Saturday, September 11, 2010

Quick Hits

Foundation seeks to augment learning for Denver high-school students: Summit 54, a new foundation started by a Colorado businessman, is targeting its efforts toward boosting academic achievement among Denver eighth-graders who are on waiting lists for charter schools. The students will be asked to commit to 1,600 extra hours of work throughout their four years of high school in exchange for free tutoring, lessons in public speaking and interpersonal skills, cultural field trips and help with the college-application process. (The Denver Post)

California tests use of iPad as replacement for textbooks: Four California school districts, along with education firm Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, are testing the effects of interactive digital technology on teaching through a program that replaces the algebra textbooks of 400 eighth-graders with Apple iPads. Students will be provided a digital version of their textbook and instructional videos, allowing teachers more time to help individuals. (The Hill/Hillicon Valley blog)

Funding is a concern as Mich. considers plan to lengthen school year: Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is proposing a plan to lengthen the school year from 165 days to at least 180. The proposal has the support of many districts, but some have expressed concerns about how the mandate would be funded. "It's very difficult to run programs, hire people and run our services when we don't really ever know exactly how much money is coming in," one superintendent said. (WJRT-TV)

Dallas magnets consider reserving slots for "students of promise": School officials in Dallas are considering a proposal to reserve 10% of seats in magnet schools for "students of promise" who may not otherwise meet admissions criteria. Some opponents say admitting underqualified students would diminish the rigor of the magnet programs, while supporters say the plan would increase opportunities for students who are making academic progress. Other concerns include developing a definition for "students of promise." (The Dallas Morning News) (and here)

Charter schools cry foul over rules that force most to refund thousands in new federal aid: Most Michigan charter schools are getting a slice of the $10 billion "edujobs" money to hire back teachers. But many will have to return the cash because their employees technically work for private management companies. (MLive)

Transition programs provide a solid start to high school: About 100 Seattle students started ninth grade this week on a more solid footing after attending one of the city's most intensive summer bridge programs to prepare them for high school. Students were handpicked by teachers and administrators to attend the programs, which blend academics with introductions to teachers and high-school activities. Similar programs to prevent dropouts are becoming popular across the country amid research that shows they lead to improved achievement, behavior and self-esteem for students. (The Seattle Times)

Philadelphia high school implements mastery-learning model: Class is back in session in Philadelphia, where educators are working to raise achievement at six schools designated by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman as Promise Academies. One high school is adopting the mastery-learning model of instruction. The approach uses pass-fail ratings instead of letter grades and allows students to progress through subjects at their own pace. (Philadelphia Daily News)

Opinion - More focus is needed on how to teach, not what to teach: The push for accountability in schools may be focusing too closely on what is taught rather than how it is taught, argues former superintendent Joseph Wise, the author of "Power of Teaching -- The Science of the Art." Wise, who is managing director for Atlantic Research Partners, urges an increased focus on the practice of teaching. Supporting and training teachers to engage their students is essential to re-balancing the drive for academic achievement, he writes. (Education Week)

Technology enhances history lesson for Virginia students: A teacher-librarian in Virginia suggests a class project that blends history, technology and other lessons. Melissa Techman writes that after reading the book "Flotsam" by David Wiesner, her fifth-graders took digital photos of each other holding an object or with a background that has historical relevance, such as a pyramid. The students then connected the photos to a particular time period using the clues, and students shared the photos within the school and with neighboring schools via Skype. (School Library Journal)

Schools in Nevada work to curb cyberbullying: School officials and police in Clark County, Nev., are promoting a new state law aimed at curbing cyberbullying in schools. Information is being distributed online to help parents recognize cyberbullying and understand what kinds of behavior will not be tolerated under the new law. The school district has also updated its anti-bullying policies. (Las Vegas Sun)

Jobs Money Flowing, but Not Smoothly: Federal money from the $10 billion Education Jobs Fund is headed to state coffers—but not without what appear to be some initial implementation wrinkles and controversies. Charter school advocates, for example, have voiced dismay that some charters may have a tough time tapping into the fund passed by Congress this summer and meant to help prevent the layoff of teachers and other education workers. Texas, meanwhile, had its application for $830 million in school jobs money rejected by the U.S. Department of Education... (Ed Week)

Are credit-recovery programs selling students short?: Students who fail a class have more options than ever to recover credits, and some educators in the Pittsburgh area say those credit-recovery options -- such as computer-based programs that districts pay to use -- are crucial to students who fall behind. But others are concerned about whether these options lower standards or provide the in-depth learning equal to a semester's coursework. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Colorado's first girls-only public school emphasizes physical activity: Denver's new Girls Athletic Leadership School -- or G.A.L.S. -- opened this year as a charter and the only single-gender public school in the state. The sixth- and seventh-graders at G.A.L.S. -- many of whom are minorities or are poor -- begin the school day with activities such as yoga or karate. Academic instruction is based on the Expeditionary Learning model and emphasizes physical activity and building students' self-esteem. (The Denver Post)

Does a lack of black teachers harm black students?: Educators in the Pittsburgh area are concerned that a lack of black teachers could lead to a decline in academic achievement among black students, particularly those in primarily black districts. Some experts say students learn better when taught by people from similar backgrounds who can relate to their cultural experiences. But 85% of Pittsburgh's teachers are white, while 56.3% of students are black. Fewer than 10% of the country's 6.5 million teachers are black, according to federal data. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Opinion - Experts weigh in on development of new teacher evaluations: Teachers and education experts are debating the pros and cons of using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Some see value-added assessments as a positive step toward ensuring accountability for student learning, while others argue that such systems discourage teachers from working with struggling students and offer an incomplete picture of teacher effectiveness. (The New York Times)

Learning-Disabled Enrollment Dips After Long Climb: After decades of what seemed to be an inexorable upward path, the number of students classified as learning-disabled declined from year to year over much of the past decade­—a change in direction that is spurring debates among experts about the reasons why. The percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students nationwide classified as having a “specific learning disability” dropped steadily from 6.1 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 5.2 percent in 2007-08, according to the most recent data available, which comes from the U.S Department of Education’s 2009 Digest of Education Statistics. In numbers, that’s a drop from about 2.9 million students to 2.6 million students. (Ed Week)

Michigan school to feature student-driven curriculum: A nontraditional school opening today in Michigan will join 40 others across the country that give students more autonomy over their education. Teachers at nontraditional schools provide options as students drive what -- and how -- they learn. "These schools are based on the interests of the learner, rather than on someone's idea of what kids should be learning," said Jerry Mintz, director of the Alternative Education Resource Organization. (Detroit Free Press)

Rehired R.I. teachers are back to work: Teachers who were fired then rehired last year at Rhode Island's Central Falls High School have returned to their classrooms, where they are implementing changes designed to boost achievement at the chronically low-performing school. Fewer than 10 teachers eligible for rehire declined to return, and those who returned are hopeful but apprehensive about the transformation plan. Longer school days and flexible student schedules are planned, as well as more professional development and comprehensive evaluations for teachers. (The Associated Press)

What does the future hold for Minnesota's charter schools?: Some of the 152 charter schools in Minnesota -- which in 1992 became the first state to allow charters -- may close at the end of this year because of a 2009 state law that tightens restrictions on the schools. Under the new law, charter-school authorizers must demonstrate to the state that they have the resources to perform the additional oversight. But many authorizers say they will not seek the approval, leaving many charter schools wondering whether they will have an authorizing body next summer. (WCCO-TV)

An educator's guidelines for establishing rules and routines: In the first few weeks of school it is important to establish classroom rules and routines, writes Rebecca Alber, an educator and consulting editor for Edutopia. In this blog post, Alber writes that students should understand the rules and routines and the consequences of breaking rules, such as being on time to class. Alber also writes that teachers should lead by example and not break their own classroom rules. (Edutopia)

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