Teachers of all backgrounds

Our restless efforts to promote multicultural education include to better serve the growing student body of color in the U.S (Banks, 2006). But it seems that hiring teachers of color is not so easy. According to the article “Tough Tests for Teachers, with Question of Bias” in NY Times regarding new teacher licensing exams, “Minority candidates have been doing especially poorly, jeopardizing a long-held goal of diversifying the teaching force so it more closely resembles the makeup of the country’s student body.” It brings our attention to whether the test itself is discriminatory. The Brown v. Board of Education case demonstrates our historical mistakes about segregating schools. After the decision which mandated non-discrimination in schools, certification exams were used as “a tool kit used to force black teachers out of the profession.” Are we repeating the same mistakes we made before?

Why is it important to have a teacher of the same race? Teachers are not just teachers who transfer their knowledge to students. They are mentors and role models. Sharing similar cultural beliefs, values, and norms would be a great tool for teachers to build such relationships with students. Accordingly, hiring racially and ethnically diverse teachers will ensure minority groups of students to have equal educational opportunities.

As Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford, argued, “We need to be clear about what skills are necessary, rather than just trying to eliminate people from the pool.” From this perspective, teacher licensure tests alone cannot be a major qualification of teachers. Although it might be true to an extent that “rigorous entrance requirements” for teachers are crucial to ensure a good quality of education, it does not mean that so called smart teachers better teach students. Having an appropriate level of knowledge in a subject is important, but the way of teaching is as critical in meeting students’ needs. It is a time for policy makers to carefully examine what is truly beneficial for students of all backgrounds.

Reference

Banks, J. (2006). Multicultural education: Characteristics and goals.

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Schooling Vs. Education on Reservation Schools

Education has been an essential element in all cultures throughout history; education, however, has not always looked like schooling. Today education has become synonymous with the western form of education, schooling. Diane Ravitch (2010) similarly argues that schools are often a place where “children are being trained, not educated” (110).

Education can shape our ideals and help us become better human beings– people who are compassionate, critical thinkers, dedicated, and knowledgeable about many things. Education can teach us that we have a voice. Education can teach us how to use that voice to stand up for others and ourselves, and to fight for what we believe is important. Education teaches us to value and celebrate those who are different than us, while realizing we may not be all that different than those we label as “other.”

Schooling on the other hand is not equitable and has historically marginalized those not in the dominant culture. Schooling does not teach students to question the system they are required to be a part of. Schooling does not teach students that there are many kinds of knowledge and many ways of knowing, and that they are all valuable. Schooling does not teach students that their voices are just as powerful and as important as teachers and textbooks, and does not teach to students to question the texts they read.

This disparity between education and what modern schooling looks like today with mandated curriculum and an overemphasis on standardized testing became a clearer reality during my two years of teaching on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Historically, schools have failed Native Americans through missionary schools and federal boarding schools. These schools attempted to assimilate Native students, replace their native language with English, replace their indigenous ethics, convert them to Christianity, and ultimately kill the culture of a people.

Devastatingly, I realized the reality of schools on Native reservations today have not changed very much. Students are rarely provided the same opportunities as their peers who go to schools off the reservation. Also, students are rarely given the opportunity integrate their native culture with their education. Culturally relevant teaching is often replaced with standardized test preparation. As a teacher on the reservation, I began to understand this present disparity between schools on Native land and those on state land and the reality it brought for my students. The conclusion I drew from this experience was that the students at my school and those of other reservation schools were continuing to be schooled whereas the students in town were being offered a more equitable and relevant education.

David Skeet Elementary in Vanderwagen, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation received an ‘F’ for the 2012-2013 school year based on New Mexico standardized test scores. Using another standardized measurement, Discovery Education Short Cycle Assessment data, 4th graders at David Skeet Elementary ranked 11/18 in reading and 12/18 in math on the final spring test. Just 16 miles north of David Skeet in Gallup is Red Rock Elementary. Red Rock Elementary received the school grade of ‘C’, with its 4th graders ranking 1/18 in both reading and math. I visited Red Rock Elementary to get a firsthand account of what was going on at this high performing school and found 4th grade students having a science fair. While the students at Red Rock were presenting science fair projects they had conducted completely at home with their parents, I couldn’t help but think about my own 4th graders who had no time for science worked into their daily schedule, but instead were given extra reading and math lessons for remediation as well as very strict standardized test preparation. The test scores of my previous school district were publicized; some schools just as Red Rock Elementary were glamorized whereas reservation schools such as David Skeet were reprimanded. Rather than addressing many of the economic needs of the community and school, the district attempted to solve the problem of low test scores with more test preparation, forced curriculum, and reprimanding teachers through extra work and extensive test score accountability.

One of the most troubling aspects of this disparity between reservation and town schools, however, is that these two groups of students are brought into the same middle schools where the disparity widens. The counseling office at the middle school that my students attend uses 5th grade New Mexico standardized test scores to place students on different tracks-– A, B, C, D, E, and F. These letter names are not just representative symbols, but indications of how students did academically in elementary school on these standardized tests; students who score advanced will be placed together on the ‘A track’ while those who score beginning steps will likely be placed together on the ‘E track’. The ‘F track’ is considered the inclusion track for students who have specific learning needs. Typically students from David Skeet find themselves placed between the ‘C-F tracks’. Students on the A and B track are predominately nonnative students who live in town.

Today education has been replaced with schooling for many children around the United States. Knowledge and creativity has been replaced with test taking strategies. Science, art, and music classes have been replaced with reading and math remediation. While this is a reality for many children in the United States, it is increasingly prevalent among schools on Native reservations. Nicole Bowman (2003) argues that this is also revealed through the amount of Native students attending postsecondary schools. Many students face barriers such as economic difficulty, difficulty adjusting to the culture of university, lack of mentors, and discrepancies between Native worldviews and postsecondary worldviews (93). I believe that these are not just issues students face in postsecondary but also in elementary and middle school. Rather than addressing these barriers and implementing the suggestions of many native leaders such as building cultural identity of students, more student-centered and experiential learning, and appreciation for formal and informal education, many districts opt to increase testing and teacher accountability. This is a tragic reality because it is not true education for our students.

 

References

Bowman, N. (2003). Cultural differences of teaching and learning: A native american perspective of participating in educational systems and organizations. American Indian Quarterly. 27 (1-2), 91-102.

 

Ravitch, D. (2010). The death and life of the great american school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. New York: Basic Books.

The Downward Spiral of the American Education System

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Adolescent Education and Social Studies from St. John’s University in Queens, New York in May 2011 and was excited to find a full-time teaching position for the upcoming school year. After endless interviews, I received the phone call I had been waiting patiently to hear. I was offered a full-time teaching position for a public high school in Brooklyn, New York. I was full of excitement and enthusiasm as well as nervousness at the realization that I was about to be in charge of my own classroom and hundreds of adolescents. I was ready to take on the challenges that would ensue as I tried to make a difference in children’s lives and prepare them for their futures. I had always felt that some sacrifice on behalf of the teacher was necessary to ensure student success; however, I was completely unprepared for the realities of being a full-time teacher and the extent of sacrifices I would have to make for students, particularly in an inner-city school.

After the first few days of school, I was in complete shock and baffled by the education system in which I was teaching. I did not quite understand the circumstances in which I found myself. I had thirty-four students in each class composed of gifted students, on-level students, below-level students who were unclassified, students with disabilities of varying types and degrees, and English language learners who had multiple first languages and whose English abilities ranged from extreme beginner to advanced. I was trying to teach students who literally had no interest in learning and whose absenteeism was abysmal. Student behaviors portrayed a complete lack of respect for authority figures as well as peers, and undermined all efforts by the teacher to educate students who truly desired to learn. Parental involvement was almost nonexistent. I was supposed to prepare students for college and career readiness, but the majority of students had basic elementary level literacy skills. Additionally, hardly any students had been exposed to computers or any form of educational technology. Lastly, my administration and colleagues offered no support or guidance in how to teach this vastly diverse set of students. I came home everyday and cried due to the frustration and intense level of stress I was under.

I looked back upon my own education and acknowledged that I had been sheltered in some way from the realities of the world. Perhaps while growing up there were students who I attended school with that were not interested in learning; that had high rates of absenteeism; that did not complete their homework; that did not study for exams; that had behavioral issues and interrupted the learning experience for their peers; and that had no parental support at home, but I was never exposed to these types of students. I was on the advanced track in school. I took honors classes as well Advanced Placement and college-credit courses. I virtually spent my entire education with the same forty students who were similar to me, and perhaps, were all from the middle class, where resources were in abundance and parental support was the norm. We were chastised for our bad behaviors and bad marks in school and were taught to perform well in order to secure a successful future for ourselves. None of what I had known and experienced throughout my own education was apparent in the system in which I currently taught. I was bewildered and confounded.

Here I am, three years into teaching, and I contemplate leaving the profession. The American education system values conformity over individuality and self-expression. As Sir Ken Robinson stated in his talk Changing Education Paradigms, the American education system has become a factory system where we dole out students who are unable to think for themselves, but could state facts verbatim. Each student is expected to master the same reading, writing, and mathematical skills, but not to find passion in other subjects, which are now neglected in schools, such as the arts and trades. The curriculum encompasses a “one-size-fits-all” model, but each child is unique and should be taught to strengthen and foster their individual talents. Few of my students in Brooklyn fit this “one-size-fits-all” model that the American education system has created.

Diane Ravitch further supports the holistic education of children in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, where she stated, “We must make sure that our schools have a strong, coherent, explicit curriculum that is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, with plenty of opportunity for children to engage in activities that make learning lively” (p. 13). The No Child Left Behind (2001) movement has taken the liveliness out of learning in favor of standardized testing that further alienates students who do not do well on these types of exams as well as teachers who are held fully accountable for students’ results. In my opinion, the Common Core Curriculum Standards do not accurately represent the student body of America today. The standardized tests and the new national curriculum merely reflect the goals and abilities of the elite, who have access to resources and parental support. These exams do not reflect the melting-pot culture of America, but merely the culture of our forefathers and colonial America. The American education system needs to reflect the changing times and experiences of current learners, like those who make up my inner-city public school in Brooklyn. How will America help all children excel in education, and not just the elite or native-born citizens? Reforms to education are needed, but not the type of reforms that critique and punish teachers who devote their lives to mentoring students and preparing them to become successful citizens. In its current state, the American education system is a downward spiral with no turnaround in sight, and it is our children who continually suffer the mistakes of bureaucrats who have never experienced the teaching side to education, yet tell educators how to teach.

Sources:

Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCbdS4hSa0s

Ravitch, D. (2010). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books.

Some thoughts on Vietnamese education after listening to Diane Ravitch’s talk at Lehigh University

The talk by Diane Ravitch at Lehigh University made me reflect on Vietnamese education system. Though I have been working as a teacher in Vietnam for 12 years, attended numerous training courses, and listened to a myriad of talks about education reform in Vietnam, I have never had an opportunity to listen to any educators who can vehemently express disapproval of the current education policies. What I heard about school reform in the US in Diane Ravitch’s talk brought me a refreshing experience and helped me better understand Vietnamese education.

Since “Doi Moi”(renovation) process in 1986, together with the economic reform, Vietnamese education has undergone significant reforms in education and has seen certain achievements. However, teachers and students who implement and are supposed to benefit from these reforms are almost always voiceless. There are articles in the media criticizing some aspects of the education system. However, in Vietnam, it is nearly impossible to find an education activist like Diane Ravitch or Sir Ken Robinson who can overtly criticize national education reforms, arguing they are killing students’ inquiry, creativity, and critical thinking, and propose that drastic measures should be taken to transform education rather than reform a failing system. There was once a high-school teacher in Vietnam who quite often publicly fulminated against the corruption in the Vietnamese education system. However, his debating points were not well-received by most people who were used to taking the negative sides of the public education system for granted. After several years of being the lightning rod of criticism, his voice in the fight against education corruption is no longer heard.

Quite different from public education in the US, Vietnamese public education is not threatened by educational privatization because public schools are recognized to be of higher quality than private ones.  However, there is still a need to protect public education as the ‘civil rights issue of our time’ in Vietnam. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by UNESCO,  which was passed nearly seven decades ago, states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” However, that right is not entirely ensured in Vietnam. Because public schools are underfunded, some students cannot enjoy free K-12 education.  Tuition and other hidden fees can become a burden for many households of students, including even primary students. The dropout rate after primary education is high, especially among students in rural, mountainous areas because their families cannot afford their education and/or child labor is more valuable than school attendance. Diane Ravitch is absolutely right when stating that poverty is among the root causes of low education standards.

Though there are no incentives and sanctions imposed on schools and teachers based on the results of high-stakes standardized testing in Vietnam. These tests not only drive teachers to teaching to the test, cause hierarchy among subjects, and lead to feeling “shame” and further marginalization among marginalized youth (Rich, 2003), but also make most students resort to purchasing private tutoring and consequently create “teacher corruption” (Dang, 2007). Unlike the US where low-performing students are offered free tutoring, private tutoring is a thriving market in Vietnam in which students (and their parents) – whether they are low achievers or high achievers – are the eager buyers of tutoring services, hoping to enhance their children’s academic performance and teachers are enthusiastic sellers, aiming to supplement their low income (Dang, 2007; Kim 2013). Private tutoring in Vietnam is not borne by the government’s encouragement to enhance the quality of public education like in the US. Its existence instead may threaten the quality of mainstream education. Private tutoring may “create disaffection” at school because students are bored with over-learning or they have learn the contents in advance during tutoring lessons. In addition, tutoring can decrease the effectiveness of teachers. Teachers may teach less during the school day to save their energy for the after-school tuition (Buchman, 1999) and students may have to attend lessons to please teachers (Dang, 2007). High-stakes standardized testing in Vietnam indeed directly or indirectly creates a fertile ground for private tutoring, which deepens the social inequalities between the rich and the poor, the rural and urban areas, and becomes a financial burden for many families.

I am totally convinced by Diane Ravitch’s argument that testing is “undermining education” and students’ academic performance and achievement should be evaluated through a process of learning rather than merely the test scores.  In order to improve education, we need to enhance the quality of teachers’ professional lives and increase their salaries rather than threaten to fire them. Above all, tackling poverty-related matters is the key to improving educational standards.

Sources:

Buchman, C. (1999). “The State and Schooling in Kenya: Historical Development an Current Challenges.” Africa Today, 46 (1), 95-116.

Dang, H. A. (2007). The determinants and impact of private tutoring classes in Vietnam. Economics of Education Review, 26(6), 683-698.

Kim, H. K. (2013). An analysis of the causes of shadow education in the era of the schooled society. The Pennsylvania State University.

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. NY: Basic Books.

Rich, W. (2003). Historical high‐stakes policies relating to unintended consequences of high‐stakes testing. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice,22(1), 33-35.

To The Victims of Testing: When Tests Can End One’s Life

Dear Diane Ravitch,

I applaud your courage to admit openly and publicly the mistake that was made with No Child Left Behind. It is unfortunate that healthy reflexivity is almost entirely absent from policy making today. Perhaps, if all policy makers as well as scholars are more open to reflect and possibly admit their mistakes, we could live in a different world today. However, my post is not about self-reflexivity, it is about victims of testing. I wish to devote this post to orphans in Russia who have suffered from mistakes in testing and evaluation. I would like to share two short real life stories that captured my heart and mind.

Galina is now about 28 years old. Her family abandoned her the day she was born. Galina was born with some physical disability. At the young age, she has been tested, evaluated, and diagnosed as “mentally retarded.” Do you know what that means for a Russian orphan to be labeled “mentally retarded”? It means a child will get minimum if no education; until the age of 18th, he or she will be living in an orphanage with minimum contact with the outside world. When these children reach their 18th birthday, they will be transferred to a mental asylum where they will spend the rest of their lives literally behind the walls. They will not get married, have children, get driving license – they will have almost nothing. Galina ended up living in asylum. However, curiosity and inner strength encouraged her to seek for a way out. In fact, Galina was an intellectual and a talented human being. She wrote a petition for the hospital administration asking to live on her own. It took three years for the administration to consider her appeal. Finally, she was granted a permission to live on her own, which is a very rare and an extraordinary case to begin with. Typically, if you are labeled as mentally retarded once, there is no way out. People do not like to admit their mistakes. Now, Galina is studying in a college and she has aspirations for higher education. She is a talented artist and she loves to draw and paint. She loves travelling and exploring the world. Galina is a protagonist of a recent documentary ‘Ten Percent’ by Elena Pogrebijskaya.

Galina’s case is extraordinary and cheerful. However, it is depressing and frightening at the same time. Just imagine if Galina, while being an intellectual and a talented human being, was placed in asylum for being “mentally retarded,” then how many other talents did we suppress and lock in asylums? How many lives full of potential, discovery, curiosity, and exploration ended up in the mental hospitals?

Galina, for sure, is not the only one who has been wrongly diagnosed by the virtue of human ignorance or human laziness to double check the “finding” or flaws in seemingly “objective and scientific” testing and evaluation, or human cruelty – or altogether. A good friend of mine, who is also an orphan, was called into court by the orphanage administration who wanted to prove that he is mentally retarded. For orphanage administration, it is sometimes easier to deal with “mentally retarded” as they get more funding from the government and at the same time they have less accountability – there is no need to provide education or provide housing. All of “mentally retarded” orphans will be transferred directly to asylum. Some people helped my friend to prove in the court that he is not mentally retarded. As a result, he was not placed into asylum. However, he had to live almost 6 years on the streets, as he did not have any housing. Despite the hardship, he did not lose his humanity. He managed to get a job, he is currently working in social services and he helps elderly people. Half of his salary goes to the government for renting a room to live. He applied for higher education for three executive years and finally got accepted. Remember, people wanted to prove him mentally retarded.

What would have happened to Galina if she did not have enough courage to defend her rights? What would have happened if there was no one to help my friend in the court? Both of them would be locked in an asylum with no rights to education, travel, marriage, and work under the justification of psychological and IQ tests’ results.

These are just two cases that demonstrate how wrong our “scientific” tests can be. The same applies to school tests, however…. How many lives did we lose for students committing suicides because of failing test scores? How many students with low tests scores did we discourage to further pursue knowledge? How many people in this world did we make feel bad and insignificant about themselves because of low tests scores? How many people suffered because of the incorrect testing and evaluation? How many victims of testing are out there?

Devoted to all the victims of testing…..
______________________________________________________
Here is the list of documentaries about Russian orphans:

1) Bluff, or Happy New Year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pGbQ_6Ervw
2) Mama I’m Gonna Kill You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyBfZMZ6Tlo

3) Ten percent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V48fL1ysHqU

Dreaming big: Diane Ravitch can talk educational policy form, but walking it out is a different story

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The audience packed tightly into Lehigh University’s Baker Hall on Tuesday February 10th in anticipation of hearing Diane Ravitch’s controversial approach to stifle our government’s current efforts towards school reform. Ravitch presented her argument through a witty self-debate that vehemently defended the American public school system and fought against any interventions that posed to threaten it such as privatization, choice/voucher systems, and the establishment of charter schools. Her reasoning was compelling: transforming education into a for-profit, business-like industry turns students into commodities, encourages efficiency and money over student innovation, and attempts to, in her eyes, inaccurately quantify the abstract character of intellect through the use of standardized measures. She also argued that permitting school choice through voucher systems would not result in academic competition between schools that would increase quality of education, but rather leave schools’ disparities and children’s education largely unchanged. This would be likely due to the lack of knowledge and/or interest from low socioeconomic families in changing their children’s schools, the inaccessibility of transportation for the students across towns, the lack of seating available in better schools, and the insignificant amount of vouchers available compared to the extensive needs of many districts.

Ravitch also considered charter schools a major threat to the success of the public education system, pointing out that not only do charter schools students not perform any better than regular public school students on assessments, they have also deviated from their original missions of helping the neediest students to becoming specialized academies that are in many cases operating as an industry and luring away the most motivated students through their attractive, creative programs. In this way, charter schools continue to foster segregation among students by collecting money from states for their newly specialized programs for specialized students, leaving public schools to suffer with the most challenging and expensive heterogeneous student body, including the learning disabled and non-native English speaking children- and to do this under increasingly restrictive funds.

While these arguments are neither epiphanous nor unfamiliar to educators, Ravitch was able to make her position unique by the sheer scope of her perspective. While teachers struggle every day in the classroom to find better, more effective ways to improve their students’ education, Ravitch acknowledged that this struggle is futile on the individual level because the issues hindering academic success remain much bigger than the classroom. Zooming out past a classroom, a school building, a district, and even a state, she posited that the real sources of our current academic system’s failure lay in macro-level influences such as self-interested business powers, misled government policy, and major inadequacies in social services contributing to a lack of academic resources, poor mother and child healthcare, and persisting poverty. Ravitch not only challenges, but places blame on these dominating, powerful overhead forces like private corporations and the federal government that she herself once worked for.

The way Ravitch uses language is her most powerful tool. She purposely chose to present her speech with a dramatic, igniting vocabulary, claiming that she wants to ‘destroy’ the current education reform, that we are ‘failing’ to defend our public schools, we are inhumanely using ‘fear’ and ‘punishment’ to incentivize better assessment scores, that business elites have ‘no place’ in public education, and that for-profit charter schools should be ‘banned by law’. It is this fearless, defiant attitude that separates Ravitch from the masses that agree with her, but it is also the quality that has her labeled as a radical.

She insists that the problems that current education reforms are designed to attack, such as low test scores, are not the true problems at all, but rather the negative consequences of much larger underlying causes such as under-resourced schools, under-trained teachers, poor social services, poverty, and poor health. And while I absolutely agree that these struggles inhibit student’s performance as well as their wellbeing, Ravitch’s suggestion to address these great forces are just as grand as their scale. Ravitch is absolutely correct that a poor, malnourished child attending an under-resourced school is going to face overwhelming barriers to academic success and benefit little from privatization, voucher systems, or charter schools. However, how exactly she plans to eradicate global crises such as poverty and hunger and persuade the federal government to significantly increase funding to public education and improve social services, I have no idea. The importance of addressing these crises is immense, and I do not think anyone is willing to dispute that. However, I would like to ask Diane Ravitch how she plans to practically overcome these barriers to educational equality and success, and if stifling current governmental reforms is just the place to start.

One for all, or all for some? Re-examining the limitations of gifted education in the public school system.

I am a product of a supplemental “gifted education” curriculum in a public school system. Up until taking this curriculum course, I did not reflect deeply on what that actually meant not only to myself but to the larger system I belonged to. Discussing the topic of gifted education in class prompted me to think more purposefully about the meaning behind the word “gifted” and how these types of programs may unwittingly foster inequality not only within the school setting but in society at large. The issues that gifted education pose are bi-fold and, at times, overlapping: sociocultural and academic.

A classmate in the field was recently discussing the extreme difference between low-income and high-income areas where she has taught. She mentioned that, while the average percentage of ‘gifted’ students in a school is ~ 3%, in some high-income areas it can be as high as ~ 50%. This poses a serious concern – it is inconceivable that this difference can be chalked up to actual differences in capacity. More likely, it is a combination of culturally perceived differences and how much exposure a child has to intellectually stimulating materials (i.e.  books, tutoring, etc.). Another classmate referred to this phenomenon as “economic giftedness.” This issue is mirrored in the under-representation of racial and ethnic minority students in gifted programs. Ford (2008) discusses this issue through what she calls the “deficit thinking” that occurs in the public school system:

“With deficit thinking, differences in someone who is culturally, racially or ethnically diverse are interpreted negatively as if the individual and/or characteristics are abnormal, substandard, or otherwise inferior. For example, a student who speaks nonstandard English and is making good grades in school may not be referred to screening and identification if the teacher neither understands nor appreciates nonstandard English.” (Ford, 374)

Ford also points out that academic aptitude exists across racial, ethnic and economic divides. It is illogical, then, that there is such a dearth in minority, low-income students receiving the label of ‘gifted.’ This problematic situation demands that policy makers and curriculum designers address how to provide gifted education programs that are both excellent and equitable.

There is another issue plaguing gifted education that straddles the border between cultural and academic. This is how we (collectively) define the term ‘gifted.’ The type of gifted education that Ravitch and Ford discuss is typically centered on scholastically advanced students, as measured by a standardized IQ (intelligence quotient) test. Winner (1996) discusses the potential ethnocentrism of gifted education by highlighting the differences between ‘western’ definitions of ‘giftedness’ and those of other cultures. Specifically, she discusses how the Pueblo “have no word for giftedness” and instead believe that “special abilities should not be used as a basis for evaluating one person over others. For this group, a special gift is meaningful only if it is used in a way that benefits the community” (Winner, 4). In other words, individualistic western culture values individual success over community well-being and rewards competition rather than collaboration. As such, gifted education can reproduce a number of inequalities, creating a divisive environment within the school (an example of the kind of ‘hidden curriculum’ also discussed by Ravitch).

Further issues with gifted education that warrant discussion are the curriculum and assessment of such programs. In my experience, many ‘gifted education’ programs are project-based and have an emphasis on divergent thinking. This is in contrast to the rote memorization being pushed in ‘normal’ classrooms. We must question why the methods being employed to teach the ‘best’ students are not made available to other students who may benefit from similar approaches. Additionally, some states employ ‘merit pay’ for teachers, judging their performance on students’ scores. In this scenario, teachers of gifted students would, theoretically, receive higher pay than those of ‘average’ or ‘below-average’ students. However, in one of her blog posts Ravitch blasts this ‘myth’ stating that when a “students’ scores are already at the top… they have nowhere to go, so the teacher will get a low rating.”

While students who excel at school should, in my opinion, receive an education capable of stimulating them and encouraging their talents, I also believe that this benefit should not be reserved for those who score the highest on standardized tests. It is high time that we (both culturally and in terms of educational policy) recognize non-standard forms of ‘giftedness,’ encourage critical thinking and creativity and, most importantly, rid ourselves of the ‘deficit’ mindset that is denying so many capable children the opportunity to excel, solely because they do not fit the societal and/or academic standard.

Sources:

Winner, E. (1996). Gifted children: Myths and realities. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Ravitch, D. With VAM: All Teachers of the Gifted Are “Bad” Teachers. Retrieved February 13, 2015, from  http://dianeravitch.net/

Ford, D. (2008). Recruiting and retaining gifted students from diverse ethnic, cultural and language groups. In J.A. Banks & C.A. McGee Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education: Issues and Perspectives, (371-392). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

An Educator Encouraged His Dauther to Drop out of High School?

The Business of Education

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/27/36heller.h33.html

In the interest of full disclosure, I know the author of this article personally.  His older daughter is good friends with my girlfriend, as they graduated the alternative-option The Delta Program, affiliated with State College Area High School (PA) together in 2011.  I actually got to know the Heller family quite well as I celebrated my first Hanukkah in their East Lansing home last year.  I have had only a few education-based discussions with Dr. Heller, mostly trying to convince him to apply for the Presidency at my alma mater, Penn State University.  However, I know he is a brilliant man, incredibly highly respected in the education field and is very simply, a “good guy”.

So why would the Dean of Education from Michigan State University allow his daughter who, by all accounts is incredibly smart, leave high school without earning her degree.  Is this an example of professional hypocrisy?…

View original post 690 more words

The iPad Orchestra

When my younger brother was little, his special education teachers gave him a large, bulky device to help him communicate and verbalize what was always stuck in his head. He could form sentences through words and pictures, and then click on the large white box at the top of the screen for a monotone voice to read out what he put together. Of course, given my brother’s sense of humor, he enjoyed making silly sentences and blasting them at full volume for all to hear. In addition to adding humor, his device helped him sound out words that we could not understand, making him a more confident speaker.

My brother was diagnosed with autism far before the world of iPads, iPods, iTouches, and i-Everything elses. He had always been interested in technology, and his school enjoyed testing different types with their students. Recently, there have been more and more articles published about apple products being used for special education purposes, helping to “deepen engagement, communication, and creativity” in classrooms around the world. I find the most interesting use of this application in the special ed. music curriculum.

A PS 177 music instructor in the Fresh Meadows section of Queens, New York uses tablet computers to reach his students with disabilities. The entire band is made up of students who all play traditional musical instruments and iPads. Yes, that’s right – they play iPads. The iPad now has applications that allow people to produce complicated orchestral-style arrangements, allowing people to play all kinds of different instruments at the same time with just a push of a button. Instead of having to learn the intricacies of different instruments, students can play with the sound of different notes in creating music. This is especially close to my heart because my brother has always loved creating music.

support.apple.com

support.apple.com

This iPad revolution is not exclusive to the United States. On June 4th of this year, an exceptional educator from the United Arab Emirates received an award for “bridging gaps between children with special needs and their classmates by creating the first electronic tablet orchestra that includes children with special needs in the UAE.” This teacher, Hanan Al Attar, is a music supervisor at the Sharja Education Zone, and agrees that replacing traditional musical instruments with the iPad is a good solution to a short supply of instruments. Her orchestra is comprised of 68 children with both mental and physical disabilities.

Why are iPads so effective for special needs children? Educators believe that the combination of clear, big, and bright visual cues coupled with the easy-to-use touchscreen make it simple for kids to use without creating a visual or sensory overload. The iPad has therefore been significant in changing the way that people look at others with disabilities. Karen Gorman, the director of Assistive Technology for New York City’s Public Schools, and Hanan Al Attar agree that people are starting to look at the talent of students rather than at their disabilities.

Apple has published a video themselves to highlight their great contribution to the special needs community. The video profiles three schools, one in the Czech Republic, one in Japan, and one New York’s District 75, the world’s largest special education district. In all three locations, there seems to be an emphasis on “the individual learner.” Special needs students each have a wide range of abilities and disabilities, and each must therefore have a specialized education plan for maximum success. The iPad has allowed students to learn socially through different virtual games and simulations. Activities in such activities include washing their hands before eating or turning off the stove before leaving the room. The iPad can also perform the same function as my brother’s old device, allowing students to form words and sentences via pictures and sounds. Apple claims that their product has the potential to make the nonverbal verbal, and to enhance the social, emotional, and academic performance of special needs students across the world.

Though the iPad is more expensive than individual instruments, I completely agree with its use in a special needs music classroom as well as its use in other special education classes. The special needs community is a part of the student population that is often times segregated into separate schools, even though students greatly range in their abilities in each school. I think that the iPad has the potential to promote an individualized education and special attention to students, as well as expose them to the new technologies that are being exposed to all students across the mainstream and disabled spectra. As technology continues to change, educators and policy makers should use it to their advantage in promoting new learning opportunities. And these opportunities should clearly not be exclusive to the mainstream population.

Gap Year Series, Part 3: Global Citizen Year

In the first two posts of this series I discussed how gap years are beneficial to students and how universities are putting programs in place to encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities. In this post I will focus on an outside organization that is aiming to make gap years universal in the US.

Global Citizen Year (GCY) does not consider itself a gap year program. Gap years have the stigma I have already discussed, so they call themselves a Bridge Year. This way, it is framed not as falling into a gap, but as crossing a bridge that will transport students from the life stage of high school to the life stage of college. GCY prides itself on preparing kids for success in college, careers, and our global economy. They see the American education system as failing to prepare students to succeed in facing global challenges—“High school graduates are entering college underprepared, families are questioning their return on investment, and colleges are facing growing concerns about relevance and retention.”

Why join GCY? Their arguments are convincing. They say being a Fellow helps develop leadership in the form of undergoing training in the US and abroad, becoming fluent in a new language and culture, and learning alongside global experts. They also market themselves as helping students uncover their passions on their own time and terms as well as finding meaningful ways to have an impact through their work. It also allows those who participate to be at the forefront of a movement that GCY sees as reimagining education and leadership in America.

They see themselves as being a step apart from other bridge year programs in several main ways: total immersion, personalized apprenticeships, a diverse cohort, intensive training, and a lifelong network. The Fellows work in community apprenticeships alongside local people where they can learn a language, form lasting relationships, and gain firsthand insight into the issues that shape their hosts’ lives. Fellows come together with staff to participate in monthly training seminars to amplify their learning and to come together as a country cohort to process their experience.

Many people question how a bridge year can more adequately prepare students for college. GCY addresses these concerns by saying that their program is uniquely designed to bridge the high school and college experience through a combination of immersive learning and world-class training in areas directly relevant to the higher education environment. They focus on three main learning spheres: entrepreneurial leadership, global skills, and college and career readiness. Their curriculum is unique, rigorous, and involves two-week departure training, ongoing training blocks, and a one-week re-entry training to tie together the year’s learning. They actually train the Fellows before they leave on Stanford’s campus, which exposes them to the college setting. They also ensure that all Fellows develop intentional learning plans for their year abroad and for their college experience after which allows them to test their interests and define their passions.

They also have a Capstone phase to their year in which Fellows must reflect, analyze, and express their learning and growth. There is a final presentation in their country about the work they’ve done and the lessons they learned over the year as an apprentice and member of the community. Once they are back home they deliver a product of presentation that encapsulates their experience to “instill the power of global citizenship in their friends, family, and home community.” They leave the way they can do this wide open, so Fellows can choose how they want to present their experience.

This all sounds too good to be true, right? Well it is unless you can come up with the money to pay for it. According to their website, all fees for GCY are determined on a sliding scale based on the Fellow’s family’s ability to pay. Over 80% of Fellows have taken advantage of their financial aid packages, including a third whom who have had their year fully funded. Aside from tuition, each Fellow is responsible for any passport and visas, vaccinations, or early withdrawals from the program, but airfare is provided by GCY. Students submit the FAFSA for aid like they would for any college and their aid is determined based on that. Fellows are admitted without looking at their financial situation and any aid awarded is determined after acceptance. If a family was getting no aid the full tuition price would be $30,950, which is roughly around the same average price of tuition and fees for a private university in the US for the 2013-2014 school year.

Fellows are also required to raise $2,500 in the summer before they leave for the fund that supplies their financial aid as well as sign on 50 blog subscribers to follow their year. The website is very vague about how students are supposed to succeed in this summer campaign besides that staff will provide them with guidance and tools to do so. This is something students need to consider before applying for this program as it will require extra time and effort on their part. They also don’t mention anything about what happens if they don’t raise the money. Do students then have to make up the difference themselves?

Despite this, GCY seems like a good option for students who want an organized program to follow on their gap year that gives them tangible results, like a Capstone project. Currently GCY only has programs in Brazil, Ecuador, and Senegal, but they are looking to expand. Programs like this, along with the university initiatives mentioned in my last post, have the potential to change the views on gap years in the US, but there is a long way to go with reversing the negative stigma associated.