Graduation Rates-A dilemma that won’t go away

Maureen Downey, education editorial writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a piece about graduation rates in yesterday’s edition entitled Can’t throw up our hands as teens quit. According to Downey about 90,000 students will graduate from Georgia’s secondary schools this month, but there are another 49,000 teens who should have part of this year’s graduation class. These 49,000 dropped out since entering 9th grade four years ago. The Georgia Department of Education disputes these figures, and indicates that the graduation rate is 75% compared to 63% just six years ago. Downey indicates that the Department of Education uses a counting methodology that ignores many students who really dropped out (the State indicates that many of these students moved). The State also adds into the equation students who pass the GED at a later time. Downey suggests that the actual graduation rate is closer to 60%.

In data provided by The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the 2006 graduation rate in Georgia was 55.9. According to their data, there were 131543 enrolled in the 9th grade in 2002. Of these, only 73498 graduated from high school four years later.

The US average graduation rate, according to data by the Center, is 66.6%, and ranges from 86.3% (New Jersey) to 50.5% (Nevada). Here is a map showing the range of rates by state. Click on the map, and it will bring you to the The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems website.

Map of USA showing graduation rates in each of the states.
Map of USA showing graduation rates in each of the states.

And these averages disguise more serious discrepancies that exist when you compare drop out rates amongst African-American, Hispanic and white students. According to some data, less than 40% of African-American and Hispanic students graduate from high school in Georgia. When major cities are compared, the data shows the in the major 50 US cities, many of them report graduation rates is below 50%, and in some cities it approaches 25%.

According to America’s Promise Alliance (which provided the data cited above), more than 1.2 million students drop out of school each year. This is an enormous number of teens dropping out of school, and one that is hard to believe. Follow the link above to the Alliance website to find out who are the leaders of the group, and what they are doing to try and reduce the number of students who drop out of school.

The rate at which students do NOT graduate from our schools is a dilemma that just won’t go away. How can this be turned around? What programs are working that seem to increase the number of students who typically wouldn’t have graduated?

Web 2.0 & Beyond: New Search Engines

As a science teacher, we’re always looking for new tools and strategies that will motivate, and help students learn science. Several days ago I introduced the idea of Science Teaching 3.0, and in that post suggested that there were parallel dimensions in consideration of globalization, the Earth, the Web. There was an interesting article at the CNN website about new search engines that have recently been developed, and indeed some that will be brought online in the near term. Most of us use Google when searching the Internet for information and links to relevant sites, and as we all know, a text-based list appears normally in less than a second.

But there is new generation of search engines that look to make searching the web more personal and visual. There were three in the article that I followed up on, and found them to be interesting. I hope you might find this discussion of some value to you.

Although Google remains the most used search engine, I examined three new search engines. Three that I examined were:

Search Engines: Hakia, Twine & Searchme
Search Engines: Hakia, Twine & Searchme

To examine them, I compared the results when I searched the Internet for “asteroids” with the results I got on Google. I’ve used visuals below that you can use to make comparisons. I think you will like the “searchme” tool because it is the most visual of the search engines, and I think for many of our students, this tool will be very appealing. Here are the results.

Google: You will get about 6,480,000 hits for “asteroids” on google. Top of the list was Wikipedia’s site on asteroids.

First page of a search for asteroids on google.
First page of a search for asteroids on google.

Searchme: NASA’s “solar system” website comes up first, which “asteroid highlighted. But notice that you visually see the full webpages, and you can scroll through them. Just click on the page, and you are there. A real winner for visual learners.

What you see when you search for asteroids on searchme.
What you see when you search for asteroids on searchme.

Hakia: When I searched asteroids on Hakia, the Wikipedia page for asteroids came up first. But note that there are some interesting navigation bars, including “images,” which will lead you page upon page of images about asteroids.

Page that appears when you search asteroid on the search engine, hakia.
Page that appears when you search asteroid on the search engine, hakia.

Twine: Visual and text information result when you search on Twine. But, as with the other search engines, there are ways to make your work more personal and visual. Look at the last side navigation list.

Results for search for asteroids on Twine.
Results for search for asteroids on Twine.

Science Teaching 3.0: A New Word Sign for Innovative Teaching

In the last post, I introduced the notion that we can look at science teaching, globalization, the Earth, and the World Wide Web using a three-point scale, e.g. 1.0, 2.0, 3.0.

Word-Signs: Science Teaching 3.0; Globalization 3.0; Earth 3.0; Web 3.0
Word-Signs: Science Teaching 3.0; Globalization 3.0; Earth 3.0; Web 3.0

In particular, I introduced the use of the word-sign Science Teaching 3.0 as a way of calling attention to the humanistic science paradigm (click here to read blog entries) that I have emphasized in my own teaching, and in this blog, and is documented in the literature of science education. In one of these posts I wrote this about the humanistic science perspective:

A humanistic science perspective tends to be context-based or science-technology-society based. Instead of a science concept being the starting point for learning, the humanistic science teacher starts with contexts and applications of science. Science concepts are explored within these contexts. Humanistic science teaching trives in STS programs, environmental science projects, gender projects, and culturally focused investigations. These experiences shed light on science-related social content for students, and often focus on the affective outcomes of learning, how students feel about science, how it impacts their lives, and what they can do to solve science-related social issues. Many teachers know from experience that projects like these help students see themsleves as citizen-scientists, using social and scientific processes to solve real problems.

The three categories of science teaching that I have identified (Science Teaching 1.0 or didactic teaching; Science Teaching 2.0 or inquiry teaching; and Science Teaching 3.0 or humanistic science teaching) do not represent a progression, or reflect the development of science teaching. Didactic teaching, inquiry teaching, and humanistic science teaching have co-existed for more than a century of science teaching. Didactic teaching represents a teacher-centered approach, and for many teachers is the most common way in which instruction is delivered to students. This approach supports a pipeline ideology, and the content of our courses is representative of the knowledge base or product of science. Didactic teaching can be interactive, and thoughtful teachers use a facilitative dialogue to engage students in the acquisition of science content. This content is normally articulated in the state’s , and the NRC’s National Science Education Standards.

Inquiry (science teaching 2.0) and humanistic science (science teaching 3.0) are student-centered approaches to teaching, although it is possible to differentiate inquiry oriented teaching from humanistic teaching by examining the contexts and starting points for learning. Many inquiry approaches to teaching use science concepts as starting points for investigation, whereas humanistic science approaches use applications and contexts as starting points.

Inquiry and humanistic science teaching offer a different set of goals for science teaching, and regard hands-on and minds-on philosophies as crucial in helping students achieve these goals. Inquiry goals acknowledge the importance of helping students learn how to “do” science by helping students learn to employ many of the methods that scientists use to solve problems. Humanistic goals recognize the value of science for everyday life, and for helping students develop positive attitudes toward learning, and science.

How does this play out in practice?

There was an interesting article in Education Week about Shira Blum, a fifth grade science teacher at the Academy for a the Americas, a Detroit public school. The article describes how Ms. Blum is using BioKIDS, an inquiry-oriented science program with her students. BioKIDS (Kids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species) was developed at the University of Michigan and is a grades 4 – 8 science program fostering scientific inquiry. Shura Blum’s students investigate the biology of environments surrounding the school in urban Detroit. The BioKIDS/DeepThink research group is involved in a research project to improve the learning of science in high-poverty, urban elementary and middle school classrooms—and their research work is particularly focused on the Detroit Public Schools.

BioKIDS is an outstanding example of a student-centered science curriculum. Students are actively involved by going outside exploring and making observations of living things. Students design experiments, and the project has designed a website that students use to extend their studies. According to Nancy Butler Songer, the Director of the BioKIDS project, the nature of the learning that takes place in the classroom is not so much dependent upon the “written” curriculum materials, but by how teachers use the materials in the context of diverse classrooms. In this innovative program, students become inquirers of their own environment under the guidance of their teachers, and using a constructivist program learn about biodiversity, habitats in their own schoolyard, microhabitats, and how to use their own data to make conclusions (click here for a research paper on BioKIDS by Songer).

In the context of this large urban school district (22 Detroit schools are involved), the project is well received by students, teachers, and administrators. In fact, students that participate in the project have done well on Michigan’s achievement tests.

Clearly, BioKIDS is representative of a new generation of inquiry science projects that are based on social constructivism and the learning cycle. Using concepts drawn from learning cycle research, BioKIDS curriculum is designed to emphasize and measure these important aspects of inquiry (see Songer):

  • The formulation of scientific explanations from evidence
  • The analysis of various types of scientific data (charts, graphs, maps)
  • The building of hypotheses and predictions (based on relevant evidence)

Another aspect of the BioKIDS project that is important is how it uses digital and Internet resources to help students “do” science. Using two tools, CyberTracker (used for field data collection) and Animal Diversity Web (online dataabase of animal natural history), the project enables student to complete richers investigations by these icon driven tools.

The Education Week article describes how several teachers are using the BioKIDS project with their students in Detroit. I think you will find it valuable to not only read the article, but visit the BioKIDS website.

Do you think this is an example of Science Teaching 2.0 or Science Teaching 3.0?

Do we hamper the real contributions of programs like BioKIDS by assessing their value in terms of how well students do on standardized tests?

Science Teaching 3.0

In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman used the terms Globalization 1.0, Globalization 2.0, and Globalization 3.0 as a way to compare and contrast three great eras of globalization. In the fabric of the World Wide Web, people have been using the term Web 2.0 to describe the most recent way in which the WWW is used. Scientific Ameican has recently introduced a new publication, Earth 3.0, in contrast to Earth 1.0 and Earth 2.0 (see the table of comparisons, below).

Over the next several days, I am going to use these ideas to discuss Science Teaching 3.0 (in relation to Science Teaching 1.0 and Science Teaching 2.0). I will try and make connections among the concepts drawn from Thomas Friedman’s use of the term Globalization, the concepts of the Web as envisioned by the originator of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, and the rationale that Scientific American is using for its new publication, Earth 3.0.


Science Teaching 3.0, which has been explored in this blog in other forms will be used to deepen our understanding of humanistic science teaching.

Please return for future posts.

Dear Mr. President: The Need for Meaningful Reform in Science Teaching

We know you have a lot on your plate—a deep recession, two wars in the Middle East, health care reform, extreme partisanship, the fast spreading swine flu. Yet the one area that that is essential to our well being as a nation–education–has yet to become center stage. I know it is a high priority of yours, and I know when you think the time is right, you will bring it forward for open discussion. I believe that teaching is an art, and that teachers in our culture should work with their students creatively in classrooms characterized as humanistic, experiential, and constructivist.

This letter is an attempt on my part to think out loud, and share with you views held by many science teachers across the nation that believe that their work is a calling, and that their work with students should be grounded in the latest research that supports an active learning environment in which students explore, innovate, and solve meaningful problems. I believe that you would share these views that are held by many of my colleagues.

Your beliefs and your experiences are are clearly explored and described in your books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance; and The Audacity of Hope. I read them in the order of their publication, and the books helped me understand your ideas, and it convinced me that you would be open to reforming science education from a humanistic science tradition.

Although you do not have a chapter in either book specifically related to “education,” your thoughts about education, your experiences with your own schooling and educational experiences, and your work in Chicago as a community organizer provide the reader with your fundamental views of education and the reform that is needed.

Those of us in the science teaching community have followed your views on science and technology in our society and in our schools, and many are more than satisfied with your appointments as members of the Science and Technology Advisory Council. I think there was much support within the community for your appointments of Dr. John Holdren as director of the Office of Science & Technology, and Dr. Stephen Chu as Secretary of the Department of Energy. Further, the stimulus package that was put into law provided an additional boost to the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Education has received nearly 100 billion dollars for America’s schools, and educational infrastructure. These are all positive initiatives, and I think they have received enormous support within the science teaching community.

The reform of science teaching that needs to be considered focuses on a paradigm shift from a traditional view of science to humanistic science. This paradigm centers on the way in which students and teachers interact in the classroom. The humanistic paradigm impies that teaching, at its core, is a creative and courageous profession that needs to reform itself from the bottom up—from the local school upward, not from Federal mandates downward. I think we’ve lost our way in this regard, and I am hoping that your personal school experiences in Djakarta, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, and Cambridge will inform you, and that the community organizing work you did in Chicago as a young man will be brought into the dialogue. Your sharing of these experiences can have a profound impact on how others view teaching, and help us chart a humanistic course.

In Chapter 13 of your book, Dreams from My Father, you talk about your desire to become involved with the public schools in the area of Chicago that you were doing your work–on the southside.

From the cover of Barack Obama's book
From the cover of Barack Obama's book

I want to recall a section in that chapter for my readers that was very powerful, and supports the humanistic paradigm that I will propose here. You and your colleague & friend Johnnie had decided to visit a high school, and the principal of the school introduced you to one of the school counselors, Mr. Asante Moran. He was, according to the principal, interested in establishing a mentorship program for young men in the school. In his office, which was decorated with African themes, you discovered that Mr. Moran had visited Kenya 15 years earlier, and he indicated that it had a profound effect on him. In the course of your short meeting with Mr. Moran, he clearly told you that real education was not happening for black children, and then he offered you his view on what “real education” might be. Here is what he said on that Spring day in 1987:

Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That’s the starting point of any educational process. That’s what makes a child hungry to learn—the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment. But for the black child, everything’s turned upside down. From day one, what’s he learning about? Someone else’s history. Someone else’s culture. Not only that, this culture he’s supposed to learn is the same culture that’s systematically rejected him, denied his humanity (p. 158, Dreams from My Father).

Starting with the child as he or she is, and helping them connect to their environment—this is the core of humanistic teaching. Most teachers know and try and act on this humanistic philosophy, but for many, it is an upstream battle. The locus of control is far removed from the individual teacher’s classroom. The control is centered in state department’s of education, and the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). And much of that control creates a conflict for innovative teachers. As responsible professional teachers, they want their students to do well on the high-stakes, end-of-year exams, yet know intuitively that this persistence on testing leaves creative teaching behind. There is a need to shift the locus of control away from the Federal and state power centers, and move it to the vast number of communities of schools (there are about 15,000) around the nation. These 15,000 districts have a better understanding of the nature and needs of its students, and has a cadre of teachers who, I submit, are quite able to formulate curriculum, and design instruction that favors a humanistic paradigm. I am not suggesting that we erase the National Science Education Standards. I am suggesting that professional teachers are able to interpret the Standards, and create educational experiences grounded in constructivist and humanistic theory, and provide in the long run, meaningful school experiences.

I believe that you understand what I am talking about. Your motivation to leave New York City and move to Chicago to become a “community organizer” was because of your belief in “grass roots change.” In fact, in your first book, here is what you said:

In 1983, I decided to become a community organizer. There wasn’t much detail to the idea; I didn’t know anyone making a living that way. When classmates in college asked me just what it was that a community organizer did, I couldn’t answer them directly. Instead, I’d pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots (Dreams for My Father, p. 133).

Humanistic science education is not a new perspective on teaching. It has had to compete with the pipeline ideology of traditional school science, which has been ineffective for most students. Pipeline ideology is primarilly based on training for the scientific world, and the organization of the curriculum tends to a strict adherance to canonical science. A humanistic science perspective tends to be context-based or science-technology-society based. Instead of a science concept being the starting point for learning, the humanistic science teacher starts with contexts and applications of science. Science concepts are explored within these contexts. Humanistic science teaching trives in STS programs, environmental science projects, gender projects, and culturally focused investigations. These experiences shed light on science-related social content for students, and often focus on the affective outcomes of learning, how students feel about science, how it impacts their lives, and what they can do to solve science-related social issues. Many teachers know from experience that projects like these help students see themsleves as citizen-scientists, using social and scientific processes to solve real problems.

Recent results on The Nation’s Report Card show that there has been little change in 17 year old’s performance in math and reading from 2008 to 2004, and 1973. Although there were slight gains in achievement among all students, the achievement gap between white students and black & hispanic students has not changed. And the NCLB act was intended to close the gap. Your able Education Secretary, Mr. Arne Duncan has said that he wants “real and meaningful change” in the nation’s schools. Real and meaningful change can not be more of the same—longer school days, the same curriculum and standards.

I suggest that for meaninful reform in science teaching, there needs to be an openness to new ideas, and there needs to a very strong involvement of grass-roots teachers for this kind of reform. Teachers and students should not be on the receiving end of decisions made by academic vice-presidents, governors, and commisioners of state departments’ of education. These constituencies are important, but the reform must be grounded in practice & related science education research; refom needs to be on the hands of professional teachers.

Well, there you have it. Am I totally off-base here? Can meaninful reform be a grass-roots effort? What are your thoughts? I hope you will be willing to share them.

Resources: Grounding Humanistic Science in Research—Starting Places: