Teaching and Learning

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Teachers Support Most Standards-Based Changes: Members of the American Federation of Teachers solidly support the greater demands being made on their schools, a new poll shows, but have serious questions about how standards- based improvements are being carried out.

While 73 percent of a national sample of AFT members agreed with the drive to raise academic standards, they expressed concern about the accompanying testing requirements. More than half the teachers surveyed said focusing on tests has narrowed the curriculum and omitted important areas. More than 60 percent said too much time was spent on test preparation, and 39 percent said testing was too frequent.

The poll of 1,075 K-12 teachers--with oversampling in Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas--was conducted by the Washington- based Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Albert Shanker Institute. The institute is a nonprofit organization formed in 1998 and named for the late president of the union. The poll also questioned 825 principals; the margin of error was 3.5 percentage points for principals and 4.4 percentage points for teachers.

Principals showed more enthusiasm for the standards movement than teachers, with 92 percent favoring initiatives that require higher levels of performance from schools and students. But 28 percent believed that the stricter standards were being implemented too quickly.

Teachers and principals agreed that standards have had a positive effect on curricula, teaching quality, professional development, teacher motivation, and student achievement, the poll found. Nearly two-thirds of teachers said their schools had made progress in meeting students' educational needs.

Eugenia Kemble

Still, 80 percent of teachers wanted additional time to learn new practices with their colleagues. "These teachers want more time for the kind of rich professional development that comes from sharing knowledge and expertise with colleagues," said Eugenia Kemble, the executive director of the institute.

But standards alone won't do the trick, poll respondents said. They also favored smaller class sizes, clearer discipline policies, better reading programs, the alignment of curricula with standards, and higher teacher salaries. On the last issue, 71 percent of principals backed higher salaries for teachers, compared with 64 percent of the teachers who responded.

Arts Enrichment: A compilation of recent research projects suggests that providing arts education as an integral part of the curriculum enhances student learning.

The report released last week, "Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning," found that students who are exposed to a variety of arts experiences in school "outperform 'arts poor' students on virtually every measure."

The research on which the report is based is both qualitative and quantitative, and includes:

  • An analysis of U.S. Department of Education data on 25,000 students that found that arts involvement produced significant returns in student success in other subjects. Students who studied music, for instance, tended to do better in mathematics than other students.
  • An examination of an educational arts partnership in some Chicago public schools that is credited with helping improve reading and math scores among some of the city's poorest children.
  • A survey of professional-development programs that found numerous ways for teachers to deepen learning through integrated-arts projects.

The report was sponsored by the GE Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Arts Education Partnership, and the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, writing in the introduction, said the findings would help "address ways that our nation's educational goals may be realized through enhanced arts learning."

For free copies of the report, call the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities at (202) 682-5409.

Teacher Education Project Expands: A project that seeks to help universities overhaul their teacher education programs to strengthen teachers' academic knowledge and instructional skills is expanding.

The Standards-Based Teacher Education Project, co-sponsored by the Council for Basic Education and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, has added six new campuses in Indiana and Kentucky. The project started with three schools in Georgia in 1997 and expanded to four Maryland campuses last year.

Over a three-year period, teams of university faculty members from the arts and sciences and K-12 teachers will work together to design programs that can prepare new teachers to help schoolchildren reach state standards.

The new Indiana campuses are Ball State University, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, and the University of Indianapolis. In Kentucky, the initiative is being launched at Morehead State University, the University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University.

Using grants distributed under Title II of the federal Higher Education Act of 1998, Georgia and Maryland are expanding the venture to other campuses in their states.

Giving Members a Break: The United Federation of Teachers, the nation's largest local union affiliate, is cutting the rate of dues for its 140,000 members.

The dues reduction, the first in the UFT's 39-year history, is being described as a matter of economic fairness for members. But it's also strategically smart for the American Federation of Teachers affiliate.

Randi Weingarten

"One of the points we'll be making in our upcoming contract negotiations is that our hard-working members deserve more money in their pockets," Randi Weingarten, the UFT's president, said in announcing the move. "So even if it's going to mean a lot of belt-tightening for the union, we want to hold the line on this."

A teacher in the New York City public schools now pays about $708 in annual local dues, according to the union. That amount would rise to $811 under the salary increase teachers are to receive in January. The rate reduction would set dues at $747--still an increase, but a savings of $64 per member over the scheduled hike.

Total annual savings for members, including paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, and 33,600 retired members, is estimated at more than $7 million. The union's budget is $76 million.

Teacher Scholarship: One of the most frustrating aspects of teaching is that expert practitioners have no systematic way to pass along their knowledge. But the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is trying to change that.

The foundation's new Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, or CASTL, will support scholarship on teaching in K-12 and teacher education programs.

"Viewing teaching as scholarly work is essential," Lee Shulman, the president of the foundation, said in announcing the program. "Through CASTL, we seek to render teaching public, subject to critical evaluation, and usable by others in the field and in the research community."

To accomplish those goals, the program is pursuing three avenues. First is a national fellowship program that will bring together outstanding teachers and teacher-educators who will document their teaching and share it with others. The first 20 such Carnegie scholars, who will study for two years, were announced this fall.

The foundation, based in Menlo Park, Calif., also wants to forge partnerships with organizations, institutions, and networks dedicated to improving teaching and learning. In addition, the program will collect and exhibit a range of products that make teaching "public," including research articles, case studies, and Internet sites.

Grading Texts: A leading science group has received funding to grade high school math and science textbooks, just as it has done for middle school texts.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science will review algebra and biology books and rate them on how well they help students learn under the Benchmarks for Science Literacy, which the group adopted in 1994. The reports are scheduled for release next year. A $415,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York will underwrite the project.

In its report on middle school texts, the AAAS gave mixed grades to mathematics books and declared that most science books failed to give students an understanding of the principles of science.

Once its high school project is finished, the AAAS plans to conduct a similar review of elementary textbooks.

--Ann Bradley, David J. Hoff,
& Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
[email protected]

Vol. 19, Issue 9, Page 8

Published in Print: October 27, 1999, as Teaching and Learning
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