Education Week - October 17, 2012 - (Page 27)

EDUCATION WEEK I OCTOBER 17, 2012 I 27 this as a kind of disrespect for the subject and distrust of other students, which fosters academic dishonesty. They argue that students feel so victimized by the sheer volume of work they receive, the poor quality of the assignments, and the fear of standardized testing that they resort to dishonesty. It is an environment that students believe devalues learning and analytical thought. Copying homework or sharing answers to tests are acts of communal resistance—minor acts of rebellion. So, what remedies do these students offer? They wrote that: • Teachers should eliminate busywork and rote-memorization tasks; • Teachers should give assignments and examinations that test a student’s ability to analyze and apply concepts; • The volume of work assigned by all classes should be decreased; and • Teachers must make academic dishonesty a constant topic of dialogue in class. Thinking about all this, I am pleased that my school has an honor code that is working well. In the upper school, students write out the honor pledge on the work they submit. Suspected code violations are reported to the school’s “integrity council,” composed of students and teachers charged with investigating each incident and determining if a violation has occurred. These are well-respected students and teachers who take their responsibilities seriously. It seems to me that instead of spending time placing blame on technology, schools, students, teachers, and parents, our schools and universities should seize the opportunity to redouble their efforts to create and support a community of trust. It requires developing a partnership with everyone working together to reaffirm the value of honesty. Even if one feels the prevailing culture permits or even encourages dishonesty, educational institutions must affirm that lying, cheating, and stealing will PAGE 29 > Considering Cursive In a Digital World “W “ By David Polochanin EUGENE BRATEK is the headmaster at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta. He previously served as the headmaster at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., for 21 years and as interim head of school (2009-10) at the Marshall School in Duluth, Minn. hat does a cursive Q look like?” I asked my wife after dinner one recent night. We were helping our 5-year-old daughter form uppercase letters in manuscript when it occurred to me that I did not remember how to form a cursive capital Q. It’s just not something you write that often. I scribbled a cursive Z, hoping that it would help spark my memory of Q. Weren’t they similar? Finally, we resorted to what most people do when they immediately need answers like this: We Googled it. It turns out that a cursive Q resembles a sweeping, curvy number two with several loops, and the visual helped me instantly remember it. But what this episode also brought to mind was not so much my inability to remember certain cursive letters but a recent concern in my classroom, where I teach middle school English, with my own penmanship, and the balance between teaching skills like cursive handwriting and 21st-century skills in schools. I take a small degree of pride in writing feedback to my students on their essays, poems, and other Queens borough in New York, for example.) Virginia’s Maggie Walker Governor’s School eases “brain drain” angst by reporting each student’s test scores to his or her “home school,” where they get included in the school’s state report card. A further challenge for exam schools—not yet resolved—is the question of whether they truly “add value” to their pupils. Although such schools typically win plenty of accolades, including academic prizes, stellar college-matriculation results, and lofty rankings on “best high schools” lists, they haven’t had to produce hard evidence that they impart more knowledge or skills to their students than these same talented youngsters would pick up elsewhere. When a school screens applicants for academic talent, it ends up with pupils who perform well on tests, earn high grades, and get into competitive colleges. But do such students learn more because of what happens in the school? Little research has been done. State and district assessment results don’t much help. Hence today, America’s exam schools have no systematic answer to that important question. Even so, they’re awash in more qualified applicants than they can accommodate. Demand clearly exceeds supply in this par- ticular education marketplace. And a marketplace it is. These are “schools of choice” that nobody attends against their will. They’re educational havens for high-ability youngsters from low-resource families. They encourage education-minded middle-class families to stay in cities (and public education systems) that they might otherwise flee. They foster municipal pride. And they sometimes attract talented adults—and the firms that employ such folks—to move to town because they can see education offerings there that they want for their daughters and sons, kids who may become tomorrow’s scientists and engineers and thus help boost the nation’s competitiveness in the global market. If, as Warren Buffett said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get,” then exam schools are a good value, indeed a real bargain, not just for thousands of young Americans and their families, but also for the wider society. I CHESTER E. FINN JR. and JESSICA A. HOCKETT are the authors of Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools (Princeton, 2012). Mr. Finn is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, and Ms. Hockett is an independent educational consultant, based in Evanston, Ill. In my last 11 years teaching in a middle school, approximately one child per year writes consistently in a cursive script, and that’s only because they want to.” written work. I try to be a little humorous. I ask some probing questions. I relate to students’ ideas if I can. I do not aim to correct every single problem with each student’s paper, but make an effort to highlight several good qualities and areas for improvement. And then I usually wrap up with a summarizing statement—usually as positive as possible to start off, and then if needed a direct statement about what the writer needs to do better, such as “let’s talk during your study hall tomorrow about how to keep verb tenses consistent.” But in the last few years, when I have returned papers with comments on them (deliberately not written in red, of course, which could look like a massacre), invariably there are a few students who face a significant stumbling block: They can’t read my handwriting, a half-cursive, half-printed type of shorthand that has evolved from my days as a journalist. And there are probably a few more students who do not ask for clarification, who are probably completely confused but eager to move to their next class. It’s not often that I think about cursive writing at all, but between my own failure to remember how to make a cursive Q and recollections of students in recent years who can’t decipher my own unique cursive script, I am reminded of the articles written in recent years about the antiquity of cursive penmanship. The writing has been on the wall, as they say, for the last decade: School districts are not spending as much classroom time teaching cursive penmanship. The claim is that there are simply too many more important skills that a student must learn to be successful in school—to read well, compute math, think scientifically, to express one’s ideas clearly in writing. In fact, it has been reported that the Common Core State Standards address keyboarding but not cursive handwriting. With less than eight hours a day in school, how can educators justify time teaching tedious cursive letter formation? At one time, I bemoaned this instructional trend, and not just because when I was in elementary school in the early 1980s handwriting was a more significant part of the curriculum; everyone mastered cursive writing then. I believed it was a valuable skill, and part of me still does. After all, how will children learn to sign their names or read historic documents (or their teacher’s comments)? But beyond that, there is an artistic flair about cursive penmanship—everyone’s writing is personally symbolic—not to mention the larger benefit of a child interacting with letters and language, and, of course, being neat, which is an underrated skill in itself. I can recall the workbook pages in which I traced and repeated cursive letters. I enjoyed the practice. Back then, it was a progressive step of being an elementary schooler, a rite of passage. While that rite of passage still exists, it’s definitely muted. The attention cursive writing gets is in decline. From what I can see as an educator, the expectation to write in cursive beyond elementary school is essentially absent in some schools. When I was in junior high school and high school, final drafts of writing assignments were to be written in cursive. It was the most formal style we had at the time. Meanwhile, when students in my school district reach 6th grade, teachers want readable handwriting. Most of the students at this level cannot read cursive well, let alone write it, and they aren’t getting any more instruction in penmanship. In my last 11 years teaching in a middle school, approximately one child per year writes consistently in a cursive script, and that’s only because they want to. Many teachers generally prefer word-processed work, anyway, because it’s much neater. So with the evolution of writing clearly moving toward composing on the computer—so long, Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils and fun-smelling eraser caps—the question remains: Will learning cursive even matter in years to come? It’s difficult to argue with the theory that learning 21st-century skills must take precedence over less important skills, such as cursive-letter formation. While it’s not impossible to do both, something has to give in a curriculum when new skills are introduced. And teetering on the edge, where it has been for some time, is instruction in penmanship. Peer into the houses of young children and you’ll find them using technology as if they were born with the ability. The truth is, children learn quickly. I witness this every day as my 5-year-old and 7-year-old find new uses for our iPad that I didn’t know existed. My 5-year-old has learned to reverse the camera image and record videos of herself. She takes photos of my wife and me without our knowing. My 7-year-old checks his PAGE 29 > DAVID POLOCHANIN is a middle school English teacher in Glastonbury, Conn. He is on a sabbatical leave to write children’s literature and professional articles. His work has been widely published in New England newspapers.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - October 17, 2012

Education Week - October 17, 2012
States Punch Reset Button Under NCLB
FOCUS ON: SCHOOL CLOSINGS: Debates Over School Shutdowns Heating Up
Student Mastery of Civics Ed. Goes Untested
Charters, K-12 Aid Roiling Wash. State
Table of Contents
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Cheating Scandal Lands Ex-Superintendent In Prison
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: New Tools Seek to Evaluate Ed-Tech Products, Services
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: N.Y.C. Teens Pay Valets to Store Cellphones During School Hours
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Center Raises Concerns About E-Learning For Special Education
Community Colleges Rethink Student- Placement Tests
IES to Start ‘Continuous Improvement’ Study Program
Blogs of the Week
Phaseout Plan Pains Chicago Neighborhood
High Court Tackles Affirmative Action Case
Maine Charters Roll Out Amid Promise, Questions
Policy Brief
Vice Presidential Candidate Debate Offers Brief Mention of Education
EUGENE BRATEK: Moving From Cheating To Academic Honesty
CHESTER E. FINN JR. & JESSICA A. HOCKETT: The Best Bargain in American Education
DAVID POLOCHANIN: Considering Cursive in a Digital World
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
CHERYL SCOTT WILLIAMS: School Reform, But From Whose Perspective?

Education Week - October 17, 2012