Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quick Hits

N.J. school focuses on individualized learning over test prep: In a departure from the test-driven school culture, a New Jersey elementary school has for the past decade focused on visceral indicators, such as students' social abilities and musical and athletic talents. The learning method is based on a theory from Harvard University professor Howard Gardner that teachers should focus on individual learning styles and then teach each lesson in multiple ways. He also believes that schools should focus on student interaction and self-expression. (The Wall Street Journal)

Will stricter graduation requirements help or hinder S.D. students?: Students entering high schools in South Dakota this fall will be the first to face tougher graduation requirements aimed at better preparing them for college or careers. Some schools will offer alternative classes and extra help for students who struggle with the new requirements, which mandate that all students pass upper-level math and science courses. Critics are concerned, however, that schools will make the courses easier to ensure that students pass. (Argus Leader)

Some Florida schools begin awarding merit bonuses for teachers: About 50% of Florida's lowest-performing schools are offering merit pay for teachers who help raise student scores. But bonus amounts vary by district, and some teachers say the bonuses say are too small to be used as incentives. Others think the merit pay should be applied to all educators, not just those who teach academic subjects. "I think it ups the morale of teachers," one physical-education teacher said. "Even though it's not really life-changing money, it gives you something you can look forward to." (Orlando Sentinel)

2 Minn. schools are taking a hybrid approach to online learning: Two Minnesota high schools are adding "hybrid learning" courses that blend virtual studies with human interaction in the classroom. Supporters of the hybrid approach say it takes advantage of the cost-effectiveness of online learning while offering students the benefits of interacting with teachers and each other. "The research is beginning to suggest that the blended model appears to be a bit more influential than just online, or just face-to-face," one district's technology coordinator said. (Star Tribune)

Do home computers help or harm low-income students?: Researchers are finding little educational benefit to students in low-income households having computers at home and, in some cases, are finding a decrease in students' academic performance. A study by Duke University professors found that math performance declined among middle-school students -- primarily from low-income areas -- after broadband service was installed. Another study, conducted in Texas, showed mixed results when students were "immersed" in computers and other technology, including a decline in some students' writing scores. (The New York Times)

Common core standards have support from 23 states: Twenty-three states have signed on to use national academic standards, and more are expected to do so before Aug. 2 to increase their chances of receiving federal Race to the Top funding. The Council of Chief State School Officers expects 41 states to agree to the core standards by the end of 2010. However, critics say that states are rushing to adopt the standards, and some have questioned whether states are motivated by commitment to a national curriculum or by potential federal funding. (Education Week)

D.C. test scores show mixed results: Elementary-school students in Washington, D.C., posted a decline of four to five percentage points over last year in reading and math proficiency on standardized tests, putting an end to a two-year run of gains among the students. Middle- and high-school students' scores continued progress made in previous years, with an average gain over the past three years of 14 percentage points in reading proficiency and 17 percentage points in math. The elementary-school scores, however, were seen as a setback for D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, who has made test-score improvement a key part of her efforts to reform D.C. schools. (The Washington Post)

Duncan - Equality in the classroom will lead to equality in society: Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a speech at the NAACP's annual convention, called education "the civil rights issue of our generation." Duncan called on the NAACP to make equity in education a priority and urged community leaders and the group's members to become more involved in improving the nation's schools. (The Kansas City Star)

NEA votes "no confidence" in Race to the Top: The National Education Association has taken a vote of "no confidence" in the federal Race to the Top initiative. Phil Rumore, the president of the NEA's affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., introduced the measure and said the federal guidelines and emphasis on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act only reinforces the focus on standardized testing in schools. (Education Week)

Popularity of online credit-recovery programs grows, despite concerns: Online credit-recovery programs are being established in many school districts, including Boston, New York City and Chicago, as part of efforts to improve graduation rates and student achievement under No Child Left Behind. The programs often allow students to earn credits based on subject mastery rather than time spent in the classroom -- which is in conflict with seat-time requirements in some states -- and some critics of the programs say there is little research that supports their effectiveness. (Education Week)

Students have computer access to the night sky with NASA project: NASA has joined with Microsoft to create a seamless, digitized map of the night sky -- including a 3-D map of Mars that users can navigate on a computer. The mapping project, called Terapixel, can be viewed using Microsoft's free Internet-based WorldWide Telescope program, and was developed to help interest more students in studying science and related fields. "What we're trying to do at NASA is make our data more accessible," NASA's chief technology officer said, "and we're doing that by connecting students in the classroom and at home to a user-friendly platform." (eSchool News)

Poll - Teachers should determine what is taught in Texas schools: About 72% of a sampling of Texans think teachers -- not the state's school board -- should determine what is taught in the classroom, the results of a survey show. Some 68% of respondents said separation of church and state is important, but nearly 50% said religion should carry more weight in schools. The survey was commissioned by the Texas Freedom Network, which polled likely voters on current issues facing the state's schools. (The Dallas Morning News) (Houston Chronicle)

Barnes & Noble to debut free textbook software: Barnes & Noble is launching NOOKStudy -- free software that gives students a place to store e-textbooks, study guides and other class materials on their PCs and Macs. The software, set to debut in August, has been tested in schools by students and teachers. (FastCompany)

Digital curriculum aims to engage students in economics: Digital-education publisher Shmoop is launching multimedia programs and games to help engage middle- and high-school students in economics. The curriculum was developed by graduate-level economics faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University and uses role-playing, current events and humor to teach concepts in economics. The beta version of the curriculum is available for free. (T.H.E. Journal)

Whole-child charters team up to offer independent study: Two charter schools in California's Ventura County that focus on educating the whole child are teaming up to share resources and create an independent-study program for students who are home-schooled. The program will include enrichment courses, an online component and will allow students to be part of a school community without attending classes every day. (Ventura County Star)

Controversial turnaround strategy is under way at L.A. high school: Fremont High School in Los Angeles reopened Tuesday with mostly new teachers hoping to improve achievement at the long-struggling school. The school is an example of the Obama administration's controversial education reforms, which allow underperforming schools to adopt one of several school-turnaround strategies, including replacing a majority of the school's teachers and staff. But critics of the strategy, including education expert Diane Ravitch, say it is unproven and insults teachers. (Los Angeles Times)

Want children to pay attention? Make their brains curious: In 360 B.C., Plato shared a thought that has not lost its timeliness: "Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind." Neurosurgeon and educator Judy Willis explores this profound thought from a brain-based perspective in a recent ASCD EDge blog post. She shares insight into the inner workings of the student mind, suggests strategies for building novelty into teaching and expounds the benefits of joyful learning. (ASCD)

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