Wednesday, August 29, 2007

400 Pages in 8 Days

One thing I've discovered about trying to have a voice in federal education policy is that the time-lines to act are often so short that only insiders (or someone without a real job) can play. Today's example is the 400 page "Miller-McKeon Discussion Draft" about NCLB reauthorization. The public has eight days to respond. I'll say that again. The public has eight days to respond. We should certainly call our representatives and reiterate the points we've already made (using the NCTE platform as ammunition) but that falls far short of a coordinated calling and writing campaign that would focus on specific aspects of the draft. I guess this is why lobbyists think-tanks often get their way.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Grace Paley Dead at 84

News today that the wonderful Grace Paley has died.

"None of it happened, and yet every word of it is true," she once said of her fiction. "It's truth embedded in the lie."

Read about her in The Washington Post.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wondering About the Unit Plan

A former doctoral student who is beginning a new position writes, "Turns out I'm teaching
English methods and as I'm working on the course, I am wondering about the unit plan. Do you require one? I'm pretty close to not including it because I found them hard to grade and [students at my previous institution] had to write so many. I was thinking instead of having
students do more exploratory pieces, such as a project exploring a text with response and ancillary sources, etc. What do you think is essential in a methods course these days?"

As it happens, I'm teaching our methods course ("The Teaching of English") for the first time in about seven years myself, so I share her questions. What do you think? Is the "unit plan" a necessity or a problem? Does writing them help your students or hinder them?

Monday, August 20, 2007

What Teachers Have to Say

Here's an interesting report from PBS's News Hour on how "America's best teachers" view NCLB. You can read the transcript or watch the video.

"One test should really not . . . " (You complete the sentence)

From the Boston Globe:

Minority scores lag on teaching test

Panel to study failure rate, bias complaints

By Tracy Jan, Globe Staff | August 19, 2007

More than half the black and Hispanic applicants for teaching jobs in Massachusetts fail a state licensing exam, a trend that has created a major obstacle to greater diversity among public school faculty and stirred controversy over the fairness of the test.

The minority failure rate has been demonstrably higher than among whites since the test's inception nearly a decade ago, according to state statistics, which show that 52 percent of Hispanic applicants and 54 percent of black applicants fail the writing portion of the exam. By comparison, 23 percent of whites fail. Black and Hispanic teachers also lag behind white teachers in major subject tests such as English, history, and math.

The problem has become so acute that a state task force of teachers, professors, hiring directors, and state education officials convened last week to begin examining why minorities fare so much worse on the tests.

"One of the fallouts which is particularly upsetting in our expe rience across the colleges is fewer and fewer students of color are even going into teaching because word has gotten out that these tests are very difficult for them," said Sally Dias, a vice president at Emmanuel College in Boston who is a member of the panel. "One test should really not be a determinant of someone's career."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NATE Conference

The National Association for the Teaching of English (the British counterpart of NCTE) will be holding their annual conference April 4-6, 2008, at the University of Warwick (near Stratford). You can read more about it and submit a program proposal here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pelosi on NCLB

It's pretty clear that it's time to stop wondering if it will change and start focusing on what the changes will be. From

U.S. House speaker pledges to overhaul No Child law

By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer

BOSTON - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told state legislators Congress would seek a major overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act, which states have protested as an unfunded mandate and unprecedented federal intrusion into schools.

"So different will this bill be from the original No Child Left Behind, that we're thinking of changing it's name," Pelosi said Wendesday (Aug. 8) addressing the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shaking Up Summer Reading

This is from today's Christian Science Monitor. Note the comments from new CEE-EC member Alleen Nilsen!

High school reading lists get a modern makeover

Find out what recent bestsellers are taking their place next to classics at schools across the US.

| Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

Precious summer minutes spent poring over Shakespeare or Nathaniel Hawthorne may seem less than appealing to teens, but some experts say there is a slowly growing trend to infuse more modern literature into summer reading. As a result, the revered literary cannon, which includes such classics as "Hamlet," "The Grapes of Wrath," and "The Scarlet Letter," may be due for a shake-up. Glance at high school summer reading lists across the United States and you are likely to find more recent authors such as Alice Sebold, Walter Dean Myers, and even Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong alongside Dickens and the Brontë sisters.


"Ten years ago, these reading lists didn't have new books like that," says Alleen Nilsen, Arizona State University English professor and co-author of the textbook Literature for Today's Young Adult. "These are really popular new books."

So what catapults "Life of Pi" and "The Lovely Bones" to the elusive reading list club? Both are bildungsromans, or stories of young people coming of age. Ms. Nilsen says this theme is crucial for reading list inclusion, as youth need to feel a connection to the literature.

J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" is an example of a long-lasting bildungsroman. The 1951 book was widely panned for its controversial subject matter, but it soon won the hearts of American teens.

"That was a book done for adults, but kids loved that book," Nilsen says by telephone. "Every year there are like 10 books that get compared, and it's like, 'Oh, this is the new "Catcher in the Rye." ' Of course, none of them ever are. But they're in that style – the flip, honest kid that's critical."

Nilsen says she understands why teens are frustrated with heavy assigned summer reading but says she's encouraged by the modernization trend. Her own granddaughter has chosen to read the young adult award-winner "Monster" rather than a difficult classic.

"It used to be, no matter where you were in high school, you got this list of classics that the value was to talk about them with other people, not to read them yourself," she says. "We're taking this lesson from the [physical education] teachers. Rather than making kids do these things they hate, they're letting them choose what they want to do, so that when they're adults, they'll keep exercising. Summer reading is the perfect time if we want to get kids to read the rest of their lives without us sitting over their heads and telling them what to read. Let them ... just lose themselves in a good book."

Read the whole thing here.

Total Change

Here's Hillary Clinton during last night's AFL-CIO debate. The coalition that has been propping up NCLB appears to be crumbling:
"It was an unfunded mandate. And part of it is that the Department of Education under President Bush did not absolutely enforce it and interpret it in the right way. So we need growth models for students. We need broader curriculum. We need to make sure that when we look at our children, we don't just see a little walking test. We've got to have a total change in No Child Left Behind."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Should AP Add African-American History?

From Inside Higher Ed:

August 7, 2007
Should AP Add African-American History?

The Advanced Placement program offers curriculums and testing in 37 areas — chemistry and calculus, art history and Latin literature, Chinese language and culture and European history, to name just a few. But there is no AP in African-American history.

Some school district officials have recently suggested that such an AP program be created — but the College Board is skeptical. College Board officials say their doubts have nothing to do with the significance of African-American history, but with the reactions they have received from college educators they have consulted. For a variety of reasons, the College Board says, college officials prefer to be teaching African-American history themselves, as opposed to having students enter college with AP credit in the field. If colleges wanted to have an AP offering in African-American history, the board would be open to the idea, its officials say.

The difference of opinion points to a number of questions that surround the AP program: Is its purpose to help students place out of introductory courses or to encourage them to study with greater rigor in high school (or both)? Why do some AP programs attract more members of certain ethnic or racial groups than others? Why are black students significantly less likely than the population as a whole to take AP courses? With many competitive colleges expecting applicants to have AP courses on their transcripts, should the College Board be trying new strategies to get more black students involved in the program?

Read the rest here.