February 2008
Vol 5 No 2

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Teachers.Net Gazette Vol.5 No.2
February 2008
Cover Story:
Rethinking Homework
By Alfie Kohn
Daily homework is the rule in most schools. Why not make it the exception?

Coaches Are More Effective than Mentors
Sources for Below Grade Level Reading
To Promote Responsibility, Elicit Rather Than Impose
The Busy Educator's Monthly Five for February
Filtering the Web: Mission Impossible?
Hot Tips to Stay Healthy; High Speed Sub Plans

Fighting "February Slump"
Make That Presentation a Winner!
Sports Done Right
Celebrate Dr. Seuss with Read Across America
Maslow - Alive and Well in the Classroom
25 Ways to Obtain Children's Attention
The Year of the Earth Rat - The Chinese Zodiac

Featured Lessons: February 2008
The Lighter Side of Teaching
Book Review: Three Cups of Tea
Video Bytes: NCLB, Whiteboard, and More
Creative & Critical Thinking Activities
Editor's Pick: Travels With Music
Apple Seeds: Inspiring Quotes for Teachers
Teachers.Net Craft Favorite: Picasso Faces
Today Is... Daily Commemoration for February 2008
Live on Teachers.Net: February 2008
Chatboard Poll: Do schools need to change, and how?
Preparing for Your Student Teacher
Newsdesk: Events & Opportunities for Teachers


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Kathleen Alape Carpenter
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Columnists & Writers: Alfie Kohn; Harry & Rosemary Wong; Cheryl Sigmon; Dr. Marvin Marshall; Barbara & Sue Gruber; Marjan Glavac; Dr. Rob Reilly; Barb S. HS/MI; Ron Victoria; Brian Hill; Leah Davies; Susan Rismiller; Hal Portner; Karen Hawkes; Emmy; Tim Newlin; Chuck Brickman; Barb Gilman; Grace Viduna Haskins

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Teachers.Net Asks...

Chatboard Poll

Teachers.Net Chatboard Poll...

Do Schools Need To Change? If So, In What Ways?
Regular Feature in the Gazette
February 1, 2008
Every month, Teachers.Net asks an education-related or just fun question of our community, and assembles the responses in the Teachers.Net Gazette. Recently the following thread took place on the Teachers.Net chatboard (

Bill T NC initiated this poll with his post:

"Do schools need to change? If so, in what ways?"

What needs to change is this horrible testing fiasco. We have to spend all our time on the skills that lead to passing the tests because the school is 95% English Language Learners. Is it not going to be on the tests? Then we don’t teach it. Do the children get to do exploratory learning? Of course not. That’s not what’s tested. Testing is all about one’s ability to read expository text and stories, most of which aren’t interesting. ~Posted by linda/4/az

That is a big iceberg. The Washington Post had a column on this topic last month, in regards to one boy that was being failed by his system. Where to start?

Safety is first - the criminal and the mentally ill need to be served elsewhere, no matter who their daddy is, until they can abide by the social norms. We’re already doing this with alternative placements, but it needs to extend down into elementary. I can’t see any district affording homebound services for all the little ones that think violence is the first choice, so I’d say kindergarten needs to go back to being a place to learn to socialize acceptably, resolve conflicts, and get along with others rather than a place for learning to read.

Food and Health are second - serve nutritious food to the poor; get recess or phys ed back (we have 30 min. recess in elementary, however running is not allowed - envision your child on a driveway with a piece of chalk or a ball, that’s all elementary gets).

Next, all elementary teachers need to be competent in teaching reading, mathematics, and science. They need cheap resources to do so. This will take education and some screening of the candidates. Someone needs to negotiate lower prices on textbooks, materials etc.

We need to embrace all learners, not just audio sequential.

Flexibility is needed. Students who have mastered skills need to be grouped according to instructional need, not according to the ‘whole class’ all on the same page theory. We have this already I suppose - home school for the earlier grades, and honors/early college for the upper grades.

Voters here consistently vote down the school budget because they know the additional money is not going into resources for the classroom to benefit the majority of the students. It might help if we could separate extraordinary physical and mental health needs and costs from the local property tax based school budget—they are a very large piece of the pie. These needs and the transportation costs to fulfill these needs should come out of a federal budget for child health costs. ~Posted by D

The testing frenzy needs to stop. Teachers and students should be evaluated based on reasonable expected progress that can be observed, not tested to death.

Teachers need to be treated as professionals. They should get curricular guidelines and how they carry that out and the materials they use should be their choice. No lock step pacing. Each class is individual and the teacher needs to decide how fast to go.

We need DRASTICALLY smaller class size. This would allow for teachers to deal with the more remedial or more difficult children. I believe in “weighting”. Each child is given a point if they are behind in reading, another if they are behind in math, another if they have diagnosed learning problems, another if they have diagnosed behavioral or mental health problems, another if they have parents who hinder. The most points a child could have would be 5. Some kids would have 0. No teacher would have a total of more than 25 points per class which would mean she could have 5-25 students based upon the makeup of the group. No teacher would ever have more than 25 students at ANY level in one class through HS.

Regular teachers need to be MUCH better trained to handle behavorial or mental health issues. Except in the rare case (I would say less than 1%) these kids should be able to be managed in a regular classroom with a well-trained and astute compassionate teacher with this weighting system.

No, absolutely no, extra pay for some teachers over others except for the normal pay scale based on years and education. Teachers can and should be rewarded with extra time off for doing a good job.

There needs to be a minimum of 60 minutes total of very active recesses per day.

PE should be taught daily to all students.

Cafeteria lunches should be exceptionally healthy.

Parents should be required to sit with children in class by request of a teacher if that child does not conform to rules. It should be a requirement that the parent is the one who does this IF it is deemed to be a case of an unruly child—NOT for children with mental health or learning difficulties.

Reading should be the core of everything and the bottom line goal.

Students should not be given grades. They progress on a mastery learning system. ~Posted by anonymous

No NCLB. Take away all the state testing.
Make parents accountable.
Make separate schools for all criminal or mentally ill children. They should not be at a regular school.

If testing is continued then second language learners and special ed kids scores should not count.

If we are going to compare ourselves to Europe then lets do what they do. At age 12 channel only the academic achievers into high school and the others to vocational school.
Make parents accountable.
Blame parents and kids not teachers.
Expel kids that are messed up.
Expel kids that are violent.
Expel kids who don’t care. I don’t care what you do with them. Have them clean the highways, pick up litter, dig ditches but get them out of school. Have them go through garbage and pick out the recyclables. After a school year of that, ask them if they want to return to school

Oh yeah, make parents accountable.

last but not least give schools back their authority. ~Posted by Anon.

Our state just added more math and science, an extra credit each, to graduate. I strongly disagree with this approach. I think public schools need to realize that many students are not traditional college bound. Public schools should be adding vocational training, to teach hands on skills to the hundreds of thousands who will choose to go directly to the work force. Training in health care professions, automotive, aviation, computer etc. Many students in the next decade will opt for online classes and online colleges. More online high school classes should be offered (our large district does do this). ~Posted by Artaz

Some of your ideas reflect those I have heard elsewhere, both in person, and on other teacher sites.

Yes, the “eleven plus” test in England represented a great parting of the ways. I don’t know if the British still do that, but I am dubious about whether such an approach would work in America. We are just a tad bit more egalitarian than Europeans. I haven’t decided if that is good or bad.

Vocational education is something woefully under funded in this country, I agree. Not everyone seeks or needs a college degree.

Any more ideas out there? ~Posted by Bill T 8 NC

You asked our opinion. Here is mine. It’s long, but I have thought seriously about this issue.

1) Currently the rights of the individual outweigh the rights of the other 25 students in the classroom. This has got to stop. We have had several grades go through our system where the grades’ academic as a whole were so much lower than the norm. Guess which grades had students who destroyed the learning in their grades. We have to admit that one student can effect the learning in the classroom and stop allowing it to happen.

2) Bring back some semblance of a tracking system. My daughter’s 5th grade class has students reading everywhere from 10th grade to 1st grade. The math levels are 8th to 1st. There are 30 kids in the class and no paras. Needless to say the teacher teaches to the middle and the top and bottom get the short shift. This is way too much to ask of one teacher.

3) If schools are required to have a Special Ed program, they should be required to have a Gifted-Talented program. Start putting as much money in the GT kids as we do in the Special Ed programs. GT students should have IEP or some type of planned progression through school. Just like no two Spec Ed students are the same and there are different levels, the same is true for GT as well. There is a big difference from the child who is one standard deviation ahead than the one who is three. Administration understands this with Spec Ed students, but more often than not refuse to see it when dealing with GT students

4) Single subject acceleration and whole grade acceleration should be required and practiced on a regular basis. No teacher should be required to modify/differentiate for a student who is working two years above their grade level and no student should have to sit through a class two years below what they are capable of doing. When a child is this advanced, the one hour a day pull out programs simple are not enough. The child is advanced 24/7 not just for that hour.

5) If our job is to educate, then lets educate at lunch also. School lunches should be required to be healthy. Get rid of the candy/soda/snack machines in the schools. The best way to learn healthy eating is to do it everyday.

6) Teacher’s pay needs to be raised. We continually loose some of the best and brightest. If you are losing starting level teachers because they can’t afford to pay their rent and a car payment at the same time, your wages are to low.

7) The number of days that kids go to school each year needs to increase. Having three months off in the summer is very detrimental. We should not have the vacation industry dictating to us when kids should be in school (this happens in my state)

8) Parental and student accountability needs to be build into the system. Schools should be able to expel students who cause problems. There should be enough alternative placement positions to remove them from the regular classrooms.

9) The school accountability issue is not going to go away. To insist on radical changes for it to complete disappear is banging your head against a brick wall. Consequently not only will nothing get done, but you will get hurt in the process. So since accountability is here to stay, we need to work with in that framework and get the new accountability system fair to all and actually assessing what we want it to assess. The next couple of items address changes that need to occur in the testing area.

10) While schools need to be held accountable, so do the students. We need to test in a way that Johnny’s 3rd grade test scores are compared to his 4th grade test and measure his personal growth. Currently we compare this year’s 3rd graders to last year’s 3rd graders; there is no individual accountability there. A system such as this is being testing in a few states right now. We need to insist that if students are tested, we do it in a way that holds each individual student accountable and we as teacher can accurately see the needs of each individual student.

11) Expecting ESL students to take and pass the regular state tests within a year and a day, as our state requires, is ridiculous. We are experimenting with an ESL test to show their improvement year to year, if testing continues to be required, this should be how their AYP is measured. Both ESL and Spec ed teachers, who are currently in the field teaching, should be asked for input on testing in this area.

12) The requirements that the state gives the testing company should be the exact ones that the teachers receive. They should match the state standards explicitly. If the state gives the testing company any additional information such as explicitly which prefixes to test for in 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th, the teachers should get that information also. As apposed to the current system where they tell the testing companies exactly which ones to test for, but don’t specify in the state standards. This is only one example, it is amazing how much the information given to the teachers and the testing companies. Teacher’s unions should fight to see all correspondence between the state and the testing companies.

13) If there is testing, the required jump from 3rd grade to 4th grade should be the same as from 6th to 7th. There should be a consistent and even climb between the grades. In our state, we do wonderful on our 3rd grade test, but horrible on our 8th. Every year, everyone extols the wonders of our 3rd grade teachers and blames the JH teachers. But the 3rd graders scored virtually the same as the 7th and 8th graders on other tests such as the Iowa basics and a range of other tests. Maybe instead of screaming at the JH teachers, maybe the state officials should be inquiring whether or not the 3rd grade test to easy or the 8th grade test is to hard. No one ever thinks past the immediate test scores and looks at the big picture.

14) Currently there is an incredible range in the level of math required to pass a “3rd grade math” test across the fifty states. This applies to the other grades and subjects as well. One important recent study compared the state tests in all fifty states and the results are shocking. Some states requirements are 300% harder than other states. Most of the states that do the best on these NCLB tests and post the highest pass rates simply have the lowest requirements. The difference between the Colorado 3rd grade math test and Massachusetts is - to put it bluntly - ridiculous, unfair and defeats the whole idea of school accountability. If they are so serious about NCLB, maybe they should look at the children left behind in the states with the weakest requirements. If we are going to have accountability then it needs to be fair and equitable. There should not be such a huge discrepancy between the requirements of each individual states. ~Posted by Connie

I liked a lot of what the previous poster had to say. I will add a few more.

Namely de-emphasize sports, or more accurately, ensure that there is no question academics is more important than sports. At my last school, if a sports player got sent out of class for any reason, the coaches were notified and they ran stairs for the next practice. If a player’s grades fell below a C-, they stayed after school and worked with the teacher. The coaches informed the players that there were no exceptions to this rule, including game days. The amazing thing was this was it was all coach generated, it was bottom up decisions not top down. Yes, a few players quit, but only a few. The improvement in academics and behavior was very noticeable, especially with the boys. Behavior improved not only with the players, but others in the class as well. My new school does none of this and I can definitely tell the difference.

Other changes I would like to see with sports: 1.) The number of games both per week and per season should be reduced. Even some of the coaches are saying with the addition of all the tournaments it is getting nuts.

2.) There should be a time limit set as to what time the players’ bus gets back to the school on school nights. If I do not allow my child out at 11:30 for any other reason on a school night, why should I allow it for a basketball game? Superintendents and parents should put their foot down here.

3.) One of the questions coaches need to ask when kids get on the bus to go to away games is “Do you have your homework?” One of the parents complained to the school board when her junior varsity daughter got chewed out for doing her homework during the varsity game. Bus left before school was out and got back after 11:00, when did the coach expect her to do it, at 11:30 at night??

Notice I am not saying get rid of sports; quite the contrary.I believe that sports are a wonderful and needed addition to schools, but there should always be an emphasis of academics over sports and it should start with each and every coach. ~Posted by LbP

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