Improving Education for Children: Standards and Research
Wood, Jacalyn K., Childhood Education
Since the report A Nation at Risk appeared in the 1980s, educators, parents, taxpayers and legislators have all wrestled with how to best improve education, asking themselves, "What is the best way to educate children and how can we ensure that all children receive the same level of education?" Unfortunately, no consensus has emerged. Many organizations and groups, however, are beginning to seriously examine the effectiveness of their own programs and are developing standards to redefine education for the 21st century.
This column reviews three new publications related to standards and research. The first publication is the Standards for English Language Arts, cooperatively developed by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. They have followed the successful lead of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and other professional organizations in creating standards related to their field. It is a unique document in that it represents the cooperative effort of two major curricular groups. It should have a major impact on the teaching of English language arts.
The second publication is an issue of The Future of Children, which presents research on the effects of early childhood programs such as Head Start, preschools, child care programs and family-focused programs. The issue also examines effective programs that offer positive experiences for young children.
The final reviewed publication, The Failure of Bilingual Education, was developed by the Center for Equal Opportunity. In this publication, various teachers, parents and experts consider changes to current bilingual programs.
STANDARDS FOR THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS. Newark, DE: International Reading Association and Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1996. 131 pp. Representatives of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English worked together for four years to develop a set of standards defining what students should know about language. Their goal was to
define, as clearly and specifically as possible, the current consensus among literacy teachers and researchers about what students should learn in the language arts - reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing and visually representation. The ultimate purpose of these standards is to ensure that all students are offered the opportunities, encouragement and vision to develop the language skills they need to pursue life's goals, including personal enrichment and participation as informed members of our society. (p. 1)
The resulting publication presents 12 standards that, when considered as a whole, define the content of the English Language Arts. Included in the list are such standards as reading a wide range of print and nonprint texts, employing a wide range of strategies for writing, applying knowledge of language structure and language conventions, and developing an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns and dialects. Each standard is discussed in detail, including relevant research related to the issue and examples of classroom practice.
I found interesting the focus on using nonprint texts, including spoken text (such as speeches and plays) and visual text (such as films, television, advertisements and multimedia resources). Such a focus is certainly relevant to the world of tomorrow.
The publication's final chapter explores the standards through a series of vignettes relevant to all levels of schooling. They are all applicable for classroom practice. In one vignette, for example, four elementary students studied water purification as part of an inquiry project. The vignette presents a classroom practice that entails a number of the standards listed, as well as an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning.
The publication's failure to specifically discuss phonics instruction may, however, arouse controversy. …