2007

A Fresh Start?

At my high school we run a "semester schedule" with students taking four different courses each term. Thus, after the upcoming holiday break, all teachers and students will have new courses, new classmates, along with renewed optimism and opportunity. We always like the "bounce" we get with this fresh start. Perhaps this is what Congress needs when they return in January with little hope in sight that NCLB will be reauthorized before the 2008 session ends.

No Child Left Behind: Changing the Way We Think About Learning

One of the central lessons of No Child Left Behind is that if school sanctions are tied to test scores, the testing tail can wag the schooling dog. And a key problem for the United States is that most of our tests aren't measuring the kinds of 21st century skills we need students to acquire and that are at the core of curriculum and assessment in high-achieving countries.

While a debate rages about whether our tests should be created at the national or state level, this argument is focused on the wrong issue.

Lessons From the Front Lines

The mission of The Forum is to bring the common sense of successful educational practitioners to the world of educational policy. Too often educational policy is set by folks who have never taught a child to read, figured out with a family how to get a child to graduation, or juggled all the demands of putting together a school's daily schedule. While that may never change, the least those making policy can do is pay attention to what works in the classroom and use it when making policy in the cloak room.

Update from Nebraska: Promises Worth Keeping

Nebraska continues to be an island of sanity in the midst of the standards and testing movement that disguises itself as school improvement in America today. To remind you, Nebraska's 517 school districts design their own assessment systems: a portfolio of teachers' classroom assessments, district tests that measure how well children are meeting locally developed learning standards, a state writing test and at least one nationally standardized test to serve as a reality check.

The Limits of Schooling

I had intended this week's column to be an update from Nebraska on the work going on in that state on assessment. But while I was in the airport waiting for a flight to Omaha, my wife reached me with news every educator hates to hear—"Tina" (not her real name), a 1998 graduate of my high school, had been killed, falling from a fourth story window with foul play suspected. I caught the flight to Nebraska and saw some great work there—but that can wait for our next newsletter, now I want to talk about Tina.

Letters to the Next President and the Son of a Preacher Woman

The 2008 Election edition of the award-winning book Letters to the Next President: What We Can Do About the Real Crisis in Public Education will be in bookstores this coming week. With debates ranging over the progress and reauthorization of NCLB, and with presidential candidates formulating education agendas for the future of American schools, we should use this period of time to influence our legislators at all levels of government about what should be done to improve education and society. The book is a collection of thirty short, readable letters written by students, teachers, parents, legislators, entertainers, and others ranging in age from eight to eighty and in position from Navajo children to the world's most famous astronaut.

First Draft, Part 2

Of all the things we expected Congress to fix when reauthorizing NCLB, the over-reliance upon standardized tests to measure both student learning and school success was first on the list. Maybe taking seriously the federal government's historic and proper role in insuring equal educational opportunity for all our children was too much to ask. (See the previous edition of this newsletter for our hopes on that agenda). But given the overwhelming evidence of how the testing craze was dumbing down curricula, narrowing teaching and limiting the educational experience of our most school-dependent children, fixing this part of the law seemed obvious.

First Draft

One of the best English teachers I know teaches at our high school. She always draws the Senior English class assignment because she can coax out of even the most reluctant eighteen year old a solid "senior paper," a right of passage at FHHS. Amongst her tools is an approach to revision that goes this way: "Nice try, but you can do better, go figure out what is wrong and let me know when you do."

Summer School

Summer is nearly over and in the next couple of weeks schools will fill up with students—and teachers will begin the task of trying to overcome the social and economic inequities that only they seem to be charged with battling. They take on the task willingly, but I wonder why they alone are expected to close the gaps our children face.

The Last Day (of School)

The scenes from the last day of school in my community:

At one elementary the buses lined up and were loaded with happy, laughing kids, from pre-school to fifth grade, carrying their towels and lunches for a day at the swimming pool. The line of buses was followed by a parade of cars carrying parents, siblings, and relatives—all part of the end of the year "pool day."