Monday, April 30, 2007

CEE English Education Database

CEE is preparing to create a database of English education programs. What we have in mind is a web site where you could see which institutions prepare ELA teachers and/or offer advanced degrees for ELA teachers, what kinds of programs they offer (undergraduate, MA with license, MA, PhD, etc.), and some information about the programs (enrollment, course requirements, etc.). Two questions: Would you find such a database useful?; and what information would you like it to include?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Money Talks

From the NY Times:

April 25, 2007
Billionaires Start $60 Million Schools Effort

Eli Broad and Bill Gates, two of the most important philanthropists in American public education, have pumped more than $2 billion into improving schools. But now, dissatisfied with the pace of change, they are joining forces for a $60 million foray into politics in an effort to vault education high onto the agenda of the 2008 presidential race.

Experts on campaign spending said the project would rank as one of the most expensive single-issue initiatives ever in a presidential race, dwarfing, for example, the $22.4 million that the Swift Vets and P.O.W.s for Truth group spent against Senator John Kerry in 2004, and the $7.8 million spent on advocacy that year by AARP, the lobby for older Americans.

Under the slogan “Ed in ’08,” the project, called Strong American Schools, will include television and radio advertising in battleground states, an Internet-driven appeal for volunteers and a national network of operatives in both parties.

“I have reached the conclusion as has the Gates foundation, which has done good things also, that all we’re doing is incremental,” said Mr. Broad, the billionaire who founded SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home and who has long been a prodigious donor to Democrats. “If we really want to get the job done, we have got to wake up the American people that we have got a real problem and we need real reform.”

Mr. Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, responding to questions by e-mail, wrote, “The lack of political and public will is a significant barrier to making dramatic improvements in school and student performance.”

The project will not endorse candidates — indeed, it is illegal to do so as a charitable group — but will instead focus on three main areas: a call for stronger, more consistent curriculum standards nationwide; lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures.

Read the rest here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Marie Clay Dies at 81

From the Los Angeles Times:
Marie Clay, 81; her plan for helping poor readers in first grade caught on
By Elaine Woo, Times Staff Writer
April 19, 2007

Marie Clay, a New Zealand psychologist whose efforts to identify and help struggling readers before they finished first grade profoundly influenced educators in the United States and other countries, died at an Auckland hospice Friday after a short illness. She was 81.

Three decades ago, Clay turned her ideas about early remediation of poor readers into a program that became known worldwide as Reading Recovery.

The program focuses on helping first-graders in the bottom 20% of their class catch up to their peers and maintain grade-level performance. It challenged educators not to wait until second or third grade to tackle reading problems.

More here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

On Standards, Cut Scores, and Expectations

Here's a piece from The St. Petersburg Times about tenth-grade reading tests in Florida. It does a pretty good job of trying to untangle some of the complexities of testing. (Who would have imagined we'd reach a point where this is considered of interest to the general public?)

Suddenly, 10th-graders are FCAT flops
A moving bar makes failures of students who tested well once and still outrank U.S. peers.

Published April 15, 2007

Florida's 10th-graders look like terrible readers. Their FCAT scores are the worst in the state.

Yet those same students are among the best readers on a test that compares Florida students with their peers across the United States. They also score well on the FCAT math test.

Why the confusing results?

Blame an FCAT system that holds students in different grades to very different standards.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in high school, where the bar is highest. Only one-third of Florida's 10th-graders met FCAT reading standards last year. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of seventh-graders passed.

The disparities have consequences:

More than half of Florida's elementary schools earned A's last year, compared with fewer than 20 percent of high schools. Elementaries received $81-million in FCAT reward money. That compares with $23-million for high schools.

"We do not make kids dumber when they come to high school," said Jeff Boldt, the principal of Chamberlain High School in Tampa, which has earned straight C's since school grades debuted.

State officials acknowledge the standards are far more rigorous for high school students, but say they need to be to prepare them for college and work.

But some testing experts say large inconsistencies between grades and subjects can undermine confidence in the system.

Kristen Jackson, an 11th-grader at Tampa's Alonso High, has narrowly failed the FCAT graduation requirement in reading twice. But by another reading test, she can read as well or better than 96 percent of her peers nationally.

"I was actually crying when I failed," said Kristen, who earns A's and B's. "It tortured me. It was a horrific experience."

More here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

AERA Webcasts

AERA has some interesting webcasts from the AERA convention available on their site. They include talks by Deborah Ball ("The Case for Ed Schools, and the Challenge"); Stephen Raudenbush ("How Shall We Study The Cause and Effects of Classroom Teaching?"); and James D. Anderson ("Race-Conscious Student Assignment Policies and the 14th Amendment: An Historical Perspective"). It's almost as good as being there.

Virginia Tech Shootings and Creative Writing

One strand of the discussion about the Virginia Tech shootings has focused on the fact that the killer was a creative writing student. Some of the commentary on this matter has been poorly informed, but here's a thoughtful piece from Inside Higher Ed:

When Creative Writing Provides a Clue

Cho Seung-Hui, the senior Virginia Tech English major who apparently killed 32 people on campus Monday before turning the gun on himself, seems to have fancied himself a writer. Albeit one with grotesque tastes: AOL’s blog published two of his short plays Tuesday, one of which, “Mr. Brownstone,” features characters who fantasize about killing a teacher and “watch[ing] him bleed.” The second, “Richard McBeef” discusses pedophilia and concludes with a stepfather killing a 13-year-old boy soon after the boy’s attempt to forcibly stuff a banana cereal bar down the stepfather’s throat.

The tenor of Cho’s writings apparently did not go unnoticed. Ian MacFarlane, a former classmate who provided the plays to AOL, told the publication that Cho’s plays were “like something out of a nightmare. The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn’t have even thought of.”

“[W]e students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter. I was even thinking of scenarios of what I would do in case he did come in with a gun, I was that freaked out about him,” McFarlane told AOL.

Nor did the creative writing faculty at Virginia Tech apparently fail to read between’s Cho’s typed lines. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Lucinda Roy, co-director of Virginia Tech’s creative writing program, had warned university police and officials about Cho. While Virginia Tech officials were sympathetic, the Post reported, they said there was little they could do in absence of a direct threat. “I don’t want to be accusatory, or blaming other people,” the Post reported Roy as saying. “I do just want to say, though, it’s such a shame if people don’t listen very carefully, and if the law constricts them so that they can’t do what is best for the student.”

More here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut: So It Goes

You've probably heard that Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. Here's one of my favorite Vonnegut quotes:
We have discovered that writing allows even
a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if
only that person will write the same thought
over and over again, improving it just a little
bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp
with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it
takes is time. (From Palm Sunday)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Software, Teacher Quality, and Frog and Toad

Two items from the new issue of Education Week:

Major Study on Software Stirs Debate
On whole, school products found to yield no net gains.
By Andrew Trotter

A long-awaited federal study of reading and math software that was released last week found no significant differences in standardized-test scores between students who used the technology in their classrooms and those who used other methods.

Representatives of the educational software industry immediately took issue with aspects of the $10 million study of 15 commercial software products, arguing that its findings did not mean that classroom technology had no academic payoff.

Scholars Suggest Policies to Bolster Teacher Quality
Approaches range from pay incentives to better training and conditions.
By Lynn Olson

While many scholars say surprisingly little solid evidence exists on exactly which public policies are most likely to enhance the quality of teaching, a new volume by the Washington-based Brookings Institution points to ideas that research suggests may be more effective than others.

Among the approaches highlighted in “Excellence in the Classroom,” and discussed at a forum at the think tank here March 28, are: selectively loosening up certification requirements for those entering teaching; targeting large pay incentives for highly effective teachers in hard-to-staff subjects and schools; redesigning professional development; and making it easier to dismiss poorly performing educators.

And an essay about scripted reading programs from the Spring 2007 Rethinking Schools:

'I Just Want to Read Frog and Toad'
By Melanie Quinn

One mid-September night, when I was tucking my 5-year-old son Eamonn in bed, the standardization madness came home to roost. With quivering lip and tear-filled eyes, Eamonn told me he hated school. He said he had to read baby books that didn't make sense and that he was in the "dummy group."

Then he looked up at me and said, "I just want to read Frog and Toad."

I am an experienced elementary teacher and college professor, with a long-standing disdain for "ability" grouping, dummied-down curriculum, and stupid, phonics-driven stories that make no sense. And yet here I was, seemingly unable to prevent my own child from being crushed by a scripted reading program of the type so beloved by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A New Ed.D.

The Carnegie Foundation's project to reshape the Ed.D. begins (from Inside Higher Ed):
Envisioning a New Ed.D.

Lasting improvements to the K-12 school system may well end up starting in the classrooms – and so colleges of education are logical starting places for education reform. Yet, while teacher education gets plenty of scrutiny, a new, nationwide initiative goes straight to the top of the food chain in an attempt to catalyze change in the education of education’s leaders.

A new project to re-envision the education doctorate, or the Ed.D., at 21 universities nationwide grows out of the basic premise that there’s no clear distinction between the Ed.D., in theory the professional practice degree, and the more research-oriented Ph.D. in education — and, as a result, that the quality of the Ed.D. and of the education Ph.D. is not what it should or could be

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

YA Literature vs. the Classics

The old YA vs. the canon debate gets another airing in a long article in this week's Education Week. For the informed it may read as a bit of a muddle but for someone new to the debate it might serve as an adequate primer. One noteworthy flaw: they call CEE's own Janet Alsup "Jane."

Dark Themes in Books Get Students Reading
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Chanelle Brown hasn’t found much she can relate to in the classic texts assigned in her English classes at Evanston Township High School. A top student, the junior has toiled through The Odyssey, All the King’s Men, The Scarlet Letter, and other standards, she said, while many of her classmates at the suburban Chicago school have given up reading them altogether.

“The themes are kind of dead now,” she said, “and I don’t feel like any of the stories apply to me.”

But Ms. Brown is glad that teachers at Evanston High, like educators elsewhere, have been supplementing the canon with recently published books to provide a more varied, and palatable, literary menu for students. Such decisions, some experts say, can add the kind of engaging and relevant content that high school reform advocates have been calling for.

Nevertheless, the use of popular literature has run up against traditionalists, who fear it will dumb down the curriculum, and parents who object to the controversial themes that characterize many of the selections.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Nominate Someone for a CEE Award

This is the perfect time to nominate someone for CEE's Meade or Britton Award, or to apply for the Moffet Award. The Meade Award is given to recognize published research that investigates English/Language Arts teacher development at any educational level, of any scope and in any setting. The Britton Award is given to encourage English Language teacher development, consistent with the major goal of CEE, by promoting reflective inquiry in which teachers raise questions about teaching and learning in their own teaching/learning settings. The Moffet Award (given in conjuction with the National Writing Project) supports teacher research projects inspired by the scholarship of James Moffett. You can find out more about each of the awards and about the nomination process here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

More on Reading First

I was going to leave the Reading First scandal alone because I'm not sure it's high on the list of issues most CEE members are interested in (maybe readers could let me know if I'm right about that). But then this story came along. Apparently the company that set up Reading First is also helping to evaluate it:

Group judging reading program set it up

© 2007 The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A billion-dollar-a-year federal reading program that ran into scathing criticism over conflicts of interest now has a new one: The government contractor that set up the program for the Education Department is also part of the team hired to evaluate it.

More here.