Saturday, May 29, 2010

Quick Hits

Texas students build backyard roller coaster for school project: Two high-school seniors interested in engineering built a 60-foot-long backyard roller coaster as part of an independent-study course at their Dallas-area public school. Students must apply to take Liberty High School's ISM class, which aims to help students develop professional skills and prepare for careers by interacting with members of the business community and completing hands-on projects. "This is not solving for X; this is teaching kids how to think," the head of the ISM class said. (The Dallas Morning News)

Early-college program in Newark graduates first students: A group of high-school seniors from Newark, N.J., became the first to graduate from an early-college program that organizers hope will help break the cycle of poverty in Newark and other low-income communities. The Rutgers Early College Humanities Program -- REaCH -- allows students to experience college-level academics and earn up to six college credits while they are still in high school. (The Star-Ledger)

Software program uses RTI method for teaching middle-school math: A software program is available for teaching math to middle-school students using Response to Intervention techniques. The Web-based software is aimed at Tier 2 students who are struggling with grade-level concepts. It includes adaptive questioning to assess student knowledge and help determine a student's individual needs. (T.H.E. Journal)

"Culture of calm" takes hold at 6 Chicago schools: Student behavior has improved at six Chicago-area schools since the district implemented a $60 million anti-violence initiative. Each of the six schools received funding to establish non-negotiable behavior guidelines for students, create contests to reward positive behavior and hire a coordinator to oversee their school's cultural transformation. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Opinion - Obama's reform agenda advances with new teacher laws: The adoption of significant reform measures that tie teacher evaluations to student achievement and change the way teachers earn and retain tenure in New York and Colorado marks an important milestone in the Obama administration's efforts to reform the nation's schools, the editorial board of The Washington Post writes. The editors support the administration's willingness to tackle controversial problems and commend reform-minded union leaders who are signing on to be part of the solution. (The Washington Post)

Report criticizes instruction of long-term ELL students in Calif.: Students learning English as a second language in 40 California school districts may not be receiving the instruction they need, according to a report by a coalition of education and civil rights groups. The study concluded that 59% of English-language learners in secondary schools and with more than six years in U.S. schools had not achieved proficiency, and few programs were in place to meet the long-term needs of ELL students. State education leaders disputed the findings, but acknowledged the challenge for students to achieve English fluency in higher grades, where academics become more rigorous. (Education Week)

Elementary school to experiment with gender-specific instruction: A Tupelo, Miss., elementary school will offer some single-gender classrooms next year as part of a pilot program approved by the school board. The single-gender classes will be balanced by ability level, and teachers will receive training in gender-specific learning styles. "They will still teach the same materials. They just might teach it in a little different way," the school's principal said. (Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal)

Campaign takes aim at middle-school bullying: The Cartoon Network is launching an anti-bullying campaign targeting middle-school students who witness bullying and offering techniques for intervening. The campaign includes cartoon content and public-service messages, as well as curriculum materials available online. CNN is planning complementary programming for parents. (Google)

New York moves closer to charter-school expansion: Lawmakers in New York's state Assembly are poised to vote on a bill today to increase the number of charter schools allowed in the state from 200 to 460 over the next four years. The legislation would also establish councils to mediate disputes over sharing facilities with traditional schools, allow the state to conduct financial audits of charters and prohibit new for-profit charters. If approved, the bill still must advance through the state Senate and be signed by Gov. David Paterson. (The New York Times)

Va. opts out of Race to the Top contest over national curriculum: Virginia will not apply for federal Race to the Top funds because it does not want to conform to a national curriculum, officials said Wednesday. Gov. Bob McDonnell said the state's education standards were more rigorous than those that would be adopted nationally and, in writing to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said the requirements for Race to the Top were "rigid." (The Virginian-Pilot)

Data show number of high-poverty schools is growing in U.S.: The percentage of public schools where more than 75% of students qualified for free and reduced-price meals -- a factor used to denote poverty -- rose from 12% to 17% from 2000 to 2008, federal government data show. Students in high-poverty schools generally score lower on standardized tests. (The Christian Science Monitor)

First states agree to endorse national academic standards: Maryland will adopt national core-education standards -- after they are introduced -- as part of an effort to qualify for more Race to the Top funding. Maryland and Kentucky are the only states to sign on to the national reading and math standards. Officials said Maryland schools will not enact the new standards for a year or more while they wait for teachers to be trained and the curriculum to be drafted. (The Washington Post)

Virginia schools test 21st-century skill sets of students: A number of Virginia schools are testing students on problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and the use of technology -- all considered to be 21st-century skills. One county is beginning testing this year with its eighth-graders, while another county has been using portfolio assessments during the past five years to test the skills of younger students. "We want to go beyond what NCLB is asking, beyond what the Standards of Learning tests assess, to really ensure that we're preparing our students for a global economy," one Henrico County official said. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Officials approve plan to rehire R.I.'s Central Falls teachers: Fired teachers at Rhode Island's Central Falls High School will each write an essay, stage a five-minute lesson, and interview with school officials under a plan approved by district officials Tuesday that would allow them the opportunity to be rehired. Nearly all the 89 teachers fired from the school because of poor student achievement are reapplying for their jobs under the deal, which ends months of heated debate over the best way to improve struggling schools. (The Providence Journal)

Ravitch offers top 10 reasons to opt out of federal competition: Education expert Diane Ravitch in this blog post makes a case for states and school districts to consider not participating in the federal Race to the Top grant competition. Ravitch argues that the competition is a misuse of federal power that is encouraging the adoption of teacher evaluations based on arbitrary factors, and that it will likely result in the further "narrowing of the curriculum" and the "de-professionalization of education." (Bridging Differences)

Tuition program sparks college focus in preschool: The Kalamazoo, Mich., district has students thinking about college as early as preschool. A scholarship program that provides college tuition for district students sparked the initiative, which includes a focus on early literacy, college visits for middle-schoolers and more Advanced Placement courses. "This is a district that has a high proportion of low-income kids, and that is not typically a population that has a high level of college awareness or aspirations. But there have been efforts at every level to deepen that college-going culture," said the author of a book about the scholarship program. (The Detroit News)

Educators question English curriculum that minimizes novels: English teachers in Nevada's Douglas County are questioning a proposed secondary-school curriculum that abandons the traditional method of teaching higher-level English through novels. The new SpringBoard curriculum, designed by College Board, does not include classic works such as William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" and "Macbeth," William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" and J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." Under the new curriculum, works by John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain would also not be included. (The Record-Courier)

Text messaging is an educational tool for students at Texas school: A Texas teacher is using text messaging to assess understanding among students in her freshman biology class. Sandy Riggs, who teaches college-level courses at a high school in Corpus Christi, says using the technology increased participation among her students. "I never see this with hands," she said. Riggs also allows students to use text messaging to contact her with questions about homework and other concerns. (Corpus Christi Caller-Times)

Software program helps music students hit the right notes: Some 175 music teachers in schools across the Midwest used a software program this year to help 10,000 students learn how to sing on key. The Singing Coach software traces students' recorded singing pitch on a digital screen to provide feedback on their accuracy. "The kids loved it," one music teacher said. "It was like a computer game, and they were motivated to improve their scores and singing ability." (Star Tribune)

Md. school focuses on positive behaviors to prevent bullying: Maryland first lady Katie O'Malley launched the state's Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week at Pikesville Middle School, which she praised as a "model school" for its efforts to prevent and address bullying. The school adopted "The Pikesville Way" approach several years ago, and teachers there provide students short daily lessons in four positive behaviors to prevent bullying -- respect, responsibility, cooperation and accountability -- which educators and students also said need to be taught at home. (The Sun)

L.A. opens bidding for more low-performing schools amid charter suit: The Los Angeles Unified School District will consider proposals from inside and outside the district in a second round of bidding for control over failing schools -- this time, eight struggling schools and nine new campuses -- officials said Monday. Winners would begin managing the schools in fall 2011. Charter-school operators, upset about their share of schools won during the first round, filed a lawsuit Monday against the district over the equal distribution of district facilities. (L.A. Now)

Supreme Court to hear case over scholarship tax credits in Arizona: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case questioning the legality of a program that provides dollar-for-dollar state tax breaks on donations to private-school scholarships. Supporters of the program say it allows many families to send students to the schools of their choice, but critics say it amounts to a state endorsement of religion, as most of the scholarships are awarded by religious groups that require students to choose religious schools. (Google)

Forest preschools are sprouting in U.S. communities: "Forest kindergarten" -- a movement that originated in Europe -- is spreading to the U.S. as a way to educate preschool students in an outdoor setting. There is a growing waiting list for spots in Washington state's Cedarsong Nature School, which is basically a three-cabin camp where young students' curiosity drives the curriculum. "They tend to retain the information better because they're actually touching and feeling and tasting the lessons," the school's founder said. (Google)

Using Value-Added Measures to Evaluate Teachers: End-of-year test scores do not show how much students learned that year in that class, so measures that take into account where students started are surely an improvement. However, such measures of growth are only a starting point. Making judgments about individual teachers requires sophisticated analyses to sort out how much growth is probably caused by the teacher and how much is caused by other factors. For example, students who are frequently absent tend to have lower scores regardless of the quality of their teacher, so it is vital to take into account how many days students are present. Thus, to be fair and to provide trustworthy estimates of teacher effectiveness, value-added measures require complicated formulas that take into account as many influences on student achievement as possible. (Ed Leadership)

Philadelphia charter is sending majority of its students to college: A charter school located in a south Philadelphia neighborhood where between 16% to 24% of high-schoolers go on to college is sending 93% of its graduating seniors to college this year. The charter operator took over the school five years ago, and students who were skeptical at first became receptive to such changes as higher expectations, longer school hours and Saturday classes, more rigorous courses, and more support and nurturing from teachers. "I think what changed and made the students change is they got respect from teachers," one student said. "They thought their teachers cared." (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Texas adopts controversial changes to social studies curriculum: The Texas state school board approved new guidelines for teaching social studies and history -- with final votes coming down along party lines -- after months of ideological debate. Conservative members of the board introduced proposed changes to the standards in 2009 to offer "balance" to the curriculum, which one board member said had a "left-wing tilt." Opponents of the changes, which include a greater emphasis on Judeo-Christian influences on history and a dilution of the concept of church-state separation, say they are unjustly politicizing education. (CNN) (National Public Radio)

Which programs best prepare new teachers for the classroom?: Debate continues over the best approaches for preparing new teachers for the classroom. A University of Michigan program is taking the approach of having teacher candidates working in the classroom much earlier in their training. Students in the pilot program are on "rotations" similar to those in medical school in the hopes of instilling skills in new teachers that will help students learn. "It doesn't really make sense to you until you actually go in the classroom and see it firsthand, and then you can make sense of it," one student-teacher said. (MichiganRadio)

Harvard educator takes interactive approach to history teaching: A Harvard University professor has teamed up with a software company to develop a Web-linked textbook that offers multimedia enhancements for teaching about Western civilization to students. Niall Ferguson, who teaches European history and business administration, also worked on an educational video game about World War II that is coming to the commercial market. "Today's students want to be engaged, and those who play strategy games know more about history than those who just read today's textbooks," he said. "The interactive approach to learning history is going to be a game-changer." (Boston Herald)

Lawmakers concerned about federal school-turnaround strategies: Congressional lawmakers are concerned about the four school-turnaround strategies being put forth by the Obama administration as part of the reauthorization of the nation's education laws. Some say the methods are not appropriate for schools in rural areas and overlook the need for parental involvement and input. "These four choices are interesting, but they've got to be fleshed out here," said Rep. George Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "There's a portfolio of things you need to bring to this problem." (Education Week)

Massachusetts may scrap state tests in favor of national exams: Education officials in Massachusetts may scrap 12-year-old state tests in math and English in favor of new tests being developed with a coalition of about 24 states. Officials have touted the academic rigor of the Massachusetts' tests and standards but say a test based on a new system of national standards would be at least as rigorous. Officials said the new tests could be in place by the 2014-15 school year. Critics say the move would represent a setback for the state's schools. (The Boston Globe)

Political hurdles complicate Obama's plan to revise ESEA: Efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have been stalled since 2007 and some say legislative and political hurdles may complicate significant advancements this year. A lack of consensus, a full legislative agenda, and an election year are among the obstacles to revising the law, also known as No Child Left Behind, which was signed in 2002. The revision of ESEA has been a stated priority of the Obama administration, which remains hopeful of action on the legislation this year. (Education Week)

Proposal would allow La. charters to favor neighborhood students: Louisiana's Senate Education Committee advanced a proposal that would allow the state's charter elementary and middle schools to give admission preference to students living near the schools. The bill, which is headed for a vote in the full Senate, would allow the charters to opt in to the changes by requesting that attendance zones be established around their campuses. "The one characteristic that is missing in the New Orleans charter-school system is neighborhood schools," the bill's sponsor said. (The Times-Picayune)

Program provides earlier intervention to curb dropout rate: A program that aims to stem the dropout rate in the country's high schools is finding success by targeting early-warning signs in students and offering intervention and support while they are still in middle school. Diplomas Now was piloted in Philadelphia's Feltonville School of Arts last year and has been expanded to schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Antonio and New Orleans. "Kids who fail math or English in sixth grade go on to start failing everything in ninth grade," one of the program's creators said. (USA TODAY)

From the Nation's Cartoonists

This from Tony Auth in Slate:Scott Stantis
Chris Britt
Matt Davies
Dick Locher
Jeff Danziger
Glenn McCoy
Stuart Carlson

Friday, May 28, 2010

Never One to Learn a Lesson

On the heels of a spanking by the Kentucky Supreme Court Senate President David Williams is attempting an end run - yet another effort to funnel public tax dollars into private hands.

Senate panel OKs amendment
to fund pharmacy scholarships at private schools

The state Senate voted unanimously to pass a revenue bill that included an amendment that would allow coal severance taxes to fund pharmacy scholarships at private and public schools.

A state Senate committee had approved some additional amendments to a revenue bill Friday afternoon, including the amendment that would allow using coal severance taxes to fund pharmacy scholarships at private and public schools.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who introduced the amendment in the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee and later on the Senate floor, said the proposal would address concerns raised in a recent state Supreme Court decision that said state funds could not be used to build a pharmacy school at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, which is in Williams’ district...

Leaders meet on budget, but special session likely to continue Saturday

This from Bluegrass Politics:

House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams met privately for about an hour Friday afternoon in an attempt to work out differences between their two chambers on a state budget bill.

Stumbo said after “the very productive” meeting that he was more optimistic that the legislature could enact a budget bill, but he said the final vote on it might not come until Saturday.

He noted that it could take 12 hours to print an amended budget bill before lawmakers voted on it.

“The odds that we won’t have to go into next week are very good. I can’t promise that we won’t have to go at least into tomorrow because it does take about 12 hours to print for enrolling and engrossing,” he said. “But we are making significant progress.”

Referring to the Senate's premature evacuation from Frankfort during the regular session Stumbo warned that,
"If the Senate should approve a budget bill later Friday and then adjourn, putting he House in an accept-it-or-reject-it position, we won’t have a budget.”
He added: “Keeneland is not running today so I have hopes they will stay around for awhile.”

Williams reacted with pomposity saying Stumbo's comments were “pejorative, outrageous and vitriolic statements.” He claimed those statements are “rolling off our back like water.” Then to prove it, Williams implied that Stumbo wasn't reading the bill the Senate sent to the House.

Just another day in Frankfort. Maybe the legislature does its job. Maybe not. Stay tuned.

Sans Charters, Kentucky's RTTT2 Application Heads to DC

The Kentucky Department of Education is submitting the state’s new application for federal Race to the Top dollars today. The state should pick up a few points with a new provision in the application which would tie teacher evaluations – in part – to student achievement. But will that be enough?

Race to the Top envisions a new longitudinal value-added assessment system. So does Senate Bill 1. In order to build a new test, Kentucky needs the $175 million that Race to the Top could provide.

In order to win the full amount, Kentucky needs charter school legislation which, it appears, is not happening.

So where might that leave Kentucky?

KDE Spokesperson Lisa Gross told WRFL that,
“In order to gauge student achievement, we have to have things in place like tests and accountability programs and so forth,” says Gross, “and Race to the Top also puts the responsibility for raising student achievement on the grown-ups, on teachers, on administrators.”
With a new test, built on the core assessment standards, AND with appropriate amounts of professional development - measuring most teachers' contribution to student achievement might be done in a fairer manner.

But what if Kentucky earns few or no RTTT dollars and can't afford to build that test?

Tying teacher evaluations to student achievement under the current test is, what? ...unfair? ...foolish? ...dishonest? ...criminal?

EduJobs Wrangling Continues in DC

This from Politics K-12:
Even though the $23 billion education jobs bill faltered yesterday in Congress, proponents of this lifeline to the nation's public schools aren't giving up. Yesterday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis. canceled a committee meeting intended to add the $23 billion to the war-spending bill. Supporters have already encountered trouble getting enough votes in the Senate. And, apparently, Democrats are privately grumbling that President Obama isn't more involved in making the case for this money, which public school advocates say is desperately needed to forestall draconian teacher layoffs, according to this Associated Press story. But the National Education Association's government relations director Kim Anderson said the education jobs bill simply got caught up in deficit politics, which are playing out today as the House considers a package of tax extenders involving jobless benefits and some tax cuts.

On Tuesday the Senate sponsor of the measure, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa,told Ed Week,

I have decided not to offer an amendment on education jobs funding to the supplemental appropriations bill. I've counted the votes, and I am confident that a clear majority of Senators would support such an amendment. But under Senate rules, we need more than a majority - we need a supermajority of 60 votes. And since no Republicans have agreed to support this amendment, we can't get to 60.

Nevertheless, I remain committed to securing this funding. There are other ways to get it. For example, the House is on track to include $23 billion for education jobs in its supplemental appropriations bill. When the bill goes to conference, I will fight to ensure that the House funding prevails. Three hundred thousand jobs and the education of our Nation's children depend on it.