November 2008 Archives

A Closer Look at Math and Science Academies

All schools would like to think they're capable of producing the scientists of the future—students with the academic skill, curiosity, and creativity to conduct research in cutting-edge fields. But supporters of math and science academies, or specialty high schools, see themselves as especially well-suited to that mission. Now, a new study will attempt to examine whether specialized math and science public high schools actually turn out more scientists in the life, physical, and behavior sciences. Those schools' performance in that area will be compared against traditional high schools. The three-year study will be conducted by researchers at the University...


California (But Not Its Schools) Out $1 million

In the latest twist in the great California algebra debate, the feds have said that because the state is not complying with a testing mandate, they plan to take $1 million from the California Department of Education and redirect it to needy schools. The move is the result of delays associated with California's attempt to test all 8th graders in introductory algebra, a controversial policy that is now stalled in court. California's state board of education voted in July to require that all 8th graders be tested in Algebra 1 within three years, which state officials say has the effect ...


Reading Lists with Learning in Mind

A couple of weeks ago I pointed to a few lists of recommended books to help parents and teachers find texts that would suck children in to the wonders of reading. The lists included primarily popular and classic literature. Will Fitzhugh reminded me today that such lists are incomplete without the kinds of captivating tales—fiction and non-fiction—that are based on history. Fitzhugh, who has devoted his career to publishing the outstanding history research papers of high school students in the renowned Concord Review, gets agitated by all the well-funded efforts to promote reading that fail to acknowledge...


"Preparedness" Expected to Be Judged on NAEP

Federal officials have taken a major step toward setting standards that would allow the public to use scores on a test known as "the nation's report card" to judge 12th grade students' preparation for college and the job market. On Friday, the board that sets policy for that influential test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, voted to accept a report of an expert panel tasked with setting those standards. The move essentially allows federal officials to move forward and begin conducting detailed studies to judge how students' NAEP test performance could be matched against their preparation for college and ...


Fed Officials Defend 'Rigorous' Reading Study

When the interim report of the Reading First Impact Study came out in May, there was an uproar from fans of the federal program who said the methodology was seriously flawed. As I reported here, they cited the likely "contamination" of the comparison schools, meaning that even though they didn't receive the grant money they were implementing many of the same policies and practices as participating schools. Given that many of the RF and non-RF schools were potentially benefiting from the same professional development, instructional materials, and practices, the critics argued, it would be surprising if the evaluation found much ...


"Targeted" Testing on the NAEP?

The federal officials who oversee the National Assessment of Educational Progress took a first look at a new idea for administering the exam, which would mark a major departure for the test known as "the nation's report card." That method, which is only under discussion at this point, is known as "targeted," or "adaptive," testing. In basic terms, it involves tailoring tests so that students at different ability levels receive exams with different levels of difficulty, rather than giving all students tests at the same level of difficulty. The panel that sets policy for the NAEP, the National Assessment Governing ...


Evolution Debate Under Way in Texas

The Texas board of education is the latest state entity to begin debating the status of evolution in the state's science academic standards. To provide a quick overview: The current version of Texas' science standards calls for students to understand the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. That language irks scientists, who see it as a way of falsely implying that evolution is riddled with flaws, as opposed to being one of the best-established principles in science. A draft produced by an expert committee recommended dropping that language, as part of a broader reworking of the standards. Then Texas' board ...


Final Report on the Impact of Reading First

The IES released the final Reading First Impact Study report today, and the bottom line is that the $6 billion spent on the federal initiative over the last six years helped boost decoding skills among 1st graders in the program, but had no effect on comprehension for 1st, 2nd, or 3rd graders. Ed Week reports on the study here, and already there are two opposing comments. One commenter asks a number of good questions about whether the program was implemented properly and what are the variations among the 250 schools in the study. The other suggests that focusing on low-level ...


A Better-Qualified Algebra Teacher

The state of Arkansas and the city of Chicago have shown the capacity to produce presidents from the Democratic Party. But less appreciated are their efforts to produce ... middle school algebra teachers! A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a venture by Arkansas to create a specific endorsement , rather than a generic one in math, for teachers who want to teach algebra at the middle school level. The idea is to produce educators who are better prepared to teach that class in middle school, at a time when, across the country, more students are being asked to take introductory algebra ...


Back in Dover, With Darwin

A couple years ago, I was lucky enough to be one of many reporters who crowded into a federal courtroom in Harrisburg, Pa., to cover a landmark court case over whether "intelligent design" had a place in public school science classrooms. The legal battle centered on a decision by the Dover, Pa., school board to require that students be introduced in biology class to intelligent design, an alternative to the theory of evolution. A group of parents sued to halt the policy, arguing that it amounted to an attempt to promote religious views in a public school science setting. Federal ...


Exclusions, Accommodations, "Preparedness," and Competitiveness

The title of this entry is a mouthful, I know. But they're all topics scheduled to be discussed next week by the board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The meeting of the National Assessment Governing Board is scheduled for Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 20-22, to be held just outside Washington. On Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m., the board will continue its discussion of policies to allow students to be excluded from, or received special accomodations, on NAEP tests. States follow their own exam policies right now, and as a result, the percentage of students ...


Tapping That Energy

So many people who work with young people and youth organizations have been heartened by the enthusiasm and energy that American teens and young adults displayed leading up to the presidential election this month. Even students who are still too young to cast a vote were following the race, expressing their views on issues via blogs and social networking sites, and even volunteering in the campaigns. This week in Washington, experts involved in programs serving youth said that the youth factor in the election and the growing numbers of teenagers participating in community service, as seen in this new report, ...


Finding That Just Right Book

With the declining daylight hours and cooler weather hitting the Mid-Atlantic, it is a lot easier for me to get my kids to sit down with a book in the afternoons and evenings. What hasn't been so easy is finding the books that will suck them in and keep them engaged beyond the obligatory 20- to 30- minute reading time each day. I've searched library stacks and online education sites for recommendations, which have sometimes worked out well. My daughter, a 5th grader, has found a few that kept her up reading past bedtime, or left her sitting in the ...


Time for a New Federal Reading Program?

There is a lot of discussion and speculation about how the federal education agenda will play out under the Obama administration, and whether the new president will take up reading reform in the wake of the controversy over Reading First, and the likely demise of that program. In a lengthy letter to the next president, Eduflack urges President-elect Obama to be "bold and audacious" and break the status quo in education. He then makes some general recommendations for policy decisions on key issues, such as accountability and school choice and teachers. He offers this on reading: "Reading—I have reluctantly ...


Making the Case for Advanced Math

There's been a steady push to encourage students to take more math, and tougher math, in high school. Business leaders, advocacy organizations, and state and local policymakers provided a lot of the muscle behind that movement, arguing that high-level math skills are going to become increasingly important in the years to come. But why is advanced math important? For students, teachers, and parents, sometimes the responses can seem pretty vague, and unsatisfying. Some people will tell you it's because more jobs are going to require strong math skills, and the thinking that comes from taking demanding courses. Others say it's ...


About Those New Florida Science Standards.....

You might have followed the debate this year over Florida's revision of its state science standards, but it's a good bet you've never heard of something called the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee. Yet that heretofore obscure panel is a player in odd new developments that could result in that document having to go through another review by state officials. The science standards that were narrowly approved by the state board of education in February, you might recall, won praise from the scientific community for offering a fuller treatment of the theory of evolution. Florida's previous standards did not even mention ...


250,000 Kids Have Voted, and the Winner Is...

Barack Obama, with 57 percent, over John McCain's 39 percent. That's the result of the Scholastic Presidential Election Poll, announced last month. Students participating in the poll have been right on all but two occasions since 1940. They voted for Thomas E. Dewey in the close 1948 election won by Harry S. Truman, and for Richard Nixon in his loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960. For all the talk about Obama being a rock star of sorts, owing to his appeal with America's youth, some of the student voters couldn't resist writing in their own favorites. Miley Cyrus and ...


Science Strategies in Motown

The Detroit schools have taken their share of hits over the years, and many of those blows have been self-inflicted. But a recent study in an academic journal has found that a middle school science curriculum used in the district has resulted in improved science understanding, and higher standardized test scores, particularly among African-American boys. Students who made the gains were using a curriculum devised by the Center for Learning Technologies in Urban Schools, developed in partnership with the district. Participants in that project published their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching. The ...


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