Posted by: ACFE Inc | April 9, 2013

Gifted Doesn’t Equal Segregation

As gifted education advocates, when we read the March 20 Washington Post blog post mentioned below, we felt that it needed a reply. Below is the letter to the editor that we sent in response to Wendy Lecker‘s post:

Ms. Lecker’s article, “Do schools for ‘the gifted’ promote segregation?” unfortunately misses its mark. While the article highlights serious and important concerns about ensuring that gifted children from diverse backgrounds have access to appropriate education at their level, regardless
 of race, national origin, gender, language, disability, or socioeconomic
status, it effectively throws the baby out with the bathwater by concluding
that all gifted education conducted in a separate environment must be 
equivalent to racial segregation. She is correct that we must be diligent
 about ensuring that our talent identification process finds all gifted 
learners, regardless 
of their background. However, concerns about increasing diverse children’s 
access to gifted education do not undermine the truth that we continue to 
fail our brightest students, and do not negate the fact that numerous 
studies have shown that grouping and acceleration are successful in
 addressing the needs of a wide variety of students. On the contrary, 
research shows that in grouping programs, when accompanied with a
substantial adjustment of curriculum, have clear positive effects on all 
children involved, not just high-ability learners (Kulik, “An Analysis of
the Research on Ability Grouping: Historical and Contemporary
Perspectives,” 1992). It is important to note that this does not mean 
permanent groups determined in kindergarten, as Ms. Lecker implies gifted
 education requires. Instead, effective grouping involves systematic
 and comprehensive curriculum differentiated across subject and adapted to 
students’ changing abilities. According to the National Association for 
Gifted Children (NAGC), effective differentiation for gifted children 
includes flexible enrichment and acceleration allowing
“for increasing levels of advanced, abstract, and complex curriculum that
respond to the learner’s needs.” In their position statement on grouping, 
they share that “while it is possible to achieve this level of tailored
 enrichment in a standard classroom setting, it has proven difficult in 
practice and it ignores the recognized benefits of grouping children with
 similar levels of academic strength. Indeed, the research on the many
 grouping strategies available to educators of these children is long,
consistent, and overwhelmingly positive (Rogers, 2006; Tieso, 2003).”

When I finished Ms. Lecker’s article, I couldn’t help but feel a
 misunderstanding of the goals of 
gifted education advocacy throughout the piece. While the point of her
 piece seems to be 
to equate gifted education with racial segregation, even a brief
 examination of the goals of gifted legislation contradicts her position.
 The TALENT Act, introduced in the Senate to amend the Elementary and
 Secondary Education Act to support gifted learners, lists as one of its 
findings of fact that “the availability of gifted education programs and
services to students who require such services is unequal and often relies 
solely on local resources and leadership, leaving many high-ability
 students from rural areas or who are English language learners or Hispanic,
 African-American, or Native American, among others, without access to
 appropriate services.” This is a flaw in our current educational system
 that the TALENT Act seeks to correct; in contract, undermining this gifted education advocacy 
works against equality in education.

The article provides no support that providing gifted students with
 appropriate education is the same as segregating students based on race.
 The evocation of racial segregation, in fact, is an emotional appeal that 
compares apples to oranges. Racial segregation was and is unjust because 
to discriminate on the basis of race is to make a groundless distinction, 
because all students deserve the equal opportunity to be able to learn.
 Providing students of differing abilities with educational opportunities 
tailored to their strengths and needs merely continues the pursuit of equal 
education, by allowing children, no matter their ability, to make progress 
and fulfill their potential. “Gifted only water fountains” mocks the very 
real struggles that children of all backgrounds face when they attend 
school daily without learning anything new, without being given the chance 
to excel and grow.

Increasing an understanding of the necessity for appropriate gifted
 education is why initiatives such as PA House Resolution 139 and the TALENT
 Act are so critical. By providing insight and resources to school districts 
about gifted learners’ needs, we ensure that all students, whether gifted, 
regular, or special education, in the country, the suburbs, or the inner 
city, are educated at the level and rate that meets their needs. As 
educational advocates, parents, and teachers, we all have a responsibility 
to advocate for equal education opportunities, which does not mean a
 one-size-fits-all approach. We have tried this tactic in public education,
and as a result more and more children are falling by the wayside each day. 
On the contrary, we must work to ensure that children from all backgrounds 
have access to education that truly allows them to grow and make 
progress—regardless of whether they are grades behind or grades ahead of
 their chronological placement. Otherwise, we consent to be bystanders,
watching all our children’s educational needs go ignored.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | September 27, 2012

Young, Gifted, and Neglected?

Does every child have the right to be educated to an extent that is appropriate for their abilities? Should money be an obstacle when educating high-potential children? Is there a way to reach a balance between “raising the floor” under low-achieving students and “raising the ceiling” for those already well above the floor — remembering, of course, that while these students need more intervention, they are far outnumbered by those in the thick middle of the bell curve. Is there room to meet the needs of children across this curve? Or are we intent, consciously or unconsciously, on pushing them to the mean, and holding back gifted and talented students instead of cultivating their abilities? It seems that the majority of educational institutions are doing just this.

Chester E. Finn, Jr. addresses the topic in his September 18th op-ed titled “Young, Gifted, and Neglected” in the New York Times. Finn is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and chairman of Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He was also a presenter at the National Association for Gifted Children’s National Research Summit on High-Income, Low-Ability Learners in Washington, D.C. in May of this year.

In his piece, Finn decries the “systematic failure” of our country’s public education system to educate a diverse gifted population – those students who are hard to identify and whom the country fails to appropriately educate, often due to their socio-economic and/or minority status. He says that this neglect of high-ability students, and ultimately “our country’s supply of future scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs” takes three forms. First, gifted and talented students are not identified early, especially if they come from poor or minority families and they do not have “savvy, pushy” parents. Second, we lack classrooms for gifted education at the primary and middle school levels with suitable teachers and curriculum. Finally, Finn argues that many high schools offer only a few honors or Advanced Placement classes, which do not necessarily mean the student taking them is being challenged to the appropriate extent. Further compounding this issue, Finn observes, is the fact that the U.S. Congress has “zero-funded” the Jacob J. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program while no alternative program exists. The only hope is for the TALENT Act, which as I have talked about will support education for gifted children, to be enacted.

Finn’s strongest characterization of today’s state of affairs is also the simplest, and leaves no doubt as to whether or not we are serving these students’ interests — and our own: “leaving no child left behind means paying as much attention to those who’ve mastered the basics – and have the capacity and motivation for much more – as we do to those who cannot yet read or subtract.”

While a few public schools and programs do focus on high-ability, highly motivated students, there are not nearly enough. Shockingly, in the entire country, there are only 165 public schools for gifted children. Nineteen states do not have a single public school for the gifted student population. It is no surprise that each of these precious few schools have far more qualified applicants than they are able to accept.

Finn’s piece describes the distressing lack of options for those gifted students who lack the resources to pay to attend a prestigious private school. Sierra Black, a blogger whose work appears in Babble and The New York Times, offers a poignant example that further illustrates the difficulty with attempting to find an appropriate education for a profoundly gifted child. Her friend’s daughter, at the age of six, is able to read and write on at least a fourth grade level. Black writes, “There’s no good place in our city’s education system for a kid like her. Last year, this city of 100,000 people got just $7500 in state funding for gifted education. There are no resources to meet her needs even if they knew how to. And the evidence is that they don’t. Dealing with gifted kids is a challenge our educational system just isn’t rising to.”

Finn is clearly justified in his assertions regarding our public education system: as a nation, we are neglecting the vast majority of our gifted student population, not to mention those students who are not even being identified as having higher potential. He advocates for more public schools — such as exam schools — for the gifted, and additionally insists that students should not be turned away from appropriate schools and education because there is “no room” for them. He elaborates that high-potential students not challenged with a rigorous curriculum by their public schools often have no alternatives if they lack the means to attend a more suitable private school, instead.

While Finn has an excellent point here, it is also critical to clarify that the words “private” and “elite” or “prestigious” are not synonymous with “rigorous,” and access to private education is no panacea. Even gifted students who do have the opportunity to attend private schools can still be left without a suitable teacher or curriculum to educate them at a level truly appropriate to their aptitudes and abilities. Just as students with disabilities require teachers who are open-minded and who can focus on the unique educational strengths and needs of each child, gifted students also require teachers with special skills and training, and a qualitatively different approach. Unfortunately, private schools can at times be very rigid in what they believe to be a quality education. Public schools and private schools alike continue to lack mandates for professional development for the teachers of the gifted they do employ. The Davidson Academy is a rare and remarkable example of a private school that truly does meet the needs of its gifted students — but one school is certainly not a solution to a nationwide phenomenon. Ultimately, this country is in serious need of public AND private schools equipped provide gifted students with appropriate education.

I was recently invited to attend the 2012 NBC News Education Nation Summit, where parents, educators, and students met with leaders in politics, business and technology to explore the challenges and opportunities in education today. One of the more inspiring sessions was led by Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, and a leading researcher in motivation, and Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of a series of studies on grit and perseverance. They stressed the importance of teaching children the concept of “grit”:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut loses, the gritty individual stays the course.

Finn touches on the fact that many public high schools do provide higher-level and Advanced Placement classes that are attended by students who are “bright but truly not prepared to succeed.” Academics are, of course, important, but we must also think about how we can teach students to fully embrace their giftedness so they may come to realize their potential. The words of Orison Swett Marden, an American author and philosopher who continually urged the cultivation of one’s own personal development, are equally well-suited to contemporary America as they were nearly a century ago:

There is genius in persistence. It conquers all opposers. It gives confidence. It annihilates obstacles. Everybody believes in a determined man. People know that when he undertakes a thing, the battle is half won, for his rule is to accomplish whatever he sets out to do. 

How much longer can we ask our gifted and talented youth to wait, sit still, and be content with the status quo while our neighboring countries continue to surpass us every single day? All of these stories, research, and op-ed pieces point to the same confounding yet critical questions, answers to which seem still frustratingly out of reach: How long will we continue to tamp down the unique abilities and gifts possessed by our brightest students? How much longer can we tell our gifted and talented youth just wait, sit still, and be content with a status quo that continually neglects their potential, telling them over and over that their gifts are not valued? And how much longer still will we tolerate this state of affairs without demanding the sort of systemic radical change and support that these students not only need, but deserve?

 

Posted by: ACFE Inc | May 4, 2012

Mom Congress 2012


I had the privilege of attending Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress Conference on Education and Learning this year for the third year in a row, and as always I was bedazzled by the creativity and determination of these amazing women.

Mom Congress 2012  was held in Washington DC, April 29 through May 1st and opened with Parenting Magazine’s  Editorial director, Ana Connery presenting this year’s themes: Parent-teacher connection and Global connectedness. Parenting Magazine along with the National Education Association (NEA) partnered for a ground-breaking joint survey of 1,000 public school parents and educators that explored the roadblocks to effective parent-teacher communication.  The results were announced in a panel discussion at Mom Congress. “This year’s Mom Congress conference is dedicated to addressing the vital need for parent-teacher communication on behalf of students’ best interests—and to finding solutions to achieve it,” said Connery. “Parents want, and in many cases are taking, every opportunity to work collaboratively with teachers to play an active role in their child’s learning.  Parenting is excited to work with partners like the NEA to foster conversations that give this passionate group of advocates the chance to support each other’s efforts to improve schools—and through each of Parenting’s national media properties, to help inspire millions of others to do the same.” For more information on this survey visit www.nea.org.

As always, I was delighted to hear Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education speak to the delegates of Mom Congress. This was Mr. Duncan’s third time speaking at Mom Congress and I find him engaging and delightful every time he speaks. Here are some of Mr. Duncan’s key points of 2012:

  • We are beginning to transform our education system and challenge the status quo. Remember – budgets are not just numbers on a piece of paper. They reflect our values.

  • We must strengthen and elevate the teaching profession in America and stop beating down our educators. We are investing 5 billion dollars to do this.

  • I’m as concerned as any parent or teacher about over testing and teaching to the test.

  • Forty-five states plus D.C. have signed on to the new Common Core Standards in Math and English. This means kids across the nation will learn the same thing beginning this coming fall.

  • There will be no more dumbed-down curriculum that makes school’s test scores look better. And future standardized tests, based on these Common Core standards, will test more critical thinking than memorizing.

  • Your role as parents is critical. The partnership you create with your child’s teachers and schools makes a big difference. For the complete Mom Congress speech presented by Arne Duncan visit http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/obama-record-education.

Another highlight was Mark Shriver, Senior Vice President of U.S. Programs for Save the Children. Mr. Shriver got straight to the point when he said, “It’s not sexy to talk about poor kids in America; it’s sexy to talk about poor kids in Africa. But, when 1 in 4 kids in this country live in poverty, look in the mirror and say stop fooling yourself, nothing is going to change unless you get fired up.”

Mr. Shriver’s recommendations were:
1. Get mobilized.
2. Get political action efforts behind you.
3. Get 5 – 10 friends to go with you if you want to have an impact. Visit www.savethechildren.org for more info. To view a video Mr. Shriver showed the Mom Congress group visit www.examiner.org.

Finally, Ellen Pritchard-Dodge of Kimochis, Toys with Feelings Inside, spoke about these adorable temperament characters, like Huggtopus and Bug, and the impact they can have on teaching children about their feelings. Ms. Pritchard-Dodge says, “I see massive changes in kids that have had the Kimochis. Kids are friendlier, patient, polite, conflicts are resolved more quickly.” According to their website, “Kimochis build character and confidence one feeling at a time.” Imagine what a world it would be if every child grew up possessing self-confidence and a strong character.

 

 

Another highlight of the conference was meeting up with my mentee in the 2012 Mom Congress, PA delegate Susan Rzucidlo. She is also running for State Representative for District 158, so I encourage you to learn more about her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had the honor of visiting the offices of Senator Casey and Senator Harkin on Tuesday. This was a great opportunity for us as a group to show our dedication to helping the TALENT Act move forward as well as discuss the issue of “educationally relevant,” with the request that the ESEA Reauthorization include a definition for this frustratingly vague term.

 

 

 

Spending time with the amazing delegates and speakers from Mom Congress continues to ignite my passion for education.  I am convinced that with the efforts of so many dedicated people working to ensure that every child receives the best education possible, this dream is sure to turn into reality.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | April 10, 2012

Focus Foundation 2012 Conference: This Weekend!

The Focus Foundation’s second annual 2012 Atypical Learner Conference is being held this weekend  from Friday, April 13th through Sunday, April 15th in Annapolis, MD.  This is a great conference and I’m extremely proud to be among such a talented group of speakers.

The Focus Foundation was founded in 1985 by Dr. Carole Samango-Sprouse, EdD.  The Focus Foundation maintains a dedicated and experienced team of scientists, scholars, educators, health care providers, marketing and fundraising experts and passionate volunteers all striving to serve the mission of the foundation:

“The Focus Foundation is dedicated to helping children and families affected by X & Y Variations, Dyslexia, and/or Developmental Dyspraxia. The Focus Foundation believes that through increased awareness, early identification and syndrome-specific treatment, children with these conditions can reach their full potential.”

Dr. Samango-Sprouse, executive director of The Focus Foundation, will be presenting two sessions: “Is It All About the X in Dyslexia and Dyspraxia?” and “Looking back over 20 years: Common Pitfalls for Girls with XXX and Boys with XYY.” In addition to being the executive director for The Focus Foundation, Dr. Samango-Sprouse is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University and the Director of the Neurodevelopmental Diagnostic Center (NDC) for Young Children, and has been working with disabled children since 1982.

Several speakers will be presenting interesting topics on Saturday, including Dr. Andrea Gropman. Dr. Gropman specializes in pediatric medicine, child neurology and clinical genetics in Washington, DC, and works with the Children’s National Medical Center there. Dr. Gropman will be presenting “Neuroscience: A Function of Boys with XXY and Girls with XXX.”

Nancy Clements, MA, CCS-SLP will be presenting “Social Thinking® in the Early Years: An Overview of Social Development and Strategies.” Ms. Clements is a speech pathologist and program manager for Social Thinking® and Communications Services at the Stern Center for Language and Learning. She has many years of research and experience with developing creative social thinking programs.

Rounding out sessions on Saturday is Christine Rouse, with “Making Lemonade from Lemons: My Life Journey.” Ms. Rouse is the founder and executive director of Acting Without Boundaries (AWB). Founded in 2004, AWB provides opportunities for young actors with disabilities to take to the stage to express their creative and artistic side. Visit their website for more information on their schedule of workshops.

On Sunday morning after breakfast I will be presenting “Developing the Appropriate IEP without Litigation.”  I am looking forward to the opportunity to share my experiences, and am hopeful that this will provide guidance to parents who want to strengthen their IEP without going to due process or engaging an attorney.

Following me is Dr. Darius Paduch, MD, PhD. Dr. Paduch will present an “Update on the Early Management of Klinefelter’s Syndrome.” Dr. Paduch is the Associate Professor of Urology and Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, NY.

After lunch, Dr. Jay Giedd will present “Looking at the Child with ADHD: Causes and Treatments.” Dr. Giedd is a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD. His work “Inside the Teenage Brain” has been featured on PBS Frontline.

The conference promises to be an exciting and informative weekend. If you want to attend, it’s not too late! Here is the registration form, and you can even pay online here.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | March 15, 2012

NAGC Affiliate Conference 2012

I have shared my appreciation here before for the work that the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) does in advocating on behalf of providing educational opportunities for high-achieving and high-ability learners. The movement of seeking awareness and federal support for gifted students is one that is near to my heart and that I am proud to support, both as an advocate and as a parent.

Therefore it’s no surprise that I’m so excited to be able to participate in the 2012 NAGC State Affiliate Conference, being held this year on Saturday March 17 through Tuesday March 20. This conference is a chance for state chapters to share concerns and best practices in advocating for change, and is also a chance for affiliates to come together in our nation’s capital and spend a day visiting with our Congresspeople, asking them to support the TALENT Act and federal standards for gifted education. I am looking forward to being able to meet with the offices of some of the sponsors of the TALENT Act, and feel that the timing of this event is appropriate. While the Act has been gaining momentum, unfortunately it’s not signed into law yet, and so it is still crucial that we continue to remind our representatives to support this important piece of legislation.

Whether or not you are attending the conference, I urge you to contact your elected officials about the TALENT Act. If they already support it, that’s a great time to say thanks! And if not, you can share with them how much this legislation matters to ensuring that gifted children’s needs are met.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | January 13, 2012

Calling Amazing Moms: Mom Congress 2012!

Are you the mom the other moms call to get things done? Are you passionate about education? A mom who strives to make a difference in the lives of children, not only her own, but all children?  This would qualify  you as an amazing mom!  If these characteristics describe you or a mom you know, why not nominate yourself or someone else, for a delegate position in Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress 2012. For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to serve in Mom Congress, and I can tell you that it is an incredible experience.

In 2010, I was selected as a delegate to the first ever Mom Congress in Washington, D.C.  At this inaugural conference, I had the chance to participate in a Town Hall with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and hundreds of local education and community leaders to discuss parental engagement in education. We also worked with Parenting editors, Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies faculty and the Mom Congress advisory board to create the “Lesson Plan for Change.” This was a guide to help empower parents like us to become more involved in their children’s education, and it appeared in Parenting: School Years as well as in a companion guide to one of my favorite documentaries, Waiting for Superman. I met so many inspiring women at this conference, and made some great connections. Most of all, however, I saw–and still see–the tremendous ability of this group of women to effect change in education as it stands in our country today. Later that year, I was honored to receive a Congressional Citation from former Congressman Joe Sestak for my work advocating on behalf of children and parents, and for my efforts in conjunction with Mom Congress. On this citation, he shared:

“I am proud to honor Melissa Bilash for her work with the most vulnerable members of our society.  Her steadfast passion for assisting others is reflected through her continued pursuit of rigorous training; her leadership in her consulting firm, Advocacy and Consulting for Education; and her participation in the “Mom’s Congress” with Parenting Magazine and Georgetown University.  Over the course of her illustrious career, Ms. Bilash has served gifted and special children by working with their families and school districts to enhance these individual’s experiences in the present and to build stronger foundations for their future.  As John F. Kennedy once said, “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”  On behalf of the good people of the 7th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, I would like to congratulate Ms. Bilash as she creates a better nation through her tireless and compassionate advocacy.”

When my term ended, I was asked to remain on as Parenting’s Mom Congress Special and Gifted Education Mentor. As the year went on, I was able to work with more amazing women around the country learning what is best practice in the parts that matter like bullying, common core standards and STEM.

In April 2011, I attended the Mom Congress conference for the second time, where I presented a break out session on curriculum for gifted kids alongside Nancy Greene, executive director of the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC). As a huge fan of NAGC and their invaluable resources, I was both humbled and delighted by this experience.

In June, NBC News’s Education Nation stopped by Philly and I was thrilled to be able to attend many of the events they had to offer. Being around other people who care as deeply as I do about education gives me great hope for the future of education. Then when Education Nation hosted their summit in September in NYC, I had the privilege of sitting down with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, to interview him about what we can learn from the PISA Survey. What a thrilling experience!

In November, I met with officials from the US Department of Education (DOE) along with a few other Mom Congress delegates to discuss our thoughts on the the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as well as the TALENT Act, introduced by our own Senator Casey. The next day, I attended a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to discuss this reauthorization, and was honored to be able to contribute testimony for the record for both the ESEA and the Talent Act.

Most recently, I was in D.C. on January 10 for another meeting with the DOE and Mom Congress. As part of this visit I also had the chance to meet with First Focus; this is an organization I am excited about working more with in the future. First Focus is a bipartisan organization that brings together leaders in child advocacy with traditional and non-traditional partners (such as private-sector groups) to work toward how to make children and families more of a priority in federal funding. In addition I had the chance to meet with Nancy Green and Jane Clarenbach, of the National Association for Gifted Children, and discuss gifted education.

As you can see, my experiences with Mom Congress have opened up a world of possibilities for me to directly affect the standards by which are children are educated. I hope you will take the time to nominate yourself or someone you know for Mom Congress. One outstanding mom from each state will be selected and they will attend the Parenting’s 2012 Mom Congress on Education and Learning Conference April 29 through May 1st. The deadline for entries is February 15, 2012; you will need to summit a 300-word essay along with a photo of your amazing mom.  For official rules and to submit a nomination, go here. to www.parenting.com/webform/send-mom-congress

Posted by: ACFE Inc | January 9, 2012

Thoughts on Finland

Often I have seen people become distracted by where we are failing: what Secretary Arne Duncan is doing wrong, why this idea or that idea will never work. But it is time we start asking: what are we doing well? What can we do better, and how?

Last year I wrote about the PISA scores and America’s low ranking in comparison to other first-world countries.Top 3 countries when it comes to student scores in reading? Shanghai, Korea, and Finland. Top 5 in math? Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Finland. Many have pointed out Finland as the odd man out in these rankings and have begun asking: What’s Finland doing so well that we can do here?

Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility, wants to answer that question. He recently wrote Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Recently he visited New York to discuss the book, and the Atlantic has published a great article focusing on the pieces of Finland’s educational system that appear to go largely unremarked upon. In the United States, we talk about school choice, class size, professional development for teachers, differentiated instruction, and a plethora of other trends and buzzwords floating around. But Anu Partanen, the reporter who wrote the article, focuses in on one piece that I have not heard much mention of in regards to why Finland works–and it’s a piece that, as she points out, is highly relevant in our current economy, where the gap between classes continues to widen:

“Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity. Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.”

Many have pointed out the differences between Finland and the United States; in particular, Finland is a small, relatively homogeneous country that has outlawed all private schools. However, the article also cites Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who compared Finland with Norway, similarly situated in size and diversity but with a more American educational system than Finland’s. Abrams found that Norway also had a mediocre performance on the PISA Survey, leading him to conclude that the educational reform took more credit for Finland’s success than their size or diversity.

In considering Finland, and the differences between their educational system and ours, for better and worse, one question I and many others keep coming back to is: : why is our system the way it is, and what does it need to look like? Sir Ken Robinson would like to take a crack at these questions, and he does here in a combination of lecture with whiteboard illustrations for a great multisensory approach. This video is 11 minutes long and worth your time:

Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/zDZFcDGpL4U

Although his comments on ADHD may be controversial to some, so much of what he says rings true. Our system of education has become outmoded, and the question becomes: what will we do about it? What can we do about it?

Finally, Ira David Socol has a suggestion: Stop asking questions if you know the answer. As Robinson discusses above with divergent thinking, Socol says: “‘Gotcha’ devices to train kids to respond exactly the way they’ve been taught. When we ask real questions, kids stop repeating and start thinking, and learning.” So instead of asking 9 x 12, for example, he suggests asking questions for which there is no definitive answer. “I’ve never really gotten the “9 x” table, so, if I asked you what 9×12 was, how would you figure it out?” This question, as he points out, has no “right” answer. He argues: “The teacher who asks, “what is 9×12?” teaches nothing. The question I asked, among other things, introduces the concept of algebra. For the “9×9″ kid, x = (9×9)+(3×9), finding the unknown via knowns, and he is thinking, not parroting.” This concept can be applied to all subject areas, not just math. When I think about standing in front of a class, asking a question that I don’t have the answer to (“where does space begin?” is another great example), it can sound terrifying at first. But this is the very divergent, creative thinking that Robinson finds to be crucially missing from our current educational system, that we need in order to engage our students and help them be fully alive in school and as people and citizens.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | December 23, 2011

You are my star!

At least 1 in 110 American children have been identified as on the autism spectrum; ASD affects an estimated 3 million people in the U.S. and tens of millions more worldwide. Despite the drastic increase in the number of children identified each year, we still know little about the cause of autism and many people remain unsure of what it means to be a person on the spectrum. This is why research efforts in conjunction with advocacy and education about this disorder are so important.

One way to support these efforts and share a gift with your children is a book I am happy to get to share with you, and one of my favorite books this year: You Are My Star. Local mom and member of Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), Joanna McGowan, has put together a beautiful children’s book that is a lovely present for all children, whether special needs or not. The illustrations in the book were all drawn by children affected by autism. In addition, the book’s proceeds benefit TACA, which is a national non-profit dedicated to educating, empowering, and supporting families affected by autism. In speaking about the book, Joanna shared, “…Children with special needs often work much harder and have greater challenges than their typical peers and this book is meant to acknowledge them and celebrate their accomplishments. The story is meant to convey love and acceptance for the child as well as a belief in hope for the future.” To purchase the book or for more information, click here.

Posted by: ACFE Inc | December 2, 2011

FIRST LEGO League: This weekend!

Have you ever wondered about different ways to improve food quality, ways to prevent contamination or even just how your food stays fresh?  Well, over 200,000 9-14 year old students have accepted the challenge of tackling some of these questions in the FIRST® LEGO® League 2011 Food Factor Challenge: Keeping Food Safe. This challenge was given to groups of innovative children from various areas within the region: investigate their food and find one way to improve its safe delivery to those eating it. Teams then create an innovative solution that will address this problem or to come up with new ideas that could fix the problem.  LEGO® robotics is a great way to incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education into (and after) a school day without making it seem like work, and the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is one more method that teachers can use to get students excited about science, math, and problem solving.

There are three parts to the challenge: first, the teams program an autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT to score points during 2 ½ minute matches on a themed field. Secondly, teams also have to develop a solution or new ideas to the problem of how to keep food safe before it’s eaten; lastly, they present their solutions on Saturday, December 3 at the Willow Grove Complex. FLL is not just about the project itself, however; while participating in the project, teams are guided by the FLL Core Values, which include the idea that friendly competition and mutual gain can go together and that helping each other is the foundation of teamwork. The winners of this regional competition will go to the University of Pennsylvania Irvine Auditorium to compete on January 28th.

Among the participants this year is the Haverford School. This competition will be the Ford Bots’ first Lower School Robotic Team Tournament, and the team is very excited to get started on what will hopefully be a long and successful track record. The team is headed by Cheryl Joloza, science teacher for 4th and 5th grade, and Sarah Barton, fourth grade teacher. While this blogger admits that she is definitely biased, this is an enthusiastic, bright group of young men, and the best of luck to them at the competition!

Posted by: ACFE Inc | November 12, 2011

Visiting Washington

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