Friday, February 12, 2010

Quick Hits

Teach for America could lose dedicated stream of federal funding: An Obama administration plan to create a broader grant competition for teacher-training programs could end the dedication of federal funding to Teach for America. The move could cost the program $18 million this fiscal year, or about 10% of its budget. TFA -- which places new college graduates in two-year positions at the country's most disadvantaged schools -- could be awarded an even larger grant under the proposal but would no longer be guaranteed the money, which it had counted on for a planned expansion. (The Washington Post)

Increased emphasis on algebra yields mixed results: A push to have more students take algebra before ninth grade to boost college readiness has had mixed results, research shows. In Chicago schools, more students took algebra courses but many received poor grades or failed, and no evidence of increased college readiness was found. Positive effects, however, have been found among middle-school students who took feeder courses such as pre-algebra first. "Simply sticking students in courses without preparing them ahead of time for the class does not seem to work as an intervention," one researcher said. (Education Week)

Louisiana magnet school models excellence: An award-winning Louisiana magnet school uses a variety of classroom activities, a positive-behavior discipline system and a collaborative teaching approach to education. Researchers employed by the U.S. Department of Education toured Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School in Baton Rouge to determine the qualities that helped the school win a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award. The research will be included in a multimedia report on best practices in Blue Ribbon schools. (The Advocate)

Olympics provide opportunity to teach history, culture: Educators in a Sartell, Minn., elementary school are using the Olympics as the focus of a schoolwide competition designed to excite students about learning. Each class has selected a country and during a two-week period will learn about its history and traditions. "With each class being a different country, they have ownership and a sense of pride," said music teacher Kathy Wood. "In the classroom, they want to learn about their country's culture. When they go home, they are excited to tell their family about it." (St. Cloud Times)

L.A. schools superintendent's corporate tie draws criticism: Former and current officials and employees in the Los Angeles school district are questioning schools chief Ramon C. Cortines' position as a board member for Scholastic, an education publisher that obtained $16 million in district contracts over the past five years. While many districts prohibit employees from engaging in such activities, Los Angeles does not, and many current board members support Cortines' right to work for Scholastic, which earned him more than $150,000 last year. Cortines has recused himself from district decisions involving Scholastic. (Los Angeles Times)

Georgia officials launch investigation into suspicious state tests: Georgia education officials ordered an investigation into the possibility of cheating on state tests at 191 of its schools. The inquiry was prompted by a review of state tests that showed an abnormal number of erasures on answer sheets -- changing wrong answers to correct ones -- suggesting a pattern of tampering by administrators or teachers. "This is the biggest erasure problem I've ever seen," one testing expert said. (The New York Times)

Florida schools are seeing influx of Haitian students: More than 1,000 Haitian students who fled their country after the Jan. 12 earthquake are now enrolled in public schools in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area of Florida, and the influx is putting a strain on teachers and resources. Schools have mobilized to prepare for the students' arrival, training 1,000 counselors in the Miami-Dade district in issues such as cultural sensitivity and grief. In the Broward County district -- which has a large Haitian population -- newly arrived Haitian children are paired with students who act as buddies. (The Washington Post)

AP program continues to grow in U.S. high schools: The nation's Advanced Placement program is continuing to expand, with 26.5% of this past May's senior class taking at least one test during high school, a College Board report released Wednesday showed. In 2009, high schools offered an average of 10 AP courses compared with seven in 2004. While a majority of students taking the exams earned a passing score, the number of students who did not pass is on the rise -- up to 43% in 2009 from 39% in 2001, the report showed. Also in the report: More low-income students are taking the test and passing. (The New York Times)

Educator - Literature should be part of core curriculum: Educators are lobbying to ensure that literature remains a part of new national standards being developed for K-12 students. Educator and author Nancie Atwell argues that book reading is the most important activity for improving reading proficiency. Providing students of all abilities the opportunity to love and read many books helps them build confidence, stamina and good habits in addition to improving fluency, comprehension and vocabulary, which cannot be achieved from any curricular shortcut, Atwell writes. (Education Week)

District wins teacher-training grant to help narrow achievement gaps: Ohio's Columbus school district secured a $1.25 million grant with the help of its teachers union to train educators to better address racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps among students at its neediest schools. The NEA Foundation is providing the funding for five years of professional-development activities such as teacher mentoring and analyzing student data at 13 high-needs schools, where 90% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The grant will also promote parental involvement. (The Columbus Dispatch)

3% of Houston teachers could be fired under new policy: Houston school district data shows that more than 400 teachers -- representing 3% of the district's teacher workforce -- could be affected by a proposed policy that would tie their job security to student test scores. Teachers unions oppose the policy, which would allow the district to fire teachers whose students do not improve enough on standardized tests. But the district's superintendent said mentoring and training would be provided to struggling teachers, and educators would not be fired based on just a single year of poor test results. (Houston Chronicle)

Indiana to launch new school-evaluation tool: Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett announced the creation of a tool for evaluating schools that measures students' progress from year to year on state tests and allows for the comparison of schools by students' academic growth. "It will allow us to change our focus on how we work with kids," Bennett said. "Indiana ... will have the most comprehensive look at student growth in the United States." Parents will eventually be able to log in to a secure site to access their children's results. (The Indianapolis Star)

Virginia governor proposes statewide expansion of charters: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing to increase the number of charter schools as well as create virtual and laboratory schools as part of a push to expand school choice throughout the state. McDonnell's proposals, which must be approved by the state legislature, would allow would-be charters to overcome the local approval process, which often opposes their creation. Opponents say bypassing school boards may be in violation of the state's constitution. (The Washington Post)

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