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December 2008 Archives

From Sesame Street to "Planet 429"

"Sesame Street" has sought for years to help children from all backgrounds develop basic reading skills. Can "Planet 429" help them read and comprehend? WTTW National Productions, a Chicago-based company, has begun production of a TV show to be titled "Mission to Planet 429," which, like Sesame Street and other educational-themed programs, will seek to help nurture students' reading skills as it entertains them. "Planet 429" is expected to hit the air on PBS about a year from now, targeting 6- to 9-year-olds. The show seems likely to receive an added dose of publicity because of one of the creative ...


A Memorable Blagojevich Moment

Every week seems to bring new drama for besieged Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Will he resign, or be impeached? Can he successfully defend himself against federal corruption charges? Most recently, will the man he has nominated to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate, former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris, ever be allowed to serve? But those of us who focus on education might be asking another question: What does Robert Schiller make of all of this? Some readers will recall that Schiller served as the Illinois' schools superintendent for two years before being essentially pushed out of ...


Senior Year Alternatives in Math

Let's say you're entering your senior year of high school. Your school district, or your state, is requiring you to take a fourth year of math. But the only options offered, in addition to the courses you've already taken, are pre-calculus, calculus, and a more basic course that wouldn't challenge you. You don't want to take a blow-off course, but you also don't like the calc and pre-calc options. It's not that you hate math. But you're not planning on majoring in math in college. You want math that challenges you in a different way. Many schools are creating alternative ...


National Math Panel: Under A Microscope

Less than a year after a federal panel offered its blueprint for how to improve teaching and learning in math, a number of academic researchers have put some sharply worded critiques of that work in print. Their reviews have been published in a special issue of the Educational Researcher, a journal of the American Educational Research Association. The AERA, a well-known, nonpartisan Washington organization, invited and published the essays, which examine the final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, titled “Foundations for Success.” The math panel was appointed in 2006 by President Bush to study effective strategies for improving ...


Us (Meaning the U.S.) Against the World

With the recent release of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (suggested headline: Mixed Results for the United States), it's worth noting that there are many good opinion pieces and commentaries being put forward by researchers offering their take on how to interpret these and other, nation v. nation exams. The obvious question these commentators are trying to get at is: How good- or bad-off are we? In trying to interpret those results, I'm struck by how many respected, astute researchers have looked at the available data from international tests like TIMSS and PISA and come to very ...


"Reform" Math in Public and Private Schools

There’s a long, fractious debate over the performance of public schools v. private schools in this country, and that feud has grown more intense over the past few years, with the publication of a couple of intriguing studies on student performance that compare the two systems. And if subject-specific fights are your thing, you’d find a similar level of rancor in play in the so-called “math wars,” the seemingly unceasing disagreement over the value of “reform”-oriented math, as opposed to a more “traditional” curriculum. (Though there has been noticeable evidence of a détente among the various factions ...


Update: California Algebra Ruling Made Final

A judge has now officially blocked a California policy requiring students to take algebra in 8th grade from going forward. Judge Shelleyanne Chang had originally issued a "tentative ruling" saying she was likely to halt the policy, as of a few days ago. But she's now made the decision final, in a decision dated today, Dec. 22. If you opposed California's algebra mandate, don't celebrate just yet. Ted Mitchell, the chairman of the California Board of Education, which approved the policy, says the panel will appeal, according to the Associated Press. More to come....


'Tentative' Ruling on 8th Grade Algebra in Calif.

A California judge has issued a “tentative ruling” saying she's likely to block a requirement that all California students take algebra in 8th grade. California Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang, in a ruling dated today (Friday), sided with advocates who had argued that the state, in approving the controversial policy, did not allow for sufficient public input in that process. She also appeared to agree with their view that state officials had exceeded their authority in approving the mandate. Tentative rulings are common in California courts, and, as the name tells us, they're not final until the judge makes them ...


Where The Wild Things Are

Zoos, aquariums, and science centers have become major resources for science teachers over the years. Educators see those facilities as places where students can study the behavior of living things, or learn about them through visually appealing exhibits, rather than simply reading about them in a textbook or hearing about them in a lecture. In reporting a story earlier this year, I learned that 90 percent of the nation’s zoos, aquariums, and museums said that they had at least one educational outreach program. That story was about Urban Advantage, a New York City program that offered middle school students ...


Ed Dept. Outlines NCLB Accomplishments

I came across this new release from the Ed Dept. on the "Progress by Our Schools and the U.S. Department of Education." The paper outlines what the Ed. Dept. sees as accomplishments of the NCLB era, including higher test scores, a narrowing achievement gap, and progress on international comparison exams. It also recounts some of the changes the law required, including more data, disaggregated by student group, options for students in failing schools, and more support services for those schools. There are sections on teachers, higher education, and choice. I'm sure some of the claims will be challenged by ...


More Beginning Reading Reports from the Clearinghouse

The What Works Clearinghouse has issued a few new reports in its Beginning Reading series, including one for Houghton Mifflin's Invitations to Literacy and another on Reading Recovery. The reviews are short. I'll let you decide if they're useful. For the four studies on Reading Recovery, the review found "medium to large for alphabetics, small for fluency and comprehension, and medium to large for general reading achievement." An earlier review of the intensive one-on-one tutoring program was mostly positive. The Houghton Mifflin program did not have any studies that met the review criteria. The clearinghouse has drawn criticism for those ...


Higher Math Standards in Oregon Victim of Budget?

One of the consequences of the financial shortfalls hitting states and school districts is that they are scaling back all sorts of programs, or cutting them altogether. In a variation on that dour theme, Oregon state officials said recently that they're planning to delay the implementation of a new math requirement, partly for budgetary reasons. Earlier this year, Oregon's state board of education approved tougher requirements for graduation in math, as well as other subjects. But last week, board members said that while they don't plan on putting off higher graduation standards in reading, writing, and making oral presentations, the ...


The Ultimate Social Networking Tool for English Teachers

If you're an English teacher and you don't know who Jim Burke is, I just have to wonder where you've been for the last decade. Burke, an English teacher at Burlingame High School, outside of San Francisco, has been sharing his professional insights with colleagues around the country through numerous books and a popular listserv he has moderated for years. His Web site is a treasure trove of resources for novice and veteran teachers alike. Now Burke is trying to use social-networking tools to build an even more vibrant online community for English teachers. He just alerted me that he ...


TIMSS Tidbits

In case you missed it, the TIMSS results were released this week, and U.S. students didn't fare too badly, unless you count the point difference between them and their 4th and 8th grade peers in Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong. The report is here, Ed Week's story here, and a critique of the U.S. performance by Mark Schneider, the former commissioner of education statistics at the Ed. Dept., here. I've included the video briefing as well. There are lots of interesting data points and tidbits in the hundreds of pages that make up the report, as well as ...


Reading Association Recommends More Teacher Autonomy

The International Reading Association is looking to shift more of the decision making back to teachers when it comes to reading and writing instruction. That would be a pendulum shift away from many current policies at the local, state, and federal levels that have instituted strict requirements for the materials and methods teachers use in their classrooms. In a new policy paper, published in the Dec./Jan. issue of Reading Today, the Newark, Del.-based association outlines its recommendations for the incoming Obama administration. The association also wants more and better professional development, as well as a boost in the ...


Will the Promise of the Reading Commission Fade Away?

As the clock ticks down on the Bush administration and the tenure of many appointees at the U.S. Department of Education, I keep wondering what will happen to the Commission on Reading Research. It has been a long, foggy road for this panel, and sometimes I wonder if it has just been a mirage on the horizon. Probably not to the prominent researchers who've agreed to serve on it, and who have patiently endured what may be the longest pending announcement about an education panel in history. Could they still be going through the vetting process? Troy Justesen, who ...


Blogging for Gender Equity in Science

Public and private organizations have tried all sorts of strategies to try to get girls and women more interested in science and math studies and careers—summer camps, the use of role models and mentors in the field, outreach to parents. Now, a new, and I suppose far hipper variation on those efforts is being tried: a social- networking site, aimed at luring more females into the so-called STEM fields. The site, www.underthemicroscope.com, was created by the Feminist Press, of the City University of New York, along with IBM and support from the National Science Foundation. It aims...


Stephen Colbert on Paying Kids for Good Grades

Late night funnyman Stephen Colbert, of all people, examined the issue of paying students for performing well in school this week. On Monday, Colbert hosted economist Roland Fryer, who has developed a program for paying students for achievement in school. Students are taking part in these sorts of programs in Chicago, New York, the District of Columbia, and other areas. Remarked Colbert: "If it works, look forward to Secretary of Education Alex Trebek." And later: "What is wrong with the older generation's way of doing things, where they paid kids to do well in school by not opening a can ...


More Teens Lie, Cheat, and Steal

A new survey shows that more high school students are lying, cheating, and stealing—a reflection, it says, of the "entrenched habits of dishonesty" among young people. The 2008 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, released by the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles, is the result of a survey of 29,000 students at public and private high schools throughout the country. Sixty-four percent of the students said they have cheated on a test over the past year, with nearly four in 10 doing so more than once. Some 40 percent lifted information off the Internet...


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