The View from the Top
Jason Kamras and Kimberly Oliver are at the age and place in life where it would be easy to chuck ideology and take a high-paying private sector job. That would be the easy route, but Oliver and Kamras have never taken that path. They believe teaching can be a good career choice for professionals like them. They also believe children—all children, but especially those who come from high-need, high-risk schools—deserve the best public education has to offer.
Literacy: The Next Generation
Once upon a time, Americans identified illiteracy among high school graduates as a national crisis. The solution, almost everyone agreed, was to teach every child to read by the end of third grade. If students could read well by then, they would read even better in all the grades that followed. The 2005 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress—the nation's report card—show just how wrong we were.
Politics and Policy
To maintain its momentum, the abstinence-only movement needs to convince more Americans that abstinence-focused curricula will help delay teen sexual activity and limit unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. But there may be a problem: There’s a paucity of research showing that the abstinence-only message works. When abstinence and sex education are on the agenda, boards must be prepared for bruising debates over ideology, morality, and money.
Kindergarten Learning Gap
Public schools do not create the achievement gap. Recent data from the Northwest Evaluation Association indicates that virtually the entire gap in language achievement and almost 70 percent of the gap in math achievement are created before the beginning of second grade and most likely between birth and kindergarten. Involving parents and caregivers during the powerful early learning years from birth to age 5 gives young children an equal chance at success.
The Promise of Arts Education
More frequently than most of us can imagine, arts educators are functioning as change agents in the school improvement process. But for that to happen takes vision, creativity, and administrative support. The arts make classroom learning relevant, engage active learning, and provide a way for students to discover and learn to embrace the value and duties of citizenship. Far from being a 'frill,' arts education provides opportunities for renewal and reform.
Partners for the Arts
Districts everywhere are learning that collaboration is critical as they struggle to find the space, the time, and the money to keep arts alive in their schools. Meaningful arts programs have always had a rocky foothold in district budgets. Now, between No Child Left Behind’s focus on math and reading and business leaders’ belief that science and technology are the keys to keeping America competitive, the arts’ presence in the curriculum is becoming even more tenuous.
Drawing and the Brain
Arguments against arts education survive primarily because we have ignored much of the recent research on how the human mind develops when art is a consistent part of long-term instructional planning. Some exciting new developments shed light on the linkages among the arts, brain development, and academic success. Researchers in educational psychology have revealed surprising evidence about the positive effect the arts have on young learners, ranging from increasing math and reading scores to improvements in general cognitive abilities and social development.
Arts at the Core
The performing and visual arts challenge students to use reasoning skills—both concrete and abstract—to draw conclusions and formulate ideas. They encourage creativity and imagination, from concept to process to completion. And in districts both large and small across the United States, they enhance learning for students and adults alike, as these six programs demonstrate.
The New Integration
Will focusing on socioeconomic status in school enrollment raise achievement? Advocates of economic integration say the policy makes sense on a number of levels. While many urban districts were once under court order to desegregate—that is, to consider race in student assignments—today something approaching the reverse is true. Recent court decisions have prohibited school districts from assembling their student bodies by race. But the benefits of economic integration go far beyond any legal advantages. Disadvantaged students do markedly better in middle-class schools.
Integration by Income
Spurred in part by increased state and federal pressure to raise overall student achievement and to reduce the achievement gap between groups, a growing number of districts are pursuing policies of socioeconomic school integration. Most of these districts rely primarily on a system of magnet schools and public school choice, rather than compulsory busing, to achieve their goal of socioeconomic integration. While most of these programs are fairly new, the early signs are promising.
Planning for Equity
No magic formula will help school districts find long-term strategies for attaining—and maintaining—desegregation and equity. But districts can take some simple steps to further desegregation. A comprehensive focus on equity in programs and facilities is the best way to help desegregation stick. School board members and administrators, and the courts, must be attuned to opportunities to encourage desegregation as a part of district planning—and to the equity that such careful planning engenders.
Closing the "Reality Gap"
Our children live in a world unlike the world we entered when we left school. In a microscopic measure of human time, we have moved through the Agricultural Age, to the Industrial Age, to the Information Age, and now to another era altogether. Author Daniel Pink calls this new era the Conceptual Age. It requires us to be not only knowledgeable and competent, but creative and inquisitive as well. Our high schools rarely provide the learning needed for a Conceptual Age.
Skills for a New Century
New Technology High School is everything its name implies. Computers await each student. Classroom communication occurs mostly in Lotus Notes. And every senior must complete a digital portfolio, including resume, personal statement, and work samples. The graduates of this northern California school enter the world better prepared than most for life’s endeavors. But it’s not the software and equipment that give them such an edge: it’s how they use those tools.
21st-century students need 21st-century knowledge of the world. Yet, many schools operate as they always have, preferring to focus on the adventures of Argonauts, not astronauts; on stories of dinosaurs, not the implications of Star Wars; on details of the Triangular Trade, not today’s trade wars; on reasons for the Great Wall, not the fall of the Berlin Wall; on the details of feudalism, not today’s globalism; or on countless other events best relegated to—in former Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s memorable phrase—"the happy heaven of dead issues."
The Future of Teaching
One-hundred percent proficiency—that was the big story of No Child Left Behind when the law was passed in 2002. The proficiency requirement was, understandably, the primary focus of public attention in NCLB’s early years. It dominated media reports and the agendas of local administrators and school board members. But there’s another NCLB requirement that is equally important: All children—black and white; Hispanic and Asian; rich and poor; suburban, rural, or urban—must be taught by highly qualified teachers.