Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Jack Michael's Posts (2017)

Closing the Achievement Gap

The achievement gap has been something that has plagued education since its beginnings. The difference in scores between race and economic status has become extremely evident. Although these gaps have grown smaller over the years, they are still alive today. In this blog, I hope to inform you about the achievement gap, inform you on how to close the achievement gap, and give all students an equal chance at a better education.

To understand the achievement gap we must look into our past. Once the Civil War was over, African Americans were allowed to read and learn to write. As most of you know, the south heavily segregated their schools. African American schools were not funded at all. This lead to a worse education for African Americans. This then circled around to the next generation. There was less funding for African American schools and because of this there was a lesser education give to the African American students. Although there was one difference, this generations parents were educated. Although with a very low quality of education. This lead to more at home discussions and more of an aptitude for learning. So the African American populations learning grew ever so slightly. White americans received huge funding for their schools and have highly educated parents. Not to say that every African american child gets a bad education and every White child gets a good education, but since their funding was drastically different, usually their quality of education was worse. So this went on for many generations, not just for African American students but for other races to. In WW2 Japanese children were sent to internment camps and their learning was backpedaled. During reconstruction Chinese americans were set back because of their ethnicity. The list goes on and on. The U.S. did not realized this inequality in our education system until schools were integrated in 1954 with the court case of Brown Vs Board of education of Topeka. Once each student was tested they saw the drastic difference. 

The achievement gap today is very different but can still be tied to the errors of the past. The achievement gap today is mostly in poor neighborhoods of inner-cities and rural towns. This is mostly do to as always finances. The funding for the schools in inner-cities and rural towns are horrible and the schools themselves are often under kept and understaffed. Teachers often have large class sizes and so little funding that they often have no books or even textbooks to read to their class. These students leave school to go to homes that are dirty, eat foods that most of the time, will get them sick. They come to school tired, sick, and just unwilling to learn. This is where we see the achievement gap today. Not so much in segregation anymore, but in the income of families. 

So how do we close the achievement gap? Well, most politicians do not know the answer. Most point the gap to poverty. I believe that we can combat the achievement gap in many ways. One way is to teach families how to have at home discussions about the lessons in school. If we can have the reenforcement of a lesson at home we may pull the achievement gap closer. Now there needs to be effective reenforcement at home. Parents need to turn outings into lessons and instill a love of learning in their children. We also need to lessen the class size. It is unfair to the student and the teacher to have a class of sixty or fifty. We need to have smaller class size for many reasons. One is less disruptions. If a teacher can focus more on teaching than quieting down the class, than their scores will go up. Two is more focus on students. If the teacher has a smaller class size they can focus on the needs of more students and can reteach more subjects. The last thing we can do to close the achievement gap, is to give need schools more funding. Children should not have to go to a school where the roof leaks and the walls are cracked. Students do not deserve a school that does not have a library or does not have extra-curricular activities. A child deserves a school that can help them grow and flourish in a positive way. 

As you can see, closing the achievement gap will not be easy, it will not be quick, there is no silver bullet. I believe that if we follow these steps and do not repeat the mistakes of our past, we can close the achievement gap. Thank you for reading.  

Sources:Spring, Joel H. American Education. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Charter Schools: Sifting Through the Fog

Charter schools have been one of the most debated topics in education.  Making sense of the endless squabbling, however, has been difficult.  Among the discourse there are just as many truths as there are myths.  The purpose of this article is to evaluate why charter schools produce scores that are similar (though sometimes worse) than public schools in an attempt to separate truth from myth.

What is a charter school and why where they created?  Charter schools were created by Ray Budde, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1974.  Charter schools can be found in any environment, whether rural, suburban, or urban).  Since they are supposed to be "saving American education," however, they are mostly frequently found in low socio-economic and rural areas, typically with low national test scores.  Since charter schools are privately owned they are not required to follow mandatory state curriculum, disciplinary rules, and can pick and choose which students to admit.  Charter schools are designed to bring ingenuity into the classroom because they are free from state curriculum mandates.

Charter schools have an admissions program that filters students who will best fit into the school's atmosphere.  There is often a comprehension test on subjects like Reading and Math, a personality test, and an essay that is completed to find the best and the brightest while eliminating children who may bring down the school’s average test scores and with it, the school’s credibility.

This simply makes no sense.  If charter schools are supposed to aid children in rural and low socio-economic areas, then excluding students most in need of a good education undermines the very goal charter schools profess to achieve.  English-as-a-second-language learners, children with disabilities, and children with bad grades are typically excluded from charter school admission.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report stating that while 11% of students in the U.S. have disabilities, charter schools only enroll 8% of them.

So this leads back to the main question, are charter schools better than public schools?  The truth is that most charter school students do not score higher or even the same on national tests than public school students.  In some instances, they scored lower than their public school peers.  In the District of Columbia, Louisiana, and many other states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina, students in charter schools barely made any progress over their public school peers in Mathematics and in English.  

Why are charter school students not gaining ground against public school students?  Mainly, it is due to the curriculum. Charter schools rely on high stakes testing and therefore, often “teach to the test” based on a set schedule.  Charter schools also often move quickly through curriculum and do not take the time to "re-teach" the subject until the test review days.  Charter schools also have a high teacher turnover rate.  If students perform poorly on tests, the teacher will often be fired or leave their jobs after only a couple of years.

In my view, the worst part about charter schools is the quality of education the students are receiving.  A good education system is supposed to created lifelong learners and spark an interest in the student.  If a child is being force-fed information and is not learning to enjoy that subject or dive deeper into it to and learn outside of the classroom, then we are stifling the passion within that child..  The most critical topics our education systems address must be discussed outside the classroom.  Complex problems and ideas like Global Warming, the Pythagorean Theorem, the Civil War and works of Charles Dickens need to be discussed beyond our schools’ four walls.  If we restrict our children’s learning to simply what they learn in school and fail to create passionate, life long learners then we simply will not be preparing the next generation to solve the many difficult problems that they will face.

So why are we pouring money into charter schools when they are not effective?  One reason might be that many people are grossly under-informed about the failings of charter schools.  They are often placed on a high pedestal and without critically examining what they actually produce.  It just goes to show that if we dive deeper, not just in education, but in life, we will solve more problems than we create.

Sites: Ravitch, Diane. "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools." Barnes & Noble. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Standardized Testing

A student walks into the library where the computers and dividers are set up and awaiting his arrival. He is nervous. This test determines a lot. This test may determine whether his teacher keeps his or her job. This test determines whether he moves up in math, or he stays in same spot. If he passes, he is given nothing more than a pat on the back. If he fails, he is shunned and possibly made fun of by his peers. All of this is running through his brain. He sits down, takes a breath, and begins. 

Standardized testing has been a way to assess schools, teachers, and students for the past 37 years, yet we have started to realize that standardized testing is really not the best way to asses anyone. My goal in this blog post is to show why we should vote to change standardized testing today. 

Is standardized testing effective? In my opinion, standardized testing is failing for three reasons. One, many students and teachers say standardized testing is too stressful, two, federal and state legislatures have set goals that are not achievable, and three, some students just are not good test takers.

Let's talk about the first reason. In every state, there is a final test for students in 3rd-12th grade. This is the focal point that teachers and students stress about every year, but they do so for very different reasons. 

Teachers stress about these tests because their jobs and their success as a teacher hinges on them. If the majority of the teacher's students do well on the test, the teacher is evaluated to be effective in the classroom. If the majority of the students do not do well on the test, the teacher may be in jeopardy of losing their position.  As a student I have noticed that teachers get more and more frantic as test day approaches. They often hand out numerous packets, multiple study guides, and if a student has a minor disruption in his or her class, there is often a harsher punishment than say, in the beginning of the year.   Many students feed off this added stress in the classroom and may emulate their teachers behavior as teachers are role models to children.  Another reason these tests are extremely stressful is because there is so much riding on them;  a teachers success, the school's performance, the state's performance, the country's performance, and the scariest of all for the student, the possibility of getting held back.

For the student, being held back a grade comes with many fears; boredom, peer ridicule, and not being with kids your own age.  Being held back or the fear of being held back,  can be traumatizing to a child.  

The second reason standardized testing is failing is because federal and state legislatures have set the standards too high. In No Child Left Behind (NCLB) the government predicted that by the year 2014 all students would achieve 100% proficiency on standardized testing (NCLB was created in 2001.) This standard has caused districts across the country to be forced to teach to pass tests, instead of teaching for comprehension.  
The final reason standardized testing is flawed is because some students, are just not good test takers. For many taking tests is not a strong-suit, but these same students do understand the content being taught.  Usually students who are very good test takers have been taught at some point in their education how to effectively take tests. Personally,  my third grade teacher made all the difference in my ability to be a successful test taker. She took time and taught us different strategies on how to take tests and what we could use to effectively study for tests. For most children, they do not get someone like my third grade teacher early enough in their education (or at all) to help them succeed in test taking.  

The other reason is that many students get extremely anxious on test day. This anxiety makes students unable to focus on the task at hand, and if they get a question that is more challenging than the previous questions, they might over-think it or they might get so over worked that even the simplest questions can become massively hard. In addition, the lengthly time that these tests often take is not helping students either. On most tests you can leave an answer blank and come back to it later, but on some of tests, (for example CAT tests) you must put an answer right then and there, and once you click next you can never go back. If students are able to take a brain brake for just five minutes, the might have a new idea about how to approach the problem.

As you can see, standardized testing is flawed and needs to be re evaluated and replaced, but we need a call to action to do so. My suggestion would be to replace these tests with alternative assessments. Here are some examples: 

Math: Instead of making kids sit through large and laborious math tests, instead have them apply skills to the real world.  For example, you could give kids a project for creating a room space or house and have them use their geometry skills to help build the house. This way the government can still test the student and the student could also get a real life experience out of it.

Science: In science their are so many ways to test children, through research, writing and experiments at that are interactive and fun without it being a multiple choice test. This way, again you can still test the student on their knowledge and the student can have a hands on experience.

English: Have students have open dialogue with teaches about books they have read, using vocabulary they learned and writing essays about content.  

History: In history you could chose a topic you have just learned about and write as if you are in this time period, you would write about what decisions you would make and why you made those decisions. This way you would still get tested and the student would get a interactive and informative experience out of it and learn from the success and failures of history.

You might have noticed that each of these replacements had a theme to them, that they were all done after you had finished a topic. I recommend this for two reasons. Reason one was so the material would still be fresh in the students mind. If you put a test at the end of the year and you expect the child to ace things he or she learned at the beginning of the year, you are not going to get a great outcome. Alternatively, if you put it right after the student has finished the topic, it is fresh in their memories, this way they have an opportunity to get a better score.  Even worse, some standardized tests are cumulative of several years of education making it overwhelming for students to remember content from years ago.

The second reason alternative testing is better is that it gives school more time to teach the material.  End of the year deadlines for standardized testing cause teachers to teach to the test instead of teaching the content to the best of their ability.

I hope that you, the people, contact your local representative to talk to them about these ideas. This is the great part of living in a democracy.  You get to have a say in what we do in this country, because only you can change the way we live today and tomorrow.

Singer , Alan . "Common core is failing test and kids." The Huffington post . Alan singer , 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017
"Standardized Tests ." N.p., 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 21 Mar. 2017
Strauss, Valerie . "Confirmed: Standardized testing has taken over schools ."Confirmed:Standardized teasing has taken over schools . The washington post, n.d. Web.

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