The Weekly Newsletter of Educational Alternatives -
Arne Duncan Chooses a Private Progressive School for His Children
By Julie Vassilatos

The news tells us this week that Arne Duncan's family is moving back to Chicago and his children are enrolling at the University of Chicago Lab School in the fall.


There, they'll join the mayor's children.


Lab is an excellent, well-resourced private school with a rich arts curriculum, small classes, entire rooms devoted to holding musical instruments, a unionized teaching staff that you pretty much never hear anyone suggesting should be replaced by untrained temp workers, and not one single standardized test until students reach age 14.


In other words, Lab School has to date experienced not one ounce of influence from Arne Duncan's Department of Ed. Not one ounce of impact from his policies.





He's choosing to keep his kids out of the system that requires nearly continuous standardized testing each year: three iterations of the PARCC, three of the NWEA MAP, the REACH Performance Tasks; the NAEP, TRC + DIBELS, mClass Math, and IDEL specially for littles; and EXPLORE, PLAN, COMPASS, and STAR for bigs.


I know, he's told us, like a father, it's okay. Our kids can do this. It's what's best. It's challenging. What kind of message does it send our children if we object to a challenge? He's gotten this narrative out far and wide, so that folks who don't have kids in school now can often be seen saying things in newspaper comments sections like, "Why can't these whiners just shut up and take the test?" or "What a bunch of weaklings! These kids and parents don't have any spines anymore if they don't want to take the test!"

Read the rest here.
How do Unschoolers Turn Out?
By Luba Vangelova (Special to AERO)

Peter Gray has studied how learning happens without any academic requirements at a democratic school. The Boston College research professor also wrote about the long history and benefits of age-mixed, self-directed education in his book Free to Learn. Over the years, as he encountered more and more families who had adopted this approach at home (these so-called "unschoolers" are estimated to represent about 10 percent of the more than two million homeschooled children), he began to wonder about its outcomes in that setting. Finding no academic studies that adequately answered his question, he decided to conduct his own.


In 2011, he and colleague Gina Riley surveyed 232 parents who unschool their children, which they defined as not following any curriculum, instead letting the children take charge of their own education. The respondents were overwhelmingly positive about their unschooling experience, saying it improved their children's general well-being as well as their learning, and also enhanced family harmony. Their challenges primarily stemmed from feeling a need to defend their practices to family and friends, and overcoming their own deeply ingrained ways of thinking about education.  


This led Gray to wonder how unschooled children themselves felt about the experience, and what impact it may have had on their ability to pursue higher education and find gainful and satisfying employment. So last year, he asked readers of his blog to disseminate a survey to their networks, and received 75 responses from adults ranging in age from 18 to 49; almost all of them had had at least three years of unschooling experience. They were split almost evenly among three groups: those who had never attended school; those who had only attended school for some portion of kindergarten through sixth grades; and those with either type of early experience who had also attended school for some portion of seventh through 10th grades, but not afterward.

Read the rest here.
Children 'in Complete Meltdown' Over Exams

By James Meikle  


Teachers in England are seeing unprecedented levels of school-related anxiety, stress and mental health problems among pupils of all age groups and abilities, particularly around test or exam time, according to a new report.


Children aged 10 or 11 are said to be "in complete meltdown", in tears, or feeling sick during tests, and problems can be made worse by their competitive parents, according to the Exam Factories? report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers and conducted independently by Merryn Hutchings, emeritus professor at London Metropolitan University.


Teachers complain that low achievement at tests or exams is resulting in low motivation and low self-esteem. One secondary school teacher at an unnamed school said "self-harming is rife" at key stage 4 (14- to 16-year-olds) and reported that a pupil was hospitalised for three months in a psychiatric ward following a suicide attempt, another nearly starved herself to death and numerous other students "suffered from symptoms that are on the questionnaires that the NHS uses to diagnose depression".


The report looks at how tests, exams, Ofsted inspections and other "accountability measures" are affecting schools. It includes responses from a survey of nearly 8,000 teachers, case studies of heads, other teachers (not all NUT members) and children, and a review of research and other literature.

Read the rest here.
We Definitely Don't Need a 'National Education Plan'

By Rick Hess  


Last week, my friend Chris Cross penned a provocative column for Teachers College Record, in which he argued that the U.S. desperately needs a "national education plan." He laments that we don't have an "understanding of our national, as opposed to federal, commitment to education." Cross is a thoughtful guy who worked for years as a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill and now consults, writes, yada yada. As such, he capably represents a long-standing DC conceit that the path to school improvement is a matter of more goals, consensus panels, national schemes, and stirring words from Washington.


Cross writes, "Amazingly, the United States has no national education policy. We have no stated national commitment to education, no understanding about the division of responsibilities and accountability between the federal government and states." (He dismisses NCLB, IDEA, and the rest as piecemeal federal laws, not a national policy.) Cross wants this tackled by "a blue ribbon panel of leaders" that includes "labor leaders, business CEOs, representatives of various racial and religious groups and the military, government, and scientific fields." While I think Cross is a good guy and appreciate his intent, all I see is an invitation for hackneyed rhetoric, meaningless goals, and unhelpful interference. In short, I couldn't disagree more with this call for a "national policy."

Read the rest here

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Thank you for your ongoing support. With your help, we will make learner-centered alternatives available to everyone!


Jerry Mintz
Executive Director
Alternative Education Resource Organization

tensignsThe Ten Signs You Need to Find a Different Kind of Education for Your Child
Many parents don't realize that the education world has changed drastically since they were in school. Schools and class sizes used to be smaller, dropout rates lower, in-school violence almost unheard of, and teachers weren't terrified of showing affection to their students, or of discussing moral values. Of course, even then, school was far from perfect, but at least the teachers-and usually the principal-knew every student by name, something that is increasingly rare today.

Because our public school system has deteriorated considerably, many parents, teachers, and individuals have taken it upon themselves to create public and private alternatives to that system; and it is important for parents to know that they now have choices.

So how do you know that it's time to look for another educational approach for your child? Here are some of the signs:

1. Does your child say he or she hates school?

If so, something is probably wrong with the school. Children are natural learners, and when they're young, you can hardly stop them from learning. If your child says they hate school, listen to them.  

July 13th, 2015
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