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February 2013 - Focus: Curriculum Quality

Published 10 times a year, each edition explores issues facing U.S. education today and strategies to better serve every student. This newsletter is published in print and on the IDRA website, in addition to this eLetter format. You can unsubscribe from this email newsletter by clicking on the link at the top of this page.

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Building a Civil Rights Juggernaut Using the Common Core Standards

by Bradley Scott, Ph.D.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). According to the NGA and the CCSSO, they received initial feedback on the draft standards from national organizations representing, but not limited to, teachers, post-secondary educators (including community colleges), civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

These Common Core standards define knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate from high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. Forty-five states have adopted the standards.

The NGA and CCSSO state that the standards are aligned with college and work expectations; are clear, understandable and consistent; include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills; build on strengths and lessons of current state standards; are informed by other top performing countries so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and are evidence-based.

The standards are intended to lay a foundation for system-wide education reform as they bring consistency across states and are likely more rigorous than most state standards. Designed to reflect knowledge most critical for college and career success, the standards should increase the coherence and rigor of what is expected of U.S. students. The potential for academic benefit to all students regardless of their race, gender, national origin or other characteristics could be both impressive and powerful.
However, for the Common Core to produce the benefits above, there are some concerns that must be addressed. The CCSSO and the NGA admit that the standards do not address interventions for students who are currently well below grade level, do not delineate the full range of support for English language learners, and do not describe how teachers should teach. These holes raise obvious civil rights concerns for the groups of students for whom the standards have not been designed. They also speak to teachers who may not have the requisite skills to teach in culturally competent ways.  – Keep reading

Asset-Based Lessons for Linguistically Diverse Classrooms

by Veronica Betancourt, M.A.

As the phase of the school year begins when teachers get ready for upcoming standardized tests, it is important to keep in mind that now, more than ever, lessons should be intentionally designed from an asset-based, or value-driven, perspective. Teachers should not allow themselves to fall victim to the pressures of “preparing” students for such lessons. When asset-based lessons are implemented year-round, there is no need to prepare students, because it has been happening all along!

It is important to note why this type of lesson design is most beneficial for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Subjects like math and science have an even greater challenge to successfully support a diverse classroom. Students seem to lose their positive stance toward certain subjects, such as science, as they get older and move up into secondary settings (Neathery, 1997). This is supported by brain research, which purports that cognition is shaped by emotions thus significantly affecting learners’ cognitive engagement (Jensen, 2003).

However, when teachers make a concerted effort to continuously value students’ perspectives and knowledge of science as they plan and deliver their lessons, they will lower students’ affective filter and increase their willingness to engage with the subject (Alsop, 2005).

IDRA recently outlined seven umbrella research-supported strategies to help English learners achieve in the science classroom. The strategies are presented in detail with their research base in Science Instructional Strategies for English Learners – A Guide for Elementary and Secondary Grades (Villarreal, et al., 2012), which is available from IDRA. This article describes one of the strategies: design asset-based science lessons for culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms.

Now the question begs to ask: So how do I create this type of lesson? – Keep reading

Access, Equity and Excellence in Early Childhood Education

by Rosana G. Rodriguez, Ph.D.

President Obama has issued a bold challenge: to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education from the day they are born to the day they begin a career. The future demands that we work collaboratively across sectors to strengthen our educational system. This means providing excellent early childhood education as a strong foundation for learning, healthy development and longer term school success.
Research has shown that a child’s learning begins at birth with parents as a child’s first teachers, who nurture, challenge, engage and provide high-quality relationships and environments. It is widely understood that children who have access to excellent early education from birth are more likely to improve their healthy development and school readiness, resulting in improved academic achievement, graduation and college readiness, and ultimately, in improved earning power and greater international competitiveness for our nation. For these reasons, commitment to high-quality learning has enormous payoffs, returning as high as 15 percent to 17 percent on the investment each year.

IDRA has a long-term commitment to quality early education. From our initial AMANECER curriculum, to our Reading Early for Academic Development (READ) project (funded by the U.S. Department of Education) and up to the current Semillitas ~ Seedlings for Learning initiative, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, IDRA has provided research-based professional development, supported parent collaboration, and created excellent materials for English learners. In early childhood environments of quality, loving adults provide a stimulating environment where parents, teachers and adults read, talk and use rich vocabulary that enhances language and cognitive development with linguistically and culturally appropriate materials.

Unfortunately, many disadvantaged children still lack access to such high-quality programs and support. As a nation, we have yet to achieve equity, access and excellence in early childhood education. We still need to implement rigorous and comprehensive reforms along the continuum of education, including the following. – Keep reading

Semillitas de aprendizaje ~ Bilingual Supplemental Early Childhood Curriculum

Semillitas de aprendizaje is a bilingual (Spanish/English) supplemental early childhood curriculum by IDRA that is based on the art of storytelling. Its culturally-relevant stories are for children to listen, view and then read along. Children eventually begin to repeat the stories and learn the art of creating their own stories as well as recite poetry. See flier about the materials or the website.

IDRA 40th Anniversary

In February of 1981, Senator Carlos Truan introduced SB 477, which would become the Texas Bilingual Education Act. From our earliest days, IDRA was an expert resource in Texas and U.S. litigation and policy development for bilingual education knowing it is the most effective way for students to learn English while they learn their core subjects. Over the decades, IDRA also helped schools set up effective bilingual programs and designed the highly popular AMANECER national bilingual curriculum in the 1970s as well as the new Semillitas de Aprendizaje early childhood supplemental curriculum, which is available today.

Classnotes podcasts on teaching science