Friday, October 09, 2009

Quick Hits

Report - Common Core curriculum standards are on the right track: A draft of the national Common Core curriculum standards earned a grade of B from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., that is in favor of national standards. The group released a report today reviewing the content and clarity of the Common Core standards as well as other national and international curriculum standards. Although Common Core language arts and math curriculum fared well, areas suggested for improvement include instilling students with an enthusiasm for reading and emphasizing key math topics. (Education Week)

Details given about daily life at proposed Des Moines charter school: Students who attend a proposed Des Moines charter school would participate in real-life business development where the end result could be owning and operating a booth at the Downtown Farmers’ Market.
The entrepreneurial experience was one example that district officials gave school board members today of what a “day in the life” of a student at the proposed charter school would be like.Des Moines officials want to open a charter school in August for 50 seventh- and 50 eighth-graders who are deemed at risk of becoming high school dropouts based on their behavior, grades and attendance. The school would be located downtown in the Orchard Place building, 620 Eighth St, and would eventually expand to 300 students through 12th grade. (Des Moines Register)

Students face legal battles over freedom of Internet speech: With social-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook making unfavorable speech more public and searchable, students' rights to comment negatively about their teachers and schools are increasingly the subject of litigation between students and the schools that attempt to punish them. Although legal precedents were set by the U.S. Supreme Court to protect students' First Amendment rights to speech and expression, some judges today do not believe the protection applies to the complexities of Internet speech. (MSNBC)

Reform not cause of Chicago's spike in student violence, Duncan says: Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday addressed student violence in Chicago and criticism that education reform has caused a surge in incidents. Sparking concern was the recent beating death of a 16-year-old high-school student in the city. Critics of the school system's improvement plan -- implemented by Duncan while he was head of Chicago schools -- say that closing poor-performing facilities has resulted in students having to travel across gang territories. Duncan pledged $500,000 in federal funds to the slain student's school to allay further violence. (USA TODAY)

Refinement of Michigan algebra course draws mixed reaction: Michigan will remove some content from the state's Algebra 2 course to better align coursework with college-entrance tests. The decision brings Michigan's math curriculum in line with other states. Some educators are comfortable with cutting sections such as basic trigonometry and statistics as a way to better focus on core algebra skills. But some critics say the changes blunt the state's rigorous math program. (Detroit Free Press)

Administration launches $650 million program to boost education: President Barack Obama has announced $650 million in available grants to help bring school-improvement ideas to fruition. The money, part of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund, will be awarded in three ways: up to $5 million for developing innovative ideas; up to $30 million for reforms that are already successful; and up to $50 million for proven innovations that could help improve education regionally or nationally. Schools or nonprofit organizations seeking the federal grants would be required to have matching funds. (The Washington Post) & (The New York Times)

Philadelphia charter schools set example for school reform: Mastery Charter Schools, a company with four schools in Philadelphia, has drawn praise from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other education leaders, even being called a potential "national model" for school reform. Mastery's approach stresses student conduct and academic achievement in preparation for college. Strategies include more and longer school days, mandatory tutoring for struggling students and a class-passing minimum of 76%. "We said clearly we wanted to make a change in Philly, but we also wanted to demonstrate that all kids, regardless of their backgrounds, can achieve at the highest levels," said Mastery founder Scott Gordon. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

NEA softens its position on teacher assignments: The National Education Association will relax its stance on teacher assignments, asking local unions to remove contract barriers to placing high-performing educators at struggling schools. Traditional collective bargaining agreements have allowed teachers with seniority to transfer from schools in low-income areas and banned merit pay to lure teachers to failing schools. Specifics have not been released by the union, which has 3.2 million members. But some observers questioned whether districts could implement such a change at the local level. (The Wall Street Journal)

Students learn about geography through GPS technology: Students in a Minnesota school are using GPS technology to better understand maps and geography concepts such as latitude and longitude. Their first assignment was to use GPS to go on a type of outdoor scavenger hunt, looking for clues and following coordinates. "We want to reinforce mapping concepts and social studies concepts with new technologies," said teacher Kim Killmer. (St. Cloud Times)

School plans to improve program for ELL students after investigation: Federal investigators have announced that a Utah middle school did not "unduly" segregate immigrant and refugee students. The school was investigated after a complaint over the school's "newcomer" program, which offered language instruction and smaller class sizes to English-language learners but separated them from the general student body. Investigators did say the district could do a better job of moving students into mainstream classes, and the district has agreed to revamp the program. (The Salt Lake Tribune)

Educators find STEM curriculum helps students in other subjects: Five high schools in Ohio are using state funds to develop curriculum with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Although the schools are STEM-based, the techniques will improve student thinking and learning in other disciplines, advocates say. "It is a total new mind-set," one teacher said. "We are really trying to make most of the lessons project-based, so they know that learning is not in a textbook -- that people learn so they can be useful in society." (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

All books to come under scrutiny in Ohio school district: An Ohio school district approved a plan to rate and approve all nontextbooks assigned or recommended to students by teachers. The policy was suggested after some parents objected to adult or sexual content in books assigned by teachers. A staff committee will rate books, with principals having final say on possibly controversial books. Although the school board president said books will be vetted based on "educational merit," some parents and teachers criticized the policy, objecting to it as censorship. (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

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