Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obama: Education is more than just tests

President Barack Obama believes that an excessive focus on tests within schools could actually make students lose interest in education and teach them less about the things that are important.

In a recent town hall meeting with students and parents hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, DC, Obama was vocal about his belief that fewer standardized tests and less rigid measures of performance beyond students' test scores could be more effective in raising the bar in the country's education. Read the full article at International Business Times.

Minnesota teachers embrace blogs by students

The writings of Lisa Christen's third-grade class have inspired a late-night hankering for ice cream in Ohio, sparked a rave review from Nottingham, England, and drawn underwater greetings from the depths of a coral reef off the Australian coast. It's all thanks to the classroom blogs the students at Marion W. Savage Elementary in Savage launched this year.

Teachers across Minnesota are embracing blogs and other online forums for self-expression to help students grasp the power of words. Last year, a student blogging site started in 2007 by an Eden Prairie teacher saw its popularity explode, drawing more than half a million young writers worldwide. To learn more about the student blogs, read the full article by Mila Koumpilova at The Twin Cities Pioneer Press website.

Arizona school starts Nook Club

An elementary school librarian and principal in Gilbert, Arizona, have discovered a way to motivate students to read, while downloading new books and series instantaneously and cheaply through the use of an e-reader.

The pilot Nook Club at Sonoma Ranch Elementary School is a new type of book club that gives six sixth graders a school-bought Nook electronic reader and allows them to use the device and read on it for two weeks. The club aims to encourage reading by using the new technology. Long term, the goal is to give all sixth graders a chance to use the e-reader and read at least one electronic book by the end of the school year. To learn more about the Nook Club, read the full article by Hayley Ringle in the Local section of The Arizona Republic.

Los Angeles Elementary Schools To Switch Reading Programs

The Los Angeles Times (3/30, Blume) reports, "Los Angeles school officials have scrapped the elementary school reading program that was a centerpiece of local education reform efforts for the last decade, calling it out of date and overly expensive. The shelving of Open Court, whose adoption generated controversy, caused barely a ripple when the Board of Education voted 7 to 0 Tuesday to instead use a program called California Treasures." According to the Times, "Scripted Open Court lessons sparked fury among many teachers for depriving them of their independence."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New York Students Form Business To Fight Bullying

WSYR-TV Syracuse, NY (3/29) reports that students in Genesee County, New York, have responded to "a couple of cases of bullying" by "springing into action. They've formed a business, begun filming a documentary and launched a website. Next, they're planning to bring their anti-bullying message to speaking engagements at schools across Central New York." The business is styled "Stop the Hate and Spread the Hope," or "STH Squared." The students have "already gotten a business certificate and they're now trying to become a non-profit agency."

Pennsylvania Legislature Mulls Funding For Philadelphia School Violence Official

The Philadelphia Inquirer (3/29, Graham) reports, "Since Philadelphia lost its school violence watchdog 18 months ago, anyone who called in a complaint has spoken to someone in Cumberland County," a state of affairs that Pennsylvania state Rep. John Taylor (R) finds "unacceptable." Taylor said Monday that "he will introduce legislation to restore and fully fund an Office of Safe Schools Advocate within the Philadelphia School District. ... In addition to fully funding the office," the bill "would assign the office to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to make it more independent. The position formerly reported to the state Department of Education."

Wisconsin Set To Implement Data-Driven Student Intervention Program

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/29, Hetzner) reports that "for a full hour," third-grade students at Green Tree Elementary School in West Bend, Wisconsin, will participate in "intervention time," in which they "will sit side by side with peers they may have never met and learn from a teacher they may not have had, focusing on improving their vocabulary skills. The results will be displayed on the school's 'data walls,' bulletin boards that line the hallways." The piece notes that "improvements in technology and a growing awareness of how to use test data to improve teaching are inspiring schools such as Green Tree to take a more clinical approach. Soon such methods could be all but mandatory for Wisconsin's public schools."

Obama Hosts Town Hall On Hispanic Education

A number of media outlets reported on President Obama's Hispanic education town hall meeting in Washington Monday, with much of the coverage focused on education issues facing Latino families, and on the political implications for a demographic both parties are courting heavily. The Hill (3/29, Miller) reports that President Obama was scheduled to meet on Monday with a group of Hispanic students and parents in Washington, DC, for a forum on education in the Hispanic community, to be broadcast on Univision. "Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Juan Sepulveda, the director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, held a conference call with reporters on Friday to preview the event." The Hill presents the forum as part of Democrats' efforts to prevent the GOP from exploiting "an opening on the issue of education through its support of school choice programs."


Hispanically Speaking News (3/29) reports on the implications of the President's town hall, featuring an interview with Jose Rico, Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. "Rico sees one of the goals of the town hall as a 'way for the White House to communicate what we are trying to do in terms of educational reform, also making sure the Latino community knows what resources are there for them.'" The piece notes that Rico "was emphatic that there are many resources and programs available to the communities that are not being accessed," meaning better communication is needed. He predicted that "the parents and students in attendance as well as the general public will see the President's sincere commitment to Latino education."


Meanwhile, FOX News (3/29, Fernández) reports runs a partial transcript of an interview with "Juan Sepúlveda, head of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics, about bad schools, good teachers, and the issues confronting our community." Sepúlveda stresses the Administration's commitment to improving education in the Hispanic community, challenges Hispanic students face, and examples of schools that are successful in teaching Hispanic students.

Are kids' book apps really books?

There's a whole new way to read your kids to sleep these days — or to distract them while you are trying to get something done. If you have a smartphone or an iPad, you can download a kids' book app in no time. From classics to stories created specifically as an app, these enhanced e-books include narration, animation and interactive features. Some children are even getting their first exposure to books on a digital device. However, there are some detractors who say this new breed of children's "books" are not really books at all. "It's not a book for a number of reasons," says Philip Nel, a professor of English and director of the children's literature program at Kansas State University. Learn why in this story by Lynn Neary at

Debate: How to raise the status of teachers

States around the country are looking to trim their budgets, and public school teachers are feeling unfairly attacked. At the same time, the United States continues to fall behind other countries in student performance rankings.

An analysis of the most recent assessment of 74 education systems around the world offers some interesting points about how teaching is viewed in top-performing countries. The report, "What the U.S. Can Learn From the World's Most Successful Education Reform Efforts," found that in high-scoring countries like Finland, Japan, The Netherlands, Canada and South Korea, teachers have higher status and are typically paid better relative to other workers. It also noted, "countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching."

How can we raise the status of teachers in the United States? Read nine opinions on the issue in Room for Debate in The New York Times

Monday, March 28, 2011

National D.E.A.R. Day set April 12

D.E.A.R. stands for Drop Everything and Read. National D.E.A.R. Day is a special reading celebration to remind and encourage families to make reading together on a daily basis a family priority. April 12, the birthday of author Beverly Cleary, is the official event date.

Every day is a great day to Drop Everything and Read! The goal is to make reading a regular part of your routine. To learn more about D.E.A.R. Day, visit the official website

"Curriculum" definition raising red flags

Calls for shared curriculum related to the Common Core State Standards initiative have triggered renewed debates about who decides what students learn, and even about varied meanings of the word "curriculum." These debates further complicate the job of translating the broad learning goals of the standards into classroom teaching.

The most recent calls for common curriculum came from the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute, a think tank named after the late AFT leader. But the calls for "shared" or "common" curricula have sparked heated conversations about whether this would lead to a loss of public input in shaping what children learn. To learn more, read the full article by Catherine Gewertz at Education Week.

California School Enacts Ambitious Change

The Los Angeles Times (3/28, Song) reports that science instructor John Laird "and the other instructors at" Fedde International Studies Academy in Hawaiian Gardens, CA "have embarked on an ambitious turnaround program that has embraced some of the most controversial measures in education today: evaluating teachers based, in part, on student test scores; allowing instructors to review administrators; and paying teachers more if test scores rise. While such measures are becoming more common throughout the nation, they have been staunchly resisted almost everywhere in California."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Summit shows U.S. as out of step with world's education leaders

"The first ever international Summit on Teaching, convened last week in New York City, showed perhaps more clearly than ever that the United States has been pursuing an approach to teaching almost diametrically opposed to that pursued by the highest-achieving nations," writes noted educator Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University in a post for Valerie Strauss's blog "The Answer Sheet" in The Washington Post. At the summit, officials from 16 nations met and found "substantial consensus about how to create a well-prepared and accountable teaching profession," notes Darling-Hammond.

The summit marked a number of firsts, according to Darling-Hammond, including being "the first time that the growing de-professionalization of teaching in America was recognized as out of step with the strategies pursued by the world's educational leaders." To learn more, read the full article.

Study: Cheating overinflates academic ability

That time-honored anti-cheating mantra, "You're only hurting yourself," may be literal fact, according to new research. Emerging evidence suggests students who cheat on a test are more likely to deceive themselves into thinking they earned a high grade on their own merits, setting themselves up for future academic failure.

In four experiments detailed in the March Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the Harvard Business School and Duke University found that cheaters pay for the short-term benefits of higher scores with inflated expectations for future performance. To learn more about the results of the study, read the full article by Sarah D. Sparks at Education Week.

California Districts Look To Digital Options Amid Textbook Funding Cuts

McClatchy (3/25, Gutierrez, Reese) reports, "A significant decrease in the amount of money school districts throughout California spend on textbooks is pushing some to experiment with e-books in order to achieve long-term savings. However, many school administrators say if there isn't money for textbooks, there certainly isn't money now for the wholesale adoption of electronic textbook devices, like iPads and netbooks." According to McClatchy, "In Sacramento's four-county region, spending on state-approved, core curriculum textbooks plummeted by 55 percent, or $15.5 million, from 2008 to 2010, according to a Sacramento Bee review of newly released school district financial data."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Chicago Parents Object To Mandatory Classroom Breakfasts

The Chicago Tribune (3/24, Eng, Hood) reports, "In January, the Chicago Board of Education passed a blanket mandate requiring free breakfast to be served in all elementary school classrooms during the first 15 minutes of the day. Since then, hundreds of parents have signed petitions and sent letters objecting, including those who fear their children would be exposed to life-threatening foods" due to allergies. According to the Tribune, "Breakfast in the Classroom programs have been rolling out across the nation for several years now, but Chicago's mandate is the biggest, fastest and strictest in the nation."

Jennings Highlights Obama Administration's Anti-Bullying Initiatives

Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools chief Kevin Jennings wrote in an op-ed for Bay Windows (3/23), "We can't wait for it to get better for LGBT kids -- we need to make it better right now. By convening the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying and hosting it personally in the East Room of the White House, the President and the First Lady made the strongest statement possible that they believe the moment for bullying to end has arrived and that they are putting themselves and our entire Administration on the front lines of this fight." According to Jennings, "As someone who spent more than two decades fighting this battle before I joined this Administration, I watched in awe as the combined leadership of the Obama Presidency sent a clear and unequivocal message: We can't wait for it to get better for LGBT kids -- we need to make it better right now." The Windy City Times (3/23) also ran Jennings' op-ed.

No Consensus Reached On NCLB Reauthorization

The Detroit News (3/24, Schultz) reports, "As President Barack Obama pushes Congress to revise the No Child Left Behind law by fall, Republicans and Democrats agree the sweeping education act needs fixes. However, his proposals have raised concerns about the federal government's role in K-12 classrooms." According to the Detroit News, "Recently, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan told members of Congress that schools labeled 'failing' could jump from 37 percent to 82 percent this year."

Report Probes "Diversity Gap" On Teacher Tests

Stephen Sawchuk wrote in a blog for Education Week (3/23), "Minority teachers tend to take licensing exams later in their academic or professional careers than their white peers, findings that could partly explain their lower scores on the tests and lower passing rates, according to a report released this morning by the Educational Testing Service and the National Education Association. The study suggests candidates who take the tests earlier in their career, regardless of race, tend to do better on it, and that efforts to improve the knowledge and skills of minority teacher candidates therefore need to begin early." According to Sawchuk, "Everyone from the teachers' unions to US Secretary of Arne Duncan have acknowledged that the paucity of minority-race teachers is a problem, especially as the country grows more diverse every year."

Hispanics Now Majority Of Texas Public School Students

The Dallas Morning News (3/23, Unmuth) reported, "According to the Texas Education Agency, this year about 50.3 percent of the state's 4.9 million students are Hispanic. A decade ago, Latino students made up about 40 percent of the state's enrollment." The Morning News adds, "Hitting the statistical marker comes at a time when the state is looking at funding cuts for education, including programs aimed at some children within the Hispanic group who are learning or improving their English."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Move over Kindle? "Flipback" all the rage in Holland

If you've ever whined about how the Kindle, compact though it may be, doesn't have the look or feel of a nice printed novel – put this in your pipe and read it: the newly invented "flipback" book. Released in Britain this summer, it is being touted as the, er, new Kindle: the tome that's smaller and lighter than an e-reader, but made out of pages, not bytes.

It is all the rage in Holland, where it was introduced in 2009, and has since sold 1 million copies. A version has just been launched in Spain, France is next, and the flipback reaches UK shores in June, when Hodder & Stoughton will offer a selection of 12 books. Learn more in this article by Patrick Kingsley in The Guardian online.

Opinion: Students, teachers shouldn't be Facebook friends

Some think it's perfectly OK for students and teachers to be Facebook friends, while others say it is a major violation of privacy for both. A few months ago, one of my teachers sent me a friend request. I thought it was funny and random, so I gladly accepted. I did not realize that I put my entire life out in the open for my teacher to judge. After a few weeks, my teacher started messaging me to remind me about homework and tests. I soon realized that no matter how many privacy controls that I put on, the idea of being friends with my teacher was a bad one. Read more of this opinion piece by Ritika Iyer, teen correspondent for the Contra Costa Times, at

Virginia District Chief Seeking Ways To Improve Discipline Process

The Washington Post (3/23, George) reports, "The debate over discipline practices in Fairfax County [VA] took a slight turn Tuesday night as Superintendent Jack D. Dale told an audience in McLean that the school system is looking at ways to create 'a much more expeditious process,' even before broader policy changes are fully considered and enacted. Speaking at a town hall meeting organized and moderated by WAMU Radio host Kojo Nnamdi, Dale said the system is also considering improving support services to students on suspension." According to the Post, "Dale's remarks...followed the playing of an impassioned recorded message made by the mother of Nick Stuban, a 15-year-old football player at W.T. Woodson High School who committed suicide on Jan. 20 after a disciplinary infraction."

Duncan Calls For NCLB Overhaul During Los Angeles Visit

The Los Angeles Times (3/23, Song) reports that in a speech at a United Way of Greater Los Angeles education summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan "called...for an overhaul of [NCLB] and urged Los Angeles school management and teachers union leaders to negotiate a new contract that strengthens teacher evaluations." The Times adds, "Many of Duncan's comments echoed remarks by President Obama earlier this month, when he said that the previous administration's signature school accountability law classifies too many schools as academic failures and does not give enough flexibility to local and state educators. ... Duncan also urged Los Angeles educators to use student growth as a factor in evaluations, something he and Obama have long advocated."


The AP (3/23, Hoag) adds that during his speech, Duncan "came down hard on the dismal performance" of the Los Angeles Unified School District, "the nation's second largest school district. Although he noted that district leaders are now reforming underachieving schools, he said that the district's 50 percent graduation rate is the lowest among the nation's big-city districts, and reeled off a litany of similar statistics." Duncan also "called on district management and labor unions to collaborate to put student interests first."


The Press Telegram (CA) (3/23, Puente) reports that Duncan "paid a visit to Long Beach's Tincher Preparatory School on Tuesday as part of a two-day trip to California to highlight the need for education reform. In a roundtable discussion with teachers, parents, students and school leaders, Duncan echoed President Barack Obama's call to fix" NCLB. The Press Telegram notes that Duncan "listened intently as administrators and teachers talked about the programs that make Tincher a success."


KABC-TV Los Angeles, CA (3/23, 8:43 ET) broadcast, "The US secretary of education has alarming news about future of local classrooms. Arnie Duncan met with parents, teachers and administrators at Tincher Preparatory School in Long Beach today to talk about dire need for changes to our education system. Earlier, he told the crowd that in three years, nearly every school in Los Angeles Unified School District will be classified as failing if the No Child Left Behind Act is not reformed. Duncan says the current law is too focused on test scores and not a well-rounded curriculum."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Another Great ELL Lesson from Kenneth Beare

Exploding Texts - Creative Writing and Grammar Exercise for ESL Classes

By Kenneth Beare

Taking short bits of texts and expanding them in different ways is a fun activity that will help students improve both their grammar and creative writing skills. Telescopic Text demonstrates this technique and is a lot of fun.

Here is an example of an exploding, telescoping or expanding text:

He is a boy.
He is a nice boy.
He is a nice boy who comes from London.
He is the nice boy from London who helped me with my project.
He is the nice boy from London who helped me with my science project.
He is the nice boy from London who helped me get an A on my science project.

You get the idea!

You can ask students to work on exploding texts in a general manner, or in a more grammar specific way to help them become more familiar with function. For example:

He is a boy. - Please modify the proper noun.
He is a nice boy. - Please provide a dependent clause to modify the proper noun.
He is a nice boy who comes from London. etc.

Here are three exploding text exercises for in class use:

Exploding Texts - Creative Writing

Use one of the following sentences and 'explode' the text to make more and more complex sentences. Try to write five sentences that build on the previous sentence.


I have a book.
I have an interesting book.
I have an interesting book about frogs.
I bought an interesting book about frogs last week.
I bought an interesting, but expensive book about frogs at The Book Shoppe last Monday.

Choose from one of these sentences:

She lives alone.
They have a house.
John works in town.
I am young.
School is important.

Exploding Texts - Grammar Practice

Use a sentence and expand the text in a way that matches each instruction given to you by your teacher.


They eat lunch.
- Use an adverb to describe how often they eat lunch
They usually eat lunch.
- Use an adverb to describe how they eat lunch.
They usually eat lunch quickly.
- Use a dependent clause to modify lunch.
They usually eat lunch, which they have brought from home, quickly.

Exploding Texts - Answering Questions

Begin with a sentence and explode it based upon the questions asked by your teacher. Remember to continue to expand the sentence with each question you answer.


Peter lives here.
- How long?
Peter has lived here for five years.
- What's his address?
Peter has lived at 24 Red Street for five years.
- Who's Peter?
Peter, who is a good friend of mine, has lived at 24 Red Street for five years.

Opinion: Is it time to retool libraries into tech-shops?

To me, public libraries — the availability of free education for all — represent the collective commitment of a community to their future. They symbolize what is most important, a commitment to educating the next generation. The role of a public library should also adapt over time, and that time is finally here.

What could be ahead for public libraries and how could we collectively transform them into "factories" — not factories that make things, but factories that help make people who want to learn and make things. Will libraries go away? Will they become hackerspaces, TechShops, tool-lending libraries, and Fab Labs, or have these new, almost-public spaces displaced a new role for libraries? To learn more, read the full article by Phillip Torrone on the Make: Technology on Your Time blog.

Opinion: Teaching to the text message

I've been teaching college freshmen to write the five-paragraph essay and its bully of a cousin, the research paper, for years. But these forms invite font-size manipulation, plagiarism and clichés. We need to set our sights not lower, but shorter.

I don't expect all my graduates to go on to Twitter-based careers, but learning how to write concisely, to express one key detail succinctly and eloquently, is an incredibly useful skill, and more in tune with most students' daily chatter, as well as the world's conversation. The photo caption has never been more vital. To learn more about this unique teaching method, read the full article by Andy Selsberg in the Opinion section of The New York Times website.

"Glee" Star Working With NEA Civic Education Initiative

Ok! Magazine (3/22, Eggenberger) reports that Darren Criss of the hit program "Glee" "is helping to kick off the first annual Democracy Day in partnership with Rock the Vote and the National Education Association to bring civic education classes to the classroom. On March 23, Darren will help launch the program at Hamilton High School in L.A., which will feature a one-class-period program that uses pop culture, video, discussion and mock election to teach young people to engage as active citizens in the election process." The piece notes that Democracy Day "coincides with the passing of the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote."

Teachers Sound Off Over Restricted Education Funding

NPR (3/22) aired a roundtable discussion with "three teachers from Wisconsin, Ohio and California about how the cutbacks are affecting their work and the children they teach." The panel discusses rancor against teachers, NCLB, and challenges stemming from high concentrations of poor and/or ELL students.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Can’t get enough Seuss?

Read Across America Day is a couple of weeks behind us now but if you're hungry for more Seuss, check out Seussville at the National Education Association's Read Across America website. There are plenty of activities to keep students talking about Dr. Seuss year 'round, including a planning calendar, classroom resources, author study activities, "The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library," and more. Visit Seussville at

Perez, Ali Highlight School Safety Imperative

Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the US Department of Justice, and Russlynn H. Ali, assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer (3/18), "In a nation that values education, every child must be able to go to school in a safe environment. Administrators who don't create such an environment are hurting students' ability to succeed in school and in life." Perez and Ali added, "If we fail to help our children understand the importance of tolerance and diversity, we will ultimately raise a nation of intolerant, hateful adults" so "we must teach the traditions of tolerance and respect that are fundamental to the American way of life."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Technology forces education policymakers to rethink rules

Supporters of customized, online instruction say the major hurdles to implementing more adaptive curricula and personalized approaches are state and local policies, according to an article by Ian Quillen in Education Week.  K-12 education is at a policy crossroads, experts in educational technology policy say, as seat-time requirements, school funding models, textbook-adoption procedures, and teacher-certification requirements restrict the growth and effectiveness of emerging learning methods. Read the full story in Education Week online.

New report details children’s media consumption

A report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop finds that while children's use of mobile media devices and computers is on the rise, television is still their primary media source. Entitled Always Connected: The New Digital Media Habits of Young Children, the report was done to better understand the evolving patterns of younger children's media use and draws on previous studies as well as new data. A PDF is available for free download here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Apple launches iPad donation program

Apple launched a new program Tuesday with Teach for America, a non-profit organization working to improve educational opportunities for students in low-income areas around the United States, in which iPad 2 buyers can donate their original iPad for use in low-income school districts. To donate your iPad, simply visit any Apple retail store.

N.J. approves education program for ‘sexting’ teens

All it takes is a gentle press of the "send" button to turn a flirtatious teenager into a potential criminal in New Jersey. But a bill that would divert teenagers caught "sexting" — sending or receiving explicit photos on a computer or cell phone — into an educational program as an alternative to prosecution is one step closer to becoming law after the Assembly approved the measure 78-0 Monday. To learn more about the proposed educational program, read the full article by Megan DeMarco in the Politics section of New Jersey Online.

Government’s fiscal commitment to literacy questioned

The elimination of most federal aid for literacy programs at the U.S. Department of Education is raising new questions about the future of the federal commitment to promoting literacy, a role that's had a bumpy ride in recent years. Even though some of the more than $350 million in cuts to those programs this month could be reversed, some education advocates say the Obama administration doesn't seem to treat the issue as a high priority. To learn more, read the full article by Erik Robelen at the Education Week website.

National Writing Project offers a weekend of blogging

Chad Sansing, TC from the Central Virginia Writing Project, is organizing a #blog4NWP event this weekend Friday, March 18th-Sunday, March 20th (see details below). For those of you who don't normally blog or tweet but have always wanted to start and/or experiment, this could be a great opportunity to do so! In that spirit, we wanted to point out a few resources from Digital Is might help you think about how to do this too:


Writing Project Teachers as Writers and Bloggers by Grant Faulkner,


… with a related link about places to dive in and get started too,

#PleaseHelp: Learning to Write (Again) on Twitter by Keri Franklin,

Of course keep in mind that all the traditional ways of reaching out to your legislators and educating them about the work of your writing project site are key and ongoing too. NWP Works has information about how to continue this work at

Thank you everyone for your important and committed work.

"Reading divide" possible with rise of e-books, author says

The rapid rise of e-books could lead to a "reading divide" as those unable to afford the new technology are left behind, even as U.S. reading and writing skills decline still further. At particular threat are African-American communities where many students are already falling behind their majority peers in terms of literacy, said award-winning writer Marita Golden -- and this despite the growing ranks of noted African-American writers, such as Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. Read the article by Elaine Lies at Reuters' website.

Digital gaming goes academic

Educators at Ocoee Middle School in Florida have built an online game lab to engage students and sharpen technology skills. Researchers at Rice University have created a virtual game to teach forensics to middle schoolers. North Carolina State University's IntelliMedia Group has released a digital game to teach microbiology to eighth graders.

Digital games for learning academic skills change depending on each student's ability and course of action. Such games provide personalized feedback in real time—something a traditional classroom often doesn't offer. To learn more, read the full article by Katie Ash at the Education Week website.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Union: 19,000 Educators Getting Pink Slips In California

The AP (3/16) reports, "Union officials estimate at least 19,000 California school employees are getting pink slips. And California Teachers Association President David Sanchez says he expects the number to top 20,000 when the union gets a better count by the end of the week." The layoffs "come as Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers negotiate over how to close the state's nearly $27 billion budget shortfall."

US Urged to Raise Teachers' Status

The New York Times (3/16, Dillon) reports, "To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems. Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa, says in his report that top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession." The Times adds that the Pisa report was prepared in advance of an Education Department conference, and "Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he hoped educational leaders would use the conference to share strategies for raising student achievement."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is there a teacher shortage looming?

On April 6, 2010, Jack O'Connell held a press conference to announce that California faced a teacher shortage. The state's superintendent of public instruction cited anticipated retirements over the next 10 years, teacher attrition through layoffs, and a break in the supply line from teacher preparation universities as major factors in creating a critical shortage of teachers in the state. After a lull in the past five years, student enrollment in California is predicted to grow, creating a mismatch between supply and demand for teachers. To learn more about the potential teacher shortage, read the full article by Eamonn O'Donovan on the District Administration website.

California Legislature Considering Anti-Bullying Measure

The San Francisco Chronicle (3/15, Tucker) reports that under a bill introduced by California state assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D), "California school districts would have to increase anti-bullying efforts" and "create anti-harassment policies and programs that include bullying based on perceived or actual sexual orientation, if they don't already exist. They would also be required to have a system in place to ensure all reports of bullying are taken seriously and addressed immediately." The measure is "called Seth's Law, in memory of Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old gay student from Tehachapi, who killed himself in September. A proposal submitted last week in Congress in Seth's memory would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity in public schools."

Georgia Adopts Dual Math Tracks

Maureen Downey writes at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (3/15) "Get Schooled" blog the Georgia "Board of Education voted this morning to approve dual math tracks in Georgia high schools, a decision that is bound to be controversial among math professionals, many of whom are bombarding me with notes that the problem is not the math but the lack of teacher training and resistance to change."

Baltimore Schools Investigating Prayer Service Seeking Good MSA Grades

The Baltimore Sun (3/15, Green) reports that Baltimore, Maryland, officials are investigating reports that a "Baltimore elementary school principal used prayer services to prepare pupils for recent statewide tests. For two years, prayer services have been held at Northeast Baltimore's Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School as the Maryland School Assessments, a standardized test for children in the third through eighth grades, neared. Fliers promoted the most recent event, on March 5, as a way to 'come together, as one, in prayer and ask God to bless our school to pass the MSA.'" The district released a statement to the effect that such a service would be inappropriate, while an ACLU lawyer "called the service a clear violation of the US Constitution."

Budget Crunches Push Chicago-Area Schools To Multi-Grade Classrooms

The Chicago Tribune (3/15, Malone) reports that a number of schools in and around Chicago are combining two grades into one class, with a shared teacher. "Although multiage learning has long been a hallmark of Montessori education, today its finances, not academics, driving the renewed interest in many districts." In the face of tightened purse strings, "more educators are realizing they can save the cost of a teacher's salary every time they put extra students from two grades into one class together rather than keeping them separated, with two different teachers. 'People are revisiting it because it's a viable option and, historically, it's always worked,' said Jim Grant, an educational consultant and author who has written on the subject. But 'it's done out of financial necessity.'"

Author Recommends Students Design Their Own Curricula

In a New York Times (3/15) op-ed, author Susan Engel writes that President Obama's comments last week that "it was unacceptable that 'as many as a quarter of American students are not finishing high school'" miss the point that "our current educational approach doesn't just fail to prepare teenagers for graduation or for college academics; it fails to prepare them, in a profound way, for adult life. We want young people to become independent and capable, yet we structure their days to the minute and give them few opportunities to do anything but answer multiple-choice questions, follow instructions and memorize information." Engel argues that this failing calls for a reexamination of "the very nature of high school itself" and recommends programs in which students design their own curricula with adult supervision. Such programs "might not be exactly alike," but "participants will end up more accomplished, more engaged and more knowledgeable than they would have been taking regular courses."

Obama Calls On Congress To Overhaul NCLB By Beginning Of School Year

The AP (3/15) reports that President Obama, speaking Monday at a middle school in Arlington, Virginia, cited a new Education Department report indicating that "four out of five schools may be tagged as failures this year under provisions of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law" and called on Congress to revamp the law by the beginning of the next school year. "'That's an astonishing number,' he said. 'We know that four out of five schools in this country aren't failing. So what we're doing to measure success and failure is out of line.'" However, House Education Chairman John Kline "acknowledged the need for improvement but called the president's time line 'arbitrary.'" Obama praised the law's goals, but criticized its metrics for "measuring student progress and labeling schools that fall short."


Bloomberg News (3/15, Johnston, Brower) adds that Obama stressed the need for NCLB "to meet the needs of the economy for a skilled workforce. Obama said parents, schools and the government must work together to assure the success of students through hard work in the classroom and programs that will help them excel." Noting that Monday's comments are part of "administration plans to emphasize the importance of education in US economic growth," Bloomberg adds, "Obama also is using the issue to counter Republican proposals to enact as much as $61 billion in cuts to this year's budget, arguing that the plan would hit vital programs." The piece notes that reforming NCLB has bipartisan support. "'We need to fix this law now,' Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on a conference call yesterday. Duncan said the law is too punitive and takes a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to achievement."


The Christian Science Monitor (3/15, Paulson) adds that Obama said that "NCLB is not without its successes, such as shining a light on the achievement gap between students of different races and backgrounds. ... But he added that the law needs changes, which include: rewarding schools for success, improving standards and assessments, getting the best teachers in front of the most disadvantaged kids, and giving more support and better pay to teachers." The Monitor notes that Secretary Duncan last week "told Congress that 82 percent of America's schools could fail to meet the goals set by NCLB this year, and also called for reforms. 'This law has created a thousand ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed,' he said."


USA Today (3/15, Jackson) notes that Duncan "said Sunday that if No Child Left Behind isn't changed, four of five schools won't meet its standards. 'Under the current law, it's one size fits all,' Duncan said. 'We need to fix this law now, so we can close the achievement gap.'"

English Language Learners

By Kenneth Beare

English language learners can refer to anyone learning English. However, in the United States the phrase English Language Learner is also used to refer to non-native English speakers who attend public schools and need to improve their English skills, while also achieve in core subjects like math, science, etc. There are specific challenges and ways of helping these learners. This short English Language Learner overview goes into some of the strategies used to help English Language Learners do well in the K-12 classroom.

For teachers of other subjects, these two articles focusing on teaching English for non-English teachers should be of help.

Adjusting Your English for English Language Learners
Language Recycling through the Use of Four Skills

Monday, March 14, 2011

Itinerant Life Weighs On Farmworkers' Children

The New York Times (3/12, Brown) reported, "Efforts by lawmakers to rescind automatic citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrants are already stoking fears among many agricultural workers, and that has consequences for their children. Some parents, as they move with the crops, are already keeping their children out of school when they get to Arizona because they are worried about the bureaucracy and tougher restrictions in the state." The Times adds, "Even as Latino enrollments grow, the number of new teachers earning bilingual credentials has fallen in the last decade to 1,147 per year from 1,829, according to the California Teacher Commission."

Class Sizes On The Rise

The Chattanooga (TN) Times Free Press (3/14, Gauthier) reports, "For years, Hamilton County [TN] has taken pride in smaller class sizes and schools, but officials say that luxury may be a thing of the past. As long as the school system continues to cut its budget year after year, class sizes won't be shrinking any time soon, said spokeswoman Danielle Clark." Secretary of Education Arne Duncan "acknowledges that class sizes will keep growing" and suggests "that schools think outside the box and reduce class sizes based on the skill of the teacher, or use part-time staff to decrease class sizes during 'critical reading blocks.'"

More Pennsylvania Schools Likely To Miss NCLB Benchmark

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (3/14, Weigand) reports, "With students set to take Pennsylvania System of Student Assessment exams this week, educators warned that the number of schools failing to meet tougher math and reading standards likely will rise, and the burden to fix problems will lie largely with school districts. State officials use the PSSA as a benchmark to determine which schools or districts need to improve, and they wield considerable power to make changes when students don't make the academic progress mandated by" NCLB. According to the Tribune-Review, "Last year, nearly 18 percent of Pennsylvania schools failed to meet state standards under" NCLB.

Duncan: Majority of schools could receive “failing” label under NCLB

More than three-quarters of the nation's public schools could soon be labeled "failing" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Obama administration said March 9 as it increased efforts to revamp the signature education initiative of President George W. Bush.

The projection from Education Secretary Arne Duncan amounted to a declaration that the school-ratings revolution Bush began nearly 10 years ago is itself in jeopardy because the law has become unworkable. President Obama is pushing to loosen accountability rules for most schools but crack down harder on the worst. To learn more, read the full article by Nick Anderson in the Education section of The Washington Post website.

NBPTS issues report on teacher effectiveness

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has released a report which aims to show that student learning can be used to determine the effectiveness of teachers' instruction methods. Using the results of this study, the Board hopes to be able to make changes and reform national education systems as needed. The report shows the usefulness of large-scale evaluations for determining teachers' effectiveness, and through the use of this study the most successful teaching methods can be spread and improve the education of students on a wide scale. To read the report, visit the NBPTS website.

$125,000 annual salary for teachers? What's the catch?

With state after state confronting massive budget problems, several governors have been looking to extract whatever they can from public employees like teachers, going after benefits packages and guaranteed job security that unions have won for them. But would teachers be willing to give up those protections for a chance to earn a lot more money?

There's a school in New York City that's trying to prove just that. The Equity Project (TEP), a charter school that is publicly funded but privately run, is offering its teachers $125,000 a year-- more than double the national average. TEP aims to prove that attracting the best and brightest teachers and holding them accountable for results is the essential ingredient to a school's success. See the story from 60 Minutes.

Obama wants Congress to rewrite NCLB

President Obama plans to ask Congress today to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law by fall, escalating the urgency of his campaign for an overhaul of public education. Obama's message, to be delivered in a speech at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington County, will set his first public timetable for lawmakers to revise a nine-year-old law that in recent years has lost much of its luster.

Whether lawmakers can fulfill his wish to approve a bill by the end of summer remains unclear. The education law--enacted in 2002 under then-President George W. Bush--addresses issues including school performance ratings, standardized testing, teacher quality, academic standards and equity for the poor. Consideration of whether it should also address other controversial topics, such as teacher merit pay and public vouchers for students attending private school, could complicate what is likely to be a prolonged debate. Read more in this article by Nick Anderson in The Washington Post

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Will bookmobiles become obsolete?

The first bookmobile seems to have appeared in Warrington, England, in 1859. That horse-drawn cart, a "perambulating library," lent some 12,000 books during its first year of operation—a century before the sleek vehicle that would visit Arlington, Massachusetts, during my own elementary school years.

These memories recall the era when a printed book was a precious thing. Today, the access once provided by bookmobiles is being usurped by iPads, Kindles and the Internet. The speed and convenience of these devices, combined with the staggering wealth of online content, makes them deeply seductive. With the digital revolution changing our reading habits, will bookmobiles become obsolete? To learn more, read the full article by Jeff Greenwald in the Arts & Culture section of the Smithsonian Magazine website.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Study: Higher education has health benefits

Going to college to earn an advanced degree could keep you healthier in the long run, according to a new study that had discovered a link between education and lower blood pressure.

The research, published earlier this week in the journal BMC Public Health, used data from the Framingham Offspring Study to follow 3,890 subjects for a period of 30 years. To learn about their findings, read the full article by the redOrbit staff in the Health section of the redOrbit website.

Millions join Read Across America celebration

National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel and Librarian of Congress James Billington welcomed a star-studded lineup of guest readers and local schoolchildren to the Library of Congress on March 2 for the national kickoff of NEA's Read Across America. Special guests included First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, actresses Jessica Alba and Bridget Moynahan, Superbowl champion Donald Driver, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, along with journalists Norah O'Donnell and Luke Russert.

Read Across America events took place across the United States and beyond. "Today, there are 45 million people doing what we're doing: wearing funny hats and reading!" said Van Roekel. To learn more, visit this page on the NEA website.

Response to Intervention expands its reach

Response to Intervention started out as a way to identify and teach struggling readers and special education students, but it's fast becoming a way to change schooling for all students.

Though primarily linked with special education and early reading, RTI is now used at all levels of schooling and in a variety of subject areas.  Educators use "tiered-intervention" models—of which RTI is one—to improve school discipline. Response-to-Intervention models have also been used to improve instruction for English learners, with preschoolers, and as a lever for district-wide reform. To learn more, read the full article by Christina A. Samuels at the Education Week website.

School district opts out of NCLB testing

The McPherson School District in McPherson, Kansas, is making history for being the first district in the country to opt out of assessment testing under No Child Left Behind. The district has come up with an alternative form of testing, which officials say raises the bar.

McPherson school officials are riding high after becoming the first district in the country to receive a waiver from required testing under the No Child Left Behind Act. The U.S. Department of Education approved the move after McPherson schools presented their alternate testing plan called "C3 – Citizenship, College and Career Readiness." To learn more, read the full article in the local section of the KSN website.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Philadelphia Schools Chief Urged To Continue Reforms

The Philadelphia Enquirer (3/2) editorializes, "An extra year added to her contract should refuel Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's drive to address the litany of ailments affecting most urban school districts today, especially school violence. The School Reform Commission's extension of Ackerman's contract until at least 2014 removes that distraction so she can focus on her reform agenda." The Inquirer adds, "Ackerman has received accolades for her Imagine 2014 strategic plan, and US Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently touted her Renaissance Schools as a model for other cities. So, it's understandable that the SRC would want to give her an additional year to reach her goals."

Dewey Decimal going dinosaur

To find a favorite book in Elgin's Rakow Branch library, 6-year-old Rina Teglia marched straight to the "Ready to Read" section and picked out Bathtime for Biscuit. While she was at it, a nearby book titled If You Give a Mouse a Cookie caught her eye, so she grabbed it to take home, too. "I like it a lot," Rina said of the library. "You can find books easily."

Score one for the library's bookstore-style layout. And shed a tiny tear for the Dewey Decimal Classification system, long the standard in the industry. A handful of pioneering Chicago suburban libraries are transitioning from the librarian-loved but misunderstood Dewey to the type of organization system used by booksellers. The new layout groups books by subject rather than number, uses signs to highlight contemporary, popular categories, and displays books by their covers.

Critics say the new system is a nightmare for anyone trying to find a specific book that doesn't fit into an obvious category. Supporters counter that the system does what libraries should be doing: encourage people to read more books. Read more in this article by Robert McCoppin in The Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

California Superintendent Touts New Method For Helping Struggling Readers

The Tri-City (WA) Herald (3/1, Von Lunen) profiles Lou Gates, superintendent of schools in Burbank, California, who has penned an article in The Reading Teacher in which he "introduces a method to teach struggling readers he said is more reliable than existing strategies. Now that his method is peer-reviewed and published, it might grab the attention of textbook publishers and other school districts. The core innovation in Gates' research is that he showed English to be more predictable than previously thought. Instead of a lot of confusing and shifting rules about which sounds one should say when reading certain letters put together, every word in a child's vocabulary now falls into one of five categories." Gates has dubbed his system "Phonguage."

Gates Calls For Better Teachers To Have Larger Classes

The AP (3/1, Freking) reports that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, speaking Monday at the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, said that despite budget shortfalls, "schools can improve the performance of students if they put more emphasis on rewarding excellent teaching and less emphasis on paying teachers based on seniority and whether they have a master's degree." Gates said "that he's concerned that many states will reduce how much money goes to education. At the same time, he's convinced that spending cuts don't necessarily have to harm students. One way to save money would be to get more students in front of the very best teachers. Those teachers would get paid more with the savings generated from having fewer teachers overall. 'There are people in the field who think class size is the only thing,' Gates said. 'But in fact, the dominant factor is having a great teacher in front of the classroom.'"


Daniel De Vise writes at the Washington Post (3/1) "College Inc." blog about his interview with Gates, who "famously dropped out of Harvard in 1975 to launch the company initially known as Micro-Soft. ... Lately, Gates has been advocating paying teachers based on classroom performance instead of seniority and ending costly investments in class-size reduction, two of the more provocative topics in public education. .. Gates's central point is that the nation is spending more than ever on public education and not getting better results in return." However, "Many education leaders would say that Gates's criticism is unfounded" based on improving test scores. Meanwhile, "the research community has more or less confirmed that class-size reduction doesn't yield significant performance gains."


Blogger Backs Gates' Call For Larger Class Sizes For "Best Teachers." Ezra Klein writes in a blog post on the website of the Washington Post (3/1) writes about Bill Gates' suggestion that "the conventional wisdom that smaller class sizes mean better education" may be misleading, noting that he has "advocated for bigger class sizes -- at least for the best teachers." Klein concludes that it "seems worth a try, at least."

Los Angles District Set To Renew Charter Contract Despite Evidence Of Cheating

The Los Angeles Times (2/28, Blume) reports, "The performance of Crescendo charter schools was nothing short of remarkable - annual gains on state tests that were sometimes 10 times what other schools would consider strong progress. .. Last year, administrators and teachers at the six schools south of downtown Los Angeles were caught cheating: using the actual test questions to prepare students for the state exams by which schools are measured." However, "on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Board of Education is scheduled to act on a staff recommendation to reauthorize Crescendo's charter, giving the organization another five years to operate."

North Carolina School District Grapples With Integration Issue

The New York Times (2/28, Winerip) reports though the Wake County, NC school district has long "been known as a strong academic district committed to integration,...a new conservative majority was elected to the Wake school board" in 2009 "and last spring it voted to dismantle" an integration plan which bused students from impoverished neighborhoods to schools in more well-to-do neighborhoods. However, civic leaders have "unveiled their proposal for a third generation of integration," which would mandate that no school "have an overwhelming number of failing students. Instead a school might have a 70-30 mix -- 70 percent of students who have scored proficient on state tests and 30 percent who are below grade level."

Technology fuels school's progress

In today's technologically saturated society, maintaining the interest and attention of children in the classroom can be a difficult challenge. A Haverhill school in Massachusetts has been embracing cutting-edge teaching technology to engage children and get them excited for learning, according to an article by Brenda J. Buote, a correspondent for the Boston Globe. The technology use represents one of a number of changes made in order to transform a struggling school into a successful one.

Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School classrooms have been outfitted with devices such as Mobi interactive electronic whiteboards, tablet computers, and electronic answering remotes. The use of these devices has changed young students' attitudes toward learning dramatically—"In the past, when we did word problems, the students would say 'ugh,'" says Silver Hill 2nd-grade teacher Sue Hickey. "Now, with the Mobis, they're on the edge of their seats. When I ask for a volunteer, all the hands go up." The use of such technology has improved standardized test performance as well as reducing failure rates. Silver Hill's example has provided evidence that this incorporation of technology does children good.

To learn more, read the full article.

Independence high school students paid to go to school

From Sierrawave

Written by Benett Kessler

One local woman calls it bribery. The school superintendent calls it incentive. A local group called the Independence Foundation now pays Owens Valley High School students $4 per day to attend school. Faced with closure of the high school due to lack of attendance, the tactic has apparently worked - for now.

Last year, school officials confirmed that the average daily attendance at Owens Valley High School had dropped below the state requirement of 11. The County Office of Education began to look at options - primarily unification with Lone Pine or Big Pine school districts.

Meanwhile, the local foundation, believed to be Masonic, offered to pay students to show up at school. Superintendent Joel Hampton said the group approached him to say they want the high school to remain in Independence. Hampton said each student will receive around $300. He said most will use this money for a later trip to the nation's capitol.

In defense of the pay to attend gesture, Hampton said it's not taxpayers' money. "I've had mixed feelings," said Hampton, "but we do try to come up with incentives."

Average daily attendance now sits at 14. The district is not expected to lapse or go away this year.


World Read Aloud Day set for March 9

Thousands of people of all ages from all 50 United States and at least 40 countries will celebrate the power of words and stories during World Read Aloud Day, presented by LitWorld, the New York-based global literacy nonprofit organization, on Wednesday, March 9. Visit the LitWorld website to join in the festivities and for support in how you can celebrate, thereby taking action for the cause of global literacy.

World Read Aloud Day is an international event that motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words and stories by encouraging them to participate in a global movement to advocate for every child's right to literacy, safe education, and access to books and technology. In honor of the event, LitWorld is inviting all participants to read with loved ones and new friends from now through March 9 and tally your minutes (sharing those totals with LitWorld) to reach the goal of 774 million minutes in honor of the 774 million people worldwide who cannot read. If you are a teacher or librarian, by reading aloud to one class of children for even ten minutes, you can tally 200 minutes for the cause.

"Literacy is the human rights issue of our time," said Pam Allyn, executive director and founder of LitWorld. "By learning to read, we all have access to information, the power of shared stories of the human experience, and a way to connect with one another. By raising our voices to express the written word, we come together on behalf of all the world's people who long to join the world of readers." 

In honor of the day, and in addition to many events worldwide, LitWorld will host a 24-hour Read-Aloud Marathon in New York's Times Square on March 9. Special guest readers at the event will include New York City Chancellor of Schools Cathie Black, Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Dennis M. Walcott, and many renowned authors and performers. In addition, thousands of diverse individuals in at least 40 countries will be joining in the World Read Aloud Day celebration, hosting events ranging from poetry slams to international video chat readings in schools and community groups around the globe.

LitWorld has spread the word about World Read Aloud Day primarily through social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs, and encourages participants to link their posts to LitWorld's social media accounts and the LitWorld website.