Thursday, September 27, 2012

Change for its own sake

Radio Commentary

            Will Rogers once said, “Schools aren’t as good as they used to be — but they never were.” The highly respected Michael Norman agrees.
            He said there is danger in the common notion that schools are so bad that any change will be for the better.
            Norman contends our schools have been asked to do more than any other school system in the world: We are the only country committed to educating ALL children.
            Do we know how to teach students to read, write, and compute? YES, says Norman.
Do we practice what we know in every classroom? No. And sometimes that’s because social and financial problems prevent it, he says.
            Instead of major change for its own sake, we must narrow the distance between what we know and how consistently we apply it.
            There’s a big difference between change and progress. In fact, resisting certain changes may be more progressive than adopting them.
            Author Michael Fullan studied innovations and changes in American education over three decades.
            He believes that any attempt to reform or change schools must be rooted in two areas: what we know about how humans learn — and what we expect all students to know and be able to do as a result of their schooling.
            The rest is just glitter. It’s change without progress.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Radio Commentary

           Sometimes young people look for the easy way out. They may want to take a class that does not challenge them, or slide by with little effort.
            It helps to make children understand the importance of challenging themselves to their fullest. Encourage them to take courses that are demanding — ones that get them to think and reach a little further.
            Subjects or projects that require young people to push harder are well worth the extra effort. When they find an extra resource within themselves they feel comfortable trying even more challenges in the future. 
            By taking accelerated courses, your children might end up finding their life’s passion. The hard work will often pay off in experiences that they otherwise might not have been able to share.
            The payoff might be as simple as interacting with students they’ve never talked with before, getting hands-on experience in a new area, meeting experts in a certain field, or writing college-level research papers that will better prepare them for higher level academic challenges.
            While students should be allowed to focus on the present moment, help them understand that the future will hold more opportunities for those with wider experiences.
            Reaching beyond one’s grasp and finding success is positive reinforcement. It is a good way to keep at bay the fear of trying something new or difficult.
            It’s been said that “You get what you settle for.” Make sure your children set their own bars high and use their skills and creativity to meet those higher standards. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Voting essential

Radio Commentary

With political campaigns in full swing, we know that education will continue to be a primary focus for candidates.
Polls show the public considers education a very high priority, and candidates will be quick to zero in on their concerns. Much will be said about how to support and improve our schools.
But campaign words will not solve the challenges our schools face. How do we hold politicians accountable for their sound-bite promises and lofty rhetoric?
Recent history shows that we must do a far better job of demanding accountability for our children.
With all the promises, the task forces, the reform measures, and the best or worst of intentions, what kind of real progress and results have we seen in the past few decades?
Are American schools better off than they were before all these efforts?
Have we committed the necessary resources and leadership to our nation’s classrooms so that problems can truly be overcome?
Have we provided even half the needed funding for key early childhood programs that prepare our children to succeed in school?
In the long run, ensuring a positive future for our kids depends on each of us doing our part as individuals.
We must learn the facts about the candidate’s actual record on these issues, and we should vote accordingly. 
In addition to supporting family values, we must also support community values. Our future, and that of our children, depends on our own accountability in this area.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Helping students

Radio Commentary

Parents’ involvement with children’s education increases the chances for success in school.
Studies show that children whose parents are involved in education are more motivated in the classroom. And motivated children become students with good chances for bright futures.
But just how do parents go about walking that fine line between being helpful and over-managing their children’s school work?
Here are some guidelines that have proven helpful for some parents:
•  Read with your children every day. You can read school assignments, or books that are just for fun.
•  Provide enrichment materials, like children’s books, magazines and educational toys. Be sure to show your own delight in reading.
•  Provide quiet, private work spaces where children can study undisturbed. Insist that no TV is playing within earshot. Try to limit phone calls during homework time as well.
•  Keep your children’s workspaces well-stocked with all the supplies they need to complete their assignments. This would include pencils, pens, erasers, staplers, paper, a good lamp, a dictionary, and thesaurus.
•  Help your children schedule homework into their daily routine of sports, music, family events, homework and long-term projects. Sometimes the prominent placement of a large calendar can make a big difference.
•  Reward good grades with recognition and praise.
Involved parents do make a difference.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Testing purposes

Radio Commentary

Tests are an important part of a child’s education. Still, it is important to keep in mind what they can and cannot show.
A test can indicate what a student knows in a given subject. It can also show the types of reasoning a student finds difficult or easy to do.
A test can also reveal what a student still needs to learn. It can point out weaknesses and challenges, and show where further focus could make a difference.
What a test cannot show is how hard a student has tried. It can’t show the amount of studying that took place or the effort that was put into trying to learn the material.
For some students, it takes little effort to do well on tests. They instinctively know what kinds of answers are being sought by nature of the questions.
Others study very hard but find it more difficult to show what they know and obtain high scores.
Parents need to make sure children know that whatever they score on a test, they are stilled loved. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget and very important to children who are trying hard to do their best.
All children want to do well on tests. But realistically, they simply won’t be able to do so 100 percent of the time. 
Make sure your children know you support their efforts, not just the numbers they are able to attain.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Resolving homework problems

Radio Commentary

Homework hassles can often be avoided when parents value, monitor, and guide their child’s work.
But sometimes this help is not enough. Problems can still arise. If they do, teachers, parents, and students may need to work together to resolve them.
You may want to contact the teacher:
 •  If your children refuse to do their assignments.
•  If the instructions are unclear.
•  If you can’t seem to help your child get organized to tackle the assignments.
•  If neither you nor your child can understand the purpose of an assignment.
•  If the assignments are frequently too hard or too easy.
•  Or if your child has missed school and needs to make up work.
Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a problem. Give the teacher a chance to work out the issue. Be sure to give the teacher’s suggestions a chance to work.
Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit, understanding that the teacher wants to help your child, even if you disagree about the method.
It’s easier to solve problems if teachers and parents view each other cooperatively.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thinking ahead

Radio Commentary

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to anticipate it and head it off in the first place. It’s a skill that involves foresight and anticipation.
To help your teens develop these traits, bring up a situation that worries you and ask what they would do in that circumstance.
Listen carefully to their reaction. Treat their opinions with respect. Make suggestions, but avoid the temptation to lecture. It rarely works.
If you disagree with the approach that your teen has provided, ask her to consider alternative actions. Discuss different ways of reacting to a peer pressure situation.
Talk about the consequences of various alternatives. Have your teen figure out the best course of action based upon those consequences.
Leave the discussion open for further consideration, and make clear that you are always available to help clarify matters or offer suggestions.
If you don’t appear to be lecturing or judging, your teen is more likely to take you up on that offer.
The goal is to help your child think through the issue calmly — not to force your opinion or get a reluctant promise.
Considering options in advance can head off problems before they arise and give your children the tools they need to react in a positive way.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Parents help with testing

Radio Commentary

Public schools have always strived to fulfill their mission of helping students improve their skills and reach their full potential. Accountability has always been an important priority.
In current times, accountability is focused almost exclusively on test scores.
Supporters of testing contend that tests will lead to increased accountability and measurable results.
Opponents argue that average scores on high-stakes testing do not indicate how far a given teacher or school has taken a group of students from where they started. The scores don’t show the progress that was made for the individual student.
We also hear of strong political support balanced by some grassroots boycotts. Clearly, there is controversy.
Nonetheless, tests right now are the only game in town. They are required of all schools and students in our state, and there are rewards and sanctions depending on the average outcome. 
Some young people are “naturals” at test-taking. They can sail through tests without stress. For many others, the taking of national and state standardized tests can be a time of high frustration and anxiety.
Four traits can help children feel confident about tests throughout their school career: Being Receptive, Relaxed, Ready, and Rested. Parents can help nurture these traits and help their children succeed.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Science skills

Radio Commentary

The principles of science form an umbrella around almost everything we do. 
Many educators feel that science is also one of the most innately interesting subject areas for children.  
But sometimes a sheer love of science can get bogged down in the details of memorizing and instruction.
To help your child develop an interest in science, try these tips:
            •  Discuss family eating habits in terms of how the body uses various kinds of food. The body can be viewed as a machine, and food is the fuel.
            •  Encourage children to tinker with old clocks or broken appliances to see how they “tick” – but be sure to remove all electrical cords first.
            •  Hide any distaste you might have for your child’s interest in insects, scummy water, and other unappetizing aspects of nature. 
Children often find these natural items fascinating and should be encouraged to learn about their environment.
            •  Demonstrate scientific thinking by challenging general statements with the question, “How do you know that’s true?” It helps children understand the difference between opinion and fact.
            •  Encourage any interest in collecting rocks, leaves, shells, or other natural objects. Provide a place to display the collections.
            Explore the many opportunities for science-related outings in our own county, so you can make learning a family affair.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Starting early

Radio Commentary

From early on, children should have books, be read to often, and see others reading and writing. 
Children should also be encouraged to talk about books they know and add storylines or create new endings.
The home environment is critical. Make sure it is filled with printed material.
Put up some signs around the house that use the child’s name. Have toys like alphabet refrigerator magnets.
Several Internet sites publish lists of wonderful children’s stories.
            There is no substitute for a caring adult who takes time with a child.
Vocabulary, language skills, and knowledge about the world are gained during interesting conversations with responsible adults.
            In daily life, parents should point out and read words that appear in a child’s environment — store signs, labels, TV titles. 
            Have your toddlers share in making grocery lists and checking them off at the store. Sing songs and tell stories whenever the opportunity arises.
            Above all, talk to your child whenever possible. It is the rhythms and sounds of language that help with reading.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Time management skills

Radio Commentary

Many students aren’t fully prepared to make the jump from elementary school to secondary schools because they lack time-management or organization skills.
            In elementary school, students typically spend most of their time with one teacher, at the same desk every day. In middle or junior high, they move from class to class, and must take responsibility for their own time management.
            Here’s how students can be helped to make the transition:
            Consolidation is the key. Give students the proper organizational tools. A weekly planner and the right notebook can make a bigger difference than you might imagine.
            Recommend that students use a three-ring binder for all subjects, with dividers to separate the subjects, and plastic pockets to hold loose papers and items like pens and pencils. 
            A weekly planner is also helpful for recording assignments. Parents can sign off on it once a week. The planner should contain a section for recording grades. This way both students and parents can track progress.
Be sure to set up a proper work environment. Children need a quiet work space. The stereo or TV are both distractions whether students realize it or not.
Create a set schedule to replace daily reminding. The act of reminding students to do the same things over and over again becomes tedious and can waste valuable time.
            These practices really help.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Parental involvement

Radio Commentary

            People usually think the term “parental involvement in school” means taking part in PTA activities, helping chaperone field trips, or volunteering in the classroom.
It’s important to remember that another form of parental involvement is even more critical -- taking part in education at home. 
            This means encouraging children to read, monitoring their homework, reading to them, placing reasonable restrictions on TV viewing, and making sure they go to school every day. 
It also means talking to children about why school is important.
            Many children do not always get such attention. 
In some cases, both parents are working and are simply too tired at night or are not inclined to do this. In single-parent families, often it is simply impossible for a parent to cover all these bases.
            Modern children spend at least as much time watching TV as they do in school. And, of course, if students don’t attend school regularly, they can’t benefit from what it offers. 
            Parents have to be around the house to supervise; they have to put pressure on their children to turn off the TV and do their homework or read. They have to make sure their kids go to school even when there is some small reason for staying home.
            This kind of parental involvement is hard work, and relentless work, because it must be constant. But it’s hard to think of anything more important parents can do for their children.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Radio Commentary

            It’s never too early to begin reading to a child. Even infants love the sound of words in lullabies and rhymes.
Set aside some time for reading aloud every day. Let children snuggle close to you. That way, they will think of reading as a happy time when they have your full attention.
Your reading time doesn’t need to be long—10 or 15 minutes each day is fine.
Remember: if you read just one story a night to children, they will arrive in kindergarten with more than a thousand story-sharing experiences.
As you read, you can also boost a child’s thinking skills—and have fun.
Ask children to think about why something is happening in the story—or what they might do if they were in the same situation. For example, “What would you do if you were Little Red Riding Hood?”
When you’ve finished a book, ask children to think about how to change the story.
For example, “What would have happened if all three little pigs had built their houses of bricks?”
You can have fun with these questions. Even better, your children will be developing thinking and reasoning skills that lead to success in school.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lofty goals

Radio Commentary

The early leaders of our country created publicly funded schools to educate children from ALL walks of life. It’s hard to remember it was a radical idea at the time.
Our founders recognized the importance of education to the well-being of the country. They were seeking to achieve more than just teaching children reading, writing, and math.
            They believed that a system of publicly supported schools ought to achieve several major goals:
            •      prepare people to become responsible citizens
•      improve social conditions
•      promote cultural unity
•      help people become economically self-sufficient
•      enhance individual happiness and enrich individual lives
•      dispel inequities in education
•      ensure a basic quality level among schools
These goals were worthy of our great democracy. Then and now, meeting the goals can only be measured over time, when we can see how students have applied their schooling.
We hear critics of public schools call for alternatives that shift funding and responsibility for education to the private sector.
            When we weigh these suggestions, it is important to remember the whole picture of what we seek from public education.
We need to consider whether the alternatives better meet the loftier goals our founders had in mind when public education was first conceived. Those higher goals should always be our focus. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Connecting with your school

Radio Commentary

Whether you have a concern to share with school officials or you are just seeking information, there are ways to approach a school that make it more likely you’ll get what you want.
First, get as much information as you can before you go. You may want to write down your questions in advance.
Be sure to make an appointment, rather than appearing with no warning. That way you can be sure that the individual you need to talk to will be available when you arrive.
Approach the conversation with an attitude that assumes everyone is working in the best interest of your student. Acting respectfully will ensure that you receive treatment that is respectful.
Include your student in the discussions whenever possible. If agreements are made to follow certain approaches, be sure to uphold your part of the bargain.
It’s also important to get involved and stay involved. Join the PTA or parent group, the site council, or just volunteer in a classroom or the office.
Most schools involve parents in decision-making practices and evaluations of the school’s goals.
As your student’s main advocate, you need to know how to make the public school system work for your child. 
Schools welcome this involvement because they know that children with involved parents are more likely to work hard, obey the necessary rules, and succeed academically. It’s well worth the effort.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

After children graduate

Radio Commentary

      If you have an empty nest because your last child has left the house, or is about to, that doesn't mean that you can’t continue to support education in your community.
     It’s a great time to stay involved, make a contribution, and stay young at heart.
     As a start, keep up with issues that affect local children. If you can, get involved in the school activities of your neighbors’ children, your nieces and nephews, or friends’ children or grandchildren.
     Remember that strong schools make strong communities. Educated young people make our entire society healthier.
     How can you help?
     Children love to have fans attend their soccer games or concerts.
     Cheering for local children can also be an opportunity for you to keep in contact with various neighbors and local happenings.
     Think of interesting ways you can participate in school programs. Share your special talents. If you are a photographer, give a seminar to the yearbook staff.
     Or maybe you have connections to interesting local companies that would make for great field trips.
     We can all serve as volunteers and mentors in our local schools. We can provide an extra set of hands to help in the office, or an extra set of ears to help children with reading.
     This nation was built on a foundation of community support for local schools. It is what keeps our democracy strong and vital. And it will continue to do so — with the help of all involved.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Passion for learning

Radio Commentary

Turning children into lifelong learners can be the ultimate joy for teachers and parents alike.
It can have a lasting impact with benefits that continue to emerge throughout an entire lifetime.
Getting A’s is a great feeling for a student. But in the long run, generating a genuine curiosity and desire to learn can make a bigger difference than any single grade on a test.
Imagine the potential of children who are curious about the world around them and who are happy with themselves. 
That combination can lead to success in almost any arena.
Parents and teachers have the power to set the tone for a child’s academic accomplishments.
Praise children for their effort, for working independently, and for the energy they’ve spent in achieving a goal.
The process of studying well and learning completely should be the highest priority.
If you look behind good grades you will often find a great deal of love and support that make a big difference.
Your children deserve the best chance to become true, lifelong learners. 
Help maintain their enthusiasm for gaining knowledge, not just good grades.