Thursday, January 19, 2012

Groups Release Graduated Sex Education Recommendations

Education Week (1/18, Shah) reports that a coalition of groups including the American Association for Health Education, the American School Health Association, the National Education Association Health Information Network, and the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education has released a set of proposed "national standards about sexuality, sexual health, and relationships," noting that they "outline topics students should learn, starting in kindergarten, and that they can build on as they grow older. The standards-an initiative by groups concerned with student health and sex education-are intended to mimic content standards for other subjects, which introduce concepts early in school, based on children's ability to understand them, and then add to them grade by grade until graduation."

Pennsylvania District Facing School Closures After Budget Cuts

The CBS Evening News (1/17, story 9, 2:20, Pelley) reported that the Chester, Pennsylvania, school district "is now completely out of cash" and "may have to close some schools in midterm." CBS added that the district "needs $20 million to get through the rest of the school year," noting that the state "ran the financially troubled district for 16 years. School board members claim the state left them with a deficit when the board regained control." State budget cuts reduced funding for the district by $12 million. The piece concludes, "Late today, Pennsylvania agreed to provide Chester $3.2 million in emergency funding. It's enough to make payroll for a month as the district and the state weigh the cost of saving Chester's schools."

Panel Releases Report On Philadelphia School Violence

The AP (1/18) reports that a "Blue Ribbon Commission" of the Philadelphia school district has released a report "outlining several strategies for reducing truancy, suspensions and violent incidents," noting that city education officials "are pledging more accurate reporting of school violence and better support for victims as part of a broad effort to make the district safer." The district's plans "include offering better counseling for victims, offenders and witnesses; improving the relationship between school police and city police; and creating protocols for consistent reporting. The report identifies 46 of the district's most troubled buildings, including 19 labeled 'persistently dangerous' by the state."

Educators Increasingly Using Videogames As Teaching Tools

US News & World Report (1/18, Sheehy) reports, "Increasingly, video and online games are making the transition from extracurricular to educational activities," noting that teachers are using video games to teach physics concepts and system interaction. "The immersive and complex nature of today's gaming world allows teachers to guide students through a variety of lessons using video and online games, says Matthew Stevenson, a teaching associate working on a master's in mathematics at California State University in Los Angeles." However, "critics argue that games are a distraction with little learning value."

Advocates Criticize California Governor For Defunding Transitional Kindergarten

The San Francisco Examiner (1/18, Crawford) reports, "Kindergarten teachers and advocates for early education are protesting Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to defund" the state's nascent "transitional kindergarten" program, which "would serve children whose fifth birthdays come after a new cutoff date for entry. 'It's balancing the budget on the backs of these kindergartners and their families,' said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, a member of the Senate Education Committee." The piece explains that the program was established by a 2010 law which is scheduled to take effect this year, but adds that "in a budget proposal released last week, Brown called for the elimination of per-pupil funding for students who would have been in transitional kindergarten."

American Students Living In Mexico Cross Border For Education

In a front-page article, the New York Times (1/17, A1, Brown, Subscription Publication) reports that in the immigration debate, "frustration is focusing locally on border-crossers who are not illegal immigrants but young American citizens, whose families have returned to Mexico yet want their children to attend American schools." These "transfronterizos" cross the border each day to attend school, "straining the resources of public school districts and sparking debate among educators and sociologists over whether it is in American interests that they be taught in the United States." Most don't pay the out-of-district student tuition, and those that do often "do not pay the property taxes that support public services."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Supreme Court To Consider School Responses To Internet Harassment Of Students, Staff

The Los Angeles Times (1/15, Savage) reported, "The US Supreme Court is being asked to decide for the first time on the dividing line between the rights of students to freely use their own computers and the authority of school officials to prevent online harassment of other students and the staff." Meanwhile, "school principals say they are caught between the new technology and outdated, confusing legal rules."

New Jersey Students Of Different Backgrounds Connect By Studying Steinbeck

The New York Times (1/17, A20, Hu, Subscription Publication) reports that students in Plainfield and Westfield, New Jersey, "are engaged in an unusual literary experiment, studying" John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" "in a collaboration intended to provide lessons between the lines of Steinbeck's prose." Students in Westfield are mostly white and affluent while Plainfield's students are mostly black and Hispanic and poorer. The students found connections through "the project, which cost less than $1,600 for busing, supplies, food and books."

Study: Many States Don't Require Teaching About The Civil Rights Movement

The Augusta (GA) Chronicle (1/14, Emerson) reports, "According to a 2011 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., on civil rights educational standards and curriculum, most states earned a D or F, with 35 states receiving an F because their standards required little or no mention of the civil rights movement." According to the study, "the farther a state is from the South, and the smaller that state's black population, the less attention paid to the civil rights movement." The Chronicle added, "Most states viewed the civil rights movement as a regional matter or a topic of interest for black students rather than significant events in national history."

New York City School Using Technology In Classrooms, Connecting With Parents

The Wall Street Journal (1/14, Hollander, Subscription Publication) reported that the World Class Learning Academy's parent outreach efforts include daily Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook updates. Some schools are using such technology to attempt to connect with families. The school is also incorporating iPads into its classrooms. However, some experts warn that both efforts could lead to unintended consequences.

Educators Changing Use Of Praise In Classrooms

In a front-page article, the Washington Post (1/16, A1, Chandler) reports, "An increasing number of teachers are weaning themselves from what some call empty praise." Based on psychology and brain research, they are using a "vocabulary for praise that will push children to work through mistakes and take on more challenging assignments" after a growing body of research found "that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities" and that "children rewarded for being smart become more likely to shy away from hard assignments that might tarnish their star reputations." Instead, "children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success."

Report: Few States Have Solid Common Core Plans

Education Week (1/13, Gewertz) reports that only seven of the 46 states (and DC) to have adopted the Common Core State Standards "have fully developed plans to put the standards into practice in three key areas" according to an analysis which found that most states are still far from having cogent plans. The piece describes the methodology behind the change, adding that "Curriculum and instructional materials stood out as the area in which states have made the least progress. Thirty-five reported that they are making or have completed plans to provide such materials and resources, but 11 reported no plans in that area." Teacher professional development, Education Week reports, would appear to be states' primary focus.

Arizona Students Adjusting To Loss Of Hispanic Studies Class

The Los Angeles Times (1/13, Ceasar) reports that students in Tucson, Arizona can no longer "discuss Chicano perspectives on history. And no longer can [teachers] teach Mexican American studies. After the Tucson Unified School District board voted late Tuesday to suspend the controversial classes to avoid losing more than $14 million in state aid, the students' world shifted." The piece notes that Arizona law "bans classes that are primarily designed for a particular ethnic group or that 'promote resentment toward a race or class of people.' Last week, state Supt. of Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruled the Tucson program in violation."

New Mexico Democrats Plan To Oppose Third-Grade Retention Plan

The Las Cruces Sun-News (1/13, Simonich) reports that a group of Democrats in the New Mexico legislature plan to "oppose Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's initiative to retain all third-graders who do not read proficiently. The group filed an alternative bill to target struggling kids in grades K through 3 for extra help in reading and math. But the Democrats' bill would leave in place the existing state law that allows parents or guardians to veto a school staff that wants to retain a child in any grade."


The Santa Fe New Mexican (1/13, Nott) also covers this story, noting several paragraphs in that Education Secretary Arne Duncan last year "said, 'If your students keep being allowed to leave third grade and fourth grade without being able to read, you're not doing them any favors.'"

California Legislator Would Ban School IDs Reflecting Test Performance

The Orange County (CA) Register (1/13, Martindale) reports that California Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D) has introduced legislation to ban state schools "from issuing ID cards and other items that reflect students' classroom performance" after an Anaheim school generated controversy with such an incentive program last year. "The 2-year-old program – which featured a separate lunch line, raffles and campus discounts for students in the top two tiers – was largely dismantled by the Anaheim Union High School District after the Register reported on it in fall 2011. Under AB 1166, school districts would be prohibited from including any information about a student's standardized test scores or 'course grades' on school-issued ID cards or 'any other object that a pupil is required or encouraged by school officials to carry.'"

What do you do with a BA in English?

By Christopher Dawson | January 9, 2012, 11:58pm PST

Summary: Why does this make me think of my oldest son? He's an English major, of course!

Avenue Q is just about my favorite musical of all time. Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson edges ahead sometimes depending on my mood, but I can't help but think of my oldest son whenever the first line of Avenue Q's theme song starts leaking from a set of earbuds (which happens with remarkable frequency in my house):

What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.

Why does this make me think of my oldest son? Because he's an English major, of course! Well, a Professional Writing major, but still, his minor in theater adds some extra bang for my tuition buck, right?

Removing my tongue from my cheek briefly, I have to tell a quick story about one of my other kids. He's 16 and just had to write a research paper and give an oral report for his English class. He got a B on the written portion, but a D on the oral portion because he didn't look at the audience. He was appalled. "How can I look at the audience when I have to be looking at the board?" he exclaimed.

I naively asked why he had to look at the board. "How else am I supposed to read my PowerPoint?" he responded.

I should have known.

All of a sudden, that BA in English with a minor in theater started to look awfully attractive. I can't think of a more important "21st Century Skill" than communication, whether written or verbal. A bit of theater? Gee, maybe he'll be able to think on his feet and improvise and actually glance away from the projector or his feet and talk to his audience, whether that audience is in a boardroom or a lecture hall. There is nothing more disconcerting than watching a business leader reading from notes or delivering a death-by-PowerPoint presentation, droning on about slides that I could just as easily read myself on a set of handouts. Disconcerting because by the time someone is in a position of leadership, they should be able to speak extemporaneously and yet remarkably common.

Kid #3 (the 16-year old) should be so lucky as to have some experience on stage and I could have hugged his English teacher for calling him out on his public speaking. Only a tiny minority of our students graduate high school (or college, for that matter) with the ability to deliver an effective presentation. We should get rid of standardized tests and just make every high school senior give a 15-minute oral presentation on an infographic they prepare with an accompanying slide deck. Anyone who reads their deck or loses their audience before the 15 minutes is up doesn't get to graduate. It's not exactly a "standardized" test, but talk about outcomes-based education!

I don't know what Kid #1 will do with his BA in English (OK, writing…whatever!). Maybe he'll write the next great American novel. Maybe he'll be a marketing rockstar. Maybe he'll write for ZDNet. Maybe he'll be the next Sondheim. It doesn't matter. The more I think about it, the more I wish my doctors had been English majors. Maybe they could at least fake some bedside manner and communicate clearly with their patients. Honestly, an engineer with a BA in English could rule the world. There aren't too many people who can bridge the gap between engineers and users with a truly effective grasp of the English language in all of its forms or present technical concepts without making audience members start gnawing their arms off to escape.

It isn't too much of a stretch to say that a degree in English (or communications, or whatever) might just be one of the more useful and relevant degrees a student could obtain, with applications across a wide variety of disciplines. The point of college remains to learn to think (and master beer pong, of course); that can happen with a degree in biophysics just as easily as a degree in the humanities. That liberal arts major, though, just might have better job prospects in a knowledge economy than the biophysics major who avoided English and public speaking courses like the plague.

I started out as a biophysics major in college. This lasted until I took organic chemistry. I quickly switched to public health which, through a part-time job, morphed into a degree in information systems with a focus on statistical computing and healthcare IT. Interestingly, though, the single class that was more useful to me than any other, where I learned things that I couldn't have learned from a book or online, was a public speaking class.

Useless degree? I think not.

**From ZDNET:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Health, Education Groups Release New Sex Education Guidelines

The AP (1/10, Hefling) reports that a "coalition of health and education groups" on Monday released a new set of sexual education guidelines, noting that the "recommendations to states and school districts seek to encourage age-appropriate discussions about sex, bullying and healthy relationships - starting with a foundation even before second grade. By presenting minimum standards that schools can use to formulate school curriculums for each age level, the groups hope that schools can build a sequential foundation that in the long term will better help teens as they grow into adults." The AP lists the groups in the coalition as Advocates for Youth, the American Association of Health Education, the American School Health Association, the National Education Association - Health Information Network, the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education, and the Future of Sex Education Initiative.


Nirvi Shah writes at the Education Week (1/10) "Curriculum Matters" blog that the standards "say that by the end of 2nd grade, students should be able to use the proper name for body parts, including male and female anatomy. By the end of 5th grade, they should be able to define sexual abuse and harassment. By the end of high school, they should be able to describe common symptoms of and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV." The article suggests that the standards form a counterpoint to "the federal government's continued support for abstinence-only sex education programs," noting that several states are seeking a more inclusive sex education curriculum. KWTX-TV Waco, TX (1/10) also covers this story on its website.

Educators Report Resurgence In Focus On Spelling

The Boston Globe (1/10, Matchan) reports that "spelling, which suffered a precipitous drop in status during the last few years, has become popular again," noting that "once-ubiquitous elementary school textbooks known as 'spellers" have been as scarce, in recent years, as double vowels. E-mail programs and smartphones fix our spelling mistakes, and texters ignore them altogether." Despite this technological shift, "spelling textbooks, ejected from classrooms some 20 years ago to make way for more creative methods of studying words, are becoming popular again."

Forty Chicago Schools Implement Expanded School Day

Forty Chicago Schools Implement Expanded School Day.

The Huffington Post (1/10) reports, "Forty schools across Chicago that signed on to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's longer school day initiative earlier this year greeted students returning from winter break Monday with an extra 90 minutes of instruction." The piece notes that 38 are charters and two are traditional public schools, and that they "agreed to begin a longer school day in January, debuting new schedules this week that include extra time for reading, social studies, fitness classes or recess and new character development lessons. ... The CPS schools lengthening school days this week will have $75,000 in incentive funds to help occupy the extra time with meaningful instruction, and the charter schools making similar schedule adjustments were also extended monetary incentives for starting early."


The Chicago Tribune (1/10, Ahmed-Ullah) reports that the schools which spurned Emanuel's "financial incentives," will implement the expanded school day next school year. "The longer day initiative has been controversial," the Tribune reports, noting that the "Chicago Teachers Union filed an unfair labor complaint last fall, alleging the district coerced and intimidated teachers into voting for the extra minutes. Chicago Public Schools officials say so far elementary schools that implemented the longer schedule starting in September have logged up to 85 extra hours of instruction with most of that time focused on reading, math and science."

Social Studies Lesson Prompted Controversial Georgia Math Worksheet

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (1/10, Dodd) reports that the math worksheet that sparked controversy in Gwinnett County, Georgia, this week by using scenarios about slavery in word problems was prompted by "a social studies lesson on Frederick Douglass," according to local officials. "Whatever the reason, the assignment outraged some parents at the Norcross school. Beaver Ridge Elementary on Monday continued to receive complaints about a math assignment distributed to more than 100 students in four of the school's third-grade classes last week."

Research Links Physical Activity To Classroom Performance.

The Washington Post (1/10) "KidsPost" blog reports that according to a Dutch review of 14 separate studies, "'being more physically active is positively related to academic performance in children.' Which is really just a fancy way of saying kids who got exercise and were physically fit tended to do better in school."


Keith Ayoob writes at the USA Today (1/10) "Nutrition Nation" blog that the "systematic review" suggests that active students do better in class, but "results were very iffy. Out of the 14 studies identified, only two were considered well-done. Still, there was a trend: Over time, there seemed to be a connection between physical activity and academic performance."

Report: Virtual School Students Trail "Brick-And-Mortar" Peers

The New York Times (1/6, Anderson, Subscription Publication) reports that according to a new report from the National Education Policy Center, "the number of students in virtual schools run by educational management organizations rose sharply last year...and far fewer of them are proving proficient on standardized tests compared with their peers in other privately managed charter schools and in traditional public schools. About 116,000 students were educated in 93 virtual schools - those where instruction is entirely or mainly provided over the Internet - run by private management companies in the 2010-11 school year, up 43 percent from the previous year," the report says. "About 27 percent of these schools achieved 'adequate yearly progress,'" as comparted with 52% of "privately managed brick-and-mortar schools."

Standardized Testing Opponents Stage "National Opt Out Day."

The Huffington Post (1/9, Resmovits) reports on the "small but vocal group of teachers and parents who want to end high-stakes testing" who are staging "National Opt Out Day, an event marked by teach-ins across the country. 'We want to kick off a conversation about opting out,' said Shaun Johnson, an assistant elementary education professor at Towson University who helps facilitate United Opt Out National, the group behind Opt Out Day. Johnson and Slekar hope that Opt Out Day leads parents across the country to deny the standardized testing of their children this spring. The movement will culminate with an 'Occupy the DOE' (Department of Education) protest in Washington, D.C. this March." The piece notes that the group is taking the action on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of NCLB.

Congress To Consider PE Language In ESEA Overhaul

The Bellingham (WA) Herald (1/9, Hotakainen) reports that as cash-strapped districts across the country cut physical education spending, members of Congress are considering language "to intervene." The piece quotes WA9 Rep. Adam Smith (D) lamenting increased childhood obesity rates, noting that he "and a bipartisan group of 84 other House members want to include language" in proposed ESEA reauthorization legislation "that would pressure schools to offer more PE. Their idea is to force school officials to issue yearly reports on how much time students engage in physical activity, making it easier for the public to compare schools."

Math Lessons Including Slavery References Spark Outrage In Georgia District

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (1/9, Anderson, Ibata) reports that a math worksheet at Beaver Ridge Elementary School in Gwinnett County, Georgia, which "used examples of slavery in word problems" has caused outrage among local parents and activists. Local officials promised to "work with teachers to come up with more appropriate lessons and will offer more opportunities for staff development," but "that didn't go far enough for some parents at the school, where a majority of the students are minorities. They called for an apology and diversity training for the teachers and district officials." The paper notes that "School district officials said teachers were attempting to incorporate history into their third-grade math lessons."


ABC World News (1/8, story 9, 1:25, Muir) reported, "Parents in Atlanta are outraged after eight-year-olds were asked to solve math problems about slaves picking oranges and being beaten." The piece notes that officials have "destroyed the worksheets and promised to work with teachers. But that's not enough for many parents."


The New York Daily News (1/9, Caulfield) reports that local parents "were outraged when their children's math homework referred to slavery and beatings," and the school is now "in hot water after third-grade math teachers assigned students homework problems that contained references to slavery and beatings, local station WSBTV reported."

Washington State School Replaces All Lights With LEDs

KING5-TV Seattle, WA (1/6, Chittim) reports that James Monroe Elementary in Everett, Washington, "is believed to be the first public school to go almost entirely LED," noting that such fixtures "have been around for years...but were not considered suitable for reading or lighting large areas. However, technological advances have erased most of those concerns and now schools are seeing LEDs in a whole new light. ... The bulbs cost more at the front end, but administrators say they will make up for it in energy and replacement costs."

California College Wins ED Grant To Train Special Needs Teachers

The Highland (CA) Community News (1/6) reports that ED's Office of Special Education Programs has given the University of California, Riverside, a $1.2 million grant "to fund doctoral students to conduct research and prepare teachers for students with disabilities at Riverside and San Bernardino schools. Rollanda O'Connor, whose research focuses on reading development for children with disabilities, starts work this month on a five-year grant awarded by the US Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs." Doctoral students "will be able to pursue research on K-12 students with a range of disabilities or risk for developing disabilities, including learning disability, intellectual disability, autism and status as an English language learner."

California Governor Calls For Tax Hike To Prevent Education Cuts

Noting that California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) discussed his upcoming budget proposal after his staff inadvertently published it online a week ahead of schedule, the CBS Evening News (1/5, story 8, 1:45, Pelley) reported that Brown "wants to raise taxes on those earning $250,000 or more and boost the state sales tax by a half cent. If voters don't go for that, the governor will call for an automatic cut of nearly $5 billion from public education. That equals about three weeks of school."

The AP (1/6, Lin) reports that Brown said Thursday that if voters don't approve the tax increases, "California faces a smaller budget deficit in the coming fiscal year but will require nearly $5 billion in cuts to public education." The piece details Brown's efforts to end the "massive deficits that have defined California's fiscal planning for years," adding that "Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, said Brown's budget proposal takes a significant step toward creating a more effective and equitable system of financing California's schools."


Under the headline "Gov. Jerry Brown's New Budget Plan Targets Schools," the Los Angeles Times (1/6, York, Riccardi) reports that Brown's budget calls "for a painful $4.8-billion cut in public school funds if voters reject a proposed tax hike that he hopes to put on the ballot in November. Despite the possible reduction - the equivalent of slashing three weeks from the school year - the spending blueprint Brown released Thursday is a relatively optimistic document. It assumes he will have to close a $9.2-billion deficit, a vast improvement over last year's $26-billion gap."

Writers Call For Focus On Chronic Absenteeism

In a piece for Education Week (1/5), Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, and Robert Balfanz, director of the Everybody Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, write that Congress should address "the number of students missing 20 days or more of school each year. Obviously, missing so much school is a problem for the absent students...but these absences also affect other students, when teachers have to slow their instruction to accommodate students who missed lessons the first time they were taught." The writers cite research showing declining overall test scores at schools with high levels of chronic absenteeism, and note that "mayors and education leaders in New York City, Chicago, Baltimore, and other cities, large and small, are catching on to this impact and recognizing that a reduction in absences starting in the early grades is one of the more straightforward, actionable steps they can take to improve schools and community health."

Copious New Teacher Training Data Emerging

Stephen Sawchuk writes at the Education Week (1/5, Sawchuk) "Teacher Beat" blog about the "ton of new data on the state of teacher education beginning to come out," noting that the "2008 rewrite of the Higher Education Act changed many of the reporting requirements for teacher colleges," and "those requirements have begun to generate data, beginning with the US Department of Education's newly released report on the teacher preparation and credentialing in the US, and filtering down to states' and individual institutions' reports." Sawchuk examines a number of reports and muses on potential themes for analysis.

ED's Cator Describes Personalized Learning

THE Journal (1/5, Demski) reports on the advent of "personalized learning, a student-centered teaching and learning model that acknowledges and accommodates the range of abilities, prior experiences, needs, and interests of each student--with the goal of moving every student to a higher standard of achievement." The defines the concept, contrasting it with individualized learning and differentiated instruction. "In the National Education Technology Plan, the US Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology describes personalized learning as an instructional approach that encompasses both differentiation and individualization, but is also flexible in content or theme to match the specific interests and prior experiences of learners. Karen Cator, director of the OET, explains further: 'Personalized learning really takes into consideration that long tail of interest, of prior motivation, of languages. It leverages all the different things that people have in their repertoire to add value to their learning.'" The article notes that Cator and Education Secretary Arne Duncan "advocate a tech-enabled model of personalized learning."

Wisconsin Governor Announces Plan To Screen Kindergarteners For Reading Level

The AP (1/5) reports that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Wednesday announced "the recommendations of the Read to Lead task force" he set up last year, noting that under the group's plan, "all students entering kindergarten would be screened to see how well they can read, and teachers will receive more rigorous instruction and be held to higher standards for teaching reading." Walker called it "an 'aggressive plan to improve reading outcomes in Wisconsin.'"


The Wisconsin State Journal (1/5, DeFour) adds that the group "also recommended enhancing professional development opportunities for teachers and creating a public-private partnership to rally businesses and nonprofit organizations around the goal of ensuring all children can read by third grade." The report pointed to declining reading scores in the state in recent years.

California Schools Chief Announces Green Ribbon Participation

The Pasadena (CA) Star-News (1/4) reports that California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced this week that "California schools can now apply for the inaugural Green Ribbon Award, which recognizes the nation's highest-performing environmentally-friendly" schools, noting that ED "unveiled the Green Ribbon Schools award in September. The program recognizes schools that save energy, reduce costs, feature environmentally sustainable learning spaces, protect health, foster wellness, and offer environmental education to boost academic achievement and community engagement." The Star-News characterizes the Green Ribbon program as part of ED's push for improved student achievement and workforce preparation.

ED Criticized California District For Insufficient Bullying Response

In a brief item in an article about events during 2011 in Tehachapi, California, the Tehachapi (CA) News (1/4) reports that according to an ED civil rights investigation, "the Tehachapi Unified School District 'did not adequately investigate or otherwise respond' to claims of sexual and gender-based harassment of 13-year-old Seth Walsh. ... Release of the report was followed by news that Wendy Walsh, mother of the Tehachapi teen who took his own life in Sept. 2010, was going to file suit against the district."

Teachers Push Back Against Mandatory Classroom Technology

A front-page article in the New York Times (1/4, Richtel, Subscription Publication, 1.23M) describes teacher resistance to a push to expand classroom technology in Idaho, where a new law "requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate" in a step toward "a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers." The article describes this conflict as emblematic of a broader "tension" nationwide, noting that "some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training." The piece notes that teachers in Idaho say that the changes are more attributable to "heavy lobbying by technology companies" than to any proven instructional benefit.

New California Laws Mandate Gay Social Studies Curriculum, Dream Act Scholarships

The Orange County (CA) Register (1/4, Leal) reports on new laws impacting education in California that take place this year, noting that the "first part of California's Dream Act, Assembly Bill 130, will provide access to private scholarships and financial aid to illegal immigrants. To qualify students must attend for at least three years and have graduated from state high schools." Meanwhile, that state is implementing a "transitional kindergarten" program for children too young for traditional kindergarten, and "Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are now added to the lengthy list of social and ethnic groups that schools must include in" social studies curriculum.

Study: Students With Working-Class Parents Less Likely To Seek Academic Help

The Chicago Tribune (1/4, Malone) reports that a recent study published in the American Sociological Review found that "students' ability to speak up for themselves and seek help from a teacher often varies by economic and social class," noting that "just as every school principal knows the adults most willing to pipe up about everything from the kids' class assignments to cafeteria food - by and large, well-educated working professionals," the study "found their children showed the same propensity to advocate for themselves in the classroom as early as third grade. The children of working-class parents profiled in the two-year study seemed more reticent in asking teachers to review directions, provide more instruction or even check their work."

Groups Developing Online, Text-Based Sex Education Programs

The New York Times (12/31, Hoffman) profiles "ICYC (In Case You're Curious), a text-chat program run by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains," describing how students can text questions about sex to the program, and receive a prompt an anonymous response via text message. "Sex education is a thorny subject for most school systems; only 13 states specify that the medical components of the programs must be accurate. Shrinking budgets and competing academic subjects have helped push it down as a curriculum priority. In reaction, some health organizations and school districts are developing Web sites and texting services as cost-effective ways to reach adolescents in the one classroom where absenteeism is never a problem: the Internet."

Romney "Would Veto Dream Act."

Philip Rucker writes at the Washington Post (1/3) "Election 2012" blog that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, "apparently trying to burnish his anti-immigration credentials before conservative voters" in Iowa "said outright that he would veto the federal DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants. The former Massachusetts governor previously has been critical of the DREAM Act – and, as governor, he vetoed a similar state law – but previously had not said he would veto the federal law as president. ... According to a campaign aide, Romney specifically opposes provisions in the measure that would open a path to legalization for illegal immigrants who complete high school and two years of post-secondary education and that would allow states to grant them in-state tuition to public colleges."

Writer: Technology Can Help Teachers Individualize Instruction

In an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun (1/3), Michael C. Blom, general counsel to the Howard County Public School System, writes about "the increased difficulty" that teachers face in the classroom, touting the role that technology can play in allowing teachers to teach across a wide range of teaching styles. "School boards have spent millions on technology but don't have any solid evidence that it has improved student learning." Moreover, "Perhaps the only major facet of our life that has yet to be transformed by technology is education." Blom stresses the importance of individualized learning, but laments that most teachers lack sufficient time to teach students on an individualized basis. "By using technology as a teaching tool, we add a resource that easily individualizes, and we free teachers to differentiate as well."

Analysis Finds Correlation Between Test Scores, Parent Conference Attendance

The Omaha World-Herald (1/3, Dejka) reports that its analysis of school data in Omaha, Nebraska, shows that parents "really do matter in a child's academic success," noting that the paper "looked at how many parents showed up for fall 2011 parent-teacher conferences at nearly 180 schools in the Omaha metro area and compared that with student test scores. Schools with the highest parent attendance generally scored best on state reading and math tests," the paper found. The piece notes that though there is no proven direct causal relationship between conference attendance and higher test scores, "attendance at conferences suggests an involved parent, one who cares enough to take time off from work or evening activities to visit school and wait, in long lines at some high schools, for a brief chat with a teacher."

Delaware Program Aims To Ease Middle School Transition

The Wilmington (DE) News Journal (12/30, Dobo) profiles a program being used at Springer Middle School in Talleyville, Delaware, called Challenge Day, in which "students and educators aimed to build trust by sharing life experiences such as intimate family secrets and pain endured at the hands of bullies. When the day ended, tissues covered the floor." The piece describes the perceived difficulties of middle school, noting that "education at this juncture is thought by experts to be key to success in high school. In June, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan highlighted the issue. 'As you know, the middle-grade years have sometimes been called the 'Bermuda Triangle' of K-12 education,' Duncan told the National Forum's Annual Schools to Watch Conference, according to a transcript of his June 23 remarks."

Author: Finnish Education Successes Based On Equity

In an article in the Atlantic (12/30), author Anu Partanen writes that education observers who point to Finland as an example for US education policy are "missing the point," noting that "Finland's national education system has been receiving particular praise." Partanen notes that a recent visit to the US by Finnish education official Pasi Sahlberg drew widespread attention, but "it wasn't clear that Sahlberg's message was actually getting through." According to Sahlberg, American education officials are "consistently obsessed" with such issues as student tracking through standardized testing, teacher accountability, merit pay, school choice, and the participation of the private sector, none of which are used in Finland. "Decades ago," Partanen writes, "when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity."

Class Size Cap Complicates Contract Negotiations In Minnesota District

The St. Paul Pioneer-Press (12/30, Koumpilova) reports, "A teachers union bid to limit class sizes has held up contract negotiations in St. Paul." The piece credits the St. Paul Federation of Teachers' plan for a "hard cap on class sizes" a first in the state, noting that the "district has balked at the idea," stressing the need for flexibility. "The union counters that such a cap would be a powerful tool in a key district mission of attracting more families. The disagreement prompted the union to enlist an outside mediator for the first time in more than two decades - and for the first time ever over an issue other than salary or benefits."

Denver Program Uses Computer Training To Build Student Confidence

The Denver Post (12/30, Gentry) reports a Denver, Colorado, group called OpenWorld Learning, which is using existing computer lab facilities at seven Title I schools in Denver to teach some 500 underprivileged students computer skills at no cost. The Post quotes the firm's CEO, Dean Abrams, saying that the instruction can boost student confidence and instill a culture of learning. He is quoted, "What it looks like we are doing is teaching kids computer skills, but what we are really doing is helping them build a lot of confidence. We believe that confidence is the precursor to academic achievement."

California Program Works To Attract Girls To STEM Classes

PBS NewsHour (12/29, 7:34 p.m.) runs a segment profiling a program called Techbridge in at Frick Middle School in Oakland, California, intended to attract girls to taking STEM courses. Much of the piece focuses on the troubled neighborhood, and profiles science teacher Kevin Eastman, who weekly "spends two hours at Techbridge, which pays him, using grant money, to hook kids on learning. ... Techbridge is enthusiastically endorsed by Oakland school officials." Meanwhile, PBS adds, Techbridge founder Linda Kekelis is show saying, "A lot of the girls that we work with never think about becoming an engineer or being a computer programmer. For girls from more disadvantaged areas and under-resourced schools, they do have less access to role models." Video of this segment can be seen here and here.

Indiana Educators Use Vintage One-Room School To Teach History Lesson

The Journal and Courier (12/30, Lange) reports that teachers at Webb Elementary School in Franklin, Indiana, periodically take students to the "one-room Dollens School," a nineteenth-century building used by teachers at two local elementary schools to "help students experience a school day similar to one from the late 1800s. During the summer, the Johnson County Retired Teachers Association donated $31,000 to the schoolhouse so that restrooms could be added near the building. The hope is that the addition entices other school districts and community groups from central Indiana to visit, retired teachers association president Charles Cragen said."

California Mandarin Immersion Program Sees Significant Growth

The Los Angeles Times (12/30, Stevens) profiles the Mandarin Chinese immersion program at Broadway Elementary School in Venice, California, in which "there is not a single English word on the walls" and "none of the students are aware that their teacher speaks English. ... Broadway Elementary last year joined the ranks of more than 200 schools across the state to offer a dual-language immersion program in which students learn in two languages with the goal of becoming academically proficient in both. In the school's '50-50' program, teachers who use Mandarin in the classroom and those whose instruction is in English are paired, and students spend half their day with each. Broadway began the program to help boost plummeting enrollment - the school had reached a low of 257 students in 2008-09." Now, the Times reports, the program has expanded to the point that its students make up nearly half of the school's student body.

Cincinnati Experimenting With Middle School Grading

The Cincinnati Enquirer (12/28, Brown) reports on the debate over how best to prepare middle school students for academic success, noting that research on the issue is "inconclusive, at best. When Cincinnati Public Schools announced this month that it would expand Western Hills High School to grades 7 through 12, it was the district's latest attempt to boost middle school achievement through grade reconfiguration." The piece describes past efforts in the city, adding, "CPS joins districts across the country in rethinking where to put their middle school students as pressure mounts to improve academic success."


The AP (12/28) adds that Cincinnati officials "are taking another look at how to boost student performance by merging some middle schools with high schools, betting the move will help younger students by providing more academic options sooner." However, the AP notes, some experts "disagree on whether combining the lower and upper grades always is the best way to help students," and explains that the "district phased out separate middle school buildings in the 1990s in favor of a mostly K-8 model. Once the new merged schools are in place, the district will have eight 7-12 schools, four 9-12, four K-12 or pre-K-12, and one 11-12. Superintendent Mary Ronan said the change means better academic performance, such as younger students being able to take Algebra 1 in the eighth grade."

California Working To Overhaul ELL System

The AP (12/28) reports on the plight of Spanish speaking students who are thrust into English-only classrooms in California, and fall behind on their academics as they struggle to learn English, noting that education experts stress "the need for a statewide overhaul of how schools teach kids English. ... Educators are now closely observing the Los Angeles Unified School District after the US Department of Education recently criticized its 200,000-pupil English learning program, saying it violated students' civil rights by failing to provide an equal education to non-native speakers. Under federal monitoring, LAUSD is overhauling its English learner program, the largest in the country." The piece suggests that Los Angeles' new system could serve as a template for other districts.

Internet Increasing Visibility Of Violations Of School Prayer Ban

Noting that the Supreme Court declared some 50 years ago that "officially sponsored prayer in public schools violated the separation of church and state," the New York Times (12/28, Eckholm, Subscription Publication) reports that "in some corners of the country, especially in the rural South, open prayer and Christian symbols have never really disappeared from schools, with what legal advocates call brazen violations of the law coming to light many times each year." The piece describes a South Carolina event which included "overt evangelizing," noting that such "religious increasingly coming to light, legal experts say, as school populations become more diverse and as the objection of non-Christians - or, in this case, the rejoicing of evangelists - is broadcast on the Internet."

Study: Kindergarten Math Curriculum Critical To Later Success

The San Diego Union-Tribune (12/28, Su) reports on the debate about the relative value in kindergarten curriculum of socialization and academics, noting that according to a new study from UC Irvine, "math skills among kindergartners turn out to be a key predictor for future academic success. Professor Greg Duncan and his colleagues analyzed studies conducted with close to 20,000 kindergartners, assessing their knowledge of math, literacy and other skills, including their ability to stay on task and make friends." The paper notes that "even after accounting for differences in IQ and family income, Duncan found that those who learned the most math in kindergarten tended to have the highest math and reading scores years later."

Writers Defend Community Schools

In an op-ed in the Washington Times (12/23), Jeff Smith, executive director of DC Voice, and Martin J. Blank, President of the Institute for Educational Leadership, refute a recent opinion piece the Times published online which argued that "the Community Schools Incentive Act, which would introduce community schools to the District, would be a costly and ineffective way to address the challenges faced by our students and families." The writers refute this argument, noting that "several details in the piece's underlying argument completely ignore all research to the contrary." The writers lament the lack of attention in the media and by policymakers to the role that poverty plays in academic success, and argue that research supports the positive impact that community schools can bring to academic achievement.

Chicago Officials Announce 36-Minute School Day Extension For Next Year

The Chicago Tribune (12/23, Hood) reports, "On a day when the Chicago Teachers Union staged rallies to protest closings or turnaround projects at eight public schools, school district officials on Thursday revived the longer school day debate by announcing they would extend the high school day by 36 minutes beginning next fall." CPS officials say that with other adjustments, this will add 46 minutes of classroom time, the Tribune adds, noting that the "move also aligns the high school day with the new 71/2-hour standard for CPS elementary schools, which historically have had some of the shortest school days in the nation. Mayor Rahm Emanuel led the charge earlier this year to lengthen elementary school days by 90 minutes, dangling financial incentives to schools that adopted the longer day this year."

California Education Chief Releases K-6 Common Core Curriculum Guide

KHTS-AM San Diego (12/23) reports, "With California schools preparing to move to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that will redefine what students learn, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today the publication of a new book to help teachers and administrators make the transition." The guide "provides information for educators on curriculum planning and professional development in the new standards, which were formally adopted last year," and includes "an overview of each study area, a summary of what proficient students learned in the previous grade, descriptions about the content area, and the standards."

Rural Illinois Districts Work To Prevent Consolidation

The Springfield (IL) State Journal Register (12/22) reports that Gary DePatis, superintendent of Greenview School in Greenview, Illinois, "thinks he has a way to offer students in his tiny rural school district a top-flight curriculum and exceptional teaching staff in spite of dwindling state aid," noting that he and other superintendents of rural districts "determined that, apart from money, the top three concerns among officials of small districts are developing a first-rate curriculum, attracting and retaining quality teachers and addressing declining enrollment. Officials in many districts want to avoid school consolidations if they can, because closing schools can turn small communities into ghost towns." The paper describes the plans that DePatis and his colleagues are crafting to share such resources, but notes that this can bring new expenses.

Duncan Discusses Focus On Civil Rights In Education

Diverse: Issues in Higher Education (12/22, Pluviose) runs a largely positive profile of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, describing him as difficult to pigeonhole ideologically, noting that "his interest in education runs much deeper than ideological posturing." Duncan, Diverse adds, "believes that a lack of education can have deadly consequences," and has "focused on expanding access to quality education at all levels." The piece cites of Duncan's "extensive" "accomplishments" and "successes," both as CPS CEO and as Secretary of Education, and continues with a partial transcript of an interview with him. Topic include Duncan's definition of education as the "civil rights issue of our generation," male minority teacher recruitment, and the importance of community colleges. Duncan also discussed student loan debt, HBCUs, and his willingness to serve during a potential second Obama term.

Writer: E-Readers Can Hamper Children's Early Development

In a piece for Time (12/22), the New American Foundation's Lisa Guernsey writes that electronic reading devices "can unintentionally cause parents to hamper their child's learning. This phenomenon first turned up a few years ago in research at Temple University on e-books for preschool and elementary school children. Instead of talking with their children about the content of the books, parents ended up spouting 'do this, don't do that' directives about how to use the devices." Guernsey describes more research suggesting that the use of such devices can hamper cognitive development.

Vallas Named Interim Bridgeport Superintendent

The AP (12/22) reports that Paul Vallas, the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools "who later went on to lead the Philadelphia and New Orleans school districts, has been named interim schools superintendent in Bridgeport. ... He will receive the same $229,000 annual salary as his predecessor, John Ramos, whose contract was terminated by the board appointed under a state takeover of the district." The piece notes that Vallas "ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor in 2001, losing to now convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich."


Describing Vallas as "an education reformer who has led some of the nation's most troubled school systems," the Connecticut Post (12/22, Lambeck) reports that he "was named Tuesday as interim superintendent in the state's largest city, whose district has some of the state's lowest test scores and deepest poverty. He starts Jan. 1, and will inherit both a $6 million budget gap and a state-appointed school board whose very existence is being weighed by the state Supreme Court." The Post notes that Vallas expressed confidence and "pledged to stabilize the district and create new financial and academic plans that will not only move the district forward, but generate improvements other systems will envy."


Noting that Vallas "has built his reputation by taking on enormous jobs," the New Orleans Times-Picayune (12/22, Vanacore) reports that he "arrived in New Orleans when schools were in ruins and students were scattered across the country. From there, he moved on to disaster-stricken school systems in Haiti and Chile. So his next act may seem like a head-scratcher: interim superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn." The paper notes that despite its modest size, Bridgeport "does have what seems irresistibly attractive for Vallas -- headaches, among them an $8 million budget shortfall, a power struggle over who will govern public education in the city and dismal scores on state exams." The Fairfield (CT) Sun (12/22) also covers this story.

Tech Writer Lists 2011's Education Tech "Fizzles."

Christopher Dawson explores his take on things which he and others in the education technology community expected to take off in 2011 "that just sort of fizzled" at the ZDNet (12/21) "Education" blog. These included cheaper Android tablets, which failed to wrest significant market share from the iPad. "All of those cheap Android tablets were supposed to usher in great, interactive textbook applications. The EPUB standard has evolved, Adobe released awesome PDF and tablet-centric technologies, and publishers started pushing out electronic versions of their textbooks for download or rental, but the content never really appeared. As we mentioned above, neither did the inexpensive devices on which students could read and interact with the texts." Other "fizzles" include PC over IP, the bring-your-own-device movement, and broader "tech-centric pedagogy."

Texas District Looking To Expand Computer-Based Math Curriculum

Education Week (12/21, Repko) profiles the "personalized computer-based math program called Reasoning Mind" that the Dallas Independent School District is using "supplement their regular math lessons" for second graders. "Next school year, district officials may nearly triple the number of students using the program by expanding it to the third and fourth grades. The hope, district officials say, is to boost test scores and better prepare students for algebra." The piece notes that the program, "funded largely by Texas philanthropists, many from oil and energy backgrounds...has been adopted by 331 schools in eight states, according to Reasoning Mind."

Teacher Urges Peers Not To Accept Students' Excuses

Laura Klein writes at the New York Times (12/20, Subscription Publication) "Schoolbook" blog that teachers often "focus a lot on accommodating our student's needs" because "it's our job to teach them no matter what" special needs or obstacles they may have. "But to truly help them be successful, we ourselves have to embody the 'no excuses' attitude. The problem is that by allowing ourselves no excuses, and doing whatever it takes to make students successful, we often find ourselves accepting excuses from them. ... The real work is in figuring out where exactly to draw the line between accommodation and empowerment." Klein argues that being too quick to dismiss a student's inappropriate behavior or low performance as inevitable because of an outside factor risks "crippling" that child.

Value Of Virtual Schools Debated

The AP (12/19, Moreno, Wyatt) reports on the rise in students attending virtual schools, but notes that "as states pour money into virtual classrooms, with an estimated 200,000 virtual K-12 students in 40 states from Washington to Wisconsin, educators are raising questions about online learning. States are taking halting steps to increase oversight, but regulation isn't moving nearly as fast as the virtual school boom." Noting the conflict between "traditional education backers, often teachers' unions," and policymakers seeking savings, the article explores whether "online education [is] as good as face-to-face teaching." The piece cites ED research touted by online learning firms showing that "K-12 students did as well or better in online learning conditions as in a traditional classroom. But critics say most studies, including many in that 2009 review, used results from students taking only some - but not all - of their courses online."