Sunday, May 1, 2011

Quick Hits

Teacher morale is low in Tenn. amid legislative changes: Legislation that would end collective-bargaining rights for educators in Tennessee is harming teacher morale and deterring would-be teachers from entering the profession, a lobbyist for the state's teachers union said. The proposed changes are compounding the effects of recent legislation that will make it more difficult for teachers to earn and retain tenure in the state, the lobbyist noted. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Why an accurate way of measuring teacher performance is needed:
A recent report by The Brookings Institution calls for the development of a uniform, accurate way to measure teachers' value-added performance according to student progress. Such a national system still would allow for local experimentation, says Grover Whitehurst, the director of Brookings' Brown Center on Education Policy. A meaningful teacher-evaluation system is necessary for management and merit-pay programs, but also would have positive effects on teachers and give them valuable feedback, he said. (U.S. News & World Report)

How is education reform affecting low-income students?:
Top-down education reforms are having a particularly negative effect on poor and minority students, education author Alfie Kohn writes in this commentary. Under current reforms, learning for these students is measured by standardized test scores and instruction often relies on workbooks or worksheets to improve those scores, rather than deeper learning or critical thinking that is more typically taught in suburban schools, he notes. (Education Week)

Gates, Pearson partner to align online courses with the common core:
Two education foundations said Wednesday they are working to develop 24 new online reading and math courses that will be aligned with the common core national standards. The courses will be developed by the Pearson Foundation -- associated with the major textbook company -- and will include video, social media, games and other digital materials. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide $3 million for four of the courses to be offered free to schools. The initiative appears to be the most ambitious effort so far to align textbooks -- online or otherwise -- with the new standards and may position Pearson as a leader in the market. (The New York Times) (MSNBC)

Should cursive writing be taught in schools?: Many students are still taught the basics of cursive writing, but few schools spend much time on the subject beyond introducing it in third grade. Some proponents say cursive writing helps develop students' fine motor skills and being familiar with cursive writing is important for reading historical documents. However, many educators say preparation for standardized tests and an increasing focus on 21st-century skills are driving cursive writing from the curriculum. (The New York Times)

State Republican officials promote school-voucher expansion: Legislation to expand school-voucher programs that would channel public funding to private schools is being pushed in 35 states, largely by Republican state governors and legislators. The proposals employ diverse strategies, including tax credits for donations and student-education accounts that can be used for tuition or tutoring. The proposals in many states also would allow the programs -- which have typically targeted students from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds -- to be extended to larger populations of students, including those from middle-income families. (Education Week)

Common core likely an improvement, but challenges remain: In New York, 100 schools already have begun adhering to the common core -- curriculum standards expected to be in place in 42 states and the District of Columbia by 2014. Overall, the standards are believed to encourage deeper thought among students, and more emphasis on persuasion and analysis. However, questions remain concerning the implementation of the new standards, including how much oversight will be given to ensure they are followed. {The New York Times)

Ohio mandates statewide merit pay for teachers: Ohio's new collective-bargaining law effectively eliminates salary schedules and step increases for the state's public-school teachers -- replacing the negotiated raises with a statewide performance-pay system. Ohio is believed to be the first state to adopt a mandatory merit-pay system. State officials say a portion of teachers' evaluations will be based on a test now being developed that will measure students' academic growth over time. (The Plain Dealer)

Study - Why students might struggle with basic lessons:
Material that is initially easy for students to understand might be difficult for them to remember -- a phenomena that researchers call the "stability bias." New research shows that classroom lessons that are more difficult for students to comprehend at the onset and require more in-depth study will actually be easier in some cases for them to recall at a later date. (Education Week)

District to launch e-days: An Alabama school district is preparing for its first e-day, in which all students will receive instruction and complete assignments online. In preparing for the experiment, the district determined that 98% of students have Internet access at home, while the remaining 2% will work at a local library or on a school-issued laptop at a designated site with free Wi-Fi. The district -- the first public school system in the state to implement e-days -- will test the model on two Saturdays to make up for two January snow days. (The Birmingham News)

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