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Archive for July, 2008

2008 Higher Education Summit: “A Test of Leadership”

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

The US Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling delivered some interesting remarks at the 2008 Higher Education Summit, “A Test of Leadership,” in Chicago this week.  Two comments in particular captured my attention:

“Is it acceptable that the financial aid system is so confusing, complex and inefficient, that many young people, and their parents, simply throw up their hands and walk away?” and “Simply put, higher ed must become more agile, transparent, and student-centered. “  (http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2008/07/07182008.html).

I couldn’t agree more! So many of my students are discouraged by the volume of red tape associated with financial aid. In their end of course surveys, it is far to common to find negative comments about the FA dept or the process in general. I believe that education changes lives by creating a mindset of possibility. Higher ed expands our minds to think beyond today.

However, higher education is not for everyone. I do not want our government to hand out degrees or free money. I do believe that those who are ready for college and motivated to learn should have an affordable opportunity. Rather than grant money, I would like to see more scholarships based on apptitude, rather than financial status. The middle class family often struggles with the cost of education for their children – they make too much to be eligible for a grant. Achievement should be the basis for financial assistance.

Many people believe that education is a “right.” I do not. You should have to show your ability and desire to attend – rather than base everything on how much you or your parents make. I wholeheartedly agree with Secretary Spelling in her assessment that higher ed must become more “agile, transparent, and student-centered.”

FreeRice

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

The website FreeRice.com has two goals:

  1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
  2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

How do they do this? The website has a vocabulary game that offers a word and one-word definitions. You pick a definition and every time you get the answer correct, the organization or sponsor listed at the bottom of the page donates grains of rice. The words get progressively harder. If you miss a word, the word will be repeated later which enhances your learning. If you are an ESL (English as a Second Language) student, this is a great way to increase your vocabulary. Word associations are a fantastic way to learn language and enhance your own vocabulary.

The donated rice is distributed by the WFP (United Nations World Food Program).  The WFP has distributed the donated rice to Myanmar, Uganda, Bangladesh and others. It takes about 19,200 grains of rice to equal 400 grams, which is the amount distributed per person by WFP.

Playing a free and fun game may not seem like much, but thousands are playing every day. Your winning “gifts” are combined with others’ and together we can make a difference in the lives of the hungry. Visit FreeRice.com today and play your part in reducing world hunger.

Leaving Behind the Talented

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

A recent article in the DeMoines Register entitled Professor: Don’t Leave the Gifted, Talented Behind by Megan Hawkins hit a nerve in me. Two of our children were “gifted,” but the programs in their schools left much to be desired. The programs were essentially opportunities for more field trips and exposure to depth in their subjects. They were able to use computers and one game they still remember was The Donner Pass. The students had to make decisions all along to get the party across the Pass. They also worked mind teasers and math problems. Even though the classes were for gifted students, none of the activities were challenging; they were more like enrichment than anything else.

My children also experienced jealously from other students because the gifted students were pulled from their regular classes on certain days of the week. All of the extra activities also were not funded by the school – parents of gifted students paid for the trips and materials. I was able and willing to pay, but I know that this was a hardship for some parents. Were some students not included in the program because they could not afford it?

I suppose the gifted programs were better than nothing. They gave my children greater access to the teacher as the classes were smaller. However, they were rarely challenged intellectually. The benefits may have been minimalized by the social stigma of differentiation. If the program could have been all day, every day, it would have given greater results. The children ended up doing very well in college and getting a good start on their careers. Would they have been able to do this without their gifted programs? I believe they would have been just as successful. The gifted programs helped with their boredom of school, which is common to those with high intellect.

In the 60’s when I was a child, there was no gifted program. My second grade teacher developed a program for the few of us who were doing well in reading. She sent us twice a week during reading time to a fifth grade classroom. We read with the fifth graders instead of our second grade classmates. I remember sitting in the big fifth grade chairs and reading stories that made more sense than those that I was reading in my class. By the time I was in the fifth grade I was reading everything I could get my hands on…..and bored (again) with reading class. Perhaps my lifelong reading and comprehension skills were the result of one creative teacher who tried to make a difference in her students.

The article reminds us that NCLB is an effort to bring underachievers up to a higher level. At the same time, it ignores the high achievers. Even the title of the law refers to “no child left behind”….but we consciously and purposefully leave behind talented students by not developing programs that make a difference in their lives.