January 2009 Archives

On the list of people you least want to tick off on Capitol Hill, Sen. Chuck Grassley's name is probably pretty high up there. Yet some employees of the National Science Foundation have managed to do just that, after allegedly spending a considerable amount of agency time looking at pornography on the Internet. The revelations about NSF staff members downloading sexually explicit files from the Web and storing them on their computers emerged in a semiannual report by the agency's office of the inspector general. One of the more startling revelations in the report is that an "NSF senior official" ...


One major piece of the Reading First program is the money it provides schools to hire reading "coaches," who work to improve the skills of fellow teachers. Under the federal law, money flows to states, which provide grants to schools and districts to adopt "scientifically based" reading programs and provide interventions with struggling students in the early grades. Reading First specifically provides professional development to teachers through institutes, workshops, and on-site literacy coaches. In fact, the law mandates that schools that receive grants use funds to hire those coaches. I recently came across an interesting study by the Northwest Regional ...


Can a kickball game help transform the climate of a school? That playground activity and other informal “classic games,” such as four-square and tag, can promote student health, as well as improved classroom behavior and learning, some health advocates say. Just last fall, a major effort aimed at expanding access to those activities, during recess and afterschool was launched with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., awarded a four-year, $18.7 million grant to Sports4Kids, an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit, to train adult “coaches” who can supervise and encourage recess and after-school activities. ...


Some of the publishers that made a heap of money off the Reading First program—which pumped $1 billion a year into instructional materials and professional development, as well as coaching positions in participating schools—are reporting losses now that the budget has been axed, according to this Publishers Weekly article. "Worsening economic conditions facing large urban districts were exacerbated by a sharp reduction in federal funding for Reading First programs," the magazine quotes Terry McGraw, the chairman of the company that publishes Open Court Reading and other popular reading series. Despite the 5.4 percent decline for McGraw-Hill's...


Is there any obligation for a school sports team to ease up on an opponent, when one side is so outmatched that the event devolves in a blowout that's embarrassing to just about everybody involved? Should athletic associations set up rules to prevent this from taking place? Those questions leap to mind in the wake of a much-publicized beat-down delivered by the girls basketball team from Covenant School, a Christian school in Texas, to the team from Dallas Academy, on Jan. 13. Even by the standards of high school basketball, where talent mismatches are common, this score was pretty stunning: ...


Any time the U.S. Department of Education gets a nudge to move on FOIA requests, particularly those related to the Reading First program, it gets my full attention. I have tussled with the department a number of times over the last six years, constantly nagging and prodding for documents that should be readily available but somehow take months, even years, to find and process. I'm not the only one to hit such hurdles. Now CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) has won a round with this federal court judgment. The Washington-based organization, which uses FOIA, litigation, and ...


The Washington Post has a good story on what I would describe as an under-reported issue in education today: The dissimilarity of math standards and courses that, on paper, appear to be uniform. The story focuses on Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, and their efforts to encourage more students to take Algebra 2. The story says DC is moving toward a requirement that all students complete that math class before high school graduation. While Virginia and Maryland are not taking that step, the story notes that all three jurisdictions are raising requirements for Algebra 2 in one way ...


Scientists are celebrating in Texas today—or are they? The Texas state board of education on Friday tentatively approved new science standards, the basic blueprint that spells out what students are expected to know in that subject. The overwhelming focus has been on how the document would treat evolution. The existing version of the standards, which have been around since 1998, call for students to learn about the "strengths and weaknesses" of various scientific theories. Scientists have long complained about that wording, basically arguing that certain critics are only interested in examining what they believe are weaknesses in one theory...


Looks like the international assessments, TIMSS and PISA, are set for revamping and will include measures of 21st-century skills. Just how they will quantify those skills may depend on the results of a joint project being undertaken by of three of the world’s largest technology companies: Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems, and Intel Corp. The companies are working together to create assessments that measure things like critical thinking, technical aptitude, and collaboration. The project was unveiled this month at the Learning and Technology World Forum in London. Barry McGaw, the executive director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute in Australia, ...


I've written periodically about the struggle to improve educational opportunities for children, and particularly girls, in Afghanistan. In the process of reporting stories like this one, I've always been struck by the intense desire these children have for learning, and the value that families there place on education. But there are still factions in the country, generally aligned with the Taliban regime, working to prevent children, especially girls, from getting educated. They will do just about anything to derail educational efforts, including maiming and killing teachers and children. Here's another story, though, about how the desire for education transcends fear ...


I have no scientific data to back up my assumption that most teachers in America—at least the ones teaching in the upper-elementary grades through high school—took time out of the day yesterday either to watch part of the inauguration or discuss the events and their place in history. Even in a busy school day, with a full curriculum, this topic warrants priority. Over at Teacher Magazine I found an interesting, albeit brief, discussion about what teachers would be doing on Inauguration Day, but I wonder how it all turned out. How did you make the topic meaningful...


It's been 13 months since I filed a request with the Education Department under the Freedom of Information Act, looking for information related to the appointment of a Commission on Reading Research to update the work undertaken by the National Reading Panel a decade ago. I lost faith that my request would be fulfilled a while back, particularly in light of the preliminary response I got, which included more than 80 blank pages. All the contents of the documents I requested were redacted under an exemption that allows federal officials to withhold information deemed deliberative. The law does not allow ...


California's state board has adopted draft content standards for foreign language, "putting the discipline on the same level as math, science, history, and other core academic subjects" for the first time, according to this article from the Sacramento Bee. The move is a badly needed endorsement for the subject, which gets a lot of lip service owing to the importance of such a skill in a global economy. But generally, there has been very little action in making more students learn Spanish or Arabic or Chinese, beyond pilot programs and local efforts. Foreign language, like the arts and civics and ...


They're debating a revision of the state science standards in Texas today, which of course means another debate over evolution's place in the classroom. The Texas state board of education is reviewing a draft of the standards, which basically spell out what students are expected to know in science. The current version of that document says that students should be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. That language has never been to the liking of scientists, who see it as potentially encouraging teachers to pick on evolution as somehow flawed or weak, when in fact the scientific evidence ...


Here are a couple more resources for inauguration lessons and activities: CSPAN will host four days of inauguration coverage on its television channel and Web site, and has posted curriculum resources on its classroom site CSPAN in the Classroom. Channel One, the news program shown in many middle and high schools, will offer an inaugural edition on Tuesday. The program will provide live coverage of the ceremony, in addition to its regular morning broadcast....


In the wake of the attention being paid to English language learners these days (by this newspaper and others) as well as students with disabilities, the public will be given a chance to influence an important policy affecting those students over the next few weeks. Two public hearings have been scheduled to discuss the options for testing ELLs and students with disabilities on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, commonly known as "the nation's report card." The hearings, to be held Jan. 30 and Feb. 4, will focus on efforts to bring more uniformity to the rules governing ...


Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow John McWhorter offers a scathing critique in this New Republic article of New York City's approach to bridging the reading gap between black and white children. The solution, he argues, is simple: Adopt the direct instruction approach, a scripted program that has perhaps the strongest track records for teaching children to read. He points to the Project Follow Through findings, as well as test results in Richmond, Va., and other places. I just keep wondering why, given the evidence of its effectiveness, it is not more popular. Even among educators who subscribe to scientifically based reading ...


Take a look at the latest Quality Counts report, which concentrates on English-language learners, and you get an idea of the challenges many school systems are facing in meeting the needs of this growing population. You may be surprised by the numbers of students in this category, and the broader data picture. Chris Swanson, the director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which conducted the exhaustive study, presents the data in an informative Webinar, which you can access on the Ed Week website. There may be some surprises for those of us who aren't up on the information. ...


The Presidential Inauguration Committee has teamed up with both national teachers' unions on lesson plans related to the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States and the nation's first black commander-in-chief. The plans include ideas for connecting the current events with history, and particularly with the inauguration of another president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. There are reading lists, activities, and documents available for download and printing. A number of other organizations and agencies are also offering resources for use in the classroom. They are designed for various grade levels, and include everything from simple ...


Rep. Mike Honda, a California Democrat, had to whittle down the list of requests for the few inauguration tickets he had to give away. So the former science teacher, public school principal, and school board member came up with a contest that would reward a few creative constituents and potentially yield some ideas for school reform in the process. Honda asked entrants to give their best pitch as to why they deserve the tickets, or to share their educational reform ideas. Here's a sampling of the responses from Rep. Honda's Facebook page. From the summaries posted from the 10 winners, ...


In what will probably not come as a surprise to anybody, a potential fracas over evolution is surfacing again in Louisiana. I write that this wasn't unexpected, because the topic was all but certain to re-emerge with the passage of legislation signed into law last summer by Gov. Bobby Jindal. The first-term Republican governor, with little fanfare, gave his approval to Senate Bill 733, which allows teachers to use supplemental classroom materials that will help students "analyze, critique, and review" scientific theories, including evolution. (It also says the "origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" could be the subject ...


A last-ditch fundraising effort to keep the AP Italian program alive will not be enough to continue the classes and tests beyond this school year, the College Board announced this month. The language was added to the Advanced Placement program in 2005-06 under plans to double the number of language courses and assessments offered by the College Board. Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic were also added, reflecting the demands of the business world, government agencies, and development groups for experts in those languages. But Italian seemed like the odd man out. A beautiful language and rich culture, yes, but learning Italian ...


After six years the National Early Literacy Panel released its study of preschool literacy research. I wrote about the panel's preliminary report in 2003, so the final version has been a long time coming. There's nothing too surprising here: The panel found that teaching the alphabet, the sounds of letters, and vocabulary, as well as developing oral language and print knowledge in small children are important foundations for learning to read later on. But the report's strong focus on the effectiveness of code-related interventions, and weaker findings on the importance of vocabulary and background knowledge, have raised some concerns in ...


The other day, Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher wrote a nice profile of Broad Acres Elementary School, in Silver Spring, Md., a school that has made a strong turnaround academically, despite many challenges. A good number of the school’s students are in “survival mode,” the principal says. Many of those students are newly arrived immigrants, who have made harrowing treks to get to the United States. One of the strengths of the story is that the writer presents readers with what I would describe as an organic picture of a school. By that I mean that in describing Broad ...


When attempting to help students in math, don't forget the human factor. That appears to be the central conclusion of an article I came across recently, which came out this fall in the Review of Educational Research, a publication of the American Educational Research Association. Published in September (I just noticed it a few days ago), the study is a research review of 87 experimental studies of the effectiveness of elementary math programs. You can read it here. The basic conclusion: Changing teaching practices does more to increase students' math achievement than simply changing textbooks or using computers in instruction.The...


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