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Catalogue Blog

In The News …

DC’s Salvadoran community aiding flood victims (Washington Post Local): “Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran communities in the Washington area have been collecting cash, new clothes and medicine to help flooding victims in Central America. Ten days of heavy rains this month destroyed crops and towns. According to the Associated Press, 105 people were killed in the deluge, which topped 60 inches. [Comunidades Transnacionales Salvadorenas Americanas] is partnering with the nonprofit CARECEN and other Hispanic organizations to raise money for the victims of the flooding.” Let us know if you’re involved!

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In The News …

DC parents raise concerns about middle schools (Washington Post via Greater Greater Washington): “Middle schools are the latest hot spot in DC public education. With preschool and elementary enrollment ticking up for the first time in decades, parents and policymakers are scrutinizing the lack of attractive middle-grade options with increasing urgency [...] Without dramatic improvement in middle school quality, the long-term prospects for reform are bleak.” Back in March, we commented on a New York Times piece on the development of middle school pedagogy. Arguably, the “middle years” are neglected nationwide as much of the attention goes towards elementary school (formative years) or high school (pre-college years). Has the same been happening here?

Dismal DCPS Statistics Shared at Council Hearing (DCist): “ afternoon, D.C. Public Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson and other officials appeared in front of the DC Council’s Committee of the Whole to talk about middle school education [...] Among the figures that Henderson and DCPS officials quoted: 18.4 percent of DCPS middle schoolers have missed classes because they didn’t feel safe traveling to school; 13.9 percent of middle school students were afraid of being beaten up at some point in the last year; around 40 percent of DCPS ninth graders repeat the grade, while one in three DCPS ninth graders fail algebra.” In other words, many of the most dire problems in DC middle schools have little to do with academics. Schools need to be effective, absolutely, but they also need to feel safe and protected.

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“Skipping” High School

A fast-paced new initiative is set to launch this coming fall in Prince George’s county:

This fall, 100 ninth-graders will attend classes on the campus of Prince George’s Community College in Largo through a public school initiative called the Academy of Health Sciences. They’ll start with typical classes from high school teachers in such subjects as English, biology, math and Chinese.

By 11th grade, administrators expect these students to be immersed in college life. They’ll have meal plans. Ninety percent of their classes will be with professors and college students. Many are expected to earn enough credits to receive an associate’s degree along with a high school diploma. Continue reading

Question for Monday

From “Reviewing education reform in the 2010-11 school year” in today’s Post:

The 2010-11 school year might not have looked much different from the one that preceded it to all the kids who woke up early, slogged to school, took test after standardized test and went home to study some more.

But to the adults in public education, there was incredible tumult. [...]

The clock kept ticking on the 2002 No Child Left Behind law — or, rather, on its “annual yearly progress” provision, which sets a goal for virtually all students to become proficient in reading and math by 2014. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for an overhaul of the law, saying in March that perhaps 82 percent of American schools would be considered failing this year under the provision.

Congress still has not acted.

As school years around the country come to a close, this whirlwind recap of events (or, in some cases, non-events) in American public education is quite striking. June’s graduations and commencements typically celebrate progress, launch the next phase. But in a year in which schools were arguably at the center of a local election and a major topic of national debate, did DC and the nation as a whole make some real progress? Has the next phase in education reform been launched — or does that next phase still lack definition? Last Monday, we linked to Jay Matthews’ “Class Struggle,” which argued that candidates will likely avoid educational questions in the presidential election as they are both divisive and ultimately local. So is the conversation at a stand-still, at least on the national level, until 2013? (I certainly hope not)

But to me, the first paragraphs of the reform review also hinted at a deeper concern: “all the kids who woke up early, slogged to school, took test after standardized test.” To adults, the school year was rife with upheavals. For kids, it was just another “slog.” In a sense, isn’t that precisely the issue? School shouldn’t be a slog. School shouldn’t be routine and repetitive. It shouldn’t be an endless array of tests (and prepping for tests). School should be fascinating and addictive. It should be variable. And as soon as we start assuming that it is not, as soon as we start taking actual student experience out of the equation, tangible progress becomes less likely.

Of course, the transformation of classrooms cannot happen everywhere all at once. But just to end on another, key question: how can we ensure, moving into the next school year, that the day-to-day experience of students is at the center of the conversation?

Question for Monday

From Jay Matthews‘ column in Sunday’s Post:

Public schools in America began as local enterprises. They mostly remain so today. Some presidential candidates have tried to make them a big issue. Remember former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s attacks on standardized testing when he sought the Democratic nomination in 2004? It didn’t work. Education issues have never had a significant impact on a national election. [...]

The most successful American politicians know that and are no more willing to turn against testing than they are to come up with a radically different system for paying the medical bills of us geezers. I suspect we will straighten out Medicare long before we agree on better ways to measure what our schools are doing. So if you crave an education debate, prepare to be bored in 2012.

Food for thought (or rather, debate) for this Monday and moving forward: education of course is a major factor in local elections, as we witnessed during this past mayoral election in DC. But does the inherently local nature of schools mean that education can never dictate, or even significantly influence, a national election?

Moreover, does the difficulty of assessing public educations factor into its absence from presidential platforms? Were there less controversy surrounding testing, would we in fact have more discussion of the larger issue — namely, the educational experience that standardized tests purport to measure?

Either way, a nationwide debate on public education could certainly catalyze local discussion and action. So what can we do to make that happen if our prospective candidates would rather not address it? And is that a fair characterization?