Charting the Charter School Decade

30 12 2006

View Florida’s tenth anniversary report on charter schools.

“. . .Last year, enrollment in Florida charter schools topped 92,000, which equates to about 3 percent of Florida’s total public school population . . .
Florida is ranked second in the nation in public charter school student enrollment.

In May 1996, legislation authorizing the creation of charter schools as part of Florida’s state system of public education was signed into law and was effective in July of that year. Today, there are more than 350 Florida charter schools — public schools that are independently designed and operated and committed to improving the academic achievement of every student. Charter schools are largely free to innovate, and are open to all students regardless of income, gender, race, or religion.”

About Those Resolutions . . .

29 12 2006

I just took a local community survey about my New Year’s resolutions. There was a multiple choice list of the usual things we all resolve, ways to take better care of ourselves and others, but then the next section was a discrete scale for marking the shortest and longest times I’ve ever “kept” each resolution before “breaking” it. I was annoyed at the feeling that we were assessing my need for remediation and stopped to figure out how to explain why that didn’t fit me, so I could add it as an open-ended comment at survey’s end.

This is what I wrote:

“Keeping” or “breaking” resolutions isn’t the way I look at New Year’s anymore. Making resolutions each year at this time is a sort of consciousness raising for me, a rededication to important things that do need the kind of commmitment almost impossible to sustain without regular rededication and focus.

So by now at 50-something, I think of my own perennial resolutions not as past failures but as dear old friends who I visit and catch up with every year at this time!


Young Son Plays So I Believe

28 12 2006

“. . .there tends to be a link between good chess skills and good academic skills.”

— Dr. Haraldur Karlsson, associate professor of geosciences, Texas Tech, in the NYT education section Dec 27.

Some leads For Thinking Parents to browse here.

School Work Isn’t Working

28 12 2006

But hey, like Edison trying to invent the light bulb, at least now we know 1,000 or so things that don’t work too well . . .

UPDATE – links break down or evaporate as this Journal-News apparently has done, so I’ve retrieved the piece as published from the parent-directed education discussion of it, for Thinking Parents to ponder:

More Than 1,000 Things Influence Achievement
Original Publication: December 25, 2006

Just about everybody involved with schools is concerned over student achievement, whether looking for ways to raise low test scores, sustain high ones or get a struggling kid from one grade to another.The federal government, through its No Child Left Behind legislation, requires that schools provide children with highly qualified teachers and extra help if needed, both items that have been shown to improve test scores.

Administrators point to other factors that can affect achievement, including parental support, the family’s economic status, and a child’s feeling of safety and security.

Health advocates point to hot breakfasts, exercise and the benefits of fresh air. Arts advocates aver that children whose day includes music, dance and art score better on tests because their brains aren’t stale. People who study feng shui point to room arrangements that can make a difference in how well children perform on tests; architectural studies point to color, natural light and even the width of the hallways as things that affect student performance.

Some schools pipe in music to create a calm building; others provide special meals on test days that are supposed to help children do better. Local schools have introduced knitting as a stress reliever and rewarded children at the end of tests with parties, field trips and other perks in an effort to help students through a school year often interrupted by standardized testing.

Does any of it work? Much of it does, on some level or other, schools have found.

“Every child has a different learning capability,” said parent Angela Canada, who lives in the East Ramapo school district. “It’s hard to say there’s one thing that affects standardized tests. I think there’s some kids that do better when they work with computers than if they write things out. They always say there are children that learn better by doing. It has to be that way with testing, too.”

Jennifer Marraccino, whose children attend Nyack schools, pointed to several things that can affect student achievement, although her children – one in kindergarten one in second grade – haven’t started on the standardized testing regimen, which begins these days in third grade.

“It just seems to me that it would be the big things: parents valuing school and working with you on your homework,” she said. “Most of the people that I know are people who went to college and value school. (Our family) sits down and eats dinner together and talk about school. We’re able to show our kids that we value school, and if they see you value school, they’ll value it.

“My kids both have great teachers, and good teachers, I think, that’s got to be critical.”

Cindy Graham, whose children also attend Nyack schools, included these practicalities that could affect achievement and test scores: “Outside noise has got to be a big one; not having a proper breakfast or maybe the temperature is too cold. And not having enough sleep,” she said.

There have been dozens of studies – some legitimate and some of questionable venue – that point to other things that influence student test scores and achievement.

Here’s an impromptu list of ideas the media have studied and written about in relation to student achievement and things that influence or affect it:

Teacher experience, superintendent tenure, teacher satisfaction, after-school programs, discipline programs, character education programs, Omega-3 levels in food (a study done in south Texas using breakfast tacos), vending machine food, textbooks, morning start time, the school atmosphere and children’s feeling of safety and comfort, artistic outlets like music classes.

Also: school desegregation, which is designed to increase minority students’ test scores, discourage violence and foster tolerance.

Still more: parental involvement in schools, family socioeconomic level, parents’ college attendance, parents’ drug and other substance use or abuse, children’s hunger, student fear (including bullying), student depression, children’s physical illness and allergies, children’s pregnancy, smoking, alcohol and other drug use.

And even more: the Board of Education (policies, politics), weather, the amount of natural light in buildings, square footage per student, classroom seating arrangements, classroom temperature, light and air circulation, carpeting and the glue used to stick it to the floor (is it toxic? will it cause an allergic reaction?) and lead levels in the water.

Think that’s a lot?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress lists more than 1,000 variables that affect student performance and has collected statistics to show exactly how. The Web site is sort of tedious to go through, but the interested can see what’s available by visiting

My Question for School’s New Art Test

28 12 2006

Capella is the Goat Star, so does singing a capella mean singing without the goat? What does singing WITH the goat sound like? Discuss.


Making Bad School Worse

28 12 2006

The Education Emperor awaits a whole new wardrobe of fine parade clothes. This time the royal weavers have been commanded to top-stitch school sophistry upon every inch of the stretched, tanned hides of his empire’s best emoters and expressers, the artists and musicians and storytellers of the court.

Accountability testing sure isn’t tailoring talent or vision, and I don’t think I can wave from the curb through one more political parade and politely pretend it’s Education.

UPDATE – okay, this rips it. One urban school district here is selling standardized multiple choice art tests to other districts, so they can jump on the bonus bandwagon, and the linked news story includes questions from it. Read ’em and weep. The last one is (I wish I were making this up) drawn up as one right and three wrong definitions of CREATIVITY!

Creativity is:

A. the same as excellent technique and handling media

B. the same as a person’s style of artwork

C. the combining of three or more different parts of other artists’ work

D. a personal inventiveness regarding the production of a work of art.

Did you guess which answer the test brokers will mark correct, and then were you able to create for yourself the actual correct answer? Skip the test and go create something better to do with your time and talent. And p.s., flunk the item writer in English.

“Sound Is My Servant”

27 12 2006

I see words typed out letter by letter behind my eyes, which is how I spell well, and remember names. It’s not photographic exactly (wish it were!) but literally literate, as in books and the written word. “Born reader” fits me to a T.

And I had no idea that my way of word-thinking wasn’t the only way, until one day I did make room for that radical possibility and started talking to my folks and friends about it, which led me into education theory, and more recently talking with my own children, who as it turns out, DON’T experience thought, much less the world, as I do.

My kids don’t see each word typed out as they think them, and find it hysterically weird that I do, although they do love to read and are natural spellers and writers.

I think Favorite Daughter learns from sounds more than I do. But we noticed when Young Son was a toddler that his ears are his supercharged learning tool–he’s an uncanny mimic and recites completely (including inflection, instrumentation and sound effects!) after only one or two exposures to something he particularly enjoys hearing.

So perhaps it shouldn’t have startled us all speechless–but it did–when on Christmas afternoon, taking turns laughing and mugging for the new handycam as we played board games and fixed dinner, Young Son (age 11) remarked matter-of-factly and with odd dignity — “sound is my servant.”


Would you explain that to the camera, please?

He did. And this is what he said. (Not word for word because *I* do not have perfect aural recall — help, please, if any of you think this way or have children who do; I’m enchanted as mom but as educator, I’m out of my element on this one!)

“Sound is my servant. I hear a number being itself in its sound — like with bell chimes, the third one sounds like thr-r-eee.” He makes the sound that it makes to him.

I remember something equally strange to me (from READING it, not hearing it) on Pam and Sandra’s unschool discussion list, about people who naturally associate colors with numbers — it has a fancy scientific name, synesthesia. But sounds? Does any of this “sound” natural to any of you?


UPDATE – Favorite Daughter now tells me her top learning strength is visual, but not typed word-visual, more like whole pictures that might have text in them but are not merely text. She remembers detailed snapshots of whole views like (as she says) Claudia in the Newberry Medal-winning book, The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. “That’s why I don’t use bookmarks,” she says. “I will know the page when I see it.”

UPDATE II – FavD says she often hears her own thoughts in the past-tense, as first-person narrative. “I thought perhaps this was all some psychological reaction but then I caught myself thinking that.” She says she thinks in other narrative devices too, such as identifying people by description tags (my best friend, my dad) rather than the names she would call them out loud. She is living her own real life as the power of story she’s living in! This I completely get. 🙂

Do We Teach Change As Catastrophe?

27 12 2006

” Catastrophism is back as a respectable concept, so much so that
it is now the preordained conclusion we leap to, and therefore,
of which we must be wary. . .”

No, the scholarly phrase “early contact” doesn’t mean preschool in this 20-year-old treatise, but I see a message in it about education politics and cultures and power of story.

A Nation at Risk and much of the change it spawned in the last quarter-century was public school catastrophism, wasn’t it? Unschooling and homeschooling are thought by professors like Reich and Apple, to be a catastrophic threat to school’s social order. And I’ve learned the hard way over the past ten years or so, that home education advocacy is no exception to catastrophic education thought — its uneasy libertarian culture often seems rooted in catastrophic –cataclysmic!– assumptions and conclusions, almost as if change by definition constitutes a powerful force conspiring against liberty:

In place of the 19th-century apotheosis of the concept of evolutionary, gradual change, catastrophism (i.e. large-scale change within narrow time limits) . . .has returned, thanks to Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer. . .

“The Big Bang” has usurped “steady state” among cosmologists. Astronomers commonly talk about galaxies in collision. Astronomers, geologists, and paleontologists gather together to confer about asteroids and comets raining down on earth every twenty-six million years or so, wiping out most species, and thus providing
room for a surge of speciation.

And everybody, seemingly, is
stricken with fear of the threat of the thinning ozone layer,
paired with the greenhouse effect of too much carbon dioxide.
Catastrophism is back as a respectable concept, so much so that
it is now the preordained conclusion we leap to, and therefore,
of which we must be wary. . .

Unschooling Is All the Holiday Rage

26 12 2006

I don’t get why columnists pick Christmas as the Season to Rant Against Unschooling? Maybe the prospect of being home with one’s own children frightens or angers them, and they need to rationalize those feelings somehow, make them socially acceptable. . . or they are disciples of School, profit prophets who make their own living by believing in, and vigorously perpetrating, all its forms and functions.

Hey fellas, the holiday mantra is ho, ho, ho — not No No NO.

And what lazy, wrongheaded assumptions to wrap up as educated thinking for any season, sigh. Modern homeschooling as an institution is admittedly conservative, but so is modern schooling! Hidebound even, a mindlessly anti-individual hell of not working to the point that either one can eat its own young. Literalism, paternalism, judgment, duty, sin, shame, guilt and congregational discipline from the right OR the left all stifle unschooling. I don’t know a single unschooling family –snarling or not– who combines unschooling joy with political rage, do you?

All screeds against other parents and how their children learn sound uncannily alike to me, and this one tells me LEFT-wing rage drives out joy the same way any other kind of rage does.
Let’s call it all “self-righteous rage” then — and educate our own against it whenever possible!

“No more teachers’ dirty looks”

There is a brand of contemptuous, snarling, right-wing American rage, a damnation of all things liberal, that has been rather quiet — sulking perhaps — since the recent election. In this job, I hear it expressed a lot, or used to, but never felt it much myself. Though there was one moment, I recall vividly, when it cracked through my soul like an arc of electricity. I was listening to a lullaby, “Child of Mine,” by 1960s singer/songwriter Carole King.

“You don’t need direction,” she sings, one assumes to her raggy, unkempt babe, “you know which way to go. . . .”

No, no, no, NO!! If I’ve learned one thing raising boys for the last 11 years, it is that kids need direction and lots of it, plus guidance, oversight, discipline, monitoring and constant upkeep. Left to their own devices, they will set the sofa on fire to see what happens. They will juggle knives, or try to. They will spend their days eating frozen sticks of butter and slapping their video game controllers until their fingers bleed.

Thus I was a little unsettled by Rosalind Rossi’s provocative front page story Sunday about “unschooling,” the practice of letting kids drop out of school and, basically, teach themselves whatever they like on their own schedule.

No doubt it works for certain rare — very rare — kids.

Read the rest of this entry »

Girl Talk

24 12 2006

Why are you so mad, Mama?” she asked.

“What’s wrong with princesses?”

A long and soul-searching Sunday magazine piece, with power of story for Thinking Parents well beyond what it means to be female. I see it as connecting to all issues of identity in our culture (confusion about who’s really married, who’s a real homeschooler, does a diploma equal an education, heck — what do we mean by real motherhood anymore, never mind girlhood?)

. . .Part of the genius of “Princess” is that its meaning is so broadly constructed that it actually has no meaning. . .
“The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

So it’s cynical corporate culture power of story, against which real-live parents and little girls are powerless?

That’s too much drama for me and no happy ending —

I try to tell the story with more cultural nuance than that and my only daughter, nearly grown into her own crown and now herself helping teach little princesses to dance, does too.

Who Made Education’s Nice List?

23 12 2006

“Welcome to today’s chat on the power of influence, and the most
influential people, organizations, research studies, and information
sources in education policy over the past 10 years.”

Education Week

Friday, December 22, 2006

Guests: Kati Haycock, executive director of The Education Trust, Chester
E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and
Christopher B. Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education
Research Center.

Released last week, the study, Influence: A Study of the Factors Shaping
Education Policy, asked leading education-policy experts first to
identify and then to rate highly influential agents, or influentials,
across those different categories
. . .

Two Supposedly Smart Teacher Gifts

23 12 2006

But, but . . . is she teaching new teachers to give these gifts to their
And if these new teachers had ever once received these two priceless gifts back when they themselves were students,
would there be any need for these habits of mind to remain at the top of the wish list? Would they feel dependent on some omnipotent authority figure to bestow them?
I personally think a much more joyful and less institutionally self-serving pair of gifts would be a spirit of open inquiry
and unbounded self-examination . . . JJ