New York

Political campaign buttons banned in schools?

Educators, take note: Chancellor's Regulation D-130, issued in 2004, requires that you "while on duty or in contact with students... maintain a posture of complete neutrality with respect to all candidates." And New York is not the only place where schools and universities are limiting how teachers can express their political views, according to PREA Prez Fred Klonsky. But the United Federation of Teachers objects to some of the limits on teachers' freedom of speech, according to an email Jonathan received from UFT Director of Staff LeRoy Barr: The DOE is disputing the right of our members to wear political buttons in schools. Our view is that there is a long line of First Amendment cases that hold that as long as individuals (including public employees) are not causing disruption or engaged in active electioneering or proselytizing, they have a right to exercise their freedom of speech at work, which includes wearing political buttons. Wearing an Obama or McCain button in class certainly wouldn't convey a neutral posture, but what about a button on one's jacket, worn only outside of school, if a student happened to ride the same bus? And is the Chancellor's Regulation legal, or, as the UFT asserts, would case law support a teacher's right to freedom of speech in the workplace, as long as it doesn't disrupt teaching and learning? The Washington State ACLU doesn't provide a clear answer in an overview of teachers' free speech rights: A court ruled that a New York teacher could not be fired for wearing a black armband in protest of the Vietnam War because the armband had caused no classroom disruption, was not perceived as an official statement of the school, did not interfere with instruction, and did not coerce or "arbitrarily inculcate doctrinaire views in the minds of the students." On the other hand, in another case a court upheld a dress code that prevented teachers from wearing political buttons in the classroom because school districts have legitimate authority to "dissociate themselves from matters of political controversy."
New York

Debating bilingual education, English immersion, and the election

At the New York Times blog Campaign Stops this week, two education scholars are debating the best policies for English Language Learners. Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, argues that research backs up bilingual programs, which provide instruction in both English and the child's native language: Even a Bush administration review of controlled classroom experiments — seeking to identify what works in language teaching — found stronger achievement gains for students enrolled in quality bilingual programs, compared with English-immersion classrooms. Yet a skilled bilingual teacher is crucial, one who understands the knowledge and social norms that children acquire at home, and how to build from the first language to advance rich oral language and then written literacy. It’s a no-brainer for students attending schools in Europe and East Asia. Fuller notes that Barack Obama favors transitional bilingual programs, which aim to move children to English-only instruction as quickly as possible, but provide support in the native language along the way. This is different from dual language programs, which promote written and oral fluency in both languages. Of course, as commenters at the Campaign Stops blog point out, the quality and language background of the teacher matters immensely if either type of bilingual program is to work, and in schools with a wide range of native languages spoken, bilingual instruction may not be realistic. Fuller adds that other Obama proposals, like quality preschool programs and recruitment of excellent teachers, can also help close the achievement gap for these students. He emphasizes the importance of education for Hispanic voters in a number of swing states, and writes that John McCain has had "little to say to Hispanic parents" about education. In response, Lance T. Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, uses Sixth Street Prep, a high-achieving southern California charter school, as anecdotal evidence that English immersion is better for students:
New York

State's accountability proposal projects growth towards proficiency

In October, New York State is submitting a growth model proposal to the U.S. Department of Education, I learned at last week's public forum on the proposal. What would school and district accountability look like under the new model? For grades 3-8, schools would earn points towards meeting Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) for each student scoring proficient or above (a level 3 or 4 on state tests), but would also earn full points for level 1 and 2 students whose growth indicates that they are on track to become proficient within a four-year period. A simplified example of how the growth model would determine whether a student is on-track to proficiency. The graph above provides an oversimplified example. The blue line represents the cutoff score for proficiency at each grade level. Bill and Ted each start out 100 points below proficient. In 4th grade, Bill has gained enough that he is now only 70 points below proficient. As you can see by the red line, if he continued to grow at this rate, he would reach proficiency easily by 7th grade. Therefore, Bill is deemed to be on-track to proficiency, and his school would get full credit towards Annual Yearly Progress for him. Ted, on the other hand, is still 95 points below proficient in 4th grade. He made more than a year's growth, but if he continues to grow at this rate, he will not reach proficiency by 7th grade. Ted's school would not get full-credit towards AYP for him. Of course, in real life, students don't grow at exactly the same rate every year.
New York

On-line learning helps education “nonconsumers”

Front page of a ##http://www.phschool.com/science/biology_place/labbench/lab1/intro.html##lab on diffusion and osmosis##. An article by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn at Edutopia paints a picture of computers providing modified activities to fit students' different learning styles — one student learns a sentence in Mandarin by playing a game, another through a memorization activity: Both students are learning to put together sentences that they'll use in a conversation together in front of the rest of the class -- some of whom are using the same learning tools as these two, but many of whom are learning Mandarin in other ways tailored to the way they learn. But decades of computers-in-schools efforts haven't led to this kind of transformation of teaching and learning, the article points out. Right now, the courses offered by the Florida Virtual School, a leader in on-line learning, don't seem all that different from traditional courses — while assignments offer some choice to students, and lessons link to websites with additional content, I saw no evidence of the kind of learning-style-oriented instruction described in the Edutopia article. Another purveyor of on-line courses, Apex Learning, claims to differentiate instruction through multimedia, but the site doesn't provide demonstration or description of how this works. The solution is to implement innovative technology models "where the alternative is no class at all," let them improve over time, and slowly build more widespread demand, say Christensen and Horn. Where do they envision on-line learning filling gaps in educational offerings?