Monday, December 5, 2011

Why an Opportunity Gap Results in the Observed Achievement Gap

The power of low SES to adversely impact academic outcomes can be most clearly understood through consideration of the theories of Maslow (1959) and self-determination advocates (Ryan & Deci, 2000).  Before the student will be ready to learn his or her basic needs including food, shelter, safety, love and belonging, self-esteem must be satisfied.  In an oversimplification of the need to motivate students, Sullo, (2007) notes, “Until more students decide to work harder, there will be no significant improvement in our schools no matter how much better we teach” (p. 154). 

Such ignorance of the impact of low SES is the very reason the children from low SES households are seen as the problem rather than the victim.  Despite Sullo’s thoughts on the subject, low SES and not “a lack of hard work” makes it less likely for basic needs to be met on a day-to-day basis.  The school system and yes, that includes teachers, must insure basic needs-are met before the teacher will ever “appear” to that student.  The effective leader, in his or her interconnected promotion of the seven correlates of reform, must ensure the basic needs of students are addressed by the school system and each individual teacher so learning for all becomes more likely.

In relation to socio economic status, an opportunity gap is present in public education as “approximately 65% of the observed gap in measured student achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged students begins as a gap in opportunity to learn” (GCU Lecture, 2011).  Duke (2000) found the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and educational outcomes “has become so unquestioned that contemporary research is more likely to employ SES as a control variable than as the subject of inquiry” (p. 442).  This opportunity gap is not related to a lack of effort by the student but actual differences in nurturance, and educational opportunities provided by more affluent families compared to those families struggling just to satisfy basic food, shelter, and safety needs.  On average, disadvantaged students enter public schools about 2 years behind their more advantaged counterparts (Knitzer & Lefkowitz, 2006).  Whenever a school fails to adjust to this reality then the child is indeed being denied an opportunity to learn. 

The mission of the common school movement in this country was to alleviate the growing tensions between social-classes.  Reese (2005) quotes Horace Mann, considered the father of the common school movement, who believed the public education system should be “common in the highest sense, as the air and light were common; because it was not  only the cheapest but the best, not only accessible to all, but as a general rule, enjoyed by all” (p. 11). 

The lack of opportunity resulting from being from a low SES family has been a problem since the mid nineteenth century.  Schools will not close the observed achievement gap until the gap in opportunity to learn has been closed.  Only once ensuring satisfaction of the basic needs of students are met can an effective school leader then address intrinsic motivation as the school’s core beliefs, and core values by promoting capitalization of interest and relevance, providing realistic choices among tasks, teaching skills necessary for success, focusing on mastery, helping students set appropriate goals, providing appropriate feedback, limiting use of external constraints in teaching, and fostering relatedness in the classroom.


Bohlin, L., Durwin, C., & Reese-Weber, M. (2008). Ed Psych: Modules. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Duke, N.K. (2000) Nell K. Duke, “For the Rich It’s Richer: Print Experiences and Environments Offers to
            children in Very Low- and Very High-Socioeconomic Status First-Grade," American
            Educational Research Journal, Summer, 2000, vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 441-478.

Grand Canyon University (producer). (2011, October). EDA805 Module 7 Lecture

Reese, W. (2005). America’s public schools: From the common school to “No Child Left

            Behind.” Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation,
           social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

Sullo, B. (2007). Activating the desire to learn. (Chapter 4) Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Taylor, B. O. (2002). The Effective Schools Process: Alive and Well. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(5),


Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Makes a Public School “Public”?

        The focus of this month’s post is to identify attributes that makes a public school “public.” In this regard, funding, governance, accountability, and access will be discussed.  Certainly such a discussion needs to respect the history of public education.  However, this paper is grounded in the perspective that it is essential to recognize the historical service of public education to understand how public education has been continuously evolving and must continue to do so in the future to satisfy its primary purpose.
      The main purpose of public education in the United States has consistently been to develop an informed populace.  Jefferson (1786) wrote, "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."  Despite this desire communicated by a Founding Father, the United States Constitution does not guarantee the right to an education, rather, through the Tenth Amendment such powers were delegated to the States.  It was not until 1918 that every State had enacted compulsory education laws (Swift, 1923).  The result of compulsory education has been public funding for public education. 

Although public funds are typically understood to be taxes, different states use taxes differently to pay for its schools.  Many States use its state income tax as a primary source for funding its public schools while other States use property taxes, which have been shown to create the greatest disparity between districts and even other States (Kozol, 2005).  While taxes continue to be the most common form of revenue for funding public education, another popular revenue source has been state lotteries.  While lotteries are not taxes, their use raises the question of the ethics of a culture using gambling as a revenue stream to pay for its public education.  Furthermore, Pierce and Miller (2004) found education spending initially gets a significant bump from a state lottery but beyond the first year, the rate of increase on education spending actually tends to slow to the point that after the seventh or eighth year less money is spent on education than would have been spent if the state didn't have a lottery at all. Federal funds for public education, which come from federal income taxes or deficit spending, have also become a significant source of revenue for public schools.  Until 1979, the local contribution to public education primarily from local taxes exceeded the State’s share.  Currently State and Federal funding accounts for nearly 60% of the overall revenue provided to public schools.  In terms of local control, there is a definite cost associated to these funding streams. 

Local control has long been a desired element of public education.  During the last half of the twentieth century, local school districts increasingly yielded policy-making discretion to State legislatures and State Education Agencies.  As a result of increased State funding related to following State mandates for promoting equity while improving student proficiency and teacher performance; local control over funding and curricular content has diminished as local districts needed to promote the State’s standards.  Kirst (1988) cited evidence suggesting most significant reform occurs when individual schools are given more responsibility, rather than less.  This can certainly be evidenced through successful reform efforts linked to the movement toward school-based management.  As a result of the adoption of school based management to promote educational reform, the power related to the governance of a specific public school has shifted.  For the most part, in these instances the power of the elected or appointed school board has been reduced to hiring the district’s superintendent and developing the district’s public school budget.  Related to school administrators, state education agency officers, elected or appointed members of the local board of education, teachers and teacher unions, parents, and the students themselves, Marburger (1978) identified three primary concerns of these stakeholder or decision-making groups that involve their diverse roles, consolidation of power, and ability to enact change.  Marburger advocated for improved parental empowerment through an elected council of parents and citizens being established in each individual school or collectively within any district with more than one-thousand students.  Historically, attempts to improve public education have been difficult because of the need to build consensus.  Tamir (2011) believes efforts in this regard “are met by the unspoken though persistent resentment of those who fear the transformative power of education and would like to preserve the present social order” (p. 395).  As Tamir notes, this is true of emerging global democracies as well as the United States.  Certainly this would be more problematic for schools involving many low socio-economic families relying upon legislators from wealthier districts.  Assuring parents are empowered at the local school level can restore the element of local control and accountability that was lost when the State Education Agencies demanded adherence to their standards based curriculum and accountability system.  Although increasing parent involvement and school based management will bring accountability closer to home, these reform efforts alone will not improve student outcomes.

Starting with A Nation at Risk (1983) through the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, PL 98-10) now known as the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), the effectiveness of public schools has been politicized as education reform was predicated on the call to fix a broken system.  Although most urban cities have their high school gems, such as Stuyvesant High School in New York City or Boston Latin High School in Boston Massachusetts, the academic and funding disparity between the non-elite urban public high schools and wealthy suburbs makes any discussion of closing the achievement gap laughable. 

Whereas Brown versus the Topeka Board of Education and The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) were landmark achievements in public education allowing public schools to become accessible to all students regardless of race or (dis)ability, the pervasive lack of equity in quality makes accessibility only physical in nature.  True accountability needs to ensure accessibility to equity in quality (EDA 805, Module 1 Lecture).  The common factor in both the Brown case and PL-94-142 is civil rights.

An essential mandate of PL 94-142, since reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004), is the requirement for the provision of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).  Just as when trying to determine the “appropriateness” of a placement for a student with a disability so too is it essential to consider the appropriateness of placement of any student in a public school that has demonstrated failure to adequately educate its student population.  Public education does not merely mean access to a school funded by public dollars or governed by an elected or appointed school board.  Effective public education entails providing access to an educational institution that is responsible for serving the needs of the community and the students it serves.  Given the diversity of these United States of America, choices for a public education must also become diverse while being grounded in equity in quality.

As public education options continue to diversify as quickly as its student populations, schooling alternatives will emerge along with new approaches to government funding and oversight (Hill & Johnston, 2010). It is forecast that a large percentage of future students could attend schools very differently than evidenced by the current dominant model, whereby students and career teachers are in contact throughout the day and in which teachers are fully responsible for all aspects of the learning process ranging from teaching, remediating, enriching, and assessing the students’ current proficiencies and then correcting deficiencies as needed.  Up to half of the students that will receive education in alternate schools will have their education paid for with government funds (Hill & Johnston, 2010).  Alternatives to the current model of public education will be a result of four factors: expansion of technology, changes in the United States economy, innovations in the public sector-especially large urban districts, and the increased commitment to more stringent national standards.  These four factors will offset the reluctance to change that is driven by historical perspectives involving local control of funding, governance, accountability, and access.  It is predicted that three alternate forms of schooling: virtual schools, hybrid schools, and broker schools, will become sufficiently common as to be perceived by both teachers and parents as “normal” (Hill & Johnston, 2010, p. 44).  Since hybrid schools and broker schools are usually based on a charter, these models can already be seen in growing numbers under the category known as Charter Schools!    


Casteen, J.T. (1995) UVA: The president’s report.


Davis Jr., O. L. (2004). Now Is The Time For Americans To Listen and To Talk Straight About

            Schooling. Journal of Curriculum & Supervision. pp. 1-4.

Hill, P. & Johnston, M. (2010) In the Future, Diverse Approaches to Schooling. Phi Delta

            Kappan, 92(3), 43-47.

Kozol, J. (2005). The Shame of the Nation. Random House

Pierce, P.A and Miller, D.E. (2004) Gambling Politics: State Government and the Business of

            Betting Lynne Rienner Publishing.

Tamir, Y. (2011). Staying In Control; Or, What Do We Really Want Public Education To

            Achieve?. Educational Theory, 61(4), 395-411. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5446.2011.00411.x

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How Is A Principle-Based Character Developed?

As a follow up to the previous post related to teachers' comfort with teaching ethics, this month will focus upon issues related to character development.  In The 7 Habits ofHighly Effective People, Covey (1989) contends when a person is principle-centered then his or her core values serve as an anchor, keeping him or her from being thrown about by the storms of life.  Therefore, character means that he or she will live based on a set of deeply held, carefully defined, values that the person isn’t willing to break.  Since knowledge of right compared to wrong is more than a simple process of being aware of specific social rules, and doing the right thing is not a simple matter of putting those rules into practice, Nucci (1997) contends moral education must attend to issues of social cognition and moral reasoning.  However,” if individual moral actions are guided by choices and not simply the result of unreflective habit, then the issue for character education rests not with inculcation and habit formation, but in understanding how it is that people judge the worth of their own actions in relation to their world view and sense of themselves as moral beings” (p.130).  
Sarbin (1986) contends the notion of character as a set of externally provided traits and habits needs to be reconsidered.  Instead, a view in which the moral self is constructed rather than absorbed and is being continuously updated and reconstructed should be emphasized.  Nucci (2000) cited Noam's (1993) and Blasi’s work concerning the moral self, whereby morality may or may not be a central element of the general narrative constructed by a person.  Therefore, Blasi’s perspective infers that a central feature of moral character is actually the degree to which being a moral person attains salience as a part of that person’s self-definition.  
 A person may basically be an animal endowed by nature with some very primitive instincts, yet, Simon (2009) believes each person has the capacity to learn and grow in awareness.  This process makes it possible for him or her to become more than mere animal through the processes of socialization and character development.  Simon astutely notes this process is difficult, painful, complex, and generally life-long; resulting in a great deal of diversity related to true character.
      Since followers evaluate the actual or aspiring leader’s character, competence, and commitment, Seijts and Kilgour (2007) believe any perceived gaps between what the leader communicates and actually does impacts the leader’s credibility.  It is therefore reasonable to understand why followers become disillusioned whenever a leader reflects mere images of the values he or she purports to uphold, resulting in followers’ believing the leader does not show principled leadership.  As a result, the perception of ethical leadership depreciates, thereby adversely impacting the leader’s ability to effectively lead.  To lead effectively, it is essential for a leader to walk ethically rather than merely talk about ethics.  In the laboratory known as the classroom, where young minds and hearts first learn paradigms of social leadership, the classroom leader, also known as the teacher, needs to be especially cognizant of this need for principled leadership. 

Covey, S.R. (1989) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the character ethic.       
           New York, NY. Simon and Schuster
Noam, G., & Wren, T. E. (Eds.). (1993). The moral self. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press
Nucci, L (1997) in Walberg, H. J. & Haertel, G. D. Psychology and educational
            practice. Berkeley: MacCarchan. p. 127-157.
Sarbin, T. (1986). Narrative psychology: The storied nature of human conduct. New York:
Seijts, G. H., & Kilgour, D. (2007). Principled Leadership: Taking The Hard
            Right. Ivey Business Journal, 71(5), 1. Retrieved from EBSCOhost

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Are You Comfortable Teaching About Ethics?

As explicated in last month’s post, my August hike in the western Grand Canyon provided opportunities for recreation, meditation, and self-reflection.  My personal adventures allowed me to think favorably upon educational programs like Outward Bound, which are intended to challenge participants mentally, physically, and emotionally.  It is considered an exceptional program for at-risk youths and troubled teens. 
After reading a September 1, 2011 New York Times article titled, A Hiker’s Plight: How to Help When Water Runs Low, I wondered whether ethics are being taught in programs such as Outward Bound.  Then I was struck with a really disturbing thought: how are ethics being taught to today’s children and adolescents?  What creates more anxiety is the concern that too few teachers feel comfortable teaching ethics. 
The Parable of the Sadhu provides a wonderful opportunity to analyze how diverse styles of leadership might have evaluated, assessed, and handled the ethical dilemma presented by a dying pilgrim and his treatment by groups of mountain climbers.  Surely the native culture and cultural differences embedded within the different national teams participating in the treacherous climb mitigated the use of effective leadership beyond individual group needs.  Culture also influenced the decision-making process within characters who exhibited a range of leadership.  This month’s post encourages a review of the parable, reflection upon what the reader would do if he or she were in either Stephen’s or McCoy’s place, and then critically examine and debate my perceptions of the diverse leadership styles and the impact of the micro and macro culture upon potential leadership and decision-making exhibited in the parable.
Considering Covey’s (1989) exhortation to begin with the end mind, I first suggest the missing leadership style that could have ensured the Sadhu was adequately supported during a necessary 1000 foot descent to the safety of the basecamp hut.  Related to sustaining a human life, more would have been achieved by exhibiting servant leadership.  In his telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus notes the Samaritan was supportive and gave time and financial resources to aid the beaten stranger.  However, the Samaritan told the innkeeper, “Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have” (Luke 10:35).  The Samaritan mercifully did what he reasonable could by ensuring others would pick up the next line of aid but then the Samaritan continued on his journey.  By contrast, in The Parable of the Sadhu, Stephen, the voice of Christian conscience within McCoy’s dilemma, was actually the person who did not continue to act as a good and merciful Samaritan.  Patterson (2003) believes servant leaders seek radical equality for all people.  A true servant leader among the diverse groups would have recognized the sadhu’s quest for life was as important as his own.  Since Stephen espoused knowledge of Christian ethics and his own weakness made him the last in line of support for the Sadhu, if he was a servant leader he truly would have recognized his responsibility to ensure the stranger reached safety BEFORE considering the continuation of his own journey.  Surely, this may have meant Stephen wouldn’t meet his personal goal.  But, because of Stephen’s lack of moral integrity, we will never know what occurred to the Sadhu or how great of an alternate story may have resulted from servant leadership acting in this dilemma.
Fifteen years after the initial experience with the Sadhu, McCoy (1997) toiled again with the basic questions presented by the dilemma: When is it necessary to take a stand?  How much should we allow a stranger to influence decisions that impact our daily lives?  How should we handle the needy since we certainly can’t help everyone?  Generalizing the parable into business, McCoy asked,“How do we prepare our organizations and institutions so they will respond appropriately in a crisis? How do we influence them if we do not agree with their points of view?” (p. 7)
I agree with McCoy that it isn’t prudent to quit a job over every ethical dilemma, but how is the line in the sand determined?  In the Parable of the Sadhu, isn’t the dilemma actually created by the inaction of Stephen-rather than the actions of the diverse groups who never were a collective?  More importantly given the culture of Himalayan mountain climbing, there never was an opportunity to form the diverse groups into a single organization united behind an objective contrary to the goals of the individual groups.  This is why most groups exhibited a form of situational leadership.  Each group did something for the Sadhu and then moved on.  In their model of situational leadership, Goleman, Boyatzis,and McKee (2004) actually considers five principles of emotional intelligence to formulate six different situational leadership styles.  Goleman et al., emphasizes the need for a leader to change between these six styles whenever conditions around him or her changed.  The two constants in this parable were each group’s climbing goal and the ill-health of the sadhu.  The changing conditions were the support behind each ascending group and the worsening environment.  Unfortunately, most of the groups exhibited situational leadership based on a pace-setting or a commanding style of leadership, which would be helpful for getting through the Himalayan pass but deadly for the sadhu.  Given, an assorted group of strangers unilaterally acting to obtain a goal rather than acting as a unified collective, can it reasonably be expected that a goal centered leadership style would act morally and ethically?  I suggest the culture of mountain climbing which would embrace the characteristics of situational leadership, especially guided by a pace-setting leader or a commanding leader would believe it is acting morally and ethically to do what one can for a “weak sadhu” and then pass the need for help onto those behind. 
While the different groups primarily exhibited one of two forms of situational leadership, what was the leadership style exhibited by Stephen?  Let’s recall his cultural background as a Quaker anthropologist.  Let’s also be honest in recognizing that he was the last line of definitive support for the Sadhu.  Many may want to characterize Stephen as a transformational leader but his attempt to lay guilt upon McCoy by asking, "How do you feel about contributing to the death of a fellow man?” merely exhibits his own lack of ethical integrity, thereby hinting that he would actually be a narcissistic leader.  Although narcissists possess charisma and vision considered vital to effective leadership, they also possess belief systems that would be considered grandiose.  Their leadership styles are therefore often motivated by need for power and admiration rather than empathetic concern for either their constituents or their institutions (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006).  After all, would there have been a parable without Stephen’s question and the ambiguity of the Sadhu’s survival resulting from his inaction? 
McCoy, the parable’s author was a Morgan Stanley financier whereby transactional leadership was the likely culture.  Stephen’s inaction toward the sadhu and ensuing philosophical debate helped McCoy evolve from a goal oriented transactional leader to become a transformational leader.  As a result of the overall experience, McCoy became a different leader-thereafter seeking to help other leaders and organizations to transform themselves based on solid ethics. 
Lastly, it is also important to recognize the need to have a better understanding of what occurred to the Sadhu to get him in the condition in which he was found.  The reason for this is that cultural ignorance could impact our thinking of the parable.  As we learn from the story of the struggling butterfly graphically explicated by Lobb (2010), there are times when struggle has a purpose.  Perhaps, the sadhu didn’t want any help.  The Parable of the Sadhu is silent in regards to anyone asking the sadhu, “what happened?” and “how can we best help you?”  To a true servant leader, these are two very important questions.


Covey, S.R. (1989) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the character ethic.     New York, NY. Simon and Schuster

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R, & McKee, A. (2004) Primal Leadership, HBS Press,
McCoy, B. H. (1983, September/October). The parable of the Sadhu. Harvard Business Review,
McCoy, B. H. (1997). The Parable of the Sadhu. Harvard Business Review,
Patterson, K. A. (2003). Servant Leadership: A Theoretical Model. Dissertation Abstracts International (UMI No.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why is one of the most beautiful places on Earth NOT part of a Utopian society?

Since my first visit in 1997, the Grand Canyon has been a very special place to me. I believe everyone should experience it in person. Yet, in a strange paradox, as visitors increasingly frequent the area my ability to find solitude and meditative hikes will be adversely impacted.
At the beginning of August I had the opportunity to raft the Colorado River and thereafter hike to the land of the Havasupai. The Havasupai are reported to have existed within and around the Grand Canyon for over eight centuries. Although living primarily above and inside the harsh terrain of the Grand Canyon, the tribe’s reservation has some of the most lush vegetation and beautiful waters found anywhere in the world. Despite the threat of flash floods during August, it was my goal to see these waters and the falls found in the area following work at Grand Canyon University. Experiencing the Havasupai, which means “the-people-of-the-blue-green-waters,” resulted in a much different experience than I expected. After an eight mile hike, the village of Supai is encountered before any of the falls.
The unpleasantness of Supai village and its inhabitants made the continuation of my journey to the falls more pressing but also caused me to seriously reflect on what happens when a dominant culture destroys a minority group’s culture. Although the United States is replete with many examples of Native American oppression, the Havasupai provide a case study. Although it is easy to judge Supai as one of the dirtiest, most unfriendly places I ever experienced because I did not find the Havasupai to be shy but overtly distant. The simple reality however is the destruction of the Havasupai’s culture is largely to blame on why my destination did not end up being a visit to a utopian society.
As an eco-tourist, the pollution and unfriendliness I experienced was absolutely a turn-off. However, as a life-long learner the reality caused me to seek out the truth of the situation. Following the return of a large share of their land in 1976, the Havasupai have once again begun to flourish. Although many of the day-to-day customs that existed prior to 1882 are no longer exhibited, many of the Havasupai seek to respect and preserve the traditions of their ancestors. The tribe currently consists of 639 members. The tribe has begun to take advantage of the beauty of its land by turning it into a tourist destination for visitors to the Grand Canyon. By paying a relatively large sum visitors are able to experience the wonders of the blue-green-waters and their surroundings. Tribe members often work as packers and/or workers for tourist ventures, or work at the lodge, tourist offices, the café, etc.
As noted, the Havasupai are a case study on why the United States educational system needs to continue promoting multiculturalism. The draconian mantra “to the victor go the spoils” results in everyone being losers. Americans are enriched by accepting our mistakes, making amends, and respecting others’ beliefs and values whenever we are in another culture’s village. Supai isn’t a utopia but why should these people hold outside visitors in high regard? While the surrounding nature is absolutely spectacular, the history of American treatment toward the Havasupai people is as disgusting as is the amount of pollution seen throughout Supai. Yet, for me to be overtly offended by the native’s lack of courtesy toward a tourist would simply reinforce the Havasupai’s lack of trust and level of animosity.
How can education help? Well, should you ever visit the region, my suggestion is to humbly thank every Havasupai native for allowing you access to some of the most beautiful waterfalls on Earth. Picking up empty water bottles along your hike may also exhibit the time is now for changing the culture of pollution that is exacerbated by both hikers and natives alike.
Lastly, teach tolerance. Respect for diverse cultures will create a stronger society. A stronger society demands an educated people. As a result, educated, well-informed people then promote continuation of a world-class educational system and a trust-worthy government.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Development of an Inclusive Education Course for Secondary General Education Teachers

In January 2011 the Board of Regents for the New York Stated Education Department (NYSED) approved Teaching Standards. NYSED will also be requiring a three-credit course on Inclusive Education for prospective Secondary General Education Teachers in teacher education programs. What should be the curriculum for such a course? Members of the New York State Task Force for Quality Inclusive Schools (NYSTFQIS) have discussed what this course should include and how the minimum fifteen hour field work requirement could advance prospective teachers’ related knowledge and pedagogy.
Identifying themes and their related concepts definitely make sense. Big themes should then be further specified by component or related concepts. “How can we use NYSED's new requirements of a stand-alone course on SWDs and at least 15 hours of field experience focused on SWDs to promote effective inclusive practices among general educators at the Adolescence level?”
Undoubtedly a single course and 15 hours of field experience will not provide Nirvana but it is an important next step in the process toward effective inclusionary practices throughout NYS. I advocate for using the opportunity to develop this course so as to further identify solutions rather than simply creating a mask to conceal problems with special education policies and practices. Given this I encourage the development of this course to provide a strong foundation for inclusive practices and avoid the tendency to over-reach. If effective tenets are formed for this course then the successful results will inspire further steps toward better inclusive practices based on success experiences.
I encourage a review and endorsement of the following four essential themes and related components as the foundational underpinnings for developing an Inclusive Education Course for Secondary General Education Teachers:
1. Exhibition of effective collaboration (Blanton, Pugach, & Florian, 2011)\
a. This requires identification and understanding of various collaborative and classroom management models.
b. This also requires exhibition of collaborative practices during field work.
2. Identification and utilization of appropriate instructional resources for secondary teachers (Bryan, 2011)
a. This requires research to identify resources for scientific or research-based interventions designed to mitigate disabilities in the content specialization area, in reading, and in writing.
b. This also requires implementation of scientific or research-based interventions designed to mitigate disabilities in the content specialization area, in reading, and in writing during field work.
3. Exhibition of progress monitoring skills and strategies (Maheady, 2011)
a. This requires proficiency with best practices related to progress monitoring and the promotion of an evidence-based culture
i. Understanding the RTI process
ii. Monitoring of a collaboratively developed intervention.
b. This requires research to locate resources for progress monitoring charts or tools related to content specialization.
c. This requires explication of how to promote an evidence-based culture in the school.
d. This also requires progress monitoring based on a collaboratively identified content specialization intervention during field work.
4. Development of differentiated lessons that scaffold for optimal student success (Attainment of this essential ability for promoting inclusive practices should require effective utilization of the three proficiencies noted above)
a. This requires proficiency with developing differentiated lessons based on content specialization
i. Identification and creation of measureable lesson objectives
ii. Identification of effective accommodations
iii. Explication of how lessons will promote student success based on collaboration, utilization of developed intervention tools, integration of accommodations, and monitoring for success
b. This also requires implementation of developed differentiated lessons based on content specialization during field work.
i. Proficient presentation of lessons promoting student success based on collaboration, utilization of developed intervention tools, integration of accommodations, and monitoring for success.
To help you gather more information on the topic and become familiar with inclusive practices, Dr Kosik of Syracuse University provided a sampling of multimedia resources such as: Fat City, which he finds helps get students talking about issues such as perception and motivation. He also utilizes the hyperlinked video on dyslexia, which gets his prospective teachers thinking about the difficulties people face when confronted with text throughout their lives. You are also encouraged to review methods for changing beliefs.

As either an in-service and pre-service teacher, you are encouraged to contact NYSED’s Office of Special Education to provide input for the discussions that will help develop the tenets for this important course, which can promote better inclusive practices and, as a result, increase social justice for students with disabilities.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Solving Problems: Living in the solution or dwelling in the status quo?

“Whether we wish it or not we are involved in the world's problems and all the winds of heaven blow through our land” (Lippmann, 1914/ 1962, p. 83)
By definition (Merriam-Webster, 2010), a problem is: 1 a : a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution b : a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done 2 a : an intricate unsettled question b : a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation c : difficulty in understanding or accepting Therefore, by definition, the nature of a problem is for it to be addressed or solved, otherwise distress, ambiguity, or lack of understanding continues. Unaddressed problems do not lead to a status quo or the identification of a solution. So, without addressing its problems an organization or system is compromised.
Dewey (1929) wrote, "We live in a world which is an impressive and irresistible mixture of sufficiencies, tight completenesses, order, recurrences which make possible prediction and control, and singularities, ambiguities, uncertain possibilities, processes going on to consequences as yet indeterminate. They are mixed not mechanically but vitally.... We may recognize them separately but we cannot divide them, for unlike wheat and tares they grow from the same root" (p. 47).
When asked what he would do if given an hour to save the world, Einstein was quoted as saying he would take “fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.” Certainly such an approach identifies the importance of recognizing the roles of all parties involved in a problem: stakeholders, gate-keepers, and decision-makers (Gaynor, 1998). The effective leader becomes familiar with each party and seeks to find the most effective way to have each diverse group reach consensus. Of course Einstein also stated, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
The role of a literary analysis in resolution of a problem was well-summarized by Rumrill and Fitzgerald (2001), who noted: "Because a profession’s knowledge base is typically built in small, incremental steps with each successive primary research study building upon the one before it, and because most contemporary social science theories are derivations of existing conceptual models and previous literature, the responsible researcher must be thoroughly familiar with the history of research in the given knowledge domain that his or her study addresses" (p.165).
As a result of this type of process, the NCLB Act (2002) defines scientifically based research as "research that involves the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs.” When a problem exists in a student's learning, educators need to identify and utilize scientific or research-based interventions. An educator must therefore remain up-to-date with his or her review of the current literature by being a committed life-long learner. Otherwise, he or she is part of the problem rather than a resource for the solution.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Promoting Active Student Learning Through Discussion Boards

Do you often rely on “pop quizzes” to ensure students are reading course texts or materials? In a culture bombarded my multi-media traditional reading requires thoughtful strategies to reduce the trend toward “aliteracy”. While micro-blogging or social media within the classroom seems to be an extreme response, the use of discussion boards can promote reading of course material by requiring thoughtful, critical, written responses to questions related to controversial or relevant issues based on the topical reading material. The tracking, monitoring, and grading features incorporated into the technology can allow the instructor to work smarter rather than harder to promote student success and active engagement.
Discussion Boards can promotes higher order thinking skills (HOTS) by requiring effective discussion through writing. Instructors setting up effective topics can empower students to take ownership of learning. Obviously it is important to establish high expectations to avoid “textese”:

Require word processing before copying, pasting, and posting.
Encourage students to include a related question for a peer or the instructor to subsequently discuss thereby building the thread.

Clear discussion board policies established between student and faculty expectations are essential for success. The following models can provide helpful starting points:

Discussion Questions should be topical and promote analysis of the reading and synthesis of thought in order to respond. A convergent question may draw the student in but a divergent question promotes HOTS and more discussion/debate.
Model 1:Students must post their initial response to the initial classroom discussion question by Day X, and the 2nd classroom discussion question by Day Y of each week.
Model 2: Students must post their initial response to the classroom discussion question by Day X of each week. Responses to at least two classmates’ initial response must be done by Day Y of each week.
Participation: Participating in classroom discussion is essential to the learning experience. By participating in the weekly discussions students and instructors share experiences, investigate complicated subject matter, share expertise, and examine the content from new perspectives. An instructor should credit participation based on the following:

  • Initial posts should be 75-100 words, using APA format, and be word processed before posting. The initial post should integrate course theories with a practical application of the subject. For example, the student should offer a personal observation or experience, or reference real-world examples, current events, or present further research he or she conducted on the topic (cite as needed).

Follow-up responses to classmates’ initial posts should be 40-60 words and:

  • Promote interaction in classroom discussion by demonstrating deeper or broader thoughts about the topic, rather than just rephrasing what the textbook or another student already stated.

  • Encourage further discussion and ongoing dialogue with other students in the class.

  • Present communications that are professional and supportive, using a respectful tone.

  • Exhibit proofreading and contain minimal errors in writing mechanics.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How Can You Become A Successful Student?

What makes an effective student? Are there characteristics exhibited by successful compared to unsuccessful students? YES! Successful students exhibit a combination of successful attitudes and behaviors as well as intellectual capacity. Ludewig (1992) identified ten key characteristics:
1) Successful students are responsible and active. Successful students get involved in their studies, accept responsibility for their own education, and are active participants in it! Responsibility means control. It's the difference between leading and being led. Successful students recognize their own efforts control their grade, so they earn the glory or deserve the blame, and as a result they make right choices. Successful students recognize their active classroom participation improves grades without increasing study time. Think it through: you can sit there, act bored, daydream, or sleep. By contrast, you can actively listen, think, question, and take notes like someone in charge of his or her learning experience. Either option costs one class period. However, the former method will require a large degree of additional work outside of class to achieve the same degree of learning the latter provides during the class period. A successful student recognizes the choice is his or hers. 2) A successful student has educational goals. As a result the successful student has legitimate goals and is motivated by what the goals represent in terms of career aspirations and life's desires. Ask yourself these questions: What am I doing here? Why have I chosen to be sitting here now? Is there some better place I could be? What does my presence here mean to me? Answers to these questions represent your "Hot Buttons" and are, without a doubt, the most important factors in your success as a student. If your educational goals are truly yours, rather than someone else's, then your goals will motivate your vital and positive academic attitude. If you are familiar with what these hot buttons represent and refer to them often, especially when you tire of being a student, then nothing can stop you. If you aren't setting effective goals then everything can and will distract you! 3) A successful student asks questions. Successful students ask questions to provide the quickest route between ignorance and knowledge. In addition to securing knowledge he or she is a seeker. Asking questions has at least two other extremely important benefits. The process helps you pay attention to your instructor and helps the instructor pay attention to you! Think about it. If you want something, go after it. Get the answer now, or fail a question later. There are no foolish questions, only foolish silence. It's your choice. 4) A successful student learns that a student and teacher make a team. Most instructors want exactly what you want: they would like for you to learn the material in their respective classes and earn a good grade. Successful students reflect well on the efforts of any teacher; if you have learned your material, the instructor takes some justifiable pride in teaching. Join forces with your instructor, he or she is not an enemy, you share the same interests, the same goals - in short, you're teammates. Get to know your professor. You're the most valuable players on the same team. Your jobs are to work together for mutual success. Neither wishes to chalk up a losing season. Be a team player! 5) A successful student doesn't sit in the back. Successful students minimize classroom distractions that interfere with learning. Students want the best seat available for their entertainment dollars, but willingly seek the worst seat for their educational dollars. Students who sit in the back cannot possibly be an effective teammate. Why expose yourself to the temptations of inactive classroom experiences and distractions of all the people between you and your instructor? Of course, instructors know students chose the back of the classroom because they seek invisibility or anonymity, both of which are antithetical to efficient and effective learning. If you are trying not to be part of the class, why, then, are you wasting your time? Push your hot buttons, is their something else you should be doing with your time? 6) A successful student takes good notes. Successful students take notes that are understandable and organized, and review them often. Why put something into your notes you don't understand? Ask the questions now that are necessary to make your notes meaningful at some later time. A short review of your notes while the material is still fresh helps you learn more. The more you learn now, the less you'll have to learn later and the less time it will take because you won't have to include time for deciphering notes. The whole purpose of taking notes is to use them, and use them often. The more you use them, the more they improve. 7) A successful student understands that actions affect learning. Successful students know their personal behavior affect their feelings and emotions which in turn can affect learning. If you act in a certain way that normally produces particular feelings, you will begin to experience those feelings. Act like you're bored, and you'll become bored. Act like you're disinterested, and you'll become disinterested. So the next time you have trouble concentrating in the classroom, "act" like an interested person: lean forward, place your feet flat on the floor, maintain eye contact with the instructor, nod occasionally, take notes, and ask questions. Not only will you benefit directly from your actions, your classmates and teacher may also get more excited and enthusiastic. 8) A successful student talks about what he or she is learning. Successful students get to know something well enough that they can put it into words. Talking about something, with friends or classmates, is not only good for checking whether or not you know something, it’s a proven learning tool. Transferring ideas into words provides the most direct path for moving knowledge from short-term to long-term memory. You really don't "know" material until you can put it into words or action. So, next time you study, don't do it silently. Talk about notes, problems, readings, etc. with friends, recite to a chair, organize a study group, pretend you're teaching your peers. "Talk-learning" produces a whole host of memory traces that result in more learning. 9) A successful student doesn't cram for exams. Successful students know that divided periods of study are more effective than cram sessions, and they practice it. If there is one thing that study skills specialists agree on, it is that distributed study is better than massed, late-night, last-ditch efforts known as cramming. You'll learn more, remember more, and earn a higher grade by studying in four, one hour-a-night sessions for Friday's exam than studying for four hours straight on Thursday night. Short, concentrated preparatory efforts are more efficient and rewarding than wasteful, inattentive, last moment marathons. Yet, so many students fail to learn this lesson and end up repeating it over and over again until it becomes a wasteful habit. Remember Einstein's definition of insanity? 10) A successful student is also a good time manager. Successful students do not procrastinate. They have learned that time control is life control and have consciously chosen to be in control of their life. An elemental truth: you will either control time or be controlled by it! It's your choice: you can lead or be led, establish control or relinquish control, steer your own course or follow others. Failure to take control of your own time is probably the single greatest study skills problem for students. It ultimately causes many students to become non-students! Procrastinators are good excuse-makers. Don't make academics harder on yourself than it has to be. Stop procrastinating. Don't wait until tomorrow to become a successful student! References: Cameron, N. E. (n.d.). Successful students. University of Manitoba. Ludewig, L.M., (1992) Ten Commandments for Effective Study Skills. The Teaching Professor. December