Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Quick Hits

Few states make changes amid federal push for charter schools: The Obama administration's call for the growth of effective charter schools did not change the fact that many states still have limits on them or even bans. Four states took steps to permit more charter schools. But Maine has not passed a law permitting charter schools, and legislation to raise the charter-school cap in Texas failed. States that have caps or do not allow charter schools may not be eligible for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top stimulus funds. (Education Week)

Florida school reform offers mixed results at 10-year mark: Florida implemented public-education reform 10 years ago -- grading schools based on students' test scores. Opinion varies on the success of the effort. Test scores have increased and the achievement gap has narrowed, but graduation rates lag -- and critics say that a single test should not be dictating curriculum and determining school success. (The Miami Herald)

Soaring test scores put schools under scrutiny: A spike in test scores at two schools in the Charlotte, N.C., district has raised questions about why the number of students taking the tests went down, even though enrollment was up. One high school went from a 45% pass rate on state exams last year to 82% this year. School administrators say they just delayed weaker students from taking the tests and are not trying to manipulate performance assessments. District officials contend that schools will not be able to "hide kids" because the tests are a graduation requirement. (The Charlotte Observer)

Unionization at charter schools launches debate: Teachers unions are organizing at more charter schools across the country, a development some worry could cancel many of the benefits of the schools. Some experts say unions negate innovations such as merit pay or the ability of principals to fire poor-performing teachers. Union advocates argue that without support, charter-school teachers could be paid less and work longer hours than their union counterparts. (The New York Times)

Federal government spent little on education in 2007: State and local governments paid more than 90% of the $556.9 billion in government funding for education in 2007, while the federal government contributed 8.3%, according to a recent census report. That is likely to change because of federal stimulus money, some say. "The Obama administration has made it clear that it wants to spend more on education, and with the stimulus, the appetite for federal investment will be whetted," said an education-policy analyst. (SeattlePI.com)

Study: Unpopular Washington state test did help students: Educators have described the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test as long and confusing, but a study by a nonprofit group suggests the WASL has some merit. The Center on Education Policy praised the exam's extended-response questions and credited it with improving reasoning and writing skills. The group urged Washington state to keep positive elements of the WASL as it switches to new tests next spring. (The Seattle Times)

Common-standards project is criticized for secrecy: Educators and concerned parents are calling for transparency in the crafting of national common curriculum standards. "The concern is that they'll write it, and once it's written, it's set in stone," said one parent. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers say the process will incorporate feedback from experts and public input as it advances. (Education Week)

Popular Hebrew charter school in Florida wants to expand: A charter school in Florida where Hebrew is taught as a second language is seeking permission to expand, despite previous concerns over the extent of the public school's religious curriculum. Ben Gamla is at capacity, 600 students, with a waiting list. An expert hired by the school district reviewed the school's lessons and called them "entirely appropriate for a publicly funded charter school." (Sun-Sentinel)

Schools don't want to compromise on technology use: Some Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky school districts say technology is an essential curriculum element, even during tough budget times. "Our kids need to be moving forward; technology doesn't stand still just because you can't afford it," a Kentucky education official said. IPods, Wikipedia and interactive white boards are some of the tools districts use to develop tech-savvy students. (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Texas softens rating system for assessment tests: A new method of interpreting the Texas state assessment test grants passing grades to students deemed likely to pass the test within two or three years. Advocates say the new standard levels the playing field for schools with a large number of disadvantaged or non-English-speaking students. Critics say test results are becoming "diluted" and losing meaning as a rule to measure school performance. (The Dallas Morning News)

Better reading, writing skills are needed for a new age: Social networking and group communication have become an increasing part of the online world. For students to effectively use this technology, they must have proficient reading, writing and critical-thinking skills, writes Educational Leadership editor-in-chief Marge Scherer. (Educational Leadership)

More states are moving toward 21st-century curriculum: An increasing number of states have pledged to incorporate more 21st-century skills in the classrooms. Under the Partnership for 21st Century Skills initiative, districts aim to improve their standards in educational technology to engage students in lessons and improve their skills in information literacy, critical thinking and problem solving. (eSchool News)

Educators find pros, cons in use of social-networking sites: Some educators say Twitter can be used in creative ways to enhance classroom lessons, such as facilitating book discussions and creating online study groups for students. One high-school teacher says including social-networking sites in lessons keeps students more engaged, but another says using the sites can make it easier for students to cheat and can expose them to Internet predators. (U.S. News & World Report)

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