meece, et al., 2006).

Girls tend to view their achievement in terms of effort, and not ability, whereas boys link their achievement to ability. Boys also tend to engage more with their teachers, providing for more interaction. “Whether or not these teacher-student interactions reflect teacher responsivity, the patterns serve to reinforce gender role stereotypes of male authority and competence” (Meece, et al., 2006). This shows that teachers, whether on purpose or not, give more opportunities to the boys in their class than the girls. Add to that the research that shows that girls have a higher rate of learned helplessness, and it shapes up to look like being female puts students at a disadvantage in the classroom.

the role of educational technologies

In our push for 21st century learning, we are often asking our students to become more autonomous, experiential learners. The educator’s job is to set up the learning process, letting the students discover on their own. This usually includes some kind of educational technology, whether it be projectors, computers, or Web 2.0 tools. In our culture, this is what we value. It would be pertinent, though, to understand the cultural value of technology in the classroom for differing cultures (in this instance, Asian). “In some cultures, students are not encouraged to be independent learners, but are expected to honor their teachers and be guided by them in all their learning” (Williams & Rogers, 2009). The attitude with which our students approach educational technology greatly shapes the results that we see in the classroom.

how i will come to know my students

At the beginning of the year (and also as I get new students), I like to start with an All About Me segment. We make posters with pictures about ourselves, including some of our favorite things, places we’ve been, books, poems, and more. I like to spend time getting to know where each of my students is from, and what their cultural heritage is. I like to have “bring a favorite family recipe” day in class, during which students often get to experience multiple cultures through food. In the younger grades, I think that “show & tell” is a fantastic way to get to know a student’s likes, hobbies, and heritage.

As we go along in the year, I learn more about how they learn and how they approach education, which helps me to tailor the way I approach teaching them.

how will the differences between anglo-european americans and asian american students affect teaching and relationships with students and parents? 

The way that these two cultures mesh will be very interesting in a classroom setting. Anglo-European Americans tend to differ greatly from Asian Americans in many regards, making the relationships I make with parents and students different between the two groups. It’s important to always keep them in mind so as not to offend. Some of the major differences are:

  • Anglo-Europeans tend to speak directly and in a linear pattern, often being very frank and to the point. Asian Americans will often use metaphor, allusion, or other rhetorical patterns that walk around the point instead of heading straight to it (Elliott, 2010).
  • Anglo-Europeans tend to see the identity as unique and dealing with one individual. It is not connected to a collective, be it an ethnic group or family, as it often is with Asian Americans. Anglo-European children are raised to be self-sufficient, whereas Asian children lean on family and have their identities intimately tied to those family groups (Elliott, 2010).
  • Many Anglo-Europeans view time as a linear idea, and you can never get back what you’ve lost. They’re obsessed with the idea of wasting time and saving time, and because of this try to do things as efficiently and quickly as possible. This is in stark contrast to Asians, who see time cyclically and tend to take their time with things (Elliott, 2010).
  • Anglo-Europeans tend to look people in the eye, especially if they’re being spoken to. Speakers are also expected to look people in the eye as a sign of honesty and sincerity. Asians see looking somebody like a teacher in the eye as a sign of disrespect (Elliott, 2010).

These major points mean that I have to approach my students and their parents in very different ways in terms of instruction, communication, and assessment. For example, I can’t assume that one of my Asian students is lying to me about completing a homework assignment because (s)he refuses to look at me and explain the situation. Because I come from an Anglo-European background, these cultural norms are imbedded in me; I don’t even think about them. However, to be successful, I need to be very mindful of other cultures present in my classroom, and how they compare with my own.

I found this video on the Teaching Tolerance website. In it, a 3rd grade teacher discusses some of the stereotypes placed on Asian students in the classroom.



Elliott, C. (2010). Communication patterns and assumptions of differing cultural groups in the united states . Retrieved from http://www.awesomelibrary.org/multiculturaltoolkit-patterns.html

Meece, J. L., Glienke, B. B., & Burg, S. (2006). Gender and motivation. Journal of School Psychology,44, 351-373. Retrieved from http://clint.sharedwing.net/research/equity/gendermotivation.pdf

Uba, L. (1994). Asian americans: personality patterns, identity, and mental health. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=1ZV1zIFxadIC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=cultural patterns of asian americans&ots=K_ir0vbc6Q&sig=FFDBvISHhrJ02BGJUsHM331hmOA

United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb11-ff06.html

Williams, D. D. & Rogers, P. C. (2009). Educational Technologies and Cultural Dimensions. In M. K. Barbour & M. Orey (Eds.), The Foundations of Instructional Technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/itFoundations/

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recent issue in education: affirmative action. week seven.


In 2002, I began my collegiate career at The University of Texas at Austin. Those four years were some of the best of my life. The education I received was stellar. But I didn’t want to be there. Not really. I had my heart set on the University of Notre Dame. I spent my high school years slaving away in AP and IB courses, loading up on extracurriculars. I did everything in my power to make sure I got in. One day, in my English IV AP class, a girl overheard me talking about how I’d just sent in my application and I couldn’t wait to hear back. She asked me a little about Notre Dame, and then she said, “Hm. Maybe I’ll apply there, too.” Long story short, she got in. I didn’t. Her family had recently come from Puerto Rico. Nobody had been to college in her family. She didn’t do anything after school. Her GPA wasn’t as high as mine. But she got in. I didn’t. I didn’t understand. I didn’t blame her at all. I blamed the way schools decide who gets in and who doesn’t. I applied to the University of Texas “just in case”  — Texas has a law that says that if you’re in the top 10% of your graduating class in the state, you get in to any state university (as long as you apply), period. So, I got in to the University of Texas not by someone holistically reviewing my application and deciding I would be a good fit, but simply because my high school GPA was high enough. I bet they didn’t even look at my file. Regardless, I’m proud to have gotten my education there. I’m proud of the things the university is doing and has yet to do. It was recently named one of the top 25 universities in the world. People pay attention to this place.

Enter this week’s blog subject, which centers around… dundundun… The University of Texas.

The University has long been in the national spotlight when it comes to race and college admissions. In 1946, Heman Sweatt applied to the law school at UT. They didn’t want to let him in because he was black, so they formed a new law school just for negroes out in Houston. Mr. Sweatt took his grievance all the way to the Supreme Court, and in 1950 the high court heard arguments in Sweatt v. Painter.  The issue at hand was whether or not Texas violated the 14th amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. In other words, was the “separate but equal”  outcome of Plessy v. Ferguson acceptable? The court decided that it wasn’t, and required Mr. Sweatt to be admitted to the University law school because the school made for Negroes would have been grossly inadequate and decidedly unequal. The decision of the Sweatt case paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education just four years later, which effectively ended segregation of public schools. While the facilities of white and black public schools seemed to be equal, the Supreme Court decided that there were too many intangible factors that made educating whites and blacks separately inherently unequal.

The 1996 Hopwood decision came out of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Cheryl Hopwood was a white student that was rejected from the UT law school in 1992. Hopwood v. Texas centered around the issue of the law school’s admission process placing a greater value on black and Mexican students to round out the racial make-up of the student body to the detriment of whites and non-preferred minorities. The court ruled that the school was, in fact, violating the 14th amendment by significantly lowering the standards for blacks and Mexicans, while raising the standards for white applicants, making it much harder to get in. It was racial discrimination, and the court disallowed it.

The case of Grutter v. Bollinger was very similar in nature, but this one made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2003. A white female law school applicant to the University of Michigan, Barbara Grutter, looked great on paper (hey, that sounds familiar!). She didn’t get in. Once again, the issue at hand is whether or not the school violated the 14th amendment by allowing race to be a factor in admissions, thereby giving precedence to minority applicants in order to culturally diversify the student body. The Supreme Court found that UM did not violate the 14th amendment, thereby repealing the decision in Hopwood v. Texas. Justice O’Connor wrote that the admissions policies did not violate the amendment, and instead provided great benefit from a diverse student body. Affirmative action stands.

And now, the University of Texas is in front of the Supreme Court again. Just this last week, Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin was argued. The gist: Is affirmative action allowed? Can colleges use race at all for deciding admission? If there’s a dead heat between a white woman and a black woman, who will get in? Why would the Court agree to hear something it had already ruled on? Every indication is that they will change their previous ruling. If affirmative action is ruled unconstitutional, will it affect our students?

I think it will. I think that the elementary and secondary teachers and schools will have to work even harder against the long list of factors keeping minority students from being successful on a large scale once they leave our classrooms. I see the ramifications and ripples of taking this out from under minority students. How can I stand in front of 25 wide-eyed students, telling them they can be whatever they want to be and do whatever they want to do, when there are so many inequities holding some of them back? This is where I think educational reform will be key: without this crutch — because it is one — giving a boost to many minority students seeking admission to universities across the country, how will they stay competitive? Here’s what I think: we elongate the school day. While we’re at it, let’s make school a year-round venture. Add after school programs and tutoring. And we need to seriously re-vamp standardized tests, which have been proven to favor students culturally and leave newcomers and minorities in the dust (Woestenhoff, 2011). A mentor once told me that fair is not giving everyone the same thing, but giving everyone exactly what they need to succeed.

What do you think? Is affirmative action fair? Is it constitutional? Do you see ramifications for K-12 teachers coming out of the Fisher decision?

I look at this a far different way as an educator than I did as a disheartened, disgruntled, rejected 18 year old student forced to go to a second-choice school because of affirmative action. (For the record: the Puerto Rican girl that beat me to Notre Dame? She’s also studying for her Masters in Education. She teaches in inner city New York, and continually blows my mind with her insight and thoughtfulness. I wonder if this would be the case, had race not been a contributing factor in her application to Notre Dame that got her started down this path. I’m glad it was). 

In chapter 7 of Foundations of Education, it is explained why federal courts can sometimes contradict each other, as was the case with Hopwood and Grutter. “Decisions of a court below the U.S. Supreme Court have force only in the geographic area served by that particular court. For this reason, it is possible to find conflicting rulings in different circuits (Ornstein, 2011, p. 260).  Also in chapter 7, the authors point out that most federal cases involving education have to do with the first and fourteenth amendments (Ornstein, 2011). All of the cases I mentioned in this post relate to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.



Liptak, A. (2012, 10 10). Justices weigh race as factor at universities. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/11/us/a-changed-court-revisits-affirmative-action-in-college-admissions.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&ref=education

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

The Oyez Project. http://www.oyez.org/

Woestenhoff, J. (2011). What’s wrong with standardized tests?. Retrieved from http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/whats-wrong-with-standardized-tests/


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(the trouble with) financing public education. week six.


Because of the economic crisis, there has been much worry about financing public education in recent years. With the collapsing economy, many school districts have found themselves trying to serve more and more students with less and less money. The recession has triggered large state revenue shortfalls, and states finance almost half of public education costs (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011). Because of this, educators everywhere are being held accountable for the money that they spend.

According to the Federal Education Budget Project, the national average in 2009 for per-pupil spending was $10,591. Virginia’s per-pupil spending in the same school year came in slightly higher, at $10,928. The primary sources of financing for public schools are local, state, and federal dollars.  Primarily, this money comes to school districts via local property taxes. Eleven states use this tax exclusively to bring in revenue for schools (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 237). At the state level, two major sources of funding are sales taxes and personal income taxes. Half of the states and Washington, D.C. then use the money collected in a foundation plan, which guarantees a minimum annual expenditure per student by the state. While the most common practice, it is not entirely equitable, as it leaves poor schools suffering and wealthy ones better off (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011). The federal funding states receive is a much smaller number, and has shifted away from block grants to categorial grants made to schools. For example, for fiscal year 2009 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, the federal contribution was only 4% of the budget, at $11,575,000, or just under $500 per student (National Center for Education Statistics). Many say that this simply isn’t enough to keep up with the financial demands of No Child Left Behind, especially in a worsening economy when budgets are shrinking.

State spending figures vary across the country. For example, the per-pupil expenditure rate for Utah was $6,612 in 2009. In the same year, Massachusetts spent $14,540 per student (Federal Education Budget Project). To make sense of these numbers, one has to consider an array of variables, such as cost of living, overall population, wealth, poverty, property values, and whether or not states levy income taxes and what their state sales tax rate is, if they have one. It’s easy enough to deduce, though, that more money spent generally leads to higher achievement levels in the student population.

School districts are starting to get creative with how they use their budgets. An up-and-coming trend that I caught wind of recently seems sound. It’s called public-private partnerships. Basically, it’s for capital projects and infrastructure spending, and it allows the school districts to go to the open market and seek out a private firm to hire. Having capital projects on the open market drives costs way down because of competing businesses, and also allows projects to be completed in a timely manner because there is virtually no red tape to cut through. They also allow investment in the right places at the right time by prioritizing projects (Kenny & Gilroy, 2012). If a contract is worked right, schools can also negotiate in maintenance costs being picked up by the private firm for the length of their contract. Now that’s savvy budgeting!

Despite creative ways to save and spend money, school districts are hurting. In Virginia, there were 2,211 schools as of 2011 (National Center for Education Statistics). How do we make sure that the funding provided to them is equitable? The current model isn’t working. In 2009, Caroline County, Virginia, spent $10,971 per student. Compare that with Arlington County, where in 2009 per-pupil spending was $21,656 (National Center for Education Statistics). Because a majority of the revenue afforded to school districts is from local taxes, it will always remain inequitable unless we change that model. My thought is to significantly lower local property taxes, if not abolish them all together. Instead, collect a state property tax and have the state then disburse that money equally to all 2,211 schools, in addition to the dollars brought in by state sales and income taxes. Hopefully, this would give wealthy districts a little less and poorer districts a little more to work with. With that money, more districts could afford to update their buildings, books, and classroom resources.

Our students deserve a system that looks a lot better than this:




Federal Education Budget Project. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://febp.newamerica.net/k12/VA

Kenny, H., & Gilroy, L. (2012, 09 28). 21st century schools require 21st century finance. Retrieved from http://reason.org/news/show/21st-century-schools-require-21st-c

National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/districtsearch/

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


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IDEA, NCLB, & me. week five.


I’d like to start off with IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
This came about in Congress in 1975, and its aim was to extend free and appropriate education to students with disabilities. This particular law matters very much to me, not only as an educator, but as a mother. My son was diagnosed with autism at an early age. He was also diagnosed with developmental aphasia (mixed expressive/receptive language disorder), and sensory disturbance. He also has a severe speech delay. He’s 4. He is enrolled in our school system’s early childhood special education preschool program. It has helped him so much, though he has been cut out of services he needs because of technicalities and just-high-enough test scores. Right out of the gate, I’m already all too familiar with this law and what it does for families and learning disabled children. I think it puts me in a good place, though, to know exactly how it will affect my classroom.

I don’t need research to tell me that this will be tricky. No doubt I will have a handful (or more) of kids on IEPs in my classroom for various learning disabilities. Not only will I need to take into account all of the mainstream, general education students and their learning styles, but I will also need to incorporate the needs of several different children into my lessons and assessments. I know what I expect from my son’s teacher to help him succeed; I need be prepared to have several sets of parents holding me to high expectations for their kids, too. Meeting the needs of an LD student requires much forethought, coordination, and planning. Ideally, the parents would be involved. As a new teacher, I would hope to have a mentor teacher helping me through the process, as well as an administrator to answer my questions when I’m not sure how to do something. I am shameless, and I’m not afraid to scream for help when I feel like I’m in over my head. And multiple children with learning disabilities would almost undoubtedly leave me up to my eyeballs in papers and planning in my first year.

NCLB, or No Child Left Behind, was approved in 2001 under President Bush. Its goal is to raise performance of low-achieving schools through standards and assessments. The 2001-2002 school year was my last year of high school. Even at that early stage, my teachers were groaning about what this would mean for education in our country. A decade later, I can’t say that I disagree with their assessment. While I think that the overarching goals are well-intentioned, I feel like the law itself is completely misguided. Increasingly, states are seeking and winning waivers to NCLB because their schools simply cannot meet its requirements by the 2014 deadline to avoid punitive sanctions. “If, after several years, a school still fails to meet yearly progress goals, its students are eligible to transfer to another public school in the district. Still further failure to make adequate progress subjects schools to ‘corrective action’ or ‘restructuring,’ which includes replacing all or part of the faculty and administration, conversion to charter-school status, or takeover by an outside organization…” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 384) According to a Huffington Post article (Resmovits, 2012), 32 states and the District of Columbia now have waivers for NCLB, citing the goals it set as completely unattainable. With that kind of outcome sure to hit most school districts, it’s no wonder that over half of our nation is seeking relief from such a draconian law.

Hanging a teacher’s livelihood on the results of one test hardly seems fair or reasonable. Furthermore, it is equally shameful to sum an entire school year up in one test to determine whether or not a student’s achievement is acceptable. To add insult to injury, the federally mandated law isn’t funded with very many federal dollars. Having little money makes it pretty hard to meet lofty goals when you’re talking in terms of millions of children.

In the video case we watched for this week, the educators and administrators expressed the view that a child’s progress should not be based on one drop in the bucket; it’s impossible to gauge a child’s performance by one test and not a cumulative picture. Likewise, they expressed the opinion that teachers and schools should not be judged on one test, either. It can sometimes be difficult to get those high proficiency numbers because a child could be having an off day, or going through a personal trial or trauma. They tend to view the results of this one examination as a bit arbitrary, because despite them not being labeled as proficient, they may have made solid gains over the course of the year.

Here’s a news clip I found regarding No Child Left Behind in Florida and the waiver the state received. Pay special attention to the parent that’s interviewed — I feel like this opinion is part of the reason we’ve moved from a norm-referenced assessment system into high stakes testing in the first place.

This video is a fantastic history of IDEA, and what it means, exactly, and how it has evolved through the years. It also gives you a look at where we were before its inception. It’s about 9 minutes long, but it is so worth it.




Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11 ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Resmovits, J. (2012, 07 19). No child left behind waivers granted to 33 u.s. states, some with strings attached. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/no-child-left-behind-waiver_n_1684504.html

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idealism, realism, and education. week four.


on idealism

Plato’s The Cave is an allegory for how we attain knowledge. Plato believed that our senses would lead us to false realities and that only our minds and our souls could experience true enlightenment. This is evident in the opening scenes, where we are to envision people living, chained, in a cave, and their only perceptions of reality are the shadows on the walls; the half truths of knowledge. Our sensory world changes, but knowledge is eternal and unwavering, therefore, we cannot trust our senses to tell us what is real. Plato believes that the soul will rise above the mercurial world of the shadows in the cave and  that we should interpret the journey upwards to be “the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world.” (Plato, 380 BCE) Once our souls have been enlightened, we have an obligation to go back into the cave and direct others to enlightenment. The educational implications of the message set forth in The Cave are that educators should be exemplary models and ask leading questions of their pupils to guide them to discover what is true and right. As Socrates states in The Cave, professors of education cannot put knowledge into a soul. It can only be learned by the individual, intrinsically. In other words, only your mind can seek the truth. In Foundations of Education, this pillar of idealism is expressed as well. “The individual, through deep thought and introspection, searches his or her own mind and discovers in it the ideas that are copies of the macrocosmic mind.” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 171). Plato also favored arithmetic and geometry for teaching students because math was evidence that there were eternal truths that the mind could come to know. He also believed that everyone should be able to go to school to cultivate their knowledge of these eternal truths, but recognized that learning differences and high intellectual standards left very few able to make it to the top, as it were, and become philosopher-kings.

Emerson’s essay The Over-Soul is also deeply rooted in idealist philosophy, which asserts that a person’s soul “is the permanent element of human nature that gives individuals the power to think and feel.” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 170). Emerson writes that knowledge is unchanging and far-reaching, and that the soul creates reality and leaves the human world behind (Emerson, 1841). Like Plato, Emerson thinks that the mind already knows everything it needs, and it is up to us to enlighten ourselves to unlock that knowledge. “[The mind] converses with truths that have always been spoken in the world…” (Emerson, 1841). Emerson also illustrates the idealist notion of the macrocosm, the idea that all things are part of each other and a universal mind when he writes that, “We are wiser than we know. If we will not interfere with our thought, but will act entirely, or see how the thing stands in God, we know this particular thing, and every thing, and every man. For the Maker of all things and all persons stands behind us, and casts his dread omniscience through us and over things.” (Emerson, 1841)

Like Plato, Emerson believes that knowledge cannot be attained by being told what it is or what to believe. It is intrinsic to the individual mind, having been there for eternity for a person to discover it for themselves. He says that it does no good to teach from without, rather, from within is where knowledge must come. Teachers of this world are simply spectators, and cannot teach things from within. As with Plato, a teacher’s role would be to guide students on the path to enlightenment within themselves.

on realism

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, would it make a noise? 

The short answer? Yes.
Whether you’re there or not, the tree still fell and made a great big boom.

Realists believe that reality is objective. It exists outside the self in the natural world.  Realists believe in experiential learning and using the senses and the scientific method to determine what the world is and how it relates to us. Because of this, a realist would turn to the physical laws that act on all matter, independent of observation. Gravity would pull the tree to the ground, a wave of energy would rise up and and make a noise, probably the aforementioned great big boom.

on idealism, realism, and student learning 

Idealist teachers see themselves as guides for children realizing their fullest intellectual potential (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011). The role of both student and teacher is to be well versed in the universal truths of the classics and to be well entrenched in the finer aspects of their culture. Students would be expected to look within themselves to find the answers to key questions, being guided by Socratic questioning from their teachers. Expectations would be high, and teachers would be very boring, proper people with exemplary status in the community and numerous citizen awards. The quest for the universal truths would be central to an idealist education.

Realist educators teach kids about the world they live in with objective knowledge from that world. Students use experiential learning to bring their ideas about the world “into correspondence with reality” (Ornstein, Levine & Gutek, 2011, p. 175) under a teacher’s guidance. It is important for realist educators to be well-versed in their content area. Everyone should receive an education, and standards would be set to measure student achievement in the content areas.

i know you are, but what am i?

If I were asked to pick between just the two philosophies (and what do you know, I have been!), I should think that I lean more toward a realist philosophy than that of idealism. While I do believe in a higher being and the universal knowledge that it brings, I also believe that knowledge is objective and directly tied to the world and time in which we live. I firmly believe that kids can’t learn if you don’t have them manipulate their environment and apply the knowledge they’re gaining to the world around them. I believe that you cannot be an effective teacher without having mastered your content area, and I also believe that a teacher should be a well-rounded individual with schooling in many disciplines. I believe that understanding the world we live in also helps us to understand why we are the way we are and why we do the things we do. As much as I fancy having a soul, I believe that my power to think comes from my brain and various evolutionary mechanisms, and not from a ball of energy that I can’t prove exists outside my body. And while I appreciate higher-order thinking skills, I recognize that not all children will be able to master them. Every student should be equipped with basic, objective knowledge to help them succeed in the world in which we live.

This is a great clip of the comparison of idealism and realism. He’s not the most enthusiastic, but he’s easy to follow! If you’re interested, he has an entire series on YouTube on the Philosophy of Education, of which this clip is a part. It helped me solidify where I stand between the two philosophies.




Emerson, R. (1841). The over-soul. Retrieved from http://www.emersoncentral.com/oversoul.htm

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Plato. (360 BCE). The republic. Retrieved from http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html

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education through the ages. week three.


Through the storied history of the world, education seems to have served one primary purpose: to indoctrinate people into the culture of the time and place in which they lived. The leaders of society needed citizens to be molds of exactly what they wanted and needed to further their culture. The early days held true to rigid caste systems in China and Egypt, leaving the elite and their offspring always in power and usually in charge of education. The Hebraic tradition left us with good little children who learned how to pray and how to be, well, Jewish. Greece and Rome changed it up a bit and began to mold citizens into political entities capable of carrying on their culture and their cause. Still, though, people were left in their places and didn’t dare move up the social rungs. Education was purely a political machine. The Renaissance ushered in the classical humanists, who believed that people should be educated to be critical thinkers capable of challenging customs (gasp!). Rather than preach ethnocentrism, the humanists thought it prudent to include a well-rounded repertoire of Latin and Greek in their educational system.

It is important to note that through a large chunk of space and time, education and all of its facets were controlled by a relative few. Access was severely restricted, furthering the social structures of cultures and the suppression of new ideas. The key thinkers in the Reformation understood the value of culture and how closely fused to education it was and used it to further their Protestant convictions by educating more people. Though the social system was drastically changing, the end goal was always constant: the leaders wanted citizens to fit into a prescribed cultural mold to further political and/or social causes. This time, they were allowed to be literate.

Enter the Enlightenment, the key to American education as we know it. For us, education means one thing: progress. (Ornstein, Levine & Gutek, 2011, pg. 91)The promise of something better. The promise of moving out of your social class and up the chain to bigger and better things because knowledge is power! Of course, we had to go through some roadblocks like civil rights, women’s rights, and child labor laws to get there… but we got there! Make no mistake, though. We say we want you to break all of the molds and do amazing things and learn everything you can, but we still want you to look and act like we do. And we’re a long way from 2200 BCE. It’s not all bad bananas, though, right? Having a national American identity is, in fact, critical to our country surviving and thriving.

We’ve gotten some good ideas along the way, though, to help us shape the western ideals of education. Comenius and Piaget both told us that children develop in stages, and we can’t teach them more than they’re ready to learn. Pestalozzi developed a teacher education program and introduced us to process-based learning. I think that Addams got it really right, though. Our job as educators is to both infuse the American culture into our students and to help them learn about and understand the others. “…education needed to take on new and broadened social purposes. Teachers needed to understand the economic, demographic, and technological trends that were reshaping American society…” (Ornstein, Levine & Gutek, 2011, pg. 115) Where we stand in history, we are in the midst of change. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that the future generations are ready for it. We need to restore our American community and teach our children how to read, write, and think critically. John Dewey brought with him the idea that children learn best experientially. It is the educator’s job to arrange experiences which engage students and provide for more meaningful future experiences on which their knowledge base is built. He called this the “experiential continuum.” (Dewey, 1938)

Experience has influenced education in profound ways: with each political, social, or economic change in history, education has been re-thought and re-approached based on peoples’ experiences. Experience is tightly interwoven with how we frame curriculum and how our students receive it and process it and apply it. The question lies in where the healthy balance is between creating an experiential learning environment in which the students explore things that interest them and engage them, and reigning in their individuality to make education less about experience and more about preserving a cultural identity through knowledge and ideas that can be useful both on a global scale and as proactive and productive citizens in their own communities and country.

Consider this video:

What do you think? Is he right? Have we progressed so much that we’ve destroyed American education by nurturing the individual student and neglecting the straight content-based education needed to be good, informed citizens as a collective? Was moving to the progressive idea of experiential education a “disaster?”

I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed learning a lot more when it was culturally relevant to me, when my teachers went out of their way to relate it to my life and let me feel and discover and explore on my own. Then again, I got better grades when all I had to do was regurgitate information, though it was far less enjoyable for me.



Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.



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my philosophy of education: hashing it out. week two.


When I envision my if-money-were-no-object-and-my-principal-were-awesome classroom, this is what I see:
It would be twice the size of a standard classroom. (Let’s not kid ourselves, with the way class sizes are increasing lately, it would have to be twice as big.) It would have a row of windows with lots of sunlight.  Built-in bookshelves under the windows. I would have lamps everywhere – floor lamps, table lamps… anything to keep from using that horrendous (and distracting) florescent lighting in most classrooms. I would like a carpeted floor with area rugs. Several bean bag chairs would be by the bookshelves under the windows, which would be the free-reading center. The desks would be set in rows of 5 and columns of 5 (or whatever, you know, it’s possible to have 6×5 these days), with space between each for me to walk around readily. My desk would be in the front of the classroom facing the students. The bulletin boards in the room would be covered with a brightly colored, themed fabric with organized and easily accessible folders, calendars, lunch menus, etc. The class rules (having been designed by our class as a whole) would hang prominently in the room. Student artwork would be displayed year-round. I would have space for a half-moon conference table, where I can work with students in small groups or one-on-one. There would be 5 computers set along one wall. The students would have classroom responsibilities, like watering the plants, feeding the class pet, organizing the art center, reading center, etc. I plan to make them responsible for their classroom environment; if it’s theirs, they’ll protect and respect it. I would also like to have several round tables available so that group work can be done at those tables, and I can change group members easily without re-arranging desks and upsetting the delicate social network that is an elementary school classroom.

There’s a method to my detailed madness. My classroom will look like this because it facilitates the kind of learning that I want in my classroom: focused and independent learners when they need to be, and collaborative, respectful group members when they need to be.

I take an easy, comfortable, and respectful approach to learning. I want my students to know that I welcome questions and I don’t mind mistakes. I don’t mind repeating myself four hundred times in thirty different ways to make sure everyone is on track. I’ll even make the material into a song and dance routine if I have to! (That’s actually really effective, by the way.) When students can see that you’re approachable and that their classroom is a safe space where they’ll be respected and supported, they open themselves up and don’t mind constructive criticism or making mistakes. How amazing would that be?!

Have you ever seen a child have a lightbulb moment? It’s really something to watch. It’s how you know, as their teacher, that they’ve grasped something. They get a little giddier, they smile at themselves and start working frantically on their assignment. If I can see that they are actively discovering and manipulating information, then I know that they’re well on their way with what I’m teaching them. They may not master it right away, and in fact it may take them all year to do so, but that lightbulb moment lets me know that learning is happening. Recognizing that all kids learn in different ways and at different paces will save your sanity and theirs.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the multiple intelligences theory: that people have many different modalities of intelligence, and no two people are configured the same way (Gardner, 1999). Learning occurs in so many different ways! Some kids need to move their bodies or build things to understand. Others need it said to them or shown to them in a picture. As an educator, it’s my job to target as many modalities as I can in one lesson so that my students have a better chance for success. And, bonus? It keeps you from doing the same tired old routine. Death to worksheets, I say!

One of my biggest goals for my classroom is that we all have fun while we’re there. Now, I’m not suggesting that we’ll stop and play Yahtzee! at 2:00pm every day (how about on Fridays? Acceptable?). What I mean by fun is that we’re all so engaged that we don’t realize we’ve spent an entire day learning! We’ll be sad that the last bell has rung! (Okay, I won’t be sad – I’ll probably flop into my chair at the exact moment my room empties out and crack open a caffeinated beverage and cucumber slices for my eyes.) I want everyone to pass with flying colors, of course. But more than that, I want my students to come away from my classroom having learned about themselves, about society, about the value of interpersonal relationships. And most of all, I want them to be able to ace every single standardized test ever thrown their way, without having spent one minute on dull, repetitive, mind-numbing test prep exercises. I want them to be able to manipulate what I teach them to apply to any situation, any test question. And my goal for myself is to come away from each year feeling like I did the best I knew how to do and helped the kids in my class move forward a little more well-rounded. In short, I want to be a best practices teacher – one that  provides a student-centered environment with experiential, holistic learning. One that challenges students and helps them reflect on what they’ve learned. (Zemelman, Harvey, & Hyde, 2005)

If we teach kids how to survive and thrive in a democratic classroom, they’ll enter society as well-rounded, better educated citizens who are more readily prepared to work and be engaged in their community, their government, and the world. When the paradigm shifts from a monotonous, irrelevant school career to one in which students are taught to think for themselves, ask questions, and problem-solve, then US education will be a force to be reckoned with on a global scale. Until then, we’ll continue to falter and fall behind, which doesn’t bode well for the future.



Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. Basic Books.

Wong, H., & Wong, R. (2005). The first days of school. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. (2005). Best practice. (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


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so, you want to be a teacher? week one.


In some ways, I think that kids understand from the beginning that there is a difference between teachers. It starts with “Mr. Smith is mean,” or “All right! Mrs. Lundin! Best teacher ever!” And at that young age, students usually equate this with how much homework they have, or how strict the classroom policy is. Or whether or not their teacher ever smiles. (Admit it, you were always nervous about the ones that didn’t smile.)

I became acutely aware of the great divide between teachers when I hit high school. It started in my trigonometry class. Now, I’ve never been very good at math. I was never one to shoot my hand up and volunteer my answers. But on this particular homework assignment, I was sure – absolutely sure – that I’d done it all right. I volunteered to write my answers on the board, but other people got called on instead. As their answers went up, my heart sank. Mine were all different. I raised my hand and asked the teacher – we’ll call him Mr. X – what went wrong. I was sure I’d done it right. And right there, in front of God and everyone, he said, “Well, I didn’t make a blonde answer sheet, Angela. That’s why your answers are different.” Everyone laughed. I was angry. I was humiliated. I was about thirty different things in that exact moment. And I can promise you that anything any other math teacher ever tried to get across to me never once entered my stream of conscious thought. I was ruined. Not because I got the answers wrong and didn’t want to try, but because I didn’t trust my teachers and what they’d do to me if I wasn’t perfect. Mr. X was definitely mean. But more than that, he was a horrible teacher.

So, what makes a great teacher? Definitely the opposite of Mr. X, right? But what does that really mean?

To me, it means having a place in your heart for every last one of the kids in your classroom. It means caring about their well-being. It means working to make sure they understand  and can manipulate the information that you’re presenting to them. It means getting them to think for themselves. Critically. It means creating a safe space for them to get things wrong and plow through their mistakes. Being a great teacher means leaving behind the idea that you’re the gate-keeper of infinite knowledge, and that you have all of the answers. Instead, a great teacher is in there learning with them, guiding them through lessons and experiments and crucial questions. And it means never, ever giving them a reason to give up on themselves.

It is no mistake, then, that there is mounting evidence to suggest that these great teachers are better than others at getting students to succeed. I believe that part of this has to do with the very nature and personality of the person doing the teaching. But more than that, I think that it all falls to how that teacher was taught how to teach. Let’s face it: nobody wants to be second. Nobody wants the silver medal, or worse, to miss the podium all together. So, when faced with evidence that Teacher Q has a smaller success rate than Teacher P across the board, the only take away is that they approach their classrooms very differently. At the base of it, the data has outed Teacher Q as an ineffective teacher. And Teacher Q doesn’t want that any more than I wanted to be humiliated in front of my peers. This failure doesn’t stop with Teacher Q, though. It reflects directly on the institution that trained him/her to be a teacher. In its report titled “Educating School Teachers,” the Education Schools Project found that a significant number of future teachers come from programs that do not measure up in the areas of curriculum, standards, or faculty. (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.16). That means that teachers are entering the workforce in droves unprepared. The faculty at these institutions would be quite insistent on finding flaws in the evidence that shows that they, too, are ineffective teachers. They have not prepared their students for managing and engaging a classroom, and in turn, the K through 12 students in the charge of those teachers don’t have the same chances for success as their peers in a more effective teacher’s class. Noting the human aversion to being the fall guy, it is only natural that these teacher educators and teachers would want to place blame somewhere else for their students not doing well or being unprepared.

So, why is it that more isn’t being done at the school level to alleviate this?

When faced with this student achievement data in their teachers’ classrooms, principals may be reluctant to do much about it. There are so many variables that are traditionally used to determine school-wide performance, such as attendance rates, test scores, and differences in the student body from year to year. Perhaps they feel that using just one set of data gives them a lopsided reflection on student achievement, and they would be remiss to base decisions on one data set.

I believe that the aforementioned data sets would fall under what Kati Haycock, Director of Education Trust, terms as “causes of underachievement” (Haycock, 2000) for students in her organization’s report on student achievement. In her speech Educating for What? The Struggle for Democracy in Education, Deborah Meier suggests that the achievement gap between students rests not with simple achievement scores as Haycock believes, but with the incarceration rate, poverty, and low-wage jobs.(Meier, 2008) She argues that instead of addressing the real problem, we focus on student test scores as the sole basis for measuring achievement, when we should be focusing on the larger picture at a massive, societal level.

Now, I’ve seen Dangerous Minds. And Freedom Writers. And every other success story where a teacher swoops in and rescues his or her students from disaster and impending doom regardless of the students’ circumstances. And though some are fictionalized, we cling to those stories. As educators, we cling to them because they’re more or less true. Nothing else matters – not income level, not language barriers, nothing – as long as there is a great teacher in that classroom willing to go above and beyond to understand his or her students and make sure that they succeed. Can you save everyone? Of course not. But you can try. As Kati Haycock (2000) suggests, repeatedly falling back on all of these other data sets to determine student achievement and make excuses for poor results “makes us wonder, in fact, how much higher the pile of evidence will have to grow before we concede in our professional lives what we certainly know in our roles as parents…and knew as students, as well. Teachers matter a lot.”



Haycock, K. (2000). Thinking k-16. Retrieved from https://canvas.umw.edu/courses/426776/assignments/1996858?module_item_id=4255342

Meier, D. (2008, February 7). Educating for what? The struggle for democracy in education. Retrieved from http://deborahmeier.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/2009_educatingforwhat.pdf

Ornstein, A. C., Levine, D. U., & Gutek, G. L. (2011). Motivation, Preparation, and Conditions for the Entering Teacher.                        Foundations of education (11th ed., p. 16). Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.




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