Friday, September 28, 2012

Alabama Schools Chief Seeks Hike In Teacher Pay

The Tuscaloosa (AL) News (9/28, Beyerle) says Alabama Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice's proposed working budget for 2013-14 seeks to raise salaries for K-12 education employees by about 1%. Bice said to the state board of education, "Employees have not received a raise or (cost of living adjustment) in four years." This follows Gov. Robert Bentley's announcement last week that "he'll consider raises for teachers and support personnel. On Thursday, Bentley repeated his support for pay increases."

Movie Review Criticizes "Won't Back Down" For Portraying Unions As "Villains."

In a movie review for the Los Angeles Times (9/28), Kenneth Turan criticizes "Won't Back Down," saying it "is so shamelessly manipulative and hopelessly bogus it will make you bite your tongue in regret and despair." The movie "avoids the most controversial aspect of the current situation - whether teachers should be held directly accountable if student standardized test scores are weak - but it has no hesitation about creating a villain for all seasons: teachers unions. ... While no one, not even unions themselves these days, denies that there are things that must be changed about how they operate, the notion of them as total evil only makes perfect sense to companies that believe in unionless, private charter schools that increase profits by paying teachers whatever they can get away with."

Rhee Believes Chicago Teachers Strike Underscores Shift Among Democrats.

In the Washington Post (9/28), former DC schools superintendent Michelle Rhee writes that the Chicago teachers strike represents a shift among Democrats, with "those who staunchly side with unions at any cost" increasingly in the minority "while more Democrats are saying we have to look at education differently." She notes that this shift is complicated by the support teachers unions have given to Democratic candidates and by Democrats' belief in "the rights of workers to stay safe on the job and earn a decent living." However, Rhee suspects "more Democrats will say, as Emanuel and President Obama have, that it makes sense to look at how much children are learning when assessing a teacher's work and to empower parents to help turn around schools that are failing their kids, and that it is right to pay teachers more but to also hold them accountable for results."

California Law Limits Role Of Student Tests In API Scores

The Los Angeles Times (9/28, Watanabe) says Gov. Brown signed a law Wednesday - sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) and supported by dozens of business and education groups - to "broaden how the Academic Performance Index is calculated by limiting test scores to 60% for high schools and including graduation rates and other factors." Under the new law, the state Board of Education "will work with the state superintendent of public instruction to incorporate other factors into the index, such as student readiness for college and technical training. The law specifies an increased emphasis on science and social science, which carry little weight in the current API."

ED Announces $290 Million In TIF Grants

ED's announcement of a new round of Teacher Incentive Fund grants to 35 districts across the country generated dozens of reports across the country, mostly on the local level. Coverage is generally positive in tone. The AP (9/28) reports that ED "is awarding $290 million in grants to reward top teachers and boost opportunities for teachers who work in impoverished schools," noting that ED "says the funds will flow to almost 1,000 schools in 18 states plus the District of Columbia. The program is intended to encourage school districts to incentivize good teaching through faculty evaluations and performance-based pay. Some of the grants focus on science and math teachers, which President Barack Obama has said is a top priority." The piece notes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan stressed the need for quality educators.


DC To Use Grants For Principal Merit Pay.The Washington Post (9/28, Brown) reports, "DC Public Schools officials plan to offer performance raises to principals and assistant principals who score well on annual evaluations, expanding the merit pay system already in place for teachers." The Post notes that the grants would be funded through DC's $62 million portion of the TIF allocation, "the largest of 35 such awards announced Thursday." The Post reports that the TIF program is "meant to encourage pay-for-performance initiatives in the nation's schools," adding that "DCPS was among the first school systems in the country to link teacher pay and job security with students' performance on standardized tests."

The Washington Examiner (9/28) reports that DC schools officials say they are "planning to base principals' and assistant principals' salaries on their performance evaluations, a salary structure currently reserved for teachers and other school-based employees."


Detroit Turnaround District Tapped For $35 Million.The Detroit Free Press (9/28, Higgins) reports that Michigan's state-wide turnaround district, the Educational Achievement Authority of Michigan, "has been awarded a two-year, $5.9 million grant that will help the state reform district provide incentives for great teaching and school leadership." The Free Press explains that the "grant amount reflects the first two years of funding. The total grant amount of $35 million over five years is contingent upon congressional approval, according to a press release from the USDE."


Los Angeles To Share Grant With Charter Networks.The Los Angeles Daily News (9/28) reports that the Los Angeles Unified School District and "three local charter school networks" will share a five-year, $49.2 million TIF grant. "LAUSD will use the money to develop and implement a performance-based pay system, for educator training and to recruit science, math and technology teachers to 40 high-needs schools. Superintendent John Deasy learned of the award during a meeting with education leaders in Washington, DC."

Utah Districts Looking To Bus Ad Revenues

The Salt Lake (UT) Tribune (9/27, Schencker) reports that the school district in Jordan, Utah, made some $35,000 in ad revenues during the first six months of allowing advertisements on its school buses, noting that this "has piqued interest among other Utah school leaders, who may soon sell advertising for their buses too." The article notes that under a new law in the state allowing such ads, their revenue must go to transportation costs, and there are certain content restrictions.

Romney Says He Would Not Fund Common Core

Education Daily (9/27, Wolfe) reports that in an interview given for NBC News' "Education Nation" summit, presidential candidate Mitt Romney said "that he would not support federal funding for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, if he is elected in November." The piece quotes Romney saying, "States have adopted it and they've done so on their own. If they've adopted it freely and think it's a good program, they should be able to implement it. ... States have responsibility for the education of their children. I'm not looking for more federal spending. ... I'm willing to say, 'Look. Education is done at the state level. The federal government provides funding for special needs students and low-income students, but in terms of implementing the Common Core, if you've chosen it, congratulations ... do it within the resources of your own state.'"


Republicans Divided Over Common Core.An NPR (9/27, Moxley) "StateImpact piece" reports on Mitt Romney's comments this week to the effect that he does not believe that the Federal government should support the Common Core Standards, noting, "It's not surprising that Romney plans to break with the policies of the Obama administration, which has incentivized states to adopt the standards with Race to the Top dollars. But what is surprising is strong support from the right for the same standards - including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush."

Dallas Superintendent Rolls Out "Demonstration Of Learning" Requirement

Matthew Haag writes at the Dallas Morning News (9/27) education blog that Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles "wants to improve the quality of teaching and plans to hold teachers accountable for getting better," noting that starting this year, teachers are expected to implement "learning objectives and demonstration of learning" into their daily classroom routines. Teachers "must have a new learning objective every day. ... Then students must show that they understand the objective in a short test called the demonstration of learning."

Many Teachers Revisiting Grammar

The Hechinger Report (9/27, Zhao) reports that with the advent of the Common Core Standards, many teachers "are examining new ways to bring grammar back into the classroom. ... While grammar was one of the most-emphasized subjects during the 1950s, schools have shifted away from it since then, according to one study. 'There's plenty of research that traditional grammar instruction and diagramming sentences does not work,' said Sandra Wilde, a professor at Hunter College in New York City. When the Common Core standards are rolled out in 45 states in 2014, teachers will be expected to explicitly teach concepts like participles and infinitives, and students will be expected to explain usage of such terms."

Students Complain Of Hunger Under New USDA School Lunch Guidelines

ABC World News (9/26, story 5, 2:20, Sawyer) reported that a number of students across the country are complaining of still being hungry after eating school lunches prepared under USDA's new nutritional guidelines, which "restrict elementary schoolers to 650 calories, 700 for middle schoolers and 850 for high schoolers. ... The USDA says the new menus are working in some schools and the rules are long overdue." ABC shows Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack saying, "This is about really about our children and the health of our children and making sure we do a good job providing fruits and vegetables and low fat dairy and whole grains. Why? Because a third of our youngsters are obese or at risk of being obese."

Janus Capital Gives Denver $2.1 Million To Implement Blended Learning

The Denver Business Journal (9/27, Goldberg, Subscription Publication) reports, "Janus Capital Group is giving a three-year, $2.1 million donation to Denver Public Schools to implement blended learning - which combines traditional teaching with digital technology - at the new West Generation Academy (WGA), with the goal of eventually spreading it throughout the school district." The funding will support a pilot at the school, whose "classrooms will be equipped with 10 individual computers, small group work stations and a central instructional space for teachers."

The Denver Post (9/27, Auge) also covers this story, quoting Janus Foundation President Casey Cortese saying, "This allows teachers to spend time doing what they do best, which is delivering quality content, and then giving them access to real-time data so they can know where kids are at any given time. We're not replacing teachers with technology. We're giving teachers access to better technology so they can assess students' skills."

Report Pushes Digital Textbooks By 2017.

Nikhita Venugopal writes at the Education Week (9/27) "Marketplace K-12" blog that the State Educational Technology Directors Association has released a report saying that schools should switch to digital textbooks in the next five years. The report "highlights some of the policy barriers that must be knocked down in order to get there," and is "a blueprint for states and districts looking to switch over to digital content, and mirrors a similar road map laid out by the US Department of Education and Federal Communications Commission earlier this year." The piece notes that supporters of digital textbooks tout the savings they bring.

New York City Teachers Union Complains Of High Class Sizes

The Huffington Post (9/27, Kuczynski-Brown) reports that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew released a report Tuesday indicating that "nearly half of New York City's public schools have classrooms that are more crowded than the teachers' union contract allows," noting the he called this "a very disturbing trend." The Post adds, "Mulgrew, speaking outside of the New York City Museum School in Chelsea, blamed the city Department of Education and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration for failing to make lowering class sizes a priority, despite what he said was evidence that smaller classes aid students. A teachers' union survey found that a record 670 schools had what their labor contract calls oversize classes, up from 660 last year."


The New York Post (9/27, Gonen) reports that the UFT says that "students are getting impromptu lessons on how to feel like sardines this year - with more than 6,200 classes citywide packed beyond the brim. ... That's the number of classes containing more students than allowable under the United Federation of Teachers contract - although it's about 800 fewer overstuffed classrooms than at this time last year." The piece quotes Mulgrew saying, "The educational research is clearly and solidly behind this - when you have smaller classes, you allow a teacher to dedicate more time to every individual student. This is common sense."


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

GOP At Odds Over Federal Role In Common Core

Education Week (9/26, Klein) reports on an emerging schism in the GOP over whether the Common Core Standards "are a truly state-led, bipartisan effort to improve learning outcomes throughout the nation, or a federal movement that at least one opponent has dubbed 'Obama Core.' And some state officials who support the common academic standards say President Barack Obama's touting of the effort on the campaign trail isn't helping matters." Noting that some state legislators are beginning to throw the brakes on the standards, Education Weeks adds, "Proponents of the standards are quick to point out that they were developed through a partnership led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, and have been embraced by a cadre of Republican governors and state chiefs, as well as the president."

Students Report Remaining Hungry After Eating Revamped Lunches

USA Today (9/26, Hellmich) reports on the "push back" against new USDA school lunch guidelines from "students and teachers across the USA who say they are still hungry after eating the noon meal." The article reports on an online video parody and other online commentary, and notes that "New government nutrition standards, which went into effect this year in a bid to combat childhood obesity, require schools to serve more variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. And for the first time, there are limits on the calories that can be served at meals based on students' ages." The piece notes however that nutrition experts refute the notion that the new standards are not sufficient.

Principal: Critical Thinking Skills Used In Chess Vital For Student Success

In commentary for Education Week (9/26), author and principal Salome Thomas-EL writes that her "inner-city" elementary and middle school students would "win every match" if they had the opportunity to play chess against President Obama or Education Secretary Arne Duncan. She describes matches her students have won against prominent national leaders, adding, "Unfortunately, most of our nation's urban and rural students won't have the same opportunities as my chess players because, as a general rule, we don't teach our children to think critically or to think ahead. We don't teach them to use logic and reason or to consider rewards and consequences before they make decisions."

Obama, Romney Offer Competing Education Views

President Obama and Mitt Romney both presented their views on national education policy in interviews for NBC's "Education Nation" summit this week. Media reports cover

NBC Nightly News devoted over seven minutes to the interviews with the candidates and analysis of their positions. On Romney's comments, NBC Nightly News (9/25, story 2, 2:00, Williams) reported that Romney staked "out some of his major positions on education, including some differences with the President." Romney called the fact that teachers unions donate a great deal of money to the Democratic party "an extraordinary conflict of interest," though he did stress that teachers should have the right to strike. Romney also discussed student performance-based teacher evaluations, education funding, and "creating families that can support their child in education."


Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News (9/25, story 3, 4:10, Williams) reported that in his interview, President Obama discussed the recent teacher strike in Chicago, where former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the current mayor of Chicago, was at odds with the teachers union, which traditionally supports Democratic presidential candidates. Obama downplayed the notion that the strike was indicative of a schism in the Democratic Party, saying, "It was very important for Mayor Emanuel to say 'Let's step up our game.' And it's important for the teachers' unions to say 'Let's make sure we're not blaming the teachers for all the big problems out there. Let's make sure we've got the resources.'" Obama added, "You know, I think Governor Romney and a number of folks try to politicize the issue and do a lot of teacher bashing. When I meet teachers all across the country, they are so devoted, so dedicated to their kids. Some think we haven't been popular with teachers' unions; I'm a big proponent of charter schools for example."


In its analysis, NBC Nightly News (9/26, story 4, 1:10, Williams) reported, "We decided to take a look at how some candidates come down on some key education issues." NBC notes that President Obama supports the Common Core Standards while Romney opposes it, adding that "President Obama has had tough words for teachers' unions but has figured out a way to work with them. Governor Romney has also had sharp things to say about the unions; he believes they don't always work for the interests of students."

McClatchy (9/26, Schoof) notes that Romney favors cuts to Pell grants and allowing private banks to return to the student loan market. Meanwhile, Obama "wants Congress to approve more spending for his key reform, Race to the Top, a competitive grant program that rewards schools that improve."


Romney Calls For Barring Teachers Unions From Political Donations.The Los Angeles Times (9/26, Mehta) reports that Romney said that "teachers unions should not be allowed to contribute to political campaigns, because their financial backing tips the negotiation process away from the interests of students." The Times quotes Romney saying, "We simply can't have a setting where the teachers unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interest of the kids. I think it's a mistake. I think we've got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It's the wrong way for us to go." The piece notes that despite his criticism of Democrats, Romney praised Duncan, saying, "What I like about him is he said, look, I want to have this Race to the Top program which will give grants to states to encourage innovation and specifically that say we're going to compensate teachers, based upon their performance, which I think is the right thing. We're going to insist on more school choice. I think that's the right thing." The piece notes that he "demurred" about retaining Duncan.


The Washington Post (9/26, Sonmez, Layton) reports that Romney "said Tuesday that he thinks teachers unions should be banned from making political contributions because union leaders often negotiate contracts with Democratic politicians they've helped elect, a situation he called 'an extraordinary conflict of interest.'" The Post notes that "Romney contended that 'the largest contributors to the Democratic Party are the teachers unions.' But a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions, shows that the education industry is the third-largest contributor to President Obama's reelection campaign, behind retirees and those in the legal field. A Romney spokeswoman clarified that the candidate was referring to the fact that the vast majority of donations made by the National Education Association benefit Democrats."


The Huffington Post (9/26, Resmovits) also covers Romney's comments at the summit, reporting, "In stressing teacher quality and the importance of testing over money and class size, Romney has aligned himself with many Democrats - including US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan - who support a movement known as education reform. However, Romney differs from the Democrats on the issue in his views on school choice, vouchers, accountability and the role of teachers unions." The Post reports that National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel "fired back" at Romney, quoting him saying, "Romney's 'us vs. them' platform is a blast from the past. Attacking educators and unions like NEA with gross exaggerations about political muscle and with divide-and-conquer tactics is a distraction from having to confront the real questions about his education record as governor of Massachusetts."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top 10 Vocabulary Learning Resources

By Kenneth Beare, Guide

Here are the most popular English vocabulary resources on the site. These vocabulary resources provide comprehensive instruction and review for beginner, intermediate and advanced level learners.


1. Key Words List

Here are pages with a list of 850 words developed by Charles K. Ogden, and released in 1930 with the book: Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar. These pages are an excellent starting point for building up a vocabulary which allows you to converse fluently in English.

2. Financial Terminology Quiz

This 30 question quiz focuses on key financial terms and provides feedback and scoring.


3. British to American / American to British - Vocabulary Converter

This popular tool provides the American English version for British English terms and vice-versa. You can use this page for reference, or as a fun quiz tool.

Once you understand these differences, you might also enjoy this quiz testing your knowledge of the differences between American and British English.

4. Building Phrasal Verb Vocabulary

This exercise consists of audio excerpts with sentences using target phrasal verbs, matching definition exercise and sentence use.

These quizzes focus on common phrasal verb combinations:

Phrasal Verbs with Turn
Phrasal Verbs with Take
Phrasal Verbs with Bring
Phrasal Verbs with Put
Phrasal Verbs with Look

5. Visual Dictionaries

These visual dictionaries provide images and vocabulary related to different subject areas. Each entry includes example sentences to provide context.


6. Collocations

Collocations include specific verbs combinations. Here are common words and expressions that go with verbs:

Do, make
Catch, Pay, Keep
Come, Get, Feel
Miss, Get, Do, Make
Save, Find, Go
Take, Have, Break

7. Expressing Numbers in English

Guide to expressing numbers in English for ESL classes giving detailed explanation about expressing numbers in both British and American English.


8. Action Idioms Quiz

Each of the action verbs are used in a variety of contexts providing understanding through context.

9. Useful Business English Phrases


These phrases are used to conduct and participate in business meetings. Phrases are grouped by purpose, and a number of similar phrases are given for each part of typical meetings.

10. Do, Play or Go with Sports

Decide between "do", "go" or "play". Sometimes the verb needs to be conjugated or put in the infinitive or gerund form.


From Kenneth Beare


Literal or Figurative? - Phrasal Verbs

Tom bought into the young man's elevator pitch. The phrasal verb 'buy into' is used in a figurative sense in this example to mean "Tom believed what the young man said in his short presentation." Phrasal verbs can be used in both a literal and figurative sense. Take the phrasal verb 'pick up' for example... Read more

Website Helps Philadelphia Teachers Connect With Classroom Donation

The Philadelphia Inquirer (9/24, Medina) profiles, "an online charity that helps teachers cover the hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own money they shell out every year. Educators start 'projects' on the website asking for just about everything: pencils, calculators, paper towels, furniture, cleaning supplies. You name it, a Philadelphia teacher probably needs it."

Poor Pennsylvania Performance Expected To Worsen Next Year

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (9/25, Chute) reports that though student scores on this year's PSSA assessments were low, "at least some of the changes in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment will make it more difficult to achieve AYP" next year. "The changes include eliminating a version of the test for certain special education students" and "replacing the 11th-grade PSSA exams with the new end-of-course Keystone Exams."


Philadelphia PSSA Scores Plummet.The Huffington Post (9/25) reports, "Following the implementation of unprecedented security measures to fight cheating, 2012 standardized test scores in Philadelphia dropped significantly across every grade level," noting that the drop "reverses a nine-year upward trend. The tests are used in determining whether students in third through eighth grade and 11th grade are performing at grade level." The Ellwood City (PA) Ledger (9/25, Media) and the York (PA) Dispatch (9/25, Shaw) also run local coverage on lagging test scores.

New York Mayor Announces Plan To Boost Pre-K For Low-Income Students

The New York Times (9/25, Baker, Subscription Publication) reports, "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Monday that the city would open a new type of preschool in Brooklyn next year, introducing a cradle-to-kindergarten approach to education for very young children in poor neighborhoods." The "Educare" school will "serve children between 6 weeks and 5 years old, mimicking schools that have been created in 17 other cities. The one envisioned for New York will include a 'leadership institute' to carry out research in early childhood education, city officials said." The Times quotes Bloomberg saying, "Our goal is to have every city kid arrive in kindergarten ready and prepared for a lifetime of success."

Nation's Schools Preparing To Implement Common Core

In a report focused on the network's "Education Nation" summit, NBC Nightly News (9/24, story 4, 3:10, Williams) reported that the nation's governors adopted the Common Core Standards because of low US test scores, adding that the "new, tougher more demanding standard of learning is generating a lot of buzz at the summit, as schools across the country are gearing up to teach a new way." The piece notes that Kentucky officials have enthusiastically adopted the standards because of low test scores, and explains how it standardizes standards , though not curriculum. The piece details the "critical thinking" focus of the standards, and notes that though teachers "have a lot to learn" in order to implement the standards, many are nonetheless enthusiastic. "The architects of Common Core acknowledge there could be a rocky transition period. Some kids who excelled previously could take years before they measure up to the new benchmarks of learning and thinking."

Monday, September 24, 2012

California Education Funding Ranking Plummets

The Napa Valley Register (9/24) reports that according to a report on school funding from the California Budget Project, "California - once ranked first in the nation for education spending - is now among the lowest in the country in terms of per-student K-12 funding." The state "would need to increase education funding by 32.1 percent" to be in line with the national average. The paper quotes the report saying, "After a decade of disinvestment, the gap between resources available to California schools and the rest of the US has widened substantially. California's schools spend fewer dollars per student and have substantially more students per school staff than schools in other states."

Analysis: Most Districts' Cheating Investigations Lack Vigor

An analysis in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (9/24, Judd) describes the "haphazard manner in which many states and school districts handle reports of cheating on high-stakes achievement tests," noting that "officials often minimize such allegations, treating them as mere aberrations: one-time occurrences best dealt with in isolation. ... In some cases, investigations uncovered wrongdoing and led to punishment for a handful of educators." However, "nearly always, officials focused narrowly on a single classroom or, at most, a single school - the approach the Atlanta Public Schools used for years before a scandal over systemic cheating erupted three years ago."

Strauss: Studies Show Rising Segregation Levels

Valerie Strauss writes at the Washington (DC) Post (9/23, Strauss) "Answer Sheet" blog about a series of recent reports indicating "increased levels of segregation in US public schools that are so substantial that, the authors conclude, the country's success as a multiracial society is at risk." Strauss adds that the studies "found that in 1970, nearly four out of every five students across the nation were white, but by 2009, just over half were white - and in the South and West, students of color now constitute a majority of public school enrollment. The research shows that segregation is substantially increasing for Latino students across the country but most significantly in the West, and that for black students, segregation also remains very high and is most severely growing in the South." She notes that the reports call on DOJ and ED's Office for Civil Rights to punish districts and school that violate segregation laws.

Tighter Assessment Security Coincides With Drop In Pennsylvania Scores.

The Philadelphia Inquirer (9/24, Hardy) reports, "The percentage of Pennsylvania students meeting state math and reading standards on the PSSAs - the annual academic accountability test - declined this year for the first time since the tests began in 2002. Education Secretary Ron Tomalis on Friday attributed the drop to tight security procedures enforced during the spring testing, especially in 110 schools across the state still under investigation for possible cheating from 2009 to 2011." The piece notes that some 100 teachers are facing sanctions for alleged cheating.


The Allentown (PA) Morning Call (9/24) reports that Tomalis said that "higher testing standards or education spending cuts" were not to blame, but that the "reduction was caused by increased security measures that stopped a 'small number of educators' from changing students' test answers to the right answers, Tomalis said. 'Why did we see decrease?' Tomalis asked at a news conference in Harrisburg. 'We put in place some safeguards to make sure data was accurate.'"


Scores Decline In Philadelphia.The Philadelphia Daily News (9/24, Russ) reports that school officials in Philadelphia say "tighter controls to prevent cheating may be a factor in the first decline in state test scores since the statewide exam began in 2002." However, education advocates say that funding cuts also played a role, the Daily News reports, noting that "Only 33, or 13 percent, of Philadelphia's 250 schools met state benchmarks in reading and math...down from 44 percent of the schools meeting the standards."


Scores Drop Sharply At State's Largest Charter.The Philadelphia Inquirer (9/24, Hardy, Purcell) reports that PSSA scores "dropped precipitously at Chester Community Charter School, the state's largest charter, after an investigation of possible past cheating brought new scrutiny to the school's testing practices." The school's scores fell between 30 and 40 percentage points, the paper reports, noting that the "school's 2011 scores had been above or close to state academic proficiency benchmarks; in 2012, they are well below them, even discounting that the state raised the thresholds for this school year."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Duncan Discusses Rural Districts' Technology Funding Issues

The Merced (CA) Sun-Star (9/19) presents a Q&A with Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the challenges facing rural schools attempting to implement and upgrade classroom technology. Asked about the potential for Federal funding to aid such districts, Duncan said, "There are programs through the FCC, the Department of Agriculture (and others). We're continuing to invest, but there's still more work to do." Duncan expressed the concern that teacher training programs may not be adequately preparing educators to take full advantage of such technologies. He also discussed potential future funding models for technology upgrades.

California District Asks Students To Bring Device To Classroom

The Palm Springs (CA) Desert Sun (9/19, Mitchell) reports Desert Sands Unified School District "will encourage parents to send their children to school with a phone, tablet or computer - anything that connects to the Internet - so teachers can incorporate technology in the classroom." School budgets "don't allow them to keep up with changing technology to provide devices for every student, and many students already have these devices at home, Director of Technology George Araya said. The district cannot require that parents purchase anything, and there will be a transition period in which some students have these devices and some do not, Araya said."


Some Michigan Schools Reconsider Cell Phone Bans.The AP (9/19) says some schools in western Michigan "are reconsidering cell phone bans, as teachers tire of fighting students about their use and find that the devices can enhance learning." Holton Public Schools superintendent Jason Kennedy "said that by allowing students to carry phones into class, schools have the opportunity to teach responsible use while reducing discipline. The district recently updated its policy to allow electronic mobile devices to be used in classrooms if teachers agree."

Report Details Differing Outcomes For Turnaround Schools

Education Week (9/19, Sparks) reports on a new report from the Institute of Education Sciences which explores "what makes one low-performing school turn around and build momentum over time, while another, seemingly similar school tries the same strategies but continues to struggle." The report indicates that the "interplay of school implementation with district policies and support" are key, Education Daily reports, adding, "The project used an independent method to identify chronically low-performing schools and track them from 2002-03 through 2007-08; researchers developed their own identification system because other methods to identify persistently low-performing schools for the School Improvement Fund or No Child Left Behind Act accountability differed from state to state and did not include student growth. The study schools included the lowest 5 percent of schools in each of the three states, with achievement in the bottom 15th percentile for that state and less than 40 percent student growth over time in both reading and mathematics."

Writer: Ignoring Gifted Students Imperils US Economy

In a New York Times (9/19, Subscription Publication) op-ed, Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, writes that all gifted students deserve the opportunity to have a strong education. "But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools." Finn writes that public schools are "failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys," and argues that policies that sacrifice cultivating the talents of gifted students place the nation's economic prosperity at risk.

New Jersey District Introducing Digital Literacy Curriculum

The Medford (NJ) Central Record (9/20, Brownfor) reports that officials in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, have unveiled "a revised media and information literacy curriculum, addressing both technological skills and digital competency at every grade level," noting that its purpose "is to guide students to become independent, self-sufficient, and responsible users of all types of information. ... The new curriculum is written in Understanding By Design (UBD) format and includes enduring understandings, essential questions, performance assessments, alternate forms of assessment and a basic teaching plan at each grade level."

Author Profiles New York Classroom Technology Experiment

Author David Bornstein writes at the New York Times (9/20) "Opinionator" blog that though public education policy debate tends to focus on teacher quality, students' are often overlooked as an education resource. "One way to help students gain agency over their own education is through technology." Bornstein profiles a New York school engaged in "a promising experiment in digital learning," noting that "last year, CFY, a nonprofit organization, provided home computers (and arranged for discounted broadband access) to every one of the sixth grade students in the school. ... In addition, CFY provided a four-hour training for the students and their parents in a free Web-based platform CFY developed called PowerMyLearning which contains 1,000 (soon to be 2,800) digital learning activities and games from across the Web that have been carefully selected and categorized by teachers and education specialists." Bornstein suggests that the program is already bearing fruit.

Report: Despite Gains, Black Male Graduation Rate Still Lags.

Education Week (9/20, Maxwell) reports that according to a report from the Schott Foundation for Public Education, "the four-year graduation rate for black males has steadily improved over the last decade, but remains dismally low compared to the rate for their white male peers," noting that the report "found that in 2009-10, 52 percent of black males graduated from high school with a regular diploma within four years. It's the first time that more than half of the nation's African-American boys did so, according to Schott's report." The article suggests that the lingering achievement gap erodes the significance of the gains.


Reuters (9/20, Gamboa) also covers this story, quoting Schott Foundation President John H. Jackson saying, "At this rate it would take nearly 50 years for black males to graduate at the same rate as white males. I don't think the country can wait. I don't think any parent or student can wait for half a century to have the same opportunities, education, jobs as their white male counterparts."

Center For American Progress Releases Report Detailing School Funding Inequities


The Huffington Post (9/21) reports that the Center for American Progress has released a report indicating that "inequitable per-pupil spending perpetuated by regressive state and local school-finance systems remains cause for concern in US public schools, despite state aid formulas designed to work to the contrary." The piece quotes the center's Cynthia G. Brown saying in a statement, "Inequitable funding of US public schools contributes significantly to the under achievement of our low-income and minority students. It's something we have to fix if we are to progress as a society." The Post adds, "The study's authors, Rutgers professor Bruce Baker and NYU associate professor Sean Corcoran, identify six states - Illinois, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri and North Carolina - where combined state and local revenues and school resources are considerably lower in higher-poverty districts than they are in lower-poverty districts."


Writer Calls For Greater School Funding Equity.In commentary for Bloomberg News (9/21), Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress writes that the school finance system used in the US "dooms millions of poor children to the least-qualified teachers and most run-down facilities in the country. No other wealthy nation tolerates the funding disparities between rich and poor districts that the US does." Miller writes that rhetoric aimed at changing this system is "taboo" because it violates the principal of local control, and uses the Chicago teachers strike as a tool to illustrate this view.

Report: Schools "Re-Segregating."

Kimberly Shannon writes at the Education Week (9/21) "Inside School Research" blog that according to a new report from the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, "the nation's public schools have experienced dramatic re-segregation over the past two decades, a trend that is 'systematically linked to unequal educational opportunities' for minority students." Noting that the organization based its research on ED data, the article describes the changes in US schools in recent decades, adding that the "report offers a list of recommendations for reversing the current trend: making the public aware of the re-segregation trends; promoting diverse schools as highly desirable places to learn; enforcing laws that would encourage desegregation; renewing government policies that assist with integration; and creating regional magnet schools and regional pro-integration transfer programs."

Writers Pan Lack Of Literature In Common Core Standards

In an op-ed in the Herald News (MA) (9/21) , Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass of the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank, write at length praising Mark Twain for both his "literary genius" and accessibility, and lament that "students in Massachusetts and across most of the country may soon have to seek out Huckleberry Finn on their own, because it isn't included in national K-12 education standards that have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia." They complain that the Common Core Standards "include less than half as much classic literature and poetry than the Massachusetts standards they will replace."