January 1992

This Issue
Vol. 03, Issue 04

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Today's students can learn Russian via satellite from an instructor in another state, plumb the depths of the Mediterranean Sea while sitting in a classroom in rural Maine, tap into a university's library system without leaving their school, or engage in a sophisticated laboratory experiment simulated on a computer screen.

Their teachers can "talk'' to colleagues across town or across the state by plugging into a computer network. Administrators can call up financial data or student information at the flick of a switch. And parents can pick up the telephone to receive recorded messages about their children's homework.

A Tragedy Of Errors

If on a test, a student described Sputnik as "the first successful intercontinental ballistic missile launched by the Soviet Union,'' the teacher would undoubtedly send the pupil back to the textbook for the right answer.

Autumn Of Discontent

Hard economic times often translate into hard times at the bargaining table. That has certainly been the case this past fall for teachers and school boards in many districts across the nation. As a result, the number of teacher strikes this year has far outdistanced last year's pace. In fact, by mid-November, the nation was only five strikes shy of the 199091 school-year total of 84.

Every year, Michael Connolly begins teaching his high school students about Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas by asking them what they know about the famous explorer.

"Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492,'' someone usually volunteers. Another student offers the names of Columbus's three ships--the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Someone else points out that Columbus misnamed the Indians he encountered because he thought he had reached the Indies.

Computerized telephone greetings have become commonplace in this day and age. At San Jose State University in California, though, the greeting is just the beginning.

The caller is told to push button number three to access faculty and staff listings, and then she is instructed to spell out the party's surname on the telephone keypad. On the first attempt, the caller accidentally scrambles the letters. The computer politely suggests that "perhaps the name is spelled differently.''

To the guardians of the many disciplines that make up the school curriculum, the national goals for education spell trouble; it's not what the goals say that has these curriculum advocates worried--it's what they don't say.

One goal states, for example, that American students should be first in the world in mathematics and science by the year 2000. There is no goal, by contrast, on the arts or foreign languages.

Is ability grouping within an elementary school classroom an effective method for teaching math? Until recently, most research said yes. But a new study of roughly 2,000 4th-6th graders suggests that grouping, in certain circumstances, may not produce the best results.

In 1988, DeWayne Mason, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Riverside, conducted a research project involving math classes in nine elementary schools in the Columbia, Mo., school district. The schools were typical of many in the United States: Students came from fairly similar backgrounds, and their range of math abilities was not as wide as in some urban districts. Moreover, the teachers often swapped a few students for math instruction, so that classes were made up of children of similar abilities. Most math teachers then divided their classes into high- and low-ability groups, teaching each group at a pace tailored to its needs.

I don't know when relevance in education was invented, but it sure wasn't around when I was in elementary school 50 or so years ago. And I say, "Thank goodness!''

Two years ago, when Wendy Carlson decided to go back to school to get her teaching credentials, the future looked bright for people who wanted to teach mathematics and science. But during the time Carlson was enrolled at the University of California at Davis, the nation dipped into a recession, and California politicians were forced to raise taxes and cut spending to deal with the nation's largest state budget deficit.

When Carlson began looking for a teaching post near her home outside Sacramento, she recalls: "A lot of school district officials laughed. They said, 'Have you not heard we're letting teachers go?' Persistence landed Carlson a fivemonth job at Andrew Carnegie Intermediate School in Orangevale. She was hired the day before school started.

Northern Elementary School in Scott County, Ky., perches atop a hill surrounded by cow pastures and horse farms. The spanking new building looks as out of place as a Lexus on a 19th century street.

Whole Language

I keep coming back to the August issue of Teacher Magazine ["Special Report: Whole Language'']. The fact that Kenneth Goodman is one of the chief proponents of whole language is enough to make me question its validity as a teaching method. Looking to Goodman for leadership in the area of reading instruction is rather like consulting Saddam Hussein in the matter of rebuilding Kuwait.

Fight Censorship

Your article on student freedom of expression ["The Big Chill,'' November/December] does a great job in its focus on the student press, but it's important to note that all school functions that deal with expression are at risk of narrow-minded censorship. Books read in English classes, drama productions, and speech contest topics are just as susceptible to censorship as student publications. Too often, we focus on each of these separately and only when problems occur.

As I write this, it is fall; school is back in session, and children are supposed to get serious. They have had time to play during the summer, and now it is time for them to work. While such reasoning is familiar to most of us, this dichotomy between play and work is one of the greatest myths of education--a dangerous myth that often leads to leaving children out of the educational agenda and ignoring the quality of their life in school.

The Belridge School in McKittrick, Calif., is an oasis in a desert. Surrounded by scrubcovered mountains and miles of oil fields where pumps--like mechanical vultures--suck oil from the sand, it is virtually isolated from the rest of the world.

Distressing Link:

A high proportion of children born prematurely require special education when they get to school, according to new findings reported in the December issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers from Cornell University Medical College found that 48 percent of 7- and 8-year-olds whose birth weights were less than 1,500 grams (about 3.3 lbs.) required some form of special education; only 15 percent of full-term children studied required such services.

Surrounded by synthesizer keyboards, electronic drawing boards, and the other tools of his trade, Tom Snyder, sporting wirerimmed spectacles and an earring, easily could be mistaken for an artist or a musician. It is unlikely that a casual visitor to his home-based workshop in Cambridge, Mass., would peg him for who he really is: the 41-year-old owner of a multimillion dollar educational software firm.

High school senior Tana Holloway feels comfortable with technology. As a member of the computer-magnet program at Denver's George Washington High School, she has learned word processing, programming, computer-aided design, and computer graphics.

In the first issue of Teacher Magazine in September 1989, the headline for this column was "Symbols, Turning Points, And Bold Beginnings.'' The symbol was the ubiquitous yellow school bus on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The turning points alluded to were America's commitment to universal public education, desegregation, and, more recently, high-quality education for every child.

And the bold beginning cited was the creation of Teacher Magazine--founded on the conviction that teachers are "thoughtful, caring professionals who value information and understand the power of ideas.''