Author Archives: christinaspinelli

Injustices of the New GED

In January 2014, proposed changes to the GED test will affect many individuals seeking the high school equivalency diploma according to Diane Orson’s report for NPR.  For years the testing service that offered the GED was the nonprofit American Council on Education, but in 2011, the nonprofit stated that it would be “…merging with Pearson, a for-profit British company, and one of the largest educational testing companies in the world.” [Surprise, surprise.]

Needless to say, the price of the test is set to double from $60 to $120.  Some states choose to subsidize some or all of the test for its residents, however the exorbitant increase in cost may deter some governments to provide the financial assistance it previously was able to and will probably render many unable to afford any help at all in paying for the test.  This is antithetical to the nature of the test, which was designed to provide an opportunity for all individuals to obtain a diploma often necessary for more employment opportunities.  Low-income people will be further disadvantaged by the price of the test.

Additionally, the article states that the GED test itself “will be more rigorous and aligned with Common Core Standards” along with its complete digitization.  The computerization of the exam will add another element of division to the new test, a “digital divide” that privileges those who are comfortable with using a computer and taking online tests.  The article refers to some states that are seeking alternatives to the GED, but it doesn’t specify what these testing alternatives are.  I’d imagine and hope that as January 2014 approaches, the alternatives are effective, affordable, and available in all fifty states.

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Wu-Tang Clanguage Arts

New pedagogical practices in the field of science are detailed in John Leland’s article “A Hip-Hop Experiment.”  According to the article, GZA from the legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan is joining forces with Dr. Christopher Emdin of Columbia University’s Teachers College to promote a hip-hop based pilot program for science education in ten public high schools in New York.  The program fuses rap music with the curriculum by having students create rhymes using the science concepts they are learning in the classroom.  The goal of the project is to make the subject of science more engaging to African-American and Latino students, “who together make up 70 percent of New York City’s student body.”

 In 2010, Dr. Emdin published his book Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, hoping “…to change the way city teachers relate to minority students, drawing not just on hip-hop’s rhymes, but also on its social practices and values.”  The experimental movement away from a more traditional method of science education is a response to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress which reported that, “Only 4 percent of African-American seniors nationally were proficient in sciences, compared with 27 percent of whites.”  GZA, who dropped out of the New York public school system in 10th grade, always retained an interest in science and is currently intellectually exploring the physical world in songs he is writing for his next album ‘Dark Matter.’  He provides a role-model for students in the program that Dr. Emdin believes “will undercut the students’ fear of science, or the stereotype that scientists are all white people.”

 Dr. Emdin describes the structure of the sharing environment as that of a “hip-hop ‘cypher'” in which “…someone’s at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up…There’s equal turns at talking.”  This sounds very much like the ideals of the Socratic Seminar, which requires speaking and listening skills as well as emphasizing a supportive, interactive and exciting student-centered academic community.  This forum also provides an opportunity for students to take risks with language and tap into their creativity in a way that formal writing assignments may hinder.

 I am curious to hear the feedback from this program.  It seems like it could be a very successful technique for helping students understand and make connections to the physical world.  Additionally, writing the rhymes will undoubtedly improve English Literacy skills and encourage linguistic experimentation.  Science teachers could even collaborate with English teachers, who could incorporate discussions on poetic rhythm, metaphor, form, meter, etc. in conjunction with the students’ writing.  The pilot program also relies on having an authentic audience with whom to share the work. This aspect furthers the motivation and engagement of the students with the material, which will become less stagnant and more  malleable, relevant and meaningful.

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Controversy in Arizona

The standards for English Language Arts and Literacy are, for the most part, thorough. By using generic frameworks for defining these principles that students should eventually master, teachers are given liberties to design a curriculum that is personal and appropriate. The “Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy” explicitly states its limitations on page 6 of the document.  I’d like to bring your attention to the 5th example of what the standards do not cover.  It is as follows:   “It is also beyond the scope of the standards to define the full range of supports appropriate for English language learners and for students with special needs. At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post-high school lives.”

Recently, I found an article via the NCTE Inbox on Education Weekly’s website that focuses on the current debate over sufficient English teaching programs for students that are not fluent.  The article, written by the Associated Press, is entitled ‘U.S., Arizona Settle Over Students With Limited English’.   It addresses the denouement an ongoing issue between the federal Department of Justice and Education and the Arizona Department of Education concerning the early immersion of English Language Learners into classrooms that did not provide a special language learning component.  Arizona’s educational system was accused of “misclassifying” students.  The federal government argued that the premature moving of students violated the “students’ civil rights” and threatened to take away funding unless the testing for English Language Learners, in order to determine if the students are ready to join English classrooms, is changed.

Is the standardized testing of English Language Learners the only way to “classify” them as ready?

Arizona educational authorities conceded to the federal government’s demand that the classification system must be altered. The Associated Press reports, “Arizona could have lost millions in federal funding if it didn’t fix the system to address investigators’ concerns.” The article is extremely vague and fails to specify the nature of these changes that will supposedly “fix the system.”  Maybe that’s because no one has an answer.

In January of 2011, NPR’s Claudio Sanchez put together a compelling story  (audio and text) that preemptively addresses this concern. It provides a great background for the Associated Press’ article by describing the intensive, lengthy English Language Learning program. The current program, a strict four-hour class called Structured English Immersion, developed in the wake of bilingual education, which was banned in 2000. Sanchez asks teachers and principals about what they think are the most competent systems for teaching English in the Arizona school system. The variety of opinions he encounters further illustrates how dynamic and difficult the issue of finding effective pedagogic strategies for non-native English speakers is.

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