Connecticut Teachers Practicing What Teaching Tome Preaches

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With the constant stream of reports and recommendations about education reform, it's tempting to wonder whether anybody's listening.

But in New Haven, Conn., 25 teachers are about to graduate from a new master's-degree program at Southern Connecticut State University that was sparked by one of the weightier tomes: the 1995 report by the Holmes Group called "Tomorrow's Schools of Education."

The document by the higher education group--which has since changed its name and refocused its mission to become the Holmes Partnership, based in Columbus, Ohio--caught the attention of Frank Carrano, the president of the 1,300-member New Haven Federation of Teachers. The report's condemnation of the disconnection between teacher preparation programs and schools "was so on target," Mr. Carrano said in a recent interview.

So he picked up the phone and called Michael Adanti, the president of the university, which trains many of New Haven's teachers. The result was a committee that eventually designed a new master's program in urban teaching that is designed to support classroom teachers, rather than push them into administration.

The 25 teachers enrolled in the program as a cohort, taking classes co-taught by Southern Connecticut State professors and New Haven teachers and administrators. The teachers are now a network that keeps in close touch, said Peter Barile, the chairman of the university's education department, sharing the classroom-oriented projects they designed for the program.

Based on good word of mouth from the first cohort, the university and the 20,000-student district have decided to offer the same program to another 27 teachers in the fall. In addition, 46 teachers who already have a master's have signed up for classes to earn certificates as "classroom teacher specialists" and refine their teaching skills. They will focus heavily on New Haven's curriculum frameworks and performance standards.

Rodney Lane, the dean of the school of education, called the teachers' interest in the program "overwhelming." All the teachers pay their own tuition.

"What this says to me is that you can take something that has become so mundane over time--such as the ubiquitous master's that all teachers need to get--and turn it into something exciting, rewarding, and meaningful just by spending some time with the idea," Mr. Carrano said.

As a truce continues to elude pundits and politicians still waging "the reading wars," those who actually teach children to read apparently refuse to take sides, based on the results of a recent survey.

The report, published in this month's issue of The Reading Teacher, a publication of the International Reading Association, shows that the vast majority of elementary teachers do not embrace only "whole language" or "phonics" in their reading instruction. Rather, they combine elements of both approaches--comprehending from context and sounding out letters and words--as they tailor their own curricula.

"The most striking thing is that teachers are sort of unimpressed with the extremes, or the rhetoric of the debate," said James F. Baumann, a professor of reading instruction at the University of Georgia in Athens and one of the authors. "Instead, they create programs they believe work for children."

Among the 1,207 educators who responded to the survey, 89 percent said they believe in "a balanced approach to reading instruction which combines skills development with literature and language skills." By contrast, 34 percent considered themselves "a whole-language teacher," and just 22 percent said they would "describe themselves as a 'traditionalist' when it comes to reading methods and materials."

The educators' belief in an eclectic approach also was backed up by descriptions of how they spend their time. Of the approximately 2.5 hours the teachers, on average, devoted to reading instruction each day, they spent about 55 minutes on "teacher-directed reading skill or strategy instruction"; 42 minutes on "applying, practicing, and extending reading instruction"; and 46 minutes on "language arts instruction and practice."

The mix did appear to change depending on the teacher's grade level. For example, 58 percent of 1st grade teachers said they spent "considerable" time on phonics instruction, while only 3 percent of 4th and 5th grade teachers said they did so.

Such results show teachers unswayed by the larger debate over how to teach reading, and instead willing to adapt instruction to the particular needs of their classes, the authors write. "It would be nice to think that this would help others move beyond the debate," Mr. Baumann said.

Slightly larger percentages of college-bound girls than boys took high school geometry and second-year algebra last year, according to surveys by ACT Inc. The Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT also found that, since 1987, young women who were college bound had increased their enrollment in math courses significantly more than young men had.

The proportion of college-bound girls enrolled in geometry barely edged out boys--93 percent to 92 percent--last year. Similarly, 89 percent of the girls said they had taken or planned to take Algebra, vs. 88 percent of the boys.

Ten years before, 87 percent of college-bound boys and 84 percent of girls were enrolled in geometry. Algebra attracted 78 percent of boys and 74 percent of girls in 1987.

More college-bound boys than girls, however, continue to take trigonometry and calculus.

ACT based the trend data on random, representative samples of 10 percent of seniors in 1987 and in 1997 who took the ACT college-entrance exam and said they had taken, were enrolled in, or were planning to take the math courses before high school graduation. Roughly 950,000 seniors took the exam last year. The survey results have a 95 percent probability of being accurate to within plus or minus .005 percentage points.

Participation in sports may lead to greater achievement in science among white girls, says a study by two researchers at Catholic University of America in Washington.

Sandra Hanson

An examination of data on more than 20,000 high school students in 1980 and 1982, nearly a decade after the federal Title IX law forbade sex discrimination in athletic and other programs in schools receiving federal funds, concludes that involvement in sports helped the girls develop the confidence and drive to succeed in science courses. The researchers, Sandra Hanson and Rebecca Kraus, looked at students' attitudes toward science, the number of science courses they took, and their grades and achievement on standardized tests. The research was controlled for such variables as socioeconomic status, family influences, and work environment.

They are beginning to analyze data on students from the early 1990s to determine if the effects are continuing.

"Women tend to think of successes as being due to luck and something beyond their control," Ms. Hanson said in an interview. Sports "create changes in how women perceive themselves and their talent and abilities," which gives them more confidence to succeed in difficult academic subjects, she said.

The study, which was published in the April issue of the journal Sociology of Education, found that boys and African-American girls who participated in sports did not gain the same benefits. Black girls, they said, tend to have the self-confidence and other characteristics necessary to succeed in science without sports participation.

Enhancing the skills and knowledge of K-12 math and science teachers is the aim of a new professional-development initiative by the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Project 2061, based in Washington.

A three-year, $2 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based philanthropy, supports the venture. The idea is to train teachers in how to choose effective curriculum materials and devise successful teaching and testing approaches based on national goals for what students should know and be able to do in science.

The Pew grant, which begins June 1, will enable Project 2061 to provide more than 500 workshops nationwide in the first three years of the program, including training a cadre of workshop leaders.


Vol. 17, Issue 36, Page 6

Published in Print: May 20, 1998, as Connecticut Teachers Practicing What Teaching Tome Preaches
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