Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Quick Hits

If we project what the world will be like 10 years from now
without innovation in health, education, energy, or food,
the picture is quite bleak.

Health costs for the rich will escalate, forcing tough
trade-offs and keeping the poor stuck
in the bad situation they are in today.

In the United States, rising education costs will mean
that fewer people will be able to get
a great college education and the public
K–12 system will still be doing a poor job for the underprivileged.

---Bill Gates

Gates explains "high risk" of teacher-effectiveness grants: Bill Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently spent $335 million to improve teacher effectiveness, called the investment "high risk" in an annual letter from his foundation. The efforts to develop new measures for evaluating teachers and helping them improve will take place in four districts selected in part because the initiative had support from teachers unions. "Previous efforts along these lines seemed to thrive for a few years," Gates wrote, "but if the system is not well-run or if teachers reject differentiation, it gets shut down." (Education Week)

Black literature courses are coming to Pittsburgh schools: Beginning in the fall, students in all Pittsburgh high schools will be able to enroll in a 12th-grade English class that focuses on black literature. Educators say the class will be offered as a core course, cover familiar topics -- such as slavery -- in new, creative ways and expose students to content and themes they may not have seen. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Little girls are made of sugar and spice, and learn that math is not nice: One of the first lessons that girls often learn in elementary school is that boys are better at math.Although this incorrect lesson is certainly not part of the curriculum, first- and second-grade teachers, who are predominately female and math-averse, communicate that math is not their strong suit to some female students, according to a study published January 25 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers found that the girls who got the idea that math ability falls along gender lines had the worst achievement in this subject during the school year. (Scientific American)

Is the iPad better than Kindle for education?: Apple's iPad may be a promising alternative to Amazon's Kindle DX as an electronic-textbook reader for students, according to this comparison of the two devices. The e-readers are similarly priced and have the same-sized screen, but the iPad has significantly more features -- such as games and Internet browsing that may be distracting for students -- and a color LED-backlit screen that can support images, diagrams and other sophisticated features of digital textbooks that the Kindle cannot. The Kindle, however, may be better suited for heavy readers. (PC World)

Individualized learning may not be far off with new technology: New classroom technology could provide the tools needed for teachers to individualize lessons for their students, experts say, and a number of technology-immersed classrooms across the country are already providing such models of dynamic, customized learning for students. In one New York City middle school, the School of One program combines face-to-face instruction, online lessons and software-based activities to move middle-school math students through the curricula at their own pace. (Education Week)

Educators await Obama's replacement for AYP measurement: Educators are likely to support President Barack Obama's plans to scrap Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks under No Child Left Behind, but it is unclear what will replace it. Obama has said his plan will reward teachers and schools that demonstrate students' progress and prepare them for college or careers, not only those that reach proficiency standards on reading and math tests. "What that says is, 'Let's focus on the student and not some arbitrary, high-stakes test score,' " said Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association. (The Washington Post)

Experts doubt smooth or timely rewrite of No Child Left Behind: Experts say a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be difficult to complete this year because of political differences among lawmakers and competing legislative priorities. The last revision of the law, in 2001, which resulted in its renaming as No Child Left Behind, took an entire year even with a strong bipartisan consensus that is no longer in place. "One can only wish them well, but reworking this monstrously complex statute is apt to prove almost as challenging as health care," one former education official wrote. (The New York Times)

State lawmakers group is critical of federal education mandates: The National Conference of State Legislatures, which opposed federal mandates under No Child Left Behind, is also critical of education policies being developed by the Obama administration, according to a report released by the group. Although the priorities for reform differ under the new administration, the lawmakers argue that the approach is essentially the same. "This is still the federal government picking what they see as winning strategies and telling states, 'You should do this, do this, and do this,' " one state lawmaker said. (Education Week)

Duncan on Katrina Comment - "It Was a Dumb Thing to Say": Education Secretary Arne Duncan apologized this morning for saying last week that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing" for the New Orleans school system.“I said it in a poor way and I apologize for that. It was a dumb thing to say. My point was a simple one, that subsequent to that devastating, devastating tragedy we have seen remarkable progress and that school system has improved so rapidly it’s been amazing to watch,” Duncan said this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” (ABC's Political Punch)

Hands-on learning motivates student scientists at Massachusetts school: Middle-school students from a Massachusetts Montessori school are studying science the way that scientists do through a marine-ecology course in Duxbury Bay. Students conducted research on water pollution and then began their experiments into the field to test their hypotheses. They will also work together to build a small wooden boat. Both hands-on activities help make learning more interesting to students, said their teachers. They "motivate the more theoretical studies. They make the kids much more receptive to the course work," the author of the course said. (The Boston Globe)

Florida students choose arts over gym class under waiver program: Some 15,000 middle-school students in Central Florida have submitted waivers to opt out of physical-education classes under a policy adopted by the state this past fall. Students who skip gym take other electives such as music and art -- which have been shown to improve their performance on state tests -- while some receive remedial courses in reading and math. But critics of the waiver program say it shortchanges students on physical activity and skills they need to lead healthy lifestyles. (Orlando Sentinel)

Students at Massachusetts school go wild for "Survivor" math: Students, teachers and parents at a Massachusetts elementary school took part in a math competition modeled after the reality-television show "Survivor," with students in grades K to 5 working in "tribes" to complete "Survivor"-themed math challenges. Tribes designed their own flags and competed for awards such as extra recess or an ice cream party. "The kids were so excited to work on math, and work together with their classmates on math challenges. There was a great energy," said the school's principal, who added that the event taught students to work collaboratively. (The Andover Townsman)

New Critiques Urge Changes in Common Standards: A draft of grade-by-grade common standards is undergoing significant revisions in response to feedback that the outline of what students should master is confusing and insufficiently user-friendly. Writing groups convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association are at work on what they say will be a leaner, better-organized, and easier-to-understand version than the 200-plus-page set that has been circulating among governors, scholars, education groups, teams of state education officials, and others for review in recent weeks. The first public draft of the standards, which was originally intended for a December release but was postponed until January, is now expected by mid-February. (Ed Week)

Group criticizes state teacher policies nationwide: The nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality says in a report expected to be released today that states have "broken, outdated and inflexible" policies in place that protect ineffective teachers and ultimately harm student learning. The council says the report is "a blueprint for reform," but teachers union leaders say the report is flawed. "This was more of a 'gotcha' document rather than, 'here's what's working, let's celebrate it, let's share it,' " says Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators. (Los Angeles Times)

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