March 1996

Teacher, Vol. 07, Issue 06
Education Communities Of Learners
More than a decade ago, Ann Brown and Annemarie Palincsar perfected a technique for improving children's reading comprehension. The approach, "Reciprocal Teaching,'' was simple: Teach children to use the same strategies that expert readers use to get a handle on difficult text. Students learn to ask for clarification when they come upon words they don't know, to periodically stop and summarize the passages they read, to ask questions about the text, and to predict what they will find in the reading ahead.
March 1, 1996
2 min read
School Choice & Charters School For Thought
Perched atop laboratory stools, eight students in Freda Hill's 7th grade science class are swapping notes about their field trip the day before to a local steam-heating plant. "The Ashley Street plant has been operating since 1988," says a small blond girl. "It was called a trash energy facility, but at the time, there were a lot of problems with environmental systems." Another girl volunteers that the pipes carrying water to the plant are 22 miles long and 2 feet in diameter.
March 1, 1996
11 min read
Education Who Is Jasper Woodbury?
In 1989, John Bransford and his colleagues at the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt University asked two groups of students to read various passages of technical information. Members of the first group, called the "facts oriented'' group, were told to remember as much as they could from the passages they had read. Members of the second group, the "problem oriented'' group, were asked to read the text as though they were planning a trip down the Amazon River.
March 1, 1996
1 min read
Education Findings
Can Big Bird Read?: Bert, Ernie, and Big Bird may be good at teaching preschoolers the alphabet, but when it comes to teaching reading, they may be delivering the wrong kinds of messages. So say two researchers who analyzed 10 episodes of the popular children's public-television show Sesame Street to see whether it reflects current thinking on the development of children's literacy skills. Writing in the current issue of The Reading Teacher, Barbara Fowles Mates and Linda Strommen note that of the 350 segments they viewed, only 184 had literacy-related content. Those bits focused mostly on the names, shapes, and sounds of individual letters. What the researchers wanted to see instead was more emphasis on the context in which words appear and on the usefulness and pleasures of reading. They note, for instance, that examples of environmental print, such as street signs, logos, posters, or book jackets, cropped up only 21 times in all the shows. If stories were conveyed at all to children, they were translated into colloquial language. "And,'' the authors point out, "in 10 hours of programming, people were actually seen reading or writing (even as a background activity) on only nine occasions. Preschoolers cannot be expected to have much interest in letters if their role in creating meaning is not made clear.''
March 1, 1996
3 min read
Student Well-Being A Cry For Help
When a teenage girl walks out of a health clinic with a negative pregnancy test, there's a good chance she'll be back. A new national study by Johns Hopkins University researchers found that one out of four girls who become pregnant by age 17 has had an earlier negative test result at a clinic.
March 1, 1996
1 min read
Teaching Profession Dismissed Teachers Fight Back
Fourteen teachers who were fired when the Wilkinsburg, Pa., school board turned over management of an elementary school to a private company have won a round in their battle to get their jobs back.
March 1, 1996
1 min read
Education Current Events
Merry Prankster
The Bellevue, Wash., school district has settled out of court with a high school senior who was punished last year for creating a satirical computer "home page" about his school. Paul Kim posted the spoof of the Seattle-area Newport High School on the Internet's World Wide Web, with electronic links to sexually explicit areas on the network. School officials withdrew Kim's endorsement for a National Merit Scholarship and revoked recommendations to seven colleges where he had applied. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington threatened to file suit against the district, contending that it violated Kim's First Amendment right of free speech. Last month, the district apologized to Kim, who is now a freshman at Columbia University. The district paid him $2,000 and will seek to have him reinstated as a National Merit finalist.
March 1, 1996
5 min read
Education Funding Growing Pains
Cuyler Reid admits that the finer points of school finance escape her. Meeting a payroll and managing cash flow were not what attracted the former teacher to the idea of creating the Valley Academy charter school in Phoenix. But Reid and her colleagues at the academy have been consumed with the task of making ends meet since they opened their K-10 school--Arizona's largest charter school--this past fall.
March 1, 1996
6 min read
Education Connections
March 1, 1996
1 min read
School & District Management Charter District?
If charter schools are competition to most public school officials, Randy Bos has decided to throw in the towel. The superintendent of the 1,200-student Montabella school district in Edmore, Mich., has recommended that each of the district's five schools become charter schools.
March 1, 1996
2 min read
Education Learning On-Line
After years of research on the development of writing skills, Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education set out to create a classroom environment that would promote the acquisition of higher-level cognitive skills within the context of a given subject area. The Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environment--or CSILE--was the result.
March 1, 1996
1 min read
Meeting District Needs Hartford Dumps EAI
The nation's most extensive experiment in private management of public schools sputtered to an end in January, when the Hartford, Conn., school board voted to end its partnership with Education Alternatives Inc. in a dispute over finances.
March 1, 1996
4 min read
Education Extra Credit
DEADLINES
Following is a list of application deadlines for grants, fellowships, and honors available to individuals. Asterisks (
March 1, 1996
28 min read
Education Books
THE GIRLS IN THE BACK OF THE CLASS, by LouAnne Johnson. (St. Martin's Press, $21.95.) Is it a "treatment'' for Hollywood or a nonfiction book about teaching? It's hard to say, though the evidence leans toward the former. After all, how many education books are promoted as a "sequel to the major motion picture'' or acknowledge an actress like Michelle Pfeiffer, who starred in the film version of Johnson's first book, My Posse Don't Do Homework? But what truly makes this seem like a Hollywood schtick is the stereotypical preposterousness of the characters, which sometimes are, Johnson tellingly informs us, "composites of two or more people.'' Her students, who attend a special program for endangered students at a high school near Palo Alto, Calif., are the archetypical tough kids who just need someone to really care about them--someone like Johnson, of course. She loves them so much--too damn much she tells her therapist--that even the most hardened break down in tears before her and vow to change their lives. In one scene, for example, Rico, a hoodlum with a soft heart--in Johnson's world, all students have, at bottom, soft hearts--drives Johnson to the San Mateo Bridge whence he flings his gun into the bay below. "Suenos con los Angelistos,'' he tells Johnson. Of course, such tender scenes are not for everyone, and so Johnson, a real-life ex-Marine (with a soft heart, of course), gives us plenty of Rocky Balboa-like confrontations, too. She challenges a threatening student to "come over here and kick my ass''; she puts a sexually suggestive student in his place by saying to him, "I'm old enough to be your mama, honey bun. But when you're 21, you call me, and I will wear you out.'' As ludicrous as most of the melodrama is, it must be acknowledged that Johnson does make some good points about the effects of poverty and despair on her students. She astutely notes, for example, that her students are so accustomed to failure that they sabotage their own chances for success, such as when a couple of students scorn an opportunity to work for a computer company. Finally, though, Johnson's narcissistic focus upon her own heroic exertions blind the reader to any possible insights. We can't help wondering: Would we want a teacher so focused on herself to be teaching our own children? "Sometimes,'' Johnson muses about her classroom work, "I'm a better actress than teacher.'' Based on what we read here, she just may be right.
March 1, 1996
4 min read
Education Report Roundup
Following is a guide to recent reports in education and related fields.
March 1, 1996
4 min read
Teaching Profession Trading Places
When it comes to their views on what needs to be done to make schools work better, the nation's two major teachers' unions seem to have switched places over the past year.
March 1, 1996
5 min read
School Choice & Charters Voucher Plan Heads To Court
Opponents of Ohio's recently approved plan to give low-income parents in Cleveland vouchers to send their children to private and religious schools went to court in January in an effort to block it.
March 1, 1996
2 min read
Education Correction
The February feature article on Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, incorrectly stated that an AFT affiliate in Seattle went on strike for 25 days in 1985; in fact, it was the Seattle affiliate of the National Education Association. The large AFT local that went on strike that fall was the Chicago Teachers Union.
March 1, 1996
1 min read
Education More Cross-Subject Courses, Please
Interdisciplinary courses are catching on at high schools across America. Such offerings as Science, Technology, and Society; Multimedia Technology in the Arts; and History and Art of the Pacific Rim all demonstrate that courses can not only have long names but can also fulfill requirements in a variety of subject areas. The only problem with these courses is that there simply aren't enough of them. Interdisciplinary studies are the hottest thing to hit education since detention, but even the largest schools rarely offer more than a handful. To help teachers and administrators extend their thinking to areas they may not have considered, I have devised several new cross-subject courses for the 1996-97 school year. Here are a few that belong in every high school curriculum:
March 1, 1996
3 min read
Reading & Literacy Who's Afraid Of R.L. Stine?
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I found myself in the children's department of a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Denver, listening to a group of kids talk about . . . shrunken heads.
David Hill, March 1, 1996
20 min read
Curriculum Revival
Poll after poll has demonstrated that among the Western industrialized nations Americans are the most religious. As the English once believed in the supremacy of the British Empire, so do Americans--90 percent of them--believe in God. But the small yet growing numbers of public school teachers who teach about religion say religious belief, at least among their students, is as shallow as it is wide. And their lack of understanding about religion seems to confirm that.
David Ruenzel, March 1, 1996
25 min read
Education Opinion Making Summer Count
The calendar for the U.S. education system is based on our agrarian past. For three months in June, July, and August, families were busy tending crops and bringing in the harvest.
Lee Gaillard, March 1, 1996
5 min read
Education Letter to the Editor Letters
A Teacher First
When I first read Henry Cotton's commentary in the February issue ["Academics vs. Athletics''] on why interscholastic sports may be the number-one impediment to improving schools, I thought, "Is this guy serious?'' I usually do not react to attacks on my character and profession with retaliation, but I take great offense at many of the points he makes in the article. You see, I am one of those hurtful "soft science'' teacher/coaches he refers to. I have to wonder if sometime during his life he was either cut from the football squad or the local high school hero beat him up and took his girlfriend.
March 1, 1996
12 min read
Education Opinion Computers And Swans
This morning, I received an e-mail message informing me that we now have 236 computers on our campus.
Nicholas S. Thacher, March 1, 1996
6 min read
Special Education What's Right For Rafael?
Jeanne Oberti speeds her family's white minivan past a Gloucester Township school bus and then navigates a turn off the twisting two-lane road at a stand selling Jersey tomatoes. Eventually, she pulls up in front of Ambassador Christian Academy, a stucco building with three white crosses rising from the manicured grass, and there she unloads her four children. Her eldest, 11-year-old Rafael, heaves a backpack over his shoulder and walks down the hallway to Arlene Burnett's 4th grade classroom. Rafael spends this Monday morning tracing his name in cursive and then slowly printing the numbers and letters that tell where he lives. A classroom aide reminds him to cross his t's and dot his i's.
Lynn Schnaiberg & Benjamin Tice Smith, March 1, 1996
28 min read