July 2009

    Searching for the Silver Bullet

    July 2009 Cover
    July 2009 Cover

    Everyone seems to have the solution to improving public education and closing the achievement gap. More rigorous standards and even more testing are touted by some as the keys to success, while others seek salvation in technology, results-based teacher pay structures, universal preschool, or charter schools. Like most things in life, there is not a single solution but we can be sure that the most important factor in the success of our schools is the service provided by our teachers.

    The latest report from the Center on Education Policy claims the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have been largely successful and that, contrary to widespread concerns, have not sacrificed the needs of the highest and lowest achieving students in favor of those in the middle “proficient” level. However, Stephen Krashen points out, “The report was limited to the years 2002 through 2008, in other words, scores since NCLB went into effect. Previous analyses (Fuller et al, Lee) compared the rate of growth before NCLB and since NCLB went into effect, and reported that there was no increase in the rate of growth in reading scores. In other words, test scores have been going up for a long time. The question is whether NCLB made a difference. This study does not address this question. Nor does the study mention that NAEP reading scores have in general not improved since NCLB has gone into effect.”
    An analysis of the significant jump in New York State test scores by Jennifer Jennings of Eduwonk suggests that the tests have grown less challenging and are more susceptible to test-prep manipulation.
    Despite the general perception of charter school superiority, a new study by Harvard University finds a low cognitive demand placed on students in some high-performing charters, and suggests an emphasis on procedure over conceptual understanding.
    While California Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing that text books be replaced by online content, seasoned educational experts are presenting evidence that tactual learning is the most effective method of language acquisition (see page 20).
    Amongst all this conflicting evidence, there is something that we do know will help — improve teaching, and we know how to do it according to Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of Education at Stanford University, and one of President Obama’s educational advisors, “First, ensure that everyone who wants to teach is well-prepared. Second, ensure that salaries are competitive and equitable. Finally, create the conditions in which teachers can teach well. That means providing the mentoring and collaboration time, the professional development and working conditions that allow teachers to use what they know and to continually get better at their difficult and important work.”
    While teachers across the nation are facing pay freezes and even cuts, and the efficacy of results-based pay systems is being challenged, a new charter school in a minority-dominant neighborhood of New York is being launched on the principle that great teachers make great schools, and paying them accordingly — at least $125,000 a year. In countries with admired educational systems, teachers are well-respected and highly-valued. It may not be the silver bullet but it will certainly put success within sight.

    IN THIS ISSUE:

    Shrinking Student Loans
    Daniel Ward explains how teachers can combine student loan repayment programs to minimize qualification costs

    Do As I Do
    Rita Dunn and Lois R. Favre ask if we really know how to teach foreign languages

    French in Fashion
    Margot Steinhart explains why French is such a relevant language in the 21st Century

    La Belle Epoque
    Like many a Parisienne, Kate Sommers-Dawes faces the dilemma of choosing between the romance of the city and the captivating south of France

    Mexico Makes Sense
    Kate Sommers-Dawes explains why Mexico is a rational choice for Spanish immersion students

    Plus all the latest news in language learning technology, book reviews, and source information on language funding

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