Bible Literacy in Public Schools

A new education law (passed in 2007 and now in implementation) mandates that Bible literacy be taught to our school children. What does that mean?

First we can look at what it does not mean. Teaching Bible literacy does not mean:

  • teachers, schools, and districts now have a green light to teach religion. The distinction is difficult to define, but it is important. Schools and classrooms are not the forum to dive into the teaching within the Bible. This is not a green light to preach to our children. It is an opportunity to look at the value of the Bible as an historic piece of literature.
  • unfortunately, schools are not required to teach other world religions to give context or comparisons to the Christian Bible. The Koran is equally historically relevant as a piece of literature, for example. An elective on World Religions would be an appropriate means to tackle this Hot Button Issue.

So what does teaching the Bible in a public school really mean, then?

First and foremost, it’s an attempt to look at the historical value of the Bible as a work of literature. This is a nonreligious approach, however, that has been proven to be difficult in practice. Teaching the Bible should be an endeavor which most districts should navigate slowly and carefully. The gray areas are immense. The state of Texas did not provide curriculum guidelines or teacher training to support the new law. No monies have been allocated. Dallas ISD won’t offer an elective in the Bible, nor will McKinney ISD.

Other districts like Irving ISD will incorporate literary elements from the Bible into their current teaching and curriculum. They are being safe and not risking breeching the separation of church and state. Districts that go forth with an elective class should take care to tow the constitutional line in order to avoid opening themselves up for litigation.

This will be difficult. In article by MSN states that  specific guidelines haven’t been drawn by the state in order to avoid constitutional issues: afore mentioned separation of church and state. When no training is given and a course on the Bible is taught, it will be almost impossible to keep the instructor’s personal experiences or beliefs out of the teaching. The MSN article goes on to quote Southern Methodist University associate professor in Religious Studies, Mark Chancey. Classes which study the Bible, he says, often “promote creation science. Some classes denigrate Judaism. Some classes explicitly encourage students to convert to Christianity or to adopt Christian devotional practices.” When there are teachers who say things like: “I cannot preach to you, but if I could, I’d say…” and then go on to preach, the shades of gray become murky.

Bible literacy in public schools. It is a Hot Topic to watch closely.

What Does Exemplary REALLY Mean?

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What does Exemplary REALLY mean?

It’s a complicated question, and a controversial one.

On the one had, a school’s Exemplary rating tells parents, kids, and the community that the school is top notch.

But on the other hand, when you receive an Exemplary rating based on 90% of your student population scoring anywhere from 55% to 78% on the TAKS test, schools and districts are celebrating mediocrity.   Unfortunately, this is the truth of it.  As of the 2006 TAKS test, the “passing” Standard was between 55% and 78% of questions answered correctly, depending on the particular test.”. It hasn’t changed since then.

Our questions: When did a ‘C’ become the standard for Exemplary, and why are we not striving to reach higher?

A truer measure of how well a school and/or district is educating their students would be to look at the Commended scores.  These would be equal to students scoring in the ‘A’ and ‘B’ range on the TAKS.  A Commended score, then, would indicate mastery of a subject.

“Education officials now recognize that taking a snapshot in time of children at a certain grade level does not fully reflect how well school districts are educating children – especially those who are most vulnerable.”

Additionally, looking a test scores, while providing valuable information about the learning going on in that child’s life, does so only on one level.  High stakes testing lends itself to an environment of teaching to the test.  What is taught is what is to be tested; what is compromised are other curriculum areas and higher level thinking.  The TAKS does not give a complete look at the education our children are receiving.  Kids are being taught curriculum areas in testing bubbles.  When the high stakes testing is over, “pop”, the bubble is gone–and so is the supposed learning.  Test those kids a month later, and see how consistent the scores will be.

Carroll ISD/Southlake superintendent David Faltys says: The exemplary rating is “a benchmark people use to tell the quality of our schools…But we try to address the TAKS, then move on to higher-level thinking as quickly as we can because that’s what our community expects.” If curriculum is delivered and mastery is achieved, the bottom line is that our students will score well on any test they are given.  Teaching to the test may ensure an Exemplary school/district rating; it also ensures a drill and kill mentality and, ultimately, stagnant schools and kids who lose interest in their education.

Is celebrating mediocrity really what we want for our students?

Denton ISD’s Newton Rayzor Elementary

Newton Rayzor Elementary School in Denton ISD is an International Baccalaureate candidate school.  They are in their third year of the rigorous accreditation process. The educational philosophy of an International Baccalaureate school is vastly different from the philosophy of a traditional school.

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Newton Rayzor uses an inquiry-based model for instruction.   This model follows takes the adage: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand,” to a new level.  “Kids drive the learning,” says Newton Rayzor Principal Carlos Ramirez.  “The teachers use strategies to determine what kids know, what their interests are, and that information guides instruction.”

All the teachers at Newton Rayzor are currently going through the Gifted and Talented certification process to give them a firmer foundation in inquiry-based instruction which includes higher-level thinking.  “The teachers at Newton Rayzor are preparing our students for the 21st century world they will be an integral part of,” Ramirez says.  “We are helping kids become problem solvers.” Newton Rayzor is going far above and beyond preparing their students to succeed on standardized tests; the staff at this dynamic elementary school uses the International Baccalaureate principles to help them prepare their students for the future.

For more information about Newton Rayzor, visit their web site.

Knowing Your Rights as you go Back to School

Back to school means placing your children in school every day, all school year long,  It also means placing your trust in the people who run that school, the teachers who will be educating your children, and believing that the best interest of kids is always their touchstone. 

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Under federal and state education code, all children are entitled to a free and equal education.  Every school district has a grievance / complaint process parents can and should follow in order to resolve issues.  What people fail to realize is that education is a customer-service business.  Schools are in the business of serving the students they teach and the parent community.  They are charged with building meaningful relationships that are based on what is best for children.

When some part of the system is broken, the grievance / complaint process is there to help parents be heard.  While it is often designed to be an intimidating process, it is fundamentally designed to help improve the system.  Parents have rights.  That must always be remembered.

For information on the grievance / complaint process.

For more information on parent rights, expectations for schools, and a huge amount of other important information, visit the Texas Education Agency.  

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TEA – special education in Texas

Back to School Night Meets the Teacher at Newton Rayzor

 

Back to School Night.  It’s a West Coast concept, but it makes so much sense.  Gather parents into their child’s classroom just before or right after school begins.  Let the teacher introduce him or herself, give an overview of the curriculum for the grade level, discuss classroom expectations, rules, and procedures, and let parents know the educational philosophy that drives the school / classroom.

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Here in Texas, the trend is to do Meet the Teacher events.  It’s a meet and greet so the kids can feel comfortable in their new classroom, see their new teacher, and alleviate their back to school jitters.  It’s a fine idea and serves a valuable purpose, however it does nothing to build community or partnerships with parents.  

Learning is a partnership between school and home.  What better way to facilitate that partnership right out of the gate than by telling parents “we value you” though a back to school night event that welcomes them in and shares with them how to help their children be successful?  

Newton Rayzor Elementary School in Denton ISD had its first annual Back to School Night event last night.  It was a hybrid of the West Coast Back to School Night and the Texas Meet the Teacher.  Parents, teachers, and children gathered in the cafeteria.  The principal, Carlos Ramirez, welcomed the school community back, then proceeded to introduce the entire Newton Rayzor staff by grade level and specialties.  Kids were released to pre-arranged activity areas where specials teachers and other faculty supervised while classroom teachers presented Power Point presentations for the parents of their incoming students.  There was a Q&A period, then parents collected their kids and went back to the classrooms for the Meet the Teacher time.  

It was a vibrant hour and a half that started the school year off with anticipation, excitement, and enthusiasm.  Back to School Night.  Bravo to Newton Rayzor Elementary for hosting such a fantastic event and truly building partnerships with parents.

For more information on Newton Rayzor Elementary, an International Baccalaureate Candidate School, visit their web site.