Education Week - May 11, 2016 - (Page 24)

LETTERS to the EDITOR contribution the newspaper could make to turning things around in schools and really improving the lives of our students and the success of our educational system. Robert Barkley Jr. Worthington, Ohio Student Engagement Should Be The Main Goal of Education To the Editor: Your article "Survey: Student Engagement Drops by Grade Level" (March 23, 2016) should have been the issue's lead article. Lack of student engagement is the greatest problem with education in our country. However, it is an issue that no current key public officer, presidential candidate, or recent U.S. Department of Education leader seems to grasp. The fundamental purpose of education is to preserve and nurture enthusiasm for learning. That being the case, engagement is the No. 1 factor that should be measured in schools. Yet our current educational reformists-both the corporate types and their shills in elected leadership roles-do not seem to grasp this. Instead, they push their mindless masstesting siege, which contributes mightily to the decline in student engagement. The author Lee Jenkins, in his 1997 book Improving Student Learning, reports that while he was superintendent of a California school district, he measured student enthusiasm for learning. The results were stark: Student enthusiasm for learning declined steadily from kindergarten and 1st grade to 8th grade, dropping from about 90 percent to between 30 percent and 40 percent. In other words, students begin their school experience enthusiastic about learning, and our school structure and standardized-testing practices reduce that enthusiasm dramatically. If one envisions the creation of college-ready and work-ready graduates as the primary goal of K-12 education, this preparation target will not be met under the current system. I believe that most appropriately trained educators realize all of this instinctively, if not consciously. And the failure of our leaders to address this phenomenon is contributing greatly to professional-educator frustration, including early retirements for current teachers and lower numbers of people pursuing teaching jobs in the first place. I would encourage Education Week to lead deep and ongoing coverage of the issue of student engagement. It is the greatest single The author is a retired executive director of the Ohio Education Association. Measure School Climate, Not Social-Emotional Skills To the Editor: While I applaud the increase in attention to students' social and emotional skills, the recent urgency to develop ways to measure such proficiencies in the classroom gives me pause ("'Testing for Joy and Grit'? I Don't Think So," Finding Common Ground blog, www.edweek. org, March 24, 2016). The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, the center where I work, studies the implementation of school-based emotional health and behavioral programs. We are concerned about the push to measure such skills in children rather than assessing the general climate of the school. There are many valid arguments against testing students' individual skills, including a lack of agreement on which skills matter most. But the larger issue is that focusing on students' skills shifts the emphasis from deficiencies in the students' environment to deficiencies in the student. In short, efforts should focus on building positive school environments. The U.S. Department of Education describes a positive school climate as one that promotes a supportive academic, disciplinary, and physical environment and builds respectful and trusting relationships within the school community. Measuring school climate is challenging, but can identify needs that may otherwise go unnoticed and can engage community partners in enhancing student supports. Tools that have demonstrated results are available. In Alaska, the voluntary School Climate and Connectedness Survey collects information about student, staff, and family experiences in schools, and informs planning goals and allocation of resources. Since the survey began in 2006, 90 percent of the school districts have participated in it. The decisions made as a result of those surveys reflect a strong relationship between positive school climate and the percentage of students meeting state standards for learning. While the latest research affirms that building social and emotional skills in children leads to better academic and employment outcomes, measuring these skills on the individual level misses the point. Assessing school climate, including contextual factors that influence student development and learning, offers a better way to understand and respond to the needs of all students. Olga Acosta Price Director Center for Health and Health Care in Schools Milken Institute School of Public Health George Washington University Washington, D.C. Educator Shares Her Thoughts On Staying in the Classroom To the Editor: I write in response to a first-person essay published on your Education Week Teacher site ("Why I Plan to Stay in Teaching," Feb. 24, 2016). As an educator for the past seven years, I have had the privilege of working in magnet schools as well as in high-needs schools. When I began my teaching career, I was placed in a Title I elementary school in southwest Louisiana with students who were economically disadvantaged. I walked into my first year as an alternative-teachingcertification candidate with an undergraduate degree in sociology. In other words, I knew nothing about curriculum, pacing guides, or standards-but I knew if something didn't change in education, more and more African-American males and females could possibly enter the criminaljustice system. If only I knew then what I know now, maybe I would have been more prepared for what I was going to face in my classroom. On a daily basis, I encountered students who battled parent absenteeism, gangs, and lack of exposure to the world beyond their "gated" housing development. As a first-year teacher, I probably was not the most effective, but what I did understand was love, care, and survival. I survived the school year without shedding any tears or getting verbally attacked by a parent, and I was able to equip my students with some of the skills and tools necessary to become successful and productive citizens of society. The reason I became an educator and my rationale for continuing my path in education remain unchanged. I teach to educate children and expose them to a world outside their local communities and to guide them on which paths to choose. Amanda E. Austin 5th Grade Math and Science Instructor Mayfair Laboratory School Baton Rouge, La. ESSA Ignores the Research On Testing English Learners To the Editor: I just finished reading "The Every Student Succeeds Act: An ESSA Overview" (March 31, 2016). I still find it hard to believe that educators permitted the accountability provision under Title III-the Englishlanguage-learner provision-to be moved into Title I and did nothing to change the minimal time now allowed for these children to acquire English skills. According to the new Every Student Succeeds Act, ELL students can be tested in both reading and math in their third year and these results treated as though these students were native English speakers. In doing so, ESSA is ignoring the research on how long it takes students to acquire on-grade-level proficiency in English. After two or three years in an English-asa-second-language program, students may sound like native speakers because they have gained informal conversational skills. The research indicates that it may take up to eight years in English-only programs for children to acquire the academic language they need to be successful at their grade level. Why is the research still being ignored? Claiming that merging Title III accountability with Title I will put the focus where it needs to be is ludicrous, since each state will choose to focus on what it feels is important. It took federal oversight to get many states to provide appropriate services for English-language learners. What will happen to them now? Elaisa Gosnell Milford, Del. COMMENTARY POLICY Education Week takes no editorial positions, but publishes opinion essays and letters from outside contributors in its Commentary section. For information about submitting an essay or letter for review, visit CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23 support for what was once considered unrealistic-passage of laws in an increasing number of cities setting a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and the burgeoning movement to opt out of high-stakes testing. The former means more money in workers' paychecks, which in turn leads to families that are less stressed and more stable and to more children who are ready to learn. The latter, if its growing influence is realized in different policy decisions, will mean more time for meaningful learning. Both suggest a shift in the perception of what is possible when average citizens get together to demand change. That's progress relative to where we have been. A third sign of progress is the developing body of knowledge about effective teaching and learning, which has yet to be fully realized in daily instruction. For example, because we know that learning is an active process, the old practice of passive learning and rote memorization should fade away. Because we know that early development affects children's later learning, we should be investing in family health and well-being. Because we know that students' emotional health affects learning, we should invest in family and community stability and 24 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 11, 2016 | promote supportive classroom culture. Because we know that learning in diverse environments is good for all children, we should be promoting integrated classrooms, schools, and neighborhoods. A battle is raging between two solutions to different education tracks. One is to give a few students an opportunity to jump aboard a theoretically faster-moving train with limited available space. That track symbolizes charter schools. However, on average, they are no more effective than the regular public schools from which they drain limited funds, and they are removed from the democratic control of communities. The other solution is systemic, addressing not just the content and quality of instruction and school leadership, but also inequity in funding and the conditions of people's lives in communities through investment in jobs, universal preschool, health care, and access to higher education. My perception of my morning train ride was constrained by the reference points in the tunnel. So it is if we confine our thinking to accepting the limits of the current education system and the inequity that surrounds us. Our new reference point for education should be ensuring what it takes to prepare every child to be successful in life, work, and citizenship. n Getty Relative Motion in Education

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 11, 2016

Education Week - May 11, 2016
Bungling Student Names: A Slight That Stings
Popularity of Ed Tech Often Not Linked to Products’ Impact
As ESSA Rolls Out, State Officials Vow To Hear Local Voices
Rich Districts Post Widest Racial Gaps
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Study Says Teachers Feel Stressed, Discounted
Amid Rocky Start, College-Access Coalition Hires First Director
Migrant Students Kept Out of Schools, AP Investigation Finds
Scores Decline for Low-Performers On 12th Grade NAEP
National Survey Shows Rise in Student Safety
Blogs of the Week
Education Funding a Key Factor In Illinois Budget Showdown
ESSA Paves Way for Deeper Access to Wealth of K-12 Data
Blogs of the Week
Relative Motion In Education
Education Policy Should Address Student Poverty
Quality Physical Education Is a Life Changer
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
‘People Support What They Create’: Stakeholder Engagement Is Key to ESSA’s Future

Education Week - May 11, 2016