Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Parental voice leads to math program choice

Our idols over at The Education Wonks uncovered an interesting story about parental choice that harkens back to the discussion we've been having about educational philosophies and the debates that can erupt when people disagree.

In this story, a school district in Utah has listened to parents, who formed a network to express their concerns about a math curriculum adopted by the district five years ago. Schools in the district now will be able to choose between the current curriculum and one that uses a more traditional approach to math.

ALPINE, Utah (AP) -- The Alpine School District will allow elementary schools to choose between two math programs after years of complaints that a new, progressive curriculum wasn't emphasizing enough of the basics.

The "Investigations" math curriculum was adopted in 2000 and the district has heard complaints ever since. Some parents claimed the program gives too little emphasis to memorizing multiplication tables and learning long division.

"There were strong advocates for and against the program," assistant superintendent Gary Seastrand said. "Those who were against it felt the system had made a central decision. There were parents and teachers who did not buy into it or like it."

Parents unhappy with the program formed a network to advocate for a restructured math curriculum in the district, which serves nearly 70,000 students. Some dissatisfied parents have transferred their children from Alpine public schools to private, charter or home schools.

"Everyone is excited that Alpine has finally listened to parents after five long years, (during) three of which our children were not taught the times tables under Investigations math," American Fork resident Oak Norton said. "I think it's a mistake for them to offer it in the future, as there are much better programs that work for visual learners."

The feud is part of a national argument between those who want the basics in the classroom and those who emphasize concepts and use estimation and calculators.

Seastrand said a committee will review math programs and choose two for the district in time for the 2007-08 school year. He estimated the cost of obtaining new math materials at around $2 million.

"This is a door that has opened," he said. "We just want to get out of the divisiveness. We believe the school-choice option is better for local patrons. They'll have an opportunity to be involved in the conversation."

Carnival of Education Time

Take a jaunty wander through education-land in this week's Carnival of Education, the weekly round up of news, ideas, and opinions from the edu-blogosphere. This week's Carnival has a southern flare, hosted by Education in Texas. This is a teacher-run blog, nicely done by Mike, a 13-year veteran science and technology educator in the Lone Star state. So mosey on over to Mike's place for a good read!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What makes a great competitor: precision, creativity -- or both?

Okay -- I take it back. If you read only one article this month, make it "Are We Fixing the Wrong Things?" by Yong Zhao, in Education Leadership (the monthly publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, or ASCD).

Yong Zhao, Distinguished Professor of Education and director of the U.S.—China Center for Research on Educational Excellence at Michigan State University, discusses the panic caused by the 1983 report, A Nation At Risk, which still reverberates today. That report questioned the United States ability to compete against countries like South Korea and Japan because of its educational shortcomings in science and technology.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the hand-wringing over America's ranking in the education world continues, despite the fact that it has survived -- even thrived -- as an economic powerhouse. The worries are spurred on by reports such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and even day-time talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who featured Bill Gates in a recent discussion about how the American education system's failures are hurting the nation's competitiveness.

Yong Zhao wonders, "Is it possible that U.S. schools were not in trouble after all? Or were they in a different kind of trouble? Did reforms overlook the real problem and try to fix something that wasn't really broken?"

He speculates that "the secret weapon that has helped the United States remain an economic leader and innovation powerhouse is the creative, risk-taking, can-do spirit of its people. This spirit is not normally measured in standardized tests or compared in international studies."

Hmmm, interesting. Yong Zhao goes on to note:

Whereas U.S. schools are now encouraged, even forced, to chase after test scores, China, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan—all named as major competitors—have started education reforms aimed at fostering more creativity and innovative thinking among their citizens. China, for example, has taken drastic measures to reform its curriculum. As the United States raised the status of standardized testing to a record high in 2001 with No Child Left Behind, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued an executive order to significantly minimize the consequences of testing (2002). As the United States pushes for more centralized curriculum standards, China is abandoning its one nation—one syllabus tradition. As the United States moves toward a required program of study for high schools, China is working hard to implement a flexible system with more electives and choices for students. As the United States calls for more homework and more study time, China has launched a battle to reduce such burdens on its students.

So we're not alone here in Jakarta trying to figure out what works. In his blog Learning is Messy, 6th-grade math teacher Brian Crosby talks about an interesting visit to his Nevada classroom by two principals and two superintendents from Singapore (worth a look).

Learning is messy, indeed -- but it's worth the struggle to get it right.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Cherry-picking the best parts of the best systems

We've talked before about the challenges schools face when trying to balance the seemingly competing goals of providing a student-centered approach to learning with a rigorous, content-rich, standards-driven focus. The gulf that separates these two philosophies of education can seem insurmountable.

But there are schools bolding embracing both sides of the argument, attempting to bring together the traditional approach (probably what most of us parents experienced in the days of yore) with some of the more innovative concepts in education such as authentic assessment, interdisciplinary integration, and multiculturalism.

David J. Ferrero, director of education research and evaluation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, examines two such schools in his article, "Having It All" (from the May issue of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development's publication, Educational Leadership).

Ferrero discusses both the positives and negatives of trying to blend the two philosophies. On the upside, schools mixing traditional and innovative elements have seen increases in standardized test scores and a sizable positive shift in the number of students requiring remediation (extra help). On the downside, the combo-approach has upset some people within the schools by rocking their boats in uncomfortable ways.

In the end, Ferrero cautions, "It takes guts and persistence, even when all the data are on your side, to move a school in the right direction and keep it focused and disciplined over time."

If you read only one article this month, make it this one.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

This week's Carnival of Education

It's time again for that weekly round-up of education blogs -- this week hosted by the NYC Educator. Check it out to see what's happening in blogs written by teachers, edu-pundits, journalists, tax-payers, and government-types.

Tired of education? Have a look at Blog Carnival's searchable Carnival List. From the "All in the Mind" carnival (medicine, health & fitness) to the "Wine Blogging Wednesday" carnival (need we say more?), there's something for everyone in this A-Z list.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Students face "big brother" of blogging

Yesterday we tackled the meaning of the word blog, so it seems appropriate that today we look at one of the issues that has popped up like a mushroom around these internet info-journals.

Via the bloggers over at The Education Wonks, here's an article from ABC's World News Tonight website on an Illinois high school that's gone to extremes in establishing a policy on how students use blogs both at school and at home. At issue: should the school inject itself into the private lives of students in an effort to protect them from their own cluelessness?

According to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, nearly 60 percent of kids over the age of 12 have set up websites or blogs on sites such as MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster. These websites often include student photos, names, and other personal information that you, as a parent, don't necessarily want broadcast out to the entire world. But that's often what happens. So the Libertyville High School's school board voted this week to expand its code of conduct to include students' internet postings:

"Starting next year, any student who goes online to post threats, pictures of themselves drinking or smoking, or in sexually suggestive poses will face an investigation and possible disciplinary action."

Obviously, some students aren't happy with the move, which they believe cuts into their freedom to express themselves outside of the school's four walls. (The guys at The Education Wonks predict this: "This disciplinary policy will be thrown out faster than someone can say, "Has the ACLU learned of this one yet?")

It seems to me that in this instance, the school board used the "jaws of life" where precision tweezers would have sufficed. Education and conversation -- the two-way kind -- can go a long way in helping students learn to consider the consequences of their actions and make smart decisions on their own. Also, bringing parents into the mix with information and ideas on how to deal with teen blogging would mean two sets of adults could work together to help kids make wise, informed choices about the information they share with the world, and how they share it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"What exactly is a blog, anyway?"

Over the weekend, a wise JIS parent mustered up the guts to ask me, "what's a blog?" It's a great question -- and one I should have addressed three months ago, when JIS Topics was a newborn blog-pup. At that point, honestly, I wasn't exactly clear on the definition of a blog myself....

But as luck would have it, my procrastination has paid off! Instead of reading my (most likely) bumbling answer, you can read educational technology expert Andy Carvin's most excellent explanation of blogging. He's the host of PBS' new blog,, which "explores how new technology and Internet culture affect how educators teach and children learn." (Be sure to scroll down to the comment section -- lots of great dialog on how blogs can work in education. It's a great example of a community of learners thinking through a topic that isn't black-and-white.)

Obviously, education isn't the only area that's taken off in the blog-world. In fact, almost any topic you can think of has bucketloads of blogs that reach out to people who share interests, concerns, and points of view. "While no one’s exactly sure how many blogs there are, estimates often range from 30 to 100 million of them, all over the world," according to Carvin.

If you'd like to learn more, check out Wikipedia's listing on blogs here. (It notes that the word "weblog" joined the English lexicon in 1997.) Also, click over to Technorati, a cool website that allows you to search and explore your way around the blogosphere. It's good stuff.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Teaching financial common sense

Last month Catherine wrote about teaching kids financial literacy, and today the Washington Post has an interesting article on the topic. According to Post reporter Maria Glod,

With savings rates falling and personal bankruptcies on the rise, educators and policymakers are beginning to insist that the basics of money management and, above all, the importance of saving, become part of school offerings.

In the vT house, kid-finances are a big topic, and I'm guessing we're not alone. Many kids at JIS live a rarified life compared to their buddies back in the States, who are busy with chores, baby-sitting, lawn-mowing, and other money-making ventures that aren't typical (or even possible) here in Jakarta. So we struggle with ways to make money seem real and financial concepts like saving, interest, budgeting tangible.

Anyone else in the same boat? Any ideas?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Forging Stronger Links between Home and School

As readers of the blog may have gathered by now, we believe stronger links between home and school can improve educational outcomes for our children. To help educators develop more active and comprehensive partnerships with parents and communities, the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) at Johns Hopkins University has come up with a typology of 6 kinds of parent-school partnerships:

1) Parenting: Assist families with parenting and child-rearing skills, understanding child and adolescent development, and setting home conditions that support children as students at each age and grade level. Assist schools in understanding families.

2) Communicating: Communicate with families about school programs and student progress through effective school-to-home and home-to-school communications.

3) Volunteering: Improve recruitment, training, work, and schedules to involve families as volunteers and audiences at the school or in other locations to support students and school programs.

4) Learning at home: Involve families with their children in learning activities at home, including homework and other curriculum-linked activities and decisions.

5) Decision making: Include families as participants in school decisions, governance, and advocacy through PTA/PTO, school councils, committees, and other parent organizations.

6) Collaborating with the community: Coordinate resources and services for families, students, and the school with businesses, agencies, and other groups, and provide services to the community.

There are specific challenges and principles associated with each type of partnership. For example, number 5 or parental involvement in decision making entails the following challenges and principles.

  • Include parent leaders from all racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other groups in the school.
  • Offer training to enable parent leaders to develop skills to serve as representatives of other families.
  • Include student representatives along with parents in decision-making groups.
  • "Decision making" means a process of partnership, of shared views and actions toward shared goals, not just a power struggle between conflicting ideas.
  • Parent "leader" means a representative who shares information with and obtains ideas from other families and community members, not just a parent who attends school meetings.

How does this typology relate to your experiences at JIS? Do you think some types of involvement are more developed or more frequent than others? In an ideal world, what types of parent-school partnerships would you like to see?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Carnival of Education Time @ The Education Wonks

Swing over to The Education Wonks for this week's Carnival of Education, a roundup of the best and brightest writing on schools, teaching, and edupolicy in the blogosphere. Noteworthy this week:
  • Writing a Parent Handbook from a teacher's point of view (from A Teacher's Perspective)
  • The Ten Commandments of Public Education -- which do you agree with? (from Going to the Mat)
  • Harvard student and disgraced novelist Kaavya Viswanathan had a high school chemistry teacher who now has some ideas about using her situation as a teachable moment on plagiarism in the classroom (from the ChemJerk blog)
  • Since it changed format, student scores on the SAT have dropped, and Mrs. Cornelius thinks she knows why. Be sure to check out the commentary section (from The Shrewdness of Apes)
There's lots more, so if you want to learn about education and have your ideas challenged, go take a stroll on the carnival midway.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Update: Ranking top high schools harder than it looks

Just when you thought the dust had settled from Newsweek's attempt to rank 2,000 American high schools, the New York Times weighs in today with "Odd Math for 'Best High School List."

The problem? Newsweek's list depends entirely on one statistic: the number of Advanced Placement (AP) exams taken at the school divided by the number of graduating seniors. Whether or not students actually pass the exams doesn't figure into the equation.

The result? Many schools that rank high on Newsweek's list actually rank fairly low when federal, state, or local assessment goals are the yardstick. According to the Times, "A rating system that rewards quantity without measuring quality produces some truly bizarre results." For example,

Newsweek ranks Eastside High in Gainesville, Fla., as the sixth best high school in America. The state of Florida gives Eastside a C grade, which means there are 1,846 A or B schools rated ahead of Eastside in Florida alone. The Florida report card reveals that Eastside has 1,028 students, more than half of them African-American; only 13 percent of those 589 African-American children are reading at grade level. At the sixth best school in America?

So the debate rocks on.... How do you evaluate the quality of a school? Does it really matter? Or is the debate on what makes a school great a valuable end unto itself?

JIS school council meeting tonight (Wednesday)

Today (May 17th), the JIS school council holds its monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. This month it will take place in the 3rd floor conference room of the H Module.

(For those of you who, like me, are mystified by the module scheme, the H Module is the building closest to the Terogong Raya entrance. Go through the security checkpoint by the JIS admisssions office to enter the campus, turn immediately left, and find the stairs at the end of the building. Go up to the 3rd floor.)

On the docket this month:
  • A discussion of the forum results and next steps. (As a reminder, those are council's forums that allowed moral owners to comment on the research conducted by Indo-Pacific on the community's beliefs, values, and hopes for JIS.)
  • A reading of proposed changes to the JIS bylaws and policy manual regarding several governance issues, including the structure of council's monthly meetings. These changes could effect how parents can bring issues to the council's attention.
For a full version of the agenda for the meeting's open session, visit the council's webpage on the JIS ParentNet and click on "Minutes." Kudos to council for putting the agenda online! This will make it easier for parents (and other moral owners) to see the issues up for discussion and decide whether they'd like to attend the meeting.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, May 15, 2006

US government declares no state meets teacher quality standards

From The Education Wonks: the US Department of Education announced last Friday that "none of the 50 states has enough qualified teachers in its public school classrooms to satisfy the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB).

Not a single state will have a highly qualified teacher in every core class this school year as promised by President Bush's education law. Nine states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico face penalties.

The Education Department on Friday ordered every state to explain how it will have 100 percent of its core teachers qualified - belatedly - in the 2006-07 school year....

The 4-year-old No Child Left Behind law says teachers must have a bachelor's degree, a state license and proven competency in every subject they teach by this year. The first federal order of its kind, it applies to teachers of math, history and any other core class.

Click here for the full article from Ben Feller at the Associated Press. And for a twist, have a look at this editorial by education writer Linda Seebach that takes a look at two non-profit organizations trying to evaluate teacher effectiveness and quality -- with wildly differing outcomes (via, an excellent education blog).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Warning: Here's one very angry man

I didn't even try to become an engineer -- and now, thanks to Ken DeRosa (writing for Edspresso), I understand why..... Click here to read his scathing letter to U.S. engineering school dropouts explaining why they failed.

According to DeRosa, two-thirds of the students who enter an engineering program won't make it to the end, and it won't be from lack of effort. This is some education writing at its angriest -- and best.

News Flash: Research links school communication with student success

Via the National School Board Association's (NSBA) Board Buzz:

On May 9th, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) released a white paper showing a clear link between schools' communications with their students' homes and student achievement.

Here's the headline: "Communication to boost parental involvement and develop better understanding of what schools do is critical to student achievement." (I don't make this stuff up!)

Yes, this is a "duh" moment, but sometimes people only believe things if they're backed up with research -- even if it's common sense. Among the NSPRA's findings:
  • Parents and pricipals cite lack of time as the most common barrier to increased involvement, but research identifies lack of planning for partnerships and lack of mutual understanding as the two greatest barriers to effective family involvement.
  • In schools where teachers reported high levels of outreach to parents, test scores grew at a rate 40 percent higher than in schools where teachers reported low levels of outreach.
  • While 98 percent of teachers believe that effective teachers need to work with students' families and 90 percent see it as one of their school's priorities, they also find that is the area for which they feel least prepared.
If you've been following JIS Topics lately, you'll know that one issue the school is dealing with is keeping parents in the loop on their students' performance in class. This research (along with the JIS Topics informal poll of parent perception on the amount of work returned home) shows that schools are wise to consciously examine their policies and practices when it comes to keeping the lines of communications open and active between school and home.

Contact for a copy of the report.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Carnival of Education: more fun than a barrel of monkeys

The Carnival of Education (a weekly roundup of the the most interesting thinking on education from the blog-o-sphere) is open for business at HUNblog. Among this week's highlights:
It's always exciting to see the variety -- and quality -- of thought going on in the education world. If you've got a few minutes, take a look!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Traditionalists vs. Constructivists: a battle royale?

It may seem common sense to combine a rigorous, content-rich curriculum with an innovative, progressive set of teaching methods and philosophies -- but apparently morphing the two is harder than it would seem. Case in point: Yesterday's Washington Post article, "Educators Blend Divergent Schools of Thought," by Jay Mathews.

Somewhere along the line, edu-wonks seem to have divided themselves neatly into two camps that view each other with disdain and distrust. On one hand, the traditionalists emphasize learning that focuses on the subject matter. On the other, constructivists believe that true knowledge can only be "contructed" from students' own experiences and discoveries.

Both groups fault the other's position, with the constructivists saying "traditionalists are all about rote memorization and drill-and-kill," while traditionalists fire back that "constructivist theory is all warm and fuzzy....but academically empty."

In the Post article, some of education's greatest luminaries weigh in on the debate over whether the two philosophies can -- or should -- be combined. According to Alfie Kohn, noted progressive education guru, "If we want kids to be deep thinkers, then why blend an education model that features deep thinking with one that's focused on memorizing a list of facts?"

But that kind of black-and-white thinking is all wrong, says E.D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge curriculum. "The logic that Core Knowledge has traditional content, ergo it also must have 'traditional' pedagogy. [But] we don't specify pedagogy."

Meeting somewhere in the middle is a worthy goal for schools, according to New York University educational historian Diane Ravitch, who says she would be happy if
"a new generation of educators figured out that nontraditional means of teaching can be merged with a solid academic curriculum," but she also said, "It would be a miracle."
Why does the debate matter? It demonstrates that the way a school organizes its educational product and sets the philosophy that drives should not be an accident, but a conscious decision. The simple fact that there is a debate at all should highlight to all of us that there's sense in having regular discussions on the issues of what is taught, and how it's taught. Seems like common sense, but somehow even for the experts it's so hard to agree on the best answers....

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Shooting for middle school success

The National Middle School Association (NMSA), an organization of more than 30,000 principals, teachers, professors, community leaders, and educational consultants from the United States, Canada, and 46 other countries, has just launched a major campaign based on its new report, "Success in the Middle: A Policymaker's Guide to Achieving Quality Middle Level Education" (click here to download the full report).

Released on May 3rd, the NMSA's report outlines five goals:
  1. Ensure that all middle level students participate in challenging, standards-based curricula and engaging instruction, and that their progress is measured by appropriate assessments, resulting in continual learning and high achievement.
  2. Support the recruitment and hiring of teachers and administrators who have strong content knowledge and the ability to use research-based instructional strategies and assessment practices appropriate for middle level students.
  3. Support organizational structures and a school culture of high expectations that enable both middle level students and educators to succeed.
  4. Develop ongoing family and community partnerships to provide a supportive and enriched learning environment for every middle level student.
  5. Facilitate the generation, dissemination, and application of research needed to identify and implement effective practices leading to continual student learning and high academic achievement at the middle level.
Why the focus on middle school? Educational policy and research -- and foundation money -- over the past decade has really zoned in on high schools, and to a lesser extent, elementary schools and early-childhood education. (I personally believe its also because many adults are befuddled by adolescents.... its a strange, mysterious time of life. And it's easy to think, "I'll just never understand what's going on in their heads.") Obviously though, all stages of education are important -- and each level deserves attention and effort.

According to Sue Swaim, the NMSA's executive director, "For any kind of educational reform to happen and be lasting, it must be based on a shared vision between educators, policymakers, and family/community members." Yes, indeed....

Update: Just bumped into this Fordham Institute paper called "Mayhem In the Middle: How middle schools have failed in America -- and how to make them work." It's a challenging examination of the theories from which the middle school concept sprung. At the end of the day, the paper calls for districts to consider moving to the K-8 set up, where kindergardeners through 8th graders are under one roof -- a move supported by lots of solid research and experience, according to the paper's author. For districts married to the middle school structure, the paper suggests taking a hard look at the "educational ideology" that drives them and returning to a focus of academic rigor. You may disagree, but it's very interesting stuff.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The ups and downs of returning graded school work

Although it may seem straightforward, returning graded work to students is actually a sensitive issue, and emotions can run high on both sides. Let's take a look at why by thinking about the positives and negatives behind the subject.

On the upside, returning graded work to students -- and allowing them to take it home -- is a good idea because:
  • It can help students prepare for subsequent work/exams;
  • If part of a program that emphasizes formative assessment, it helps students figure out areas of weakness and work toward mastery;
  • It keeps parents in the loop on their children's performance (and helps avoid "bad news" surprises);
  • It helps parents understand the curriculum, and therefore support it better at home.
But there are also downsides to returning graded student work and letting it leave the classroom:
  • It requires teachers to alter quizzes and tests each year to prevent cheating;
  • It opens up teachers to helicopter parents, which can divert efforts away from classroom instruction;
  • If students lose major pieces of work that teachers have returned, it leaves a hole in their portfolios.
Currently, JIS' policy on returning graded work boils down to a statement in the high school Student and Parent Handbook:
"In order to enhance the learning program, assessment is shared with the student in a timely and meaningful manner" (page 24).
That kind of a policy isn't unusual at elementary and high schools. (Universities tend to approach the subject more directly, issuing clear directives on returning work to their instructors. But keep in mind, many university-level courses rely much more on summative, mid-term and end-of-term assessments, where the issue is much more cut and dry.) It acknowledges the importance of giving students feedback on their work, while providing some leeway for teachers to make decisions about how to share assessment results.

But the question for parents always boils down to, "What am I experiencing with my student, and is it the best situation possible?" For the parent who receives little or no graded work at home, the situation can be frustrating.

So is it reasonable for parents to expect that they'll see grade work at times other than parent-teacher conferences? Given the plusses and minuses, it might be worth a larger discussion at JIS.

Here are some resources:
  • (Click here for the Assessment and Evaluation Policy at a Canadian high school -- scroll down to page 5.)
  • (Here's California's Piedmont High School's 2005-2006 WASC "Self Study Report" and its views on feedback and assessments. Scroll down to page 71. WASC -- the Western Association of Schools and Colleges -- is the accrediting organization that JIS uses.)
  • (Speaking of WASC, here's its Focus on Learning Accreditation Manual in PDF format. If you scroll down to page 120, you'll see its guidelines on assessment.)
If you know of other school policies or practices on returning school work, please send it along in a comment. The more, the better!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Staying current with your child's graded school work

If your house is anything like mine, you're keeping a lot of proverbial plates spinning at one time. Occassionally, one of those plates is bound to succumb to gravity, crashing to the ground. Our "plate-crashing" moment happened in 1997 here in Jakarta.

I won't go into the gory details, but let's just say that it involved a second-term parent teacher conference at Pattimura that included the words, "This should come as no surprise" and "do-over."

My husband and I were flat-out gobsmacked. We had no indication that anything was amiss at school. We had nothing to which we could compare our child's situation. We never saw work coming home that would have raised a red flag. In our minds, everything in school was rolling along just as it should.

In retrospect, things worked out for the best. The teacher's assessment was entirely correct, and now the whole experience seems like a vague blip on the radar screen. But to this day, I have a nagging feeling that things could have been handled better. The teacher may have felt like she wasn't conveying any surprising information, but to us, it was a shocker.

Why dig up this story nearly 10 years later? I'm learning now that our experience might not be altogether unusual. Many other parents are talking about the amount (or lack) of graded school work they see coming home during the year. But to test that, let's try another poll:

In terms of school work you see returned home, do you think it is:
More than enough to help you understand your child's progress at school
Just enough so that you understand how well your child is progressing at school
Not enough to help you understand your child's progress at school
Free polls from

More later on the benefits -- and drawbacks -- of getting graded work back home....

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Geography for Global Citizens?

In one of those articles that will just make you cringe, reports on the National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 "Geographic Literacy Study," and the results for American students aren't good.

Some high- (I mean low-) lights:
  • Fewer than three in 10 respondents think it important to know the locations of countries in the news and just 14 percent believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.
  • Two-thirds didn't know that the earthquake that killed 70,000 people in October 2005 occurred in Pakistan.
  • Three-quarters couldn't locate Indonesia on a map (yikes!).
According to the study's final report:

"Taken together, these results suggest that young people in the United States ... are unprepared for an increasingly global future.....Far too many lack even the most basic skills for navigating the international economy or understanding the relationships among people and places that provide critical context for world events."

This would be one of those moments when we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that our kids -- thanks to an international education -- won't be doomed to a life of cluelessness when it comes to the world around them.

Note: Want to test your own geographical knowledge? If you go to's link, you'll see a link to CNN's "Interactive Geography Quiz." It's a hoot. And if you'd like to see how National Geographic is responding to the sad survey results, visit its new website, My Wonderful World.

Newsweek asks: "What makes a high school great?"

Newsweek magazine has just released its annual "Best High Schools" issue, which ranks U.S. high schools from 1 to 1,000. It's a relevant read even here in Jakarta, not because we necessarily care which school tops the list or which don't make the grade, but because the list's creator, Jay Matthews, tries to deconstruct the elements that make a school great.

Just what those elements are is the subject of great debate, and it's hard to find two educational experts who agree on just what it takes for a high school to rise into the upper echelons of academia (Click here to read the Education Sector's David Rotherham and Sara Meade's analysis of Newsweek's list and it's shortcomings.)

But it's the debate, itself, that's interesting. Educators -- and whole communities -- are struggling to figure out what works from a dizzying array of theories and options, from subject- or gender-specific schools to small "schools-within-a-school." At the same time, the edu-world remains wary of latching on to the latest fad or buzzword.
"I think we're still flailing around," says James Anderson, a professor of educational-policy studies at the University of Illinois. "A lot of this is more theater than substance."
There's so much promise....but so little data and research. It's a a challenging -- but also exciting -- time for schools that want to go from "good to great." So where would JIS fit in on the debate?

P.S. Has "senioritis" hit at your house? Check out this article from the Washington Post, which highlights a program (spawned at my alma mater, New Trier....woo-hoo!) designed to keep seniors engaged and learning throughout their last year of high school. Slackers, be gone!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Day!

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day! If your child has a teacher you think is great, give that excellent educator the best gift of all -- a note from you. I know from experience that an expression of appreciation can sustain a teacher better than all the apples and baked goods in the world (although those are nice too!).

So when you finish reading this, open your email and whip off a quick note to the great teachers in your child's life (email addresses are under the "Faculty" tab of the JIS Telephone Directory)....and copy the principal and headmaster if you're really feeling the love!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Update: Pennsylvania school board reinstates IB program

You may remember a posting from March 21st (scroll down to "Why council members and their votes matter") that commented on the importance of school boards and the votes of their individual members. The case in point: a school board in Pennsylvania that had voted -- much to the community's dismay -- to eliminate the district's International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

After nearly two months of community protest and litigation, the Upper St. Clair school board voted on April 24th to reverse its decision -- a vote heralded by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a good move for students and families in the district.

Wisdom prevails....thankfully.