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July 2, 2012

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Need for education doesn’t end when summer starts

June 17, 2012


Posted:   04/23/2012 04:36:21 PM PDT
Updated:   04/24/2012 04:49:10 AM PDT

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson visited the Bay Area to deliver a message last week. Yes, schools need more money, but that’s not why he was at the microphone on this occasion.

He was telling anyone willing to listen that when the last bell of the school year rings, it shouldn’t mark the end of students’ education.

Field trips with the family, summer camps, visits to libraries and museums all serve to keep a child’s mind engaged. Trouble is, far too many kids in lower-income families often are without access to such activities.

The net result, he explained, is a phenomenon called “summer learning loss.” It seems the brain atrophies the same way athletes’ muscles do if allowed to go three months without exercise.

“We know from research at Johns Hopkins University that students who have a rich summer learning environment maintain what they learned in the previous nine months,” Torlakson said. “The students who don’t have that stimulating experience lose two of the nine months of math and English learning they had accomplished.”

That puts them at a disadvantage when school resumes.

The study, conducted by sociology professor Karl Alexander beginning in 1982, tracked the academic progress of 800 Baltimore students from first grade though adulthood. He found that “two-thirds of the ninth-grade academic achievement gap between disadvantaged youngsters and their more advantaged peers can be explained by


what happens over the summer during their elementary school years.”Hence, the “Summer Matters” program that Torlakson unveiled with the assistance of Jennifer Peck, executive director of the nonprofit Partnership for Children and Youth advocacy group.

Her organization, which has brought more than $70 million to public schools and their community partners in the past nine years, has stepped to the forefront in seeking funding and promoting summer enrichment programs for the underprivileged.

“Heightening awareness is a huge piece of the puzzle,” Peck said. “There’s still a lack of awareness among parents about why it’s so important to keep their kids learning and reading over the summer.

“A lot of parents, particularly working parents, like to have time off in the summer — and more informal time with their kids — sometimes to the detriment of their academic success.”

Or, put less delicately: Leaving the kids plunked in front of the TV all summer will turn their brains to mush.

The elimination of traditional summer school because of budget cuts has exacerbated this problem, but Peck said learning opportunities are there for those willing to look, at Boys and Girls Clubs or YMCAs or library programs run by cities and counties.

The Mt. Diablo school district has stepped up, too, parlaying state and federal after-school grants with funding from the Bechtel Foundation and Chevron to provide the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Summer League Project at 14 Title 1 elementary and middle schools.

Ali Medina, who oversees the program, said to think of them as summer learning camps (8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays), highlighted by a field trip to the Chabot Space and Science Museum.

Ygnacio Valley and Mt. Diablo high schools also will offer SAT preparatory and physical fitness classes (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Information on all the programs is available on online ( or by calling 925-691-0351.

Of course, none of that matters if parents don’t act.

Teachers aren’t the only ones responsible for a child’s education.

New Reading Teachers Should Pass a Reading Test

June 15, 2012


By Sandra Stotsky Apr 1, 2012 5:00 PM CT

Imagine a physics program that won’t teach the theory of relativity. Or an English department that shuns Shakespeare. That would be equivalent to how U.S. schools of education treat the most effective method for teaching beginning reading.

That method is called decoding, the shorthand word for the scientifically tested techniques for teaching children the relationships between symbols and sounds, often just called phonics. Reformers have fought for generations to have decoding skills taught systematically and directly, but schools of education will have none of it.

Instead, the education establishment prefers to teach beginning readers to guess at the identification of a written word using its context — the so-called whole-language approach. The people who run education schools hate the “code” because they say it requires a repetition of boring exercises — “drill and kill” — turning children off and discouraging them from “reading with meaning.” There has never been evidence for this view, however.

The whole-language advocates pitch their approach as being on the side of “meaning,” not the “code.” Similarly, math educators have long used the goal of “deep conceptual understanding” to justify requiring children to invent their own methods for performing basic arithmetical operations instead of teaching them to understand and use the standard algorithms, which mathematicians note are more efficient, effective and general.

Wisconsin Battle

The educators’ biases have held sway for decades. But a new coalition is trying to find a way to make sure prospective teachers have some instruction in what decoding strategies are and why they are effective.

The latest action has been in Wisconsin. The state Legislature passed a bill that will help ensure that teachers no longer receive inadequate training in their preparation and professional development. The Wisconsin Reading Coalition, the Wisconsin branch of the International Dyslexia Association, and a group of parents, educators, psychologists and other professionals supported the measure. I was among the many experts submitting testimony for it.

The group had begun looking carefully at beginning instruction after noting Wisconsin children’s stagnant reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, and comparing those results with the scores in Massachusetts.

Why Massachusetts? Because children there are doing better than pupils in most other states on reading tests.

As noted by Kathleen Porter-Magee in a 2012 Fordham Institute analysis of the impact of high standards on student achievement, the 2009 NAEP reading tests showed that “students scoring in Massachusetts’s bottom 25 percent score higher than students in the bottom 25 percent of any other state in the nation. And students scoring in the top 25 percent perform better than students in the top 25 percent of any other state.”

She attributed this performance to the effective implementation of its highly rated English-language-arts standards, first adopted in 1997 and then re-adopted in a slightly revised form in 2001.

But the Wisconsinites zeroed in on a more specific explanation for the Massachusetts results: the state’s licensing test, in place since 2002, for all aspiring teachers of elementary-age children. The content of the test includes knowledge of code-based beginning-reading instruction.

Education Schools Balk

Education schools whose coursework was once limited to whole-language approaches now have to explain the research support for a code-emphasis method and what systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics means in practice. The schools have done this grudgingly, limiting their effort to test preparation workshops or including it as a small part of a “balanced literacy” approach that allows teachers to teach phonics but only in context, thereby ensuring that it can’t be taught systematically.

Supported by their state Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin’s legislators followed the path taken first by Massachusetts, then by Connecticut in 2008, and most recently by Minnesota in 2011, to require the tests. Several other states are considering the requirement, as well.

Their efforts have broad implications. Many states are looking for objective ways to evaluate teachers at all levels. But the efforts by federal education officials to prod states into working out sound teacher-evaluation plans seem to be missing an important connection.

The policy makers in Washington want states to develop an appropriate professional way to determine which teachers are ineffective — a reasonable goal. But they have not made it clear that such evaluations need to judge whether a lack of adequate progress in children’s beginning-reading skills is the result of teacher incompetence or of deficient training.

Common Core

The licensure test that the Wisconsin bill will mandate is not only based on reading science; it is also aligned with the foundational skills in the national Common Core reading standards for the elementary school.

Once the bill is signed into law and begins to affect training, Wisconsin will be able to evaluate teachers of beginning reading on their skills without worrying if they lack professional knowledge that could easily have been taught in their coursework. Let’s hope the work of the reformers in Wisconsin spreads to most other states.

(Sandra Stotsky is a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and was senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education in 1999-2003. She is the author of “The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum: What Secondary English Teachers Can Do,” to be published in June. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Sixth-grader gets perfect SAT math score

June 12, 2012
tags: ,

From Daily Herald:

By Steve Zalusky

The phrase “nobody’s perfect” is not perfectly accurate.

Bowlers have been known to roll a perfect game. And White Sox fans experienced the perfect game of Phil Humber this year.


Perfection is definitely attainable. But it is rare.

Consider the feat of Joshua Yoon, who attained a perfect score of 800 on the mathematics portion of the SAT college admission exam.

How rare is this? Well, according to the website, about 10,000 college-bound seniors attained that score in 2009.

Joshua is only a sixth-grader.

Joshua, who lives in Buffalo Grove and is a student at Twin Groves Middle School, was honored for his perfect score last week by Kildeer Countryside District 96 school board.

His family, neighborhood friends, teachers and Twin Groves Principal Heather Friziellie joined the board and Superintendent Julie Schmidt in celebrating the achievement. At the board meeting, Joshua accepted a plaque and congratulations from Board President Marc Tepper.

Sixth grade is early to take the SAT. Joshua qualified by virtue of his score on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and took the exam along with college-bound high school students Feb. 4 at Stevenson High School.

The results certainly bode well for his future.

“I kind of want to be a doctor like my dad,” foot and ankle specialist Hong Yoon, he said.

Joshua, a straight-A student, said he “kind of” expected the score. He studied for the test by “looking at a math book.”

When asked how he did on the other parts of the test, he said, “OK.”

Not surprisingly, he said math is his favorite subject, although he can’t pinpoint exactly when his enthusiasm began.

Teachers noticed too, said his mother, Seojin, and would often give him advanced work. As a student at Ivy Hall Elementary School, Joshua was given sixth-grade honors math work.

“We were in fifth grade, and when they were teaching math, we went outside to the hallway and we separately did sixth-grade math,” he said.

“I think that was very good for him,” his mother said. “That is why he is quite advanced, I think.”

His teachers still give him advanced work. Officially, Joshua is in the seventh-grade math class, but he is doing eighth-grade work.

Math is far from being his only interest, however. Joshua said he likes science and social studies, just not as much as math. He has diverse extracurricular interests as well. He plays piano — among the pieces he likes to play are Beethoven sonatas — as well as violin, performing the instrument in the Twin Groves orchestra.

He’s also a Boy Scout and is involved in sports, playing both baseball and basketball.

“I’m usually put as a forward or center, but I prefer point guard,” said Joshua, who roots for the Bulls and Lakers in basketball. As for baseball, he likes to play first base and shortstop and roots for the Yankees and White Sox.

Yoon said he has received feedback from friends and teachers on his accomplishment, but overall, he said, his life has remained unchanged.

40+ Tips to Improve Your Grammar & Punctuation

June 9, 2012


By Jay White

After all these years you finally have the courage and opportunity to write the email announcing that you and you alone have single handedly saved the company from utter disaster. You’re excited, you type it, you spell check it, and you hit send.

Everything is great except that your gold star memo has dangling modifiers, double negatives and run-on sentences colliding with each other.

Now I am no grammar whiz but I know a good resource when I see it. Purdue University maintains an online writing lab and I spent some time digging through it. Originally the goal was to grab some good tips that would help me out at work and on this site, but there is simply too much not to share.

Learn and enjoy!

Adjectives and adverbs

    • A or An?: with exercise and answer key














Sentence structure


















Apostrophes and Quotation Marks








Other punctuation

Sentence Punctuation







Written on 12/22/2007 by me, Jay White, the founder of Dumb Little Man and an all around average guy. Republished on 12/21/2010 because this stuff is just SO useful! Photo Credit: tommy the pariah

Johnny Still Can’t Read

June 6, 2012

From Central Valley Business Times:
Johnny still can’t read

April 3, 2012 9:46am

•  Six out of ten seniors graduate without reading, writing skills needed to succeed

•  ‘Good jobs [are] going unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates’

The book, “Why Johnny Can’t Read” shocked the nation back when Dwight Eisenhower was president and the Desoto was still a popular car.

But readers of that 1955 book would be just as shocked by a 2012 report Alliance for Excellent Education that contends Johnny is about as illiterate as ever.


Research by the Alliance say that more than 60 percent of twelfth-grade students leave high school without the advanced reading and writing skills needed to succeed in college and a career.


This, it notes, seriously constrains their future employment options and restricts national and state economies.


The report, “Confronting the Crisis: Federal Investments in State Birth-Through-Grade-Twelve Literacy Education,” identifies what it sees as promising solutions underway at the state level, including implementing the newly adopted common core state standards in English language arts and the “Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy” (SRCL) program.


“While the trend lines for educational and workforce demands are steadily rising, students’ reading and writing skills are not keeping pace,” says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “This results in unprepared college students taking remedial courses, employers spending more money on job training, and good jobs going unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates.”


According to the report, 44 percent of all students at public two-year institutions and 27 percent of all students at public four-year institutions enrolled in a remedial course. Remedial education at the postsecondary level costs the nation an estimated $3.6 billion annually.


Additionally, students who enroll in a remedial reading course are more than three times less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within eight years than are students who take no remedial education courses.


Mr. Wise says this is a critical time for the federal government to partner with all states “by fully investing in comprehensive literacy plans to ensure that every student graduates from high school with the advanced skills necessary for success in college and a career.”


The report notes that since 1973 the share of jobs in the United States requiring postsecondary education has increased from 28 percent to 60 percent. During the same time period, however, the literacy performance of 17-year-olds has remained the same.


Additionally, 25 percent of eighth graders nationwide lack even partial mastery of grade-level knowledge and skills, according to the 2011 Nation’s Report Card in reading, putting these students at risk of dropping out before earning a diploma.


“Unless Congress provides additional funding for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, state literacy plans are more likely to sit on a shelf and gather dust than they are to help improve students’ reading skills in the classroom,” says Mr. Wise.


Ele: A Quality New Digital Resource for Preschooler Parents

June 3, 2012


ele header


The Fred Rogers Center is committed to exploring how digital media benefits and supports the development of young children, and part of the work it does is to create resources that help parents to best use digital media tools. Their latest tool, the Fred Rogers Center Early Learning Environment, or Ele for short, is one of the best quality resources on digital media literacy for young children that I have seen.

Over at the GeekDad Community there have been some questions about raising toddlers and younger children in geeky ways. I think for young children, this is less about putting them in Star Wars baby clothes and trying to work out when they can begin to use a soldering iron, and more about teaching our children the geek approach to the world. How do we foster our children to be open, to be questioning and engaging with the world in a way that is exploratory and full of wonder? We can begin to instil this in our children from the moment they are born. We can give them the values of testing assumptions that we see in shows like Mythbusters. We can give them a love of knowledge and language and improve their vocabulary by reading them books when they are still in the cradle. We can not shut them down when they begin to ask “why?”, but encourage them to keep asking “why?” every single day. We can count with them, and take them outside when they are 18 months old and show them the stars and the universe and get them thinking about what might be beyond, and then beyond that. We can do so much.

But, when we feel stuck, or would like to know how to better engage our children in quality tools, then the Fred Rogers Center’s new Ele portal is an excellent place to start. You would visit Ele for a whole host of reasons. It may look like just another place that has digital books and games for young children, but the difference here is that the people responsible for curating and creating this content have a wealth of early childhood development knowledge and are interested in how that supports not just children’s skills and knowledge, but their health and well being.

The Ele site has a whole range of videos that help parents see how they can take their children’s learning beyond the screen and incorporate aspects of what they do in the digital world, in the real world and vice-versa. This includes content like:

  • Activities — A library of more than 100 ebooks, digital games, videos, music, mobile apps, and other activities selected as quality resources that support learning and literacy development. Some activities help adults support children’s language and literacy skills; others are designed for use by adults with children.
  • Let’s Talk — An online community where teachers, families, and others can ask questions, and connect and share with others who care about issues affecting young children.
  • My Ele — By signing up for a free Ele account, users can organize the site’s resources around their own needs and interests, and then share them by creating Play!Lists. All resources include research-based suggestions and information on how and why to use Ele’s activities, under the headings, “Talk About It” and “Why This Is Important.”

What helps this new project to stand out is the quality of the video content, the aesthetic of the design and the obvious knowledge behind the curation. Any GeekDad interested in learning more and becoming even more amazed at how their children develop in the early years of their life should visit Fred Rogers Center’s Early Learning Environment. It can help us to talk to our children in more engaging and purposeful ways, introduce them to technology in ways appropriate to their levels of development and provide them skills and knowledge in navigating content, understanding narrative and engaging with images that will set them up for a life in the future where even more of how we live is digital.