Monday, July 30, 2007

Support Your Michigan Colleagues

There's a struggle over the ELA curriculum going on in Michigan right now. Here's some information about it (and the address of a petition you can sign) from CEE Executive Committee member Allen Webb:

In Michigan CEE members and our own state affiliate, "MCEE," are engaged in a very interesting struggle over mandating curriculum and assessment at the high school level. Two things happened that set this struggle up.

First, three of our members, Becky Sipe (Eastern Michigan), Ellen Brinkley (Western Michigan) and myself were three of the five people who wrote, two years ago, the state-wide English Language Arts Content Expectations for high school. Although we had to meet a number of requirements not of our own making, we think we drafted a set of standards and content expectations that are the most progressive in the country, very much informed by what I think those of us in CEE would consider best practice instruction and research. This document, part of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) response to No Child Left Behind, was then reviewed by both academic reviewers (again two CEE members, Marilyn Wilson (Michigan State) and Sue Steffel (Central Michigan)) as well as teachers in the field.

Second, the state legislature, in a (low cost) effort to create "higher standards" decided to mandate that all students that graduate from high school in Michigan take a rigorous curriculum (the "Michigan Merit Curriculum") that includes, among other things, 4 years of English. The MDE decided that the 91 content standards that we created and reviewed should simply be adopted for these four years, with the plan to complete all 91 every year. Of course, we had originally rejected a year-by-year or course-by-course approach and the 91 standards were written and reviewed to be met over 4 years. Moreover, the MDE decided that every district needed to create common courses and common assessments for all of English classes, and they provided models with specific literary works. While the standards we wrote were very clearly supportive of teacher freedom to create curriculum and instruction, now we are finding many teachers telling us that they are being forced to follow rigidly the other teachers in their district or the state models.

Now MCEE is fighting back as strongly as we can. Using our listserve -- a listserve that has been very important to maintaining contact between all of the CEE people in the state -- we have over 55 signatures of English education professors in our state (including the presidents of MCTE, MRA, and MCEE and two former NCTE presidents) on a letter supporting that the standards be used over 4 years (not every year) and teacher freedom to determine curriculum, instruction, and assessment. We are disseminating this letter, and supporting materials to secondary English teachers across the state and have also set up a petition that allows them to sign the letter. We are finding that teachers are delighted by this support. All of these documents and information are available at -- a wiki site where teachers across the state can not only gain information and sign the petition, but also share their experiences with the implementation of the standards.

This process is demonstrating the value of a strong CEE state affiliate and helping us defend the freedom, creativity, and professional judgment of secondary teachers. You don't have to live in Michigan to sign the petition! Please join us!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Jim Cummins on NCLB

From Daily Kos:

Jim Cummins Demolishes NCLB’s Ideology and Practice

Two days before Jim Cummins stood behind the podium at the annual conference of the organization of California Teachers of Other Languages (CATESOL) in San Diego, the place buzzed about his coming appearance. Four standing ovations indicated that he did not disappoint.

Jim Cummins

No surprise. A treasured, no-nonsense voice in the world of second-language acquisition, during the past three decades, Cummins, now a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, has touched the life of many an English as a second language teacher, inspiring thousands with a thoroughly grounded iconoclastic approach to the pedagogy of language. He has shattered myths, developed new theories and concepts, promoted innovations in the classroom, affected policy, and arguably done as much to shift the paradigm of language instruction as Noam Chomsky 20 years earlier did to shift scientific thought toward a paradigm of innate universal grammar.

Cummins is Canada Research Chair in Language and Literacy Development in Multilingual Contexts at the University of Toronto and a prolific author of books on second language learning and literacy development. His research has focused on the nature of language proficiency and second language acquisition with particular emphasis on the social and educational barriers that limit academic success for culturally diverse students. Recent books include Literacy, Technology, and Diversity: Teaching for Success in Changing Times, Language, Power and Pedagogy, Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowerment in a Diverse Society, and Bilingual Children's Mother Tongue: Why Is It Important for Education?

In a simultaneously scathing and humorous talk, "I’m not just a coloring person," Cummins laid out a case that what is happening now in the schools is not science but ideology, with federal and state policies imposing a pedagogical divide in which "poor kids get behaviorism and rich kids get social constructionism." In practice, that means skills for the poor and knowledge for the rich. That ideologically based approach ignores and rejects research into the way students learn, particularly how they learn language and how to read, he said.

More here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New York, New York

Conference on English Education Events at the 2007 NCTE Annual Convention
CEE LogoAt a time when teacher education programs and progressive pedagogy are under fire on many fronts, CEE offers members a vigorous and supportive professional community. Through the CEE events at the 2007 NCTE Annual Convention you can expand your professional network and gain access to the people, ideas, and resources that are shaping the future of English language arts teaching.

NCLB at the Debate

Here are some candidate opinions about NCLB (Richardson, Biden, Dodd) from last night's debate. (I'm doing this mostly to see if I can successfully put a You Tube clip on this blog.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Keeping Up with NCLB

If you're trying to follow the ins and outs of NCLB reauthorization, you'll find Education Week reporter David Hoff's new blog helpful.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Random Access

This is from an article at Education Week about the perils of doing randomized experiments in educational settings:

Study of Federal Upward Bound Program at Risk

By Debra Viadero

Congress is weighing plans to scuttle a $5 million evaluation of the national Upward Bound program for low-income high school students because the federal study calls for randomly assigning students to either the program or a control group.


“You can’t tell a kid, ‘You’re going to be in this life-changing program,’ and then say, ‘No you’re only going to be in the control group,’ ” said Susan Trebach, a spokeswoman for the Council for Educational Opportunity, a Washington-based group that represents administrators of Upward Bound and other federal college-access programs. “We already have some people telling us the kids they deal with are devastated.”

Monday, July 09, 2007


I spent the morning meeting with my colleagues in the English department (I'm in a college of education). We haven’t interacted very much in the past but hope to develop better ways of collaborating from here on. During my time on the Executive Committee, I’ve wondered if English/education relations is an important issue for CEE to attend to. Some members have suggested reaching out to CCCC and MLA in more active ways, but others seem to think there are better things for us to worry about (maybe because how English and education relate tends to be so institution-specific). How do you view the English/education connection (or divide) within the context of your own institution and/or within the context of CEE? Is this something we should be paying more attention to?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

NCLB Study Released

A new federal study on NCLB, conducted by the Rand Corporation, was released last week. You may not have heard about it because it was made public with as little fanfare as possible. Given that this is the first federal study to examine how NCLB's school choice and supplemental services provisions are affecting student achievement, you'd think it would have been unveiled at a big press conference. Why wasn't it? Here's the money quote, from Education Week: "Pupils who transferred to other schools under the NCLB choice provision did no better, on average, than they had in their previous schools, according to the study."

Read the rest of the Education Week story here, or you can find the entire Rand report here.