Join the conversation

...about what is working in our public schools.

Rich Curriculum

Blog Entries

Today is Earth Day. Last year on Earth Day, Arne Duncan spoke about the important role of schools in the nation’s transition to a green economy, and in the State of the Union Address President Obama reiterated the integral link between schools and creating an economic climate that is both profitable and environmentally-conscious. By providing students with an understanding of earth processes and human impact, together with imparting critical thinking skills and math and science knowledge to students, public schools can contribute significantly to these goals.  

Earth Day provides an opportunity to teach about these important topics in a fun way. I have fond memories of Earth Day from elementary school. My school had a general environmental focus, and Earth Day was like Christmas. The whole school would take the entire day off to learn about the earth and sustainable living. Different classrooms and communal areas of the school were assigned to host workshops led by community members and ...

Back in January, the College Board announced major upcoming revisions to AP courses and tests, and The New York Times currently features a couple of articles (here and here) in their education section about these plans.

In light of critiques of the federally-mandated overemphasis on standardized testing that narrowly targets rote memorization, the College Board’s decision to change AP courses to address these sorts of concerns from high school teachers, among others, is heartening. High school teachers have been involved in the actual planning of the revisions and in feedback polling on proposed changes (and vast majorities approve of the new emphases).

According to the College Board website, new curriculum is slated for the 2011-2012 school year in World History, German Language, and French Language; biology, Latin, and Spanish Literature will debut in 2012-2013; and U.S. History is projected for the 2013-2014 school year. Changes to the other courses will follow later. ...

According to the National Endowment for the Arts and data from Chorus America, choral singing is the most popular form of participation in the performing arts; however, opportunities to participate in a school choir are declining. The arts are getting slashed from many schools as we become myopically focused on reading and math in this budget-crunched time.

To help schools avoid this fate for programs in their communities, earlier this week, Chorus America released a free advocacy guide schools can use in making a case for choral arts programs. From a pragmatic standpoint, as the American economy increasingly becomes more service-oriented, and creativity-driven, it makes sense to emphasize the arts in schools. From a motivating standpoint, courses and programs that actively engage students and offer some bonafide entertainment make school a lot more pleasurable for students, and provide them with something to look forward to. A Chorus Impact Study reported that 90% of educators believe choral singing can keep some students engaged in school who might otherwise lose interest and/or drop out.

Arts integration in schools is not a pie in the sky dream: arts used to be a much bigger focus in American schools. Dana Gioia, former Chairman of ...

Midterm elections are just eight days away. If history is any indication, less than half of eligible citizens will show up to elect the politicians who will guide the country through the next two years.

In 2006, the average voter turnout in a state was 43.35%. This was up from 2002 (42.5%) and 1998 (40.38%). Among voters age 18-29, the turnout is much worse--just 26.76% came out in 2006 (up from 23.74% in 2002 and 22.87% in 1998).

I have been thinking about voter turnout recently in  considering recent conversations about the role of schools and importance of education. We often talk about the individual benefits of education--it is necessary for one to get a good job and have a good life in the 21st century. And we talk about the economic benefits of education--as a nation, we need an educated workforce to compete in the global marketplace.

But we don't often talk about the importance of education for the governance of our nation. And we don't prioritize that role of schools in our schools. A recent survey of high school social studies teachers found that 70% believe social studies classes are a lower priority than math and language arts because of pressures related to standardized assessments, with 45% believing the de-emphasis came from ...

As promised, last week the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released their strategy to improve STEM education in America’s elementary and secondary schools. It has two prongs, focusing on both preparing students (improving STEM education itself) and inspiring students so they are motivated to study STEM subjects and have careers in STEM fields in the future. The report divided recommendations into five general priorities for the federal government: improving federal coordination and leadership, supporting the state-led movement to establish a baseline for what students should learn in STEM courses, cultivating/recruiting/rewarding STEM teachers, creating STEM-related experiences that excite and interest students, and supporting the transformation of schools into STEM learning centers.

As I said last week, I was anxious to see the strategy proposed for motivating students in STEM. As a science and remedial math high school teacher in a low-income community, I found that getting students excited about STEM subjects was one of my biggest challenges. And if students weren’t excited, they were not going to learn it. Plain as that. I suggested that doing more to ...

obriena's picture

Today in History...

On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting. There was only one item of business: Signing the Constitution of the United States of America. Henceforth, September 17 came to be known as Constitution Day.

The Constitution established the framework for a government. A government dependent on its people for survival. So it seems fitting on this day in history to consider American students' performance in civics.

The most recent results available from National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP) test in civics are from 2006 (the test was administered in 2010, but the results have not yet been released). On that test, we learned that about two out of every three American students at grades 4 (73%), 8 (70%) and 12 (66%) have at least a basic knowledge of civics.* That does not sound TOO bad, though it is certainly concerning that a third of our high school seniors do not have even a basic sense of civics--and these are the students who make it to twelfth grade. ...

Last November, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate campaign with the goal of moving our students to the top of the world in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education. And in the coming days, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology will release a report with recommendations on just how the federal government can accomplish that goal.

According to a preview by Erik Robelen on EdWeek yesterday, the report concludes that the federal government has lacked a coherent approach to STEM education for the last quarter century. The Council recommends the government take action to improve the standards, teachers and technology around STEM education. It recommends more STEM-based schools. And it calls for stronger leadership at the federal level, as well as increased opportunities to inspire a passion for STEM subjects in students.

I am anxious to see the report. After all, STEM has been a priority of LFA for years. Back in ...

Concerned about the state of arts education in America? This is a great week to do something about it.

The U.S. House of Representatives has designated this, the second week of September, as “Arts in Education Week.” The goal is to showcase the important role that arts education plays in producing engaged and successful students. Their resolution, which passed last July, stated:

Arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential element of a complete and balanced education for all students.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily news. A number of schools--Alabama’s Mary B. Austin Elementary and New Jersey’s Woodrow Wilson School come to my mind immediately--have recognized the importance of, and prioritized, arts education for ...

obriena's picture

Are All Readers Literate?

Back in 1965, UNESCO proclaimed September 8 to be International Literacy Day. The goal? To highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and society. I’ll try to link to some of the reports being released today as they come out.

Just learning this occasion exists reminded me of a post of Robert Pondiscio’s that I saw recently on the Core Knowledge Blog, which referred to a post on Mark Bauerlein’s blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education that commented on an article that Pondiscio wrote with E.D. Hirsch earlier this year. (You’ve got to love the internet.)

The article doesn’t necessary embrace the international spirit of today, but it hits literacy on the head.

To be fully literate is to have the communicative power of language at your command—to read, write, listen and speak with understanding.

The Pondiscio/Hirsch article argues that reading is not a transferable skill, at least not entirely. A child may be able to master “decoding” but needs domain-specific content knowledge to fully comprehend what he or she is reading. And it argues that our current testing and accountability system for our public schools results in time wasted on reading strategies rather than imparting the knowledge that will allow our children to become truly literate, especially in low-income schools where children don't always get background knowledge from ...

Will the humanities save us? It depends.

Wes Davis is among those who, in recent months, have portrayed the humanities as an antidote to the excesses that hastened our financial crisis. He tells the story of a big company that, a half century ago, sent its top executives to college for a year to get a crash course in the liberal arts. The executives read very widely and had discussions with leading thinkers. They loved it, but they also became "less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities." The program came to an end in 1960.

Davis mourns the loss of that program. "As the worst economic crisis since the Depression continues and the deepening rift in the nation’s political fabric threatens to forestall economic reform, the values the program instilled would certainly come in handy today," he writes.

I'm inclined to agree with Davis, but I think we have to be careful not to present the humanities as a cure-all. It's perfectly possible to venerate the great artists and authors while committing atrocities of the first order, so I'm not sure a fuller curriculum would, in itself, protect us from the kinds of dirty dealing that contributed to our current woes.

I'll focus on an extreme example--far, far more extreme than any of the worst things than ever happened on Wall Street. The Nazis embraced the humanities. Many of their leaders were aesthetes who celebrated poetry and painting. (Hitler began ...

Syndicate content