Friday, September 03, 2010

Quick Hits

States to create next generation of standardized tests: The Education Department awarded $330 million to two groups of states to begin work on new national standardized assessments to test students' skills in math and English. The two groups -- which include 44 states -- will work with testing experts and university professors to design computer-based tests that measure higher-level abilities, such as synthesizing information and completing performance-based tasks. The tests, which will be given as end-of-year exams as well as during the school year to monitor progress, are expected to be in place by the 2014-15 school year. (The New York Times) (Los Angeles Times) (The Boston Globe)

Poll shows waning support for Obama education agenda: Results of a poll show support for President Barack Obama's education-reform policies is waning. The survey, from Phi Delta Kappa International and the Gallup Organization, shows 34% would give the president an A or B on education, compared with 45% last year. When it comes to turning around struggling schools, 54% of respondents favored outside support rather than the replacement of principals and teachers. Replacing school staff at struggling schools has been a key reform initiative of the Obama administration. (Education Week)

Teachers serve as leaders at more schools across the country: Teacher-led schools are becoming more common nationwide amid a trend of teacher accountability. Teachers say the best way to hold them accountable for student achievement might be to put them -- rather than an administrator -- in charge of decision making. A co-founder and lead teacher at a teacher-led school in Denver says teachers "appreciate that their professional judgment is being respected." However, the arrangement brings challenges, as teachers have to take on administrative roles such as budgeting. (The Christian Science Monitor)

Teacher uses text messaging in science classes: A Florida school is using text messaging as part of classroom instruction. Jill Lloyd, who teaches 11th- and 12th-grade science, is using a free online program to survey students and project a live feed of the discussion on a screen in the front of the class. Students share phones with others who do not have them, and say they enjoy using the technology. "It gets the whole class to participate," one student said. (WFTS-TV)

Opinion - Why school-turnaround strategies perpetuate failure: Teacher Sabrina Stevens Shupe, who founded the Failing Schools Project to help empower teachers and students in low-performing schools, discusses in this blog post the six characteristics that are common to schools that are being considered for turnaround or are undergoing the reform. Shupe, who has worked in struggling schools in Denver and Philadelphia, has found that labeling schools "needs improvement" and emphasizing high-stakes testing over learning creates a toxic culture and actually perpetuates the cycle of failure. (Teacher Magazine)

Report calls on charter schools to do more for ELLs: Two groups are calling on states to alter policies to ensure that English-language learners are better served by the country's charter schools. A report, released by the National Council of La Raza and the Center for American Progress, recommends amending charter-school laws to provide such schools with equal access to federal and state funding for ELL programs. The report also recommends ensuring that ELL students have equity of access to charter-school enrollment and requiring that charter-school operators have a plan to support ELLs before opening a school. (Education Week)

Sixth-graders are working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 2 California schools: Two low-performing middle schools in Oakland, Calif., reopened this year with longer school days that have sixth-graders in class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The schools are partnering with the nonprofit group Citizen Schools and will employ teachers working toward full credentials to provide the extra instructional time and hands-on activities. Students attending the longer school days will not have homework, completing all their assignments at school. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Louisiana parish to test value-added model to evaluate teachers: Louisiana's Jefferson Parish will evaluate teachers under a value-added model that will look at how students achieve over time through the use of test data and reviews. The district will be the first in the state to use the method and it will serve as a pilot for the state, which is providing funding for implementation. The results will be included in promotion decisions and may affect pay. (The Times-Picayune)

Charter-school network emphasizes personal responsibility: A struggling Philadelphia elementary school has reopened as a charter, with a model for student learning that includes more arts education, smaller class sizes and a curriculum focused on students' interpersonal skills and personal responsibility. The school is one of four in the city being taken over this school year by the Mastery Charter Schools group, which has won national recognition for succeeding with its approach to improve low-performing schools. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Education documentary stirs controversy, hope ahead of release: Educators are awaiting the release of the documentary film "Waiting for 'Superman,'" which follows five families in their quest to get a spot at a charter school or nontraditional school. The film's director -- who also directed the global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" -- said the film aims to engage the public on education issues and offer "a glimmer of hope" about efforts to improve schools. (Education Week)

Are K-8 schools better for learning than middle schools?: Researchers at Columbia University found that New York City middle-school students scored, on average, 7 percentiles lower on standardized math exams than students who attend K-8 schools. The study attributed the gap to the students' transition from elementary to middle schools and a larger number of students in each grade. "What we found bolsters the case for middle-school reform," a co-author of the study said. (The Wall Street Journal)

Districts rush to adopt value-added evaluations despite concerns: There is growing debate across the country about using value-added methods for evaluating teachers, an approach that is being adopted by districts at a rapid pace. Supporters of the approach say it effectively promotes transparency and teacher accountability, but some caution that it is subject to "random error," and critics say it offers an incomplete and sometimes inaccurate view of teacher performance. (The New York Times)

First online-only public school in Massachusetts opens this week: The first online-only public school in Massachusetts is set to go live Thursday, becoming the first virtual school in the region to serve students in grades K-12. Students at the Massachusetts Virtual Academy will take classes online with the help of a certified learning coach, who could be an educator or a parent. Students will spend as much time on classes as students in traditional schools but can advance through material at their own pace. (The Boston Globe)

How can New Orleans increase racial diversity in public schools?: Some parents in New Orleans are advocating for more racial diversity in the city's public schools, which is comprised of predominantly black students though the population of the city is 40% white. Some speculate that diversity will grow as schools created or overhauled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continue to show positive results and higher test scores, but others say it will be difficult to break the city's long tradition of private-school enrollment. (

7 tips for making students feel comfortable at school: The director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University offers several tips for teachers on how to excite students and make them feel comfortable as the school year begins. In this blog post, Maurice Elias writes that teachers should greet students in a positive way, focus on the good things the class will be doing and allow students to share what they did over the summer. Elias also writes that teachers should give students a chance to comment on class rules and procedures, share information with parents and give students time each day to reflect on what they have learned. (Edutopia)

Charters, school choice spur gains in post-Katrina New Orleans: The educational system in New Orleans looks vastly different five years after Hurricane Katrina forced the relocation of students and teachers for most of the 2005-06 school year. Most of the city's public schools are now charters, and parents can choose which schools their children attend. These and other changes are being credited with gains that include a boost in graduation rates, from 50% in 2007 to about 90% this past school year. (The Christian Science Monitor)

Effective L.A. teachers help students progress amid little recognition: The educators deemed the most effective by a controversial value-added analysis by the Los Angeles Times differ in many respects, including age, years in the profession and the credentials they have earned. But many of these teachers have helped their students make double-digit percentage-point gains on state tests in just one year's time, though their school evaluations simply say they are meeting "standard performance" goals. "I threw [my school evaluation] away because I got upset," one teacher said. "Why don't you focus on my teaching?! Why don't you focus on where my students are?" (Los Angeles Times)

Teachers unions slam L.A. Times for publishing teacher ratings: Local and national teachers unions were critical of the Los Angeles Times for publishing data that link 6,000 teachers in the Los Angeles district to their students' test scores. "It is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teacher's effectiveness," a statement from a city-based union said. The newspaper compiled seven years of student scores to create its ratings, and the school district has since announced its own planned "value-added" rating system. (Los Angeles Times)

Why value-added teacher evaluations may be unreliable: Schools should not rely on "value-added" methods to evaluate teachers because student test scores are not a reliable measure of teacher effectiveness, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute. According to the study's authors, students' test scores are affected by factors other than their classroom teachers, and using test scores to evaluate teachers has been shown to unfairly penalize teachers who teach English-language learners, students in special education and students who live in poverty. (The Washington Post)

N.C. district is working to curb dropout rate: North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg district has focused on improving its high-school graduation rate but still faces challenges, primarily among minority students. Educators are debating whether to hold students back who do not pass state exams. Students who repeat a grade are more likely to drop out of school than their peers who were promoted, research shows. Instead, failing students should advance to the next grade and be given assistance to close the gap with their peers, according to the state School Psychology Association. (The Charlotte Observer)

Kansas City, Mo., is beginning pilot of standards-based education: Kansas City, Mo., schools are implementing standards-based education this year in five "pioneer" schools. The teaching method groups students by achievement level rather than grade and has students advance as they prove they have reached specific learning goals. Standards-based education is in smaller districts throughout the country, including a Denver-area district. But Kansas City -- which plans to expand the experiment to all of its schools -- may become the largest district to adopt the approach. (The Kansas City Star)

How will larger class sizes affect student learning?: Many students are returning to larger classes this year because of budget cuts and teacher layoffs, but research is inconclusive about how class size affects student learning. A 1985 study that found disadvantaged kindergarten and first-grade students learned more in smaller classes prompted a broad push to reduce class sizes, but those moves have resulted in few achievement gains. "It probably makes sense ... to focus not so much on class sizes but on making sure that the teachers you are keeping are really effective," one researcher said. (The Hechinger Report)

Educator - Lecturing gets a bad rap: It is impossible to prevent all students from being bored in the classroom, and teachers do not have to avoid lectures to keep students' attention, according to social studies teacher and blogger Coach Brown. The secret, he writes, is to be "on" at all times. "My old principal once made a comment that good teaching was like good theater; you got into character and at the end of the production, you should be damn tired because you were 'on' the whole time," Brown writes. (Class Struggle blog)

Hawaii plans to place state's best teachers in low-performing schools: Hawaii officials plan to use about one-fourth of the state's $75 million in Race to the Top funds on measures including bonuses for the state's best educators to work in its worst-performing schools. The state will offer "highly qualified" teachers $3,000 to work in struggling schools, and it plans to develop a way to identify such teachers by next school year that could them eligible for 20% pay raises. Highly effective principals in such schools would receive $10,000. The federal funds also will pay for enhanced professional development for educators in all schools. (Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

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