Friday, May 15, 2009

How much of what students are learning in school today applies to everyday life and are skills for future success?- Abstract and Final Summary

Upon the river of knowledge, a student will drift upon their raft until they meet a teacher who can guide them towards the delta and then the sea. This sea of knowledge, a plethora of standardized tests and exams and curriculums that they must attain as their portfolio of known facts to continue on their journey is a worthwhile venture, but must be evoked in a proper manner. Urban education today in the Newark area is getting better every day, but is still far below state and national standards. The test scores and the strangling hold the curriculums have over teachers is more of a hindrance rather than help. These government instituted laws and programs made by mostly non-educators, could use some work. At the beginning and at the end of the day, there is a teacher and there is a student; and that student must learn, and that teacher must teach. That is what is most important. This paper investigated the value and importance of the current education system (mainly the curriculum and the role of standardized tests) to the most important players, namely, the administrators, the teachers and the students. We found that a greater majority of the participants / respondents believe that the curriculum and the standardized tests are doing a disservice to the students and not adequately preparing them for the competitive world that they will face when they leave the doors of the school buildings. The students particularly felt that the schools' emphasis on getting good (or raising) overall test achievement scores (at all costs) contributes to the negative attitude that the students have towards learning anything else after they have taken those tests.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Research Project Introduction

Topic: How much of what students are learning in school today applies to everyday life skills for future success?

“When will I ever use this in my life?” and “Why do I have to learn this?” are two very common questions that school aged children ask everyday. These questions can easily be answered by telling them that they need to do well on their next test and if they do well in school that they will get into a good college. From a very early age students are encouraged to take their schooling seriously and obtain an education, for one’s future success is almost always inextricably linked to a sound formal education. History has taught us that the ideal situation for an individual involves obtaining a formal education, being successful at exams, graduating with honors and finding a stable job or building a prosperous career. However, some students, especially in urban areas like Newark, New Jersey are not getting the education needed to become competent and successful members of society. The matter of changing school and curriculum (educational reform) to compensate for the rapidly changing world in which these schools and their students exist, has been an ongoing battle of both failure and success in particularly urban areas. For instance, most of the students in and around the Hawthorne Avenue area in Newark come from lower income, working class families that are just barely making ends meet. Many of the parent(s) in these families have low educational backgrounds and this lower education is correlated to the lower income status that they presently possess.

President George Bush, in an effort to raise failing schools (classified by students who are falling behind), in primarily urban areas, proposed No Child Left Behind (NCLB); a series of standardized tests and guidelines for meeting an Annual Yearly Percentage (AYP) for various subject areas or the school in concern receives less funding or ultimately is closed down. There are a number of perceived inherent problems of the NCLB act and its implementation which currently dictates and drives the focus of teaching at both public and private schools across the country. Numerous reports have emerged showing the achievement gaps which exist between different components of society, be it against racial, cultural, religious or social divides. However, the fundamental underlying common denominator remains what is taught in schools. What is the role of the curriculum in future success? The reality remains that the focus of those standardized tests as currently employed may very well serve as a contributing factor to performance gaps which exist.

Students are very different and each will take very different paths in their lives. Thus, each student will need very different tools for their lives. At a young age students learn all sorts of different tools that will be useful. They learn basic math skills, geography, reading and writing, how to paint and play music. These are most certainly skills that will be useful in their later schooling. They are building blocks that are necessary to their future learning. The problem seems to arise in later grades when the focus is much more on Math and English. In order to see what the students are learning we must take a look at the curriculum that is being taught. It does not take long to see that curriculum in our schools are driven by standardized tests. These standardized tests are what we use to measure the students, teachers, schools and school districts. The focus of school is now on finding ways to raise test scores rather than the practicality of what the students are learning. In fact, we believe this idea of standardizing curriculum and learning goes against nature; fundamentally, it defies our societal structure. There needs to be more than one solution to assessing schools and its students and this concept of more than one answer is a vital component educators should be instilling in students today. The current policies in place assume that teachers can be led to perform better if they are made much more accountable for test score gains. Standardized testing seems to be the “solve-all” solution and there is evidence to support its prosperity and its failure. Both prosperity and failure are limited to the view of test scores. Students are not being assessed in the many ways they learn limiting the validity in the assessment of the student’s learned knowledge. In addition, the curriculum and teaching styles of educators is changing due to high-stakes testing. Educators are now teaching to the test, which in turn invalidates their reliability and validity. A major issue that we want to take a look at is how the standardized tests in New Jersey change as students advance through school. In elementary school students take the NJ Ask, where they are tested in seven different content areas. Later when students prepare for the HSPA, which they take junior year of high school in order to graduate, they are only tested on two content areas. Narrowing down our focus to two major areas, Math and English, has a great impact on their curriculum. As a result, students are being assessed on how much test content and information they can memorize in regard to passing the test instead of assessing the depth of understanding and reasoning, along with the critical thinking that goes into making the decisions.

Goals and Objectives:

This research aims to investigate the curriculum being used in the Newark Public Schools system, particularly the Hawthorne Ave School and assess the role of standardized test in preparing the nation’s youth for the 21st century. The researchers will suggest alternative ways by which assessment can be done without taking away from the ability to teach students life skills that will be important for future success.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Details of Final Project

How much of what students are learning in school today applies to everyday life skills for future success?

Data Type:
a. Students- Current, Dropouts, Graduates
b. Teachers
c. Administration- Superintendent/Principal (+20 years exp.)
d. Janitors
a. Facility- Inside and Out
b. Area/People Around the Facility- Few Block Radius
c. Student/Teacher Interaction- During and Outside of Class
d. Student/Student Interaction- During and Outside of Class
e. Teacher/Teacher Interaction

Interview Questions:

1. Are you required to
a. Show or submit lesson plans of your curriculum?
b. Prove by documentation the use of the NJCCS within your curriculum plans?
c. If yes, how is the proof documented; on the lesson plans themselves or written on the board during the lesson.
d. If no, why is there lack of connection between the teachers, state curriculum and the school? Do you think that this connection is beneficial to the students and the school?

2. Do you feel that through your curriculum you are teaching your students the necessary life skills they need for future success post schooling? ie- Critical thinking skills, collaborative skills, reasoning skills, lifelong learning skills?

3. Have the standardized tests changed anything specifically about your curriculum and/or teaching style? If so, what has changed?

4. How important are standardized testing to you? Do you think it is beneficial to the students learning?

5. Have content area class been cut as a result of standardized testing? If so, what classes? Do you feel that these classes are important to the student’s well-rounded development?

6. What skills besides literacy and mathematical competence do you feel your students will need after graduation?

7. How has the budget been affected, if at all, by standardized testing?

8. Do you find yourself in Trenton trying to collect funding for your schools?

9. How important do you feel standardized testing is for the success of your schools and students?

10. Have you felt a true change in your schools, perhaps more pressure or stresses on yourself or the faculty due to standardized testing?

11.What steps are you taking to ensure that your schools meet their AYP?

12. What is a standardized test?

13. How important are the tests to you?

14. How do the tests make you feel? Do you like them? Do you think that they will help you for your future? If so, in what ways?

15. Have you had any other experiences with tests? If so, what type of tests? Do you like those tests better?

16. Do you think that standardized testing really tests your true abilities and strengths?

17. Do you feel any changes in your classes as you have moved up through the grades about what you are learning?

18. Do you think what you are learning is going to be useful in the real world after you graduate?

19. What skills do you think will be important for you after you graduate?

20. What do you want to be when you grow up?

21. Do you feel that after receiving your diploma, you will have all that you need for success in the future?

22. What are you plans after graduation? Will you pursue further education (where to) or join the work force (in what line of work)?

23. How would you change school if you could?
Data Charts

1. Pie Chart representative of the races/ethnicity of the students and faculty of the school.

2. Pie Chart representative of the social classes and family make up of the school.

3. Bar Graphs representative of the performance of standardized testing broken up into the years, content being assessed, and scores.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Annotated Bibliography

Wildemuth, Barbara M. (1984). Alternatives to Standardized Tests. ERIC Digest.

Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation Princeton NJ.

The use of standardized tests by schools is commonly criticized. The tests do not necessarily test what students have learned. They do not reveal what the student has achieved. Critics have further suggested that alternatives to standardized tests be developed and used for more effective student evaluation. Such alternatives have included criterion-referenced tests, teacher-made tests, contract grading, interviews with students and their parents, and detailed documentation of a student's accomplishments. This paper serves to give a synopsis of the aforementioned alternatives.

Herman, J. L. and Golan, S. (1991). Effects of Standardized Testing on Teachers and Learning—Another Look. CSE Technical Report 334, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST)

This paper begins with a review of some past studies on the effects of standardized testing on schooling. It also summaries of the study's methodology and discusses the results. Finally, the implications of the study's findings for educational policy and research are reported.

Sunderman, G. L., Tracey, C.A., Kim, J. & Orfield, G. (2004). Listening to teachers:
Classroom realities and No Child Left Behind. Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

While opinion surveys have limits as a source of policy guidance, teachers’ views are very important to the success of any educational reform, including NCLB. This research sought to get the views of teachers on the burning issues as they pertained to the No Child Left Behind legislation. The authors stress that the opinions as expressed by the teachers cannot be interpreted as defensive justifications of failure. The fact that teachers from two very different cities in two very different states that are three thousand miles apart often agree is noteworthy. It is the hope of the authors that that this report will help teachers to be heard as the debate over the law’s future continues.

Noulas, A.G., and Ketkar K.W. (1998). Efficient utilization of resources in public schools: a case study of New Jersey. Applied Economics, 30, 1299 - 1306

This study measures the efficiency of public schools for the state of New Jersey using the data envelopment analysis (DEA) method; it also examines the effect of certain socio-economic factors on efficiency. Some of the findings include that the average efficiency for all schools is 81%. The wealthiest districts have an efficiency score of 88% while for the neediest districts the efficiency is 63%. However, when socio-economic factors are taken into consideration, the difference between the two groups becomes smaller.

Council of the Great City Schools. (2007). Raising Student Achievement in the Newark Public Schools. Report of the Strategic Support Team of the Council of the Great City Schools

The Council’s instructional team was tasked with the responsibility of investigating possible ventures that can be undertaken in the view of raising student achievement in Newark Public Schools. They devised and presented a number of recommendations to improve the academic achievement of students. The proposals are built around strategies that have proven to be effective in raising performance in other major urban school systems. According to the council, there is little else in the research or in practical experience to suggest that strategies beyond those described here are likely to have much, if any, effect on student achievement. Governance and other changes in the overall organizational architecture of a school system have rarely been effective in boosting student attainment, despite all the press releases to the contrary. Such changes often have an immediate appeal to the press and some community leaders because they suggest more robust and aggressive action. But there is nothing to suggest that these governance measures have any effect on classroom practice or— ultimately—on student achievement.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Culture of Self

Growing up in a small fishing and farming rural community of about 600 people (entirely of African descent) on the Nature Isle of the Caribbean, Dominica, I had a very privileged childhood and upbringing. My dad was a successful businessman who was well loved and very popular in the community. As such, I was afforded many opportunities that may not have ordinarily been possible, including entry into the elementary school system at an age earlier than the norm and having guys who were willing to fight battles for me. I had people who assisted me with my schoolwork and hardly did chores at home – since we had attendants to take care of those matters. I was encouraged to strive for excellence and I developed an appreciation for success – hoped to emulate my dad and learnt at a very young age what it meant to be a responsible individual who values and appreciates other people and their culture. I also grew up in a very catholic home and at the age of seven, I became an alter server. My family was so devout that my step mother, dad and myself had a special pew in which we would sit at in church – which seemed to have been unofficially reserved for us by fellow churchgoers. As fate would have it, I spent a great deal of time with the parish priests, learning about the faith and the role of the priest as pastor and teacher. Before long, I was convinced that I wanted to become a Roman Catholic priest. Prayer and family became the foundation on which most of my actions were predicated and as such my life was void of most, if not all of the ills that plagued the rest of society around me. In other words, sheltered and protected was the childhood of the one who now yearns to be a teacher in an urban environment. While religion has played a major role in my life over the years, in retrospect, I am of the notion that my desire to become a priest at the time was as a result of my somewhat limited knowledge of the vast range of career options that existed beyond my closed, myopic view of the world.

I hope the preamble or discourse above serves to give some insight to my responses to the questions and help provide some clarity to the circuitous appearance of my collage. We are the product of an intricate web of factors which includes our family history, race, cultural upbringing and class among others. One’s culture is always very dynamic and complicated in some ways. My forefathers/ancestors were brought across from Africa to the Caribbean island of Dominica in chains by the white/Caucasian colonial masters to work as slaves on the sugar and cacao plantations for the benefit of the British Empire. Upon emancipation from slavery, my ancestors were able to practice various aspects of their ancestral history or culture, coupled with their new adopted culture – that of their former owners or “masters”. The experience of my forefathers at the hands of their “masters”, the journey across the Atlantic in worst than deplorable conditions, the denial of their freedoms, the unfair wages, the suppression and oppression of their culture will never be forgotten and will forever impact how “my people” go forward as a generation. This impacts our association with people of different races and ethnic backgrounds; we sometimes have the natural occurring tendency to sympathize with other blacks while remaining indifferent to the plight of folks of other races. We tend to be more understanding to people of “our kind” while finding it difficult to understand what “other kinds” have to complain about. The same goes for folks who are in a different socio-economic bracket or social standing. We find it hard to comprehend how those people who are in a higher socio-economic standing can complain of having problems or difficulties. Our upbringing also influences how we view people of different sexuality or cultural backgrounds. For example, someone who is raised in a staunch catholic family and vehemently practicing the church’s teaching is expected to shun the idea of homosexuality which is seen as immoral or ungodly and an intolerable lifestyle; the participants of which should meet a dastardly end. If that person’s mentality remains unchanged, this may negatively influence the manner in which he or she deals with someone who is homosexual.

The mentality that one adopts and allows to guide his or her existence ultimately determines the kind of individual they eventually become. My culture and the knowledge I have acquired about my heritage has a profound impact on my life’s philosophy which is, “whatever the mind of man perceives, it can achieve”. This makes me want to be different from the negative stereotypes that are so often associated with my race and makes me strive to help change the unflattering perceptions that people so often have of folks of African descent. This feeling serves to instill in me a sense of pride and a desire to be successful in all that I do or undertake.

My experiences as a learner have left me a more open minded and tolerant individual. I have been fortunate to study and experience life in a number of territories including Malaysia, the UK and Trinidad and Tobago – all sporting mixed populations (of Chinese, Indians and African descent). I must admit that I experienced some culture shock my first few months in some of these territories but mainly because I went in with expectations that there was a greater sense of acceptance and accommodation among such a diverse population but that proved absent. Notwithstanding, I have had the opportunity to work with students of different races, ethnicity and religious backgrounds (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh) and that afforded me an opportunity to clarify whatever misconceptions I might have entertained about them in the past. I recall in Malaysia where I questioned my Muslim classmates about the teachings of Islam and why they thought it was so easily misunderstood by those of us from the Western countries. Their explanation assisted in my coming to the realization that while we may not be able to understand the rationale for the practices of people of different cultures, we should avoid jumping to conclusions or attempting to interpret their actions. We should afford people of different races, ethnicity and religious backgrounds the same courtesies, opportunities and freedom of expression that we would have them give us. In that way the hate will cease to exist and a culture of understanding and tolerance will be cultivated in and around people of differing circumstances.

I intend to bring the mindset of cultural tolerance and acceptance into the classroom. While students may be of different cultures, they should be encouraged to work together and see beyond the physical or ideological difference that may exist between them. Students should be able to share their cultural experiences with each other in an effort to promote an understanding of the diversity which exists. Democracy and equality should reign in the classroom. Every student will be expected to respect the rights of his or her fellow classmates, and their dignity as human beings. As such, in the classroom, neither teacher nor student should denounce someone as evil or radical, just because they have different views or are of differing faith or ethnicity. If this holds true, I am of the notion that an enabling environment will be created and learning will be at an optimum even in the face of cultural diversity within the classroom.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What are the major influences that shape schools, those in urban centers in particular?

The assignment readings were an “eye opener” or call to reality for me. Being a relative novice in terms of US History and especially as it pertains to education, coupled with my ignorance of the particulars of Brown vs. the Board of Ed, I was forced to do some additional research on the supreme court ruling, the circumstances that led to it and the aftermath of the ruling – which Fruchter very aptly dissected in his first chapter. I must say, growing up outside the USA, I had one perception of what life in the USA was supposed to be. However, now that I’m living within the USA and reading and learning more about the country’s history, I am becoming more and more convinced that sometimes outsiders get a very perverted picture of the situation, irrespective of subject area.

In Chapters 1 and 2 of Norm Fruchter’s Urban Schools Public Will, the failure to effectively implement the mandate of the Brown vs the Board ruling is assessed, the factors contributing to the failure to integrate urban schools are investigated, the measures that can be taken to improve education of students of colour are explored and finally, changing the culture of schooling is proposed as a means to bridge the achievement gap that currently exists between races in urban neighborhoods. In the excerpt from the book by Steinberg and Kincheloe, the troubles associated with classification of urban versus rural versus suburban were raised and the innate problems of the individual classes or subgroups were investigated, highlighting some statistical data used to explain the differences between the classes. The myths associated with the different societal subgroups we also discussed with such delicate precision. The ability to manipulate statistical data to “tell” one’s story of preference is an ethical issue dealt with across varying fields of academia, and pedagogy is no exception. One point emanating from both readings is that policy makers tend to use/manipulate data and race in varying ways in order to promote their personal ideologies – a phenomenon which can sometimes have devastating effects on a society at large.

Based on the aforementioned and additional readings, I am of the notion that some of the major influences that shape schools include;
- Population densities and area demographics
- Policy formulation and the preference of legislators (Including adequate funding for education related projects in urban centres)
- The mindset of teachers (trained or untrained)
- The political will to do what is right (e.g. implement the dictates of the courts re improving the atmosphere to facilitate learning.
- Racism and Classism

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Media Influence Revised


Lean on me - Urban

Morgan Freeman plays the role of a principal who is more concerned about the well being of the students – even breaking the laws in an effort to protect the students when necessary. He seems more like a drill sergeant than a school principal. His forceful methods, while not entirely appealing to some of his co-workers do get results. What’s more interesting is that this film was based on a true story – thereby confirming that one man’s dedication can bring about that change that is sometimes so necesary.

Dangerous Minds - Suburban

I loved this movie a great deal. Again it shows the potential result of dedication and an indefatigable attitude on the part of the teacher. Louanne Johnson is an ex-marine, hired as a teacher in a high-school in a poor area of the city. After a terrible reception from the students, she tries unconventional methods of teaching to gain the trust of the students. She made the students realize the value of an education and how meaningful it can be to the direction their lives take post graduation.

The Breakfast Club

When five students are thrown together by Saturday morning detention, each begins to see the others apart from their stereotypes. Andrew, the jock; Brian, the geek; John, the wastoid; Claire, the popular Prom Queen; and Allison, the psycho girl; each finds qualities about the others that make the Saturday morning change their lives. At first, they argue and hate each other, but after smoking some marijuana, they pour their hearts out to each other, and tell about their fears, secrets, and their deepest emotions, and problems.

Songs / Music

Gangster’s Paradise – Coolio - Urban

That song reflects a sad reality of poverty and crime plagued life of most urban communities, speaks about a life with little expectations, where money is king and all efforts should be directed at acquiring some of that power via money. It speaks of the loneliness, fractured families and life of crime that plagues those living in a “Gangsta’s Paradise. This song also highlights the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in urban areas.

Dear Mama - Tupac - Suburban

I really love this song. Tupac is viewed by some as one of the most violent of rap artists and this song shows he has that more emotional and reflective aspect of his life. This song was actually composed whilst he was in prison. Therein, he reminisces on the contribution of his mother to his life and pays tribute to her for all the struggles she endured while raising he and his sister. He highlights the life of a troubled teen growing up with no one but his mother to care for him. Were it not for her efforts his demise probably would have come even earlier .
Crossroads – Bone Thugs n Harmony - Rural
The Cosby Show - Suburban

The Cosby Show is said to have broke down racial barriers in TV by portraying an African-American family comfortably assimilated in upper-middle-class white America. With Mr. Huxtable as an obstetrician/gynecologist and Mrs. Huxtable as a lawyer, the show presented a picture to the world that African Americans “can be successful too”. It gave hope of a comfortable life amidst the much often publicized pictures of African American youths partaking in gang related violence, killing each other, falling by the wayside or going astray. Furthermore, the show went to the heart of the racial divide by being staged in and venturing into precincts traditionally dominated and controlled by whites. The show brought black upscale role models to a medium that too often tended to use blacks, when they were employed at all, as diverting clowns. It gave black youths hope that the too can have a successful family one day. This could also be identified by the kids in the show; each was portrayed as a high achiever whose thoughtful behavior and emphasis on education were seen as reflections of their parents'.

Saved by the Bell – Urban

Saved by the Bell gave us another more positive insight about what school life in like in the US. The show offered a world that reflects the ultimate high school experience – fun, some learning, friendships, cliques, underage drinking, “posies”, sexual innuendoes and the like. It showed us a high school experience that was mainly void of violence, drugs and crime as we would so often see in “school related movies.