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Marc Mossburg was named chief of curriculum for the Department of Defense Education Activity last month.
Marc Mossburg was named chief of curriculum for the Department of Defense Education Activity last month. (Photo courtesy DODEA)

WASHINGTON — The curriculum chief for Department of Defense schools is reminding parents to bring their questions and concerns to upcoming teacher conferences, to help the schools best serve their students.

“The best resource for parents is the local school as the first stop for answers,” said Marc Mossburg, who was named as curriculum head of the school system last month. “Additionally, the schools and teachers benefit from parents’ input because no one knows their children more than the parent.”

Mossburg, a former military schools teacher in Greece, Spain and Turkey, said he sees his new role overseeing standards as a way to give teachers a “road map” to meet students’ needs. He said officials constantly review schools standards, but always with an eye toward how they can help guide both teachers and parents.

Last week, he took time to respond to questions submitted by Stars and Stripes readers overseas about current teaching guidelines and possible classroom changes down the road.

My two children in elementary and middle school aren’t penalized for spelling words incorrectly in writing assignments. Is this shortchanging students? “This was always a question from parents when I was teaching. When you’re encouraging students to get into the ‘flow’ of writing, spelling isn’t the most important part at that time; however, it is important and has a place in the process.

“While the use of correct spelling is important to communicate effectively, all writing activities may not focus specifically on spelling. Students are taught to know that they can come back to a spelling problem, get help from teachers or peers, and make the corrections that will make the writing understandable to the audience.”

My daughter’s first-grade teacher told parents that he doesn’t give homework because studies show that it is not an effective learning tool. Is this policy for the schools? “It is difficult to answer this question because I am unaware of why a teacher may have stated this. It could have been to meet a particular student’s needs.

“DODEA policy does state that homework is assigned in accordance with the needs and abilities of students. Although it may support the beginnings of good study habits, it should never be done for just ‘busy work.’

“Each school in DODEA develops a schoolwide homework policy aligned to these goals. It should also be noted that homework may not always be paper and pencil tasks. Some of the homework in primary grades will be students reading to parents or parents reading to students.”

Does DODDS track the number of students passing the AP tests on those college-level classes, and how does that compare to other U.S. schools? “AP is one of the areas that DODEA is looking at this year. Since DODEA pays for AP tests for all students who take an AP course and there are no present prerequisites (as in many schools) for a student who wants to take an AP course, comparing test data to other U.S. schools is difficult.

“However, DODEA is bringing a task force together that will be looking at our AP courses this year, using multiple sources of data for analysis and make some recommendations, if needed.

For noncollege-bound students, what offerings do you have and what are plans to expand them? “DODEA offers a Professional Technical Studies Program designed to prepare students to be technologically literate and employable in a global workforce. All PTS courses emphasize educational collaboration with other students and adults, internships and transitions to post-secondary educational programs or employment.

“Each year schools review student course requests, enrollments and teacher availability to determine which courses will be offered. New programs, such as culinary arts, lodging and health services have recently been initiated in several schools.”

Any changes on the horizon for special education programs at overseas schools, either expanding or contracting offerings? “DODEA provides a continuum of special education services for students with disabilities ages 3 through 21. The charge from DODEA’s senior leadership is to continually examine and evaluate how we are doing and how we can continue to improve in the area of special education.

“If a parent has suggestions, they are encouraged to contact their school’s special education teacher or administrator.”

My oldest daughter graduated in 2006 and is now struggling in college because of poor test-taking skills. Is too much extra credit being given in DoDDS high schools, leaving students unprepared for college courses? "This is one of those questions that could have many answers and not knowing the student and the situation, it is necessary to answer this from the perspective of what DoDEA does do regarding college preparation.

"DoDEA is committed to preparing students for successful college experiences and strives to provide a well rounded academic, social-personal, and career development curriculum for all students. Students are taught the value of measuring their learning through the appropriate use of data.

"This looks different for every student depending on their individual needs. For example, DoDEA pays for all students in tenth grade to take the PSAT, which is then used to communicate to teachers, parents and students what skills need attention in order to score successfully on the SAT.

"Another example is the Terra Nova test in grades three to eleven which provides extensive experience in taking nationally-normed achievement tests."

My two children are in middle school and don't feel they are being challenged. Are more advanced classes for that age group on the way? "When parents hear this from their children, it could be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the answer might be as easy as asking for a parent, teacher and student conference.

"Other times, a student could actually be reacting to a subject in which they feel uncomfortable, or sometimes it's just a signal that it's not their 'favorite' subject. The parent could start by requesting a copy of the curriculum standards or syllabus that will give the parent some information that could help them ask more probing questions to their child.

"However, if indeed, a student has shown a need for accelerated coursework, in this case in middle school, DoDEA can work with and advise parents on what is available in areas such as foreign languages and mathematics.

"It may be the student is ready for higher level courses or additional resources so that a parent can provide extended learning activities at home."

A Japan-specific question: Will the history curriculum there address the discrepancies between Japan's version of its history vs. what the rest of the world says happened? Does anybody in Japan care or check to see if DoDDs teaches a version of history that isn't flattering to Japan? "This is an exciting question to answer, because it points to the advantages and sometimes the sensitive issues about being located in so many different environments around the world.

"When I was in Greece, and the students studied the ancient Greeks, they could take a field trip to the Acropolis in Athens and walk where the ancient Greeks and Romans once walked. Indeed, Social Studies is a vital part of the DODEA curriculum which emphasizes the growth and preservation of a democratic society and the interdependency of the world.

"However, ultimately, the DoDEA mandate is to teach a US standard curriculum that is based upon national standards. In the case of history, DoDEA history standards are based on the national standards from the National Council of Social Studies.

"Teachers and students use US history textbooks that provide the best resource materials to teach those standards. Most teachers can discuss the sensitive issues about the host nation when covering that part of the curriculum … However, in the end, it's a US perspective that DoDEA teachers are responsible to teach."

Is teaching cursive handwriting to second and third-graders a good use of school time? "I remember when I was in second and third grade, we would send our samples of handwriting to a company that would choose the best example of good handwriting, put a gold sticker on it and return the packet to the school. I never got that gold sticker!

"DoDEA, like most schools across the country, introduces cursive handwriting at the end of second grade with instruction continuing into third grade to ensure that their writing can be easily read. Students learn to form letters with control over size, shape, and orientation and then apply these skills in forming words and sentences correctly.

"As students demonstrate that they are ready, teachers help their students make the transition from manuscript to cursive writing following these same guidelines. This basic instruction forms the foundation for handwriting skills."

How is DODDS keeping up with technology? Are there plans to expand those computer offerings soon? "One of the key areas that I continue to see changing in our world is how technology continues to change our lives. How many of us, as adults, see this with the ease and adaptability of young children learning how to use a computer!

"Recognizing this, DoDEA has a robust, 21st-century educational technology program. Students in DoDEA schools currently have access to computers and technology peripherals in classrooms. Computer labs and Internet connectivity is available throughout the school.

"A variety of online classes are available for high school students including Advanced Placement courses. Professional Technical Studies courses are available at the high school level and which may include computer science, information technology, engineering, and interactive media.

"Courses are continuously reviewed to update the technology requirements. As new technologies become available that provide sound educational benefits to students, DoDEA will ensure these are available to students."

Mossberg added that most of this information can be found on the DoDEA web page, which is updated regularly.

He said another resource many parents of elementary school students have found useful are the Parent Guides, which provides an understanding of what a student will be taught as well as ways to work with their children while at home. They can be found at http://www.dodea.edu/parents/parentGuides.cfm.

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