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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Early Learning research

Lets talk about student learning.  Here is some research articles that identify the positive influence of adults talking to their kids.  The first, for language acquisition in toddlers is pretty straightforward.
The FPG researchers said that many early child care educators can do more to actively engage children and facilitate the development of language and communication. “More high-quality language interactions between children and adults will provide children with the kinds of experiences that can foster their growth,” said Gardner-Neblett.  
In other words talk to your toddlers, don't just repeat their grunts and early sound vocalizations. Use sentences, be expressive, enrich vocabulary.  All of it helps them be more successful in school.

The Second, get fathers involved!  I haven't read it all and this is just an abstract, but for some reason;

. . . revealed that mothers' mean length of utterance predicted children's applied problems scores. More importantly, fathers' mean length of utterance predicted children's vocabulary and applied problems scores above and beyond mothers' language.
 What it is about fathers I don't know, but again, the length of utterances and the richness of the vocabulary that you use with your preschoolers helps prepare them for success in school.  Sounds like the easiest and most affordable way everyone can help their kids be prepared for a successful school career.  Have a conversation with your kids!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Childish arguments or special interests?

In my monthly newsletter a couple weeks ago I used some disparaging language to vent my frustration towards the stalemate in our legislature, to quote:
 Our dysfunctional Iowa legislature is apparently incapable of forming compromises.  Iowa law requires them to set education funding levels 18 months before the affected school year starts.   . . . .  However any inadequate funding this year cost us programs or positions in the near future.  Please encourage any lawmaker you know to settle this childish argument.
I know that these terms  are not respectful and for that I apologize.  Many very dedicated and well intentioned Iowans are serving in our representative government.  I appreciate all of their hard work on behalf of our state.  However, the stalemate does remind me of a dysfunctional family, incapable of coming to a sound conclusion, or even an unsavory compromise.  Its like two toddlers fighting over a toy.

The difference is this is not a toy, its our children's future and to a more extended view, our states livelihood.  Kansas made some similar tax cut decisions lately, and Governor Brownback is recklessly charging forward with tax cuts even after the District Court found the Sunflower State to be in violation of its constitutional responsibility towards education.

Governor Brandstad is apparently a follower of the same principal.  Take a look at the State School Aid % of General Fund spending Iowa has dedicated to education over the last 4 years as provided by Legislative Services Agency to IASB:

Admittedly this does not include TLC funding, but $50 million in 2015 would only increase the share by .7%, and 1.3% in 2016.  And why are we being held responsible for the property tax cuts?  That is spending towards Iowa Businesses, not education!  When you claim to hold education harmless by backfilling our budgets for the property tax reduction, then you shouldn't be assigning the expense to our budget share!  When we remove that $31.1 million in 2016, we actually drop even more.

"But we have fewer schools due to declining enrollment!" you say.  To the contrary, since 2010 Iowa student enrollment has increased 12,565 students, or 2.68%  (Iowa Department of Education enrollment figures for past 5 years).  And their needs are getting greater;
  • Special Education: deficits have exceeded $30 million in each of the last four years. 
  • Poverty: More Iowa students are living in poverty. 
    • Average % of Iowa students eligible for free and reduced lunch was about 27% ten years ago, now nearing 40% in FY 2011. 
    • District with the highest % of students eligible for FRL is nearing 80% of enrollment in FY 2011. • 
    • The range or gap between the lowest and the highest percentages has also increased over the same period. 
  • ELL: The growth in number of English Language Learners in Iowa is also significant.
So in retrospect, this argument may not be childish, but it still smells of special interests.  In a time of economic expansion, to unequivocally reject an offer of compromise on a school funding value appears to be right out of the ALEC playbook.  That's a dangerous group who's philosophy does not support public education.  Our Governor was a founding member back in 1973.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What is School For

Seth Godin posses this question in his 16 minute TED talk and runs us through that horrific story of the invention of high school.  It was the Industrial Revolution,  newly born factories needed workers who were compliant, trained to do a task repeatedly and be productive.  That school created 100 years ago was invented to create those citizens.  Is that what we need of school today?  Mr. Godin's compelling argument says absolutely not and he spells out why with three observations.  In todays world:
  • If it’s perceived as work, people will try to figure out how to do less of it. If it’s perceived as art, people will try to figure out how to do more of it.
  • We are really good at measuring how many dots our kids collect, but we teach nothing about how to connect these dots.
  • If you care enough about your work to be willing to be criticized for it, then you have done a good day’s work.
If you don't have 16 minutes to watch this, use the summary by blogger Jeff Zoul that reflects his reasoning.  The dots are the bits of information we expect kids to "learn."  These dots have historically been collected and recorded as grades.   Some of those dots are behavioral, compliance and memorization.  What should we be doing?  Connecting the dots;  ". . . fostering individual exploration, passion, critical thinking, questioning and building interesting things."  Godin predicts 8 things that will be happening in our schools when we teach to make connections, not just to learn.  It would be a chilling vision for a traditional educator.