Monday, May 30, 2011

The Preservation of the Ever-Dwindling Research Paper

By Alyssa Guarino

Back in tenth grade US history class, I was indoctrinated into the wonder of National History Day. This event was a celebration of world and American history, designed to encourage students to pursue what might not be taught in the textbooks. The two main components of this contest were a research paper and some sort of visual project. Prior to this exercise, I had never written a research paper longer than the standard five. Although now I only panic at the thought of twenty pages or beyond, back then the thought of an extended research paper terrified me.

William Fitzhugh says, “writing is the most dumbed-down subject in America.” In deference to the continuation of writing skills, Fitzhugh created The Concord Review, a journal that publishes high school students’ research papers. Students from all over the world submit to the Review, hoping to be accepted into the prestigious journal.

The Concord Review began as a response to his fellow history teacher colleagues in 1977, when he was told to assign only five-to-seven page papers, if he assigned any at all. Just a decade later, The Concord Review was created when Fitzhugh saw the true potential of his students. One student had handed in a twenty-eight page research paper, and in doing so, convinced Fitzhugh that students needed to be better challenged.

Although it started humbly, the prestige of the Review has grown so much that Harvard considers acceptance to the journal “impressive.” The Review receives hundreds of applicants’ essays each year, all vying for a coveted spot in the journal.

There is a disparity between the amount of submissions Fitzhugh receives from public and private schools. The public schools are in the minority, and Fitzhugh, based on his own experience, believes it is the result of a lack of encouragement from teachers. The research paper is no longer a significant feature of high school education, and Fitzhugh has found that many educators no longer feel that it is relevant. With easy access to research via the internet, it is not as necessary to write long research papers. But Fitzhugh disagrees, arguing that these papers are not just compiled facts. Instead, they require careful research—especially with the wealth of information out now, finding the most relevant facts—and good writing.

Writing skills seem to be underappreciated, perhaps in response to the ease of technology. Whatever the reason, Fitzhugh has noted that high school writers have underdeveloped skills and experience difficulty in expressing themselves. This is partially to blame from limited exposure; most students are only familiar with writing five paragraph essays, just like I was.

Whatever the relevancy of research papers, Fitzhugh has proved that writing skills should not be overlooked and will exceed long into the future any high school requirements.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Global Reality and Common Core Standards

By Richard Carson, PhD, Senior Editor

We are, in so many ways, citizens of the world. Shifts in ownership of local companies emphasize the reality of global corporations, and with it, the reality that employees of those corporations will have to compete with international colleagues, colleagues trained in rigorous educational systems. Educators preparing students of today to participate in an economy of tomorrow need to be mindful of the training and background of those future colleagues.

Preparation for this global reality is part of the mission behind the formation of the Common Core State Standard Initiative. Released in early 2010, these core standards, called for by the Council of Chief State School Offices and the National Governors Association of Best Practices, are a successor to the College and Career Readiness Standards of 2009. In an attempt to create a uniform system of assessment for K—12 students, the Core Standards were developed with the following criteria: they must be research and evidence based; they must be aligned with college and work expectations; they must be clear, understandable and consistent; they must contain rigorous content and application of knowledge through high order skills; they must build upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards; and they must be informed by other top performing countries so that students are prepared to succeed in a global economy. As of late 2010, the Core Standards have been adopted by 40 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Core Standards test students in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The Introduction to the Mathematics Standards notes that, “research studies of mathematics education in high-performing countries have pointed to the conclusion that the mathematics curriculum in the United States must become substantially more focused and coherent in order to improve mathematics achievement in this country (3).” The Language Arts Standards test students on Reading, Writing, and Speaking and Listening Skills, not only for Language Arts, but for History/Social Studies and Science and Technical Subjects as well. Language Arts Reading tests students on both literature and information texts. Writing standards require students to pay particular attention to argument, narrative, research, and production and distribution of writing.

We who are entrusted with the creation of educational product are committed to designing lessons that will both engage students and rigorously prepare them for the Core Standards. In doing so, we will prepare students for all of the challenges that lie ahead for them in a global economy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Keeping Teachers Accountable

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

In 2009, legislatures in New York and California, among other states, enacted laws that limit, to one degree or another, the use of student achievement data in teacher performance evaluations. New York's legislature prohibited the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was publicly opposed to these laws, saying, "Believe it or not, several states, including New York, Wisconsin, and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that's simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why."

Today, the landscape in New York and California looks a bit different. In March 2011, the New York State Senate passed a bill that makes performance a key factor in teacher layoffs. Education Code 44662 in California requires the governing board of each district to evaluate and assess teacher performance using state standards. The results of the California Standards Tests are factored into each teacher assessment.

Should test data be used to evaluate teachers? If not, then what measures should be used? And how should test data be used with our students? Shouldn't the data be used to inform how we should be teaching? As a former teacher and the husband of an excellent teacher, I feel we need to have some kind of teacher accountability for the benefit of the students as well as the integrity of the teaching profession. There must be something measurable, such as student improvement and growth that can be tied to a teacher's evaluation. But there must also be other components, such as a teacher's ability to inspire, motivate, and nurture, to enter into the evaluation.

And the debate continues.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Undeclared Major

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

For incoming college freshmen, it’s the number one most frequently asked question: “What’s your major?” Choosing a major can be a Big Deal. It outlines what courses you’ll be taking, what professors you’ll have, what internships you’ll apply for, and how you approach your college experience as a whole.

But making a decision like that can often be overwhelming. What if you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life at eighteen years old? Around70% of college students don’t, as they change their major at some point within their college career. But as for those who begin without any choice at all, there is the tough struggle of listing your major as “undeclared.” Not having a major is sort of like being undefined in college; name, hometown, and major are usually the ways in which you introduce yourself to others.

But aside from the lack of obvious label, being an undeclared major also can have a serious impact on the way your college education progresses. Although most colleges don’t require students to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year, a lot of students may have to stay longer than four years in order to complete all of the necessary courses to earn a degree. With the average price of college around $20,000 per academic year, staying in school for an extra year can cause a student to accrue serious debt.

There are also different alternatives for students to take and ways for students to prepare while still in high school. Many high schools offer programs where students can take classes for college credit, usually through a community or state college. Also, it may be a good idea to try and audit or enroll in some community college classes, giving the student an inexpensive opportunity to try out classes in different fields and see which one they like best. Of course, the most important thing is making sure each student finds a major that will put him or her on the best path possible.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Customer Service and Personal Shopping Collide

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

"I need a Personal Shopper! When can you start?" said the woman in the store that I was shopping in. It happens to me all the time. It doesn't matter where I am, if I'm wearing a winter jacket and boots, carrying multiple shopping bags, or even if I'm in the ladies room, I am always mistaken for the store's salesperson. Every time it happens, I do my best to help the person find the right department, the right size, the right color, or her "missing" spouse. It's what I do. I help people.

Year after year, I ask myself, "Why me?" and I've decided that it must be my customer service self shining through. I've owned a few businesses, including retail, and have put in a few years as a secret-shopper. Customer service is a big deal to me. Whether I am the customer or the service provider, I know without a doubt that the quality, or level, of customer service that a person receives sets the tone for the next transaction. Good service equals good feedback and repeat business and we all know what a lackluster experience leads to.

Customer service has as much to do with reputation as sales, marketing and talent. When it comes to my business, I believe that customer service starts at the top--with me. It's my responsibility to hire the right people and to lead my team by example. And let's face it--this job isn't for everyone. The right person is someone who enjoys helping others, is upbeat, approachable, and thinks of problem solving as a guilty pleasure. He/she can easily identify and anticipate needs, knows how to apologize, and to deliver more than expected.

When it comes to my staff, I'm very lucky. They are all friendly people who enjoy going the extra mile for our clients, freelancers, and each other. We talk about all types of customer service experiences in order to educate each other and look at situations from another point of view.

So, the next time I'm approached while I'm shopping, I'll do what I always do--I'll lend a hand. And when I need some help, I hope that whoever helps me also feels that great customer service is worth providing and not a lost art. In fact, "Lost Art" would be a great name for my personal shopping service...