Monthly Archives: April 2015

Monday “Think About It”


Now that the Common Core assessment test are completed for New York State students is it time for New York State Education to re-think the issue and find a different way to meet US Federal participation requirements?  Or is it the Federal Government that needs to change the requirements?

 

According to a Clinton Courier article “The overall state average for ELA opt-outs was about 16.1 percent, according to United to Counter the Core, a New York State-based parent activist group. As of Friday, the group was said to have canvassed nearly 70 percent of all New York school districts.”  Opt-outs for the Math portion of the exam were expected to be higher than those for ELA.  It seems it would be safe to say that a majority of NYS school districts and the State as a whole have far less that the U.S. Department of Education  required 95 percent participation rate for a district to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP).  No fiscal sanctions have been imposed on New York school districts yet for failing to meet AYP in past years.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


Place this in the category of things that shouldn’t be.  Place the context and meaning of this information next to chokehold, noose, stranglehold, slavery, debtor prisons.  Not only is tuition rising faster than a chain smoker’s plume of smoke, room and board is as well.

What is going on here?  A recent article entitled, “Think Tuition is Rising Fast? Try Room and Board,” at the NPR Ed website chronicles this disturbing trend.  The article states that according to the College Board, public four- year universities have increased their room and board rates by nine percent above inflation in the past five years.  At private colleges, rates have increased by six percent above inflation.  It goes on to explain that without the inflation adjustment, room and board fees have increased by 20 percent for public universities and 17 percent by private institutions , since 2009.  This nearly matches the tuition increases that have occurred at public universities, with a 21 percent increase in tuition being found in the same time period.  For private universities, it has grown 13 percent.

What does this mean outside moral indignation for most parents and students?  It means that their children are likely assuming greater debt to go to college, than ever before.  The article gives an example of a student who had a full scholarship, outside room and board, text books, and medical insurance while at school.  She won it based on the strength of her test scores in high school.  She also qualified for the maximum Federal Pell Grant of $5,730 for low income students and worked a campus job.  These factors aside, she still took out $11,500 for her fourth year to pay for what was not covered with awarded money at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  The bulk of her expenses, $11,000 was for room and board!

Why is this occurring?  In a seemingly“ smoke and mirrors” fashion, state legislators are receiving more and more pressure from the public to maintain or lower tuition costs at public universities.  Rather than raising tuition, this article strongly suggests that universities have raised the cost of room and board to stay afloat or profit and keep tuition “down” or “maintained” at current levels.  The article speculates on the other reasons why room and board is soaring.  It discussed how universities, both private and public have gotten caught up in catering to students—from having luxury dorms and personal chefs in dining halls to diverse food choices, recipes, etc.

This has cost money.  Staffing, union fees, and the need to refurbish antiquated dormitories were also cited as reasons for such sharp increases.  The bottom line is that non affluent students are being priced out of schooling.  –Neither choice!  While students can commute or try to find affordable off campus housing, both options are not always feasible because of distance or similar trends in the off campus housing market.  The choice comes down to not going to college to avoid such debt or for many students, assuming a great amount of financial debt for a college education.  Neither choice is acceptable!  We are quickly becoming a nation of College Education Debtors and like the Great Recessions housing bubble ‘pop’ it is quickly reaching a crisis point.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


I laughingly recall being shaken awake at the library as an undergrad.  There was a certain couch I liked to sit (lay down) on as I read assigned reading.  In variably if I sat long enough, the eyes would close and I would find myself asleep.  On a few occasions, the library assistants woke me up to tell me it was closing time.  I would leave wondering if my reading time helped.  If I fell asleep like this, did I actually grasp what I read?  Did I retain anything or did I just need to start again when I got back to the dorm or apartment?

Some of these questions and concerns are addressed in Benedict Carey’s new book, How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens.  Writer Ingfei Chen highlights some of the best takeaways in her article,” How Does the Brain Learn Best? Smart Studying Strategies,” at the NPR station, KQED Mind Shift website.  Carey contends that many of our beliefs about learning are simply incomplete, wrong, or even based on superstition.  For example, we may hold up the monkish image of a scholar in an austere room studying for hours on end, in one space, trying to read text and prepare for an exam.  If we do not study this way, we may feel we are just doing it wrong.  Or we might think that forgetting what we have learned means we do not know the concepts.

Carey explains that when the brain works to recall the new vocabulary word or mathematic formula, it redoubles the strength of that memory.  He talks about building ones knowledge by working on the “stuff” over time and how forgetting is a crucial part of learning, as the brain tweaks the new information.  As Chen describes Carey’s work, “the brain is a foraging learner.”  It is actively picking up pieces here and there, on the go, all the time, and putting it together. With this we can be tactical in our learning and studying habits.

Through his research from the last 20 years, he found that many counterintuitive techniques can actually aid and deepen learning.  For example, spacing out study time over days or weeks –perhaps trading hours on end of monkish solitude type studying, that may be unrealistic, unavailable, and not conducive to a an anxious or distracted student, can substantially boost how much material is retained.  Varying the study environment-trading the monkish dorm or library cubicle, for a café or quiet place outside, can reinforce and sharpen what we learn.  He also found that taking breaks, whether it be a 15 minute walk or Facebook visit, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  He says such interruptions and distractions can allow for what he call “mental incubation” and bolts of insight, as described by Chen.  He discusses different ways to master new information.  According to Carey, quizzing oneself about the information or trying to explain it a friend, is a far more powerful way to master information, than simply rereading it.

In the book, Carey also explores the benefits of sleep in terms of retention and comprehension, perceptual learning modules, and the benefits of practicing different types of skills in practice sessions instead of rehearsing of one skill at a time.  To go deeper into that, one must read the book.  He encourages individuals to see what strategies work best for them.  Perhaps my sleep sessions all those years ago in the SUNY Fredonia library were well serving after all.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


It seems like all teachers have deep pockets.  But I don’t mean this the way it is typically used.  Most public school teachers are making fair, but very middle class salaries.  According to “The US News and World Report” the average teacher salary was $55, 360 in 2013.  This is hardly extravagant or excessive.  A teachers day does not end at 3pm , nor does their work week on Friday.  Their hours extend into nights at home and weekends at school prepping for the week ahead.  They have deep pockets of the resource variety, using their own intrinsic and financial means for extra school supplies, winter attire, food, or emotional support.

A teacher often wears many hats– parental figure, social worker, nurse, mentor, ally, or reliable support to name a few.  It is a calling- a vocation and not something you do to get rich.  Sure there are the holidays, summers off, healthcare and for many teachers in the country great retirement packages but these ‘perks’ are quickly being reduced due to economic forces and increased common core standards.  To know the trials and tribulations of a teachers job one needs to truly ‘walk in their shoes’ for a couple of days.  The truly great teachers are generally on the job 24/7 for 365 days per year creating new learning curriculum or increasing their personal knowledge and strengths.  It should also be known that teachers in private, parochial and charter schools are making far less than public school teachers…almost half!

It is exciting and encouraging for me to read about resources that can help teachers in return.  One such resource out there is DonorsChoose.org.  This resource was featured in a recent article titles ‘Fundraising Site For Teachers Illuminates Classroom Disparities‘ at the NPR Education website.  With this site, teachers describe a classroom project at the website.  The public gets to choose which projects to fund.  They range from literacy projects and mathematics to applied sciences and music.  Literacy projects are the most popularly funded project, according to the site’s stats.  While some projects gain funding for larger ticket items like iPads , printers, and dissection equipment, other teachers have gotten the very basics like pens, pencils, paper, and glue funded.

Since its inception 15 years ago, this site has raised more than $310 million- with more than half of donations going to America’s poorest schools.  This site offers teachers and schools an additional funding source.  Just as teachers build up and inspire their students, this offers the public a chance to return the favor. —Very awesome indeed!

 

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


spring breakBlame it on those touchingly sweet little bunnies you see this time of year.  Blame it on a word awash of PInterest and adorable ideas.  Say it is because we all have to break our own mold sometimes; I am on the prowl for some springtime craft ideas.

My little girls like to do crafts.  As fate would have it, they are pretty darn good at it too!  Not wanting to deprive them of the simple satisfaction one can get from crafts and completing a project, and subsequently aware of the good and strengthened fine motor skills and reasoning skills that arise out of doing it, (not forgetting about artistry and imagination) I have taken the plunge and jumped into an out of character pursuit for the perfect springtime craft.  So here goes.  This first pinterest idea provides a great touch, not to mention keepsake of your favorite little bunny during the early years.  School papers and other things will come and go, but this one is a keeper!

The second Pinterest idea is eggs that are so cool and a little more involved—something your school aged child might enjoy doing.  Looking for a Passover craft to do with your child? This third Pinterest idea offers some nice suggestions.  There are even more wonderful, naturally inspired Passover projects here.

Of course Pinteresting is not the only place for craft ideas.  This children’s art collective page features arts and craft ideas for all ages and interests.  There are so many great ideas…just a quick Google search away for natural and reluctant crafters alike.  Do you have a craft idea in mind that you will share?

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