Wednesday, May 30, 2012

California Districts Borrowing More As State Payments Arrive Late

The Riverside (CA) Press Enterprise (5/30, Straehley) reports, "Inland school and community college districts are borrowing more and paying more interest and fees because their state payments are arriving late, officials said." The piece notes that such deferrals are increasing even as districts' reserves shrink under state budget cuts, and describes districts' extra costs from interest and transaction fees. "Instead of the state borrowing to cover its own cash-flow shortages, it has forced about 1,000 school and community college districts to pay the interest and other costs to borrow, said Vince Christakos, vice president of the California Association of School Business Officials and chief business official for Hemet Unified School District."

Cash-Strapped California Districts Increasingly Turning To Bond Measures

The Sacramento (CA) Bee (5/30, Lambert) reports that after years of perennial state budget cuts districts across California are increasingly asking "voters to approve new revenue streams in the form of bond measures for building repairs and new technology. The districts seem to want the same things – roofs that don't leak, efficient heating and air conditioning systems and infrastructure that supports computers in classrooms, among other things. Statewide, school districts are asking voters to approve $2.67 billion in bonds in the June 5 election, said David Kline of the California Taxpayers Association."

Bill To Reduce Reliance On Student Testing Advances In California Legislature

The AP (5/30, Lin) reports that a bill to "make California schools less dependent on student testing" passed the California state Senate on Tuesday. "Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the state's school accountability system is currently too narrow and relies too much on standardized testing. Under his bill, SB1458, student test scores would count for no more than 40 percent of a school's performance ranking, known as the Academic Performance Index." The piece notes that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has already vetoed a similar bill.

Khan Academy In Center Of Education Technology Debate

In a 2,000-word profile of Khan Academy founder Sal Khan, USA Today (5/30, Cava) reports that his digital math lessons are "a revolution" which has "managed to win fans worldwide and goad skeptical educators." The piece describes Khan's background and the evolution of his academy, noting that his "simply narrated, faceless home videos on everything from algebra to French history have been viewed half a billion times. Last year, a number of schools began 'flipping' their classrooms, having students study Khan videos by night and do homework with teachers by day. In the process, Khan has fueled the debate over tech's growing influence on education while garnering the support of powerful friends."

New York City Teacher Ends Career By Special Education Whistle-blowing

An article in the New York Times (5/22, Powell, Subscription Publication) narrates New York special education math teacher Harris Lirtzman's decision to "blow the whistle, and so close the door on his teaching career," noting that after a career in the state Comptroller's office, Lirtzman decided to switch to teaching, and "came to love his work." However, the Times reports, "in September 2011, school administrators placed uncertified teachers - and a conga line of unemployed teachers who came for one-week stints - in classrooms filled with special education students, which is to say those children most in need of expert help." The Times notes that this was in violation of Federal regulations, and describes Lirtzman's efforts to urge administrators to change this policy, resulting in his termination. The article adds that the New York City Department of Education has faulted Lirtzman as a "disgruntled" former employee.

California Implementing "Fundamental" Changes To Adopt Common Core

U-T San Diego (5/22) reports, "California has embarked on a course to fundamentally reshape how every student is taught and tested," noting that the state's adoption of the Common Core Standards for English and math takes effect in 2014. The article touches on the changes to testing and curriculum that the implementation will entail, and describes the steps that various districts are taking to prepare. However, "a number of critics are not convinced the Common Core standards are a marked improvement over the current requirements," the paper reports, "particularly given the cost that some place at $2 billion statewide for new books, materials and teacher training."


Teacher: Educators Must Be Properly Taught Common Core.

In commentary for Education News Colorado (5/22), teacher Mark Sass writes that in order for teachers to successfully adapt to the Common Core Standards, districts must give them "differentiated time," "plenty of feedback," and "the opportunity to struggle with the new standards," noting that "these three requirements are the same teachers use with their students." He contrasts this approach with traditional professional development practices, which amounts to "a one-day lecture with no check for understanding, opportunities for practice, or feedback. ... For implementation of the Common Core this means we cannot just drop the new standards at the door steps of a teacher's classroom and assume it's all good to go."

Mississippi District Agrees To Stop Handcuffing Students To Stationary Objects

The AP (5/25) reported that the school district in Jackson, Mississippi, has agreed to end the policy of allowing students to be handcuffed to stationary objects at an alternative school, and will train staff in "better methods of discipline," noting that the agreement was part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The complaint alleged that school staff "routinely restrained students for hours for offenses as minor as dress code violations, forcing them to eat lunch while chained to a stair railing and to shout for help when they needed to go to the bathroom." The AP cites an ED report which "showed tens of thousands of students, 70 percent of them disabled, were strapped down or physically restrained in school in 2009-10. ... The US Department of Education says Mississippi is one of 13 states with no statewide rules governing restraints."

Philadelphia Districts Complain Charters Not Taking Special Needs Students

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (5/27, Lord) reports that charter schools "haven't drawn their shares of special-needs students, especially those with the most challenging disabilities. The result: Public school officials fear they are being left with the most challenging students, but with dwindling resources to educate them." The piece cites statistics in Pittsburgh, noting that "the choices made by special-needs students have outsized financial implications, especially in a world where school districts and charters are competing fiercely for stagnant funding."

Writer: Focus On Standardized Testing Leads To Cheating Epidemic

Daniel Denvir wrote at Salon (5/26, Denvir) that "rampant and widespread cheating on high-stakes standardized tests has been uncovered in districts nationwide," threatening the education reform movement. The piece quotes former ED official Diane Ravitch saying, "No Child Left Behind has created a culture in which people will do anything to keep their jobs. There are states that have gamed the systems, there are districts that have gamed the system, there are people who have gamed the system." Denvir writes that under NCLB, making AYP "became a matter of a school's - and increasingly teacher's - survival. Test results have been used as the pretext to fire teachers and force schools into becoming privately managed charters, even though research has shown that corruption-prone charters are not, as a whole, better, and are often much worse than traditional public schools."

New York City Continues To Use "Rubber Rooms" For Suspended Teachers

The New York Post (5/27, Edelman) reported that over 200 teachers in New York City "suspected of misconduct or incompetence are hidden in offices all over the city. In the infamous rubber rooms that closed in 2010, up to 770 castoffs were jammed into several giant rooms. Now no more than a handful sit in exile at each place." The piece notes that some perform menial tasks, but others are "warehoused."

ED-Funded "Troops To Teachers" Program Moves Veterans Into Classrooms

PBS' "Nightly Business Report" (5/28, 6:41 p.m.) broadcast a segment about the ED-funded "Troops to Teachers" program, which "takes veterans from service to the country to service in the classroom." The piece profiles Jeanne Erickson, a 20-year veteran of the Army National Guard and Army Reserves who now teaches ESL students at a high school in Phoenix, Arizona. The piece notes that she says her "military background helps her in the classroom. ... Troops to teachers does not place teachers or educate them, but instead facilitates their hiring and provides some financial assistance for those who need additional education to meet certification requirements."

Writer: Improve Teacher Quality By Increasing Starting Salaries

Reihan Salam writes at the National Review (5/29), "I was very impressed by Benjy Sarlin of Talking Points Memo for having reported on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's nuanced take on class size reduction. The central problem with class size reduction is that (a) the policy hasn't been implemented in the most cost-effective manner, i.e., it hasn't been focused on the students who stand to benefit the most and (b) it has exacerbated the dilution of the teacher talent pool, and for that reason it has contributed to a reduction in average teacher quality." Salam continues to describe a plan in which districts would stop paying teachers higher salaries based on credentials, and rather pay increased starting salaries in order to attract better qualified applicants. This approach, he writes, "would encourage retention among younger teachers and it would do a better job of rewarding the considerable gains in effectiveness that occur in the first few years."

ED Analysis Finds Math Software Used In West Virginia Has No Impact On Scores

The Charleston (WV) Gazette (5/29, Harris) reports that according to a 2010 ED analysis, the Cognitive Tutor math software package "produced 'no discernible effects' on student achievement," noting that "West Virginia educators have paid millions of dollars" for the software from Carnegie Learning. "The report by the What Works Clearinghouse, a research arm of the Department of Education, analyzed four studies on Cognitive Tutor's effectiveness and found that the software had 'no discernible effects on mathematics achievement for high school students.'"

California School Has "Promising" Results From Blended Learning

The AP (5/27, Hoag) reported, "Math is so popular at Ritter Elementary School in Watts that kids arrive before the morning bell and line up to do extra work before class, but it's not the subject that's the real attraction as much as the method-computers." The article cited this as part of an increasing trend towards "blended learning" in California and in other states, noting there have been "promising" results already. Although there are critics, "studies have shown that students learn a 'bit better' with computers than in traditional classrooms, said Richard E. Clark, director of USC's Center for Cognitive Technology."

Writer Pans Anti-Federal Opposition To Common Core

In a column in the Deseret (UT) Morning News (5/26), John Florez wrote that the introduction of the Common Core Standards, which were devised after "years of study" and stem from "a concerted effort to renew America's ability to maintain a competitive edge in today's global economy," have been met with the opposition of "Chicken Littles," who "came out with the usual cry, 'The feds are taking over.'" Florez argues that anti-Federal ideologies are poised to stymie US economic competitiveness, adding, "America needs to have a Common Core of educational standards that are world class if our students are to make it in the new world yet to be discovered." He concedes that the common core is "a work in progress," but calls for stakeholders to "work together to build upon them so they meet our state's needs."

Analysis: High School Students Working Harder Than Previous Generation

Education Week (5/25, Sparks) reports that according to a new analysis of the NCES "The Condition of Education 2012" report, "high school students work harder and are more focused on school than they were a generation ago...and the economic downturn may highlight an opportunity to put more of them on the path to college." The piece notes that the report indicates fewer high school students in the workforce, adding, "federal statistics show that the percentages of students aspiring to [higher education] has risen in recent decades, regardless of parents' education background." The piece cites statistics showing rising attendance rates, adding that the "push for more rigorous coursework, coupled with an increasingly inhospitable employment environment for teenagers, could create some leverage for educators to put more students on track for higher academic achievement."

Detroit Federation Of Teachers Threatens Lawsuit Challenging Hiring Process

The Detroit Free Press (5/26, Dawsey) reported that the Detroit Federation of Teachers alleged at a news conference on Friday that the "Detroit Public Schools district has no teachers for the 2012-13 school year, and current teachers claim the hiring process is so flawed, they don't know when or how they will be assigned." The union says that "DPS has violated tenure law and the teachers union contract by failing to establish evaluation, attendance, discipline and professional development participation standards. DPS maintains that the hiring process follows Michigan Teacher Tenure Act changes that bar school districts from using seniority as the determining factor when making layoff decisions -- tossing aside traditional 'last in, first out' procedures." The piece cites union President Keith Johnson saying that he plans to sue the district if it fails to rehire any teachers "based on the ongoing evaluation and hiring practices."


The Huffington Post (5/26, Sands) reported that the union says it is "preparing a 'monumental' lawsuit against Detroit Public Schools that could have major implications for Michigan's recently revised teacher tenure law. The union, which represents more than 5,000 DPS employees, including 4,100 teachers, says the suit will address teacher layoffs, interviews and evaluations that it says violate the district's 2009-2012 collective bargaining agreement."

New York City Math Teachers Express Concerns About Adopting Common Core

Gotham Schools (5/23) reports on the concerns expressed by some math teachers in New York City about the curricular changes that will take place when the city switches to the Common Core Standards for the next school year, noting that many teachers are "struggling to keep the two sets of standards straight as the new standards move some topics an entire grade-level earlier than in the past. ... New York City piloted the Common Core standards in 100 schools last year and asked all teachers to practice working with them this year." The piece notes that critics of the rapid implementation of the standards "will pose a special challenge for math teachers, particularly in the middle school years, as students begin learning advanced concepts that build on each other sequentially."

ACLU Targeting Single-Sex Education Programs

Reuters (5/23) reports that the American Civil Liberties Union is threatening to sue several districts across the country with same-sex education classes, arguing that they are illegal and perpetuate stereotypes. The piece notes that a 2006 ED ruling helped to facilitate the expansion of the practice into as many as 300 schools across the country, and quotes ACLU attorney Galen Sherwin saying, "Many of the programs rely on faulty theories about the supposed developmental differences between boys' and girls' brains that amount to nothing more than sex stereotypes." Reuters notes that after the ACLU threatened to complain to ED in November, the school district in Philadelphia cut sucha program.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Philadelphia Schools Under "Paradigm Shift."

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook (5/17, Herold) reports on Christopher Johnson, president of Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia, trying to adapt to a new cultural change within the Philadelphia School District that requires schools to be "more responsive to student needs." He is trying to accomplish that "after losing 26 percent of his school budget last fall" and having to reduce office star. However, says the article, "This won't be the first time at Franklin that Johnson has had to manage a 'paradigm shift.' ... His early years were spent trying to change Franklin's culture, weeding out staff with low expectations for students, bolstering academics, and constantly emphasizing college."

Study: 7.5 Million US Students Chronically Absent

Several media outlets are covering a new report from Johns Hopkins University education researcher Robert Balfanz which pointed to high numbers of chronically absent students, and to the follow-on negative impact that such absenteeism has on academic outcomes. USA Today (5/18, Toppo) reports that the study shows that "on any given day, about 90% of USA students come to school." However, the new study shows "less flattering figures," and "suggests that as many as 7.5 million students miss a month of school each year, raising the likelihood that they'll fail academically and eventually drop out of high school." Balfanz study estimates that "10% to 15% of students nationwide are 'chronically absent' from school, missing enough class time to be at 'severe risk' of dropping out." Moreover, Balfanz panned most states for failing to measure such chronic absenteeism.

The AP (5/18, Turner) reports also covers this story, focusing on the "startling" finding that "only six states track chronic absenteeism in schools." The AP quotes Balfanz saying, "No one is measuring this most fundamental thing-are kids attending school regularly. You can't even analyze what's working in closing the achievement gap without looking first at chronic absenteeism." Balfanz said the lack of systematic state tracking of chronic absenteeism makes it difficult to quantify the "scope of the problem. The US Department of Education requires states to track daily attendance, but those numbers don't reflect students who are chronically absent," the AP notes.


Sarah D. Sparks writes about Balfanz' research at the Education Week (5/18) "Inside School Research" blog, noting that while ED "and policymakers work to improve a list of 'dropout factory' schools," the study "suggests there may be an equally problematic list of 'drop-in' factories, schools in which a significant percentage of students attend sporadically." The study "found that, among the six states studied, chronic absenteeism ranged from a low of 6 percent in Nebraska (in 2010-11) to a high of nearly one in four students in Oregon (based on 2009-10 data.)." Moreover, the chronically-absent rate can rise to up to 25% in high-poverty areas, and up to 33% in rural areas. MSNBC (5/18, Omer) also covers this story online, as does Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (5/18) "Get Schooled" blog, who notes that the study recommends that ED include data on chronic absenteeism in its annual Office for Civil Rights School Survey.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Advanced ESL


Learning English for the Advanced Level - ESL EFL Advanced English

Learning English for advanced level learners includes everything you or your student needs to continue refining English skills including grammar explanations, vocabulary building exercises, TOEFL and Cambridge Exam practice, writing materials, listening and reading comprehension, as well as other reference materials and free lesson plans.


From Kenneth Beare

English Grammar Guides

English Grammar Guides

Here on the site there are a wide variety of resources for major grammar points including explanations, exercise sheets, quizzes, and lessons. To help use these resources, there are a number of guides to grammar that provide basic grammar explanations, as well as pointing to appropriate worksheets... Read more


From Kenneth Beare

ED Releases "Restraint And Seclusion" Recommendations

Nirvi Shah writes at the Education Week (5/16) "On Special Education" blog, "Nearly three years after US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan first sent states letters asking them to review policies and guidelines on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, the Education Department has issued its own nonbinding guidance on the practices." Noting that the practice is intended to be used "in emergency situations" to prevent harm to students or others, Shah states that "several reports, including one by the US Government Accountability Office have found that the practices are being used inappropriately and incorrectly, leading to injuries, or even the deaths, of students."


Disability Scoop (5/16, Diament) reports that ED "weighed in" on the issue "with a 45-page resource document, but stopped short of issuing formal guidance to educators," calling the document "the most detailed instruction to date" on the topic. The article adds that an advocacy group's 2009 report on "widespread abuse and even deadly examples of restraint and seclusion in schools" resulted in pressure on Congress to legislate standards, though "such efforts have sputtered." ED's document, Disability Scoop reports, "emphasizes the importance of preventive measures and indicates that restraint and seclusion should never be used as punishment."

Teacher Incorporates "Differentiated Instruction."

The Washington Post (5/16, Chandler) profiles Elise Carter, a second-grade teacher at Galway Elementary School in Silver Springs, Maryland who utilitzes the strategy of "differentiated instruction" to teach. Differentiated instruction involves "adapting lessons for kids of different abilities within a classroom," and "pressure is rising to do it more often and with better results." The Post notes Carter's use of differentiated instruction to teach math class, observing that it is "the latest example of a move toward more mixed-ability classes that is mirrored in Fairfax and Arlington counties and across the country, with greater inclusion of special education students, more open enrollment in Advanced Placement classes and the elimination of some honors-level courses."

Gifted Programs Seek Restoration Of Federal Funding

Education Week (5/16, Shah) reports, "Dedicated programs for gifted students have lost their presence in the federal budget, leaving advocates and experts to defend legislation that lacks the support of the Obama administration and has been called ineffective and duplicative by members of Congress." Among programs struggling under severe funding cuts is the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, which aims to "serve students traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, including poor students, those learning English, and students with disabilities." Education Week notes, however, that "the door is open for Congress to restore" the Javits budget, and goes on to report on efforts by federal legislators to secure its funding.

Lawsuit Seeks To Overturn Job Protection For California Teachers

The Los Angeles Times (5/15, Blume) reports, "A nonprofit backed partly by organizations known for battling teachers unions has filed litigation challenging the constitutionality of California laws that make it more difficult to fire or lay off ineffective teachers." Filed Monday by the group Students Matters, the suit "takes aim at five California statutes that govern teacher tenure rules, seniority protections and the teacher dismissal process." The suit argues "that teachers can earn tenure protections too quickly" and also wants to "invalidate the practice of laying off less-experienced teachers first, rather than keeping the best teachers."


The San Gabriel Valley (CA) Tribune (5/16, Jones) reports, "Dean Vogel, president of the politically powerful California Teachers Association, said the debate about teacher tenure and dismissal is being driven by the state's economic crisis, which has drained education funding and resulted in waves of layoffs." Said Vogel, "Teachers are not guaranteed tenure, but they are guaranteed the right to due process, with evaluations and appropriate documentation to protect the integrity of the statute." Coverage of the story is also provided by Education Week (5/15, Sawchuk).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

California Budget Could Cut $5.5 Billion From Education

The Orange County (CA) Register (5/15, Leal) reports, "Orange County educators will need to prepare budgets that anticipate losing $5.5 billion in statewide school funding in 2012-13 – about $700 million more than previously anticipated – under a worst-case scenario outlined by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday." However, Brown has also proposed a ballot initiative for a tax increase that could restore some $17.3 billion of that money annually. The paper quotes Brown saying, "If we don't get these taxes, schools will suffer. Schools will look a lot better going forward if we get the taxes."

Experts Discuss Pros, Cons Of Computer-Based Tests

Education Daily (5/14, Brown) reports that stakeholders speaking at an Educational Testing Service K-12 Center symposium last week said that districts are facing "a major the areas of teaching and learning as preparations are underway to administer technology-enabled tests that will anchor next-generation assessment systems." The article adds that ED Assistant Deputy Secretary of Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton "opened the discussion during 'What Going Digital Means for the Future of Teaching, Learning and Assessment,' which was keynoted by Tom Vander Ark, the founder of Shelton said that because many ideas in the education sector intended to accelerate academic gains have failed, it's important to focus on inventions and methodologies 'that are now doing better than the status quo, but also those things that have the full potential and probability of going to scale.'"

Steyer Discusses "Pros And Cons" Of Digital Learning.

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" (5/11, 8:24 a.m. ET) Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media and author of "Talking Back to Facebook," discussed the impact of digital media on children. Asked about the potential negative impact on students of the move away from traditional library resources, Steyer responded that there is a "pro and con" to the issue. He is shown saying, "Arne Duncan and Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, just announced a commission that I'm a co-chair of along with a couple of other folks that's about how technology can improve education. So in some cases it can provide individualized learning; it can be really good. But if you look at how college students-and they're honest about this...they don't focus as well, they can't concentrate...because it affects your short-term memory because you can't take all that stimulus at once."

California Districts Cancelling Many Teacher Layoff Notices

The San Jose Mercury News (5/14, Noguchi) reports that districts in California's Bay Area "will lay off fewer teachers than expected next year," though many positions are being eliminated through attrition as districts brace for "possible deep cuts next year. In advance of the Tuesday deadline to issue final pink slips for 2012-13, many districts scaled back the number of preliminary layoff notices they sent in March. San Jose Unified, for example, had warned 142 top staff members, including all principals and central-office administrators, that they might not have jobs next year," but has now withdrawn all of those warnings. The paper explains that the "dance of issuing pink slips then rescinding them is a complex and expensive process mandated by California law," which dictates that teachers must be notified of potential layoffs by March 15 every year despite the state budget not being released until later in the year.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Study Shows Vaccination Rates Not High Despite Requirement

The Los Angeles Times (5/8, Maugh) reports in its "Booster Shots" blog that according to a study in the journal Pediatrics, "states that require vaccination for pertussis, meningitis and tetanus for admission to middle school have a higher vaccination rate than states that do not, but the rate is not nearly as high as one might expect from such a requirement." Furthermore, "States that required only that educational materials be sent home for those vaccines and the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine showed no improvement in vaccination rates."

California Districts Preparing For Common Core

The San Bernardino (CA) County Sun (5/8, Ryan) reports on the efforts that Illinois districts are making toward "preparing for a new set of teaching strategies and tests that will start in 2014," noting that they are "studying and debating," "looking for new funding," and "training. ... What districts are doing less and less is preparing students for multiple choice questions...which many say represents the worst of the standardized testing that dominated the decade after passage of the No Child Left Behind Act because deducing the right answer requires little understanding of the subject. Administrators say they're eager to see that era replaced by the adoption of Common Core Standards across most states -- California is among 44 that have signed on so far -- that backers say emphasize in-depth learning, collaboration and critical thinking."

Research Touts Coed Early Education's Impact On Social Skills

Education Week (5/8, Sparks) reports on the gender disharmony that develops among students in the early years, adding that "researchers have started to explore how to span that sex divide and are finding that more-equitable coed classrooms can have social and academic benefits for boys and girls alike." Meanwhile, "researchers at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, last month, stressed that while all children naturally develop gender identity, classroom demographics and teacher practices can make a big difference in how and whether students develop sex-based stereotypes and prejudices. ... In a meta-analysis of studies based on more than 7 million children in kindergarten through 11th grade," researchers "found small average gender differences in such areas as activity level (favoring boys) and ability to focus (favoring girls), but no significant differences in mathematics or reading comprehension and 'no solid evidence that boys and girls actually learn differently.'"

Study: Recess Helps Black, Hispanic Students' Academic Performance

The Huffington Post (5/8, Anderson) reports that according to a new study from Mathematica Policy Research and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, "time away from the classroom might be especially beneficial for Black and Latino students." The study indicates that "teachers reported less bullying, better recess behavior and more readiness for classes among students who engaged in recess." The Post discusses the researchers' methodology, adding, "'These new findings, taken together with existing data, tell us that kids better relate with one another, resolve conflicts constructively, get plenty of physical activity on the playground, and return to class more focused and ready to learn,' said Nancy Barrand, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's special advisor for program development."

Ravitch Pans ED Turnaround Arts Initiative

Public Radio International (5/8) describes ED's new Turnaround Arts Initiative, under which eight schools were selected "to receive $14.7 million over three years to integrate art, music, dance and theater into their curricula. ... While the program has attracted the support of celebrity artists including Chuck Close, Yo-Yo Ma, and Sarah Jessica Parker, not everyone is impressed." The piece quotes former ED official Diane Ravitch saying, "This is a teeny, tiny little band-aid on what is a giant, national, festering problem. And it doesn't begin to address the needs of the schools." Ravitch stated that standardized testing under NCLB has a stifling effect on creativity, and urged greater local funding for arts curriculum.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Franken Calls On Duncan To Help Rural Districts Qualify For RTTT

The Post Review (MN) (5/3) reports that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D), in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, called for "a level playing field for rural school districts in Minnesota and across the country competing for federal 'Race to the Top' district-level education grants." Franken wrote that ED should "provide technical assistance to rural districts that otherwise wouldn't have the personnel or resources to take on the complex federal grant process. He also pressed Duncan to permit several rural districts to join forces and apply for Race to the Top grants together."

Wichita District, Union Clash Over Lesson Plans, Professional Development

The Wichita (KS) Eagle (5/3, Tobias, 73K) reports, "Representatives for the Wichita school district and the teachers union clashed Wednesday over elements of a contract proposal that would require teachers to keep written, detailed lesson plans. They also debated the role of mandated professional development for teachers, which district officials said is crucial to student achievement and union leaders said is often irrelevant."

Maine Ranks 12th For Number Of Male Teachers

With a personal interest angle, the Bangor (ME) Daily News (5/3, Steeves, 49K) says National Education Association data ranks Maine 12th nationally in 2011 for its percentage of male public school teachers (27%), compared to Kansas, which led the nation in its proportion of male public school teachers (33%), and Virginia, which had the lowest rate of male public school teachers (17.5%).

Teachers Face Challenges In Teaching Science Of Climate Change

PBS NewsHour (5/3) reports on "the challenges of teaching about climate science," reporting that many students "enter the classroom with preconceived notions about climate change." The piece features a teacher discussing the various sources students have for their conceptions about climate change, and their craving for "clarification," and notes that "in a recent survey by the National Science Teachers Association, teachers say they're facing skepticism about climate science; 82 percent of science teachers say they faced it from students, and 54 percent say they faced it from parents." The piece continues to profile the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, quoting the group's outreach director, Susan Buhr, saying, "Teachers in science classes are always going to want to talk about the science. And, increasingly, it's difficult for them to do so because of resistance from parents or from students to hearing about the evidence of climate science and climate change."

Maine School Set To Abandon Boys-Only Third Grade Program

The Lewiston (ME) Sun Journal (5/3, Steeves) reports, "The students in a boys-only third-grade class" at Camden-Rockport Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine, "likely will mix back in with the girls and their other male peers next year. The local curriculum committee plans to ask the school board to reintegrate the boys." The piece quotes assistant superintendent Elaine Nutter saying, "It has been very positive for the boys in the classroom. As we look at the end of the year we will look at learning for all of these students. They have done very well and it has a very nice climate to it when you go into the classroom. We feel it's been very effective. It was not intended to be a long-term program."

Idaho Districts Using Problem Solving-Based Math Curriculum

The Twin Falls (ID) Times-News (5/3, Wootton) reports that some schools in Twin Falls and Blaine County, Idaho, are using "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space," a critical thinking-based math curriculum which "follows national math trends by focusing more on problem-solving and concepts than strictly on algorithms - the set of instructions to solve a problem. Ted Popplewell, elementary programs director for the Twin Falls School District, said having a new math curriculum has meant more work for teachers this year." The piece notes that the use of such curricula is in line with the state's math initiative.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Report Finds NYC Charter Schools Enroll Less High-Needs Students

The New York Post (5/2, Gonen, 476K) says the New York City Charter School Center released its first "State of the Sector" report that shows charter schools "outperformed traditional public schools last year in every grade from 3 to 8 in math, and in every tested grade, except fifth, in English." But the report notes that "less than a third of the city's 136 charter schools enroll as many high-poverty and special-education students as their districts do, and just 4 percent of charter schools serve as many English Language Learners. It's the first time some of the critical components have come from the charter world itself."

Rise In Autism Classifications Prompts Call For More Training

Education Daily (5/2, Sherman) reports that despite a steadily declining number of IEPs being filed in recent years, the number of diagnoses of children with autism has risen. "Thus, although the number of students with IEPs has dropped by 4.8 percent since 2004, to 5.82 million, the number of such students who have an autism designation has grown by 122 percent, to 370,000, according to the Data Accountability Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also noted this trend," and VA8 Rep. Jim Moran (D) has proposed legislation to "would authorize demonstration grants to a district or group of districts that work with a nonprofit group or institution of higher education. The grants would pay for in-service training for teachers, paraprofessionals, and other staff; technical assistance; efforts to improve staff recruitment and retention; and programs to boost parental involvement."

California Columnist Pans Chronic Teacher Layoffs From State Funding Instability

Dan Walters writes in a column in the Modesto (CA) Bee (5/2) about California's law mandating that teachers be given pink slips by a certain date every years "if administrators and trustees believe cuts are needed to balance their budgets. Later this month, the districts must decide whether to continue or rescind those layoffs on the assumption that by then they'll know the state of their 2012-13 finances. That's problematic in any year, because the Legislature, which supplies most of the schools' money, typically doesn't settle the state budget until weeks or even months later." Walters describes the various laws and policies that make it difficult for administrators to predict the actual funding that they will receive, noting that the "mess precludes even diligent officials from making rational decisions about staffing levels, building maintenance or other cost factors."

Magnet Schools Evolve Into School Choice Option

Education Week (5/2, Fleming) reports that magnet schools in large districts, historically used too "desegregate racially divided districts," have "been forced to evolve, given legal barriers that bar using race to determine school enrollment and increasing pressure to provide more public school choices. In a post-desegregation era, many large districts like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Baltimore County, have maintained high numbers of magnet schools, even amid the economic downturn, and others are using magnets as a strategy to meet new goals around improving school quality." The piece describes the evolution of magnets in recent decades, noting that "though the federal funding stream for magnets, the Magnet School Assistance Program, MSAP, has remained relatively consistent the past few years at around $100 million annually, and magnet schools were listed as a 'turnaround strategy' in the reauthorization bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the federal funding for charter schools is much higher."

Free Online Resources Challenge Textbook Industry's Dominance

The Washington Post (5/2, Chandler) reports on the use of free online resources in Montgomery County, Maryland, classrooms, citing teachers who say they use online content more than they use their assigned textbooks. "Enterprising teachers have long scoured the Internet for ways to improve on their textbooks or local curricula. Now, though, lessons accessed via the Web are proliferating in the classroom as never before and are challenging the position of the powerful education-publishing industry in public schools." The piece notes that ED has taken part in the push to "promote access to free instructional materials tied to the new standards," noting that Education Secretary Arne Duncan "lauded the 'tremendous transformational promise' of open resources. 'In America, what a child gets a chance to learn will no longer depend on their ZIP code,' he said in an online video."

Writer Calls For Separate Strategies For Black, Hispanic Students

In an op-ed in USA Today (5/2, 1.78M), author Richard Whitmire writes that student data indicate that Hispanic students are making strides in narrowing the education gap, but that black students "continue to lag." Whitmire concedes that Federal data shows a more equal progress among the groups, but states that "the trend doesn't appear in federal data" because it relies on standardized testing, and not on other metrics, such as college readiness data. He argues that this disparity indicates that "we need to stop lumping blacks and Hispanics together - both in terms of how we measure progress and in terms of policy - as 'students of color.' The groups have different education needs." Whitmire continues to describe the different approaches that successful schools have had in improving the performance of black or Hispanic populations, noting that "lumping the two groups together only shifts attention away from differing strategies that can work for each group."

Philadelphia Turnaround Plan Sparks Community Protest

The Philadelphia Daily News (5/1, Simon) reports, "About 200 people attended a quickly convened town-hall-style meeting at a church Sunday night to decry a Philadelphia School District plan that would close dozens of schools and shift thousands of students into charter schools." The piece notes that the plan calls for some 67 schools to be closed over the next five years, and for the central office being "dismantled." "In spirited speeches at the Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, speakers encouraged listeners to let public officials know that they believe the proposed plan would not benefit the city's public education system."

CAP Paper Calls For Universal ELL Teacher Proficiency

Lesli A. Maxwell writes at the Education Week (5/1) "Learning the Language" blog that given high rates of non-English speaking students in the US, "it is reasonable to ask-and propose answers-to the question of whether every single teacher, regardless of grade level or discipline, needs to know how to meet the particular needs of ELLs. I hear it all the time from folks in the field-that until ALL teachers are trained in how to work with English-learners, these students, as a subgroup, will always trail far behind their native English-speaking peers. And that sentiment has grown especially strong since all but four states are moving ahead with putting the more rigorous common standards into practice." Maxwell points to a new paper from the Center for American Progress which argues that all general education teachers should have a foundation in their training geared toward ELL instruction.

Teachers In High-Minority Schools Sense Little Support

Education Daily (5/1, Gossman) reports that a new report from UCLA's Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles on teachers' perceptions about "race, stability, and socioeconomic status on school climate and students," suggesting that it "could inform the national and local K-12 policy debate as stakeholders awaiting ESEA reauthorization tackle student and teacher equity issues and achievement goals. 'Accompanying the profound transition among the school-aged population is a set of policy initiatives that heavily sanction schools and teachers struggling to meet the needs of their students. ... Instead of providing support and incentives for teachers who commit to working in hard-to-staff and under-resourced schools, we have adopted punitive measures that may discourage or derail long-term commitments to building inclusive school communities,'" the report says.

Colorado Rural After-School Program In Conflict With State Child Safety Laws

The Denver Post (5/1, Augé) profiles "Kids at Their Best," an after-school program in Wiggins, Colorado, intended to give rural children public speaking experience and to boost their confidence, noting that it is technically illegal. The piece notes that the program's creator, Jodi Walker, says that state child-care regulations favor urban districts, but that state officials counter that Walker is not making adequate efforts to protect children from convicted felons and other risks.