Saturday, February 12, 2011

NCLB Reauthorization Proposal Seeks to Reward Broad Curricula

As part of a plan to "renovate a flawed NCLB law and outline a reenvisioned federal role in education", the Obama administration proposes providing competitive grants to states and high-need districts to strengthen the teaching and learning of arts, foreign languages, history and civics, financial literacy, and environmental education.

With the current law long criticized for its constricting compliance requirements on student performance in math, reading and optional science assessments, the reauthorization proposal would encourage a broader  subject base using the 2010 Race to the Top grants model.  While the NCLB Act has always employed a "stick" for math and reading exams, it would be offering a "carrot" for eligible units to keep its instructional offerings broad under the new plan.

Overall, the NCLB reauthorization suggests maintaining the same five priorities embedded in the Race to the Top program: (1) College and Career Ready Standards (2) Great Teachers and Leaders in Every School (3) Equity and Opportunity for All Students (4) Raise the Bar and Reward Excellence and (5) Promote Innovation and Continuous Improvement.

Though the administration's proposal was issued in March 2010, it remains relevant today considering Education Secretary Arne Duncan's recent recommendation for members of the National School Boards Association to think "reauthorization, reauthorization, reauthorization" (of the 2007 version of NCLB) as the next pressing thing on his agenda: Secretary Duncan's statement.  In his State of the Union Address on January 25, President Obama did declare that the NCLB Act would be replaced, but the US Department of Education continues to post the 2010 document as the proposed basis for the law's modification.  There is no set timetable for reauthorization, but the Obama administration believes prospects for doing so are brightest this year.

See NCLB Reauthorization Proposal  for your own review.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fill In Knowledge Gaps with a 5th Grade Geography Book

4/17/11 Note: If you appreciate this piece, please see the 6th of 8 presentations recapped in "MN's Top High School Orators Inspire Faith for the Future."

Many 'top-of-the mountain' moments can occur when parent and child are working through an assignment or subject, with both parties engaged enough to add to the pair's mutual understanding or cumulative knowledge.  One subject where this occurs more often than not is geography-- be it local, national or global.

First, a tip o' the hat to a wonderful geography and social studies teacher-- Ms. Sawyer.  Were it not for her recommendation to acquire Amazing U.S. Geography, the answer to a very basic, but intriguing historical question would be unknown to me.

Periodically, in seeing a film, play or reading about the original 13 colonies, I have wondered where the states of Vermont and Maine were during the colonial period.  Of course, we can all recite the original 13 by heart :-) -- Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, & Virginia.

But what of Vermont and Maine?  Well, today, an answer appeared.  Vermont was once part and parcel to New York, while Maine belonged to the non contiguous area of Massachusetts.  There's likely a good story about intervening New Hampshire in there somewhere :)

Okay, all you wisenheimers who are snickering at my utter ignorance: Quick, which 6 states make up the region known as New England? *

To test the theory that kids might care about things geographical, I bounced out a couple factoids on France at today's "travel brochure" writing session with my son's elementary class: What country, approximately the size of Texas in land area, sports the world's 4th largest economy?  Answer, the one that is also the world's number #1 tourist destination--- France.  Now you may have had to be there, but these kids were seeing France in an entirely new way :)

Far more than being an exercise in memorization for the sake of regurgitation, I consider it a wonderful middle age discovery to realize the integral role that geography plays in understanding the history, culture, politics and economics in the vast interactive web of an increasingly globalized society.

Our children don't have the same luxury of time to figure out what's going on in the world (and we adults are probably kidding ourselves if we think we did in the first place.)  By tapping into the types of learning material referenced on this page, we can assist them with this important process.

Additional online resources for testing your child's geography skills: Sheppard Software's USA Kid's Corner

*Answer: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Parents United" Offers Help to Educators & Families Alike

You needn't look any further than the Parents United website to determine that it is perhaps the best one-stop shop for all things K-12 education in Minnesota, but if you can ever make time to attend the organization's one day boot camp, it will be time well spent.

For there-- on February 5th-- Executive Director Mary Cecconi breathed life into the legislative nomenclature with talks on school budgeting & governance, legislative basics, and a Power of 5 advocacy principle it hopes its non dues paying affiliates will employ in their given school communities.  Recognizing that most people aren't inclined to become school finance experts, Parents United's primary goal is to drop another view into the lexicon of school policy debates too often dominated by special interest groups like the school board associations, superintendent groups, and teachers unions.

In fact, Parents United doesn't consider itself to be a special interest group at all, since it relies on voluntary contributions to solely fund its operational activities. 

Still, it is clearly a group with a special interest in advocating for strong education. Calling itself a "critical friend" to schools, Parents United emphasizes the critical in its judgment that extracurricular programs are often cut at the middle school level, when it makes more sense developmentally to eliminate them at the high school level.  As for the friend part?  Parents United has been willing to go to the educational mat for funding matters and in defense of teachers who it believes face unrealistic student performance expectations.  In the 2010 legislative session for instance, teachers were nearly subject to a bill that expected 100% improvement in student scores for 3 consecutive years to avoid terminations and removal of licenses.

I found the group's seminar refreshing for its willingness to surprise and sober those in attendance (translation: it did not present itself as one with a predictable spin to various educational questions).  Perhaps the biggest surprise was the rejection of the idea that a student going to college always provides him or her a greater economic value.   Cecconi counts this as one of several dead ideas on which our society often bases decisions. On the sobering front, Cecconi cited this belief about school funding that is currently held by many educational policy experts: Minnesota school boards are likely in the 3rd of a 7 year period of flat funding.

In sum, Parents United is an expert & savvy political advocacy organization that is broad in scope and honest in its approach to fighting for quality k-12 education.

"Don't believe just us," summarized Cecconi. "Always look for the other side."