Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quick Hits

Incoming kindergartners practice skills at school-prep camp: Incoming kindergarten students from a number of schools in Akron, Ohio, participated in a two-week summer camp to help prepare them for school. The Bridge to Kindergarten program had students reviewing reading and math skills, as well as practicing lining up and social skills for the classroom. Project GRAD, or Graduation Really Achieves Dreams, is a national group that works to improve graduation rates; it sponsored the program and another camp that was designed to help students entering ninth grade prepare for high-school life. (Akron Beacon Journal)

4,500 Teach for America graduates are heading to U.S. classrooms: Some 4,500 Teach for America graduates, who studied teaching for five weeks during the summer, will be placed at U.S. schools this year. "I'm ready to go," said one Teach for America graduate, who will teach students with disabilities in Washington, D.C., without the standard special-education credentials. Supporters of the program say it attracts talented young people who might not otherwise consider teaching, while critics say the training does not adequately prepare the graduates to teach specific subject matter or to connect with students. (The Washington Post)

How can student test scores be better used to evaluate teachers?: Efforts to evaluate teachers based on students' standardized test scores may be flawed and in need of refinement, according to this Wall Street Journal analysis. One study of scores-based evaluations in Florida showed that fewer than 40% of teachers who received high ratings one year remained on top the following year. But some say an improved statistics-based evaluation system would be preferable to the system of using subjective observations by administrators to rate teachers. (The Wall Street Journal)

More Fla. teachers are using social-networking tools in the classroom: Florida teachers are stepping up their use of social networking and other technology in the classroom. One middle-school teacher set up a class Twitter page to challenge students to complete extra math problems, while other area teachers use Skype and iChat to conduct virtual field trips and connect with students in other parts of the world. (Orlando Sentinel)

Should value-added data be used to rate schools?: A system used to rate schools in Los Angeles and some other districts across the country may be overlooking important data that could make the ratings more meaningful. The Academic Performance Index has been shown to mirror students' advantages and disadvantages outside of school, rather than any progress the school is fostering. "We're measuring who is in schools rather than how effective the schools are," a Duke University testing expert said. Some say student progress may be better measured by value-added methods that look at individual students' performance from year to year. (Los Angeles Times)

More parents "redshirt" kindergartners: More parents are waiting to enroll their children in kindergarten until they are 6 or older based on the idea that students who are older will perform better in school. The practice is known as "redshirting," and in 2008, 17% of kindergartners were at least 6 when they were enrolled. Some parents say "redshirting" can create disparities in the classroom, where some children are enrolled as young as 4. (The New York Times)

Rocket project marks launch of Colorado's first K-8 STEM magnet: Students in second and sixth grades in Northglenn, Colo., collaborated on a project to design and launch rockets on the first day of school Wednesday at the Magnet Lab STEM School -- the first K-8 magnet school in the state to focus on science, technology, engineering and math. District officials worked with leaders in business and technology to develop the school's hands-on, problem-solving curriculum, with the goal of interesting a new generation in science and technology careers. (The Denver Post)

Weingarten weighs in on publishing data linking teachers, test scores: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten spoke out against the Los Angeles Times' plans to publish a database that links individual teachers to students' standardized test scores. The Times published the first article of a series last week and plans to release the full database this month. Weingarten agreed that such information could be part of more comprehensive teacher evaluations that could be made available to individual teachers, administrators or parents, but said she opposes the release of the data to the general public. (Los Angeles Times)

Parents are upset about San Francisco's school-choice system: San Francisco's school-assignment system, which aims to maintain diversity in city schools while allowing parents to choose the right school, can be confusing and may be driving middle-class families out of public schools, some say. District officials argue that more than 50% of students are placed in their first-choice school, but some families say they are refused spots in their first seven choices for schools. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Students may design some courses at Georgia school: Educators at a Gainesville, Ga., high school are considering allowing students to design their own courses through independent study and earn class credit. One student presented details on a sports-studies class he designed. The independent courses would be overseen by a gifted teacher, but students would "design their own coursework based on teaching standards," the district superintendent said. (The Times)

Teachers' unions have varied response to Obama education reforms: National teachers unions are responding differently to the Obama administration's push to improve teaching in the nation's schools, which has largely focused on changing the way teachers are evaluated. Support for the changes is being decided primarily at the state level among affiliates of the National Education Association, while the American Federation of Teachers is exerting its influence over the new policies at the national level. (Education Week)

Massachusetts considers proposals for new charter schools: A school with a social-justice curriculum and two schools with early-college programs are among the proposals for charters under consideration by education officials in Massachusetts. The state has received 42 such applications and will name finalists in February. (The Republican)

Review finds problems with home-language surveys: A review from University of California, Los Angeles, researchers found that home-language surveys -- which attempt to identify students who need extra help learning English -- are not effective. Surveys can identify too many or too few students in need of assistance, the researchers concluded. They suggested requiring all students to take a short language-screening session to accurately identify English- language learners. (Education Week)

Education aid package may be too late to save some teachers' jobs: Federal funding recently approved to save education jobs wasn't passed in time for some laid-off teachers. In Georgia, many former public-school teachers have taken positions at private or parochial schools or have been forced to leave the profession for jobs in other fields. "I am heartbroken," said one former teacher who now works for a pest-control service. "I thought I'd be teaching for 30 years." (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

School's no-zero policy is aimed at ensuring that students learn: An Ohio high school has adopted a no-zero grading policy, saying that students will be forced to redo assignments. Educators say the new policy will ensure that students learn the material rather than not do the work. Under the policy, students who would have received a zero will meet with teachers to establish a new deadline for the assignment. When it is turned in, teachers can reduce the grade by up to half. (The News-Herald)

Some early-college programs adjust their goals: The goals set for some early-college programs designed for at-risk students are being adjusted to reflect the realization that some 14-year-old students may not yet have the maturity or skills for college work. Many programs began under the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Early College High School Initiative that aimed to have high-school students earn 60 college credits -- enough for an associate's degree -- by the time they graduate, but are now focused on ensuring that the students earn some college credits and are prepared for the rigors of college work. (The Hechinger Report)

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