National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses why his organization supports the Common Core, dispelling myths and sharing resources to help parents learn more and support successful implementation of the standards.
[First published April 22, 2008]
In a few days, a new and expanded edition of Richard Louv’sLast Child in the Woods, will hit bookstores around the country. Louv’s book has fueled an international movement to combat what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” children’s growing alienation from the natural world. (Louv’s term for the disorder is quickly catching on, turning up in major newspapers, on television, and even in a February cartoon by Bloom County creator Berke Breathed.)
A quotation from our recent telephone interview with Louv elegantly captures the thrust of his argument: “[T]he message we’re sending kids is that nature is in the past and probably doesn’t count anymore, the future’s in electronics, the boogeyman lives in the woods, and playing outdoors is probably illicit and possibly illegal.”
Development is choking off access to nature, kids are succumbing to the attractions of television and computers, and—yes—time for school recess has dwindled dramatically in the past decade. To make matters worse, Louv argues, parents, educators, and even environmentalists have been complicit in erecting barriers to the natural world. We keep our children indoors to protect them from real or (very often) imagined dangers, we regulate and confine their play, and we tell them to not to disturb delicate flowers, quiet streams or pristine undergrowth.
Louv does find encouraging signs of change in the rapid growth of “Leave No Child Indoors” movements around the country. (Many movement leaders credit Louv’s book for greatly accelerating that growth.) Nature is far too elemental a human need, he argues, for Nature Deficit Disorder to grow unchecked. For an overview of "No Child Left Inside" initiatives around the country, see the Children and Nature Network.
Hear a recording of highlights from the interview (5 minutes):
Or check out the transcript below:
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: What, in a nutshell, is the central argument of Last Child in the Woods?
LOUV: The central argument is that you have an increasing pace in the last three decades, approximately, of a rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature. And that this has profound implications, not only for the health of future generations but for the health of ...
Louisiana’s Greenlawn Terrace Elementary is a small school achieving big things. It is one of the top-performing schools in its district, a feat made even more impressive given the high rate of poverty of its student population. In fact, the school was recently named a High-Performing High-Poverty School by the Louisiana Department of Education, one of a very few neighborhood schools in the greater New Orleans area to receive the honor.
We recently spoke with members of the Greenlawn community to learn how they do it. Two major themes emerged: their school environment, which is caring and safe for students, parents and staff, and their focus on data.
Principal Katherine “Kitty” Croft, special education teacher and department chair Marguerite Hymel and Title I extension teacher Amy Lang told us more.
Public School Insights: How would you describe Greenlawn Terrace Elementary?
Croft: At Greenlawn, everyone in the school, from the custodial staff to the principal, shares the same vision.
I have been at the school almost 25 years, and that stability, of course, adds to what goes on here. And we are a small neighborhood school, with about 370 students. But when I first came, this was a large school. We were almost 700 children. I took home the yearbook so I could memorize the teachers. But now we are a small, suburban school tucked in Kenner, Louisiana, behind a very busy street. I love it.
Our population…When I first came to the school it was about 66% white, 33% black. Today it is about 41% white, 33% black and 25% Hispanic. We have always been a Title I school, which means that we are always “at-risk.” We have right now about 85% free or reduced price lunch students.
I have always loved psychometry. I figured when I was in graduate school that there would always be ...
Mike Town is a man with a mission. This Washington state environmental science teacher has spent the past 25 years educating students on environmental issues. His students do real-world projects designed to show the relevance of science, get them thinking about the environmental impact of their actions, and introduce them to the emerging green job sector.
One such project is the Cool School Challenge, a model he helped develop that engages students and teachers in reducing their school's greenhouse gas emissions. Now available for free on the web, this approach has saved over 1.6 million pounds of CO2 nationwide (and saved Redmond High School more than $100,000 over the past three years). And he and his students are scaling up the concept in their community, joining forces with the local government for the “Eco-Office Challenge.” ...
Jay Mathews of The Washington Post clearly wants to get a rise out of his readers. He just published a short column titled "Why waste time on a foreign language?" I suspect (or rather, hope) he's playing devil's advocate. Because now is not the time to grease the rails for more cuts to foreign language programs.
Mathews trots out the rather shopworn argument that the rest of the world speaks English and that we can easily import the foreign speakers we need. C'mon, Jay. There's no need to celebrate American parochialism. We can't be so sure that the American century will become the American millennium. And even if we do stay on top of the cultural heap, wouldn't it be nice to expose our children to some other languages and cultures in a diverse and shrinking world?
Mathews's other argument is a bit jarring. High school students don't learn anything in language classes anyway, he argues, so why bother?
Well, how about improving language instruction? How about starting it much earlier, in the primary grades perhaps, when children are more likely to take to a new language? The Center for Applied Linguistics has found that the share of public ...
David Kelley is a legend in technology and design circles. Decades ago, he founded a design firm that dreamed up the computer mouse as we know it today. That firm has since evolved into IDEO, a global design company that has left its unique stamp on everything from consumer goods to social innovation. IDEO's work has probably touched your life in ways you don't even know.
For years, Kelley has brought his passion for design into the classroom as a professor at Stanford's famed Institute of Design (or D.School, for those in the know). More recently, Kelley has set his sights on the K-12 classroom. He and his Stanford graduate students are working with schools to help teachers and students master "design thinking." He recently told us what that means.
Public School Insights: Let's start with a big question. What is "design thinking?"
Kelley: To me, design thinking is basically a methodology that allows people to have confidence in their creative ability. Normally many people don't think of themselves as creative, or they think that creativity comes from somewhere that they don't know—like an angel appears and tells them the answer or gives them a new idea.
So design thinking is hopefully a framework that people can hang their creative confidence on. We give people a step-by-step method on how to more routinely be creative or more routinely innovate.
Public School Insights: So you are not talking about something that only artists or engineers would use.
Kelley: No. I struggled with what to call it when we first started out. The reason that we put the word design in it is that this really is the way that designers naturally think. It's not necessarily the way that doctors, lawyers or teachers think, ...
In case you don't know what I'm talking about: Almost a year ago, a battle erupted between champions and skeptics of 21st-century skills. Some skeptics charged the champions with pushing fuzzy skills at the expense of content knowledge. Some champions charged the skeptics with turning facts into fetishes and all but ignoring vital skills like problem solving and critical thinking. Along the way, people on both sides held out hope for common ground.
Jerald's report reads like an attempt to stake out that common ground. He takes 21st-century skills seriously and does much more than most to define slippery concepts like problem solving, collaboration and creativity. He also insists that such skills "are best taught within traditional disciplines."
As Jerald defines them, some of those 21st-century skills seem just as at home in the nineteenth. Creativity, for example, is the ability "to combine disparate ...
Teachers should fend for themselves. May the best ones win.
That seems to be the guiding philosophy behind so many school reform ideas lately. No one can shake the really incompetent teachers out of the system, reformers tell us, and gifted teachers can't rise to the top. Listen to some reform advocates, and you'd think that the former far outnumber the latter. So you use carrots and sticks to help the market do its work.
And what about the conditions that help teachers succeed? You don't hear much about those.
The fuss over teachers who sell their lesson plans on the internet offers a case in point. As always happens in discussions of teachers and money, big questions arise about how we value teachers and their work. Do we cheapen the vocation of teaching when we assume teachers are motivated primarily by money? On the other hand, do we damage teaching as a profession when we make altruism the main job qualification? (For a great discussion of these matters, head on over to the Teacher Leaders Network.) For my money, though, blogger Corey Bower asks the most important question: "The right question is why teachers should have to buy lesson plans."
So here's the vision I see emerging from this discussion. Teachers are free agents. They pay their own way, create their own reality. Those who thrive in this ...
A few months ago, the blogosphere was abuzz with news that American students are shockingly ignorant of U.S. civics and history. Research sponsored by conservative think tanks found that fewer than one in twenty public school students in Arizona and Oklahoma could answer six or more questions correctly on the U.S. Citizenship Test. The most alarming finding: Only one in four could name George Washington as our first president. It turns out that those findings were likely hogwash.
I suspected as much when the studies were released. The results of the Washington question in particular didn't pass the laugh test. Statistics guru Nate Silver had the same reaction in September. For example, he found the claim that not one out of 1,000 Oklahoma students could get more than 7 answers right well nigh impossible. "Isn't there some total nerd in Tulsa, some AP Honors student in Stillwater, who was able to answer at least eight of these ten very basic questions correctly?"
His suspicions grew when Oklahoma state representative Ed Cannaday re-administered the same test to seniors in 10 high schools across his district. According to Cannaday, almost 80 percent of his seniors answered all ten ...
Emily and Bryan Hassel have an idea: Don't get too hung up on plans to make teachers better. Instead, figure out how to help the best teachers reach far more students. After all, they argue, the top 20 percent of teachers are three times as effective as the bottom 20 percent.
Try as they might, though, they cannot escape the need to support teachers through good old fashioned staff development, curriculum and assessment. It's time the education economists paid much closer attention to these critical areas, which are just so déclassé these days.
Of course, the Hassels' argument raises all sorts of questions. How do you identify the top 20 percent of teachers? Do we trust test scores? Will teachers stay in the top 20 percent from year to year? Are the "top" teachers good in every kind of school? Are they effective with every kind of student?
But the Hassels face an even bigger challenge. Their plan will require nothing short of a massive investment in all those things their fellow educonomists find oh-so tedious: Teacher training. New curricula. Much, much better tests. If we pursue the Hassels' brave new reforms the way we pursue most reforms--on the cheap--then we're going to be in a whole heap of trouble.
The Hassels, like so many of their ideological brethren, seem to believe that great teachers are born, not made. Hence their relatively dim view of staff development. (I've always found it curious that so many reformers who insist that every child ...
Have economists brought nothing but woe upon public schools? Has all the talk of efficiency, productivity, merit pay and market incentives poisoned the field? Well, it depends. Do those economists have a clear vision for how their favored policies will affect teaching and learning?
According to two articles published yesterday, the answer so far has been yes and no.
The Harvard Education Letter paints a rosier picture of "the invisible hand" than you might expect. The HEL reminds us, for example, that economist James Heckman has done about as much as anyone to push early childhood education. In the process, he has set the stage for richer conversations about program quality. Overall, economists can spur us to pay closer attention the efficiency and effectiveness of our programs.
Then there's Russ Whitehurst's recent article: Don't Forget Curriculum! He says economists just don't get the importance of curriculum. Here's the money quote from his piece: "[P]olicy makers who cut their teeth on policy reforms in the areas of school governance and management rather than classroom practice...may be oblivious to curriculum for the same reason that Bedouin don’t think much about water skiing.”
The disciplinary training, job experience, professional networks, and intuitions about what is important hardly overlap between governance and curriculum reformers. For the governance types, teaching ...
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