Articles


Sisifo is an online journal produce at Educational Sciences R&D Unit of the University of Lisbon.

From Sisifo Website:

The main purpose of this journal is to bring UI&DCE’s scientific production to the fore, via a first-line publication and diffusion capable of enhancing further discussion among researchers both within and outside the Unit. We opted for a bilingual edition (in Portuguese and English) as a strategic move to internationalize our research activity, helping to promote interchanges that make networks and projects surpassing the internal scope of the Educational Sciences R&D Unit of the University of Lisbon and crossing national borders not only viable, but also sustainable and visible.

This journal is clearly a publication in the field of Educational Sciences, regarded as part of a broader field – that of social and human sciences, the limitations of which are the result of historical and social factors, found both within and outside the social field of research practices.

The title chosen for the journal also requires a brief explanation. Scientific work is a constant search for truth through a knowledge which is always provisional and conjectural. It is a permanent and never ending task, which implies questioning results and always beginning again. It is from these characteristics of scientific work that it is possible to compare the human adventure in the search for knowledge with Sisyphus fate of incessantly restarting the same task. Our suggestion is to imagine the researcher, as has actually been suggested by Albert Camus, less as an “absurd hero” and more as a “fortunate Sisyphus”.

Our ambition is to publish three issues a year. Each edition of the journal is organized in thematic dossiers and has a responsible editor.

link: http://sisifo.fpce.ul.pt/

Yesterday a panel of educators propose the institution  single standard for education in all  public schools. In light to these calls for a common standard (not a national standard),  it is necessary to point out that there is a fair amount of  critics on the proposal, and the interests that driven the common standard initiate. For instances,  read the following critical commentary on the idea of a common standard, as distinct of a national standard, posted  at the Education Policy Blog last January:

Alfie Kohn is one of the most cogent critics of much of what goes on in education. He is well known for his belief that eliminating homework and grades will lead to more and better learning. You can explore many of his ideas at his website.

He has a piece coming out in Education Week, of which he has a slightly expanded version at the website, which you can read in its entirety here. Consider this paragraph from the middle of the piece:

Are all kids entitled to a great education? Of course. But that doesn’t mean all kids should get the same education. High standards don’t require common standards. Uniformity is not the same thing as excellence – or equity. (In fact, one-size-fits-all demands may offer the illusion of fairness, setting back the cause of genuine equity.) To acknowledge these simple truths is to watch the rationale for national standards – or uniform state standards — collapse into a heap of intellectual rubble.

First let me clarify something. What Kohn is addressing is NOT the US Department of Education mandating a national standard. Rather is an effort being pushed by a number of organizations, starting with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, to come up with COMMON standards across all states. This is known as The Common Core State Standards Initiative. A number of people have noted that those most involved in drafting these “standards” do NOT included practicing or recent classroom teachers, have far too many people from testing companies, and are being drafted with little consideration to some basic understanding of the nature of teaching and learning, to wit – that not all students learn all subjects at the same rate. (read full)

Diane Ravitch, the education historian who  served in the first Bush administration’s Education Department, is now changing her positions on relation to the  educational reform philosophy of  school reform in US, while criticizing the  privatization in the public system and assessment measure trends that relegate the teaching of social contents in the curriculum.

From New York Times, March 2,  2010 by Sam Dillon:

Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical. She underwent an intellectual crisis, she says, discovering that these strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public education. She resigned last year from the boards of two conservative research groups.

It makes sense, after all  there is mounting evidence that seems to point out that those strategies of reform undermine public education.

“School reform today is like a freight train, and I’m out on the tracks saying, ‘You’re going the wrong way!’ ” Dr. Ravitch said in an interview.

Dr. Ravitch is one of the most influential education scholars of recent decades, and her turnaround has become the buzz of school policy circles.

“What’s Diane up to? That’s what people are asking.” said Grover J. Whitehurst, who was the director of the Department of Education’s research arm in the second Bush administration and is now Dr. Ravitch’s colleague at the Brookings Institution.

Among the topics on which Dr. Ravitch has reversed her views is the main federal law on public schools, No Child Left Behind, which is up for a rewrite in coming weeks in Congress. She once supported it, but now says its requirements for testing in math and reading have squeezed vital subjects like history and art out of classrooms.

It is also very interesting to observe on  the type of international exemplars that she uses to justify her change of positions.

“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”

read full article here

I always wondered why teacher training seem, for the most part,  specifically design to avoid the teaching of controversial issues in the curriculum or to provide critical outlooks of the realities of society in US. It is not difficult to answer that question when one reads on reactions such as the current attacks against proposals of change. For instances, the current debates against proposals at the University of Minnesota school of education to  broaden future teachers perspectives, by including  issues such as understanding the importance of “cultural identity”.

The chronicle of higher education reported last week on the debate taking place over the  the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative at the University of Minnesota and the attacks on their proposal of cultivating professional dispositions of teachers . Apparently the training of teachers to cultivate dispositions to interact in a diverse, multicultural society, requiring the critical dealing of controversial issues is under attack because it  may curtail “student’s academic freedom”.  The ACTA blog provide some useful comments on the critics by observers that deem the proposal as a heavy handed ideological approach. On the other hand, I should point out that students are increasingly require  to cultivate dispositions to deal with  globalize, multicultural settings in order to be economically competitive. This type of schooling requires of teacher prepare to deal with those issues.

The critics on the proposal are divided in two categories. First, those criticizing the heavy handed approach suggested, an not necessarily  the content of the proposal . Second, those criticizing the content of the proposal. The later are for the most part easy to identify. They   tend to launch diatribes such as “the University of Minnesota Adolf Hitler School of Education”,  etc.

Finally, I should indicate that  teacher training, and traditional schooling  in  general,  is usually ideologically charge though it is an ideology cultivating dispositions  towards conformity  rather than critical thinking.

From Chronicle of Higher education:

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has come under pressure to reject a faculty panel’s proposal to require students in its education school to doubt the United States is a meritocracy and to demonstrate an understanding of concepts such as “white privilege.”(…)

The controversy over the Minnesota proposal echoes a recent debate over whether it is appropriate for colleges of education to require prospective teachers to display certain professional “dispositions” showing an ability to work with diverse students — a requirement that schools view as ensuring teachers are effective, and critics regard as thinly disguised ideological litmus tests. In response to such criticisms, the governing board of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education voted in 2007 to stop suggesting that teacher-preparation programs take their students’ views on “social justice” into account. (full article here)

This is very interesting, the executive director of this new initiative for improving global educational assessments is one of the leading researchers on PISA, Barry McGaw.

Thanks to James Thayer for the link

From Cisco Website:

Three leading technology companies announced today a collaboration aimed at transforming global educational assessment and improving learning outcomes. At the Learning and Technology World Forum in London, Cisco, Intel and Microsoft unveiled plans to underwrite a multi-sector research project to develop new assessment approaches, methods and technologies for measuring the success of 21st-century teaching and learning in classrooms around the world. During the session, the three companies called upon educational leaders, governments and other corporations to join in the effort[…]

[…]The assessment research and development project spearheaded by Cisco, Intel and Microsoft has received the support of major international assessment organizations. Specifically, OECD and the International Association of the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) have expressed interest in using the evidence-based and verifiable output of the 21st-century skills assessment to inform the development of the next versions of PISA and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), their respective international benchmarks.

read full article here

The following article is very illustrative in light of the recent news  of the raises in tuition at California UCLA.   “Funding Public” by Jennifer Epstein presents the arguments discussed at the Association of Public Universities, as well as the proposal introduce in a paper by Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California System, of creating a national strategy for higher education in the United States. Basically the discussion is on the possibility of a greater role of the federal government on funding public higher education, in light of the unwillingness or inability of states of financing public higher education institutions, and the federal government inaction. As Stanley Ikenberry point out the increasingly reduce state funding for public  higher education in the United States is a consistent trend of  more than three decades.  At a time in which there is an ever present discourse of a competitive and globalize knowledge economy United States is losing is hedge in a strategic sector for the future well being of its population.  All and all, as Ikenberry (2005) point out   “in the end, the issue is not just about the future of public higher education, but about what affordable education can provide.” (p.5)

Reference

Ikenberry, Stanley. “Uncertain and Unplanned: The Future of Public Higher Education”. Policy Forum Vol. 17, No. 3, Institute of Government and Public Affairs,University of Illinois. Champaign: 2005

From Inside of Higher Education:

WASHINGTON — Recalibrating the puzzle pieces of support for public universities to include more financing from the federal government as state contributions wane might offer the best solutions for public universities’ economic woes, a panel of presidents concluded here Sunday.

At “Financing Tomorrow’s Public Research Universities,” the opening session of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ (APLU) annual conference, four public university presidents — and one ex-president — came together to consider how to fund their institutions once the federal stimulus money runs out, the recession runs its course and the Obama administration’s efforts to expand access to higher education kick into high gear. (read full)

An article at the New York Times shows the way in which the economic crisis have exacerbated the trends towards privatization of public universities in the United States.  After reading the article, it is still to me difficult to understand the logic of public federal and state funding policy of financing private institutions in the current environment while public flagships  are receiving state “contributions largely flat or down over the last 15 years” which forces then to become increasingly private to cope.  A trend exacerbate with the current economic crisis.  In other words, the economic environment and public policy financing of higher education is leading to a rise in costs of public affordable options to access the university in a current context presently characterize by high levels of unemployment. In this context, many students of wealthier families increasingly look for public options as affordable alternatives which is use in the article to partially to explain the justifications for the raise of tuition fees while public universities are force to provide less and less  services and academic options for students.

Thanks to Daniel Araya for the link

New York Times By Paul Fain, Published: October 26, 2009:

SUSAN LI’S senior year at the University of California, Los Angeles, was fast approaching, and she was running out of time. She needed at least three classes to qualify for financial aid. But a week before classes began, she had registered for only one course. “They’re not offering the classes I need,” said Ms. Li, a history major. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”[…]

In this particularly hard year, in which university endowments have been hammered along with state coffers, federal stimulus money has helped most avoid worst-case scenarios. The 10-campus University of California system, for example, has received $716 million in stimulus funds to offset its $1 billion gap. But that money is a temporary fix. A quip circulating among collegepresidents: The stimulus isn’t a bridge; it’s a short pier.

This fall, flagships still had to cut costs and raise tuition, most by 6.5 percent or more. And virtually all of the nation’s top public universities are likely to push through large increases in coming years.

“The students are at a point of rebellion, because they’re paying more and getting less,” says Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability. [ read full here]

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