Sunday, August 07, 2011

Quick Hits

Experts say cheating is bred by high-pressure testing system:  Testing experts say allegations of test alteration by educators throughout the country on state assessments were inevitable, given the high stakes tied to the exams for teachers, students and administrators. Some say better test security is needed to prevent cheating, but others say toning down the reliance on assessments would be most effective. (Education Week)

Group releases draft frameworks for common standards:  A set of frameworks aimed at linking new common standards in math and English/language arts with assessments of student knowledge was released Thursday by one of the consortia developing tests for the common standards. The group is seeking feedback on the frameworks, which identify the important concepts within the standards at each grade level. The frameworks also are meant to help focus the development of tests and provide guidance for educators on judging the quality of curriculum materials. (Curriculum Matters)

Using project-based learning in a blended-learning environment:  Blended-learning schools that combine online and face-to-face instruction would do well to incorporate the methods of project-based learning, says Brian Greenberg, former chief academic officer for Envision Schools. Greenberg advocates an arrangement by which PBL teachers have access to adaptive online resources that can be used to preface or support a project challenge. Doing so, he says, helps students take on the valuable experience of applying their knowledge. (Bob Lenz)

Report: K-12 budget cuts will deeply affect needy communities:  About two dozen states are cutting spending on K-12 education for next year, and many programs that serve students most in need are expected to be among those scaled back, according to a report. "In many cases, these cuts undermine school finance systems that are intended to reduce disparities between high-wealth and low-wealth school districts, so the largest impacts may be felt in communities that are least able to compensate for the loss of funds from their own resources," the authors of the report state. (Education Week)

Debate continues over school choice in Pa.:  Pennsylvania state legislators at a hearing Wednesday expressed concern over a proposed statewide program to use public money to fund private education. Supporters of the proposals say they would allow parents to choose the best school for their child. Critics question whether public money should be funneled to schools where teachers are not always required to earn traditional certifications, and student are not always required to take standardized tests. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Multiscreen viewing is popular among youngsters:  A study of 63 10- to 11-year-old children indicated that they were fond of "multiscreen viewing," or using more than one electronic gadget, such as laptop, smartphone and games console, at the same time. The children said they used a second device to avoid gaps in entertainment and reported having simultaneous access to five or more devices, mostly portable. (The Daily Mail)

Students are researchers with Web-based electron microscope:  The online program Bugscope allows students to view objects using a $600,000 electron microscope over the Internet. The program, which is free to schools, has students logging on and interacting with scientists. "The whole idea is allowing a classroom to be like research investigators," program collaborator Umesh Thakkar said. "Each session is unique. The teacher has the power. The kids are the main actors. We are just support." (The Sacramento Bee)

More colleges adopt closed-captioning for students who cannot hear:  Many colleges and universities are looking at closed-captioning systems as a viable option for allowing students who have hearing impairments to participate in online or distance learning. George Mason University offers a real-time translation system and is considering closed-captioning for all of its classrooms with an automated system. Some say the accuracy of such systems is still a concern, with incorrect words in captioned lectures having a significant effect on the quality of academic content. (CampusTechnology)

How many schools are failing under NCLB?:  Earlier this year Education Secretary Arne Duncan predicted as many as 82% of the country's schools could be labeled failing under No Child Left Behind if the law is not reformed. However, according to an unscientific survey by Education Week, it appears that schools in states that have released their scores are meeting state standards at a higher rate than Duncan estimated. (Politics K-12)

District merger sparks heated debate in Memphis, Tenn., area:  A community in the Memphis, Tenn., area is in turmoil in the wake of a proposed combination of the struggling Memphis City Schools with the higher-achieving and more affluent Shelby County Schools. The city district abandoned its charter late last year in hopes of forcing a merger with the county, and city voters approved the move. The county district, however, sued to block the merger in federal court, and the case is now before a judge. (MSNBC)

What does the Facebook law in Mo. mean for teachers?:  A new law in Missouri that regulates social media contact between teachers and students has some educators and activist groups concerned the language is too restrictive and vague. Supporters of the law say it's intended to prevent private messaging, and teachers and students can continue to have public contact on sites such as Facebook. However, the American Civil Liberties Union says it appears to prevent teachers from joining social-networking sites at all. Some teachers also say the law prevents them from using the sites for educational and communication purposes. (The Kansas City Star)

What are the right strategies for group learning?:  School-technology consultant Ben Johnson discusses the pros and cons of different approaches to putting students in groups. Heterogeneous groups, which mix students of varying abilities, can help struggling students to improve but also prevent some gifted students from excelling. Homogeneous groups allow more advanced students to take on challenging work, but students also must learn to work with those who aren't their peers, writes Johnson, who supports a blend of both methods. (Ben Johnson)

Opinion - Fixing teacher education:  Arthur Levine, the former president of Columbia University's Teachers College, writes that the country must take a hard look at how it educates teachers. Too many universities have teacher-preparation programs with low standards and weak requirements on classroom time for developing teachers, he writes. Instead of starting new teacher-training programs, Levine suggests that states use data on the teachers that leave universities' education programs to close poor-performers and strengthen effective programs. (The Answer Sheet)

Editorial - Overreacting to cheating:  States should not work so hard to prevent cheating on school tests — even when the cheating is done by teachers — that new problems are created. States should take reasonable steps to rein in cheating by regularly examining samples of tests each year for high numbers of erasures, a sign that a teacher may have changed wrong answers, and scrutinizing schools whose scores seem a little too good to believe. Any school professional who cheats or sanctions cheating should be fired. Yet states should not work so hard to prevent cheating that they create a whole new set of onerous regulations. (L A Times)

More virtual schools are adding brick-and-mortar facilities:  Schools that started as at-home, online-based programs have started offering more in-person instruction in recent years. The trend is in response to the growing belief that students learn best from a blend of virtual learning and classroom instruction -- backed up by a U.S. Department of Education study issued last year -- that has prompted traditional schools to add virtual instruction and online schools to use more brick-and-mortar classroom settings. "Both ends of the bridge are meeting in the middle," said Mickey Revenaugh, an executive with Connections Learning. (Harvard Education Letter)

A rural high school's success story:  Education Week blogger Diette Courrege highlights part of an online discussion hosted by the American Youth Policy Forum on the success strategies of two rural schools. At one school, Patton Springs School in Afton, Texas, students can take dual-credit offerings, allowing them to finish with 30 college credits besides a high-school diploma. The high school, which has a 100% graduation rate, also focuses on at-risk students and the college transition. (Rural Education)

Maine considers an extra year of high school to better prepare students:  Maine Gov. Paul LePage formed a task force last week to look at the idea of adding a fifth year of high-school classes that would allow students to earn either an associate's degree or credits toward a bachelor's degree. The concept is modeled after a program in North Carolina that provides students the opportunity for a fifth year and has received some initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (The Washington Times)

Organizer reflects on the aftermath of Save Our Schools march:  Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss interviews Anthony Cody -- a teacher and key organizer of the recent Save Our Schools march in Washington, D.C. -- to get his thoughts on the success of the event. Cody believes the effort brought needed attention to test-driven reforms and No Child Left Behind critiques. He also says the march would have been larger if teachers weren't "demoralized and afraid," but he hopes the event will encourage more teachers to speak their minds. (The Answer Sheet)

Debt-limit deal could have trickle-down effect on education:  The spending cuts included in the compromise to avoid a federal default are expected to fall heavily on domestic programs. Much of the weight could fall on state governments, which will, in turn, trickle down to education. Many observers expect education grants and Head Start programs to be among those programs affected. Publicly supported colleges also are expected to take a hit. (The Denver Post)

Graduation rates are expected to drop nationwide under new formula:  Graduation rates at schools nationwide could drop by as much as 20 percentage points as states begin calculating such rates in a uniform way, which, according to the Department of Education, will track each student individually and be more accurate than some formulas currently used. Most states are expected to begin using the new calculation this year, and the graduation tallies will be used to determine whether schools meet No Child Left Behind standards beginning in the 2012-13 school year. (CBS News)

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