Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Quick Hits

I'm a couple of weeks behind on my national some of these stories will have a little dust on them. Let's get caught up.

Debate over Facebook in schools continues in Mo.: Lawmakers in Missouri continue to debate the boundaries of online communication between students and teachers. The state Senate has passed legislation that requires districts to develop policies. That bill is under consideration by the House. However, the uncertainty has some students and teachers questioning whether they will be able to continue online communication regarding schoolwork and academic topics. The Missourian

Broad Prize: How Charlotte-Mecklenburg narrowed achievement gap: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina on Tuesday received this year's Broad Prize for Urban Education to recognize the district's efforts to improve student achievement and narrow the income- and minority-based achievement gap. The district was commended for several strategic practices, including placing top principals and teachers in struggling schools and basing layoffs on performance, as well as seniority. The prestigious prize comes with $550,000 in scholarships for the district's high-school seniors. The Christian Science Monitor, The Charlotte Observer

Some Chicago schools are preparing for longer days: Teachers and administrators at six Chicago schools are preparing to add 90 minutes of instructional time beginning next Monday. Some schools will use the additional time for core subjects, while others are planning to increase enrichment activities such as art. Thirteen schools so far have agreed to the longer days under a plan by district and city officials to boost student achievement. The plan has created divisiveness by offering financial incentives directly to teachers and schools and bypassing the Chicago Teachers Union. Chicago Tribune

Strike continues in Tacoma, Wash., as teachers face sanctions:  A teacher strike in Tacoma, Wash., continued for a sixth day on Tuesday with schools expected to remain closed again today for about 28,700 students. Roughly 1,900 teachers who defied a court order to return to work are expected to receive contempt-of-court notices this week, and many could face sanctions. Meanwhile, contract negotiations are continuing daily with teachers at odds with the district over reassignment policies, class sizes and salaries. Reuters 

Facebook donation to Newark, N.J., schools to go to teachers:  A portion of a $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to Newark, N.J., schools will go directly to public classroom teachers, under a new plan set to be announced today. Under the two-year, $600,000 plan, teachers or groups of teachers could receive $10,000 grants to pay for innovative programs in the classroom. A group of city and state education officials will review other grants being funded by Zuckerberg's gift, which has been used primarily to open new schools, lengthen school days and recruit new teachers. The Wall Street Journal

Schools are eager for cash included in Obama's jobs plan:  Officials in some school districts say they are eager to receive a portion of the $55 billion for K-12 education included in President Barack Obama's jobs plan, in part to repair facilities and avoid teacher layoffs and cuts to programs. However, some say the money will do little to make a dent in the estimated $270 billion backlog of maintenance projects at schools nationwide. "Most places will burn through it quickly, simply getting their schools up to safety standards," said Michael Griffith, senior school finance analyst for the Education Commission of the States. Education Week

Online schools grow in popularity for young students:  A small but increasing number of elementary-school students are enrolled in online public schools, which can provide a more individualized curriculum or offer curriculum options that have been cut because of tight budgets at many traditional schools. "More kids are getting used to the idea of going to school online," said Ron Packard, founder and CEO of education software company K12. "States are beginning to see 20% more kids each year [going online]; still, only a fraction of [students] are doing it." CNBC

Are top students losing ground as they move through school?:  A study released today shows that many top students are losing ground as they transition from elementary to middle school and middle to high school. Researchers with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute said the findings raise questions about whether federal education policies aimed at helping low-performing students are harming those who are high achievers. "We've been making good progress for kids at the bottom and for poor and minority kids -- that's important," said Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president. "It just can't be the only thing that we do." Education Week

Boston schools, charters agree to cooperate on raising achievement:  Boston school officials voted to approve an accord to increase cooperation between city schools and independent charters in an effort to improve education. The agreement calls for sharing innovative practices that have been shown to boost student achievement and encourages the district to lease vacant facilities to charters, drawing some concern over whether that would allow rapid charter expansion. Similar agreements are being signed today in Central Falls, R.I., and Sacramento, Calif., as part of a campaign by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is offering to help fund the cooperative efforts. The Boston Globe 

Students, teachers see social media and free speech differently:  As more teens use social media tools such as Facebook and Tumblr, more also are appreciating their rights to free speech, a new study by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shows. The study, which considered interviews with 12,000 students and 900 high-school teachers, found that many students who regularly use social media support First Amendment rights for expressing unpopular opinions online, while many teachers supported limiting those rights for students. 

S.D. speech pathologists use iPads to supplement therapy:  A South Dakota school district is using iPads to reinforce traditional speech therapy for its students with special needs. Apps such as Proloquo2Go are used to improve communication among students with autism, while therapists also use other apps to help students improve articulation and other skills. Aberdeen American News

Fla. considers stricter standards for state's preschools:  State education officials in Florida are set to vote Tuesday on tougher standards for the state's Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program. The change would remove a cap on the number of providers that could receive a "low-performing" label from the state, and would require at least 60% of students to pass a kindergarten-readiness test for providers to receive a passing rating. Some say the new standards would create an unfair burden, because they come at a time when state funding for pre-K has been cut. Orlando Sentinel

Is merit pay losing steam?:  Some states and districts have begun to alter their plans to implement performance pay for teachers, citing inconclusive research on its effectiveness and a lack of funds. Funding for merit pay in Texas -- which had the largest program in the country -- has been depleted, while New York City eliminated its $56 million program after merit pay was found to not impact student achievement. Some districts continue to tie teachers' pay to students' test scores -- in part, because of federal grant funding -- but some experts say the future of merit-pay programs is uncertain. Education Week

Mass. to overhaul ELL training for teachers amid criticism:  Massachusetts education officials are overhauling training for teachers who work with English-language learners after a recent U.S. Justice Department investigation found that 45,000 teachers in 275 districts lack adequate ELL training. Richard Stutman, president of Boston's teachers union, said the union supports new training for teachers. "Children come to school with different needs -- English-language learners in particular -- and we feel it's our obligation and role as teachers to make the road as smooth as possible in closing the achievement gap," he said. The Boston Globe  

Little Rock, Ark., districts back in court over desegregation:  A federal appeals court will hear arguments today over whether Arkansas must continue payments to three Little Rock school districts to desegregate their schools. The districts say they cannot afford to continue their desegregation efforts without the $70 million in state funding, but the state argues that the districts are delaying desegregation while using the money to fund other programs. The payments were the result of a 1989 settlement of a desegregation lawsuit. ABC News/The Associated Press

Federal initiative aims to improve classroom technology:  The U.S. Department of Education will oversee a new research center dedicated to improving the availability and quality of educational technology. The Obama administration announced the venture Friday, known as "Digital Promise," and financial supporters include the Education Department, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The initiative will include a "League of Innovative Schools" that will test new technology in the classroom and keep costs low by purchasing the devices together. USA TODAY, Digital Education blog, The Hill/Hillicon Valley blog  

Wyo. lawmakers consider opting out of common core:  Wyoming lawmakers are considering reversing an earlier decision by the state school board to sign on to the Common Core State Standards, saying there might be too many strings attached. The school board agreed to implement the standards in 2010, and the state was to formally adopt them in November. Lawmakers say the issue needs to be further reviewed before a decision is made to introduce legislation that would strike down the common core. Most states have adopted the standards, and some Wyoming districts have begun transitioning their curriculum. Star-Tribune

Survey shows the impact of state cuts on Pa. classrooms:  About 70% of school districts in Pennsylvania have larger classes this year, while 44% have fewer electives and 35% have reduced tutoring services, according to a new survey on the effect of state budget cuts. The survey, which considered responses from 59% of the state's 500 districts, also showed that many districts drained their reserve funds to balance the 2011-12 budgets. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  

Philadelphia schools ease zero-tolerance discipline policy:  The Philadelphia school system has modified its zero-tolerance discipline policy, allowing more discretion over whether students should be expelled. Under the new policy, a committee will review student-discipline cases and make recommendations on whether expulsion is the right course of action. While some say the district should maintain its zero-tolerance policy, others have criticized it for allowing students to be criminalized at a young age. The Philadelphia Inquirer  

A school board member's experience with bullying:  Dana Smith, a school board member from Waddington, N.Y., writes in this blog post about her experiences being bullied as a student. Realizing how childhood bullying affected her own self-esteem and how prevalent it is in today's schools, Smith reminds educators and school leaders that they must intervene and strive to end the practice, even in its most subtle forms. The Washington Post/The Answer Sheet blog 

Average SAT scores dip nationwide:  Average SAT scores declined this year, primarily because more students are taking the college-entrance exam -- some of whom are unprepared or are not fluent in English, according to the College Board. Among 1.65 million graduating seniors, average scores declined by 3 points in critical reading, 2 points in writing and 1 point in math. The College Board also for the first time released an SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark that found 43% of students had a good chance of achieving at least a B- average in their first year of college. Education Week, The Washington Post  

Managing project-based lessons:  Education consultant Andrew Miller offers 20 tips on managing project-based learning for students. Among other things, educators should take advantage of social media tools to manage projects, continuously reflect on the project's driving question, and carefully group students to build the most successful teams, he writes. Miller's blog 

Fla. teachers union files lawsuit over merit-pay law:  A lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Florida by the state's teachers union, claiming the state did not negotiate with teachers before approving a merit-pay law -- a violation of collective bargaining rights. Under the law, passed this year, teachers' evaluations are now tied to students' test scores and those evaluations are used in salary and hiring decisions. Tenure was also eliminated for new teachers. A union attorney said the union is not suing over the merit-pay law itself, but rather the way in which it was passed. Orlando Sentinel

N.J. schools deal with new requirements under anti-bullying law:  New Jersey's new anti-bullying law is expected to help students who previously may have been afraid to go to school, but some school officials are wary of the law's costs, as well as new reporting requirements for schools and teachers. "I think all our educators want to address bullying, but this law is so intricate and detailed and creates so much responsibility for teachers," said Marcus Rayner, executive director of the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance. "There are so many ways they can make inadvertent or honest mistakes while trying to do the right thing." Education Week

Republican senators unveil proposals to revise portions of NCLB:  A group of Republican senators on Wednesday unveiled a package of four bills aimed at revamping portions of the No Child Left Behind Act. The group is led by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former education secretary, who is also expected to introduce a bill that would aim to clarify Education Secretary Arne Duncan's authority to issue waivers on NCLB. The bills introduced Wednesday target changes to the Title I program and the law's "highly qualified teacher" requirements, among other provisions. Other leading senators said they support comprehensive reform of NCLB, rather than doing it piecemeal. Education Week

Charter-expansion bill clears House with bipartisan support: A bill supporting the expansion of charter schools nationwide cleared the House Tuesday with rare bipartisan support. The bill is part of a Republican effort to rewrite portions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. "This is an important first step in our efforts to improve current elementary and secondary education law," said Rep. John Kline, a Republican who heads the House education committee. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate continue to work on a comprehensive rewrite of the law, though no specifics have been released. The New York Times

Students take ownership of education at NYC charter school:  A new charter middle school in New York City encourages students to take ownership of their schooling and allows students to move through the curriculum at their own pace according to their own academic goals. The school, Innovate Manhattan, is based on a Swedish model focusing on the idea that all students learn differently. "It helps them learn why they can want an education and how to have control over an education," the school's principal Eileen Coppola said. NY1

Opinion: Why Congress should support school repair: Congress should embrace President Barack Obama's jobs bill that would help boost the economy by repairing 35,000 schools across the country, write Steve English, co-director of the nonprofit Advancement Project, and Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund. They contend that the proposal has the potential to reverse some of the neglect to school facilities brought on by ongoing budget cuts, increase job opportunities now and ensure a more educated workforce for the future. Los Angeles Times 

School reforms meet challenges in New Haven, Conn.:  New Haven, Conn., schools are beginning the third year of a plan to improve struggling schools, an effort that has had mixed success. Some teachers have been given raises for teaching in struggling schools, and a new evaluation system has removed some teachers who consistently had poor performance ratings. However, removing struggling teachers from the classroom can be a lengthy process, and student achievement is not improving as quickly as had been hoped. "School reform is about fixing the system, and that takes time and patience," teachers union President David Cicarella said. The Wall Street Journal

Is another congressional hearing on NCLB necessary?:  Education blogger Valerie Strauss questions the necessity of a congressional hearing being held today on the value of the school accountability system under No Child Left Behind. Many hearings and reports over several years have revealed that the Adequate Yearly Progress system -- which requires all students to meet proficiency targets on standardized tests by 2014 -- is flawed and should be fixed or replaced without further delay, she writes. The Washington Post/The Answer Sheet blog  

Duncan supports peer-review over traditional teacher evaluations:  Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Wednesday visited Toledo, Ohio, where he said the district's peer-review system should be used to evaluate teachers instead of traditional methods. Under the method, new teachers are known as intern teachers and assigned mentors. The mentors evaluate the intern teachers, and the evaluations are reviewed by a panel that includes teachers and administrators. The program is popular among Toledo teachers, but some critics say minority teachers are more likely to be fired through the system and it does not address struggling veteran teachers. The Blade

Are middle-class public schools falling short?:  Middle-class public schools may be falling short on teacher pay, per-pupil spending and student achievement when compared with poor and well-off schools, according to a new report by Democratic think tank Third Way. "Middle-class schools produce students who are the backbone of the U.S. economy, and they are not performing as well as parents, policy makers and taxpayers think they are," said Tess Stovall, who is co-author of the report and deputy director of Third Way's economic program. "We need a second phase of education reform to ensure these schools get the attention they deserve." The Wall Street Journal

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