Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday hiatus

As the school year winds down, JIS Topics is going into winter hybernation....

Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and restful holiday break. And hoping for peace on earth, and good will for all.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Great Carnival of Education this week

Want to read the best of the edu-blog world but don't have time to wade through the masses of postings?

Then check out this week's Carnival of Education, hosted this week by the most-excellent Education Wonks. They do the work, so you don't have to! Lots of good reading, including:

  • Like the idea of school uniforms? (I do!) Whatever your opinion, you'll wonder about the two New Jersey kids who protested their school's uniform policy by wearing buttons that linked the policy to "Hitler Youth." (from Rhymes with Right)
  • Bemoaning the lack of penmanship instruction in today's schools, Ken DeRosa of D-Ed Reckoning takes a funny look at one of the more ridiculous programs to teach handwriting. Hide your puppets and play-dough.
  • What's the message to students when a principal squashes the last bastion of public recognition for academic achievement in high school (the honor roll list printed in the local newspaper)? Joanne Jacobs looks at the situation at one Massachusetts school -- and gets some really interesting comments in return.
There's lots more good stuff on the Carnival midway. Have a look and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Edu-news roundup

The vT's indo-internet went haywire last Wednesday, but that doesn't mean the education world slowed down. Lots of news lately, so here's a quick round-up:

  • The Washington Post issues a ranking of Washington, D.C.-area public high schools, revealing its annual Challenge Index. The index ranks schools "according to a ratio, devised by [WaPo reporter] Jay Mathews, that is the number of Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at a school in 2005 divided by the number of graduating seniors." It's controversial. And while you may not care about the specific schools, it is interesting to read about Mathews theory that great schools encourage all students to take AP or IB courses -- not just a select few. (Click here for the full list of US public high schools that rank 100 or better on the Challenge Index. It was updated in October 2006.)
  • Time magazine wonders "How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century." You have to subscribe to read the whole thing, but summarizes it nicely. Via the edublog Assorted Stuff.
  • Alexander Russo (writing in his excellent edublog This Week In Education) flags a recent "New Idea" from the latest New York Times Sunday Magazine that highlights one of the major problems with research in the social sciences -- it never publicizes research of things that don't work. Education research falls into this category...
  • Does it really make sense to push students to study a second -- or third -- language? Kevin Carey ponders the question at the Quick and the Ed, the edublog from the minds at the Education Sector. It's a matter of prioritizing, Carey concludes. What do you think?

Lastly, for a laugh, check out "Parents of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum" (as plucked from The Onion, via Instructivist):

COLUMBUS, OH--Backed by olfactory-education experts, parents of nasal learners are demanding that U.S. public schools provide odor-based curricula for their academically struggling children.

"Despite the proliferation of countless scholastic tests intended to identify children with special needs, the challenges facing nasal learners continue to be ignored," said Delia Weber, president of Parents Of Nasal Learners, at the group's annual conference. "Every day, I witness firsthand my son Austin's struggle to succeed in a school environment that recognizes the needs of visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic learners but not him."

Weber said she was at her "wit's end" trying to understand why her son was floundering in school when, in May 1997, another parent referred her to the Nasal Learning Research Institute in Columbus. Tested for odor-based information-acquisition aptitude, Austin scored in the 99th percentile. (Click the link above to read on.)

Commentary impossible....I'm laughing to hard to type further.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

John Dewey wonders about calculators, too

John Dewey, the anonymous ed-school student who's been submitting funny and thought-provoking updates on his experience to, drops another entry into the edusphere with his latest posting: "Glasnost, Perestroika, and Graphing Calculators."

Our pseudo-Dewey, who's working towards his certification to be a math teacher, reports this month about ways educators may not be so far apart on some of the "math wars" battle grounds. But he also notes that there's still a great gulf between instructional philosophies when it comes to teaching math. (This is probably the reason that the National Council of Teachers of Math -- a.k.a. the NCTM -- and its recently-released "Focal Points" document still receive so much contentious coverage in the media and edusphere.)

And if you found the calculator cartoon funny (or not....), check out Dewey's description of his class' debate on using calculators as part of math instruction. As he points out, we "...are a long way from perestroika." Good stuff.

Trimming math topics to improve student performance

With some elementary math text books topping 700 pages, and state math standards specifying that students learn and master upwards of 40 topics each year, perhaps it's time to scale back and focus on the math skills that really matter.

That's the thinking behind an article in yesterday's Washington Post, "Local Schools Study Whether Math - Topics = Better Instruction."

Another in a long line of media coverage on a new set of recommendations from the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM), this article examines how states -- Virginia and Maryland*, in particular -- are approaching these new guidelines. State math leaders in both states are meeting this week to discuss how the NCTM's "Focal Points" document should impact their math curricula.

Stanford math professor (and huge critic of current math instruction in the United States) R. James Milgram says, "the 41-page report aligns teaching 'with what is being done with unbelievable success' in other countries." According to many prominent mathematicians, that's a good thing, as students in countries such as Singpore and Korea routinely outperform their American counterparts on international math tests.

I'm hoping Ken DeRosa at D-Ed Reckoning and Catherine Johnson at Kitchen Table Math have some insight, as they're way smarter than I am at thinking about teaching math. Sure to be interesting....

*Flashback to Barry Garelick's article, "A Tale of Two Countries -- And One School District," to see how high hopes may not be warranted in Maryland. So much potential for good -- but such weak will to accomplish it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What makes a great educational leader?

As the Jakarta International School searches to fill two principal positions (at the high school and one of our two elementary campuses), it's a good time to examine the qualities that make for great leadership in education.

New York Times writer David M. Herszenhorn looks at one example of a school leader who bucks conventional wisdom -- and produces impressive results.

"Kathleen M. Cashin is responsible for some of the roughest territory in the New York City school system — vast stretches of poverty and desolation from Ocean Hill-Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn to Far Rockaway in Queens, all part of Region 5, where she is superintendent. [snip]
Since 2003, her elementary and middle schools have consistently posted the best total gains on annual reading and math tests, outpacing other regions with similar legacies of low achievement. [snip]
'It’s not a job, it’s a lifework,” she often tells her staff. “You are saving children’s lives.'”

While JIS and the hard-knock schools that Cashin oversees may have little in common demographically, it's instructive to read about the approaches Cashin uses to build school success, even for kids who struggle. The secrets to her success?

  • “"The secret is clear expectations. Everything is spelled out. Nothing is assumed.' She provides her principals, for instance, with a detailed road map of what should be taught in every subject, in every grade, including specific skills of the week in reading and focus on a genre of literature every month."
  • "Though she uses the citywide math and reading programs in many schools, Dr. Cashin does not believe they are sufficient and customizes them extensively, with an emphasis on writing. She also uses an array of other initiatives of her own choosing or design."
  • “'You need to expand the knowledge base, expand the vocabulary, expand the experience base, and that only comes with good instruction and a rich curriculum,' [Cashin says]."
  • “'You have to be kind to people....If people feel they don’t have a voice, they are going to strike back at some point.'

No magic formula. Just clear goals, high expectations, and hard work. Starting to see a trend? (If not, look here, here, and here.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

How multiculturalism enriches schools

Sunday's New York Times carried an article that's particularly relevant for a school like JIS, which enjoys several significant national groups among its student body: "Surge in Asian Enrollment Alters Schools," by Winnie Hu.

The upshot: the vast majority of the "altering" is for the better.

"School officials, teachers and parents say the expanding Asian population has strengthened their schools, not only by raising test scores but also by promoting diversity and tolerance," according to Hu. One superintendent notes that "....the impact can be seen in everyday classroom discussions that have grown deeper, richer and more personal as students from other countries share their experiences. “Whether it’s a piece of artwork or a piece of literature,” he said, “you all gain something from seeing it from different perspectives.

Hu also points out the challenges that can confront schools as their demographics change, particularly when it comes to encouraging different student groups to mix instead of clinging together as separate units:

"To help address such concerns, [one] school’s guidance department sponsors a 'Mix It Up' day every month, when students are required at lunch to sit outside their usual cliques, whether that means Koreans, jocks or neighborhood youths. 'We’re telling them, "These are kids in your grade, get to know them,"' said [the school's] principal."

This is a very interesting article -- definitely worth your time.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Fuzzy math humor -- the calculator

Well, it would be humorous if it weren't so sad -- and true.

From the Weapons of Math Destruction archives....

Saturday, December 02, 2006

This isn't rocket science -- just hard work and smarts

Proving once again that improving students' academic performance isn't so mysterious, here's an article from the Anchorage Daily News (in Alaska) that examines the factors that have worked dramatically at public schools in that state:

  • "Goals are clearly defined, and everyone understands how to reach them."
  • "Tests are used often to measure progress and adjust lessons."
  • "Teachers expect a lot of students."
  • "Staff can explain test data to parents [and] use data to teach better."
  • "Lessons cover material that students are tested on."

There's no magic formula, according to Roger Sampson, Alaska's education chief, who says, "The difference is the incredible leadership, the high expectations, the focus."

Quote of the day

"All of the things we are doing with our educational system regarding accountability in the US are great. We have put metrics, testing, and assessment systems and structures in place that are making a difference. But, while these things are making a difference, I do not think they go far enough. In a way these things are more inspection oriented versus a means for changing the culture of our educational system. We need to start teaching principles and behaviors for how our administrators, teachers, support staffs, and students can truly act accountably in all that they do. Instilling these key principles and behaviors will change the culture of our educational system and lead to sustainable advantage."

- Richard Cassidy (author), Accountability...A Noun Or A Verb?

Hat tip to the Public Education Network (PEN) Newsblast

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Cool" website for college hunters

Do you have a student at home who's thinking of attending university in the United States?

If so, here's a website that may provide some assistance: COOL: the College Opportunities Online Locator. (via, in a funny-but-sad posting on blooper from US Ed Secretary Margaret Spellings, who admitted she had a hard time finding information on universities for her daughter.)

A service of the US Department Education's National Center for Education Statistics, COOL allows students and parents to search for US universities by location, major, and/or type of degree. According to the site, visitors will be able to "see and compare profiles of nearly 7,000 colleges and universities across the nation."

You'll find more resources for college-hunters HERE.

Testing as a tool for learning?

Here's an article from Scientific American that's sure to depress many students: "Testing Improves Retention -- Even of Material Not on Exam." (via

"Teachers who give tests on a daily or weekly basis--often at the expense of their popularity--can take solace in a new study out of Washington University in St. Louis. Researchers found that tests help students remember what they've been taught--including the material that doesn't appear on the exam. The findings appear in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General."

However, not all agree with the study's findings. Michael Anderson, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, "notes that over 80 published articles in the field claim that testing actually harms retention, a phenomenon called 'retrieval-induced forgetting.'"

But the study's authors remain convinced, and conclude that "courses should proceed via 'a study-test-study-test schedule' rather than studying, reviewing and then being tested. 'Restudying a subset of the learned material will not produce enhancement for the remaining material--presumably because restudying is a more passive learning process than is testing,'" says the lead researcher. (Remember yesterday's discussion of Finland's education success? Teachers there use monthly testing.)

Food for thought....