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June 1, 2004
Vol. 61
No. 9

Trends to Celebrate

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      Optimists see the glass half full; pessimists see the glass half empty. Educators, whose eyes are on the kids, see it both ways. They would like the glass to be fuller—more resources, better learning conditions—but they find much to celebrate as they go about their daily task of nourishing each student’s thirst for learning.
      In 2003-2004, Educational Leadership celebrated the following positive trends in education.
      We know how to manage classrooms. Every teacher must learn to control the imminent chaos of a classroom while simultaneously enticing students to learn. The continuum of approaches to discipline ranges from punishments and rewards to building respect and positive relationships. The research of Robert J. Marzano and Jana S. Marzano featured here (p. 2) shows that building relationships with students creates a far more effective and positive classroom environment than does relying on manipulation alone. “The Key to Classroom Management” suggests strategies to help teachers improve teacher-student relationships by establishing clear expectations and goals while maintaining an awareness of the needs of students.
      Inclusiveness has become the norm. Today about 6.6 million U.S. students are identified as having disabilities. Approximately 12 percent of the school population receive an array of regular and special services in the schools. Because we have learned more about the many ways in which human brains work, being eligible for special services has lost some of its stigma. We have come to recognize that each of us is both able and less able when it comes to learning. Here (p. 8) Mel Levine tells how to foster students’ strengths and teach to their learning differences. He advocates “neurodevelopmental pluralism”—the celebration of all kinds of minds.
      Accountability gives focus to everything we do. Some educators call the No Child Left Behind Act our last best hope to close the achievement gap. Others see it as exacerbating that gap and leading to higher student retention and dropout rates. All agree that accountability is necessary and here to stay. In “A Plea for Strong Practice” (p. 13), Richard F. Elmore enumerates the faults of NCLB, especially the tendency to overinvest in testing and underinvest in capacity building. He outlines the principles for real school reform: internal accountability; commitment to a long-term, nonlinear reform process; changes in leadership roles; and learning from schools that have actually improved.
      A knowledge boom makes possible an expansive, contemporary curriculum. Heidi Hayes Jacobs discusses some of the challenges that curriculum designers face today: Content in some subjects is outdated and repetitive. Some coverage is not rigorous. Technology begs to be included in many course outlines. Testing drives too much of what we teach. Hands-on learning gets short shrift. A global society demands genuine cultural exchange. In “Creating a Timely Curriculum” (p. 17), she suggests what educators need to do to rethink the curriculum.
      We see the need to shore up math and science instruction. A technology-dependent world demands many more scientifically literate citizens. Studying math and science lessons from different cultures gives teachers the opportunity to discover alternative ideas about how we can teach these subjects. Although effective teaching in mathematics takes many forms, teachers in higher-achieving countries often teach how to make connections rather than focus on using procedures, James W. Stigler and James Hiebert point out in “Improving Mathematics Teaching” (p. 22). They show that although teaching math may be a cultural activity, effective practice can cross national borders.
      Research is shaping reading instruction. Although the reading wars continue, EL’s issue on “What Research Says About Reading” can help educators sort out the perspectives. In “Making Words Stick,” Connie Juel and Rebecca Deffes (p. 27) describe instruction that encourages students to actively analyze word meanings. Such instruction, their research shows, reduces the vocabulary gap between linguistically advantaged and disadvantaged students. Such research may one day alleviate the “word poverty” many children today experience.
      The profile of the school leader is changing. Leaders in the education profession face many challenges, not the least of which is their dwindling ranks. The impending retirement of many experienced, knowledgeable teachers and administrators will increase the need for younger educators with leadership potential to assume new roles. The issue on “Leading in Tough Times” suggests that administrators can build sustainable leadership by promoting diversity, taking activist stands, and building support systems for leadership. In “The Wounded Leader,” Richard H. Ackerman and Pat Maslin-Ostrowski (p. 32) describe how vulnerable leaders have turned crisis into opportunity.
      Community is indispensable to effective learning. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Educational Leadership examines the many kinds of communities—professional, place-based, and student—that are essential to true reform. In “Transforming High Schools,” Pedro A. Noguera (p. 42) describes his observations of Boston schools where proposed reforms were either failing or succeeding. Failing schools reported “pervasive student alienation and strained relations between adults and students.” By contrast, when parents, students, and educators listened to one another’s ideas about how to achieve desired results, the reforms took off and succeeded.
      In another article from this issue, Clifton L. Taulbert (p. 36) remembers a community that helped him as a young boy to see the possibilities in life despite the horrific conditions of legal segregation. He recounts what his African American neighbors and extended family did to build an affirmative and protective community in the days before Brown was widely enforced: “I am hopeful today because my life, my dreams, and my ambitions were fueled by men and women with unselfish vision. They placed the needs of others above their own.”
      We hope that reading this sampling of articles in The Best of Educational Leadership 2003-2004 will leave you informed and optimistic as you continue the work that makes a difference in students’ lives.
      —Marge Scherer, Editor in Chief

      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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