Education experimentation

Application of Common Core Standards and introduction of charter schools to affect schools As early as elementary school, students begin to learn the proper way to conduct a scientific experiment. They learn that the process includes manipulated and controlled variables. In Washington state, educators, lawmakers and parents will be watching for the effects of two major changes in the education system: the adoption of Common Core Standards and introduction of charter schools.

For students in the Whitworth education department, these two changes may not be a prominent concern in the present. However, in years to come they may prove to have an impact on education courses. Likewise, they may provide new opportunities, challenges and complexities in their career of choice and in the ever-experimental stages of education reform.

 

Common Core Standards

In 2009, Washington state joined the initiative for developing Common Core of State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Washington is among the 48 states to have made that commitment, having joined the initiative in 2009 and adopted the standards in July 2011. The standards will not be fully implemented until the 2014-15 school year. This is the first manipulated variable in the equation.

There are certain benefits and drawbacks to voluntarily developing and enacting these standards across state lines. One positive aspect is increased consistency.

“Common standards certainly help students who move from state to state,” said Linda Buff, visiting instructor to the education department.

Additionally, Buff said the initiative intends to foster a more interdisciplinary approach to learning.

“There is an emphasis on literacy: reading, writing, speaking, listening,” Buff said.

Drawbacks may include difficulty in adoption of potential changes in curriculum, educational materials and standardized tests. Likewise, some teachers worry that there will be less room to personalize those aspects to meet the individualized needs of their students and the demographic differences of the community.

“Some see it as giving teachers less flexibility,” said James Uhlenkott, visiting assistant education professor. “In general, I think they can be a good thing. I think we do need standards.”

 

Initiative 1240

As a result of the election, Initiative 1240: To Allow Public Charter Schools in Washington, passed into law. Initiative 1240 is intended to provide for up to 40 public charter schools over the course of five years. As public charter schools, they must be tuition-free and non-profit. They will receive the same state and federal funding as a traditional school and cannot be run by a for-profit company or a religious organization. This second manipulated variable will go into effect Dec. 6.

Senior Sergio Jara Arroyos was a voice in support of Initiative 1240.

“I co-lead Students for Education Reform with Macy Olivas,” Jara Arroyos said. “We wanted to get students on campus politically mobilized.”

In Whitworth’s Hixson Union Building, Jara Arroyos and other members of Students for Education Reform provided information and promotional materials to students in support of the initiative.

“Similar bills have been introduced in the past, but failed,” Jara Arroyos said.

Prior to the election, Washington state was one of nine states without charter schools.

Public charter schools open up more opportunities to students and their families, Jara Arroyos said. That gives more options to families who are not in a financial position to afford private school.

Both Buff and Uhlenkott echoed the benefits of increased opportunities beyond traditional public schools.

“Charter schools offer to us more choices for students and families,” Buff said.

Another clear advantage is the ability to be more inventive in how the school approaches curriculum and assessment.

“They tend to be more innovative,” Buff said.

Unlike traditional schools, Buff said, charter schools have the potential to test out new methods that might be applied to traditional schools later on.

In that sense, charter schools have the capacity to be more experimental in their education methods.

“They have more leeway,” Uhlenkott said. “Charter schools are designed around a charter. How you write the charter is what defines the school.”

One final benefit is the spirit of competition that charter schools may provide. There is a free market effect that will cause the traditional school and the charter schools to be competitive against one another in providing the best education, Buff said.

There are, however, some disadvantages to consider. The passing of Initiative 1240 has sparked concern regarding a lack of consistency, an inability to re-create successful methodology,  harms to traditional public schools and uncertainty of specifics.

One of the potential damages to traditional schools is a loss of monetary funds.

“The concern is that they may drain money from traditional schools that still have a crucial role to play,” Buff said.

Uhlenkott and Buff both also voiced worries over the uncertainties of who will run the schools. The board for the charter schools will regulate, not the district.

“If the initiative had been written more clearly, I might have been more in favor,” Uhlenkott said.

Laryssa Lynch Staff Writer

Contact Laryssa Lynch at laryssalynch15@my.whitworth.edu

Whitworth alumni teach to fight educational inequality

Whitworth’s motto is an Education of Mind and Heart. Teach for America is a program similarly focused on reaching students on a more holistic level, regardless of their background. Nov. 2 marks the application deadline for Teach for America. This year that due date has been extended to Nov. 5 as a result of the damages on the east coast caused by hurricane Sandy.

The organization, founded in 1990, selects and trains candidates to work in high-need schools. Corps members are required to fulfill a two-year teaching commitment in their placement school.

“Teach for America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty,” said Justin Yan, Northwest Director of Recruitment.

According to the Teach for America website, the organization began as the undergraduate thesis of Princeton University alumna, Wendy Kopp. The first charter consisted of 500 recent college graduates on a mission to fight educational inequity.

“Today more than 10,000 corps members are teaching in 46 urban and rural regions across the country, while nearly 28,000 alumni are working across sectors to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education,” said Yan.

Since 1990, at least 40 Whitworth alumni have participated in this program.

“In the past two years, 12 Whitworth grads have joined Teach For America and are working as corps members and alumni to ensure that every student, regardless of their zip code or family income, have access to an excellent education,” said Yan.

2012 Whitworth graduate and theology major, Travis Walker, is currently working for Teach for America in Alamo, Texas. Walker first heard of the organization through word of mouth. Previously, he had no intention of teaching. Walker admits that he did not feel prepared to teach, even following the training program, although Walker said most first year teachers don’t.

Additionally, the students that attend the schools partnering with the Teach for America program are not your average students. These are high-needs school reaching students dealing with various factors of educational inequity.

“Students don’t show up to learn, they show up because they have to,” Walker said.

Walker said that because he works in a charter school that already has so much oversight, Teach for America can feel like more of a burden than a supporting resource.

“It’s not so much about the content, the material. It’s about finding creative ways to teach, to entice students,” Walker said. “It’s really a matter of motivation and presentation.”

2012 Whitworth graduate and biology major, Delsey Olds, is currently working for Teach for America in Goodyear, AZ. Like Walker, Olds heard about Teach for America through word of mouth, did not plan on a career in education and did not initially feel prepared.

“Honestly, I felt extremely unprepared to enter the classroom. I relied a lot on my adaptability and flexibility. So much of teaching is just experience; it is hard to be truly prepared for teaching without just jumping in and trying it and gaining that experience one day at a time,” said Olds.

Olds said Teach for America has been both extremely challenging and insightful, describing the program as one of very high expectations.

“There have been many highs and lows to being a teacher so far. There have been some experiences that have been extremely difficult and hard to battle through, but there have also been some very rewarding and wonderful experiences,” said Olds.

Senior Macy Olivas  is working for the second year with Teach For America's Northwest team as Whitworth’s Campus Campaign Coordinator.

“Through my work with Teach For America I hope to inform students about the educational inequality that exists in our country and what they can tangibly do to work towards helping students who are specifically growing up in impoverished neighborhoods,” said Olivas.

Olivas encourages students with leadership experience and a desire to see change in our current public education system and in our country to consider applying for Teach for America.

The initial application process includes submission of personal information, academic history and leadership experience along with a resume and letter of intent.

The next application deadlines are Jan. 11, 2013 and Feb. 15, 2013.

Laryssa Lynch Staff Writer

Contact Laryssa Lynch at laryssalynch15@my.whitworth.edu

 

Education spending yields poor results

Due to the numerous problems our public education system is faced with, the federal government has stepped in by increasing funding. This seems like a valid solution, but according to Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute, “Washington spends huge amounts in the name of education but gets almost no educational improvement in return.”

One example of unnecessary and wasteful spending is in the Obama administration’s “Education Blueprint: An Economy Built to Last,” which is a plan to invest $25 billion “to make sure that we can keep teachers in the classroom.” While this may seem good, Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation writes, “More teachers now teach fewer students than at any point in history.” She says that between 1970 and 2010, student enrollment increased by 7.8 percent, while “education staff” went up 84 percent. Another example of wasteful spending is Head Start, which is an $8 billion program for preschool-aged students. According to McCluskey, “the fact is there's no meaningful evidence the program does any good. In fact, the most recent federal evaluation found that Head Start produces almost no lasting cognitive benefits, and its few lasting social-emotional effects include negative ones.” These are just a few examples of government waste. What we need are true reforms that actually improve the quality of education.

I believe that the best way to improve quality is by giving more control to the state governments, which can create more tailored approaches for their students. One viable solution is the American Partnerships Lead Us to Success Act (A-PLUS Act). According to Education Week, each state could choose to opt out of No Child Left Behind and could set up their own goals for student performance, which must be approved by the Department of Education. According to PBS, No Child Left Behind “dramatically increases the role of the federal government in guaranteeing the quality of public education for all children in the United States -- with an emphasis on increased funding for poor school districts, higher achievement for poor and minority students, and new measures to hold schools accountable for their students' progress.” This big government approach has not worked to improve schools. By allowing states to get out of the one-size-fits-all approach to education, they can test new and innovative systems.

Jeb Bush, in the state of Florida, is working on reforms at the state level. He founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which produced a plan titled “Florida’s Education Revolution.” His guiding principles for reformation are, “holding schools accountable for results, setting high expectations, rewarding success, giving families real school choice, and attracting talent into the classroom.” The basis for his whole plan is the “The A-F School Grading System.” The grade that each school gets is not only dependent upon whether a school can get many students at the “proficient” level, but also on whether each individual student is progressing. The bottom 25 percent of all students is given a higher weight in the calculation, forcing schools to focus on them. The schools that receive an A grade get more funding from the state. Students in failing schools are given options to attend a new schools. According to Foundation for Excellence in Education, “While Florida still has far to go to ensure that all children receive a high quality education… these common sense and now proven reforms can spur real improvement in student learning.”

If we want true reforms that give every student the high-quality education they deserve, we must empower states to be more innovative in their approach. By relying on the federal government, we are wasting billions of dollars on failing educational methods.

Lindsey Hubbart Columnist

Hubbart is a sophomore majoring in economics. Comments can be sent to lhubbart15@my.whitworth.edu.