Thursday, June 30, 2011

Advocate Calls On Congress To Address Gifted Students In NCLB Reauthorization

In an op-ed in the Allentown (PA) Morning Call (6/30), National Association for Gifted Children President Ann Robinson urges Congress to improve NCLB's treatment of "our nation's high-ability students, particularly those living in underserved and disadvantaged areas," whom she accuses the law of neglecting. "The impact of this neglect extends beyond test scores into more substantive indicators, such as fewer US students pursuing college studies and careers in math and science, fewer patents filed by US citizens and an increasing vulnerability to the technological prowess of other nations."

Report: "Targeted" Class Size Increases Could Save Billions, Have Limited Impact On Students

US News and World Report (6/30), in its "High School Notes" blog, reports that "new research and advocacy groups suggest that targeted resizing of classes-including increasing class sizes in certain subjects-can save districts money while minimally impacting student achievement." The posting cites research from Education Resource Strategies suggesting that "up to $6 billion could be saved nationally by increasing class sizes by just one student. Currently, more than 80 percent of education spending is used on compensation, according to the organization." The piece notes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has expressed openness to the idea of higher class sizes.

New York City Teachers Recruited From Caribbean Call On City To Prevent Deportations

The AP (6/30) reports that some 500 teachers recruited by New York City from Caribbean nations in 2001 during a teacher shortage "said Wednesday that the city needs to do more to help them and their families obtain permanent US residency," saying that they "were hired with the understanding that New York City officials would help them regularize their immigration status. But teachers who attended a news conference Wednesday on the steps of City Hall said they are here on H-1B work visas they need to keep renewing or risk deportation; meanwhile, their adult children are not legally able to work."

NCLB Has Failed To Address Teacher Quality In Low-Income Schools

The Bay State (MA) Banner (6/30, Cooper) reports that research shows that NCLB has made "little progress in reducing the number of teachers of low-income students who are inexperienced or teaching classes outside their subject areas," despite being intended in part to "stop school districts from putting less qualified teachers in classrooms with low-income students." The piece quotes ED's Russlynn Ali saying that "No Child Left Behind meant 'for the first time ever, people were talking about the inequitable distribution of teachers in new ways.' She cites statistical and anecdotal evidence from some states and districts indicating that teacher assignment has become more equitable in those places."

California Police Investigating Allegations Of Wrestling Team Racial Bullying

The AP (6/30) reports from Santa Monica, California, "Police on Wednesday were investigating allegations that members of a high school wrestling team put a noose on a brown practice dummy, chained a black teammate to a locker and made racial remarks." The piece notes that district officials say they are cooperating with the investigation, and further describes the alleged incidents.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Southern Regional Education Board Calls For Focus On At-Risk Middle Schoolers

The AP (6/28, Dalesio) reports that the Southern Regional Education Board is urging educators to "focus more on young teens who too often fall behind in reading, math and science," saying that educators "must get middle schoolers focused on their futures to cut down dropout rates and improve their college and career readiness. ... Only about a quarter of today's eighth-graders are projected to graduate from a two- or four-year college, the group said."

Philadelphia School To Create New iPad Lab

T.H.E. Journal (6/28, Meyer) reports that Stephen Decatur Elementary in Philadelphia will have "a new iPad lab" next fall. "The school will also have video-based digital student portfolios, a student-run virtual help desk, interactive eBooks, and other new educational technology. 'I wanted to provide students with a cutting-edge technology bundle to build 21st century skills,' says principal Charles Connor, who is funding the initiative with a $10,000 Lindback Foundation Award he received in recognition of his outstanding leadership in the School District of Philadelphia."

Los Angeles Places Cap On Homework

The Los Angeles Times (6/28, Blume) reports that the Los Angeles Unified School District is implementing a new policy saying that "homework can count for only 10% of a student's grade. Critics - mostly teachers - worry that the policy will encourage students to slack off assigned work and even reward those who already disregard assignments," but the district is "joining a growing list of school districts across the country that are" limiting homework "so students can spend more time with their families or pursue extracurricular activities like sports or hobbies. The competition to get into top colleges has left students anxious and exhausted, with little free time, parents complain."


Kelsey Williams writes at the San Francisco Chronicle (6/28) "Hot Topics" blog that though supporters of the measure are "lauding the approach as progressive and fair towards students whose home life and economic circumstances makes work outside of the classroom difficult, the overarching move once again takes power away from the teachers who know their student's situation better than any school supervisor could."

Special Education Programs Focusing On Life Skills

Reuters (6/29, Goldberg) reports that special education programs in the US are increasingly looking to teach developmentally challenged students skills necessary to succeed in everyday life in addition to focusing on more traditional academic learning. Areas of focus include such people skills as making eye contact and other social mores.

Maryland Teachers Attend Common Core Seminar

Education Week (6/29, Cavanagh) reports on a gathering of Maryland teachers intended to get all educators up to speed on new "common standards" adopted by the state. The goal of the conference is "to make sense of those standards, figure out how to apply them in their classrooms, and bring those lessons back to their schools." Noting that 11 such conferences will be held in the state this year, Education Week adds that Maryland "was one of 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, to win an award through the Race to the Top competition, a $4.35 billion effort backed by the Obama administration with the aim of fostering academic improvements and school innovation. Along with more than 40 other states, Maryland, which won $250 million through the competition, agreed to adopt common academic standards in math and language arts, a decision that earned the state extra points in the competition."

Chicago Writer Criticizes Teacher "Professional Development" Days

In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune (6/29), Chicago blogger Dennis Byrne mocks the notion of teacher training days in the Chicago Public Schools, likening the concept to the notion of transit workers stranding commuters to "spend the day in 'professional development,' learning how to run equipment they are supposed to know how to run already." Byrne adds that the "issue came to light when new CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard recently said: 'We have 193 days of schools open, but only 170 days that kids can attend school. I'm not sure what happens in those 23 days the kids are not there, but we've got to change that.'"

UConn Study Touts Benefits Of Longer School Days

Noting that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has "called for increasing learning time to improve low-performing schools," the Hartford Courant (6/29) reports that researchers at the University of Connecticut have found that "charter schools and private schools have longer school days than traditional public schools" and that "students in schools with longer days not only get more time in core subjects - particularly math, science and social studies - but also get more exposure in other subjects such as physical education and music."

Survey Touts Technology's Positive Impacts On Classroom Outcomes

TMCNet (6/29, Amodio) reports on a new study from non-profit IT association CompTIA indicating that "it's a no brainer – technology is great for the classroom." The study focused "on technology and its impact on educators and students. The survey conducted shows that 78 percent of 500 educators believe that technology is one of the many positive influences in education today. According to the release, 65 percent of educators said students are more productive today than they were three years ago due to the use of technology."

Writers Call For NCLB Reauthorization To Focus On "Boy Troubles"

In a USA Today (6/29) op-ed, RiShawn Biddle, editor of Dropout Nation and columnist with The American Spectator, and education author Richard Whitmire lament that none of the current plans "offered up by Congress or Education Secretary Arne Duncan" for reforming NCLB involve "the one change likely to trigger real school improvements: Make schools boy-friendly." The writers urge policymakers to "focus on boys" because boys "are flunking out of school and into economic failure. Far too many boys drop out of high school at a time in which what you know is more important for success than what you can do with your bare hands." The writers argue that NCLB ignores "boy troubles" and "the fact that women are doing better than men in school."

Duncan, Napolitano Push DREAM Act In Senate Testimony

Heavy coverage across several media formats continued today on the Senate hearing on the DREAM Act, with much of it focused on the testimony of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in favor of the measure. The New York Times (6/29, Smith) reports that Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin (D) addressed "an overflowing audience of students and supporters at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee to discuss bringing the legislation known as Dream Act back before Congress." The piece notes that Durbin hopes the Senate will pass the measure "with help from key members of the Obama administration, including [Napolitano and Duncan], both of whom testified in support of the bill Tuesday." The Times quotes Duncan, "'It goes against our national interest to deny these students a college education,' Mr. Duncan said, predicting that their personal enrichment will help supply America's need for citizens who can out-innovate competitors."

Noting that the hearing was the "first ever for the decade-old bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children,"

Politico(6/29, Kim, Epstein) reports on the intense focus among the media and stakeholders, noting that Duncan "couched his argument for the bill in economic terms Tuesday, pointing to a Congressional Budget Office report that says the law would generate an extra $1.4 billion in government revenue. 'They have deep roots here and are loyal to our country because in any event, this is the only home they have ever known,' Duncan said." Meanwhile, Napolitano "spoke to the question of national security." Politico quotes her, "These people do not pose a risk to public safety. They do not pose a risk to national security." Politico notes that Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R) argued that the "DREAM Act served only as a band-aid for a larger wound of a broken immigration system."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Maryland Districts Behind Schedule In Implementing Financial Literacy Curriculum

The Cumberland (MD) Times-News (6/27) reports that Maryland education officials are reporting that though most of Maryland's 24 school districts have begun "implementing the recommendations of the General Assembly's Task Force on Financial Literacy," none will be as far along as officials had expected. The piece explains, "In 2010, the state board approved the curriculum that the department had developed in 'bands,' for elementary school grades 3 to 5, middle school grades 6 to 8, and high school grades 9 to 12. Because of the difficulty of devising a curriculum that works for all 24 jurisdictions, the programs apparently will vary, mainly at the high school level."

Chicago Schools CEO Would Add Instruction Days, Push Teacher "House Calls"

The Chicago Sun-Times (6/24, Spielman) reports that Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard on Thursday suggested that the district "could lengthen the school year - without paying teachers more money - by turning professional development days when schools are closed to students into teaching days." Teachers also would be urged to visit students homes to "build a 'better connection' to students' parents." The Sun-Times notes that the ideas are based on the policies of the United Neighborhood Organization, which operates nine charter schools in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune (6/24, Mack, Ahmed-Ullah) reports that Brizard "expressed support today for the idea of teachers and staff visiting students at home, even in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods," adding that he "said he liked some of the charter network's ideas, including home visits. UNO teachers make two home visits per student during the course of a school year. Brizard said if teachers and administrators at Chicago Public Schools each took on 10 home visits, the public school system with 430,000 students could follow the charter network's lead in some of the city's most challenging communities."

The AP (6/24) adds that Brizard "wants teachers to visit students at home, even in violent neighborhoods." Brizard told reporters, "our students go there every day. Why can't we?"


Brizard's Contract Noted. The Chicago Tribune (6/24, Malone, Ahmed-Ullah) reports on the Chicago Public Schools having awarded Brizard an employment contract, noting that none of his recent predecessors, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have had one, stretching back to 1995. His contract "spells out specific year-by-year performance goals that Brizard must reach." Brizard "must improve everything from preschool enrollment to high school graduation rates during the next three years." The piece describes the interaction between Brizard's contract obligations and his compensation.

Virginia District Giving Kindergartners, First-Graders iPads

The Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch (6/24, Lazo) reports that the Henrico County, Virginia, school district "is planning to buy 1,500 iPads to distribute in every kindergarten and first-grade classroom" with "$1.02 million of federal stimulus money." The tablets will replace some of the laptops that classrooms already have. Each classroom will get four iPads.

NRC Calling For Science To Receive Equal Footing With Math, Reading

Education Week (6/24, Fleming) reports that the National Research Council has released a report calling for science to "be tested as frequently and taught as rigorously as math and reading to ensure a high status in the nation's classrooms. The report also urges policymakers to craft new assessments for all the STEM subjects." The NRC plans to release a new set of standards for STEM education in the coming months, and "produced the report in response to a congressional request to the National Science Foundation to identify the nation's most successful K-12 STEM schools and programs."

Hispanic Achievement Gap Remains Steady For Two Decades

Several papers today continued coverage of the new Hispanic achievement gap report, mostly lamenting the apparent lack of progress. The AP (6/24, Armario) reports that the Hispanic achievement gap in the US-as demonstrated by the National Assessment of Educational Progress-has remained steady since "the early 1990s, despite two decades of accountability reforms." The gap "narrowed by three points in fourth- and eighth-grade reading since 2003, a reduction researchers said was statistically significant. But the overall difference between them remains more than 20 points, or roughly two grade levels." The AP quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan, "Hispanic students are the largest minority group in our nation's schools. But they face grave educational challenges that are hindering their ability to pursue the American dream."


The Christian Science Monitor (6/24, Khadaroo) reports that despite this stagnation, there are "hints of progress" to "be found with a closer look at low-income Hispanics or those who already know the English language. And some states stand out for gaps considerably lower than the national average." The Monitor notes that the report comes as Congress is considering how to reauthorize NCLB, which "has attempted to narrow gaps based on race, income, and other factors."

Other media outlets covering this story include the Des Moines Register (6/24, Hupp), the Hartford Courant (6/24), Time (6/24, Webley) and a Spanish language report from EFE (6/24), which features quotes from Duncan and Juan Sepúlveda, director of the White House Initiative in Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.


Florida Sees Improvement. The Orlando Sentinel (6/24, Postal) reports, "Florida is a leader among the states in closing the" Hispanic achievement gap, noting that Florida's "Hispanic students came closer to matching the achievement of non-Hispanic white students on math and reading tests than their counterparts in most of the country, including those in the four other states with the largest Hispanic populations - California, Illinois, New York and Texas." Florida Chancellor for K-12 Education Mike Grego "attributed Florida's improvements to better teacher training; new efforts to pinpoint where students were struggling and then to tailor instruction accordingly; and a push to expand access to advanced courses." This piece also quotes Duncan.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ravitch Emerges As Foil To Duncan, Rhee Policies

The Washington City Paper (6/23, Goldstein) reports on former ED official Diane Ravitch's strong opposition to standardized testing being used for teacher evaluations. The piece particularly focuses on Ravitch's use of Twitter to express her views about education policy, noting that her tweets have "become a major front in her war against what advocates call 'school reform' and opponents like Ravitch sometimes label 'school privatization.'" Ravitch "has become a relevant figure in Washington's local debate: Somewhat improbably, this former education official from the first Bush administration has emerged as the most media-savvy progressive critic of the reform campaign embraced by everyone from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates." The piece continues to compare and contrast Ravitch with former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Among Ravitch's plaudits earned since emerging as a force in education policy is a NEA "Friend of Education" award.

Columnist: "Emotional" History Courses Supplanting Basics

In an column in the Washington Times (6/23), Suzanne Fields writes about the recent NAEP report on stagnate US history scores, suggesting that "emotional appeals in politically correct courses - women's history, African history, environmental history - take the place of chronological and conceptual study," adding that students "learn how horrible slavery was but spend little time studying the how, why and when we righted that wrong."

Schools Turning To "Blended Learning" To Cope With Budget Cuts

NPR's "All Things Considered" (6/23) reports that as districts facing budget constraints cut staff, many "are looking at ways to save money and improve instruction at the same time. The answer for some schools: blended learning, which is part computer lesson, part classroom instruction." The piece profiles Los Angeles's KIPP Empower Academy, which had to raise class sizes after state budget cuts, and "turned to computers" to help mitigate the losses. Audio of this story can be heard here.

Senate Bill Would Overhaul Teacher Training Programs

Education Week (6/23, Klein) reports that a bipartisan group of key Senators has introduced a bill called the "Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act," under which "teacher training programs would be held accountable for producing educators who demonstrate the ability to boost student achievement before they even graduate." Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D), Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) and Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) introduced the measure.


The Grand Rapids (MI) Press (6/23, Murray) also reports on this measure and the "influential" group of Senators who introduced it. "Under the bill, states would designate academies to train teachers and principals, and those schools would have to use a rigorous admissions process and emphasize hands-on experience."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Budget Cuts Could Worsen Philadelphia School Safety Issues

The Philadelphia Inquirer (6/21, Snyder) reports that cuts to state education funding in Pennsylvania will result in "fewer adults" In Philadelphia schools "to keep order," adding that the cuts "could worsen safety conditions in a district already plagued by violence." The piece details the city's recent history of school violence, noting that "the new budget cuts $1.3 million, or 38 percent, of funding for in-school suspension, meaning more unruly students could be banished to the streets next year or allowed to remain in regular classes."

Parents Allege Philadelphia Transferred Students Because Of Autism

The Philadelphia Inquirer (6/21, Graham) reports that the parents of four autistic students are suing the Philadelphia School District alleging that it "is illegally moving the children from school to school based solely on their disability. At issue is the district's Automatic Autism Transfer Policy, which mandates that students with autism move to another school at the end of third and fifth grades. Non-autistic students do not have to move." The plaintiffs "claim the district is violating state and federal law by transferring students simply because they are autistic."

Teacher: Family Background Has More Impact On Education Than Schools

In an op-ed in USA Today (6/21) Virginia high school teacher Patrick Welsh writes that "parents and family culture are the most important factors in a child's education," and suggests that policymakers are "loath to admit" this, "lest they appear powerless in the face of the staggering academic differences" in the nation's students. He notes that it is "in vogue for reformers to blame the achievement gap not on poor parenting but more on poor teaching," but he refutes the notion that "children born to single, semi-literate, poverty-stricken 16- or 17-year-olds can, with the right teachers, reach the same level of academic skill as children born to" literate families of means.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brown Vetoes California Budget

The AP (6/17, Hindery) reports, "Gov. Jerry Brown angered members of both parties Thursday by vetoing a budget plan approved by Democrats in the Legislature then blaming Republicans for a fiscal impasse that threatens to strip more money from education and vital public services." Brown's decision "made a balanced state budget appear more elusive than ever, even though Brown said he would once again try to reach a compromise with GOP lawmakers over whether to extend a series of tax increases set to expire June 30." However, Brown "warned...of dire consequences in the form of more cuts if Republicans don't yield on the tax extensions and authorize a special election to put the question to voters."

Also, the Los Angeles Times (6/17, Goldmacher, York, Times, 657K) reports, "The Democrats had pushed through the spending plan Wednesday, relying heavily on crafty accounting to patch over the state's deficit, after the governor's talks with Republicans on a tax package faltered." After reviewing the budget, however, "Brown called the budget 'unbalanced.'" The governor said that the proposed budget would continue "big deficits for years to come and adds billions of dollars of new debt."


Veto Leaves Orange County Administrators Uncertain About Next Year. The Orange County Register (6/17, Leal) reports that schools in Orange County are "facing a deep financial uncertainty as they finalize their own budgets for next year, local educators said. 'Schools are still in a very precarious situation,' county Superintendent William Habermehl said. 'They have to go forward with layoffs and cuts they've already approved. And there is still no certainty that those cuts will be enough once the final budget passes, whenever that is.' Habermehl said he supported Brown's veto, in which the governor questioned the financial tools legislators used to balance the budget and threatened deeper school cuts if a cluster of tax extensions he has advocated isn't passed."

Los Angeles To Spend $20 Million To Build Parent Centers

The Los Angeles Times (6/17, Blume) reports on a program in Los Angeles "that includes spending $20 million to upgrade or add parent centers across the Los Angeles Unified School District." Presenting the program as part of a drive to "reshape and increase parent involvement," the Times notes that "Classes in parent centers have included help with parenting, nutrition courses and English-language instruction. More than half the school system's 1,000 schools have parent centers in varying conditions." The city-wide center program "will be paid for largely by voter-approved school-construction bonds. The district hopes to add or improve 300 centers with this tranche of funding."

Washington State District's Principals Agree To Pay Cuts To Save Teacher Jobs

The Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review (6/17, Lawrence) reports, "Spokane Public Schools principals have agreed to a voluntary 3 percent pay cut, a move that will help the school district offset a $13.1 million budget shortfall. Additionally, the remaining 85 teachers who received layoff notices last month will be recalled, thanks in part to staff retirements and a new plan to maintain existing class sizes in middle school as well as at the elementary level." The piece gives details of the new budget proposal, and fleshes out the financial issues facing the schools in the district. Northwest Cable News (6/17) also covers this story, but notes that despite progress, "board members warned the district is a long way from narrowing the budget gap. ... Board members said they do have a revenue strategy plan in place to make up $7 million. Cuts to administrator salaries will help close the shortfall."

Nevada Governor Signs Law Allowing Alternative Teacher Certifications

The AP (6/17, Rindels), in a wide-ranging article about various bills that Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval either signed or vetoed on Thursday, reports that one law he approved "will give aspiring teachers more ways to get a license in Nevada. Proponents say the measure authorizes an alternate pathway that opens teaching to people who are highly qualified but don't have time for the traditional route to a license." The law "calls for alternate path taking two years or less, and was one recommendation from the group that compiled Nevada's application for federal Race to the Top funds."

Florida Officials Ask District To Investigate High Number Of Test Erasures

The Florida Times-Union (6/17, Palka) reports that Florida "education officials have asked Duval County Public Schools to investigate test documents with 'extremely unusual levels of erasures' at one school." The state sent similar notifications to 13 other districts. Statistical analysis of tests "was based on an examination of the rates of answers being changed from wrong to right, while also taking into account other erasure types, according to a template memo sent to the districts. The erasure rate was at least at a 'level of erasures that would be expected to occur once in a trillion times when tests are taken under standardized conditions,' according to the memo, which was dated June 9."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Few Teachers Using Second Life For Professional Development

Education Week (6/16, Ash) reports on the potential for teachers to learn from and collaborate with each other via the online virtual world Second Life. When the immersive environment was created in 2003, "there was a lot of excitement about the possibilities of using Second Life as a professional-development tool for educators," with the International Society for Technology in Education establishing a presence there. However, "those expectations have largely fallen short, offering cautionary lessons about using technology for professional development. To begin with, a lack of time, money, and up-to-date technology posed significant challenges. Plus, the amount of training required to become proficient in Second Life discouraged many teachers from thinking of it as a useful and efficient professional-development tool."

Districts Nationwide Work On Best Strategies For iPad

Education Week (6/16, Quillen) reports on a number of programs at districts across the country in which officials are working to determine how best to use iPads and other tablet computers in the classroom. "Every day seems to offer another story about a district or school that's buying iPads-a development that astonishes some ed-tech experts since the device is less than 15 months old, and K-12 educators are traditionally slow adopters of new technology. And they've adopted it for classroom use despite the fact that Apple is still revising its product, with the second version of perhaps several issued in March, while many other manufacturers had only released their tablet competitors at the beginning of this year." Education Week describes ways in which tablet computers outperform laptops in a classroom setting, but concedes that a fair degree of "trial and error" could attend their implementation.

Districts Struggle To Introduce Technology Without Torpedoing Achievement

Education Week (6/16, Davis) reports on the difficulties and successes that educators are meeting as they work to implement classroom technology, piece presents some positive outcomes, but notes that introducing classroom technology "is a tricky task for schools-one that is fraught with worries about what will work and what won't. Schools want to utilize new tools and embrace different ways of teaching, but not at the expense of their performance on state achievement tests." Meanwhile, ED officials appear to be open to allowing some deviation in test scores as districts adjust to new technologies. "'As our blueprint for ESEA reauthorization describes, we have to create space and flexibility for schools to have room to make mistakes and recover without overly penalizing them,' says James H. Shelton, the department's assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement."

Districts Reevaluate Amount Of Homework Students Given

The New York Times (6/16, Hu, Subscription Publication) reports on a "wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high-stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, particularly in elementary grades." Despite criticisms that less work it the wrong answer for low achievement, the "anti-homework movement has been reignited in recent months by the documentary 'Race to Nowhere,' about burned-out students caught in a pressure-cooker educational system." Districts are placing time limits on homework and making basic changes to its definition, "because, as one administrator said, 'parents want their kids back.'" However, AFT president Randi Weingarten "views policies dictating how to do homework as 'taking something that should be professional practice and making it into an assembly-line process.'"

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Report Details Disappointing History Scores Among US Students

A new report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress detailing scores on standardized history tests taken by students across the country has generated significant coverage, including a total of over five minutes on all three network news broadcasts. Most coverage laments the failure of many students to know basic facts about US history. ABC World News (6/14, story 5, 1:45, Sawyer) reported that the report highlights a "glaring failure in teaching American children," and reporting that the results are "The test, known as the Nation's Report Card, was given to over 32,000 4th, 8th and 12th graders across America. Only 20% of 4th graders, 17% of 8th graders and just 12% of high school seniors graded proficient in the subject." The piece notes that despite some improvements, "the findings are sobering." The CBS Evening News (6/14, story 11, 0:55, Pelley) added, "More than 7,000 4th graders were tested by the National Assessment Governing Board created by Congress to assess education. One question asked 'America fought against Hitler and Germany in which war?' Nearly three quarters answered something other than the Second World War." Many students also could not identify Abraham Lincoln when shown a photograph.


In the longest of the three broadcasts, NBC Nightly News (6/14, story 6, 2:30, Williams) reported, "While 8th graders improved since the last time the test was given in 2006, less than 20% scored at or above a proficient level. Black and Hispanic 8th graders account for some of the biggest gains, narrowing the achievement gap with white students." The piece details the lack of growth in fourth and twelfth grade, noting that "On average, students spend only two hours a week in class learning about American history. And students spend ten times that amount on reading and math."

Under the headline "Federal Report Shows History Scores Rising Slowly," the Washington Post (6/15, Chandler) reports that average NAEP history scores have "risen slowly since 1994. But the portion of students who fail to reach a basic level of achievement remains larger than the share rated as proficient or advanced, particularly for high school seniors." The Post details the reduction in the achievement gap implied by the scores, noting that some have linked gains to improved reading skills. The tests gauge "history knowledge across the themes of democracy, culture, technology and the changing role of the United States in the world. Scores were compared with the results from 2006, 2001 and 1994, and they were sorted into four achievement levels: advanced, proficient, basic and below basic." The Post notes that some education experts blame NCLB's focus on Math and reading for the low scores.


The AP (6/15, Armario, Turner) reports that only 13% of seniors "showed solid academic performance in American history. The two other grades didn't perform much better, with just 22 percent of fourth-grade students and 18 percent of eighth-graders scoring proficient or better." Subjects included "colonization, the American Revolution and the Civil War, and the contemporary United States." The AP notes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement, "The history scores released today show that student performance is still too low. These results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education." The AP also quotes former ED official and education researcher Diane Ravitch lamenting a lack of focus on "subjects like history, science and the arts." The Washington Times (6/15, Wolfgang) also reports that Duncan "said he was disappointed by the results, the lowest of the seven subject areas tested by NAEP, which also produces national report cards on reading, mathematics, science and other fields."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Massachusetts School Issues iPads to Every Student in Grade 6

Texas Law To Provide Teachers With Students' Criminal Histories

The AP (6/14, Subscription Publication) reports, 'Texas is close to enacting a law that would provide teachers with detailed information about the criminal histories of their students, opening juvenile files that have always been confidential and are unavailable in most states.' The law 'is adding to a national debate over whether teacher safety should outweigh the rights of young offenders, who traditionally have moved through the juvenile justice system with their privacy protected.'

Bullying Over Sexual Orientation Rising

The Quad-City Times (6/14, Wiser) reports that statistics from states shows that "the incidents of bullying in schools against students because of 'real or perceived sexual orientation' has increased roughly 60 percent since the state started keeping records in 2007." This type of bullying continues to rise even as other types "have leveled off, or decreased."

Study Finds Lower-Ranked Students Get Little Benefit From Gifted Programs

Education Week (6/14, Sparks) reports that according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, "some aspects of gifted education that have been appropriated to improve the achievement of a broader population of students may provide less of a boost than commonly thought." The study "evaluated the effectiveness of both in-class gifted programs and magnet schools for more than 8,000 middle school students in an unnamed Southwestern school district of more than 200,000 students." Researchers "found that students in these programs were more likely than other students to do in-depth coursework with top teachers and high-performing peers. Yet students who barely met the 5th grade cutoff criteria to enter the gifted programs fared no better academically in 7th grade, after a year and a half in the program, than did similarly high-potential students who just missed qualifying for gifted identification."

RAND Study Addresses Loss Of Knowledge During Summer Break

Maureen Downey writes at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (6/14, Downey) about powerful resistance among students to summer school, which is often "perceived as a punishment for failing to get it right during the regular school year. ... But a quality summer learning program can play a role in closing the gap between low-income students and their middle-class peers, according to a new study released today by the RAND Corporation, 'Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Student Learning.'" The study details ways to combat the loss of academic acumen during the summer months.

"Museum Of Mathematics" Aims To Address Low US Math Scores

Alan Boyle, writing at the MSNBC (6/14) "Cosmic Log" blog, profiles the Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan, the "world's first interactive museum devoted exclusively to mathematics." Set to open next year, the museum's organizers "have been sending a traveling exhibit called the 'Math Midway' around the country for the past couple of years. ... The Math Midway is serving as a sort of beta test for the opportunities that will be offered when the actual museum opens." Boyle cites research showing that US 15-year-old students often lag behind their peers abroad in math comprehension, noting that Education Secretary Arne Duncan referred to the results of the latest PISA testing as "an absolute wakeup call for America." The museum's chief architect "hopes the Museum of Mathematics can play an integral role in turning the tide."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mississippi Districts Training Teachers In Technology Ethics

The Mississippi Press (6/13, Wilkinson) reports on a new set of ethics codes in Mississippi related to "the proliferation of cell phones, Internet sites and social media," and describes the training policies that districts are implementing to train teachers. "In Ocean Springs, schools incorporated the state's code into their existing standards and educator contracts, according to School Board attorney Alwyn Luckey. Those existing standards are based on the National Education Association's code of ethics for teachers and administrators, created in 1975 and updated as society evolves."


Iowa Found To Be Underreporting School Bullying.

The Quad-City Times (6/13, Wiser) reports that "four years after lawmakers approved a sweeping anti-bullying law, school officials across" Iowa "appear to be underreporting or flat-out ignoring student harassment in their hallways." After reviewing the figures, Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass remarked, "The low numbers you have here, that are unbelievably low, really, we can't stand behind those. Clearly, we have more work to do in trying to improve understanding on what bullying is."

Bullying Said To Start On Social Networking Sites.

The Quad-City Times (6/13, Martens, Luna) reports that according to local school officials, "it is becoming more common" for bullying to begin on social media sites. Pleasant Valley superintendent Jim Seplhaug noted that the "freewheeling' nature of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, coupled with a feeling of anonymity, can sometimes make students uninhibited about what they post online." In addition, these "sites are capable of transmitting information quickly, which also can aggravate the problem."

Gay-Straight Alliance Said To Help Improve School's Atmosphere.

The Quad-City Times (6/13, Wind) reports, "Concern over bullying was the catalyst for starting Waterloo West High School's Gay-Straight Alliance six years ago," and "Carolyn Braley, the group's staff adviser, sees less of the behavior in the school's hallways and classrooms than at one time, a change she credits in part to the alliance's presence." In addition, "the alliance includes educational, social and fundraising components that are helping to change attitudes."

California District Discontinues Segregated Math Program

The Stockton (CA) Record (6/13, Pham, Roberts) describes a pilot program at Gear Creek High School in Stockton, California, which was "composed mainly of Black and Latino freshman response to data showing 44 percent of Algebra I students at Bear Creek High School had received a failing grade." Principal Daryl Camp "said he hoped the experimental program would narrow the achievement gap that sees Black and Latino students earning lower standardized test scores than their white and Asian peers." However, "after first-quarter grades were not measurably better than those of students in traditional algebra classes - and after a conflict with the math department - the course was disbanded."

Columnist: Schools Doing Disservice To Students By Inflating Standardized Scores

In a (6/13) column, Hilary Bentman writes, "When referring to the percentages of children who are proficient in math, science and reading in the K-12 years, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said last year: 'As a country, we've dummied down standards. We've reduced them due to political pressure, and we've actually been lying to children and parents, telling them they are ready when they are not.'" Bentman continues to expand on Duncan's theme, arguing that districts in Pennsylvania as a matter of policy inflate students grades on such tests, and chides stakeholders from the Federal level down to individual parents for allowing this to continue, suggesting that all parties concerned are ignoring the painful truth that schools are failing to prepare student s for life.

NCES Report: Wisconsin Leads Nation In High-School Graduations

The Manitowoc (WI) Herald Times Reporter (6/13, Hodgson) reports that according to a new National Center for Education Statistics report, "Wisconsin has one of the highest graduation rates in the country - the highest, according to one method of calculation." The report indicates that some 90.7% of Wisconsin high school students graduate. "Wisconsin has been first or second in each of the last five years in that report, which uses the Public High School Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate from the Common Core of Data at the US Department of Education, according to a news release from the DPI."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Study: Preschool Benefits Extend Into Adulthood

US News and World Report (6/10, Reinberg) reports that according to a University of Minnesota report, "children enrolled in a full-time preschool program that sees them through elementary school," when observed 25 years later, have "higher incomes, higher education levels, a higher socioeconomic status and are less likely to abuse drugs or be involved in criminal activities. ... They are also more likely to have health insurance coverage." The research found that males and at-risk students were particularly helped. Researchers "followed 1,386 children, 989 of whom were enrolled in the Chicago-based Child-Parent Center Education Program from 1983 to 1989, and 550 who weren't. ... All the children went to full-day kindergarten and received social services."


The AP (6/10, Tanner) reports that the study tracked the "mostly black Chicago kids for up to 25 years," noting that the "ongoing publicly funded program focuses on language development, scholastic skills and building self-confidence. It involves one or two years of half-day preschool, and up to four additional years of educational and family services in grade school." The AP focuses in on one of the study's subjects, who now works as an HVAC contractor, who at 31, "has strong memories of preschool field trips to the library, zoo and planetarium where he learned to love science. He says he'll never forget the strong influence of his preschool teachers."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

California, Wisconsin Lead Rival State Blocs Creating Common Core ELL Standards

Education Week (6/8, Zehr) reports, "California and Wisconsin each have formed a consortium with other states and applied for the full $10.7 million available in a grant competition to create English-language-proficiency tests for the states' common-core academic standards." The rival applications will "force [ED] to decide if it will split up the money or choose one winner." Both groups include at least 15 states, as required to receive "bonus points" on their applications, and observers believe that no other states have applied. However, "Some states with a large number of English-language learners are not on the list of either consortium."

Education Stakeholders Call For Schools To Better Prepare Students For Non-College Options

Education Week (6/8, Gewertz) reports, "After years of intense focus by American policy leaders and educators on college readiness, a growing chorus is calling for schools to better prepare students for futures that might not include four-year degrees." The piece cites a recent Harvard study titled "Pathways to Prosperity" which focuses on " the country's dominant education push has been to raise academic standards and make more young people into successful college students. By pressing students onto a college path, some observers wonder, are we shortchanging students whose future plans might not include a baccalaureate degree?" The piece notes that a large percentage of jobs created between now and 2018 will not require a college degree, and quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, "It's about giving students a more robust set of options and letting them choose their own path."


Meanwhile, an Education Week (6/8) editorial notes that the recent push to "ensure that American students leave K-12 schools 'college and career ready,' the major emphasis has been on the 'college' part-and especially on four-year colleges." This, however, "hasn't panned out for everyone. Seventy percent of students now enroll in a two- or four-year college within two years of graduating from high school, but many drop out a year or two later, often winding up thousands of dollars in debt and with no clear path to a well-paying occupation." The piece focuses on how to identify options outside of the four-year college paradigm.

Data Shows Highest High School Graduation Rates Since 80s

Education Week (6/8, Swanson) reports that education stakeholders seeking to end the "US dropout crisis" have seen scant signs of encouragement in recent years, "perhaps, until now. A new analysis of high school completion from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center finds that the national graduation rate stands at 71.7 percent for the class of 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. The highest level of graduation for the nation's public high schools since the 1980s, this result also marks a significant turnaround following two consecutive years of declines and stagnation." However, notwithstanding this data, "the fact is that too many students continue to fall through the cracks of America's high schools. We project that, nearly 1.2 million students from this year's high school class will fail to graduate with a diploma."

Several newspapers around the country cover the local aspects of Education Week's report, including the Bangor Daily News (6/8, Cousins), the Morning Sentinel (ME) (6/8, Bouchard), the Raleigh News & Observer (6/8, Christensen), the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer (6/8, Weiss-Tisman), the New Orleans Times-Picayune (6/8, Alpert), the Deseret (UT) News (6/8, Farmer), WTOP-FM Washington, DC (6/8, Ryan), the Washington Post (6/8, Mathews), and the Casper (WY) Star Tribune (6/8, Borchardt).

Los Angeles Report Details Improving Teacher Quality

The Los Angeles Times (6/8, Blume) reports that according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, "principals should be able to hire any teacher of their choosing, and displaced tenured teachers who aren't rehired elsewhere within the system should be permanently dismissed, according to a controversial new report on the Los Angeles Unified School District." The Times adds that the report "offers a roadmap for improving the quality of teaching in the nation's second-largest school system, with recommendations strongly backed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa."


The Los Angeles Daily Breeze (6/8, Llanos) adds that the report "urges Los Angeles Unified to implement changes that would toughen evaluations and empower the district to retain good educators and fire ineffective ones" and "focuses on ways to help LAUSD improve the quality of its teaching pool. ... The authors, who surveyed some 1,500 teachers and principals, recommend changes to the current union contract and to state laws regulating staffing, evaluations, tenure, compensation and work schedules."


Noting that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partially paid for the study, the Los Angeles Business Journal (6/8, Subscription Publication) reports that it says that LAUSD's "policies on teacher hiring, compensation, tenure and evaluations don't work and need to be modified with help from state laws." The report "compared the LAUSD's policies with other districts in the state and nationwide and identified district and legislative reforms that it said would help schools attract and retain good teachers. Among the policies the study decries is the current process of teacher layoffs," which "should be determined by multiple factors, including teacher effectiveness."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Learning Phrasal Verbs

By Kenneth Beare

What are Phrasal Verbs? A phrasal verb consists of a verb and at least one particle which can be a preposition or an adverb. Here are some examples of phrasal verbs: look forward to, get by, put over, think through, etc. There are four types of phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs can be separable or inseparable and they can take an object or not. This guide to learning phrasal verbs goes into all the details.

Here are three phrasal verb lists to start your off that focus on different types of actions:

Phrasal Verbs for Departures and Arrivals
Phrasal Verbs for Increasing and Decreasing
Phrasal Verbs for Making Arrangements

One Page Tense Review

By Kenneth Beare

This tense review is perfect for quickly reviewing for tests, or checking your understanding of tenses / conjugation in English for intermediate to advanced level learners. Each of the major tenses is quickly explained and three example sentences are provided. Quickly run through the sheet, double check your understanding, and if you have any questions, there are links to more detailed explanations, as well as quizzes.

You can also use the visual tenses guide showing each tense and its usage on a timeline to illustrate how each tense is used.

Grammar Chants

By Kenneth Beare

Grammar chants seem to be very popular indeed! Here are some grammar chants for use in class or on your own.

Introduction to Grammar Chants
Comparative Forms
Superlative Forms
Comparative and Superlative Forms together
Questions with 'How'

Friday, June 3, 2011

Federal Court Upholds New York City's Ban On Worship Services At Schools

The AP (6/3, Neumeister, Subscription Publication) reports that the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court's decision that prevented New York City from banning "Sunday religious worship services at public schools that otherwise might become state-sponsored Christian churches on weekends." The AP reports that the ruling is "likely to affect dozens of schools where services are conducted each week." The panel "said in a 2-1 decision that the city Board of Education 'had a strong basis to be wary that permitting religious worship services in schools, and thus effectively allowing schools to be converted into churches on Sunday, would be found to violate the establishment clause' of the Constitution, which bars Congress from making a law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of one."

Online Math Program Popular With Texas Students

The San Antonio Express-News (6/3, Lloyd) profiles the Reasoning Mind online math program, in which students score points by answering math questions. "Since May 10, five classes of fourth grade students at" Paschall Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, "have been test-driving the program for free. 'Math is my worst subject. I didn't like it,' said Fatima Delgadillo, 10, who said she now enjoys Reasoning Mind, in class and at home. 'This website, it's, like, fun and educational at the same time. ... It's on the computer and I like being on the computer.'" The program "is a supplementary online math curriculum for second through fourth grades and a full curriculum for fifth and sixth grades."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Four-Day School Week Said Not To Produce Many Savings

In the "State EdWatch" blog of Education Week (6/2) Sean Savanagh writes that one strategy to save money tried by as many as 120 school districts in 17 states is a four-day school week. However, a new analysis by the Education Commission of the States found that there are "a maximum savings of only 5 percent from school systems' total budgets -- and that districts that moved to a four-day week experienced actual savings of only between .4 percent and 2.5 percent." This is because "the savings on teacher salaries and benefits tend to be minimal," as the staff still work the same number of hours. Additionally, "some school activities, such as those involving extracurricular events of special needs students, still require busing on the theoretical off day."

Experiment With Longer Class Periods Draws Positive Reviews

The New York Times (6/2, Anderson, Subscription Publication) reports on the Calhoun School in New York City, which has adopted longer class periods to allow students to explore class topics in more depth. "High school students at Calhoun intensively study three to five subjects in each of five terms, or modules, that are 32 to 36 days long." Over time, the scheduling change "became a sort of evangelical mission to make progressive education more, well, progressive: embracing depth over breadth, allowing for more experiential learning in Central Park and at nearby museums, and, administrators said they hoped, reducing stress." The trend is gaining popularity at private schools across the US. "Nearly a year into the experiment, teachers interviewed said they enjoyed the flexibility of longer classes, which allowed them to take students out of the classroom and collaborate more, both with other teachers and students." Parents and students were also largely positive.

Many Schools Reconsidering Zero-Tolerance Discipline

The Washington Post (6/2, St. George) reports, "A growing number of educators and elected leaders are scaling back" zero-tolerance discipline policies due to "high suspension rates, community pressure, legal action and research findings," as well as "a long string of high-profile cases about severe punishments for childhood misjudgments." Meanwhile, "educators are increasingly focused on the fallout of suspensions, which are linked to lower academic achievement and students dropping out." As a result, "in many areas, efforts are underway to find a more calibrated approach to school discipline." One "widely popular" such approach, "positive behavior support, uses structured methods for teaching behavior, with prompting, practice and intervention" prior to using suspensions.