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It’s (Not) Raining Men, Tales Out of Ed School, and Reviewing the New SAT

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, March 11-17.

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More than a few good men are needed in the teaching profession these days. The percentage of male educators in U.S. classrooms is the lowest it’s been in 40 years, down to just 21 percent. Why, exactly? MenTeach, a nonprofit that promotes the recruitment of guys, claims that low pay has something to do with it but that stereotyping—the idea that men shouldn’t do “women’s work” or work so closely with children—is an even bigger deterrent. That may be why only 9 percent of elementary school educators are men. Which is too bad, according to Liberty Jones, a 4th grade teacher in Oregon. “In my experience, moms tend to be the ones staying home or helping kids out with their homework,” she says. “Having a male teacher gives students a different perspective and shows that men care about education and learning, too.”

Those who care about the way educators are trained might be alarmed by a new study suggesting that ed schools are doing a lousy job. Supervising the four-year, 28-school survey is Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College at Columbia University, and he says that programs for future administrators, in particular, range from “inadequate to appalling.” They’re not much more than a “grab bag of survey courses” having little to do with the realities of running a school, the report argues. And Levine is calling for an overhaul of degrees—for example, substituting a more practical, MBA-like master of educational administration for the lofty EdD. “To ignore this warning,” he says, “is to allow leadership education programs in America to fade away.”

“Not Fade Away” should be the SAT’s theme song. Following years of complaints about the all-important college entrance exam, the College Board recently revamped it, and the first 330,000 SAT-takers offer mixed reviews. “It’s more fair with an essay,” says one 16-year-old. “The writing portion asks for your opinion, and it reflects the real you much better than vocabulary and other technical questions.” But some say it’s too long, clocking in at 45 extra minutes, for a total of almost four hours. There are also three sections (writing, critical reading, and math), not just two, meaning that a “perfect score” is now 2400. The biggest change, the addition of the 25-minute essay, is the most talked-about part of the new SAT, with some worrying it can’t be graded objectively, others that the allotted time isn’t enough to craft a thoughtful piece. One Florida student offers this message: “A note to the College Board: Give more time on the essay section.”

Note to toy companies: You can learn something from the students at Northwestern University, where the Children’s Culture class is creating homemade educational toys geared toward elementary schoolers. After immersing themselves in childhood development theories, the college students came up with products like “Neverending Storybook,” an empty volume that with the aid of prompts, markers, and whiteboard pages, encourages kids to write their own stories. And a Web site, SNEAK: The Secret Network for Espionage Activity by Kids, allows children to go on “missions” in their homes, print out ID cards, and share spy stories, all while learning computer skills. Justine Cassell, who taught the class and serves as a consultant for outfits like Mattel and Fisher-Price, says: “One thing toy companies have trouble knowing how to build is toys that encourage open-ended play. I try to bring them ways to build creative, imaginative language play.”

“Creative” is one way to describe 3rd grader Saje Beard’s commute: She rides a mule to school. Saje lives in a farming community just south of Bismarck, North Dakota, and Ruth gets her to the one-room, K-4 schoolhouse in about half an hour. “I feel more safe with her riding a mule than having her ride in a car or on a bus,” explains Saje’s father, Marty, who made his daughter a coonskin cap for the winter. He won’t, however, let Saje hit the road when the temperature is lower than zero. Ruth’s “fuel” consists of corn and sweet peas, and she wears carbide-studded shoes to make sure she doesn’t slip on the ice. Mules, Marty says, are also very protective of their riders. So if anyone might hassle Saje, he says, “[Ruth] would probably implant those special shoes on their forehead.”

We’ll make sure to steer clear.

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