Monday, March 7, 2011

Quick Hits

Gates challenges assumptions on teacher pay, seniority: Microsoft founder Bill Gates challenged traditional assumptions about teacher pay, seniority and effectiveness in a speech Thursday at the 2011 TED (Technology, Education, Design) Conference.

Gates questioned the $50 billion he said is spent each year on seniority-based pay increases for teachers, arguing that teacher longevity has not been shown to improve student achievement. He promoted the concept of extra pay for top teachers who agree to take on additional students. (ABC News)

How anti-teacher sentiment is harming students: Schools Education expert Diane Ravitch says the country is at a point of "national insanity," as high-ranking officials tout the needs for education reform while going on the attack against teachers. She writes that recent events -- from proposals to create larger class sizes in Detroit or dismiss teachers in Rhode Island and Idaho -- are doing little to help students or improve schools. (Bridging Differences)

Teachers face unprecedented challenges to their profession: Many teachers across the country view warnings about layoffs -- along with ongoing attempts to reduce their rights, income and benefits -- as negative commentary on their value to society. The efforts, under way in numerous states, are being driven ostensibly by deep budget deficits and a broad school accountability movement. However, some say the initiatives will deter high-quality recruits from entering the profession and will drive effective teachers from the neediest schools. (New York Times)

Schools struggle to fit in more science lessons: Elementary schools in Boston and across the country are struggling to incorporate science lessons into the school day amid other subjects, such as reading and math that are tied to accountability measures. The amount of science instruction students receive varies by school and district, but many educators say students need more hands-on lessons beginning in elementary school to help prepare for careers in science fields -- a stated federal goal under the Obama administration. (The Boston Globe)

More schools explore themes in global learning: Global-learning themes are becoming more popular in U.S. schools, with some districts offering more foreign languages, adopting immersion programs or embedding international perspectives across all curriculum areas. In Seattle, where education officials in 2007 set a goal of transforming 10 of their 97 schools into international campuses, criteria for the schools include instilling "cultural competency" through an international curriculum and using technology to develop global relationships. (District Administration magazine)

N.J. task force makes recommendations on grading teachers: The administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released a proposed rubric developed by a task force for evaluating teachers and awarding tenure and pay. The panel is suggesting that 50% of teacher ratings be based on student performance, 40% on measures of "effective practice" and 10% on other factors. However, critics of the proposed system, including teachers unions and some education experts, argue that student-testing data is unreliable and should not be used to make "high-stakes personnel decisions." (The Wall Street Journal)

Efforts to curb school bullying are considered in Texas: State lawmakers in Texas are considering more than 15 legislative proposals that aim to curb bullying in schools, but a diverse array of opponents to the bills say anti-bullying efforts would be more effective at the local level. Lawmakers also are struggling with issues such as how to define bullying behavior, whether specific groups of students should be singled out for protections and how to deal with cyberbullying. (TexasTribune)

Virtual school finds flexibility with open-source curriculum: An online school based in Salt Lake City is using a curriculum developed by teachers that relies solely on open-content sources for its coursework. The school's Web-based curriculum is both less expensive and more up-to-date than a traditional textbook-based curriculum, school officials say. They add that these factors make the school more flexible and will allow them to adapt easily to new common core academic standards. (T.H.E. Journal)

What is "personalized learning" and can it raise achievement?: A growing number of schools are implementing versions of "personalized learning," which allows students to progress at their own pace and master skills before advancing. Technological advances, the availability of digital content and the willingness of states to waive "seat time" requirements are among the factors allowing for the model's expansion. One Colorado district has made personalized learning the focus of its turnaround strategy, while New York City's School of One continues to expand its highly individualized and data-driven programs. (District Administration)

Should schools use a multicultural curriculum to reach students?: Connecticut's Board of Education is considering a policy that could require teachers to use books and other materials in class that reflect the culture of their students. The policy, which already has been adopted in some districts, is designed to promote a more culturally diverse curriculum in schools. The board is expected to vote in the coming months on guidelines for local districts to follow when transitioning to such a curriculum. (The Hartford Courant)

Union standoffs frame a debate over bettering schools: The standoff over collective bargaining and other issues between Republican lawmakers and labor unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and other states is also seen as a battle over how to best improve schools. President Barack Obama and other Democrats have favored collaboration in their approach, while Republicans in states such as Indiana are pursuing a more confrontational approach. This situation is leaving teachers unions defensive and less likely to sign on to school-improvement strategies, some experts say. (The Washington Post)

Senators propose plan to overhaul NCLB: Several moderate Democratic lawmakers in the Senate have proposed a plan to overhaul No Child Left Behind that calls for the law to focus on student growth over time, rather than comparing different groups of students to each other. The proposal also includes rewards for schools that improve student achievement and would offer states more flexibility in addressing struggling schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan welcomed the plan, which is similar to the Obama administration's proposal, and said his goal is to approve changes to the law by August. (Education Week)

Apple unveils second-generation iPad: The iPad 2 was officially unwrapped Wednesday at a San Francisco event, and the device sports a faster, dual-core processor, a front-facing camera and a slimmer body. The new iPad will be "dramatically faster" than its predecessor, said Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Pricing for the iPad 2 will stay at the same level as the first-generation device. (Today in Tech) (CBS News) (AppleInsider)

Hybrid schools aim to combine best of both educational worlds: A small but growing number of hybrid schools are being created, which combine adaptive online curricula with face-to-face classes, science labs and other more traditional lessons. The schools are based on the premise that Web-based programs allow students to work at their own pace, giving teachers freedom from "teaching to the middle" and allowing them to provide more meaningful instruction. However, critics are concerned about the quality of the online curricula, whether hybrid learning will work for all students and a lack of research on the model. (Harvard Education Letter)

Ideas for incorporating women's history into the curriculum: The writers of this New York Times blog post offer suggestions for bringing women's studies into the curriculum in honor of Women's History Month. Examining the passage of the 19th Amendment -- which gave women the right to vote -- and the history of women in politics, studying the role of women as authors or journalists and researching important female scientists are among their suggestions. (The Learning Network)

Few education schools are focusing on RTI strategies: The University of Utah's Urban Institute for Teacher Education is one of the few schools that incorporates response-to-intervention principles as a core component of its undergraduate education program. Elsewhere, the approach has been more commonly taught as part of special education, but many teacher colleges often have separated their general- and special-education programs. However, as RTI methods increasingly are being used in general-education settings, some schools are beginning to embrace its strategies as part of a broad framework for teaching all students. (Education Week)

Congress averts government shutdown but makes cuts to education: Congress has approved a bill that would avert a government shutdown for the next two weeks and would cut $4 billion in spending. The bill cuts funding beyond the two-week period for several education programs, including the Striving Readers Program, the Small Learning Communities Program and the Even Start program. The Senate approval came just one day after the bill's passage in the House. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill before Friday to prevent a shutdown and lawmakers will debate funding for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year over the next two weeks. (Politics K-12) (The Washington Post)

California charter to focus on 21st-century skills: A new, technology-focused charter academy in Petaluma, Calif., aims to offer students the skills they need to be successful in 21st-century careers. The school is planning an interdisciplinary curriculum, in which students create more blogs and podcasts than research papers. Educators say the curriculum will teach other 21st-century skills as well, including problem-solving, critical-thinking and collaborative learning. (Patch)

Teacher-led school implements differentiated instruction: A teacher-led school in Detroit is determining students' class schedules based on their abilities -- a process that allows for more frequent changes in how students are grouped. Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, which also has extended days, appears to be the only teacher-led school with a differentiated scheduling system. Teachers at the K-8 school collaborate to discuss whether students need more help with the basics or are ready for more advanced learning. (Education Week)

Seniority policies to dictate the impact of NYC teacher layoffs: New York City officials say that if they are forced to lay off 4,600 teachers, then a disproportionate number of schools that have experienced significant growth in recent years or are in high-poverty areas would be adversely affected because of the city's "last-in, first-out" seniority policies. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to lobby legislators today for the reversal of these policies in favor of rules that would tie the layoffs to teacher-performance ratings. The head of the city's teachers union said Bloomberg was trying to create fear, and that the layoffs are unnecessary because of higher-than-expected tax revenues. (The Wall Street Journal) (Daily News)

Minnesota is poised to approve alternative teacher licensure: Minnesota legislators are expected to pass a controversial bill that will allow aspiring teachers to receive licensure without a teaching degree. Supporters of the measure say it will increase diversity in schools and help narrow the race-based achievement gap, but critics say it will give unqualified candidates unprecedented access to the state's classrooms. "I don't think this is a piece of the puzzle that's going to get our schools to be better tomorrow than they are today," said Tom Dooher, president of the state's teachers union. (Star Tribune)

Wisconsin governor is expected to release budget proposal: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled today to release the details of his budget proposal, which he has suggested could include about $900 million in cuts to schools -- some districts already are notifying teachers that their contracts may not be renewed. Walker has been promoting a bill that would curb the collective-bargaining rights of public workers, which he says is necessary to give local governments flexibility to manage the state's nearly $140 million budget shortfall for this fiscal year alone. (NPR)

Public employees' rights should be preserved, Obama says: President Barack Obama told the nation's governors that they shouldn't close budget shortfalls by doing away with public-sector employees' union rights. Obama made his remarks after several states have proposed abandoning collective-bargaining rights and cutting public workers' pay and benefits. "I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon. We need to entice the best and the brightest to public service," Obama says. (The Oval)

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