Friday, April 1, 2011

Quick Hits

Schools nationwide increase focus on STEM subjects: More schools are beginning to focus on science, technology, engineering and math instruction as a push to focus more on the subjects gains steam -- and private funding -- nationwide. Some are calling for science knowledge to be measured as part of the requirements of No Child Left Behind, and the National Science Teachers Association is developing new national standards that the group hopes is included as part of the common core curriculum. Efforts also are under way to offer teachers more training and professional development in STEM instruction. (District Administration)

Research - High attrition rate, funding disparities with KIPP schools: Western Michigan University researchers say charter middle schools that are part of the national Knowledge is Power Program network enroll higher numbers of black males than their local districts, but close to 40% of those students leave the schools between grades 6 and 8. "KIPP is doing a great job of educating students who persist, but not all who come," lead researcher Gary Miron said. The study also found that KIPP schools receive more per-pupil funding than other district schools, and enroll fewer students who have learning disabilities or limited English proficiency. KIPP officials questioned the study's methodology. (Education Week)

Chicago program helps educators improve math teaching in early grades: Chicago Public Schools plans to expand a teacher-training program that focuses on students' math learning as early as preschool. The program -- focused on hands-on problem-solving and developed by the Erikson Institute -- currently is in place for 80 preschool and kindergarten teachers, but it will expand this fall to grades 1-3 in eight schools. While students in early grades won't be expected to add or subtract, educators say they are laying the foundation for math in later grades. (ChicagoNewsCoop)

School buses deliver message on cuts to Colorado lawmakers: A Colorado district sent 51 school buses to the state capitol Thursday to protest plans to cut $332 million in state aid to schools this year. Messages such as "no cuts" and "fund our future" were on the buses, which were driven by employees scheduled to be dismissed as the district eliminates transportation services to cut costs. "These buses represent kids and they represent jobs," said Dave Martin, the district's school-board president. The district raised money to fund the trip. (The Denver Post)

Should specialty charters be created in high-performing districts?: The battle over the expansion of specialty-themed charter schools is spreading to suburban areas of New Jersey, where some say charters are an unnecessary expense. Charter supporters say they expand school choice with offerings in foreign languages or environmental education, but critics question whether they need to be established in high-performing districts. (The Star-Ledger)

United Way aims to recruit 1 million volunteers to improve education: United Way Worldwide launched a new campaign Thursday to enlist 1 million volunteers over the next three years to improve education. The group aims to build on the successful partnerships that its local chapters across the country already are working on, such as reading initiatives, mentorship efforts and after-school programs. "If we can systematically step up to the plate ... our young people from the toughest of backgrounds can do extraordinarily well," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said at a meeting convened by the group. (The Christian Science Monitor)

National survey looks at views on technology in education: Many parents are in favor of using students' own mobile devices in the classroom, though many school administrators are still resistant to the idea, a national survey found. The 2010 Speak Up National Report also found increasing support among parents for online learning and digital textbooks, and frustration among students who want more access to Internet sites that are being blocked by schools.(eSchool News)

How are seat-time requirements affecting online learning?: Schools are struggling to find a balance between encouraging students to take online courses, while ensuring they maintain seat-time requirements tied to funding. Educators say outdated accounting systems require extensive paperwork and are not easily applied to students who attend virtual schools. Some schools are keeping students for four-hour minimums before allowing them to take online courses, just to avoid the hassle. (Voice of San Diego)

L.A. schools adopt new elementary reading program: Officials in Los Angeles have decided to abandon a scripted elementary-school reading program they say was overly rigid and did not give teachers enough flexibility in their lessons. The school board voted Tuesday to replace the Open Court curriculum with California Treasures, which gives teachers goals and teaching strategies for each lesson if needed. (Los Angeles Times)

Leader in Me creates positive change at Utah charter school: A once-troubled Utah charter school has seen significant improvements since adopting The Leader in Me program, which is modeled after the book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." Students at Mountainville Academy are encouraged to complete work before play and are grouped for some subjects by ability rather than grade level. "It has literally saved our school," school director Emma Bullock said. (The Salt Lake Tribune)

Schools prepare for disruptions from teacher layoffs: Schools nationwide are beginning to prepare for layoffs and the turmoil that results when teachers are forced to change subjects, grades or schools. While much attention is being paid to policies used to determine which teachers will be dismissed, some say the potential effects of the impending layoffs are being overlooked. "The churn caused by layoffs can be extremely disruptive and hurt student achievement," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. "And conditions are ripe for disruptions to be dramatic this year." (The New York Times)

Social-networking site becomes latest battleground for school bullying: School officials in Raleigh, N.C., are seeing an increase in cyberbullying activity associated with the social-networking site, which allows users to conduct anonymous polls about others that is being misused to harass and insult instead. The issue reflects an ongoing problem for school administrators who are under pressure to curb cyberbullying behavior that begins off campus but can affect students at school. (Education Week)

Is student-centered learning the future of the classroom?: Veteran math educator Paul Bogdan advocates in this blog post a student-centered approach to teaching, where students are encouraged to become involved in and take responsibility for their own learning. Bogdan offers supporting research and resources for teaching that is student-centered, project-based and that incorporates technology into lessons. He suggests that 21st-century teachers become designers of a learning experience in which students are able to learn on their own. (Edutopia)

Unions fight new anti-labor measures: Teachers unions nationwide are fighting back against attempts to curb collective bargaining rights for public employees and do away with tenure. Officials say unions successfully have mobilized their members against the measure in Wisconsin and efforts also have paid off in Tennessee, where a measure to limit collective bargaining is said to be losing steam. (Education Week)

Gaming, technology are focus of new Chicago charter: A public charter school created by computer experts and video-game designers is set to open this fall in Chicago. It aims to teach students how to use technology, including creating websites, producing podcasts, blogging, building their own video games and recording and editing short films. Chicago Quest will be modeled after New York City's Quest to Learn school, which uses gaming and other technology to inspire critical thinking and collaborative learning. (Chicago Tribune)

Race to the Top winners proceed with caution: Several states that won federal Race to the Top grants are scaling back some of their ambitious plans for school reform. Changes ranging from implementation time lines to the scope of some programs have been approved by the U.S. Department of Education in six states and Washington, D.C. While about half of the $4 billion in grants is being spent by local districts, states are expected to spend $1.2 billion on contracts, as well as $225 million on state employees to carry out their plans. (Education Week)

Should corporal punishment be banned in schools?: Twenty U.S. states still permit some form of corporal punishment in their schools, though new bans are under consideration in states such as New Mexico and Texas. Supporters of the practice say it is an effective form of student discipline, but critics say it teaches violence and promotes child abuse. (The New York Times)

Obama - There is too much emphasis on standardized tests: President Barack Obama said Monday that he envisions a new federal education law that relies less on standardized tests to measure achievement. "Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools," he said during a town hall event. Obama also pointed out that over-testing can take the fun out of learning for students. He said standardized tests should not be the only measure of student -- and school -- achievement, and that perhaps tests should not be administered annually, but rather every few years. (Google)

Should schools continue to teach cursive handwriting?: Fewer schools in Colorado and across the country are spending as much time teaching cursive handwriting, with an increased focus on core subjects and preparation for standardized tests. Some teachers defend the practice as a skill that has both developmental and cultural benefits. Others see cursive writing slowly being replaced by more uniformly legible keyboarding skills. (The Denver Post)

How can the teaching profession be elevated?: Nine educators and education advocates offer their views in this opinion piece on how to elevate the status of U.S. teachers. Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute advocates reforms to teacher-compensation systems, while others, such as Cynthia Brown of the Center for American Progress, also would improve teacher preparation and professional development. (The New York Times)

L.A. prepares for new value-added teacher evaluations: Los Angeles schools officials are preparing to introduce a value-added teacher-evaluation method this spring despite concerns in some districts that the measurement is inaccurate and overly complicated. The formula also is unreliable, some education leaders say. A recent study found that teachers with more minority students more likely are to receive lower value-added scores. (Los Angeles Times)

More rural Ore. students enroll in college, despite hardships: Compared with urban youth, rural students are poorer, more geographically isolated and less likely to have college graduates for parents. They also miss out more on college-preparatory courses. Many simply don't go to college. Eighteen percent of Oregon's rural adults have college degrees, compared with about 31 percent of urban adults, which mirrors national percentages. Legislators and higher education leaders want to improve that. Without more educated residents, rural communities will continue to struggle economically. (The Oregonian)

How effective is Milwaukee's school-voucher program?: Students who attended private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers in Milwaukee scored at the same level or worse on state math and reading tests than their counterparts in the city's public schools, new data from the state's Department of Public Instruction show. Supporters of the voucher program say the scores do not reflect the academic gains students have made, but critics say the results call into question the effectiveness of the voucher program. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

How will the common core standards affect schools?: Brenda Hales of the Utah Education Department reassured educators at ASCD's national conference Saturday that new common core standards do not constitute a national curriculum and are meant to ensure that students in all participating states achieve a similar level of college and career readiness. California teacher David B. Cohen, however, expresses some concerns in this blog post about how the standards will be implemented. (InterACT)

Analysis finds many removed principals still run schools: Many principals who were removed from their posts under federal school turnaround plans were subsequently rehired at other schools to oversee turnaround efforts or found positions elsewhere, according to this review by The Associated Press. In Minnesota, where 19 schools received more than $24 million in School Improvement Grants, few principals were found to have left the profession. (Star Tribune)

Education programs remain in limbo amid partisan budget battle: Education advocates, schools and districts are awaiting word about the severity of K-12 cuts as Congress prepares to meet an April 8 deadline for crafting a new fiscal 2011 budget plan. A series of short-term fixes has eliminated funding for high-profile programs such as Head Start and the Striving Readers Program. However, while Republican leaders are calling for deeper, long-term cuts to education this year, President Barack Obama has said he will oppose any additional reductions for schools. (Education Week)

New Jersey Judge Rules Budget Cuts Deny Students Thorough and Efficient Education: The special master appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to hear evidence about whether the current levels of funding are sufficient to provide New Jersey school children the “thorough and efficient education” required by the state constitution issued an opinion last week which clearly held that the state is not meeting the constitutional mandate. Abbott v. Burke, No. M-1293, Opinion/Recommendations to the Supreme Court ( Sup. Ct, Bergen Co, March 22, 2011). Superior Court Judge Peter E. Doyne, acting as a special master under the Supreme Court’s remand order, refused to consider the state’s claims that the court should address current economic realities, and what the appropriate judicial response should be in times of fiscal crisis. He held that these issues were outside the scope of the issues he was directed to consider by the Supreme Court. The judge did allow the state to present evidence on these points in case the high court decided to consider these matter. (ACCESS)

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