from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Severla items of interest on education 

Greetings, readers. My offering today is derived from three different items that came into my inbox in the past several hours (since 8 PM Wednesday evening) that are educationally related. In order, they will be a release on a book on what international comparisons written by one of my former teachers, a press release on military recruiting, and the first issue of a new electronic (which means you can read it for free) journal on constructivism.

While I realize that none of these may seem like burning issues, except possibly the one on military recruitment in schools, I view them as interconnected, and not just because they all came to me. I will attempt in the remarks I make about each piece to explain how all are related to the issue of the future of this nation, and the political battles to that end in which we are all engaged.


The first offering is a bulletin from the National Priorities Project. It will provide you with links for a number of good sites with information about military recruitment around the nation. I will not comment much about this, except to note one set of key points in the bulletin. The bolding represents emphasis in the original.

* The three largest schools or programs in the  country from which recruits were drawn included the GED Test  Center in the New York State Education  Department, the Gary Job  Corps Center in San Marcos, Texas and another GED-based program in New  York.  
* Montana -- a state with low median household income and high poverty rates  -- led the country in state recruitment rates.  Rhode Island was at the  bottom.  
* High income neighborhoods are under-represented.  Low and  middle-income neighborhoods are over-represented.

I remember that one reason Jessica Lynch entered the Army is because it was the only way she could obtain a future away from the dismal opportunities in Palestine WV. For this administration to continue its military adventures, it is absolutely dependent upon those who do not have economic opportunity, and quite often that will mean those who have insufficient education to have any alternatives to education. I caution readers that increasing the importance of tests for high school graduation, which the administration would like to include as part of NCLB, would only exacerbate this problem.

Here is the entire bulletin:

National Priorities Project (NPP) Bulletin
In the long tradition of National Priorities Project turning data into action, NPP releases today a major expansion of the NPP Database.  With the addition of military recruitment data, we're once again highlighting the cost of war and militarism on local communities.  

As of today, from anywhere in the country, you can find out the number of military recruits in 2004 that came from your high school, zip code, county or your state, along with breakdowns by race, ethnicity, gender and income levels.  Get your local numbers at: www.nationalpriorities.org/database .

To get a snapshot overview and analysis of the military recruitment data, which includes tables and charts, go to www.nationalpriorities.org/militaryrecruitment .

Working with Peacework Magazine (www.afsc.org/peacework ), which submitted the Freedom of Information Act request for military enlistment data, NPP's analyses reveal the disproportionate impact of military recruitment on low and middle-income communities.

The data also show:

* The highest recruitment rates -- defined as the number of recruits per  thousand of the 18-24 year-old population -- were found in counties that were  relatively poorer than the rest of the nation.  All of the top 20  counties had median household incomes below the national level, and 19 of the  20 had median household incomes below their respective state level.  
* The three largest schools or programs in the  country from which recruits were drawn included the GED Test  Center in the New York State Education  Department, the Gary Job  Corps Center in San Marcos, Texas and another GED-based program in New  York.  
* Montana -- a state with low median household income and high poverty rates  -- led the country in state recruitment rates.  Rhode Island was at the  bottom.  
* High income neighborhoods are under-represented.  Low and  middle-income neighborhoods are over-represented.

As the Iraq War continues and the number of soldiers killed and wounded mounts, this data makes clear that low- and middle-income kids are paying the highest price.  It's young people with limited opportunities that are putting their lives on the line.

Parents, students and concerned activists by the thousands have voiced their concerns in recent months about military recruitment tactics.  Now, the NPP Database will be used to help people focus their efforts on the states, counties, zip codes, and schools mostly heavily impacted by military recruitment.  Please contact the National Youth and Militarism Program of American Friends Service Committee, at  youthmil@afsc.org or call 215-241-7176 to connect with activists in your region.

 We welcome your feedback and suggestions as to how the NPP Database in general and the military recruitment data in particular can best serve your needs.  We hope this resource will provide you with tools to better understand and respond to federal government practices that can be a matter of life and death in your communities.

Pamela Schwartz
Outreach Director
If you received this email from a colleague and would like to join our email list, please email us at pschwartz@nationalpriorities.org  to subscribe.

The second offering is a description of a new book by Iris Rotberg of George Washington University. I begin with a two part disclosure. First, Iris was one of my teachers during my doctoral work at Catholic U - I did both of my courses in educational policy under her supervision. Second, in the course on Federal educational policy, the outcome was that I was (along with Suzanne Ritter) co-author of a monograph with Iris on the Bush educational proposal. Iris is an expert on international comparisons, and the new book that is described in the release below from the Business Wire (which I received on the Assessment Reform Network listserv) is quite pertinent given how often the issue of “competitiveness” is used as a justification for what we are doing to our schools through the insistence on the increased use of tests and of standardized curricula. Those who have read my other postings on education will realize that I am, both as a high school teacher and as a commentator on educational policy, highly critical of both. I offer the information in case you wish to pursue more fully the subject of international comparison.

Business Wire -- November 2, 2005

Washington -- The Department of Education's recently released test
scores measuring how U.S. students are performing since enacting No Child Left Behind raise new questions on how our students compare to those in other countries--and the quality of their school systems versus our own. In some studies, the U.S. ranks below the international average, in some equal to it, and in others above it.

"Most people are unaware that countries often cited for their high
rankings on international comparisons do not use tests to hold schools accountable as with the administration's education law, and many do not even administer standardized tests until secondary school," said Iris Rotberg, research professor of education policy at The George Washington University in Washington and editor of Balancing Change and Tradition in Global Education Reform.

Rotberg said the international test-score rankings are virtually
impossible to interpret. "It's not surprising, given the major sampling problems and the difficulty of ensuring that comparable samples of students, schools and regions are tested across countries," she said. "The results tell us little about the quality of education in the participating countries."

In Balancing Change and Tradition in Global Education Reform, Rotberg brings together examples of current education reforms in 16 countries. The book goes beyond myths and stereotypes and describes the difficult trade-offs countries make as they attempt to implement reforms in the context of societal and global change. In some countries, reforms are a response to major political or economic shifts; in others, they are motivated by large upsurges in immigration and increased student diversity. Irrespective of the reasons for education reform, Rotberg notes that all countries face decisions about resource allocation,
equality of educational opportunity across diverse populations, access to higher education, student testing and tracking, teacher
accountability, school choice and innovation.

Rotberg's book describes attempts to strengthen education both for the children who have not been well served (or not served at all) and for the children who have had an opportunity to attend good schools but whose educational experiences still might not be keeping pace with societal change. The profiled countries include Australia, Canada, Chile, China, England, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey and the U.S. For a complete description: http://www.rowmaneducation.com

The final part of today’s offering is a new electronic journal about Constructivism, entitled Constructivist Foundations. For anyone who would like to explore some definitions about what constructivism is and its importance in educational theory and cognitive psychology, one can go here for a series of pieces. Let me quote from the first piece in that link, while noting that I am NOT including the imbedded links within the portion I am quoting:
The constructivistic approach to teaching and learning is based on a combination of a subset of research within cognitive psychology and a subset of research within social psychology, just as behavior modification techniques are based on operant conditioning theory within behavioral psychology . The basic premise is that an individual learner must actively "build" knowledge and skills (e.g., Bruner , 1990) and that information exists within these built constructs rather than in the external environment. [See Ullman (1980) versus Gibson (1979) for an overview of this controversy within the cognitive perspective.] However, all advocates of constructivism agree that it is the individual's processing of stimuli from the environment and the resulting cognitive structures, that produce adaptive behavior, rather than the stimuli themselves ( Harnard , 1982). John Dewey (1933/1998) is often cited as the philosophical founder of this approach; Ausubel (1968), Bruner (1990), and Piaget (1972) are considered the chief theorists among the cognitive constructionists, while Vygotsky (1978) is the major theorist among the social constructionists .Activity theory and situated learning are two examples of modern work based on the work of Vygotsky and some of his followers.

The key points to note from what may seem like gobbledygook is that (a) it is derived from the work of Lev Vygotsky, an educational theorist from the old USSR (which leads some on the eudcational and political rights to dismiss his work automatically) and (b) repeat from the above it is the individual's processing of stimuli from the environment and the resulting cognitive structures, that produce adaptive behavior, rather than the stimuli themselves. This is key, for it means a very different approach to education. Rather than a model of prying back the scalp and pouring predetermined knowledge in, one challenges the learner at a point just behind his or her current level in order to expand both skills and understanding. Such an approach to education is much more focused on the individual learner rather than on the imposition of external standards. As such, it is not as easily measured by so-called objective tests, and implies a very different approach to teaching and schooling, one which many on the right who believe that it is their way or the highway find very frightening.

The web page for the journal includes the following:

Constructivist Foundations (CF) is an independent academic peer-reviewed e-journal without commercial interests. Its aim is to promote scientific foundations and applications of constructivist sciences, to weed out pseudoscientific claims and to base constructivist sciences on sound scientific foundations, which do not equal the scientific method with objectivist claims. The journal is concerned with the interdisciplinary study of all forms of constructivist sciences, especially radical constructivism, cybersemiotics, enactive cognitive science, epistemic structuring of experience, second order cybernetics, the theory of autopoietic systems, etc. . .


The basic motivation of the journal is to make peer-reviewed constructivist papers available to the academic audience free of charge. The “constructive” character of the journal refers to the fact that the journal publishes actual work in constructivist sciences rather than work that argues for the importance or need for constructivism. The journal is open to (provocative) new ideas that fall within the scope of constructivist approaches and encourages critical academic submissions to help sharpen the position of constructivist sciences.

The common denominator of constructivist approaches can be summarized as follows.

* Constructivist approaches question the Cartesian separation between objective world and subjective experience;
* Consequently, they demand the inclusion of the observer in scientific explanations;
* Representationalism is rejected; knowledge is a system-related cognitive process rather than a mapping of an objective world onto subjective cognitive structures;
* According to constructivist approaches, it is futile to claim that knowledge approaches reality; reality is brought forth by the subject rather than passively received;
* Constructivist approaches entertain an agnostic relationship with reality, which is considered beyond our cognitive horizon; any reference to it should be refrained from;
* Therefore, the focus of research moves from the world that consists of matter to the world that consists of what matters;
* Constructivist approaches focus on self-referential and organizationally closed systems; such systems strive for control over their inputs rather than their outputs;
* With regard to scientific explanations, constructivist approaches favor a process-oriented approach rather than a substance-based perspective, e.g. living systems are defined by processes whereby they constitute and maintain their own organization;
* Constructivist approaches emphasize the “individual as personal scientist” approach; sociality is defined as accommodating within the framework of social interaction;
* Finally, constructivist approaches ask for an open and less dogmatic approach to science in order to generate the flexibility that is needed to cope with today’s scientific frontier.

I have only had a short time to glance at the articles in the first issue, and I acknowledge that they will seem a bit abstruse to many on this blog, but for those with a serious interest in education, it is worth noting the international nature of the contributors to this first issue of the journal.

Well, that’s the offering for the day. Do with it what you will.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
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