Yesterday, NPR's Day to Day interviewed Harris M. Cooper, a professor at Duke University and author of The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents. How much homework is appropriate? they asked. Cooper provided a simple rule: Essentially what the guideline boils down to is what I refer to as the 10-minute rule, which means 10 minutes per night, per grade: first graders, 10 minutes, second graders, 20 minutes, third graders, 30 minutes, and so on. We do have research that shows that when middle school kids are doing between 60 to 90 minutes of homework a night they’re doing as well as kids who claim to be doing more. If parents feel that their children are getting too much homework, Cooper says, they should begin by observing what really happens during homework time. Are the children focused solely on homework, or are distractions like text-messaging or television getting in the way? He provides tips for talking with teachers about homework, advising parents to take a non-confrontational teamwork approach. Some homework opponents would do away with it altogether. Alfie Kohn argued in The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing and in a 2006 Q&A with Philissa at Insideschools.org that homework "dampen[s] children's curiosity about the world," and that research shows no benefit to homework. One math teacher says on his blog that he doesn't assign homework because his students who need extra practice most are least likely to complete homework. But Cooper makes a case for small amounts of homework: it helps children learn to study on their own and outside the classroom, important preparation for the demands of college, where most learning happens in the dorm room, library, or coffeehouse. As a teacher, I encountered more parents worried that their children weren't doing enough homework than that they were assigned too much.
Merit pay, also known as performance pay, keeps turning up on the ed blogs and in the news. How do merit pay plans work? And, coming soon, how does the merit pay debate affect New York City schools? The gist of performance pay is that districts offer teachers increased pay on the basis of student achievement and other measures of success, often in return for weakened job security. Plans vary: some reward individual teachers, others reward schools, some are based largely on test scores, some include peer and administrator evaluations, and some offer pay increases for taking on extra responsibilities such as mentoring new teachers, or for teaching in a high-needs school or subject area. A 2007 New York Times article noted teachers' increasing openness to merit pay programs, especially those involving teacher input and collaboration with their unions. Still, the Times pointed out, many teachers in Texas and Florida rejected merit pay plans, citing concerns about divisiveness, unfairness to teachers of high-needs students, and simplistic evaluations. Educators often say they are insulted by the idea that a little extra cash will increase their motivation to help struggling students. Paul Tough has written extensively about teacher pay-for-performance plans on his Schoolhouse Rock blog at Slate. He launched last week with a look at political pressure on Barack Obama to push increased teacher pay but decreased job security, then spent the rest of the week examining existing performance pay programs. Tough summarized Michelle Rhee's proposed salary plan for DC teachers, which would increase salaries across the board, do away with tenure rights, and create an opt-in performance pay program while phasing out the traditional pay scale. Rhee has warned that if teachers reject her plan, she will turn, instead, to tougher evaluations and licensing requirements, making it easier to fire teachers.
It's Fashion Week in New York, and at GothamSchools, we're inspired to take a look back at school uniforms in the city. Although fashion designers exported the jumper from the classroom to the runway in 1968, uniforms for public school students didn't hit the papers often until 20 years later, when Mayor Ed Koch got an offer from a clothing manufacturer to provide free uniforms for all students at Harlem's PS 175/IS 275.
In a major address about education yesterday in Ohio, Barack Obama provided more detail about his nearly year-old education platform and took aim at his opponent's education policies, saying, "John McCain doesn't get it. He doesn't understand that our success as a nation depends on our success in education. I do." In the course of the lengthy speech, Obama promised to double federal funding for charter schools; invest in early-childhood education; give low-income students access to college-level courses; fund "innovative schools"; increase access to after school, summer school, and extended day programs; recruit and train high-quality teachers; and create a "parent report card" to update families about their children's progress. He also swore to replace weak teachers, send teams to improve "bad programs," and shut down unsuccessful charters. All this sounds like an expensive proposition — but Obama notes that it will come at "the cost of just a few days in Iraq." On Monday, I said I thought Obama had tipped his hand in favor of the "Bolder, Broader" crowd, but several of the policies he discussed yesterday — support for charter schools, differentiated teacher pay, stringent consequences for weak teachers and failing schools — sounded like they came straight from the Education Equality Project playbook.
Houston may not be alone in seeing an increase in schools using International Baccalaureate programs. New York's Blueprint for Middle School Success, which identifies "key elements" of successful middle school programs, briefly mentions International Baccalaureate (IB), along with America's Choice and Project Grad, as "protocols, programs, and/or school reform models" that school leaders should consider when developing a college prep curriculum. According to the IB website, few city schools use IB at the moment — Mott Hall Bronx High School, Manhattan's Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, Staten Island's Curtis High School, and Queens' Baccalaureate School for Global Education — and only Thurgood Marshall and the Baccalaureate School have the IB Middle Years Program. Central themes unite 8 subject areas in the Middle Years Program curriculum. What stands out about the Middle Years Program is not the range of subjects taught nor the five themes which unite the student's learning experience, as shown in the diagram above, but the personal project, an in-depth study undertaken by each child, and other innovative approaches to assessment. Teachers develop their own course assignments and assessments, ranging from projects to exams and including opportunities for self-assessment and peer-assessment. Final assessments are not standardized tests or even standardized projects. Rather, teachers administer appropriate sets of assessment tasks and rigorously apply the prescribed assessment criteria defined for each subject group. The type of assessment tools available to teachers include all forms of oral work, written work, and practical work. A school can request that the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) validate students' grades, a review process in which external moderators apply IB standards to samples of student work and compare their grades to the teachers' grades, which helps maintain standards from school to school.
Yesterday, Michael Shaughnessy of EdNews interviewed Dr. Matthew Davis, who is leading the implementation of the Core Knowledge Reading Program pilot in New York City. Much of the interview covers basics of the program which we've discussed here already, including the two-strand approach to teaching reading and comprehension and the body of research supporting this method. What the interview highlighted for me are the contradictions of researching a program while trying to decide whether to continue using it, especially when real children are the subjects. Davis says that the pilot will begin this year in kindergarten classes at 10 high-needs schools, then add grade 1 next year and grade 2 in 2010-11. But the continuation of the pilot "will be contingent on success in year one and a continuation of funding," he says. Sounds fair: a program should prove itself before people (in this case, the Fund for Public Schools) invest further. Davis describes the plan for assessing the program: Within the next several weeks, students in both sets of schools will be administered nationally standardized reading assessments in order to establish a baseline performance. These same tests will be administered again at the end of the kindergarten. In addition, there will be formal observation of all teachers in the pilot classrooms to ascertain any possible correlation between the level of implementation of the Core Knowledge program and the level of student achievement. In addition, specific case studies will be conducted by the NYCDOE in three pilot schools to provide additional qualitative information. As far as the test are concerned, we hope to see a significant difference in word attack, word reading, decoding skills, and spelling by the end of the kindergarten year -- because the program has what we think is a very strong way of teaching the mechanics of reading. Background knowledge and vocabulary take a bit longer to build, and gains don't start to show up on some tests until later, but, by the end of the three-year period, we hope to see the front end of what we think will eventually be a very significant difference in vocabulary, oral comprehension, and reading comprehension. So although the survival of the program may rest on a single year's results, the promised impact of the program — increased vocabulary and content knowledge — may take three years to show up. At least three years: