Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Curry Report - Guest Commentary

True Education Reform
By George E. Curry

This country likes to celebrate anniversaries. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. This weekend will mark the 50th anniversary of Rosa Park’s decision not to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala. What many people don’t realize is that there were two major Brown decisions in the mid-1950s. The landmark ruling outlawing “separate but equal” schools was handed down in 1954. A companion ruling was issued in 1955 calling for schools to be desegregated “with all deliberate speed,” which essentially meant no speed at all.

Perhaps it is fitting, given this propensity for celebrating the past, that this week – 50 years after the second Brown ruling – that the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University has issued a report titled, “With All Deliberate Speed: Achievement, Citizenship and Diversity in American Education.” The 44-page report, available online, does more than revisit the 1950s; it outlines a series of steps to improve public education.

After pointing out that the U.S. is undergoing one of the most profound demographic transitions in history, the report observes: “Unfortunately, the United States continues to have an unequal and two-tiered system of public education. Even as the United States becomes increasingly diverse, our nation’s K- 12 education system remains unequal and increasingly segregated by race and income.” The report says the country has a mixed record on eradicating the last vestiges of its Jim Crow public education system.

“We are a nation ambivalent,” it observes. “We are both for integration and against it. We are for equality, but we are unwilling to create and sustain policies that ensure equal opportunity. We are for academic success for all children, but we allow millions of them to remain isolated in inferior schools.”

We have traditionally shifted too much of the burden to the schools.

“Desegregation failed in some communities because almost the entire burden of integrating our society was placed on our public schools,” the study says. “That was a mistake we cannot afford to repeat.”

“...We, therefore, recommend a fundamental change in the relationship between schools and the community, where both are seen as having a shared responsibility in the education of all children.”

To do its part, the community should take over responsibility for providing the schools’ support services, freeing teachers to concentrate on what they do best – teach. The schools must also change.

“Even today, too many of our schools still are being used as sorting machines –sorting children into those who are college bound, those who will use basic skills and those who will be left behind,” the report said.

In order to do better, the report argues, diversity must be part of the equation long before students enter the first grade.

“If we expect all of our children to go on to college and have diverse learning experiences and then go on to work with people from diverse ethnic, racial, social and economic backgrounds, surely it makes sense to prepare our children for these new experiences as early as possible,” the study says.

“We are losing ground and jobs to other countries – for example, China and India,” the report states. “Our nation’s ability to sustain our long-term economic success increasingly depends on the very children we are not educating now.”

Put another way: Each year, 1.2 million children do not graduate from high school. Of those, 348,427 are African-American and 296,555 are Latino.

At the college level, almost a quarter of first-year students do not stay around for their second year. Figures show that only 31 percent of Latinos compete some college and 48 percent of African- Americans, compared to 62 percent of Whites and 80 percent of Asian Americans.

“According to the National Center on Education and the Economy, by the year 2020, the U.S. will need 14 million more college-trained workers than it will produce,” the report states. “Nowhere is college participation lower than among African-American and Hispanic youth; no where is the potential to meet our nation’s need for college graduates greater.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Push state legislatures to provide essential and quality educational opportunities, regardless of where the child attends public school
  • Make sure all students have access to a high-quality education and the opportunity for diverse learning experiences
  • Provide additional opportunities, including after-school programs, for students to improve academic skills
  • Create greater regional equity
  • Support and stabilize integrated residential communities

Whether we accomplish those goals will impact our national security, our ability to compete globally and field an able military, the report says. That alone should be incentive to take on these tough issues.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and He appears on National Public Radio (NPR) three times a week as part of “News and Notes with Ed Gordon.” To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site,

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Monday, November 28, 2005

"Seen and not heard": Is it due for a parenting comeback?

Experts sound off on rude children

Last month, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans said they believed that people are ruder now than they were 20 or 30 years ago, and that children are among the worst offenders.

The conservative child psychologist John Rosemond recently denounced in his syndicated column the increasing presence of "disruptive urchins" who "obviously have yet to have been taught the basic rudiments of public behavior."

According to Harvard University psychologist Dan Kindlon, most parents, would like their children to be polite, considerate and well behaved. But they're too tired, worn down by work and personally needy to take up the task of teaching them proper behavior at home.

Educators feel helpless, too: Nearly 8 in 10 teachers, according to the 2004 Public Agenda report, said their students were quick to remind them that they had rights or that their parents could sue if they were too harshly disciplined. More than half said they ended up being soft on discipline "because they can't count on parents or schools to support them."

Are we raising a generation of "kids gone wild"? Judith Warner examines the issue in this New York Times story.

Related: MSNBC

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Easy Grades for Athletes

The Quick Fix

University High, with no classes and no educational accreditation, appears to have offered players a quick academic makeover. Even with poor grades, athletes are qualifying for scholarships and getting into college via a $399 diploma. More from the New York Times.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Educators see more aggressive behavior among female students

No more "sugar and spice"

There used to be a time when girls fought with words, over words. Those times, educators say, have changed. When girls are aggressive, fights don't always escalate to physical violence. However, when girls do fight physically, their fights are often worse than disputes between their male peers.

Northwood (MD) High School Principal Henry Johnson has seen this phenomenon first-hand. When boys fight, Johnson says, they tend to ‘‘get a few licks in," then they are pulled away from each other by friends or administrators. Afterwards, they get over it. But when girls fight, it often takes greater measures to break up the dispute, and the young women often carry a grudge for days or weeks after, Johnson observed. ‘‘They don't let it drop as much as boys do."

Youths with low self-esteem sometimes may find it harder to walk away from conflict, Meredith Hooker writes in a report. Girls with higher self-esteem are less likely to engage in bullying and aggressive behavior, Johnson said. She adds that girls who do bully tend to gravitate toward each other.

Read Hooker's story on Gazette.Net, entitled the Not 'sugar and spice' any more.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Children, sex and American culture

Are children in the U.S. forced to grow up too quickly?

How influential are the media and popular culture when it comes to exposing American children to sex? This topic is certainly not a new one. However, one of the most articulate social commentaries on the issue is written by Malik, brain child of The Struggle Within.

Malik's essay, titled Can Children Have a Right to Be Children?, is posted as a guest op-ed piece on Adequate Defense. Make sure you check out the comment section, also, for lively interaction between Malik and Adequate Defense creator Dell Gines. Other readers also weigh in on the topic.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Immigrant learners and No Child Left Behind

High concentration of limited-English proficient students challenges implementation of NCLB

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) may be one of the most important pieces of immigrant integration legislation in the last decade. That's the finding of a new study by the Urban Institute.

The research finds that limited-English proficient (LEP) students are highly concentrated in a small share of America's public schools. Seventy percent of LEP students in kindergarten through fifth grade are enrolled in only 10 percent of the country's public elementary schools.

High-LEP schools, where almost a quarter of students are LEP, are more likely than others to have teachers with provisional, emergency, or temporary certification, and their teachers are substantially more likely to be uncertified. At the same time, high-LEP schools outdistance other schools in providing professional development for teachers as well as support and enrichment programs for students.

NCLB requires schools to report, as a separate group, LEP students' scores on standardized tests and holds schools accountable for their results. As a result, NCLB is forcing schools to give special attention to the education of LEP and low-income students. To read the report online, click here.

(Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this document. If Acrobat Reader is not installed on your computer, go to for a free download.)

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High court rules against parents in special education case

Did the ruling weaken part of the disability law?

Parents who demand better special education programs for their children have the burden of proof in the challenges. The Supreme Court handed down that ruling last week. Retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the 6-2 court, said that when parents challenge a program they have the burden in an administrative hearing of showing that the program is insufficient. If schools bring a complaint, the burden rests with them, O'Connor wrote.

The ruling is a loss for a Maryland family that contested the special education program designed for their son with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The case required the court to interpret the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which does not specifically say whether parents or schools have the burden of proof in disputes. The law covers more than six million students.

The Maryland family in the Supreme Court case had argued that when there are disagreements between schools and parents, education officials have better access to relevant facts and witnesses. The Bush administration backed the Montgomery County, Maryland, school district which maintained that the extra requirement would be expensive for local schools.

Related: New York Times, CNN/AP

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Examining adolescent literacy

Standards for middle and secondary school literacy coaches

Faced with an influx of needy readers whose skills are inadequate forcontent mastery, teachers in middle and secondary schools need help. Adolescents today require high degrees of literacy in order to understand complex texts in a variety of media, covering a range of topics and subject areas.

One possible solution is to use a literacy coach. Literacy coaching, a model adopted by many successful Reading First programs, is highly targeted professional development.

Supporters say such coaching can be a very effective vehicle for improving reading skills. Educators identify literacy components in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies - in other words, across the curriculum.

Standards for Middle and High School Literacy Coaches provides a guide for a complex intervention aimed at a new level of students.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Lessons from a three-year old

The joy of children

Jaimie is a Los Angeles teacher and creator of the blog "Life Is Hilarious." She writes about a charming conversation with her toddler daughter. Jaimie tells the rest of the story in her post, Where's My Little Baby?.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ask the kids

Achievement rises when students are given a voice

In many schools, keeping kids silent is a thing of the past. And from what studies show, the change is happening none too soon. According to many educators, giving students a voice in classroom decisions - such as suggesting themes and topics to study - and in school policies - such as homework regulations - makes schools less autocratic and more democratic.

According to researcher Susan Black, such schools tend to have fewer discipline problems, more civic involvement, higher student engagement, and higher achievement. In addition, schools that genuinely seek and appreciate students’ ideas are more likelyto see their school improvement plans succeed. Even so, the idea of giving students a voice in school matters still meets with skepticism and resistance. Black elaborates in the American School Board Journal.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

What video games can teach us

Exploring new ways to encourage students to learn

Good video games are long, complex, and difficult. They have to be. If they were dumbed down, no one would want to play. So why is it that many children can't sit still long enough to finish their homework and yet will spend hours playing games on the computer? Can strategies used by game designers work in the classroom. The Harvard Education Letter examines this issue.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

No-bid contract to replace schools after Katrina is criticized

Do contracts reflect wasteful spending?

To critics, the 450 portable classrooms being installed across Mississippi are prime examples of waste and favoritism. But the Federal Emergency and Management Agency boasts that the project reflective of "Katrina recovery." Details from the New York Times.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Chicken Little: The follow-up

"Chicken Little" film adds new story angle - aliens

Blogger Jaimie was true to her word. After going to see the new animated movie "Chicken Little," she reported back. Some interesting comments were generated after a previous post. She comments, in part:
I didn't see anything shocking. I actually thought he (the chicken) was really cute. It was strange because he was so small but sounded like a 33 year old man. The movie twisted into something unexpected about aliens from outer space, which my daughter seemed confused about. She didn't know whether she should be scared or laughing. It definitely wasn't Cinderella.
Thanks, Jaimie.

Movie critics gave "Chicken Little" mixed reviews. You can read one of the most balanced ones at CNN wrote the story titled Are G-movies going to far? on Nov. 2. After the film opened last weekend, MSNBC weighed in with its review, titled 'Chicken Little' plays it too safe. E! Online has still a different take.

Perhaps blogger friend Brea made a valid point when she said, "All these things make me scared to have kids." Meanwhile, Malik offers this introspective comment:

I agree with Brea, it is a fine line. On the one hand, I give my children credit for being intelligent enough to distinguish between silly fantasy violence and images of actual aggression. I'll even let my kids see violence, as long as it has a moral context. I think kids should know that violence in self-defense and defense of others is sometimes necessary and justifiable. I think it actually gives kids a sense of security to know that although [there] are bad people in the world who do bad things, we have ways of protecting society against them. I draw the line at gratuitous sexuality of any kind though. There's no conceivable reason for a [child] to be exposed to that.

We'll let Stan, a social worker in Cleveland, have the last word:

As parents, we owe it to our children to do our homework to the best of our ability, to insure that they are being educated and entertained with images that are healthy. Otherwise we risk them being programmed and misinformed with unhealthy input. Sometimes on a subliminal level. Negative input leads to negative output. We want to give our kids a chance to be their best.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"Peace on That"

Childhood Achilles Heel

James Manning publishes the blog Peace on That. Many of James' posts have to do with "guy stuff" - commentary on life and sports, for instance. But he steps back for a moment to write an endearing post about childhood - something any adult can relate to. We'll let James take it from here.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Encouraging parent involvement in schools

Tips for the busy moms and dads

All parents want their children to succeed in school. But some moms and dads may feel as if they are not equipped to take an active role in their children's education. Nothing could be further from the truth. Family involvement is key to a child's academic success - from early childhood through high school and beyond.

Do you think you child spends most of his waking hours at school? Think again. On average, an American child spends more than 120 hours a week at home and less than 40 hours at school. As a parent, you have more time with your child than his or her teachers, meaning it's your responsibility to ensure your home is a learning environment that complements the classroom.
Keep education a priority in the home. Stay in touch with your child's teacher. Visit the school.
Remember that you, as your child's first teacher, can put him/her on the path to success.

Did you know . . . ?

  • 80% of 12th graders agree that one of the main reasons they go to school is because the teachers are interested in them.
  • 56% of nine year-olds report reading every day for fun.
  • The most common barrier reported to parental involvement is lack of time. The second most common is parents feeling that they have nothing to contribute.
  • Family participation in education is twice as influential on learning as family socioeconomic status.
  • Teachers say children in quality after-school programs become more cooperative, learn to handle conflict better, develop an interest in recreational reading, and get better grades.

Given the many challenges and time restraints facing today's families, it makes sense for school to redefine or expand their definitions for parental involvement. More and more parents are working long hours. For those parents working second shift (3 p.m. - midnight) or rotating shifts, it's tough getting time off for parent-teacher conferences or other evening school events.

Many parents don't realize that they have the right to request a meeting with the teacher at an alternative time - before school, during the teacher's planning period or immediately after school. Another way for parents and teachers to keep communication lines open is to exchange messages by email or to have brief phone conversations at a mutually agreeable time.

Remember two thoughts. One is a quote from a famous philosopher; the other is a proverb:

Do not train youth to learn by harshness, but lead them to it by what amuses their minds. Then you may discover the peculiar bent of the genius of each.
-- Plato

Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.
-- Nigerian Proverb

Relevant: Parent Involvement Gets Results, National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education , Parent Information and Resource Centers

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Violence and veiled sexual references in many animated films

Are G-rated movies going to far?

Disney's new film, "Chicken Little," is loaded with pop culture references -- some of which are meant for adults. This movie isn't the only one. Violence and subtle sexual content are creeping into the seemingly innocent cartoon landscape, giving parents reason to do some homework of their own. More from CNN.

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Missouri news: High school soccer team learns lesson in faith

Team, including many Muslim players, emerge victorious

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Ramadan is a holy month of fasting. The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr, the festival that will begin, most likely today but possibly Friday, after the first sighting of the new moon.

For the Soldan High team, Ramadan meant more than a quarter of its players would be fasting during practices and games. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the story.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Denver update: Performance-based teacher pay approved

Supporters say move is necessary to attract good teachers

Denver voters have approved an annual $25 million tax increase to link teacher salaries to test scores and other measurements. As a result, Denver becomes the largest school district in the country to switch to paying teachers based on their students' achievement. Details from CNN.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Eid celebrations set for later this week

Muslims to observe the "feast of fast breaking"

The end of the Muslim month of fasting, Eid Ul-Fitr, will be celebrated on Thursday or Friday with the sighting of the new moon. According to South Africa's Media Review Network, some 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide will celebrate the "feast of fast breaking." Eid ul-Fitr commemorates the end of the month of Ramadan in which Muslims have abstained from food and drink from dawn until dusk.

The web log Light Within offers an educational and insightful perspective on the Muslim observance. The post is especially poignant because the site's publisher, Shirazi, lives in Pakistan. Recent events have changed how he and other Muslims look at this year's holy observance.

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Teaching European languages to African students

Exploring the impact on academic achievement

Can teaching European languages in African schools impede student achievement? A recent study reveals that the process of teaching the second language is negatively impacting classroom achievement. Details from via The (Addis Ababa) Daily Monitor.

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