Another Kind of Bible Study

While college courses on the Bible's importance in history and literature are quite common, such classes typically aren't taught in high school. Yet, with all the references to the Old and New Testament in both classical and modern texts, they very well could be.

The Bible Literacy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, dedicated to the academic study of the Bible in secondary schools, has published a textbook on the Bible for grades 9 through 12, along with a teacher handbook. Titled, The Bible and Its Influence, the book was released in September 2005 and is the first textbook designed to meet constitutional standards for public school use. It has also been reviewed by a panel of independent scholars from the Judeo-Christian faith and various universities.

The nearly 400-page textbook covers the Bible's influence on literature, art, music, and rhetoric, and is designed to be an elective in English or social studies. The book is divided into two parts: the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. It also includes biblical scenes represented in works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus by Peter Paul Rubens, and Caravaggio's David and Goliath. Along with the textbook, students study the actual Bible using a translation that each student chooses.

The Bible and Its Influence is a valuable resource for teachers who want their students to understand biblical references they may encounter inside and outside the classroom. According to the Bible Literacy Project, those references are numerous: more than 1,300 biblical references appear in Shakespeare's works, and more than 60 percent of allusions in one Advanced Placement literature prep course are biblical phrases.

To see if The Bible and Its Influence could supplement your English or history lessons, visit

Correcting the Disconnect

Four years ago, James Rosenbaum told readers of American Educator that many high school graduates are unprepared for college-level work.* As he explained, there is a "tight connection between high school preparation (in terms of both the rigor of courses taken and grades received) and college completion." High-achieving students who are aiming for selective universities know that—but many students who hope to attend college do not. They see plenty of students with mediocre grades heading off to college, not realizing that those students usually end up in remedial courses and often do not graduate. What to do? First and foremost, Rosenbaum recommended being honest with high school students about what it takes to prepare for college. Educators in California have another idea: work together to ensure that students are exposed to more challenging materials every year and finish high school college ready.

Through Cal-PASS (, or California Partnership for Achieving Student Success, educators in K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities share student data (which is anonymous, of course) to improve instruction and better prepare students for the next grade level. Cal-PASS began as a regional effort in San Diego and Imperial counties; in 2003 it received a grant to go statewide. More than 2,600 elementary, middle, and high schools, community colleges, and universities participate.

"The reality is that if you want to create changes in the classroom, you have to involve the local educators in their region and have them review data on their students," says Brad Phillips, Cal-PASS's executive director.

To structure their discussions of curriculum and instruction, Cal-PASS members at different grade levels form "Professional Learning Councils" on particular topics, such as language arts, math, science, English language learners, and career preparation. The councils meet once a month and are made up of 10 to 20 members. Each council has two chairs—one from K–12, another from a postsecondary institution—who each receive a stipend of $1,250.

"We come up with research projects to promote an understanding of how to better transition students from segment to segment so that the college teachers don't shake their heads and say ‘They should know this, how come they don't?' " says Heidi Paul, a ninth-grade English teacher at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, Calif. Paul belongs to the North County Professional Learning Council for language arts.

After professors in her council said that students were not ready for challenging texts when they got to college, Paul's group decided to introduce such texts to their students earlier. Paul suggested that each member of the council, which ranges from sixth-grade teachers to college professors, teach part of Mary Wollstonecraft's book of essays, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, to their own students. "We asked them to write anything they understood, even if it was just one idea, a sentence," Paul says. "Then we asked them to come up with two or three discussion questions." Each teacher then collected the questions and used them to generate class discussion. Students then wrote about the new understanding they developed through the discussion.

Paul says she and her colleagues shared students' work—their questions and writings—at a council meeting. The group then made a rubric for each grade level for below competent, competent, proficient, and competitive work. "Our hope from this exercise is to determine when and how to start kids on challenging pieces of literature and nonfiction," Paul says. "We determined that we baby them until they make this huge jump to college. At every grade level we keep saying ‘next year they'll be ready.' " Paul says that teachers need to break that cycle. "We should give them more challenging pieces even if we only expect them to get a little out of it."

*See "It's Time to Tell the Kids: If You Don't Do Well in High School, You Won't Do Well in College (or on the Job)" in the Spring 2004 issue of American Educator.

Spring Brings New Leadership, New Look

The AFT has named Lisa Hansel editor of American Educator, beginning with this issue. Hansel was previously managing editor. American Educator's editor from 2002 through 2007, Ruth Wattenberg, has become the full-time assistant to AFT Executive Vice President Antonia Cortese.

Spring also marks the debut of American Educator's updated look. Throughout 2007, the AFT solicited input from members by conducting focus groups and surveys, and we concluded it was time for a redesign. The layout is a little different, but the research-based articles and in-depth reporting remain as trustworthy as ever.

Teachers: The New Migrant Workers

When teachers cover the subject of migrant workers in their history or social studies classes, they explain to their students that these low-paid workers usually pick fruit or vegetables or perform some other kind of agricultural or manual labor. Most educators wouldn't dream of adding their profession to that list. Teaching, after all, has never been considered migrant work. Until now.

Wealthy nations—including the U.S.—are addressing their teacher shortages by recruiting teachers from poorer countries. Researchers David Edwards and Carol Anne Spreen explore overseas teacher recruitment, which just started in the 1990s, in their article, "Teachers and the Global Knowledge Economy," published in the June 2007 issue of Perspectives in Education.

It's not a simple issue: "International support for the teaching profession is a human rights and social justice issue for both teachers and the children they serve," write Edwards and Spreen. "Education rights for children include access to quality education and the right to be taught by professionally trained teachers." At the same time, "teachers have rights to a living wage and decent working conditions—and to seek employment where these conditions exist."

Although not much research has been done on overseas teacher recruitment, one study cited by Edwards and Spreen indicates that in the year 2000, the United Kingdom recruited approximately 10,000 overseas teachers. Most were men with expertise in math and science, and 10 or more years experience; they mainly came from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, and Canada.

In the U.S., school districts and recruiting agencies have been able to circumvent state monitoring and hire teachers directly. Much research is needed, but it's clear that some large, urban school districts are paying international recruiting agencies—roughly 300 of which now exist—to locate, screen, and recruit overseas-trained teachers.

While teachers from developing nations earn more money—up to two to three times more—teaching overseas, the conditions may not be what they expected. Edwards and Spreen write, "Early reports indicate that the conditions and treatment ... [are] considerably worse than what they encountered in their home countries." This should come as no surprise to policymakers since school districts are using these overseas teachers to fill their hard-to-staff schools.

In addition, overseas recruitment causes a "brain drain." As poorer countries lose their teachers, they lose a significant part of their educated citizens, and their own teacher shortages become even more severe. In wealthier countries, there is approximately one teacher for every 25 students, but in developing countries there is sometimes only one teacher for every 75 students. Edwards and Spreen urge international agencies and development organizations to work together with school districts, states, national organizations, and in particular, teacher unions, to develop more effective ways to recruit, support, and evaluate teachers both nationally and internationally. They further call for "the promotion of national and international exchange programs and policies that prevent teacher shortages while also enabling teachers to move about in ways that enhance teaching and learning through meaningful and purposeful global exchange—rather than stop-gap, short-term measures to gloss over deep rooted long-term inequalities."

The Need to Read

Americans are not reading as much or as well as they once did, according to a report published by the National Endowment for the Arts. To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence was published in November 2007. It draws on a mix of large federal data sets and surveys by academics, foundations, and business groups to paint a comprehensive picture of the reading habits and achievement of children, teenagers, and

adults. Among the key findings sure to alarm teachers in any discipline: teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time than other age groups and teens studied previously. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage who never or almost never read for pleasure has doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004. And, as of 2004, less than 25 percent of 17-year-olds read almost every day for pleasure. On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend roughly two hours a day watching television, but only seven to 10 minutes of their daily leisure time reading.

To Read or Not to Read can be viewed in full at

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American Educator, Spring 2008