Teaching & Learning

March 21, 2001 8 min read
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Many Districts Are Not Using Academic Standards To Design Professional Training

Despite the nationwide push to set higher expectations for academic performance, many districts are not ensuring that teachers know how to help students measure up against those new standards, the results of a study suggest.

In a poll of 212 of its members, the National Staff Development Council found that barely half were in districts where state performance standards were used as a basis for designing staff training. Nationwide, more than 8,000 curriculum-development coordinators, school administrators, and other educators belong to the Oxford, Ohio- based NSDC.

The organization’s new report also shows that many school systems are making only a limited investment in any kind of professional development— either in time or money. About 38 percent of those who responded to the survey reported that their districts set aside just three days a year for training.

And about 70 percent said their school systems devoted less than 5 percent of their annual budgets to professional development.

For More Information

A summary of the NSDC Member Survey 2001 is available from the National Staff Development Council.

“The people who set the priorities for our schools seem to think of students as the only individuals whose job it is to learn,” the NSDC’s executive director, Dennis Sparks, writes in a statement released with the report. “That attitude could sabotage the ability of public schools to improve student achievement.”

Accrediting Transformation

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has been transformed from young debutante to mature sophisticate over the past decade, adding significantly to the list of colleges and universities it reviews and emerging as a major player in both state and national education policy, boasts a 10-year progress report written by the organization.

Since 1991, the 47-year-old Washington-based organization has expanded the number of institutions whose teacher-training programs it accredits from 500 to 600, made standards more relevant and meaningful, and aligned them with pre-K-12 competencies, said President Arthur E. Wise, who took the helm 10 years ago.

For More Information

The report, “A Decade of Growth 1991– 2001,” is available from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Furthermore, the organization has fostered partnerships with 46 states and now completes concurrent accrediting procedures with them—a move that saves institutions and states both time and money, Mr. Wise said.

To date, 28 states have adopted NCATE accreditation as the standard for state accreditation. In addition, NCATE standards have been aligned with those of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., that has extensive—and intensive— benchmarks for what highly qualified teachers should know and be able to do.

Temporary Truce

Textbook publishers met recently with some of their severest critics to seek ways to improve the curriculum materials used in science classrooms.

Representatives from all the major publishing houses attended the four-day workshop in Washington, where they hashed over the reasons why the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued failing grades to their biology and middle school texts.

The textbooks too often are overloaded with information and fail to convey scientific principles that make that information relevant, the science association’s Project 2061 says. (“Science Group Bemoans Quality of Biology Textbooks,” July 12, 2000.) At the meeting held Feb. 27 through March 2, representatives of Project 2061 showed publishers and curriculum developers how the textbooks were evaluated and why the books had failed to meet the group’s standards. The publishers then studied available research on student learning and began seeking ways they could improve their products.

“It was a good opportunity to go through the criteria in a lot of depth and see the good examples and bad examples,” said Daniel A. Rogers, the editorial director for science for McDougal Littell, a division of the Boston-based Houghton-Mifflin Co. “It’s all to the good in trying to address the issues and draw on the research base.”

The conference succeeded in shifting the dynamics away from Project 2061’s criticisms to efforts to improve the materials, according to the project’s director. “We’ve established a good communication link,” said the director, George D. Nelson. “That’s the first step on a long journey. Now, we need to figure out how we can work with consumers.”

Project 2061 this summer will invite state policymakers to talk about what they look for when they buy textbooks and what changes they need to make to fit Project 2061’s goals. In the fall, it will host both policymakers and publishers to discuss ways to combine their interests.

“The challenges will be addressed at that conference,” Mr. Rogers said.

Return to UNESCO?

Citing the role of UNESCO in raising literacy in underdeveloped countries—particularly among women and girls—the International Reading Association is urging President Bush to reconsider the United States’ withdrawal from the United Nations group more than a decade ago. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization “can and does increase the number of people who are literate,” Alan E. Farstrup writes in a recent letter to the president. Mr. Farstrup is the executive director of the Newark, Del.-based reading organization, which has 90,000 members worldwide. “Without such literacy skills,” he writes, “the bonds of poverty are almost impossible to break.”

Mr. Farstrup argues that if the high levels of illiteracy in Third World countries are not addressed, those nations will have difficulty participating in the world economy and building or maintaining democracy.

The United States was a founding member of UNESCO in 1946, but it withdrew its affiliation in 1984 amid allegations of UNESCO officials’ mismanagement and efforts to censor the press. The restructuring of the organization, which now has 188 members, over the past few years has addressed those issues, its defenders say. In 1997, President Clinton expressed his desire to have the United States rejoin UNESCO, but cited concerns about the cost of the membership fee of approximately $60 million a year.

White House officials said last week they were unsure of Mr. Bush’s position on the issue.

UNESCO’s purpose is to promote world peace through international collaboration in education, science, culture, and communications. From 1966 to 1975, it sponsored the World Experimental Literacy Program. It has overseen major education initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1980. And, in 1984, it started Education for All, a project to promote educational access for children around the world.

Arts Expansion

The Center for Arts Education will continue its push to make arts education available in more New York City public schools, thanks to a second $12 million challenge grant from the Annenberg Foundation, officials announced last week.

“This will allow us to extend and deepen our work in arts education,” said Hollis Headrick, the center’s executive director. “We’re moving away from being known simply as a grantmaker to being viewed as a facilitator, a program developer, and an advocate for arts education.”

As a result of the center’s initiatives, and an intensive public-awareness campaign, the New York mayor’s office has targeted $75 million a year from a new tax levy to pay for arts specialists, professional-development programs, and art supplies. The city’s board of education has promised another $2.5 million. The combination of those contributions has meant $250 million annually for the arts in the 1.1 million- student school system.

The Manhattan-based center was created by the Annenberg Foundation five years ago to help rebuild arts programs in the nation’s largest school district. Those programs had long suffered from budget cuts and had been eliminated from the curriculum in most of New York’s 1,100 schools. (“Classroom Renaissance,” May 10, 2000.) The center is credited with helping to reignite interest in arts education and for positioning the subject—long viewed as just a supplement to the curriculum—as a strong motivator for students and an integral part of school improvement efforts.

Annenberg’s original $12 million grant was matched by $24 million in public and private contributions. The money was distributed as grants to more than 80 schools for projects to build community partnerships, encourage parent participation, and provide professional development in the arts. While the the additional money will provide grants to a limited number of other schools, the center hopes to extend its reach throughout the school system through curriculum-development projects, advocacy, and promoting the elements of model programs.

“The center will always play a role as a catalyst,” Mr. Headrick said. “It is supporting what the board of education is doing, and engaging in activities that show the rest of the system” successful programs.

Literacy Center Forming

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., will extend their work in literacy with a new research center aimed at improving programs for parents and children.

The William F. Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy was established with a $6 million endowment from the federal education spending bill signed by President Clinton in December. The center is named for recently retired U.S. Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who championed literacy initiatives as the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He will head the institute’s board of advisers.

Penn State’s college of education is also home to the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy. The two institutes will collaborate to write and publish materials and to create and offer a family- literacy course through Penn State World Campus. The new institute will also work with the National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville, Ky., to help develop research-based instructional programs for the field.

—Jeff Archer, Julie Blair, David J. Hoff, & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as Teaching & Learning


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