06/22/2009

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Summer Brain Drain Revisited As part of Atlantic Monthly’s annual ‘ideas’ issue, out this month, Derek Thompson offers up a provocative list of not-so-quick fixes for the nation's educational system ("10 Crazy Ideas for Fixing Our Education System"). While Thompson's list mixes solutions old and new, readers might be surprised by the suggestion topping the list: the elimination of summer vacation. Perhaps his suggestion is a bit extreme, but Thompson’s reasoning has a basis in sound research. Several high-profile studies from the past few years have noted that achievement gap margins tend to widen over the summer break. For a good summary of the reasons why, see this article in yesterday’s Washington Post. Middle class children are more likely to have books in the home and to attend high-quality summer programs in the summer, offsetting the loss in reading skills that occurs while students are on vacation. The 2007 study cited in the article found that differences in summer experiences explained two-thirds of the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged 9th graders. Even high-quality programs are more likely to focus on reading than math, which explains why the reading achievement gap is more prevalent at summer’s end. Children (and adults) have more difficulty retaining specific processes than basic concepts over long periods of time – e.g., solving a quadratic equation versus reading a passage for comprehension. As a result, the greatest summer losses across the board are typically in math computation and spelling. For more information on the effort to promote summer learning, check...
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Opening the Silos of Classrooms with Common Assessments I had the good fortune this past school year of working with Bea Underwood Elementary teachers (Garfield County #16, Colorado) in helping them to create common assessments for their Power Indicators. Throughout the year, a core group of teachers diligently worked through identifying key standards that they wanted to commonly assess, collaborated with their grade-level teams to create activities and rubrics for assessing the students, and began the (sometimes) agonizing process of evaluating student work together so that they were all in agreement on the type of work that would earn a 1, 2, 3, or 4 on the rubric. At our year-end meeting, the most poignant statements that the teachers made about the experience were those that talked about the critical conversations this project had spawned. One teacher remarked that one of her team’s biggest “ah-ha” moments was when they realized that they did not yet have a common language to use with students when administering the assessments. Another remarked on the many conversations she had had that year with her team regarding which skills were MOST important to assess in that particular grade. Most agreed that the experience had forced teachers to come out of their classrooms and have more collaborative conversations on student learning with their colleagues. I believe that this one school is an example of a shift we are seeing in education: no longer are teachers expected or encouraged to do their own thing within the four walls of the classroom. A combination of technology,...

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