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items tagged with education

Moving the Needle: Illinois Is Notorious for Its Politics, but Compromise on Performance-Based Education Reform Inches Forward
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Illinois Politics

2011-03-17 11:23:20

Education reform in Illinois features two major storylines: politics and policy. On the political front, two powerful forces – the business community and teacher unions – have competing proposals. On the policy end of things, the primary educational question is whether and to what degree teacher performance will be a factor in school-district workforce decisions, from budget-related layoffs to dismissals to tenure.

As the law stands now, layoffs and tenure are simply functions of teachers’ years of service and don’t take into account whether students are actually learning. Firing a tenured teacher is time-consuming and costly, and the current teacher-evaluation system, all sides agree, is ineffective. Common-sense reform is long overdue.

Given Illinois’ history and reputation, however, one might expect politics to dictate the outcome at the expense of sound policy. Somewhat surprisingly, the substance of the different proposals appears to be getting a careful vetting, and politics have thus far taken a back seat.


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The Real Curriculum of "Public" Education
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Commentary/Politics

Category: Guest Commentaries

2010-09-08 13:55:30

An August 28 article at the privacy-rights Web site Pogo Was Right argues that schools are "grooming youth to passively accept a surveillance state where they have no expectation of privacy anywhere." Privacy violations include "surveilling students in their bedrooms via webcam, ... random drug or locker searches, strip-searching, ... lowering the standard for searching students to 'reasonable suspicion' from 'probable cause,' [and] disciplining students for conduct outside of school hours ... ."

"No expectation of privacy anywhere" is becoming literally true. The schools are grooming kids not only for the public surveillance state, but also for the private surveillance states of their employers. By the time the human resources graduate from 12 years of factory processing, they will accept it as normal to be kept under constant surveillance -- "for your own safety," of course -- by authority figures. But they won't just accept it from Homeland Security ("if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear"). They'll also accept as "normal" a work situation in which an employer can make them pee in cups at any time, without notice, or track their online behavior even when they're away from work.

This is just part of what rogue educator John Taylor Gatto calls the "real curriculum" of public education ("The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher," 1992). The real curriculum includes the lesson that the way to advancement, in any area of life, is to find out what will please the authority figure behind the desk, then do it. It includes the lesson that the important tasks in life are those assigned to us by authority figures -- the schoolteacher, the college instructor, the boss -- and that self-assigned tasks in pursuit of our own goals are to be trivialized as "hobbies" or "recreation."


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A Textbook Case: Why Digital College Materials Haven’t Taken Off
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: News/Features

Category: Feature Stories

2009-09-23 14:13:03

At the beginning the school year, in a chemistry class at St. Ambrose University, Professor Margaret Legg offered students the option to buy a less-expensive e-book instead of the usual physical textbook. No one opted for the digital version.

Kelsey Berg, a sophomore majoring in biology, said she had already bought the hardcover edition. Had the e-book been offered before she bought it, Berg said she still wouldn't have purchased it. "I don't like reading on a computer. It's hard to concentrate," she said, adding that it wasn't worth the cost, either, because one can't sell an e-book back.

Many college students are embracing digital and open-source textbooks, which are accessed through computers and digital readers such as Amazon's Kindle. For some, it provides a more convenient way to carry multiple textbooks. Beyond being easier on students' backs, e-books are also better for the environment, because no natural resources are used in the production or transportation of a physical book.

But the major selling point is a lower cost compared to new textbooks. Textbooks cost an average of $900 per semester, according to the federal Government Accountability Office. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has been advocating for reducing the prices of textbooks, which they say have risen faster than the rate of inflation in the past several years.

Although e-books are often 50 percent less expensive than unused print editions of textbooks, the cost evaluation isn't quite so clear-cut. In many cases, there's little or no cost savings to students in the long run.

And some people, like Berg, resist e-books for other reasons.


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Teaching the Whole Child: Longfellow-Augustana Partnership Brings the Liberal Arts to Primary Education
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: News/Features

Category: Feature Stories

2009-07-29 21:13:19

A classroom in the 'new' Longfellow

Students stepping into Longfellow Elementary in Rock Island this school year will notice physical changes: a new media center and library, a new cafeteria, and a renovation that has added four new classrooms. But a more important change will be the school's new formal partnership with Augustana College.

The relationship will bring a liberal-arts-based curriculum to Longfellow - a contrast to the No Child Left Behind-forced shift in primary education that emphasizes reading and math skills to the exclusion of other subjects. Though the content of the curriculum will still conform to district standards, the way that content is presented will change: The focus will move to collaboration among students, small-group and individualized instruction, interdisciplinary learning, thematic teaching that attempts to make the coursework relevant, and the fine arts.

A No Child Left Behind-influenced curriculum "doesn't have anything to do with creative problem-solving, imagination, collaboration - all of these skills we need to survive in the next millennium," said Pat Shea, an assistant professor of education at Augustana who was part of the planning team for Longfellow. "If we don't get those things taught, it doesn't matter how many facts we know. ... We are so off-target about what it means to be an educated person, and I think we as educators have the first line of responsibility to start speaking to that."


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History, by the Book: James W. Loewen Talks About “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” April 15-17
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: News/Features

Category: Literature

2009-04-09 16:16:57

James W. LoewenThe cliché says that history is written by the winners, but that's not true when it comes to history textbooks.

For the most part, they're not even written by the "authors" whose names grace the covers. Instead, they're written by employees of or freelancers for publishing companies deathly afraid of controversy -- fearful that a passage offensive to virtually any constituency will result in their books not being adopted in schools.

James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me -- first published in 1995, and revised and updated in 2007 -- documents how badly the most popular high-school textbooks teach American history. As part of the Quad City Arts Super Author program, Loewen will discuss his work at seven programs from April 15 to 17. (For a list of events, click here. To read about Chris Crutcher -- the other Super Author visiting our area next week -- see "Innocence, Ignorance, and Experience: Quad City Arts 'Super Author' Chris Crutcher Discusses His Controversial Young-Adult Literature.")

Loewen has also written Lies Across America (which tackles historic-site markers the same way he attacked history textbooks) and Sundown Towns, about communities with written or unwritten laws designed to keep them free of racial minorities. And he co-wrote a textbook on Mississippi history that gave him his first insight into the textbook-adoption process that avoids controversy at the expense of truth.

Accessible, passionate, detailed, and often startling, Lies My Teacher Told Me documents the errors, lies, and omissions that mar history textbooks -- opening with Helen Keller's ignored radicalism and expanding its scope from there, dealing extensively with society's treatment of Native Americans and blacks and also critiquing the presentation of more modern events, including the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

Beyond the details that are wrong, the core narratives in these textbooks are problematic, Loewen said in a phone interview last week. He said history textbooks suggest "unrelenting, automatic progress," the idea that "we started out great and we've been getting better ever since."


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