Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Arlene Ackerman, Ex-Philadelphia Schools Superintendent, Applies For Unemployment

From Huffington Post:

PHILADELPHIA — The former Philadelphia schools superintendent who received more than $900,000 in severance pay is looking to collect unemployment.

A district spokesman confirmed Tuesday that Arlene Ackerman had applied for jobless benefits. She's eligible for the state maximum of $573 a week, based on her former salary of about $350,000.

Ackerman abruptly left the district last summer. Her leadership saw increased test scores and graduation rates but also clashes with community members, the teachers' union and elected officials.

Her $905,000 buyout was initially going to be paid using public funds and anonymous private contributions. The donors later backed out after critics blasted the deal's lack of transparency.

Ackerman's attorney tells KYW-AM that his client qualifies for unemployment because she is jobless and wasn't fired for cause.

Rating Teachers By Student Scores Can Come Up Short

The Huffington Post (11/30, Resmovits) reports that as sates seek to help teachers improve, "either through new laws or promises made to the federal Department of Education to escape the strictures of the No Child Left Behind Act, they're facing a dizzying array of rubrics and coaching methods -- and often coming up short." While "bolstering teachers' evaluations and professional development has emerged as a popular way for school districts and states to attack the problem of underperforming schools," a new study found that "there are few professional development methods that have been shown to effectively improve student learning." Additionally, Segun Eubanks, the National Education Association's teacher quality director, said that state evaluations define teacher effectiveness "based almost solely on a teacher's ability to increase scores on narrow standardized tests that are looking at one measure of learning."

Mitchell 20 Receives Rave Review

In his blog on Education Week (11/30), John Wilson writes about the documentary Mitchell 20, which "exposes the passion and commitment that teachers have for their students and their profession" and was made possible by the National Education Association. The protagonist of the movie, National Board Certified Teacher Daniela Robles, "recruited 19 of her colleagues to participate in either the full certification process or the Take One! program of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards." The superintendent is the movie's antagonist, believing "he had to dismantle the team at Mitchell in order to replicate it in other schools." Wilson adds that the move should be send by "every politician who would cut funding for professional development," reformers believing "that a smart, young, college graduate with no teaching preparation can meet the challenges that face our schools today," parents, and teachers.

Rise In Free School Lunches Reflects Hard Economic Times

In a front-page article, the New York Times (11/30, A1, Dillon, Subscription Publication) reports, "Millions of American schoolchildren are receiving free or low-cost meals for the first time" after their parents lost jobs or homes due to the economic downturn. "The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year from 18 million in 2006-7." Department of Education officials using subsidized lunch rates as a poverty indicator in federal testing were "among the first to call attention to the increases," noting in the National Assessment of Educational Progress "that the proportion of the nation's fourth graders enrolled in the lunch program had climbed to 52 percent from 49 percent in 2009, crossing a symbolic watershed."

Duncan Says Nevada Can Move Forward Quickly On Education

The AP (11/30) reports Education Secretary Arne Duncan participated in an education panel at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas, where he noted "Nevada's record high school drop-out rate and urging parents to get more involved in their children's education." Duncan said, "There's no reason why this state can't move forward in a very rapid rate."

The Las Vegas Sun (11/30, Takahashi) reports Duncan said, "We have to educate our way to a better economy." He added, "It's tough to get better without a lot more money, but we can't use that as an excuse. There's only one chance to get a good education, whether it's good economic times or bad economic times."


On its website, KLAS-TV Las Vegas (11/30, Collins) reports Duncan said Nevada "is poised to jump ahead of other higher-performing and higher-funded states" on education. He added that "reforms including the growth model and opting out of No Child Left Behind will help Nevada schools." He called NCLB "far too punitive, very prescriptive, led to a dummy down standards and narrowing of curriculum, and none of those things are good for children or education."


The Las Vegas Review-Journal (11/30, Lake) reports Duncan said that the President's American Jobs Act would keep teachers in classrooms. The website of KTNV-TV Las Vegas (11/30, Janner) also covers this story.

Technology Tools For Teaching Exhibited

The Tennessean (11/30, Yankova) reports that several new tech tools were shown during the Sumner County, Tennessee, Board of Education's Technology Open House. There "was the SMART Table, a multi-touch, multi-user interactive learning center that allows groups of early-education students to work simultaneously on one surface." The ActivBoard is "a large interactive display that combines the simplicity of a whiteboard, power of a computer and front projection that engage students with vivid images, video and audio."

Texas School Tests Using iPod Touches In Lessons

The Amarillo Globe News (11/30, Mayer) reports student at Puckett Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas, used iPod Touches "in their social studies, science and language arts classes during the two days the school had the electronics." Dirk Funk, instructional designer for the Amarillo Independent School District, said the district bought 32 iPod Touches "using federal stimulus money earmarked for instructional development." He added that the district is letting schools "check out the devices, including iPads and iPod Touches, this year as a test-drive" before deciding if more will be purchased. On its website, KVII-TV Amarillo, TX (11/30, Griffin) also covers this story.

Comic Books May Help Students Learn Science

Alan Boyle at the MSNBC (11/30) "Cosmic Log" blog writes, "The Japanese have been using manga" or comic books "for decades to teach complex subjects, and now Americans are doing it too. No Starch Press, a San Francisco publishing house, puts out a whole line of manga-style books on math and science, picked up from the original Japanese and translated for the American market." Boyle writes, "Japanese researchers have reported that manga books can deliver information in a shorter time and make a stronger impression than conventional textbooks."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Study Suggests Middle School Transition Linked To Academic Setbacks

Education Week (11/29, Sparks) reports, "While policymakers and researchers alike have focused on improving students' transition into high school, a new study of Florida schools suggests the critical transition problem may happen years before, when students enter middle school," finding "that students moving from grade 5 into middle school show a 'sharp drop' in math and language arts achievement in the transition year that plagues them as far out as 10th grade, even risking thwarting their ability to graduate high school and go on to college." According to the study, "after the 6th grade transition, middle school students fell by .12 standard deviations in math and .09 standard deviations in reading compared with students at K-8 schools." Additionally, "students who had attended a middle school were 18 percent more likely than students who attended a K-8 school before high school to not enroll in grade 10 after attending grade 9-an indicator that they may have dropped out."

California Districts Prepare To Implement Transitional Kindergarten

The San Jose Mercury News (11/28, Murphy) reports that California's Kindergarten Readiness Act mandates that districts "gradually...move the birthday cutoff date for new kindergartners from December to September. The law also requires districts -- beginning next year -- to offer a new grade level for children with fall birthdays who are too young to start kindergarten. Researchers and advocates say transitional kindergarten, as it's called, will better prepare children to be successful in school." The piece reports this story within the context of sweeping state education funding cuts, and explains that only children with autumn birthdays will be included in the new grade.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Writer: Common Core Amounts To Federal Takeover

Jim Stergios criticizes the Common Core standards at the Boston (MA) Globe (11/21) "Rock the Schoolhouse" blog drawing a parallel between the Administration and the practices of "Cardinal Richelieu. Armand-Jean du Plessis, later known to us as Cardinal Richelieu was responsible for expanding the reach of weak-willed King Louis XIII." Stergios continues to describe Richelieu as cruel and devious, and argues that his strict control of French institutions was a power play more than any attempt to regularize knowledge. He dismisses as "myth" the notion that under the Common Core, "states are free to define their own curricula based on the Common Core," adding that "Arne Duncan has done a Richelieu-esque job of masking the real impacts. I don't really believe that the impacts will be very positive as regards student achievement; there are many reasons for that, but you could summarize my feelings with the simple assertion of a fact: US DOE has oversight responsibility for the Washington DC schools."

Detroit High School Trains Students In Meat Processing

The Detroit News (11/21, Chambers) reports on "the Meat Shop at Breithaupt Career and Technical Center, a" Detroit Public School. The "shop is training dozens of DPS students in processing, packaging, displaying and selling retail cuts of meat to the public - all skills viable in the outside world in jobs ranging from meat cutters to restaurant operators," CTE teacher Richard Davedowksi said. Students "study animal anatomies, techniques for shaping different cuts of meat and how to inspect animals for signs of illness, such as cancer. Sanitation is also a major focus with students prepping and cleaning all areas of the kitchen before and after each session."

ACLU Pushes Missouri District To End Single-Gender Classes

The AP (11/21) reports that the ACLU is calling on the Adrian R-III school district in Missouri "to stop offering single-gender classes." The district "began offering single-sex math and communication arts classes this fall to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. ... Single-sex classes began proliferating after a US Education Department ruling in 2006, which allows such classes whenever schools think it will improve achievement. But the ACLU has argued the regulations conflict with the US Constitution and Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education."

Poll: California Teachers Favor Publicizing Teacher Evaluations

The Los Angeles Times (11/21, Blume) reports that according to a survey conducted by "Republican firm" American Viewpoint, most "California voters want teachers' performance evaluations made public" and "want student test scores factored into an instructor's review. Of those surveyed, 58% said the quality of public schools would be improved if the public had access to teachers' reviews; 23% said it would not help or could make things worse." The Times places the poll's results within the context of the increasing nationwide movement toward evaluating teachers based on student performance, noting that this is in line with the views of the Administration and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Group Works To Promote Minority IT Education

CNN (11/18, Morales) reports on the efforts of Black Data Processing Associates, "a non-profit organization founded to increase the number of minorities in information technology related industries." The piece profiles an IT professional who the group helped, adding, "Employment in scientific and technical services is projected to add about 2.7 million new jobs by 2018. African-Americans made up 13% of IT jobs, and women made up 25% in 2009, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Janice Cuny, the National Science Foundation's director of computing education, says the low number of minorities and women in science, technology, engineering and math fields is a serious concern."

Ohio To Replace State Assessments With Online Common Core Tests

The Cincinnati Enquirer (11/18, Brown, Amos) reports, "Starting in 2014, all school districts in Ohio will be using new state tests for the Common Core Curriculum being rolled out in 45 states and the District of Columbia," and notes that the "new tests will be taken online, replacing the standardized No. 2 pencil-and-paper tests that Ohio schools have always used. While local school leaders like the idea of online testing, the switch is also creating concern because it's unclear who's going to pay for the computers and software upgrades needed for the new system."

California Districts Mull Cutting Days To Deal With Funding Cuts

The AP (11/18, Williams) reports that a dearth of state education funding to California districts could result in a "direct hit" to students, describing "the prospect of fewer school days that would make California's school year among the shortest in the nation and could worsen its already troubled school system. The state's schools face up to $1.4 billion in automatic spending cuts after analysts determined that California's revenues have come in dramatically lower than Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers had hoped." The piece notes that some districts in the state have already cut days from the academic calendar. "But cutting the school year quickly could prove challenging unless lawmakers agree to revisit a law also passed last year that was intended to protect teachers' jobs, as some school administrators would like them to." The AP notes parenthetically that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has urged districts to extend the school day.


The San Jose Mercury News (11/18, Noguchi) reports, however, that though districts are facing "painful" budget shortfalls, "the 2011-12 school year probably won't get any shorter. ... That's because school officials largely skirted a state law ordering them to ignore the possibility of dramatic midyear budget cuts when planning their finances earlier this year. And even though those cuts are a strong possibility starting Feb. 1, due to anemic tax revenue, many school districts built enough of a cushion into their budgets to absorb most of the blow."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Indiana Couple Suing District For Not Protecting Son From Bullying

The AP (11/16) reports that Osama and Hind Haddad of St. John, Indiana, are "suing their northwest Indiana school district, claiming school officials failed to protect their son from prolonged bullying over his Middle Eastern background that culminated in an attack this month that left him with a brain injury." The lawsuit argues that "officials at Lake Central High School in St. John, about 35 miles southeast of Chicago, failed to protect their son, David Osama Haddad, from at least seven bullies even after it was brought to their attention."

Perry's Plan For Closing ED Would Not Be Simple

The Huffington Post (11/16, Resmovits) reports on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) calls for eliminating the Department of Education, focusing on his "fact sheet" which calls for replacing ED with "no-strings-attached block grants -- a system that basically hands states federal dollars in exchange for nothing." However, "But dismantling any government agency, let alone the Education Department, is far more complicated than Perry makes it sound. It would require a vote in Congress that even Ronald Reagan could not drum up." The plan would also require the overturning of court decisions requiring equal, non-discriminatory support for minorities. The Post continues to relate Duncan's past statements about his views on ED's role, and to explore the potential impact of closing ED.

States Being Encouraged To Foster District-Union Cooperation

Education Week (11/16, Cavanagh) reports that despite traditional animosity between districts and local unions, "a number of observers today are arguing that states can, and should, play a more active role in bridging those long-standing divides. They believe that state officials-school chiefs, governors, lawmakers, and others-cannot only use the bully pulpit to encourage cooperation on issues that can improve student achievement, but that they can also use the resources of their offices to bring complicated and controversial policy changes to scale across many districts. Others are more skeptical, saying state efforts to meet union concerns result in watered-down policy." The piece notes that such cooperation is encouraged through Race to the Top, noting that applicants "could boost their scores by showing that their plans had buy-in from local chapters of teachers' unions." The piece notes that ED's Joanne Weiss has recently called on states to increase their support for such relationships.


Education Week (11/16, Sawchuk) continues this theme by focusing on former Springfield, Massachusetts Superintendent Joseph P. Burke and Timothy T. Collins, the president of the local teachers' union, noting that in past years, they "often seemed to be at odds with each other. ... Out of the public eye, however, the two men had begun meeting regularly, with help from the Cambridge, Mass.-based Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy. Gradually, they put new initiatives jointly into motion, including efforts to use surveys to improve school climate. When Mr. Burke left the district, the work continued under his successor, Alan J. Ingram, who appointed Mr. Collins to the district's senior leadership team and budget-advisory committee. Both bodies provide advice to the superintendent." The piece notes that their collaboration has been encouraged through funding from a National Education Association Foundation grant.

Monday, November 14, 2011

ED Teams With Microsoft To Boost Teachers' Classroom Technology Proficiency

The T.H.E. Journal (11/11, Meyer) reports on a collaborative effort between Microsoft, ED, the British Council, and the Smithsonian Institution on "projects designed to help prepare educators to use educational technology in the classroom. The announcement was made at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2011, a program for improving teaching and learning through the effective use of technology in the classroom. Microsoft will collaborate with the US Department of Education on the government's TEACH campaign to recruit new teachers." The piece notes that Microsoft is taking over the TEACH website, which will be re-launched at

Ravitch Addresses Charters, Teacher Evaluations

The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger (11/14) presents a Q&A with former ED official Diane Ravitch, who "believes the bipartisan consensus around school reform is all wrong." Ravitch describes the evolution of her views on charter schools and standardized testing, states that instead of student test-based teacher evaluations, districts should have "supervisors who are experienced and make informed judgments" to determine whether teachers are succeeding. Ravitch takes issue with the NEA's decision to "go along with" "evaluating teachers by test scores," and suggests that the union should reconsider.

NCLB Waiver Could Cost California At Least $2 Billion

The Los Angeles Times (11/12, Blume, 630K) reports, "It would cost cash-strapped California at least $2 billion to meet the requirements for relief from the federal No Child Left Behind law, state officials said." While the state Board of Education "made no decision at its meeting in Sacramento, the clear implication of a staff report presentation was that California should spurn an opportunity to seek a waiver from federal rules that sanction schools for low test scores."

Paperwork Creates Increasing Burden On Teachers

In a column in the Washington Post (11/12), Robert McCartney writes that the recent school board elections in Fairfax, Virginia, "raised awareness of a bureaucratic ailment that's becoming a regionwide classroom epidemic: the overburdening of teachers with paperwork." The Post blames the "mania for more student data" and "high-level monitoring of the data" as "demoralizing teachers and undermining education." McCartney writes that teachers are using time they used to devote to creating lesson plans to fill out paperwork, and says that the "national school reform movement" which "has placed a premium on using standardized tests to measure student achievement and hold teachers accountable for results" has "gone too far."

Microsoft's Takeover Of TEACH Website Noted

Chuck Lawton writes at Wired (11/14) about last week's Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum event, at which Education Secretary Arne Duncan "announced that the DOE's TEACH campaign will be taken over by Microsoft. This site, a marketing effort aimed at recruiting new teachers, will be moved from its current home at to a new site," Lawton notes that Microsoft aims to recruit private-sector support for the program. Lawton notes that in its current form, the TEACH website has some useful links, but "there didn't seem to be a lot of targeted information for me for finding a job in Wisconsin." However, he praises some of the site's mechanics and expresses the hope that Microsoft will make further improvements.

Florida Teacher Suspended For Rejecting Evaluator

The St. Petersburg (FL) Times (11/14, Sokol) reports, "A veteran teacher was suspended Thursday for rejecting the evaluator chosen for him under a Gates-funded initiative that is revolutionizing the way the Hillsborough County School District assesses its teachers. School and union officials believe this is the first such act of defiance under Empowering Effective Teachers, a complex system of mentoring and evaluation funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation." The teacher "said he refused to schedule a peer observation because he feels the not qualified to judge him."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

California Adds Transitional Grade To Ensure Students Are Prepared For Kindergarten

The Huffington Post (11/10) reports that California officials are rolling out a "new grade" before kindergarten called "Transitional Kindergarten" which "would place students who turn 5 between September and December in kindergarten for two years." The program "would move the cutoff birthday from December to September so that children who are not yet 5 years old would not officially enter kindergarten -- California was one of the few states where 4-year-olds could start in the K-12 system, as long as they turned 5 by the beginning of December."

Writer Argues SAT Favors Affluent Students

The New York Times (11/10, Ruiz) profiles Wake Forest University sociology professor Joseph Soares, who "channeled his enthusiasm" about colleges across the country (including Wake Forest) making the SAT optional "into a new book, 'SAT Wars,' that argues for looking beyond standardized test scores in college admissions. ... Through his own essays in the book, as well as those of contributors that he edited, Mr. Soares seeks to build a case against the SAT. He characterizes it as a test that tends to favor white, male, upper income students with the means to prepare for it." The Times describes the research and arguments in the book, noting that Soares says that to find "academically engaged students...colleges should pay more attention to high school grades and give less credence to standardized test scores."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Great Lesson Idea from Teaching Tolerance

A Lesson Worth A Thousand Words

Blogger Brenda Anfinson gave her students recyclable cameras and had them take photos that answered the question, "What is my community?" Then she asked students to write about the things that interested them the mostfamily, friends, children and community. Something clicked. The personal connection helped these adult immigrant students overcome their fears about writing in English.

California Program Aims To Improve Math, Science Teaching

The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune (11/8, Flynn) profiles Ricardo Nemirovsky, a San Diego State University professor of math and education who directs the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education, "a joint program involving SDSU and the University of California San Diego" established "to study how people learn math and science and then use that research to develop more effective K-12 and college curricula and better train educators to teach those subjects." The piece describes Nemirovsky's techniques and the center's efforts.

Columnist: School Reformers Should Embrace Unions

In a column in the New York Times (11/8, Subscription Publication, 950K), Joe Nocera writes about the insights related in "Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools" by Steven Brill, noting that for much of the book, Brill lambastes American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten as an obstructionist of school reform. However toward the end of the book, Brill "suddenly veers in a different direction" and paints Weingarten and teachers unions as indispensible to efforts to reform education. Brill explained that extensive research gave "him a far richer understanding of the complexities involved in reforming the nation's schools." Brill concludes that despite the success of some charter schools, "you simply cannot fix America's schools by 'scaling' charter schools. ... Real reform has to go beyond charters - and it has to include the unions." Nocera concludes that this means that the reform movement must stop demonizing teachers unions and include them in moving incrementally toward reform.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Power Outages Eating Up Northeast Districts' Snow Days.

NBC Nightly News (12/6, story 7, 0:35, Williams) reported Connecticut Light and Power said yesterday that by Friday, "they hope to reduce the number of homes without power in just that state to 300,000 still in the dark and cold...because of last Saturday's freak pre-Halloween snowstorm." NBC said it has been "an awful week for millions" throughout the Northeast, as "many of the same places that went without power for a week after Hurricane Irene. And now the same wires are getting strung up on the same wooden polls right next to big trees that will no doubt come down in the next storm."


Education authorities throughout the region "worried Thursday about having to shorten school vacations to make up for all the days students have missed because of power failures caused by last weekend's snowstorm, combined with days lost to Hurricane Irene at the start of the academic year," the AP (11/4) reports. According to the AP, many schools in the Northeast have been "closed this entire week as crews continue efforts to restore power to about 760,000 utility customers who remain in the dark in several states Thursday."

Federal Legislation Would Expand Sex Education Programs

The Hill (11/4, Kasperowicz) reports in its "Floor Action" blog, "House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would offer new federal grants for the purpose of expanding comprehensive sex education programs in high schools and colleges, with the aim of reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections." The bill, called the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, "requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to measure the performance of programs that receive federal grants, including by assessing the knowledge and skills that participants gain from the program in areas such as decision making and condom use. This assessment would also seek data on how the programs change the behavior of those participating."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NEAMB Launching Pilot Program For Online Algebra Teacher PD

T.H.E. Journal (11/3, Schaffhauser) reports on a pilot program from the National Education Association Member Benefits "that puts algebra teachers in touch with coaches online for real-time professional development sessions," noting that the group "will be making's MyLivePD service available free to the first 100 members who sign up through its NEA Academy learning environment. NEAMB provides benefit programs and services to National Education Association union members."

NJ Mandates Teacher Certification For SES Tutors

Education Daily (11/3, Wolfe) reports that in order to assuage worries about the quality of SES tutoring instructors, New Jersey education officials have mandated that such tutors "have teachers' certificates. In 2009, after three years of 'negative feedback' from school districts on the quality of SES tutors, the Garden State began reviewing its provider applications." The piece notes that the "New Jersey Department of Education contended that requiring teacher certification would not pose an undue burden on SES providers because 137 of the 141 providers in the state already use certified teachers."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New York Teachers Union Survey Details Classroom Impact Of Budget Cuts

The New York Times (11/2, Fertig, Subscription Publication) reports on a new survey of New York City teachers' union chapter leaders by the United Federation of Teachers which "gives a new look at how the latest round of budget cuts has affected students," noting that respondents reported "more crowded classrooms, fewer textbooks and even a lack of furniture." Moreover, the Times reports, "three-quarters of the elementary school leaders said their schools had been forced to raise class sizes, and more than half said they had to cut back on tutoring and other supports. More than 60 percent of the high school respondents said their schools had reduced or eliminated afterschool programs."

Conservative Think Tanks Release Report Saying Teachers Are Not Underpaid

Ben Smith writes at his blog for Politico (11/2) that though teachers unions and "their enemies in the 'education reform' movement" -including Education Secretary Arne Duncan-often refer to teachers as underpaid, "the two core Washington conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, are putting down a marker on the topic with a study today making the case that teachers are 'overpaid.'" Smith describes the think tanks' evidence and the likely furor that their assertion will cause.


Valerie Strauss writes at the Washington Post (11/2) "Answer Sheet" blog that the report, "called 'Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers,' makes the argument that teachers are overpaid." She relates their main points as such: "Public school teachers earn more money than people with the same skills in the private sector and therefore are overpaid," and "the education teachers receive isn't good for anything and that advanced degrees aren't worth additional compensation like, say, a physician or architect would get. 'The field of education is less challenging than other academic concentrations,' it says."


Allen McDuffee also writes about this report at the Washington Post (11/2) "Think Tanked" blog, noting that Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently "told a group in Ann Arbor, MI that teacher salaries should be doubled--that teachers were 'desperately underpaid.'" However, the report "says that couldn't be further from the truth. 'The totality of the evidence suggests that public-school teachers are not underpaid in wages by private-sector standards,' says Andrew G. Biggs, one of the report's authors 'And they may even be overpaid.'" Maureen Downey also writes about this report at the Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution (11/2) "Get Schooled" blog.


Rhee Refutes Report.In a subsequent posting on his Politico (11/2) blog, Ben Smith notes that former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, "a prominent figure in the reform movement whom labor often casts as a crypto-conservative," took issue with the report, saying in a statement, "No, we do not agree that teachers are overpaid. Under the status quo in most school districts, good classroom teachers are not only undervalued in pay, but as professionals generally. At the same time teachers who aren't effective in the classroom are not getting the feedback or help they need."

Washington State Teachers Implementing New Science Curriculum

The Issaquah (WA) Press (11/2, Corrigan) reports that the Issaquah School District in Issaquah, Washington, is implementing a "new science curriculum" with the proceeds from a $1.1 million fundraising effort to buy "new science materials. That includes everything from textbooks and workbooks to models, measuring instruments and so on. Every elementary school in the district has gotten at least some of those items. ... A committee of teachers, school administrators and parents helped select the new curriculum," which focuses on "three distinct areas or domains of scientific inquiry: life or biology; physical sciences; and earth and space sciences."

US Students Show Limited Gains On NAEP Math, Reading Tests

The release Tuesday of the latest math and reading results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress-known as the Nation's Report Card-generated significant coverage, including a brief story on NBC Nightly News. Most coverage was negative in tone, and those media outlets which did focus on the gains made by US students tempered their coverage with news about scanty progress or persistent racial achievement gaps.


NBC Nightly News (11/1, story 8, 0:40, Williams) reported, "There's a new report card out for this nation's students tonight. Tests given every two years in math and reading, students are having trouble, it seems, in both subjects. In math, 40% of our fourth graders, 35% of our eighth graders scored at or above proficient. That's a little better than the last time this test was given in '09. In reading 34% of eighth graders and fourth graders tested proficient or above."


The AP (11/2, Hefling) sums up the report with its succinct lede: "Some progress. Still needs improvement." The article continues to concede that students in fourth and eighth grade scored "their best ever in math," while eighth graders made "some progress in reading. But the results released Tuesday are a stark reminder of just how far the nation's school kids are from achieving the No Child Left Behind law's goal that every child in America be proficient in math and reading by 2014." The AP quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan, "The modest increases in NAEP scores are reason for concern as much as optimism. It's clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation's children to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century." The AP notes that though Hispanic students "made some small strides" in reducing the gap between them and white students, "there were few noticeable changes in the achievement gap between white and black students."


USA Today (11/2, Toppo) reports that the scores "paint a familiar picture: Math skills of the USA's fourth- and eighth-graders are rising slightly, while reading scores are mostly flat." The paper does note that "in three of the tests' four categories -- fourth-grade math and eighth-grade math and reading -- public schoolers' scores rose. Meanwhile, in all four categories, scores of private school students remained flat."

Noting that the results indicate that only "three in 10 US schoolchildren make the grade in reading" while "four in 10 passed muster in math," Bloomberg News (11/2, Hechinger) reports that according to ED data, most states NCLB assessments are "easier to pass than the federal exams," and Duncan has said that "No Child Left Behind encourages states to water down their own testing to qualify for federal money."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

ED Awards University Of Kansas Grant To Study Disabled Online Learning

The Topeka Capital-Journal (11/1) reports, "Researchers at The University of Kansas' Center for Research on Learning have landed a five-year $7.5 million grant from the US Department of Education to find out whether online learning is working for students with disabilities and to develop new methods of using technology to improve learning, the university said in a news release Monday." The piece notes that there is "little research" on virtual schools, they are "gaining popularity at a rapid rate. ... The KU researchers are interested in finding out what is happening in online education throughout the country, what methods are working and if students, teachers and parents are getting the most from it, as well as virtual schools, which have become an attractive alternative for parents whose children struggle to learn in traditional brick-and-mortar schools."

Lawsuit Would Force California To Adopt Student-Based Educator Evaluations

The Los Angeles Times (11/1, Blume) reports, "A group of parents and education advocates is preparing to sue the Los Angeles school district, demanding that it follow an arcane 40-year-old law that requires all California school systems to link teacher and principal evaluations to student performance." The piece describes the lawsuit as an attempt to break a stalemate between teachers' unions and Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy over teacher performance reviews. "Although the lawsuit would be technically filed against L.A. Unified, its underlying target is the teachers union, which has fought efforts to make student test scores any part of evaluations. United Teachers Los Angeles leaders say tests scores are too unreliable and narrowly focused to use for high-stakes personnel decisions."

Bill Would Require Schools To Make Computer Science Part Of Core Curriculum

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (11/1, Wereschagin) reports that a bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) "would offer competitive grants to states and schools to beef up their high school computer science offerings." Sen. Casey said "the Senate likely will debate the bill in coming weeks as lawmakers take up a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act." The article notes that, according to the Joint Economic Committee, a House-Senate committee, "More than 140,000 computer science jobs become available each year, but fewer than 40,000 people graduate each year with bachelor's degrees in the subject."

School Choice Backers Rebranding Vouchers To Sidestep Controversy

The Washington Times (11/1, Wolfgang, 77K) reports that legislation expanding school voucher programs is moving through state legislatures in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states, though the term "voucher" has been left out, noting that "the very mention of the term stirs emotions and generates heated debate in the public education arena." Noting that terms like "scholarship" have supplanted "voucher" in these bills, the times reports that the "rebranding of vouchers, specialists say, is intentional and designed to keep the public's mind open." In exploring the history of controversy surrounding the concept, the Times notes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is among critics who have "painted such programs as the enemy of public education, an unfair scheme that diverts money from struggling districts and gives it to religious schools or other private institutions."

California Report Warns Cutting School Calendar Will Hurt At-Risk Students

The Los Angeles Times (11/1, Rivera) reports that nonprofit group Education Trust-West has released a report warning that should California make cuts to its school calendar to cope with reduced state funding, "low-income students, students of color and English learners will be disproportionately harmed." The report "cites research findings that extending instructional time leads to academic gains and narrows the achievement gap for low-income students and struggling schools. Yet two years ago, amid a floundering economy, the state allowed districts to reduce the calendar from 180 to 175 days."


The San Jose Mercury News (11/1, Harrington) adds that in addition to this, schools could cut seven more days should state revenues fall below projections, resulting in "some districts shortening the year to 168 days, which would be one of the shortest school years in the country and would be 75 days shorter than the school year in Japan." The paper notes that the report "said that charter schools and districts that have increased learning time have seen jumps in test scores, while the opposite is true in districts that have cut school days."

More Schools Considering Four-Day Week

The Washington Post (10/28, Layton) reports, "Pressed for dollars, a growing number of public schools are doing what many educators once considered unimaginable: eliminating an entire school day each week." While only "a small fraction" of total US school districts have adopted the practice, according to the Post "it's one signal that this is shaping up to be a 'cliff year' in American education as the evaporation of federal stimulus funds and other fiscal troubles force many schools to make dramatic cuts." The article examines how schools that have adopted the shortened week are fairing, focusing particularly on the North Branch School District in Minnesota, where officials say it has had some fiscal and educational benefits, as well as some drawbacks on both counts. According to experts, more districts are considering the practice, including some large urban areas.

Inland Area Experiencing Push For Job-Oriented Education

The Riverside (CA) Press Enterprise (10/31) reports, "The shift to a knowledge-based economy has cast a spotlight on the lack of an adequately prepared workforce in the Inland area and beyond - and the education system that should be grooming it." According to the Enterprise, the area's low high school graduation and college completion rates is pushing companies and educators to devise real-world training programs and instructional methods aimed at the "restructuring of the entire educational system." The Enterprise cites educators who claim improving the level of education of the region's students is directly linked to improving its economy.

NCLB Starts To Cause Problems For High-Performing School

The New York Times (10/31, A11, Winerip, Subscription Publication) reports on Oyster River Middle School, where in the past students have done "so well on state standardized tests - about 85 percent of them rate proficient - there has been little need for test preparation." But 100 percent proficiency will be required of the school by 2014 under NCLB, which has triggered a culture shift that many teachers there believe to be counterproductive. The Times notes Education Secretary Arne Duncan "is a big fan of using state tests to evaluate practically everything," but "could see that matters had gone too far," and as a result the department is granting waivers that would take schools like Oyster River off the failing list. "New Hampshire officials said they did not know whether they would apply for a waiver."

Dozens Of States Seek Waivers For Tutoring Programs

The AP (10/31, Williams) reports, "Dozens of states intend to apply for waivers that would free their schools from a federal requirement that they set aside hundreds of millions of dollars a year for after-school tutoring, a program many researchers say has been ineffective." Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the US Department of Education, said "the department's own recent research into the program's effectiveness in five large school districts found small benefits in some districts but no effect in others." Martin is quoted as saying in an email, "We think it can be effective for some students in some cases, but it doesn't make sense to require every school that misses targets to do the same thing." The AP notes, "Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have notified the Department of Education they intend to apply for a waiver."


A number of local television stations also reported the news. WLTV-TV Jacksonville, FL (10/30, 11:47 pm), for example, reported that "dozens of states intend to apply for waivers to free their schools from a federal mandate requiring that they set aside money for after-school tutoring. The requirement is part of the 9-year-old No Child Left Behind law. Some researchers say students do not take advantage of tutoring, and when they can or when they do, they don't get enough to make a difference. Others say it's working in places such as Florida."