Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quick Hits

Schools face big budget holes as stimulus runs out: The nation's public schools are falling under severe financial stress as states slash education spending and drain federal stimulus money that staved off deep classroom cuts and widespread job losses. School districts have already suffered big budget cuts since the recession began two years ago, but experts say the cash crunch will get a lot worse as states run out of stimulus dollars. The result in many hard-hit districts: more teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, smaller paychecks, fewer electives and extracurricular activities, and decimated summer school programs. (AP)

N.C. scraps plan to limit high-school history to later events: North Carolina officials have reversed a decision to limit high-school history lessons to post-Reconstruction years after the plan was criticized by teachers, districts and lawmakers. Under the plan, elementary- and middle-school lessons would have focused on early U.S. history, and high-school students would have been taught about more recent history. Critics say the plan would have dumbed down the curriculum. Education officials are creating two high-school U.S. history courses that would cover the pre-Columbian era through the present. (The News & Observer)

Students in Colorado apply STEM skills to real-world issues: Some Colorado schools are working to incorporate problem-solving skills into science, technology, engineering and math learning by using real-world issues in the curriculum. One middle-school administrator is planning a project that will have students research an issue and devise solutions to solve it, suggesting global warming as one possibility for study. "With global warming and potential sea-level rise, what are the implications for a 10,000-foot rise in the sea level in the Western Hemisphere?" he asked. (The Coloradoan)

Longtime NYC trade school may be replaced by untested charter: A plan to replace a 78-year-old construction trade high school in New York City with a charter vocational school is raising questions about why the established program -- which has a four-year graduation rate of 46% -- is being replaced by one that is untested and whose leaders have been embroiled in charges of mismanagement and embezzlement. School district officials said the charter, which will offer the construction trades as an overall theme, will attempt to achieve a better record in academics. (The New York Times)

California officials worry over lack of district, union support for reforms: Officials in California are concerned about whether the refusal of many school districts and teachers unions to sign off on reform plans will hurt the state's chances to win federal Race to the Top funding. "It's not what I would have hoped for," one state senator said. But some officials remained positive about the state's prospects, noting that the districts that did endorse the reforms represent close to 60% of the state's students. (Los Angeles Times)

Field-report site provides online learning adventure for students: Students are learning about wildlife, biology and other subjects through first-hand accounts and field reports provided by researchers and scientists on Field Trip Earth -- a Web site created by the North Carolina Zoological Society. The Web site provides a type of virtual field trip where students read articles and look at photos and videos. One teacher in Virginia Beach, Va., says she uses the site to teach her students about endangered red wolves, and a North Carolina teacher says the site adds to lessons on natural resources. (The News & Observer)

Educators question quality of popular online programs in Minnesota: Enrollment in online K-12 courses in Minnesota has nearly doubled during a recent two-year period, but some educators are concerned about whether the courses are helping students become proficient in core subjects such as reading, science and math. While online learning can be a good fit for at-risk students, students with disabilities or others who struggle in traditional learning environments, the quality of programs has been shown to vary across the state. (Star Tribune)

Idaho considers allowing charters that target under-served students: Idaho lawmakers are considering a bill introduced Monday that would lift the cap on the number of new charter schools allowed in the state, giving preference to applications for schools that target gifted students, at-risk or disadvantaged students or students with disabilities. State Sen. John Goedde's proposed changes to the state's charter-school policies are aimed at positioning the state to win grant funding for schools under the federal Race to the Top program. (KIVI-TV)

Homelessness on the rise among high-school students in urban Mass: There are a growing number of homeless high-school students in urban Massachusetts areas who are forced out of relatives' homes or choose to leave abusive homes when they turn 18. One high-school-based program provides counseling and helps students find shelter and jobs, but more resources are needed to help the growing number of displaced students older than 18, advocates say. "This is really becoming an urgent issue. This past week I got five calls from local high schools for kids who have become homeless," one advocate said. (The Boston Globe)

Diploma Plus schools offer skills-based path for struggling students: There are 29 Diploma Plus schools and programs across the country that specialize in educating students who have dropped out or who are significantly behind in credits. "We don't use the language of grade levels. Here, we use skills and products of mastery," says the coordinator of one Diploma Plus program in Massachusetts. The schools and programs focus on "personal competencies" and use "restorative" discipline, where students are held accountable to discuss and make amends for poor behavior. (The Providence Journal)

Wash. districts mull over math curriculum choices amid legal decisions: Officials in Washington state's Bellevue and Issaquah school districts are conducting research and consulting with lawyers as they decide whether to choose an investigations-based math curriculum or more traditional texts for geometry and algebra next year. State courts in the Washington counties of Thurston and King recently came to opposing conclusions about how much authority districts have to choose curricula. (The Seattle Times)

Md. governor set to propose changes to teacher tenure, evaluations: Maryland's Gov. Martin O'Malley was expected to unveil a legislative proposal today that would add one year to the time it takes a public-school teacher to earn tenure and would link teacher evaluations to student achievement, among other reforms. The governor's plan is designed to help position the state to win funding under the next round of the federal Race to the Top program. (The Sun)

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