April 2009 Archives

Advocacy organizations and policymakers have sought to encourage more students to enroll in Advanced Placement classes, a popular college-prep track, in recent years. Yet teachers are torn about whether all interested students should be allowed into those classes, or only those who meet certain academic pre-qualifications, as my colleague Stephen Sawchuk explains in a new story. He's reporting on a new survey released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute....


Interesting changes appear to be in the works for the state of Texas' accountability system, according to this story in the Dallas Morning News. The proposed changes, included in legislation moving through the House and Senate in Austin, would require students to meet new, higher college-readiness standards in English and language arts. But at earlier grades, the bills also would allow schools to promote students on a combination of factors, including test scores, grades, and teacher recommendations, as opposed to simply state test scores, according to the story. And state performance ratings of schools would be changed to consider growth ...


My colleague Alyson Klein reports on yesterday's hearing by the House Education and Labor Committee on common standards in "House Panel Considers Federal Role in Standards." Former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr., testified that the Congress could help keep states' efforts to create common standards on track by asking for regular reports and for seeing that the states meet the deadlines that they set out for themselves. He said that Congress could also provide funding for the effort. Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the top Republican on the Committee, argued that the states are capable of creating common ...


An objective observer looking at course-taking patterns in middle and high school math in the United States, as shown in national data released this week, could argue that this country's students have made enormous strides. Thirteen-year-olds are more likely to take introductory algebra today than ever before: 30 percent of them reported being enrolled in that class today, as opposed to just 16 percent two decades ago. Thirty-two percent said they're taking prealgebra, compared with 19 percent in 1986. Precalc or calc? Among 17-year-olds, 19 percent report having taken that class in high school, while just 6 percent could make ...


Certainly attending a school that emphasizes green or environmentally friendly habits and processes is going to have an impact on students' awareness of such issues. But preteens at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa, who participated in a recent survey about their commitment to conservation seem to be walking the walk in their everyday lives as well. The 140 students, between 10 and 12, describe in detail how the environment, and the value they give to conservation efforts, influence their day-to-day activities. They may be at that age when many youths are seen as self-absorbed and unfocused, but this ...


The long-term trend data for the National Assessment of Educational Progress was released today and the news is not good for students in high school. Average scores have remained flat for 17-year-olds both in reading and math since the early 1970s, when the assessments were first given. The scores for 17-year-olds in reading, however, did increase by three points, to 286, from 2004 to 2008, which is considered significant. But the same was not true for 17-year-olds in math. The scores remained stagnant for that age group in math during that same period. Written statements are starting to flow into ...


Barack Obama sounded a JFK-style motif in a speech before the National Academy of Sciences today. It came through not only in his direct mining of quotations from the 35th president, and his references to Kennedy’s (and President Eisenhower's) scientific initiatives post-Sputnik. Obama, to be sure, indicated he'd put money and political capital into scientific research and K-12 science education. But he called for some shared sacrifice in return. Specifically, he seemed to beseech scientists to step out of their labs and research facilities a lot more often, to help sell young people on the wonder of science, and ...


Or maybe a meat cleaver ... depends on how you look it at. Florida's governing body for high school athletics approved cutting 20 percent of varsity contests and 40 percent for nonvarsity sports, in response to budget shortfalls. All sports, except the all-mighty—football—will be affected. For those wondering why football was spared, I believe it's because football traditionally brings in revenue, enough to support other sports. At least that's the reasoning that was given to me by Roger Dearing of the Florida High School Athletic Association, when I interviewed him for a story last month on cuts to sports...


Arne Duncan spoke before the nation’s largest gathering of math teachers this weekend in Washington, D.C. While I wouldn’t say there were any dramatic departures from his earlier scripts, the secretary made a few points worth noting, particularly when it comes to trying to get more math teachers into the classroom, and persuading them to stay. The secretary, addressing the annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics on Saturday, no doubt made some new friends when he spoke highly of differential pay—basically, paying math teachers more than teachers of other subjects, as a way...


Martin Doblmeier is the director of a documentary film, "The Power of Forgiveness," and has given talks at about 50 screenings of his film around the country. About half the screenings were sponsored by faith groups and the other half by high schools or universities, he says. More universities than schools have been interested in showing the film, but Doblmeier would like to see the film get more exposure in high schools. The film, made in 2007, has been shown in at least one community deeply affected by violence: Blacksburg, Va., the home of Virginia Tech. I chose this month, ...


The theme of this year's National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual meeting—attended by about 12,000 educators—is “equity,” essentially trying to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn. It comes as no surprise, then, that one of the big themes of the teachers and academic scholars presenting at various sessions, and among companies trying to peddle commercial products in the exhibit hall, was intervention. As teachers cope with pressure to lift math scores, and attempt to teach difficult courses at earlier grades (see my earlier entry on the question of when calculus should be taught),...


Politics K-12 reports that the House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday about common standards. You can weigh in over at that blog on my colleague Alyson Klein's question: Is it better for Congress to get involved in this or stay away?...


Sean Cavanagh's most recent blog entry, "Rush to Calculus?," about a math professor at Rutgers University who questions the push for students to take calculus in high school struck a chord with me. I'm someone who took calculus my senior year of high school because I thought that's what college-bound students were supposed to do. I was a transfer student to Oak Ridge High School in Tennessee my senior year; I'd gone to high school in New Wilmington, Pa., before that. My family had followed my dad to Oak Ridge for a sabbatical year. I'd taken all the hard courses ...


For many high school students who show talent in math, or at least a moderate degree of skill in that subject, their choice of a senior-year math course may not amount to much of a choice at all. They’re expected to take calculus, which they’re told will help them get into college, and succeed once they arrive there. Joseph G. Rosenstein, a professor of mathematics at Rutgers University, questions the logic of asking students to take that class in high school. He speculated that many of the students who take calculus in high school and struggle through it ...


Everywhere I turn on the education blogs this morning, I'm seeing mention of a report released by McKinsey & Co. yesterday that says the achievement gap between U.S. students and those in other nations is hurting the United States economically. See, "Achievement Gaps Drag Down Economy, Study Finds," by my colleague Alyson Klein here at EdWeek and a post by guest blogger Liana Heitin at Politics K-12. Thomas Freidman mentions the report in a column in the The New York Times (picked up by eduwonk, Gotham Schools, and This Week in Education). Update: Read Eduflack's take here. It just so ...


Earlier this month, we were discussing on this blog if it would be a good idea to have a YouTube Channel with video lessons from K-12 teachers. Well, check out the "classroom footage" section of a new project called Word Generation to get a sense for how nicely sample video lessons can be packaged so that other teachers can learn from them. The footage is about a hot topic in education: how to teach "academic language" to students. That means the words, abstract phrases, and structures students need to know to understand school subjects. It differs from the kind of ...


President Barack Obama visited the District of Columbia's SEED School yesterday to sign the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. He described the school as "a place where service is a core component of the curriculum," according to a transcript of his remarks. President Obama added that "just as the SEED School teaches reading and writing, arithmetic and athletics, it also prepares our young Americans to grow into active and engaged citizens." I report in a story just published at edweek.org on several new programs created by the Serve America Act aimed at engaging middle and high school youths ...


NASA, or the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, has been creating curricular resources for science teachers for years. Here's a new resource for educators ready to move beyond traditional paper and pencil lessons, and even beyond traditional computer-based activities. The space agency has created a site that facilitates "do-it-yourself podcasts" for teachers and their classes. Teachers and students with camcorder or other video-recording equipment can record video and audio clips, then intersperse them with free NASA clips provided at the site. Podcast topics include Newton's laws, science lab safety, and the spacesuits worn by astronauts (you would expect no less ...


What kinds of classroom lessons and activities can improve the confidence, and ultimately the performance of minority students? A new study suggests that a series of structured writing assignments can play a strong role. According to a new research article published in the journal Science, African-American middle school students benefited academically and narrowed the achievement gap between them and their white peers, after being asked to produce written essays, which the authors describe as "self-affirmations." The 7th graders studied were asked to reflect on important personal values, such a relationships with family or friends, their musical interests, and other topics. ...


When Banned Books Week is commemorated for the 27th time this fall, the annual list of texts slated for possible removal from school libraries will be shorter than previously, if it follows the trend of the last few years. And it's expected that there will be many more books on the list that were "challenged" than those that were "banned" from library shelves, since librarians and library advocates have become very skilled at fending off such demands. For that they should probably thank Judith F. Krug. "Censorship dies in the light of day," Krug, who died this week of stomach ...


Students—even very young students—bring a lot of curiosity about the natural world, and assumptions about how it works, with them to school. How can preschool teachers tap into this enthusiasm, and build students' understanding of science? Researchers and advocacy organizations have been exploring the connection between early childhood education and science instruction for years. A philanthropy, the PNC Foundation, is announcing a grant to support those science efforts, which is going to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and the Washington, D.C., public schools. (More details will be available next week on the particulars of the award....


Read "NGA, CCSSO Launch Common Standards Drive," by my colleague Michele McNeil, to learn about a meeting in Chicago today in which representatives from 37 states are discussing common national standards. She said that the process is expected to start with voluntary rigorous math and language arts standards aligned with college- and career-ready expectations. Even a year ago, who'd've thunk it?...


Across the country, one of the strategies schools are trying to help struggling students in algebra is essentially doubling the amount of time spent on that course. It's a popular tactic in other areas of math, and in reading, too. A new study, however, says that double-dose courses produced mixed results in Chicago schools. On the one hand, the 9th graders studied saw their test scores rise. But the policy did not appear to result in fewer students failing the course, as school officials had hoped, the authors report. The grades of some struggling students increased, after the double-dosing, though ...


A proposal to strip the Texas board of education of its powers to approve curriculum and textbooks is moving forward in the state's legislature. The basic idea of the bill, which is sponsored by Republican lawmaker Kel Seliger, is that the board has become too consumed with political-cultural debates, as evidenced by the recent evolution-in-the-science-standards saga, rather than the nitty-gritty of school policy. The measure would shift responsibility for textbooks and curriculum to the state's education commissioner (a post currently held by Robert Scott) and to expert committees drafting recommendations on materials. The board would be able to overrule the ...


Eduflack contends in an essay-like blog entry, "Arts Education and Quantification," that positive academic outcomes from arts education can be quantified. He implies that educators may have to make use of this kind of data to ensure that the arts keeps a strong presence in U.S. schooling. I gleaned some new information from the essay. I hadn't known, for example, that the National Assessment of Educational Progress includes data on arts proficiency. I felt sad reading the essay, however, because I don't want to accept the idea that the arts, which feeds our spiritual and creative sides, needs to ...


A post over at Core Knowledge Blog drew my attention to an article published in the New York Times this week about how market researchers at the Walt Disney Company and other media companies try to figure out how to engage boys in entertainment. Here's an excerpt: The guys are trickier to pin down for a host of reasons. They hop more quickly than their female counterparts from sporting activities to television to video games during leisure time. They can also be harder to understand: the cliché that girls are more willing to chitchat about their feelings is often true. ...


The New York Times published an article this week that makes a case that the stimulus package contains clues for what kind of revisions the Obama Administration will push for with reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Among them are toughening requirements for teacher quality and academic standards, according to the Times....


As usual, the topics presented in submissions to the Carnival of Education are so diverse that Joanne Jacobs, the host of this week's edition, threw up her hands and said the theme of the carnival is: "We don't need no stinking theme." Blog entries include a discussion about whether homework is busywork, a proposal that the school year should be 200 days, and an analysis of a study that says Experience Corps tutors (senior citizens) have helped struggling readers. A blog entry from Curriculum Matters about the gender gap in reading in Japan is part of the carnival. Check out ...


When a principal at a school visits a teacher's classroom, it's easy for those visits to carry an aura of suspicion and anxiety, particularly for the teacher. The principal may be there to gather information for an evaluation of the teacher's work, or simply to check up on what's occurring in the classroom. In an essay published online this month, Henry Kepner, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, calls for principals and teachers to forge a more cooperative relationship, which he predicts will result in better math instruction. Principals can, in a "nonthreatening" way, encourage teachers ...


Bill Costello, who specializes in teaching parents and teachers strategies for educating boys, has published a column at EducationNews.org about his observation of a reading gap between boys and girls in Japan. Boys are outperforming girls in Japan in math, according to the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. But at the same time, Japanese girls are outperforming boys in reading, he writes. And the reading gender gap is more than 50 percent greater than the math gender gap, he notes. Costello is concerned that the reading gender gap, of girls outperforming boys, is a problem all ...


It looks like the Smithsonian Institution doesn't want to be outdone by the Library of Congress in reaching teachers with images of artifacts they can use in their classrooms. The educational arm of the Smithsonian museums has created virtual tours for students and teachers to explore African-American and Latino history. The tours feature artifacts such as Mohammed Ali's 1974 red boxing gloves and Roberto Clemente's Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. The African-American tour is available now, and the Latino one will soon be posted (in the meantime, check out the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum), according to a press release announcing this new ...


The Census in Schools program provides lesson plans that can help teachers to teach math, geography, civics and government, history, economics, and language arts. One of the goals of the program is to promote data literacy. Hmmm, that's a skill I've had to acquire and use often as a journalist. It seems to me that a lot of jobs require the ability to understand data, charts, and maps. I browsed the Teaching Materials section of the Census in Schools Web site and found a "We Count" map showing the population in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The ...


South Korea's curriculum and school system draws a lot of scrutiny and praise because of the country's top-notch performance on international tests. The Republic of Korea, as it is officially known, is continually found near the top of the rankings of nations in math and science, on the TIMSS and PISA, two prominent country-by-country comparisons. Imagine entering South Korea's school systems from a nation where education is de-emphasized to the point of leaving students without the most basic reading and math skills. A Washington Post story from this past week describes just such a scenario. It's about North Korean defectors ...


Last month I attended an event marking the 20th anniversary of the National Assessment Governing Board, the independent panel that oversees the NAEP. There were a lot of good presentations, but one in particular that I've been meaning to write about was given by Peggy Carr, the deputy commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. Carr was speaking on a panel about achievement gaps between minority and white students. Her talk focused on what the NAEP, the nation's most prominent test of student academic skill, which her agency administers, tells us. She offered a lot of intriguing information breaking ...


Several big organizations, in a letter to President Obama, are calling for more federal support for career and technical education (the subject formerly known as voc-ed). The primary federal vehicle for those efforts right now is the Perkins program, currently funded at more than $1 billion a year. I've seen Perkins, which was reauthorized a few years ago, described as the largest single high school program in the country. President Bush repeatedly sought to kill the Perkins program, and got nowhere, probably at least partly because of career-and-tech programs' strong popularity in Congress. Critics have said that career-oriented programs do ...


The president of a major professional organization for science teachers has a new online essay on what seems like a familiar topic: "professional learning communities." Page Keeley, of the National Science Teachers Association, argues that too many learning communities are unfocused, and need to have a much clearer mission in order to improve science teaching and learning. What is that mission, as Keeley sees it? It may seem obvious, but the focus of PLCs—which can be found in schools everywhere today—needs to be on improving instruction, rather than on management or departmental issues, or on loosely defined ...


A number of states require schools to teach all students about Native American tribes in their states, but few states support such requirements with a line item in their budgets. So teachers glean resources to teach about Native Americans wherever they can. One possible resource for the classroom is a PBS series about Native Americans, "We Shall Remain," which is also available on DVD. The series starts Monday, April 13, and continues for five episodes. The titles are "After the Mayflower," "Tecumseh's Vision," "Trail of Tears," "Geronimo," and "Wounded Knee." The promotional text for the series calls it a "provocative ...


The journal Science has an interesting item about a proposal, included in the $410 million budget measure approved by Congress last month, apparently aimed at identifying and cultivating supreme mathematical talent at the K-12 level. The article (subscription required) says that a $3 million earmark for the National Science Foundation was included in the spending plan with the potential to create a new institute serving "profoundly gifted" students in math. The spending was supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, according to the story. How would that money create a new institute for gifted children? The story says ...


It's common for science teachers to try to craft classroom lessons out of things that students see every day and can easily understand. I remember a lot of the science teachers I had during my school days talking about the physics of baseball, probably with good reason. It's a sport that's rich with opportunities to discuss science.Kathy Willens/AP I was reminded of this when I read a new interview in Scientific American with Alan Nathan, a physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign who has studied science's connection to the sport. In the interview, Nathan ...


A school district needs to have a coherent plan in how to spend extra funds to raise academic performance for low-income, minority students in cities for the money to make a difference. If the district has a good plan, dramatic improvement can occur. If the district doesn't have a good plan, more money can produce confusion and even declining academic performance among students. That's one lesson that New Jersey officials learned in their implementation of increased funding to improve educational outcomes in low-income school districts that resulted from the Abbott v. Burke New Jersey Supreme Court case, according to the ...


Those who can't get enough international school data may be interested in a newly released study that provides comparisons of academic performance, instruction, teacher training, and school spending in the Group of Eight Nations, including the United States. Released by the Institute of Education Sciences, the report pulls together a lot of previously published information collected through three international exams, PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS, as well as other sources. Those interested in particular content areas, such as reading, math, and science, could find some of the study's data intriguing. Here's a taste: In reading, the United States had the highest ...


Chris Comer, a former employee of the Texas Education Agency, resigned from her job in 2007 after she forwarded an e-mail to her colleagues advising them of a public appearance by a critic of creationism and intelligent design. Comer quit her job after she said that agency officials threatened to fire her for the e-mail, warning her that her electronic message had violated the agency's policy of impartiality on such issues. Comer sued the agency, but last week a federal judge dismissed her lawsuit, according to this story in the Austin American-Statesman. The ex-employee had argued that the state did ...


I'd like to alert any educators involved in the teaching of reading to a chat at edweek.org scheduled for next week with Donalyn Miller, a 6th grade language arts and social studies teacher. She's also the author of The Book Whisperer, which was recently published by Education Week Press and Jossey-Bass. The chat will take place on Tuesday, April 7, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time. I'm sure my elementary school teachers helped expand my reading vocabulary and comprehension, but I cannot give them credit for inspiring me to love reading. I remember that in ...


Reading First failed to have stellar results not because it favored a systematic use of phonics but because it was implemented by the federal government, argues Andrew J. Coulson over at Cato @ Liberty. Coulson writes: "If we want schools around the country to continually adopt and refine the best methods available, we must create the freedoms and incentives that will cause that to happen… or get used to disappointment." Basically Coulson is saying you can't trust the federal government to recommend "best practices" for reading, or education in general, because the government's recommendations will always be subject to political winds. ...


The Education Commission of the states has unveiled an online resource that provides background, sorted by topic, on some of the education practices used by top-performing countries—and how the United States compares. The site seeks to offer resources on how policymakers, including those at the school and district level, can create policies in testing, professional development, and other areas, based on what appears to be working well in other nations. Another useful site built around a similar theme was created by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC. It offers fully-translated curriculum, testing materials, and lessons from China, Korea, Japan,...


Congressman Mike Honda, a Democrat from California, is introducing a bill titled "The Global Warming Education Act." The legislation would create an education program on global warming at the National Science Foundation, an agency based in Arlington, Va., that is heavily involved in sponsoring research on math and science teaching and curriculum. Honda, a former high school science teacher, says the bill aims to provide a range of school materials for students on climate change, including formal and informal learning opportunities about topics such as new technologies, and incentives related to energy conservation, renewable energy, and greenhouse gas reduction. The ...


We at Ed Week have written about the potential for distance learning technologies to provide improved education to students in rural, remote, and impoverished areas of this country. Internet access, video feeds, and other technologies can provide students with access to courses their schools could otherwise not afford, or to teachers with expertise that isn't available in their local schools. Move beyond this nation's borders, and the need for those services are much greater. Next month, an effort to improve students' access to education in the developing world will be taking place in Dakar, Senegal. It's a conference run by ...


When I visited an award-winning middle school a while back, I was impressed with the collaborative spirit among the teachers, the deep relationships the principal and staff had developed with the students, and the payoff in student-achievement results the school was seeing as a result of an intense focus on relevance and rigor in the curriculum. Just one thing, or one student, marred my impressions of the school. Throughout the day, that student took every opportunity to interrupt teachers, distract classmates, and waste precious class time. There were outbursts, random movements, loud pencil sharpening, and tossed objects. While the student's ...


The ASCD Express is soliciting essays on the topic of what science education should look like in the 21st Century, or "Science on the Bleeding Edge," as they call it. Here's what they're looking for: Considering that the space age began with the launch of Sputnik just over 50 years ago, what should a 'post-space age' science curriculum look like? As students hone their 21st century skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation, how are they being prepared to use them in the crucible where science, technology, society, and economics meet in the world beyond school? How are schools ...


The new edition of the Carnival of Education was posted today at Rayray's writing. You can read about everything from the pros and cons of holding a child back for a year from enrolling in kindergarten to how to make social studies "expressive." I participated this time with an item from Curriculum Matters about the push by the Library of Congress to get teachers and students to use online primary sources. There's one every week. The hosts change. It's a good way to find out who is blogging about education....


A couple of bills that take very different approaches to science, technology, engineering, and math ("STEM") education topics are in play on Capitol Hill. Here's a synopsis of both: —Yesterday, a sub-panel of the House Committee on Science and Technology approved a bill that seeks to improve coordination for science and math education programs across the federal government. Sponsored by Rep. Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat who chairs the House science committee, HR 1709 would establish a White House committee with the responsibility of making various STEM programs work together. The committee would be housed in the White House's National...


I learned by reading the Core Knowledge Blog this morning that YouTube, which is owned by Google, has started an effort to put lectures by college professors online. It's called YouTube EDU. Robert Pondiscio suggests that Google should create something similar for K-12 teachers. Update: By the way, when you click on the link for Core Knowledge Blog above, you'll get a scary message saying you've reached an "attack site." You can click on "ignore this warning" and move on to the site. I've done that and my computer hasn't blown up or anything. Pondescio told me in an e-mail ...


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