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Israeli education program helps urban American students realize their learning potential

Posted By Batsheva Pomerantz On September 17, 2007 @ 10:25 pm In | No Comments

When underachieving fourth graders in Bridgeport, Connecticut recently spent three days undergoing a battery of educational tests, they not only had fun but they perceived themselves in a totally new and positive way. One of the students, Tyheem, wrote in appreciation: “…thanks for everything. You made my brain strong.”

These students of African American and Hispanic background were part of a pilot project using a novel Israeli-developed system of cognitive assessment developed by the Jerusalem-based International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential (ICELP)

The testing preceded the recently signed partnership between the ICELP and the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education (NUA). Plans are underway to start implementing the partnership in 20 US cities in the near future.

The innovative cognitive theories to properly assess children’s learning capabilities were developed by the ICELP’s founder and co-director Prof. Reuven Feuerstein, and will be applied to NUA’s educator programs and aid their successful record of closing the achievement gap in urban school districts nationwide.

The new partnership will address the need for improved student achievement, especially for children of color, and will include a special concern for underserved and underperforming African American males in the US.

Nationally, African American students are identified as educationally mentally retarded twice as often as their white peers; and African Americans are identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered one and a half times as often as their white peers. The actual number of these “BD” (Behavioral Disorder) diagnoses has increased by 500% between 1974 and 1998.

“What began as research to identify the most powerful program to reduce the underachievement of African American males has blossomed into a partnership that I truly believe has the ability to transform the urban educational system from one that oftentimes leads children with hopeless futures into a future of promise,” says NUA president Dr. Eric Cooper. “It is unfortunate that misdiagnosis of special education status has been used to place a significant number of children of color into programs that doom them to a life of low expectations and low achievement.”

Recently, a US delegation led by Cooper joined Feuerstein and staff members at a signing ceremony at the Knesset’s Education Committee headed by MK Rabbi Michael Melchior

“The partnership between ICELP and NUA is based on science, belief and charity,” explains Israel Prize recipient Feuerstein. “Too often we give up on children who are labeled with learning disabilities, but my work has found that using more creative techniques to teach these children will lead them to the same successes that life offers the other children in the classroom. Poverty is not destiny and we can reverse major depression in a child’s cognitive development and realize impressive results. The benefits to all of society cannot be overstated.”

Misdiagnosing children is a disturbing trend. “Poor prior classroom instruction, cultural differences, or inconsistencies in policy implementation may be the culprits, but these diagnoses are all, at some level, subjective and not based on biologically verifiable conditions. The consequence is that these students are being stigmatized and permanently labeled, consigned to learning environments that do not tap their true capabilities. In many districts, these students are not only isolated in different classrooms, but in different schools,” Cooper added.

The NUA’s work is focused on learning and teaching. The national network of mentors who provide professional development are highly skilled and exemplary professionals in the field of education. The strategies and systemic applications of proven, scientifically based learning practices have helped districts realize the goal that education is the nation’s best hope for civil rights for all children. Tapping into ICELP’s expertise was a natural avenue for the NUA, whose CEO Dr. Yvette Jackson had learned about Feuerstein’s work.

ICELP has developed and executed programs to improve thinking and learning skills, all based on Feuerstein’s theories of Structural Cognitive Modifiability (SCM) and Mediated Learning Experience, for over four decades. Today, with a staff of more than 160, ICELP targets diverse populations including children with special needs, communication or emotional disorders; the blind; culturally different and deprived populations; high-functioning individuals; the brain-injured; and the aged.

ICELP works with disabled children throughout the world, and also supervises authorized training centers in 25 countries. ICELP has recently contracted with the South African government and with Rwandan authorities to help adults and children end decades of low expectations that have plagued the African continent.

The SCM theory views the human organism as open, adaptive and amenable for change. The aim of this approach is to modify the individual, emphasizing autonomous and self-regulated change. Intelligence is viewed as a propensity of the organism to modify itself when confronted with the need to do so. Intelligence is defined as a changeable state rather than an immutable trait.

Anat Cagan traveled with ICELP staff member Leah Yosef to conduct the pilot sessions in Bridgeport and Albany, New York. As director of the ICELP’s Instrumental Enrichment programs in Israel, Cagan is responsible for implementing this program which has been successfully used all over the world as a tool for the enhancement of learning potential and cognitive functioning of children and adults. Instrumental Enrichment has been applied in special or regular schools, industrial companies and military colleges. Cagan also lectures on thinking and decision-making skills, adjustment and coping behavior.

The diagnosis consists of a battery of six to eight tests which are not culturally-biased. These include abstract thinking, analogies, and qualitative thinking. “The children were tested over a course of three days, although we often conduct tests also in one day,” Cagan told ISRAEL21c. “The first stage is the pre-test. At the next stage we teach the children based on how they answered the first battery of tests. We teach them terms and learning strategies. The final stage is the post-test. What interests me is the gap/difference between the results of both tests. The larger the gap – the greater the student’s potential. The large gap shows that when he’s taught in the proper way, he is able to advance. The teachers were amazed by the achievements of their students, by their level and the method.”

As fourth grader Rahcief so perceptively worded his experience: “I learned a lot of ways to figure out patterns and shapes. One way I learned how to figure out paterans (sic) is, try to figure it out up and down then go left to right. I also learned that even if you know the answer get more information and details to see if your answer is right. Thank you for teaching me more stuff. I will always remember you.”
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