Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Quick Hits

Electives - Critical to student success or frills that can be cut?: South Florida schools are taking different approaches to electives such as the arts, music and physical education courses that are on the chopping block in many districts because of budget deficits. Some schools see the electives as frills and are eliminating them in to devote scarce time and resources to core subjects, but others see the courses as critical to students' success and are working to keep them. (Sun-Sentinel)

Once-struggling district makes gains on graduation rate: A Washington state school district is seeing some success with an aggressive program aimed at improving a high-school graduation rate that fell to as low as 53% in 2003. The district's seven-year push has included tracking grades and attendance for every student, overhauling courses and adding a third year of math instruction. Even with stricter graduation requirements in place, this year nearly 84% of students will graduate on time. (The Seattle Times)

Is effective teaching an art or a science?: Some award-winning Texas educators -- all recipients of the Beaumont Foundation's Reaud Excellence in Education prizes -- say those who are effective in the profession recognize that teaching is both an art and a science. "Science identifies how to reach students. For example, some students are auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners; identifying their learning style facilitates the learning process. The implementation of the technique or the manner in which these techniques are incorporated into the curriculum are associated with art," one teacher said. (The Examiner Online)

Tennessee educators work to develop new criteria for evaluations: Teachers and principals in Tennessee met Saturday with other parties to brainstorm ways they will be evaluated under initiatives that were promised when the state was chosen to receive federal Race to the Top funding. Half of teachers' evaluations will be based on student achievement. However, of the state's 334 subject areas, just 10 are the subject of standardized tests, and educators worked Saturday to determine how teachers in subjects such as physical education or art might be evaluated. (The Tennessean)

U.S. Supreme Court dismisses challenge to NCLB: The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a challenge brought by teachers unions and school districts questioning whether schools can be forced to comply with the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Act without adequate government funding. The ruling leaves in place a decision by a federal judge who dismissed the case. The Obama administration is attempting to revise the law, which imposes financial and other sanctions on schools that do not make required academic benchmarks on student-achievement tests. (Google)

Can schools combine college-prep and vocational tracks?: Award-winning educator Mike Town teaches environmental science as part of the career and technical education program at Redmond High School in Washington state. In this blog post, Learning First Alliance project director Anne O'Brien interviews Town about how his students in Advanced Placement environmental science are bridging the traditional divide between college-prep and vocational tracks. (

Arizona elementary school to feature project-based STEM curriculum: Officials at a year-old Arizona elementary school are developing a magnet program with a curriculum that uses science, technology, engineering and math to solve real-world problems. The specialized STEM curriculum will be taught in classrooms that feature the latest technology and will be tested with fifth-graders next school year. If the program is deemed successful, it could be expanded to all grades the following year. (The Arizona Republic)

Schools experiment with stand-up desks for students: Some classrooms in Idaho, Minnesota and Wisconsin have replaced traditional classroom desks with height-adjustable stations that some educators say could improve students' focus and fitness levels. The workstations, which allow students to stand or rest on a stool, could be particularly helpful for students who have difficulty sitting still during class, educators say. At an Idaho school, data is being collected to determine whether stand-up desks could be used to curb childhood-obesity rates. (The Associated Press)

Teacher - High-stakes testing is harming struggling students: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act's focus on testing is harming the education of disadvantaged students and those with special needs, writes Renee Moore, a past Mississippi state teacher of the year and Milken Award winner. Moore is part of a group of teachers offering feedback to Obama administration officials on ESEA as they prepare to reform the law. Moore shares a story of a student with learning disabilities who was ready to give up on school because the state tests he had to take were too difficult, as well as an overcrowded classroom that left little time for individual instruction. (Teacher Magazine)

Should public dollars fund virtual charter schools?: An estimated 200,000 students nationwide are being educated full-time through an expanding network of virtual public schools that are an offshoot of charter schools. But the per-student funding for the schools is the same or higher than that of traditional schools -- though the virtual schools do not have overhead costs for libraries, playgrounds, buses or cafeterias. Education expert Diane Ravitch questions whether taxpayer money should be spent for the benefit of the for-profit companies that operate the schools, but supporters say virtual schooling is expensive. (The New York Times)

Which states will adopt national academic standards?: Some states such as Wisconsin and North Carolina have already signed on to national academic standards released Wednesday, while other states remain undecided. Although 48 states participated in the development of the common standards, states such as Massachusetts -- which is considered to have the country's most rigorous academic guidelines -- are under federal pressure to adopt the standards. (The Christian Science Monitor) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) (The News & Observer)

Common academic standards outline what students need to know: A final version of common academic standards for English and math instruction in U.S. schools was released Wednesday by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards -- posted at -- outline what students should know in each grade, from elementary school through high-school graduation. Many states are expected to adopt the standards, but others such as Virginia, Texas and Alaska say they will not participate. The standards took a year to develop and led to more than 10,000 public comments. (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)

Free private virtual school to open in Michigan: A private virtual-school operator is planning to enroll up to 400 Michigan students this year in a new tuition-free online school. The Michigan Connections Academy will offer individualized learning that combines independent computer time with interactive lessons that feature a live teacher as well as offline activities. The school will also feature a gifted math and language arts program for students in grades 3-8, and it will provide textbooks, a computer, printer and Internet stipend to students and their families. (T.H.E. Journal)

Why are boys underrepresented in gifted schools?: Girls outnumber boys in many of New York City's schools and programs for gifted students, though they make up just 49% of the overall school population. Theories to explain the disparity include the possibility of gender bias on entrance exams that favors girls' tendencies toward earlier proficiency in verbal and social skills. "Sitting still, that's where a lot of our gifted guys get into trouble," one expert said. "If they are not moving, they are thinking about moving." (The New York Times)

New Texas history curriculum may not influence other states' texts: Concerns about the influence of the new Texas social studies standards on other states' curriculum is overblown, say some publishing experts. Texas is the second-largest purchaser of textbooks nationwide, but its influence on content is waning because of technology that makes it easier for publishers to make changes to adapt to various standards. "It's easier nowadays to create one edition for one situation and a different edition for another situation," one market researcher said. "I don't believe the Texas curriculum will spread anyplace else." (The Associated Press)

Charter school operator on hot seat in Ohio: The state's biggest charter school operator last week refused to testify at a state legislative hearing into whether Ohio's laws give too much power to for-profit charter school companies. White Hat Management, based in Akron, operates 50 charter schools in six states...[and] is being sued by 10 of its charter schools ...who say the company spends too little on education, keeps too much in profit and is too secretive about it all. The governing boards of the 10 schools also claim that protections in Ohio law for charter school managers are unconstitutional and render the governing boards "virtually impotent." (Enquirer)

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