First Person

Share your education story by emailing a pitch to
New York

NPR: How much homework is too much?

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 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.
New York

The International Baccalaureate program for more city middle schools?

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.
New York

Challenges in assessing the effectiveness of the Core Knowledge Reading Program

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:
New York

How “the rich get richer” in reading for understanding

In response to yesterday's post about the Core Knowledge Reading Program, reader Smith asks, Is he saying their is a core set of content that would prepare a student to understand a randomly selected reading passage on a standardized test? Could someone explain this idea to a non-ELA teacher? I’ve always assumed those reading passages could range from “The Mysteries of Ancient Egpyt” to “Sally’s Bad Day at School” to “Roger’s Time Machine Adventure”. How is content selected? Great question. It's true that the content of test reading passages varies, and I don't think anyone believes that a child can be prepared with content knowledge specific to every possible topic. Rather, some children enter school knowing thousands more words than others, and this difference compounds over years of schooling in a "rich get richer" scenario called the "Matthew Effect" by researchers. (Don't take my word for it: this study, one of many, found that by age 3, children of parents with smaller vocabularies not only knew fewer words, used fewer words per hour, and used a smaller variety of words per hour, "but they were also adding words more slowly.") Hirsch summarized this effect in a 2006 article in American Educator: Many specialists estimate that a child (or an adult) needs to understand a minimum of 90 percent of the words in a passage in order to understand the passage and thus begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words. Moreover, it’s not just the words that the student has to grasp the meaning of—it’s also the kind of reality that the words are referring to.... When a child doesn’t understand those word meanings and those referred-to realities, being good at sounding out words is a dead end. Reading becomes a kind of Catch-22: In order to become better at reading with understanding, you already have to be able to read with understanding.