Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quick Hits

Group begins revision of national science standards: A panel of experts assembled by the National Research Council has begun work on a new set of national science standards for schools. The "next generation" standards will focus science instruction on a smaller number of important concepts and will aim to deepen students' understanding of science in preference to learning disconnected facts and figures. "The research is pretty clear that helping kids answer the right fill-in-the-bubble [questions] doesn't make them science-literate," an NRC official said. "And our goal is, we want a scientifically capable society." (Education Week)

Hands-on science training helps teachers boost test scores: Hands-on science experience for teachers helps boost student achievement and reduces teacher attrition rates, a Columbia University study showed. Students whose teachers participated in a hands-on summer research program in science showed a 10% increase in test scores on state science tests. Schools saw a retention rate up to four times higher for teachers who participated in the program compared with the national average for veteran teachers. (eSchool News)

Nashville works to draw teachers to urban middle schools: Nashville schools and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee are teaming up to improve teacher quality in struggling schools by waiving tuition fees for master's degrees if teachers agree to work in urban middle schools for at least five years. The program is expected to graduate 48 teachers over the next three years, but officials say they hope to continue the program beyond the three-year contract. (The Tennessean)

Bill to create E-Rate 2.0 is introduced in House: Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a proposal to update the federal E-Rate school-technology program by adding $2.5 billion in home broadband vouchers for students, creating a $200 million e-book program and streamlining the application process. The E-Rate 2.0 Act of 2010 would extend E-Rate to Head Start programs and community colleges and would tie funding caps to the rate of inflation. No similar proposal has been introduced in the Senate. (T.H.E. Journal)

San Francisco considers neighborhood school system: San Francisco schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia has proposed a new school-assignment policy that would place students in neighborhood schools but allow parents to choose other schools if desired. The proposal is an attempt to improve racial diversity in schools and would replace a complicated lottery system in place since 2001 that has failed to desegregate the city's schools. (The Examiner)

Gene Wilhoit at ASCD Annual Conference: Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, will present his case for the Common Core Standards Initiative at ASCD's Annual Conference in San Antonio on Monday, March 8. Because this session will be open for audience questions, look for interesting insights from home-state attendees, with Texas being one of only two states that refused to sign on to the initiative. (ASCD)

Teachers take on roles as facilitators of 21st-century skills: Teachers are taking on new roles in West Virginia classrooms as facilitators of classroom activities meant to build 21st-century skills in their students. One example is a project-based learning method, which relies on group work and outside sources -- an approach that can be challenging for teachers accustomed to being the focal point in the classroom. The state is focused on providing training and resources for teachers as they overhaul their teaching methods to reflect the change. (Education Week)

Parent-school connection used to close achievement gap: An Illinois school district is working to close the achievement gap that exists among students from different racial and socioeconomic groups by addressing possible problems at home. Quincy Public Schools started a Family Link program that provides a means of communication and support between schools and families. The program is intended to discover and fix problems at home that might be affecting student performance at school, such as poor attendance and bad behavior. (The Quincy Herald-Whig)

Early-college high schools is keeping at-risk students enrolled in N.C.: More than 70 early-college high schools in North Carolina are providing at-risk students the opportunity to earn college credit at no cost, bridging the gap between high school and college, and keeping many students from dropping out. At SandHoke Early College High School, which enrolls only students whose parents lack college degrees, students are on a fast track to earn a high-school diploma and two years of college credit in five years. (The New York Times)

Proficiency model is changing learning culture in Oregon school: An Oregon high school that has adopted a proficiency-model system under which students are given as much time as they need each year to demonstrate their understanding of state standards and concepts, and grades are determined by proficiency rather than a traditional points-based system. Students and parents resisted the system at first, but now students are taking more responsibility for the work they need to do to show proficiency. "Before I felt like I had to do it," one student said. "Now I actually want to learn it." (Statesman-Journal)

Art helps boost Dallas charter school: Officials at a Dallas charter school say their students' success in the arts has helped transform the school's culture by showing that its students -- 90% of whom are poor and most of whom are black or Hispanic -- can succeed despite disadvantages. The school was recently recognized for the number of student art works posted on the online children's art museum Artsonia, and four students recently won eight awards for photography. (The Dallas Morning News)

South Dakota works to recruit more teachers to poor, rural schools: Poor, rural South Dakota schools are having difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, despite offering signing bonuses, loan forgiveness and assistance with housing. The shortage is expected to worsen as more veteran teachers retire. Through two grant programs, the University of South Dakota is providing incentives for students and residents to teach in their communities as well as training new educators through medical-style residencies and on-site mentoring. (Argus Leader)

Long-term outcomes are unclear as stimulus program reaches midpoint: Assessments are mixed about whether the Obama administration is making progress toward the two primary goals of its $100 billion education-stimulus program -- education reform and financial aid to schools -- as the program reaches the end of its first year. Widespread reforms to schools are being implemented by states under the program, but long-term outcomes will not be known for some time. But while infusions of stimulus aid have helped schools stave off layoffs and financial ruin this year, many will face compounded financial difficulties as the money runs out. (Education Week)

Individualized "prescriptions" help students improve reading skills: Students at a Connecticut middle school are improving their reading skills through a new program that takes an individualized, interdisciplinary approach to reading instruction. The Rx program features daily 45-minute sessions where students work on tasks according to personalized reading "prescriptions." In one activity, students discuss emotions contained in a reading selection with an art teacher, who has them draw depictions of an emotion from the book to reinforce their understanding. (Norwich Bulletin)

Strong leadership, collaboration helped struggling Ga. schools improve: Strong principals who were focused on instruction, teachers who collaborated with each other on lessons and tactics, and a focus on professional development were among the traits shared by the 17 Georgia schools that made their way off the state's "needs improvement" list this year after five or more years, according to the Georgia schools superintendent. Some 12% of Georgia schools carry the "needs improvement" label and must meet adequate yearly progress standards for two straight years to shake the designation. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Educators debate new AYP metric in proposed NCLB rewrite: Plans to create an alternative measurement of adequate yearly progress as part of the Obama administration's rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law have educators divided, with supporters saying a more nuanced metric is needed and critics contending that such a system is not feasible. While many of the details of the proposed metric have not been made public, debate is under way about how new standards would be enforced and what penalties would be applied to schools that fail to meet them. (Education Week)

Advocates push for changes to Maryland's charter-school law: Advocates for charter schools in Maryland are seeking revisions to state law that would allow charter schools to access capital funding and allow teachers at charter schools to opt out of unions. The reforms that could help Maryland win millions of dollars in the second round of competition for federal Race to the Top money. Although the state came in last on the strength of its charter-school law in a recent national ranking, some question whether the reforms are necessary because the state is tops in another ranking of public-school quality. (The Sun)

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