June 2008 Archives

Young people's understanding of government (or lack thereof) has become a prime target of late-night television comics and political parody. That bothers Sandra Day O'Connor, who has spent much of her time since her retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court promoting civic education. Justice O'Connor, 78, who stepped down from the high court in 2006 after 24 years, has been touring the country to make a pitch for a greater focus on civic education in schools. According to the online industry news site Silicon Alley, she is heading up a video-game project to help teach middle school students about ...


For years, American policymakers have looked with increasing wonder and envy at high-performing nations that consistently outperform the United States on heavily publicized international tests, such as PISA and TIMSS. And those assessments don't even provide information about the academic prowess of students in China, a nation of 1.3 billion people. (The People's Republic does not take part in them.) The truth is that for politicians, researchers, journalists, and others, the school practices in many of those countries remain a mystery. It's difficult to get reliable, firsthand information on those countries' standards, curricula, and teaching practices—not to mention...


A new report strongly criticizes the way in which teacher colleges, and by extension, states, are preparing aspiring educators to teach math. Count on it receiving a good amount of attention, given all the worries these days about American students lacking sound skills in that subject. Published by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the report says the curricula used by ed schools cover too little of the math content elementary teachers need—and that what's required varies greatly from campus to campus. Many states don't help the situation, the report found. Eighteen states have no requirements for what teacher-candidates need...


A Senate appropriations subcommittee has also voted to eliminate funding for Reading First, according to this article by my colleague Alyson Klein. So it looks like these efforts by the Reading First Advisory Committee to send a statement to committee members may be too late. Meanwhile, there's all kinds of discussions going on via the listservs and bloggers, including a very interesting take on the situation by Tim Shanahan here. Shanahan says that RF could have survived through the scathing inspector general's reports or the disappointing results of the federal impact study, but not both. "Under the circumstances, Reading First ...


As I've written previously, science teachers are eager to find information on how to present sensible and accurate information about climate change, whatever their personal views on the issue. Yet many have found that those resources are hard to come by. State standards generally don't mention the topic, and, probably as a result, a lot of textbooks and curricular materials don't, either. I will say that the publishing industry seems to be putting some money into developing new materials, judging from the sheer volume of stuff coming into my mailbox. Even so, science teachers appear to be left to cobble ...


The Center on Education Policy has released a new study on what's happened with student achievement since the inception of No Child Left Behind. It concludes that 1) state achievement has risen in math and reading; and that 2) the achievement gap between white and minority students appears to have closed, at least judging by students' performance on state tests, and to a lesser extent, by their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. One measure the CEP report uses is the percent of students scoring at the "proficient" level on their state tests. Last year, I wrote about ...


Looks like a House appropriations subcommittee isn't interested in revising or strengthening Reading First, as many advocates and experts have advised. As my colleague Alyson Klein reports here, the panel, led by David Obey, one of the harshest critics of was a $1 billion-a-year program, would zero out funding in fiscal 2009. After the 61 percent cut to RF in the fiscal '08 budget, the strength of the program is certainly compromised. Many districts will be forced to eliminate positions, particularly the reading coaches that became a standard resource in participating schools. But many observers believe the RF principles—the ...


The Shasta Volcano was declared dead by the principal of Shasta High School, in Redding, Calif., after the student newspaper featured a photo of the American flag burning. An op-ed in the paper discussed freedom of speech, but that did not convince the principal that students had the right to publish material he deemed offensive. The superintendent of the Shasta Union High School District, however, reversed the decision after meeting with the incoming editor, according to the Student Press Law Center. The newspaper staff will receive guidance from journalists at the local newspaper....


The Reading First Impact Study interim report released by IES last month upset a lot of the program's fans, who've seen progress in their own schools/districts or on a statewide basis. It caused a bit of hand-wringing, and then a round of number crunching. Local and state representatives went to their databases and began printing off page after page of test results from Reading First schools, where they say there's been dramatic improvements. Some of those analyses, including this, were then tapped by bloggers, RF-friendly columnists, and national organizations to argue that the Impact Study—which found that the ...


A major restructuring of the SAT expanded the test to four hours, in part because of the new writing section, which was intended to paint a truer picture of students' readiness for college work. A new study released by the College Board today has found that the revised SAT is a little more effective at predicting how well students will do in their college courses than the previous version, and that the writing-section results are the best predictor of later college performance. But the best alternative to a crystal ball—no test-prep needed to figure this one out—is a combination...


A year ago, Will Fitzhugh was wondering if the next issue of The Concord Review, the renowned journal he founded in 1988 to recognize high school students' outstanding history research papers, would be the last. On a tattered shoestring budget, Fitzhugh has just published the Summer 2008 edition, and with some support from schools and other fans in the private sector, he has hopes for four more issues over the next year. But the former high school history teacher is proceeding mostly on a wing and a prayer, and a driving passion for promoting rigorous academic work for teenagers. Last ...


A new Web site takes a stab at spelling out the essential grade-by-grade math standards that students need from kindergarten through high school. Not only that, the site provides model course sequences, model classroom activities, and even sample test questions for math-oriented educators who want to put those standards into practice. It's the product of a partnership between Achieve, a Washington organization that advocates higher academic standards, and the Charles A. Dana Center, an education research hub at the University of Texas at Austin. The new site builds on math benchmarks Achieve created for the American Diploma Project, aimed at ...


It was a week for discussing education around the globe. In Slovenia, President Bush and leaders of the European Union signed a declaration June 10 at the U.S.-E.U. summit that promises support for improving education in developing countries, through a “holistic approach” that addresses “the global shortfall of effective teachers through support for teacher training, recruitment, retention, and capacity development.” In Lima, Peru, Sec. Margaret Spellings attended the 4th Education Ministerial Meeting at APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), where leaders from 21 countries agreed on similar goals. The delegates also suggested that learning should go beyond knowledge acquisition ...


A couple years ago, I took a trip to Canton, Ohio, home to the illustrious Pro Football Hall of Fame, and home to a group of schools that were using classroom technology in an attempt to boost student performance in math. Teachers in several Canton schools had set up a system called TI-Navigator, in combination with graphing calculators, both designed by Texas Instruments. The system worked like this: A math teacher would give a problem to students, who would type answers (such as plotting points on a graph) into their calculators. Their calculators were connected by cords to "hubs," which ...


Ed Sec Margaret Spellings writes this week in the Salt Lake Tribune and the N.J. Herald News in defense of Reading First, a bit late perhaps for some advocates and observers who were waiting for her to make such a case a month ago when scathing headlines followed IES's release of the interim impact study. Some of those headlines may have unfairly or inaccurately described the results, including these: "Failing to Read," "Billion Dollar Boondoggle," "U.S. Reading Program a Failure, study says." The study's bottom line is that the $1 billion-a-year funding stream has not led to improved ...


Florida’s new state science standards break new ground by including their first-ever reference to a major scientific topic. And no, in this case I’m not talking about evolution, which got all the attention when the standards were approved back in February. The 96-page document, in addition to having references to the previously absent e-word, also spells out that Florida’s students should understand the basic science behind climate change. High school students should “discuss the large-scale environmental impacts resulting from human activity, including waste spills, oil spills, runoff, greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, and surface and groundwater pollution,” it ...


We've launched this blog with the hope of cultivating a wide-ranging forum for discussing school curriculum. By "curriculum," we generally mean the meat-and-bones of academic lessons -- what gets taught, in what order, at what grades. This obviously covers a lot of ground--policies, programs and materials, trends, standards and assessments, research, controversies, and best practices. Over the past few years, the two of us have reported on a bevy of curriculum topics, including how the federal Reading First program has been implemented, the recommendations of the National Math Panel, and the status of social studies, foreign language, the arts, and ...


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