Thursday, December 14, 2006

Truth In Advertising

For once, What You See Is What You Get. From, the UFT blog. A good point, even though there's more shilling for UFTTC. "Meanwhile, recent results on the NAEP Science tests are cause for concern about the achievement gap here in NY. In a recent article in The New York Sun, Diane Ravitch tells us, “The low scores of white students explain the relatively small performance gap, compared to other big cities, between different racial groups, about which the city’s Department of Education has boasted. The achievement gap is smaller not because minority students are doing well in the city, but because white students are doing so poorly.”
That the gap has narrowed because white scores have decreased is clearly not good news. Ravitch concludes (and I suspect that many educators would agree) that students “are not progressing because the department is committed solely to test scores and not to learning. … Students are spending endless hours practicing to take tests and taking tests, but are not gaining the knowledge, vocabulary, and understanding that come from the study of science and history and other neglected subjects.”
Ravitch’s has long been critical of the anti-content programs instituted by Klein, which emphasize skill development and test prep over a focus on content knowledge. Her conclusion that students in NY are “not gaining knowledge [and] vocabulary…” reflects that position.
If students are not getting the knowledge and vocabulary development they need, that’s bad news. What is heartening, however, is what happens next. Because another educator – Dr. Kathleen M Cashin – has apparently shared Ravitch’s concern. Cashin heads up the public schools in NY’s Region 5, and Region 5 has made significant educational gains in spite of Klein by focusing on knowledge deficit concerns and by implementing the content intensive programs that Klein has ignored, and that Ravitch and others have championed.
In fact, according to an article in today’s Times, Cashin’s schools have “consistently posted the best total gains on annual reading and math tests, outpacing other regions with similar legacies of low achievement.”
How has Cashin and her teachers done it? Mostly by bucking the Klein system. (She ignores the Leadership academy; she promotes educators, and — most importantly! – she uses UFT Teacher Center for professional development).
But more specifically Cashin has recognized, like Ravitch, that kids – and poor kids in particular – “need to expand the knowledge base, expand the vocabulary, expand the experience base, and that only comes with good and rich curriculum.”
Most likely, Cashin and Ravitch are both responding to the research Tough highlights in his Times article, the landmark research of Hart and Risley, who have documented the ways that language and knowledge deficits can plague children of poverty. Tough implies the deficits must be addressed in order for these kids to succeed, but he never quite tells us how the charters address them (he focuses instead on the behavioral modification aspects of the charters). But Chasin does address these concerns in her public schools. As she says, schools need to “expand the knowledge base, expand the vocabulary. In fact, the “good and rich curriculum” that Cashin has implemented was developed by E.D. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge foundation, with the findings of Hart and Risley in mind. Says the Times, “responding to research showing that impoverished children often lack vocabulary and basic facts, [Cashin] has adopted a curriculum called Core Knowledge, which teaches basics like the principles of constitutional government, events in world history and well-known literature.”

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