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Bridging Differences

‘We Are Lying to Our Children’

Four months ago, I wrote a Commentary in Education Week saying that it was time to kill NCLB and to write a different, better law. I argued that the law had failed: “It is dumbing down our children by focusing solely on reading and mathematics.”

Secretary Arne Duncan has acknowledged in his speeches that NCLB is “toxic.” Yet in a recent speech, he credits NCLB with expanding the standards and accountability movement.

Memo to Secretary Duncan: NCLB is the quintessence of the test-based accountability movement. It has nothing to do with standards. It contains no standards whatsoever. It encourages states to lower their standards by mandating that all children must be “proficient” by 2014, a goal that is beyond the reach of every district and every state unless they dumb down their standards.

For Secretary Duncan to associate NCLB with higher standards is a cruel joke. As he has often said (one of his favorite phrases), we have been “lying to our children” and their parents when we tell them they are proficient, but they are not. —Diane Ravitch


Learning The Language

As ELLs Like It

Christina Porter, literacy coach at Revere High School in Massachusetts, reports on teaching William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to classes of English-language learners. The students, in grades 9-12, had a level of English proficiency just below that in which they’d be considered able to succeed in a mainstream classroom.

One technique Porter used was to pick out lines from a scene and write each one on an index card. The students read the lines aloud to their classmates. Porter then asked them to write down as many words or lines as they could remember, including their own line. The students then predicted what the scene would be about.

Porter writes: “English-language learners experiment with their second language every day. I thought Shakespeare, a word artist and inventor of language, would be an ideal writer to use to further their exploration of English.” —Mary Ann Zehr


Inside School Research

Dyslexia Variations

Dyslexia looks distinctly different in native Chinese speakers from what it does in American children, a new study says.

In the U.S., children who aredyslexic have trouble detecting or manipulating the sound structure of oral language, and that, in turn, leads to problems mapping speech sounds onto letters. In China, though, dyslexia is both a phonological problem and a visuospatial disorder, researchers say.

In the study, researchers asked normal and dyslexic Chinese readers to judge the size of visual stimuli and found that the nondisabled readers excelled.

Worth noting for special education teachers and other educators who work with young children born speaking a language that is as visually different from English as Chinese is. —Debra Viadero


Leadertalk

Improving Literacy

Recently I attended a professional-development day for principals where we discussed the Carnegie report “Reading Next.” The meeting focused on the “Fifteen Key Elements of Effective Adolescent Literacy Programs.” The instructional elements, while not revolutionary, truly caught my attention and my imagination. They included the need to have explicit instruction in literacy across all disciplines, and an emphasis on reading and literacy that prepares students to deal with a “fast-paced, networked world.”

Educators who advocate integration of digital technologies and global connections in classrooms do so in part because these technologies inherently include literacy skills students need to master. As an advocate for ubiquitous access to technology and having just gone 1:1 in grades 6 to 8, I see an incredible opportunity unfolding to address all 15 of the key elements.

Here is the opportunity to see the efficacy of technology integration. A 1:1 environment is ready-made to explore diverse texts, to delve into text-based collaborative learning, and to encourage and support writing and publishing. The Carnegie report provides, for this principal, an interesting framework to move forward on the road to improve student learning. Anybody else coming along for the ride? —Barbara Barreda

Vol. 29, Issue 08, Page 10

Published in Print: October 21, 2009, as Blogs of the Week
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