Monday, January 31, 2011

Quick Hits

How a Nevada public school is challenging highly-gifted learners: The Davidson Academy, a public school on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, serves students who have an IQ of at least 145 and are considered to be highly-gifted. Experts say many such students struggle in traditional public schools, under policies that do not typically allow them to take appropriately advanced classes and taught by educators who are not trained to teach students who are highly gifted. (Education Next)

Commemorating McAuliffe's legacy after 25 years: Educators nationwide today will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger explosion and death of educator Christa McAuliffe, who was on the shuttle and was to become the first teacher in space. A ceremony will be held at Florida's Kennedy Space Center and eighth-grade students at a Massachusetts charter school bearing McAuliffe's name will complete space-research projects. "Christa served as a great reminder to everybody that the key to education is good teachers," said Barbara Morgan, who became the first teacher in space in 2007. (Education Week)

What are the qualities of an effective science teacher?: Some educators agree that a good science teacher must be a content expert and must know how to engage students in hands-on lessons that help them understand concepts. "Can the teacher go deeper, be flexible and explain why something is important?" one expert asked. "This is the human part, often overlooked. And accurately measuring success is a science in itself." (The Hechinger Report)

L.A. archdiocese adopts 200-day calendar for elementary schools: The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles is switching most of its elementary schools to a 200-day school year, which will be among the longest in the country. Cardinal Roger Mahony said the change is aimed at boosting student performance and is not meant to compete with Los Angeles public schools, which cut their calendar this year to 175 days. "What we're trying to do is focus on the group that we're entrusted with, and we believe that more time in the classroom is beneficial to the students," he said. (Los Angeles Times)

Philadelphia plans to restructure 18 troubled schools: Philadelphia wants to restructure 18 struggling schools this fall, keeping 10 under district control and releasing eight to charter groups. Teachers at the schools will be asked to reapply for their jobs and most principals will be replaced. South Philadelphia High School, the site of racial unrest last year, is among the schools to be restructured. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Is blended instruction the best way to learn?: A Department of Education analysis found that students might retain more information and achieve slightly more when learning online. However, the analysis also suggests that blending online learning with traditional teaching might be the best instructional model. "Students are highly engaged when they work online because they get instant feedback," said a university professor who recently included some online learning in a course but had been skeptical it would produce results. "The degree of benefit surprised me." (U.S. News & World Report)

Teachers use videoconferencing program to broadcast lessons: Teachers at a Virginia school use a computer program called Dimdim to broadcast high-school classes over the Internet. The program allows for a type of videoconferencing in which students can see the teacher in real time and type questions that can be viewed by the instructor. The program allows students to learn at home on snow days and at other times. (Martinsville Bulletin)

Education chief wants more flexibility for meeting goals: Rural schools are distinctly different from those in urban districts, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during a teleconference Wednesday, and that causes challenges in meeting some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Proposed changes in NCLB, which would be part of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, are intended to address some of those challenges, he said. “There is strong interest in fixing No Child Left Behind from both sides of the aisle in Congress,” Duncan said. “We want a fair accountability system. Nobody likes how No Child Left Behind labels schools as failures even when they’re making real gains.” (Messenger by way of KSBA)

What should be done to improve science education?: Interest in science education has waned since the days of Sputnik, but experts say an understanding of science concepts is increasingly important because many of the personal choices individuals are faced with today are science-related. Some say efforts to improve science education, such as the Obama administration's "Educate to Innovate" program and other initiatives, are facing an uphill battle to recover time lost because of a focus on reading and math that was prompted by No Child Left Behind. "For years we're going to suffer from that," one science-education advocate said. (The Hechinger Report)

Arkansas virtual school offers flexibility for students: The Arkansas Virtual Academy has reached its cap of 500 students enrolled in grades K-8, with 1,000 more on a waiting list. The public charter school allows students a more flexible schedule, while still providing a curriculum that prepares students for required exams, a school official said. One parent said virtual schooling is not for every student, but special field trips and online clubs allow students to maintain interaction with their peers. (

NCLB rewrite is expected to include more flexibility, changes to AYP: In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to overhaul No Child Left Behind with a "more flexible" program modeled after his Race to the Top grant competition. Educators are pleased that Obama has proposed changing the adequate yearly progress system, which labeled a third of schools as failing in 2009 and imposes sanctions on schools. Meanwhile, some are questioning how Race to the Top can be applied to a revised NCLB. "He should have talked about [the need for] broader reforms and improvements and raising standards, rather than making the theme of competitiveness the main thing," one expert said. (The Washington Post) (The Christian Science Monitor)

Survey: Most biology teachers approach evolution lessons cautiously: Most biology teachers are cautious when teaching evolution so to avoid controversy, according to data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers. Of 926 teachers surveyed, 60% said they do not advocate for either evolutionary biology or nonscientific alternatives in their teaching. Some educators say they teach students evolution concepts on state exams, or teach both evolution and alternative theories and allow students to draw their own conclusions. The National Science Teachers Association says the teaching of evolution is critical for scientific literacy. (USA TODAY) (The Washington Post)

NYC mayor: Budget woes could lead to massive teacher dismissals: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the possibility of $1 billion less in state aid for education -- combined with city budget woes -- could mean more than 21,000 teacher layoffs for city schools. The mayor said the state's current teacher-seniority law -- which he is seeking to change -- could mean the dismissal of all teachers hired in the past five years. Bloomberg said such a scenario would "disproportionately hurt the schools with more minorities." Aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was premature to speculate about the budget proposal, but that such teacher cuts are unlikely. (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times)

Schools see ongoing effects of recession on students: Educators in a Columbus, Ohio, suburb say they are seeing the ongoing effects of the recession on their students. Some students' parents have been unemployed for extended periods of time and students are fearful of losing their homes and their friends. The situation has more students receiving free or reduced-price meals. Educators are creating support groups to help students cope with their worries. (The New York Times)

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