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Morning Shots

“R” Stands for Reading Rat Race (Nancy Salvato)

In the Summer of  2001 Dame Marie Clay, creator of the New Zealand based Reading Recovery program, and her entourage came to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, to speak with House Education Committee Staffer Bob Sweet.  Her purpose was to ascertain whether Reading Recovery would be eligible for Reading First funding once the bill was passed.  Bob explained to Ms. Clay that explicit, systematic phonics instruction had to be included in any program eligible for RF funding because it was one of the necessary key components of reading instruction that had been established through decades of carefully conducted quantitative research.  These findings had been validated in the Report of the National Reading Panel in 2000 and were now going to become an essential part of the Reading First Law.  He pleaded with Ms. Clay to use her extensive network of teacher training programs all over the US to help in the implementation of the RF program.  He encouraged her to provide the leadership within the RR family to make the modifications necessary, and thus make RR eligible for RF funding consideration. 

With a stare as cold as ice, Marie Clay replied that RR would not be making any changes to their program; however, Mr. Sweet could be certain a new description of its components would be written in such a way as to bring it into compliance with the RF law.  Momentarily dumbfounded, he maintained that Reading Recovery could not be eligible for RF funding without modification, and his initial estimation then still stands today.

A little background about Clay’s Reading Recovery program reveals it to be a very expensive program to implement, averaging more than $8,000 per student per year when the expense of teacher development is considered.  This cost is more than one whole year

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A National Curriculum in Australia? (Jennifer Buckingham)

In Australia, the idea of a national curriculum has been on the federal government agenda for several years. The 2004-05 federal budget contained a reference to investigating the feasibility of an Australian Certificate of Education. A report was duly commissioned but the potential ACE was buried under the avalanche of attention given to private school funding.

A year later, The Australian newspaper began its campaign for curriculum reform and as a result discussion of a national curriculum has reached a prominent position in the daily news. The problems with state curricula were given a public working over by former education minister Brendan Nelson, and now current federal education minister Julie Bishop has staked her claim on the issue and is gunning for reform.

According to Ms Bishop and her supporters, including The Australian, state-developed curricula are rabidly anti-government, radically left-wing and outrageously politically correct. Numerous examples from syllabus and curriculum documents demonstrate how schools are being used as vehicles for social engineering, with a decline in academic rigour.

Professional teacher organizations and state governments are united in their opposition to Bishop’s plan to overhaul curriculum, but for different reasons. English and history teachers associations and teachers unions do not dispute that curriculum has become ideologically-charged and even defend its right to be so. State governments, however, deny that their curricula are biased and intellectually impoverished and reject any need for reform.

In the court of public opinion, it appears that the federal minister is gaining ground. A recent poll revealed that 69 per cent of Australians are in favour of a national curriculum. University academics have also been confirming what parents and employers have long suspected – that there has been a significant decline in standards and therefore in the abilities of high school graduates. It is not just English

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More on Constructivism (John Dewey)

Ardent Readers:

Apparently my last missive ruffled some feathers, which I knew would happen sooner or later.  It is one thing to express self-righteous indignation about ed school, but when it crosses the line into criticism of constructivist or “discovery learning”, then it’s like a Congressman talking about revamping Social Security. 

The terms “constructivist” and “discovery learning” mean different things to different people.  To the ed school gurus as well as book publisher/snake oil salesmen peddling their wares to school boards who eat this stuff up (and make the final decisions on what textbooks to adopt) it means students construct their own knowledge out of whole cloth.  To the more traditional-minded, it means the connection that students make between information given to them directly and applied in new situations, or which lead to new insights.  

Students may remember having made a connection all on their own, but may not remember the guidance and information that a teacher or book imparted that got them there.  There may be an “illusion” of pure discovery at work here: people see what they want to see.  One interesting case in point is the TIMSS Videotape classroom study of math and science classes in other countries.  When the video was released, constructivists said “See? See? Japanese students work in groups, are given challenging problems without instruction on how to solve them, and the student has to invent his or her own solutions.” 

But an interesting paper by Alan Siegel of NYU in fact shows just the opposite. (You can find his paper here, but best to right click and then download rather than try to view online; it takes forever that way which may result in adding to an already foul mood for some of you after reading what

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