Educational value

CASSADAGA – Education is a hot topic for many. The League of Women Voters knows how important education is and invited the community to a conversation on the topic with local college professors.

The League of Women Voters hosted three SUNY Fredonia education professors Thursday in Cassadaga to discuss the optimism in education.

Dr. Larry Maheady, who has a background in special education, discussed some of the strides that has been made in education over recent years, including the Race to the Top initiative and funding for education increasing for teachers.

“We’ve had mandates that hire more qualified teachers, teachers with more credentials and more advanced degrees,” Maheady said.

While there has been advancement in teaching qualifications, others say more needs to be done in terms of reform. According to Maheady, reform has been taking place in the school system for 30 years but still students aren’t seeing the improvement they would like. He said the variable of student achievement has been neglected. “We forgot about what it is that teachers do,” Maheady said. “If you look at the latest formula, Race to the Top, it’s all centered around growth and student learning. That hasn’t been a priority (in the past).”

Maheady said that while there are new initiatives to help students succeed, one-third of students are set up to fail before they even enter into the classroom. Dr. Mira Berkley, who specializes in early childhood education, said good education standards need to start during early childhood so students will succeed later on in their education. Berkley said play learning has advantages for young children as long as they are “actively engaged.”

“We need to see children actively engaged in a first hand, concrete experience in things that make sense to learn about. They can do an awful lot of appropriate learning,” Berkley said. “We know these young children are capable of a lot of intellectual growth and learning the skills that they need.”

The final speaker, Dr. Cynthia Smith, who has worked in elementary, middle and high schools as well as higher education, focused more on research in conjunction with education. Smith also works in the Dunkirk City Schools and helps supplement teaching plans for teachers in the elementary school with research. She noted that as a parent, to receive data and research on her student “floored” her.

“I’m the parent of a kindergartener. … The first time I went into a parent teacher conference, I was floored by the amount of data the school had on my six-year-old child. It was very exciting for me to see all the data. I have the same kind of data for the children I work with in fifth grade,” Smith said.

Following the speakers, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience. The panel discussed technology and what can be done to help students educationally.

“I think technology … there are all kinds of opportunities to be a blessing and a curse,” Berkley said. “I think there is a time and a place.”

Berkley said younger pre-school students should not be using computers or iPads all the time, but there is a place and time for students to use technology. Maheady said technology is a good learning tool for students with disabilities. Smith said it is nice to bring education to life if students have questions during reading, she can bring up information from the internet in real time.

Maheady concluded by touching on the amount of information students are required to learn. He described the “inch deep” curriculum where students learn only a little bit about a wide variety of subjects.

In other countries, he said, students go in-depth into only few selected areas of study.

Comments on this article may be sent to smcdonnell@observertoday.com.