Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quick Hits

Success varies at nation's charter schools amid push for more: Student test scores are often no better -- and are sometimes worse -- at the roughly 5,000 charter schools across the country compared with scores at traditional public schools, some research has shown. Successful charters attract support from parents, educators and high-profile advocates who point to common strategies, such as a more structured environment, extended school days and more frequent testing, as a model for closing achievement gaps. However, others say the quality of charters, which can vary from school to school, is dependent upon the demands of state regulators. (The New York Times)

Detroit to expand summer programs under Bobb's academic plan: Detroit Public Schools will expand its summer programs to nearly all schools and increase summer enrollment by about 8,000 students, to nearly 40,000 students, under a plan announced by emergency financial manager Robert Bobb. "In order to assist our children with a more rigorous curriculum, this expanded summer school program builds upon the successes of last year's summer school and adds a number of valuable components for students," Bobb said. An appeals court last week removed an injunction requested by the school board against Bobb, allowing him to proceed. (The Detroit News)

Pennsylvania students work to solve Civil War mystery: A group of students from Pennsylvania's Hamburg Area High School is working to uncover the mystery of a Civil War submarine that reportedly shone a blue light to signal a successful mission before sinking off the coast of South Carolina. The 12 students are working with two former teachers, using historically accurate materials to reconstruct three replicas of the submarine's lantern and answer questions about the legendary signal. (USA TODAY)

Obama urges black graduates to help bridge achievement gap: President Barack Obama delivered the commencement speech at historically black Hampton University on Sunday and called on new graduates to act as mentors to help close the achievement gap for young black students. "All of you have a separate responsibility -- to be role models for your brothers and sisters, to be mentors in your communities and, when the time comes, to pass that sense of an education's value down to your children," he said. (The New York Times)

Critics question success of turnaround at praised Houston school: The recent success of a poorly performing Houston high school is under question, as an easier system for rating schools may have overinflated its academic gains. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have praised the improvements at the school, where an aggressive turnaround strategy was implemented in summer 2008. Although scores on state tests are up, critics say the school benefited from a new rating system that allowed it to exclude the scores of some students and include projections of who might pass tests within three years. (Houston Chronicle)

Supreme Court nominee thrived at public all-girls high school: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was a top student at New York City's public Hunter College High School -- at the time a girls-only public school -- which required an entrance exam and enrolled a student body that was ethnically, racially and economically diverse. "Our teachers encouraged us to speak up, say what was on our minds and not be shackled or intimidated by having boys in the class, or feel as if we had to worry about our looks," said the president of Kagan's class at Hunter. "Math and science were just as important as social studies and English." (Google)

Schools team up with university to increase hands-on science learning: Teachers and students in San Francisco's public schools are conducting more sophisticated science laboratory experiments, thanks to a partnership with the University of California, San Francisco. UCSF scientists boost classroom teachers' science knowledge and help students develop hands-on skills they need to conduct the experiments. "They need to learn how to read science, but if they don't do it themselves, they're not getting what science is really about," one teacher said. "They need that process where they ask questions and figure it out." (San Francisco Chronicle)

Massachusetts to recruit top teachers for struggling schools: Education officials in Massachusetts are expected to launch a statewide campaign today to recruit top teachers to help improve the state's 35 most-troubled schools. A new website will include information about available positions as well as testimonials from teachers about the benefits and rewards of working at a struggling school. "We want to put the best and most talented teachers in front of children who need them the most," a top state schools official said. (The Boston Globe)

Duncan wants more black teachers for the country's classrooms: Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants more black teachers in the country's schools and is encouraging black students to pursue teaching careers. Duncan on Friday moderated a discussion among a group of black and Latino teachers. Duncan also encouraged a group of students graduating Saturday from the historically black Xavier University of Louisiana to "answer the call of the classroom." (The Times-Picayune)

Videoconferencing redefines class trips for students in rural Maine: Students at a Maine elementary school are taking virtual field trips to Alaska and connecting with students in other cities with the help of videoconferencing technology. The district has cut funding for in-person field trips, and a parent-teacher organization is chipping in for the virtual excursions. "I think the big thing is it's giving opportunities to kids, especially in Maine in the rural areas like we live in, a chance to see things and be exposed to things we can't do," one teacher said. (Morning Sentinel)

NYC schools question the validity of kindergarten admissions test: Some New York City private schools are no longer looking at students' scores from a standardized intelligence test when considering candidates for admission to kindergarten, following concerns that intensive test preparation is skewing the results. The group that administers the test -- designed to evaluate the learning abilities of 4- and 5-year-olds -- offers an online guide for parents but contends that preparation has little effect on students' scores. (The New York Times)

Boston schools will allow students to offer feedback to teachers: Boston teachers will receive anonymous feedback from students under a measure approved by officials Wednesday. The surveys, which will gauge how teachers approach instruction and learning, would be given to teachers for their review, then passed on to administrators with teachers' names removed. Students, who lobbied for the surveys, had pushed for their critiques to be factored into teacher evaluations. (The Boston Globe)

Florida district sees success with online tutoring after school: One Florida middle school is offering its students free, online tutoring sessions with their teachers four days a week after school. Educators say the online program encourages participation among students who do not typically ask questions in a classroom setting. Parents say the program eliminates transportation issues associated with on-campus tutoring sessions. Officials hope to expand the program countywide if they can secure enough funding. (Florida Today)

System for tracking student achievement is approved in Mass: Massachusetts education officials approved a plan Tuesday to change the way colleges and universities track student-achievement data to better evaluate information from different demographic groups. The Vision Project will have the state issue an annual report listing scores on seven achievement measures -- including the number of high-school graduates who enroll in college -- that can be compared against other states. (The Boston Globe)

New Orleans to have twice as many charters as traditional schools: There are expected to be 47 charter schools compared with a maximum of 23 traditional schools beginning next school year in New Orleans' Recovery School District, where officials are working to reduce the number of schools under the state-run district's control. While numerous startup charters have been created in recent years, many traditional schools are also being converted to charters. A study last year showed charters to be outperforming their traditional counterparts across the state. (The Times-Picayune)

Study looks at strategies for supporting black and Latino male students: Researchers hope the results of a study looking at the effectiveness of educating male black and Latino students at single-sex schools will have implications for improving instruction at other schools. Instruction that is relevant to the students' culture and lives and providing students with a nurturing, safe school environment were among the strategies used by the schools. The executive director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color said the study highlights the need for schools to address students' social and emotional needs. (Education Week)

Indiana approves new school-ranking system: Indiana's Board of Education approved a rating system that will give schools letter grades based on how well their students performed on standardized tests. The board agreed to separate the system from the federal school-ranking system, which rates "adequate yearly progress" made by schools, but it rejected requests by some educators that doling out an F for schools that may serve more struggling students would be unfair. (The Indianapolis Star)

Pennsylvania legislators advance charter-oversight measures: A Pennsylvania state Senate committee advanced a measure to increase oversight of the state's 135 charter schools. The unanimous vote came in response to allegations of widespread mismanagement at a number of charters in Philadelphia and, if approved by the full legislature, would create a state charter office that could investigate such allegations. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Massachusetts hopes to make virtual learning a reality this fall: The first virtual public school in Massachusetts is set to open this fall, with an enrollment goal of 600 K-8 students who would take all courses online. State education leaders hope the school will appeal to students who are not challenged at traditional schools or cannot attend because of medical conditions, discipline issues or other reasons. However, some warn that full-time online learning may deprive students of social and other skills gained from interacting with students in a traditional classrooms setting. (The Boston Globe)

Some states report improved minority scores when ACT is required: States that require students to take the ACT test as part of a school program are seeing improved performance among black and Hispanic students, according to new assessments. The ACT -- which measures proficiency in English, math, reading and scientific reasoning -- is being used in Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota and Wyoming to assess student competence in 11th grade and make changes to instruction or the curriculum when necessary. (Diverse: Issues In Higher Education)

Does Mass. anti-bullying law impinge students' free-speech rights?: A new anti-bullying measure signed into law Monday by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick -- considered by supporters as the toughest in the nation -- may infringe on students' right to free speech, say some civil rights attorneys. "The people who pass these laws want to make everything better, I understand that," said one lawyer and father who won a federal lawsuit over the suspension of his daughter in a cyberbullying case. "They want to protect children, I understand that, too. But that doesn't mean it's constitutional." (The Boston Globe)

Ill. legislators consider landmark voucher program for Chicago: Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow students to transfer out of the bottom 10% of Chicago Public Schools and use about $3,700 each in state vouchers to attend private schools. The pilot program could begin in fall 2011 and, if approved, would affect as many as 30,000 students and become the largest school-voucher program in the country. (Chicago Tribune)

New York Senate advances bill to increase number of charters: New York's state Senate approved a bill that would increase the state's cap on charter schools from 200 to 460 and require charters to enroll more students with special needs and English-language learners. The bill is designed to help the state win federal Race to the Top funds. It is headed to the state Assembly for consideration, although it is not expected to pass in its current form. (The New York Times)

Boston-area educators use innovative ideas to improve schools: Boston-area educators are working to improve teaching and schools in a number of innovative ways. The Boston Arts Academy is integrating arts instruction throughout the curriculum, while one teacher at Charlestown High School is helping students stand out among other college applicants by learning Arabic. The Mindful Teacher Project -- created by a Boston College professor and a Boston Public Schools literacy coach -- offers support and instruction in guided meditation for teachers under stress. (The Boston Globe)

Top Arizona school official seeks end to ethnic-studies curriculum: A bill under consideration by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer would end ethnic-studies courses in the state's K-12 public and charter schools. State schools chief Tom Horne, who supports the bill, says such classes serve to segregate students and target ethnic groups for resentment, but others say it could exacerbate the controversy over how the state treats its Hispanic residents amid the recent passage of stricter state immigration enforcement. Brewer must sign or reject the bill by May 11. (The Arizona Republic)

Research: Latino students start school with strong social skills: Many Latino children start kindergarten with strong social skills, research shows. However, their early gains disappear rapidly when they attend low-performing schools and live in poor neighborhoods, researchers found. The findings support previous research on the subject and suggest that schools need to capitalize on the early advantages Latino students bring to school, one researcher said. (Education Week)

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