Tuesday, November 30, 2010

U.S. Department of Education’s annual guide to education programs is now available

The 2010 edition of the annual Guide to U.S. Department of Education Programs is now available in hard copy and on CD. This resource discusses how the Department of Education advances its programmatic mission. The guide profiles more than 230 programs and activities including information on funding amounts and the number of grant awards available, program descriptions, types of projects, and more. Get your free copy of the guide online.

Teacher Creates Math Computer Game

The Salt Lake Tribune (11/27, Schencker) reported on a computer math game "being used in a handful of classrooms in and outside of Utah and by a number of Utah home-schoolers. Scott Laidlaw left his job teaching math at a private school in Salt Lake City to create it along with other programs through his new company Imagine Education. He acknowledges it was a risk but said it seemed like one worth taking based on the success of one of his previous math games." In one game called "Ko's Journey," the main character "faces challenges and tasks that require middle-school math, such as ratios, graphing and geometry."

Boston Teens Seek Overhaul Of Sex Education Programs

The Boston Globe (11/28, Vaznis) reported, "A group of Boston teenagers is pushing for free condoms and comprehensive sex education programs at all city high schools in an effort to prevent unexpected pregnancies and reverse an alarming rise in sexually transmitted infections among city teenagers. The students propose that "each city high school...designate a male and female staff member to give out condoms - instead of just health center employees - and" that the high schools "provide a rigorous sexual education program to all students."

Teachers Use Listening Circles To Build Trust Among Classmates

The Los Angeles Times (11/27, Watanabe) reported that at many schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), teachers are using a storytelling "practice known as 'council'" to get students to share their experiences with one another to build trust and strong bonds. The program is based on "speaking and listening circles" long used by "cultures worldwide...most notably, Native Americans." The program that began in Los Angeles public schools in 2006 was "developed by the nonprofit Ojai Foundation." LAUSD chief academic officer Judy Elliott said the program is "a 'very powerful tool' to help students transcend race, gender, disabilities and other dividing lines," and it "gives teachers a strategy to make the curriculum come alive."

Co-Teaching Experiment Combines Three Fifth-Grade Classes

The Hattiesburg (MS) American (11/28, Ciurczak) reported that three fifth-grade teachers at Woodley Elementary School decided at the beginning of the school year to combine their classes and co-teach. "Woodley Elementary is in its first year of school improvement, brought on by low student test scores." Based on "scores from the first round of testing in the Hattiesburg Public School District," the combined class has helped boost achievement. Students in that class "scored highest in the district in language arts on the District Wide Assessment" and "the class also had the only student in the district to score advanced - the highest level possible - on the test." Teacher TaShara Shoemaker credited team teaching for the improvements. "Sometimes you're trying to teach a concept and the kids aren't getting it and we can step in and build on each other's strengths. ... We're better able to teach the whole child," she said.

New Jersey District Declares No D-Grades Policy A Success

The AP (11/29) reports that a "New Jersey school district that eliminated the 'D' grade for students says the change has been a success. The new policy in Mount Olive took effect in September" and it "raised the failure score to anything under a 70 instead of 65." According to the AP, "some school officials and teachers say it's too early to declare the policy a success" noting that "the new policy allows students to retake exams and redo assignments after initial failing grades, often bringing up their scores." The Toronto Star (11/26, Taylor) reported that this year the overall "number of failing students fell to 718 from 1,360 in the first semester of 2009."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Minority Students Become Majority In North Carolina District

North Carolina's News & Observer (11/23, Hui) reported, "For the first time, minority students now account for a majority of the students in the Wake County school system." White students now make up 40.5 percent of the student population in Wake County, down from 51.1 percent last year. "After white students, the next largest group in Wake is black students," making up 24.8 percent of the population. Hispanic students "account for 14.6 percent of the enrollment" and are "the fastest-growing group in the school system."

School Meal Programs Can Help Boost Academic Performance, Report Says

Reuters (11/24, Marcus) reports that school performance of teens living in food-scarce households suffers, but a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics finds that federal school meal programs can reverse this effect. In the study, Christelle Roustit, of the Research Group on the Social Determinants of Health and Healthcare, in Paris, France, analyzed questionnaires given to 2,346 public high school students in Quebec, Canada along with almost 2,000 of the students' parents.

In Reversal Of Longtime Trend, Class Sizes Expected To Grow

Education Week (11/24, Sparks) reports, "After dropping for decades, average class sizes in American schools may be growing again as schools cope with budget shortfalls." According to Education Week, "The national ratio of students to their teachers fell between 1980 and 2008, from 17.6 to 15.8 students per public school teacher, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. ... That number is likely to rise, given states' and districts' financial constraints, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said last month at a Washington forum."

Library of Congress lesson plans get new look

The Library of Congress lesson plans, which have been a core part of the Library's teacher resources for more than a decade, are sporting a fresh look and a new address. These lessons, all of which were developed by teachers and tested in classrooms, now have a more consistent structure and a streamlined new look.

Standards and Sharing: Teachers can now find and share Library of Congress teacher resources more easily than ever, thanks to two new tools on the Library's website for teachers.
Searching by Standards: Users can now search all of the Library's classroom materials by state standard. Teachers simply select their grade level, state, and subject taught to discover which of the Library's classroom materials (primary source sets, lesson plans, Collection Connections, presentations, and activities) meet the relevant standards. In addition, each individual teacher resource will have a link that will show which standards it meets.
Sharing Resources: It's now easier for teachers to share and save their favorite Library of Congress teacher resources. Every item on the Library's website for teachers features a sharing toolbar that lets teachers quickly and easily share or bookmark that item via more than ten different Web 2.0 tools, including Facebook, Twitter, and Digg. This toolbar also provides easy ways to save, e-mail, and print.

You can access the Library of Congress lesson plans here. The old URLs will only redirect for a few more weeks, so stop by to revisit your favorites and update your bookmarks.

Ten tips for engaging students

When Andrew Marcinek's English 101 class seemed bored and uninterested, he stepped back and reexamined his approach. In his Edutopia blog, Marcinek describes how he established a class wiki and presented the class with some new expectations, many of which involved collaboration. Here's a sampling of the tips: learn beyond the walls, expand your audience, make many mistakes along the way, share, and provide constructive criticism. To learn more, read Marcinek's full blog post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Mustache Movement" At Oregon High School Raises Funds For Cancer Research

KTVL-TV Medford, Oregon (11/22, Villamor) reports, "Many South Medford High School teachers are growing out their facial hair to raise awareness about" prostate cancer. The teachers hope that bringing attention to the issue will help raise money for cancer research. "There are mustache donation jars in some of the classrooms where students have been donating to the cause." Teachers say "the mustache movement" is "a fun way to get students involved." The school has raised $600 so far "for Livestrong and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. They hope to reach their goal of $1000 by the end of the month."

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve "Nation's Toughest" Anti-Bullying Bill

The AP (11/23, Mulvihill) reports, "A law against bullying in schools, which advocates call the nation's toughest because it requires schools to develop anti-harassment programs, was approved Monday in New Jersey. The state General Assembly and Senate both passed the bill overwhelmingly and sent it to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Christie" who said "he hadn't read the bill but that the state's lawyers have raised concerns over whether its provisions infringe on constitutional rights." According to the AP, the "bill would require anti-bullying programs in public schools and language in college codes of conduct to address bullying."


New Jersey Today (11/22) added that the bill "is the product of nearly a year of research and discussions with top bullying experts, advocates and victims in an effort to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying among students. ... The legislation will provide school administrators with the tools they need to respond to instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying in a timely and effective manner." Also, "the bill requires annual reporting on bullying instances from schools and districts to be passed up directly to the Commissioner of Education and it grades each school on how it handles bullying, harassment and intimidation." The New Jersey Newsroom (11/23) also covers this story.

Monday, November 22, 2010

12 Ways to Learn Vocabulary With The New York Times


Here are 12 quick, easy and engaging ways to learn and practice new words by reading, viewing or listening to

1. "SAT Words" and The Times: Reading just the front page of The New York Times every day can introduce you to scores of SAT-level words in context. For instance, in this article about Prince William's engagement alone you can find déclassé,
speculation and sought. Did you know you can double click on any word in a Times article to read its definition? Or that the Learning Network has a Word of the Day feature that examines each new word in a recent Times context? To keep track of the words you're learning, use our vocabulary log.

2. Times Fill-Ins:
Every week we choose a high-interest Times article (on, say, a pumpkin-smashing contest,
eating insects,
A-Rod or skateboarding) and take some key words out of it. You can fill in the blanks with your own words, or choose from a scrambled list of the words that were removed.

3. Student Writing About Language: Not only does our Student Opinion question invite students to practice writing and vocabulary usage daily, we also occasionally ask vocabulary-focused questions. Read the entertaining student comments on the following, for instance, then invite your students to add their thoughts as well:

For more student wordplay, you might also look at the results of the Found Poem Student Challenge we ran last April.

4. Times Language Contests: What "family phrases" do you and your family or friends use that would be meaningful only to you? What modern similes ("as generous as a stimulus package") can you invent? Visit the Times blog Schott's Vocab to submit ideas for the weekend competitions. Past competitions have included words you loathe,
Tom Swifties,
novel analogies, favorite slogans, and both the saddest words in the English language and the happiest.

5. Word Infographics: Create a Words They Used graphic or illustration like this one that charts and compares the words used most often at the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Paste text from an article, novel, story or even an essay of your own into Wordle to create and customize instant word clouds. What words in the text you chose are used most often? What patterns do you see?

6. Greek and Latin Roots: What Greek and Latin roots do you know? Challenge a partner to a contest, and find as many words with Greek or Latin roots on the front page of The Times as you can. You might also try our student crosswords on "borrowed" words and the building blocks of vocabulary.

7. Test Yourself Daily Quizzes: Every day we pose a Test Yourself question that uses Times content to strengthen literacy and numeracy skills. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we ask English language arts-related questions that test vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and usage skills. Or, use our Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling and Usage Bingo with any day's edition of The Times.

8. Investigating Etymology: In Ben Zimmer's weekly On Language column, he takes readers into the etymology of currently popular words and phrases, whether student slang,
words from rap music, insults for beach tourists or science fiction languages. Read a few, then try your own: find a word or phrase you're curious about, read up on its history, then write an essay using On Language as a model.

9. Battling Cliché: What do you think are the most overused sports clichés? How do sports reporters keep descriptions of games, teams and athletes fresh? For instance, hunt through the Sports section to compile a list of the different verbs or phrases writers have used to mean "to win" or "to lose." Or, challenge yourself to create an all-cliché description of an athletic performance, like this one from the Laugh Lines blog.

If you're curious about what phrases even seasoned editors and reporters overuse, visit the After Deadline feature. And to avoid clichés in a college essay, consult our lesson plan on the topic.

10. Learning by Listening: Some people learn more easily by listening than by reading. Try improving your vocabulary by tuning in to Times podcasts on topics like front-page news, music, science and stories that could happen "only in New York." Then make your own podcast about something you're an expert in, whether comic books, cooking or baseball, using some of the specialized vocabulary associated with that field.

11. Words and Images: Visit the Times photojournalism blog Lens or our 6 Q's About the News to find a photo that interests you. Write your own caption by trying to describe succinctly and elegantly what you see and what it might mean. Or give it a funny caption, as readers did in this Laugh Lines blog contest. You might try the ideas in this lesson plan for other photo-based writing prompts.

Or, flip the idea and instead of using words to describe images, illustrate a word or concept to help you remember what it means. You might use the illustrations that accompany the weekly Science Times Science Q & A column as inspiration. For instance, how would you illustrate the phrase "status quo" to help you remember its meaning? The word "neologism"?

12. Subject-Area Vocabulary: Many teachers teach difficult vocabulary before having students read an article, especially one that is heavy with technical terms. In several lessons, we've used the List/Group/Label game to make this process more fun. For example, here is a lesson on the debt crisis in Europe, one on the Large Hadron Collider and one on Edgar Allan Poe, all of which start with the technique.

To choose the words for the game, you might enter the text of the Times article you choose into the Visual Thesaurus's VocabGrabberto see which words of different kinds are used most often, or to find the best vocabulary words. (Or try a sample VocabGrabber lesson using a Times article about the ethics of online homework help.)


Program Teaches English To Students' Parents

The Chicago Tribune (11/22, Bowean) reports on a "project offered by Community High School District 218 that seeks to improve some students' outcomes by also helping their parents. District officials want to help the parents learn to study, communicate, and balance work and school. The classes aren't for credit, and the parents don't get grades or report cards. The mission is to teach them good habits to pass on to their children, said Anne Coffman, director of federal and state programs for the district."

Stimulus Allows California District To Restore Instructional Days

The Orange County (CA) Register (11/20) reports, "An $87 million infusion of federal stimulus money to Orange County schools has allowed one district to add days back to its instructional year after removing them from the calendar a few months ago, but a bleak state budget outlook makes it unlikely that many others will follow suit, education officials said. The 27,000-student Irvine Unified School District on Tuesday authorized lengthening its instructional year by two days – including shortening winter break by a day this January – after receiving $5 million in federal funds under the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act."

South Carolina Legislators Mull Cutting Ten Days From School Year

South Carolina Now (11/20, Jackson) reports, "The state of South Carolina considers cuts to the number of days your children would go to school. The reason is to save money. The debate has two distinct sides. Some lawmakers say chopping ten days off the school calendar would save hundreds of millions of dollars. ... They believe it could save more than $200 million dollars."

A call for student writing

Women's Perspectives #6: We Are Here! (published by WE LEARN) will showcase original writings and artwork by adult literacy/basic education students across all levels. Student writers and artists are encouraged to reflect and to share their ideas on the theme "We Are Here: How I Add Value to Society." The response can be based on these questions:

  • In what ways were you successful before you came back to school? What would you like others to know about those experiences?
  • What are your best qualities? How are they helping you continue your education? How might they help you in the future?
  • What contributions have you been making to society (e.g., organizing in your neighborhood, leadership in your church, helping at your child's school)? How are you already valuable to your community?

    The deadline for submissions is January 28, 2011, and the issue will be published in April 2011. For more information, visit the WE LEARN website.

Screenwriting lesson plans available

IRA member Michael Milone, author of Nasha: The First Dog, and Jim Arena, publisher of Arena Press, have announced a screenwriting competition for the students of Collier County, Florida. Conducted in conjunction with BlueNose Edutainment and the Naples International Film Festival, the competition will offer a prize of $1,000 to the student or team submitting the best screen adaptation of Nasha. "The primary to engage students in reading and writing through music, journalism, and film," says Milone.

Collier County teachers and administrators were the special guests of the Naples International Film Festival on November 6, where they got an introduction to the upcoming release of C.S. Lewis's classic tale The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third film in The Chronicles of Narnia series. The film opens nationwide on December 10.

Included in the presentation was an introduction to the screenwriting lesson plans provided by BlueNose Entertainment. Designed for students in grades 5 to 12, the lesson plans are consistent with national and state reading and writing standards. A variety of screenwriting lesson plans, many of which were developed by Milone, can be accessed at the BlueNose Edutainment website.

Tough call: Book or Facebook?

On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh's life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer? By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old in Redwood City, California, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months. He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos.

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning. Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention. Read more of this lengthy article by Matt Richtel in The New York Times

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Teachers use blogs as an educational tool

Tachers are increasingly using social media tools like blogging in their classrooms. At the Hillcrest Intermediate School in the Norwin School District, for example, students would learn about a subject, such as a geological disaster, and then write in their class blog about what they had learned., an Australia-based company that provides blogging software for schools, now hosts 600,000 student and teacher blogs around the world, and, created by education consultant David Warlick, has been used by more than 250,000 users in 90 countries.

Warlick says, "The power of classroom blogging is that students are not merely writing to their teachers, what they think the teacher wants to read, and only for a grade. They are writing with the knowledge that at least their classmates will be reading what they are writing and responding to what they are writing." Read the full article by Amy Crawford at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review online.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ad Campaign Aims To Get Kids Excited About Science

USA Today (11/17, Vergano) reports on an ad campaign by the Geoffrey Beene Foundation that pairs popular musicians with scientists to get "kids and their parents jazzed about science." The campaign kicks off in December with ads in GQ Magazine. USA Today points notes that while "rock stars are household names...ResearchAmerica! polls suggest half the public can't name a living scientist."

Students Increasingly Showing Interest In Food, Nutrition.

New Jersey's Record (11/16, Fujimori) reported that children today "are becoming more and more passionate about food." That interest for some students includes "cooking, nutrition and understanding how the food system fits into their communities." For instance, the Food for Thought Club at Wayne Hills High School last year "prepared meals for the working poor, which they froze and donated to a church." Jane Gorli, a food and consumer sciences teacher and the club's sponsor said that "while the recent state education cuts have severely hurt family and consumer science curriculums...her students' interest in developing these skills is high." Gorli noted, "It's important for people to have these basic skills, and there are more jobs in the hospitality industry."

More Schools Integrating Arts Into Core Curriculum

Education Week (11/17, Robelen) reported, "The idea of integrating the arts, including dance, into the broader curriculum is not new, but it appears to be gaining a stronger foothold in public schools, proponents say, though national data are not available." Such efforts have been taken on by educators who have seen arts programs in schools diminish "amid the financial straits facing many districts and other challenges, such as pressure to boost test scores in core subjects like reading and math." Dance, in particular, has been left out of many public schools. But Jane Bonbright of the National Dance Education Organization, said that is changing. Now dance, "first introduced in schools mainly through P.E. programs, appears to be increasingly taught as an art form, which according to Bonbright, "is an important distinction."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

From Kenneth’s ESL Blog

Thanksgiving Reading Comprehension

This holiday feature includes a Thanksgiving reading comprehension with difficult vocabulary explanations about the history of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving followed by a Thanksgiving reading comprehension quiz.

Libraries restructuring for the digital age

As libraries struggle to stay relevant, many are reinventing themselves in order to keep up with the digital age. Both university and public libraries are pushing as much information onto the web as they can. Many public libraries are adding to their resources, so in addition to checking out books, visitors can find game rooms, computers, Internet cafes, expansive DVD collections, and high-definition televisions.

In the Denver library system, kids can play Guitar Hero, overdue book fines have been eliminated, and the Dewey Decimal System replaced in favor of sections organized by topic as bookstores do. In his article in the Chicago Tribune online David Sarno writes, "libraries are preparing for a future in which most materials can be checked and read from a home computer, smartphone or electronic reading device." Read the full article here.

Traditional textbooks are becoming obsolete

In a survey conducted by the e-Learning Foundation charity and the Times Educational Supplement, findings showed that teachers value having technology in the classroom. The survey was conducted in response to the Department of Education's moves to cut support for IT in schools. Almost seven in 10 teachers say that having state-of-the-art IT equipment in classrooms is more important than having traditional textbooks. More than half of teachers considered students to be "seriously disadvantaged" if they do not have the Internet in their home. Another finding indicated that 30 percent of respondents believe textbooks will become obsolete in the future because of the rise of technology. Read the full article by Murray Wardrop at The Telegraph online. 

Beyond access: Boosting digital media literacy skills

In new white paper titled Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action, Renee Hobbs, founder of Temple University's Media Education Lab, gives policymakers and education leaders a detailed plan to boost media literacy skills in their communities. While policymakers work to equip more households with broadband access, it is widely believed that it's not enough for people to access information online; they also have to know how to use and analyze the information. Hobbs offers 10 recommendations in her report for better media literacy skills.

"Existing paradigms in technology education must be shifted towards a focus on critical thinking and communication skills and away from 'gee-whiz' gaping over new technology tools," Hobbs said. Read the article by Meris Stansbury at eSchool News online. Access the full report at this Knight Commission webpage.

Hand-Held Devices See Increasing Use In Classroom Instruction

The New York Times (11/16, A14, Steinberg) reports that "the greatest impact" of hand-held technology devices in the classroom, which can be used to take attendance, answer quizzes or signal confusion, "may be cultural: they have altered, perhaps irrevocably, the nap schedules of anyone who might have hoped to catch a few winks in the back row, and made it harder for them to respond to text messages, e-mail and other distractions." While some "students say they resent the potential Big Brother aspect of all this," others say they appreciate the heightened level of attention it requires of them. "Though the technology is relatively new, preliminary studies at Harvard and Ohio State, among other institutions, suggest that engaging students in class through a device as familiar to them as a cellphone...increases their understanding of material that may otherwise be conveyed in traditional lectures."

North Carolina To Offer Microsoft Certification In All School Districts

The AP (11/16) reports, "North Carolina is on track to become the first state offering Microsoft computer training in every high school." The Microsoft IT Academy will allow high school students "to earn certification as a Microsoft Office Specialist or a Microsoft Certified Professional by completing the academy's coursework and passing exams." Beginning in January, the program will be tested in 20 school districts throughout the state. WFMY-TV Greensboro (11/16) notes that "state school officials expect all of the state's 628 public high schools to participate beginning next fall."


North Carolina's News & Observer (11/16) reports that the fully implemented program "will allow the state to offer the information technology courses in all public high schools. Course material will be available to students when they log on to computers at home, in public libraries, or community centers."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Educators Say Olweus Bullying Prevention Program Is Effective

The Philadelphia Inquirer (11/14, Hardy) reported that the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program "used by dozens of schools in the Philadelphia area and hundreds throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey" teacher children "that bystanders who witness bullying should help the victim. Many schools say it has made a difference." The Inquirer added, "Pennsylvania and New Jersey require that school districts have anti-bullying policies and name a person to whom complaints can be made" yet "while policies and publicity can help somewhat, experts say the numbers go down significantly only when schools put in place consistent, well-organized, long-term programs."

Latino Students Now Make Up Majority In California Public Schools

The San Francisco Chronicle (11/13, Kane) reported, "Latinos now make up a majority of California's public school students, cracking the 50 percent barrier for the first time in the state's history, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Education." State data from the 2009-10 school year showed, meanwhile, that out of 6.2 million students throughout the state, 27 percent were white, nine percent were Asian, and seven percent were black. "Students calling themselves Filipino, Pacific Islander, Native American or other total almost 7 percent." UC Berkeley Education Professor Bruce Fuller said that Latinos' large impact on public education in California will continue to grow, "as Latino parents -- now in the majority -- realize many of the schools their children attend are underfunded."

How to improve media literacy skills

In new white paper titled Digital Media Literacy: A Plan of Action, Renee Hobbs, founder of Temple University's Media Education Lab, gives policy makers and education leaders a detailed plan to boost media literacy skills in their communities. While policy makers work to get equip more household with broadband access, it is widely believed that it's not enough for people to access information online, but they have to know how use and analyze the information. Hobbs offers ten recommendations in her report for better media literacy skills.

Existing paradigms in technology education must be shifted towards a focus on critical thinking and communication skills and away from 'gee-whiz' gaping over new technology tools," Hobbs said. Read the full article by Meris Stansbury at eSchool News online.

Teacher-Led School In California Sees Boost In Student Achievement, Enrollment

The AP (11/14, Hoag) reported that Francis Parkman Middle School in California "was spiraling downward with plummeting enrollment, abysmal test scores and notoriety for unruliness" four years ago. But after teachers took over leadership of the school, renamed the Woodland Hills Academy, "test scores [went] up 18 percent and enrollment has spiked more than 30 percent." The Woodland Hills Academy is one of a growing number of teacher-controlled schools throughout the US. "Proponents say teachers can turn floundering schools into flourishing ones if allowed the freedom to innovate to meet the needs of their students." But according to Claremont Graduate University education professor Charles Kerchner, student achievement at teacher run schools "has been mixed." And some skeptics question "how smoothly teachers can run a school," as "leadership by consensus often leads to slower decision-making, especially with people inexperienced in the substantial administrative work operating a school entails."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Report shows online professional development aids teachers and student

A new report released by the Technology and Assessment Study Collaborative, a unit of Boston College's Lynch School of Education and its Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy (CSTEEP), shows that online professional development is an important option in improving teacher quality. The report indicates that English and math teachers who took professional development courses online improved their instructional practices and increased their subject knowledge scores, producing modest performance gains for their students. The research was conducted over a three-year period involving approximately 330 teachers and 7,000 students across 13 states. Read the full article from ScienceDaily

Publishers Weekly lists best children's books for 2010

This year's edition of Publishers Weekly's annual list of best children's books contains something for everyone. Read the annotated list at this page on the Publishers Weekly website.

PBS NewsHour launches new website for student reporting

The PBS NewsHour has launched the Student Reporting Labs website, a program that connects students with professional mentors at their local public broadcasting station. This is designed to allow the students to produce original news reports with youth perspective on important national issues. The website has a collaborative space where students interact with professional journalists and their peers, who are working on the same topic.

The program also includes a news literacy and digital media curriculum, with 9-15 lesson plans, designed to nurture students' understanding of news, build a foundation of civic engagement, and spark a life-long interest in current events. To learn more about Student Reporting Labs, visit the website.  

Thais read 94 minutes daily, survey says

Thai people read an average of 94 minutes daily, but mainly among the young and government workers, according to academic research by Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Education and state-operated Thailand Knowledge Park.

According to the survey, young people and government officials spent the most time on reading, whereas adults aged over 49 read the least. Persons under 20 years old read on average about three to four days weekly.

The Thai Cabinet in August 2009 declared April 2 Thailand's "Reading Day." This date also marks the birthday of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, known for being a passionate reader. Moreover, 2009-2018 was announced as the "Decade of Reading" the Thailand in order to promote and enhance reading habits among Thais. Read more about the survey at MCOT Newsonline.

Portland, Oregon, Schools Looks To Most Successful ESL Program For Effective Strategies

The Portland (OR) Tribune (11/11, Anderson) reported that at Whitman Elementary School, where "one out of three students [is] learning English as a second language," each student has to take an "intensive two-hour [block] of reading time each day." The school staggers the blocks In order to best utilize "the school's two-and-a-half ESL teaching positions and one bilingual assistant." Accommodations such as this "have helped Whitman become Portland Public Schools' highest-performing elementary school for English as a second language students." The district as a whole "has been out of compliance with state and federal ESL laws for 13 of the past 17 years," but recently came back into compliance. Still, an audit of the district showed that "many problems still exist," and "as the ESL population grows, the situation appears to be getting worse." Portland school officials are looking at Whitman for ESL strategies that can be applied throughout the district.

Teacher Professional Development Needs Clearly Defined Purpose, Advocates Say

Education Week (11/10, Sawchuk) reported that teacher professional development in America is facing a severe "identity crisis," because the term "has become both ubiquitous and all but meaningless" for "describing ongoing training investments in the teaching force." The biggest problem with professional development, according to Education Week, is "mediocre, scattershot training." But, with the national spotlight on "teacher effectiveness," professional development is coming to a crossroads. Traditionally, professional development activities are seen as an giving teachers opportunities "to improve their craft." Still, "advocates acknowledge that [it] risks marginalization in the teacher-effectiveness conversation unless it is able to articulate clearly its place in producing better teachers." Education Week analyzes "some of the critical issues faced by those charged with upgrading the quality of post-preparation teacher training."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Initiative Will Pay College Tuition For High School Graduates In New Haven, Connecticut

The New York Times (11/10, Hu) reports that New Haven, Connectivut "officials announced on Tuesday that a new program, called New Haven Promise, would offer to pay eligible students' way through any public college or university in Connecticut. The program will also pay up to $2,500 a year to those who attend a private college in the state." The Times adds that the program is "financed primarily by Yale University" and "is open to students who live in the city and have attended its public schools, including charter schools, since at least ninth grade, regardless of family income."

Education Department Releases Finalized National Technology Plan

Education Week (10/9, Quillen) reported that the US Department of Education on Tuesday unveiled the final version of its National Education Technology Plan. According to the plan, the Education Department "intends to pay for research to study online professional-collaboration communities for teachers and other educators." In addition, the administration will "launch an initiative dedicated to defining and increasing educational productivity." Also, "the creation of a national online-learning registry" that was first announced in July is included in the plan, which aims "to improve teaching, assessment, learning, and educational infrastructure through Web 2.0 technologies, such as social networking." Education Week notes, however, that "Any proposals requiring new federal funding could face a difficult political climate on Capitol Hill," because the new House majority will likely "push for cuts in discretionary federal spending."

Philadelphia District Forms Panel To Reduce School Violence

The AP (11/10) reports that "the Philadelphia School District has formed a blue-ribbon commission to try to find ways to reduce violence in the classrooms of city schools." The group plans to meet each quarter "and issue annual reports." Philadelphia public schools aim to reduce "the number of schools deemed 'persistently dangerous' and" to implement "recommendations from state safety audits on 25 dangerous schools."

Texas Lawmakers Propose Legislation Requiring Students To Show Proof Of Citizenship

The Dallas Morning News (11/9) reported that Texas lawmakers on Monday proposed legislation "make students at public schools show proof of citizenship, so the state can account for education funding spent on noncitizens." William McKenzie wrote in the Dallas Morning News (11/9) "Education Front" blog that "it feels like proponents are placing a target on children out of their frustration over illegal immigration." He questions how schools would be expected to enforce the legislation. "This proposal seems punitive and ill-conceived. May it die a quick death in next year's Legislature," McKenzie asserts.

Teacher's Suicide Highlights Divisions Regarding Educator Effectiveness Ratings

The New York Times (11/10, Lovett) reports that the September suicide of Los Angeles public school teacher Rigoberto Ruelas has drawn "the city's largest newspaper into the middle of the debate over reforming the nation's second-largest school district." The Los Angeles Times released a database of teacher effectiveness ratings in August. According to colleagues, Ruelas became depressed after he received a rating of "less effective than average." This week, hundreds of people "marched to the Los Angeles Times building, where they waved signs and chanted, demanding that the newspaper remove Mr. Ruelas's name from the online database." The Times notes that value-added teacher assessments are growing in popularity, while remaining controversial. Teachers unions and some experts say that the assessments are "unfair and incomplete and have fought its implementation across the country." Meanwhile, some district leaders and federal education officials support that method of evaluating teacher effectiveness.


Los Angeles School Board Approves Value-Added Contract. Jason Song wrote in a blog for the Los Angeles Times (11/9), "The Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously approved a contract Tuesday with a company that will analyze teachers' effectiveness in raising students' standardized test scores." Under the terms of the agreement, the University of Wisconsin Value Added Research Center "would calculate value-added scores for individual teachers. School district officials have said they plan to issue confidential scores to teachers this year."

Parents occupy school over lack of libraries

Nearly one in four Chicago public elementary schools and more than 50 high schools don't have staffed, in-school libraries. Parents at one school were so incensed, they occupied a school building for more than a month to pressure city officials to add one. School officials say they value libraries, but in an era of tight budgets, libraries often lose out to other priorities. Listen to the story on NPR by Cheryl Corley.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Study Circles" In Maryland District Aim To Tackle Achievement Gap

The Washington Post (11/9, Thompson) reports on moderated "Study Circles" meant to tackle issued related to race in the Montgomery County, MD district. According to the Post, Montgomery "Superintendent Jerry D. Weast hoped the gatherings would push parents, students and staffs to address the achievement gap and its causes. ... What began as a student-focused effort eight years ago is centered around the conversations among parents who meet two hours a week for six weeks. As a result of the program,...many schools have revived their parent-teacher associations, school administrators hear from a wider range of parents and school officials are holding study circles."

Education Stakeholders In Rhode Island Hold Anti-Bullying Forum

The AP (11/9, Smith) reports, "Rhode Island educators, anti-bullying activists and advocates for gay and lesbian youth said there must be a zero-tolerance policy for bullying in schools, as they held a forum Monday in response to incidents of bullying of gay students around the country. ... The forum, which streamed online and aired in part on WJAR-TV's Channel 10.2, was called by state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who said the culture at individual schools needs to at minimum have no tolerance for bullying, and at best celebrate the diversity of the students who go there." The AP adds that "Elliot Krieger, a spokesman for Gist, said there have been no specific incidents in Rhode Island to prompt the forum, but Gist had recently received a letter from the US Secretary of Education alerting all state education commissioners to issues surrounding bullying."


Program Utilizes Baby Visits To Help Curb Bullying. founder David Bornstein wrote in a blog for the New York Times (11/8), "The typical institutional response to bullying is to get tough" yet some programs "show the potential of augmenting our innate impulses to care for one another instead of just falling back on punishment as a deterrent. And what's the secret formula? A baby." Bornstein adds that Toronto-based Roots of Empathy "arranges monthly class visits by a mother and her baby" and during "the baby visits, the children sit around the baby and mother (sometimes it's a father) on a green blanket (which represents new life and nature) and they try to understand the baby's feelings."

Louisiana Schools To Report Meal Charges To State DOE

The AP (11/8, DeMarche) reported that a new state law went into effect last week that requires Louisiana schools to report to the state Department of Family and Children Services parents "who can afford to pay for their children's school lunch -- and whose kids go three straight days without paying." Before the requirement went into effect, "students who could afford to buy lunch could be turned away from the lunch line if their parents were delinquent with payments." Now, students will be given at least "graham crackers and 8 ounces of milk" if they "do not qualify for a free lunch," but do not bring lunch money to school. The AP notes that the US Department of Agriculture allows schools to "decide not to provide free meals to children who are financially able to pay for them."

Report Shows Wide Achievement Gap Between Black, White Males

The New York Times (11/9, Gabriel) reports though the "achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented," a "new report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is even bleaker than generally known." Based on national test score data from 2009, the report says that in math and reading, "black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades." According to the Times, the Council of the Great City Schools report titled "A Call for Change" also finds that poverty "alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches."

Participate in the Roald Dahl reading challenge

School Library Journal and Penguin Young Readers Group are conducting a Roald Dahl Reading Dahlathon Sweepstakes. Kids ages 7-13 are invited to participate, and are asked to read three Roald Dahl books before December 31, 2010. Kids then need to mail the entry form to the Penguin Young Readers Group with the signature of a parent, teacher, librarian, or guardian. The first 5,000 participants will receive an official Reading Dahlathon Certificate that recognizes kids as a Buckswashling Book Champion and a free Roald Dahl book adapted into a play. For resources and more information about how to enter, visit this website.

Why teachers should embrace Wikipedia

In his article "Teachers: Please stop prohibiting the use of Wikipedia," Christopher Dawson argues that teachers should stop banning the use of Wikipedia for class work and instead use it as a tool to show students how to effectively use Internet resources. He argues that Wikipedia serves the same purpose in research that Britannica did years ago, noting that Wikipedia has citations, which most other webpages do not.

Dawson believes that Wikipedia is a starting point in research that allows for the collection of additional resources and allows people to verify the accuracy of information on the page through the primary source citations. Read the full article from ZDNet Education here.

More schools lose librarians

Professional librarians are among the first to go when funds get tight, according to an article by Edward L. Kenney in Delaware's News Journal newspaper. Approximately 20 to 25 librarians have lost their jobs in Delaware schools recently, leaving only about 100 in public schools statewide.

"If you look at the research, it's a full-time certified librarian who makes the difference," said Christy Payne, Delaware's Library Media Specialist of the Year in 2008. "It's not the space, it's the person. I'm educated to understand developmentally for a lot of kids what research applies to them, what they're ready for in certain ages, from first grade to 12th grade. I am a technology expert in the school. I teach the teachers the technology, how to use it and incorporate it."

To learn more, read the full article.

Is the battle between print vs. digital books necessary?

Gabrielle E. Miller, national executive director for Raising a Reader, a nonprofit organization based in Silicon Valley that is dedicated to early literacy development, has written a piece discussing the current battle between print vs. digital books. More specifically, she addresses the issue of digital books for children.

Miller discusses pros and cons for both print and digital books for children. For example, she says that you cannot put a kindle in the bathtub with a child such as you can do with a vinyl book; however, when going on vacation there is not always room for 15 print books, but there is room for one kindle. Miller concludes by saying that we need both forms of books for children, and children who are only exposed to one form will lose out. Read the full article at The Washington Post online.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Florida District Saves About $6 Million Through Energy Conservation

The Miami Herald (11/7, Feuerman) reported that more than 260 schools in Miami-Dade County, Florida have saved about $6 million last year by taking part "in a district-wide campaign to conserve energy." The schools that saved the most money are getting back a total of $500,000. The top winner, Coconut Palm K-8 Center, gets $43,895. "Coconut Palm saved 629,000 kilowatt hours over the course of the school year -- enough to power more than five dozen homes for 10 months." Teachers contributed to the effort by unplugging "computers and appliances during holiday breaks. And students were encouraged to turn off the lights and the computer screens when they left their classroom."

Critics See "Hidden Agenda" In Anti-Gay Bullying Efforts

The New York Times (11/6, Eckholm) reported, "Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their anti-harassment rules with early lessons in tolerance, explaining that some children have 'two moms' or will grow up to love members of the same sex. But such efforts to teach acceptance of homosexuality, which have gained urgency after several well-publicized suicides by gay teenagers, are provoking new culture wars in some communities." The Times added, "Angry parents and religious critics, while agreeing that schoolyard harassment should be stopped, charge that liberals and gay rights groups are using the anti-bullying banner to pursue a hidden 'homosexual agenda,' implicitly endorsing, for example, same-sex marriage."


Anti-Gay Bullying Not A "Gay Issue," Advocate Says. Maureen Costello, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project, wrote in Massachusetts' Herald News (11/7, Costello) that anti-gay bullying is not "just a 'gay issue,'" because it is often "directed at straight students who are perceived as gay." She points out that several studies have shown "that students report less bullying at schools with policies that specify certain types of bullying compared to schools with policies that don't." Such policies have been endorsed by the NEA and several other parent and educator groups. Costello concludes, "All school districts should adopt anti-bullying policies that specifically protect LGBT students. Until they do, thousands of children will continue to suffer violence and humiliation."

Longer School Days Under Consideration In DC

The Washington Post (11/8, Turque) reports, "Longer school days are expensive and complicated to execute, requiring buy-in from teachers, parents, after-school programs and child-care providers. And the evidence that extended schedules actually improve academic performance is mixed at best." However, "President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called for longer days and shorter summer breaks" and DC Council member Mary M. Cheh (D) has "introduced legislation that would add 30 minutes to the public school schedule."

Blogger Notes Common Practices Among Award-Winning Schools

Maureen Downey wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (11/7) that McLeod Bethune Elementary School in New Orleans "became a haven for its students after Hurricane Katrina." The school is "in one of New Orleans' poorest and roughest neighborhoods." Still, "62 percent of the school's sixth-graders read at an advanced level, compared to 4 percent statewide." Each day, students spend 120 minutes focused on reading skills and 90 minutes focused on math. Bethune Elementary "won a 2010 Dispelling the Myth Award from the Education Trust" last week. According to Downey, all of the schools that won the award have several similarities. Each has staff chosen by the principals; "they use data constantly and effectively to identify struggling children;" they have a strong team environment and clean campuses; mentors are provided for teachers; teachers look forward to going to work, and the schools "can't always pay teachers more, but they try to accommodate them where they can."

Mathematician Offers Solution For Getting Qualified Teachers In Math, Science Classrooms

Jim Simmons, a mathematician and retired founder of Renaissance Technologies, writes in an opinion piece for the Washington Post (11/8) that when it comes to science and math education, "too often it is the least able who teach." This, he says, is because "those who know enough math, physics or biology to properly teach these subjects in high school can get higher-paying jobs in industries" with more prestige. Simmons offers "a straightforward solution" to overcoming what he calls the "compensations gap" for math and science teachers. "Six years ago," the New York City public school system developed a pilot program called Math for America that provided "meaningful stipends to supplement salaries for new and experienced teachers," professional development courses, and "scholarship aid where required." According to Simmons, the program "created more than 300 outstanding teachers in New York" and has been duplicated in several other school systems nationwide.

High School In Utah Distributes iPods To All Teachers, Students Through Federal Grant

The Salt Lake Tribune (11/7, Winters) reported that teachers and "nearly 1,700 students at Kearns High [School]" each received an iPod from "a $1 million federal stimulus Enhancing Education Through Technology grant" the school was awarded this summer. With the devices, "students can keep track of homework assignments and get automatic reminders of due dates, create and study flash cards, and read text books while highlighting key points and looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary." Over the past few months, teachers were trained "on how to teach with the iPods" and they have brainstormed ways "to make sure students don't use the devices to goof off during class." The Tribune notes that the U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) in August "included the Kearns High grant on a list of 100 questionable uses of stimulus funds." But Kearns senior J.R. Finai argued, "We're here to prove them wrong. .. We're confident in this program and we feel very strongly that it will be a huge success."

New Research Agenda Set For Department Of Education

Education Week (11/4, Sparks) reported, "The Institute for Education Sciences this week officially set a new research agenda for the US Department Of Education, as its advisory board approved the first revised priorities in five years." Though the "institute's topics of study won't change much under the new priorities," the "new priorities put greater emphasis on putting federally supported education research findings into context 'to identify education policies, programs, and practices that improve education outcomes, and to determine how, why, for whom, and under what conditions they are effective.'"

Maryland County To Promote Basic Math To Better Prepare Students

The Washington Post (11/5, Birnbaum) reports from Montgomery County, Maryland, "Elementary and middle school students will no longer skip grade levels in math in large numbers. Instead, they will spend extra time on fundamental mathematical concepts that will better prepare them for Algebra I in the eighth grade and advanced math topics in high school" in a bid "to increase the number of high school students taking courses such as calculus and statistics." The Post notes, "The new direction comes as part of a sweeping set of recommended changes in the math curriculum released Thursday. Some of the recommendations cost money and require school board approval. Others, including the change in math acceleration, do not, and will be implemented quickly, officials said."

Urban, Suburban Teens Show Increased Interest In Agricultural Sciences

The Chicago Tribune (11/5, Cullotta) reports that "for a burgeoning number of" urban and suburban teenagers, "an affinity for digging in the dirt is proving transformative, blurring the boundaries between rural and urban, fostering a grassroots slow food movement, and perhaps above all, forging future career paths in agricultural sciences." The student participation ranges "from suburban 4-H club members donating bushels of their homegrown produce each week to local food pantries, to Chicago high school students who view their urban farm as a safe haven from dangerous city neighborhoods." An official with the National 4-H Council said it has seen rising interest from large urban centers such as New York and Chicago, as well as suburban areas. She added "that today's chapters of 4-H, long a staple of rural America, are often far more concerned with issues such as eradicating social inequities in food distribution, rather than competing for blue ribbons at the county fair."

New Jersey Acting Education Commissioner Declines Offer To Attend Teacher Convention

New Jersey's Press of Atlantic City (11/4, D'Amico) reports that New Jersey's Acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks on Monday declined an invitation from the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) to attend the NJEA's annual convention "today and Friday in Atlantic City." Each year, "the head of the state Department of Education is invited to speak" at the event, "and that session is usually one of the most popular." In her letter, Hendricks wrote, "Whenever you are ready to consider a real discussion about pursuing bold education reform, my door is open." NJEA President Barbara Keshishian responded, calling "the decision not to attend the convention astounding." Wrote Keshishian,, "Her claim that NJEA refuses to be a partner in bold education reform is simply untrue." She also "cited actions taken by the NJEA to promote education, and said it is very upsetting to members, who take pride in their work, to be snubbed by the commissioner." The Press Of Atlantic City (11/4) also printed Keshishian's full response. A Cyberbullying Concern For High School Administrators

The Las Vegas Sun (11/3, Takahashi) reported that "the issue of cyberbullying on has" is a concern for administrators at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nevada. "The website allows users to gossip about other students anonymously." Green Valley High School Principal Jeff Horn said that administrators were "alarmed" by the comments on the website. Last week, he "spoke to senior government classes and urged students who have bullied other students on the website to come forward. He threatened those who didn't with possible expulsion." Horn said that "about 30 students came forward with information about the website" and six were suspended. To help the school combat the problem, Horn wants "the Henderson and the Clark County School District police departments [to] go through the unique Internet Protocol addresses of users to track down the bullies."

Data Indicates Disparities In Florida School Districts' Reporting Of Bullying Incidents

The Orlando Sentinel (11/4, Postal) reports that the Obama Administration's crack down on school bullying "was propelled by several high-profile cases in which students killed themselves after being bullied in some manner." But, some experts warn that the tragedies do not "mean there are more [bullying] incidents today than in the past." Others, including the ACLU, "worry new anti-bullying rules, particularly those targeting 'cyber bullying'...can trample on students' rights to free speech." Under Florida's Stand up for All Students Act of 2008, school districts must have "anti-bullying policies that address cyberbullying as well as the traditional kind." In addition, "the law...demands that bullying be punished by no less than suspension." Still, 2008-09 data on school bullying incidents throughout the state indicate that "administrators in different districts didn't agree on what constituted bullying or harassment." That year, "the Miami-Dade County school district, the state's largest, reported seven incidents... -- the same as tiny Glades County."

Students learn by listening to life stories

The Legacy Project is launching its 11th annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest. Students between the ages of 8-18 are invited to participate. The student must interview an older person over 50 years (cannot be a parent, but they can be a grandparent, older friend, mentor, neighbor, nursing home resident, etc.) about their hopes and goals through their life, how they achieved goals and overcame obstacles, or how their dreams may have changed along the way. What life advice can the older person share? The young person then writes a 300-word essay (maximum) based on the interview.

The Grand Prize is a Lenovo ThinkCentre computer with $800 of educational software from Orchard Software. The school of the winning young person also receives $25,000 of Orchard educational software. Twenty runner-up prizes include $400 of Orchard software and an MP3 player. The deadline to enter is March 31, 2011. For more information about the contest and how to enter visit the Legacy Project website.

What does John Boehner think about education reform?

What do Tuesday's election results mean for education reform? Kentucky's Rand Paul is among the newly elected candidates who want to dismantle the Department of Education. That won't happen, but what lies ahead for our students and teachers? Right now all eyes are on John Boehner, the Ohio Republican expected to become Speaker of the House when the new Congress convenes in January. A seasoned negotiator who in the past has succeeded in passing education laws, he could hold sway over policymaking in Washington. But in many ways, his views about education matter less than the question of what he can accomplish given the fractious caucus he will be leading.

First, the good news: Boehner cares deeply about education — and not just when he's stumping on campaign trails. He was one of the "big four" — along with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, Republican Senator Judd Gregg and Democratic Representative George Miller — who helped craft the bipartisan No Child Left Behind legislation that was signed into law in 2002. Read more of his expected influence on education reform in this Time magazine article online.