June 2009 Archives

Teaching and Testing in the Education Superpowers

Top school officials from Singapore and Finland offer perspectives and lessons for the USA.


Parents' Group Wants to Shape Math Standards

Count a parents' coalition as one of the interest groups asking for a say in the ongoing, multi-state effort to draft common standards, which is being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The organization, which calls itself the United States Coalition for World Class Math, is a group of parents, mathematicians, and other interested parties from across the country. You can read more about their principles on their Web site. Generally speaking, they believe mathematicians should have a strong role in shaping math standards; that the math standards of states like Massachusetts ...


Boys Go for Reading Emotional Stuff, Too

Boys like to read about trucks, boys being bad, sports, and war. They like humor. They like action. I'm picking all of this up from well-acclaimed children's authors who are presenting at a conference I'm attending here at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., on how to get boys hooked on reading. But here's a thought from the conference that may not exactly be intuitive: Boys also like to read books that grab them emotionally, according to Jack Gantos, the author of the Rotten Ralph series and Joey Pigza books, which are about boys who are bad. Gantos said that when ...


Science, Geography, and 21st-Century Skills

Organizations that promote science and geography lessons want to help students hone "21st Century Skills."


Tough Budget Choices in Math, Science

Few areas of education have proved as politically popular at the state level in recent years as efforts to improve math and science through teacher education and professional development, outreach activities to students, and other means. Governors, state legislators, and state boards of education in both Republican- and Democratic-dominated states, often at the urging of the business lobby, have taken up the cause. Yet a story in the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal is a reminder that as budget pressures mount, legislators are facing increasing pressure to cut math and science programs, too. State lawmakers in Michigan are considering chopping $2.5...


Obama Moves to Nominate New Voc-Ed Secretary

Brenda Dann-Messier, the leader of a Rhode Island nonprofit focused on adult education and literacy issues, will oversee the U.S. Department of Education's career-and-tech ed programs.


National PTA Endorses Common Standards

Another voice, representing parents, calls for national standards in reading and math.


The Census Count Is On

Workers from the 2010 U.S. Census are preparing to canvass neighborhoods and crunch numbers as part of the once-a-decade survey that gives us an official headcount of the nation’s population, not to mention that of cities, states, and other jurisdictions. It’s a process that determines how congressional districts are drawn and how billions of dollars of federal aid get allocated. The Census Bureau, which orchestrates the count, is eager to promote public awareness of how it works. One way they’re doing it is through the creation of a series of lesson plans, student activities, and other ...


STEM Teachers: Are You Ready for the Country?

An Indiana program tries to lure math and science teachers to rural schools.


On International Benchmarking

From Guest Blogger Stephen Sawchuk We had rather an interesting plenary at the CCSSO conference on student testing yesterday on international comparisons, and what the United States can learn from other countries' education systems using exams like the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. Here's one way of slicing the PISA data that to me seems much more illuminating than the "rankings" of countries that seem to pop up everywhere in education debates these days: The PISA data can be broken down to show where a particular country's strengths in a given assessment area are. So, for instance, French ...


Testing Science and Scientific Inquiry

From Guest Blogger Stephen Sawchuk I went to a really interesting session yesterday about ways testing experts are using computer technology to measure science content in novel ways. Basically, the computer offers ways of testing students' knowledge of science and the scientific process, as well as ways of simulating content that can otherwise be dangerous (like chemistry experiments) or processes like erosion that occur over thousands of years. And, proponents say, it's a way of increasing cognitive demand in testing and getting at students' problem-solving capabilities. Minnesota has a science test it's using for No Child Left Behind purposes that ...


An Argument for Cultural Literacy

Not having cultural literacy, such as knowledge about key historical events, may cost young people some loss of respect in professional circles after they leave the world of school and enter the world of work, suggests Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, in a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He paints a scenario where a bright young man lands an interview with a leading law firm in Atlanta and isn't able to say anything intelligent about the Cold War during a lunch conversation with senior partners in the firm. Cultural literacy "counts a lot more ...


Testing: Tidbits From Los Angeles

From Guest Blogger Stephen Sawchuk As you may have read from my regular blog, Teacher Beat, I'm out in Los Angeles at the Council of Chief State School Officers' annual conference on student assessment. This year, eschewing a formal keynote panel, the organizers decided to do something different—a parody of the TV program "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" (You may recall that Georgia Superintendent Kathy Cox won gobs of cash on this program last year and donated the money to schools in her state.) This time, a testing official from Indiana was in the hot seat, helped...


U.S. History Textbooks' Omissions

Because of what is missing from U.S. history textbooks, history teachers should ensure that their students understand their textbook's interpretation of events is only one possible perspective on what happened, concludes Michael H. Romanowski in a study of how those texts present the topics of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the war on terror. Romanowski is an associate professor in the college of education at Qatar University in Doha, Qatar. He conducted a content analysis of nine U.S. history textbooks by major U.S. publishers, including Pearson/Prentice Hall and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Most textbooks ...


The Arts, Test Scores, and the Media

What impact will studies about arts education, and "advanced" and "basic" students' performance, have on the No Child Left Behind reauthorization circuit?


Duncan Is Handed Petitions for the Arts to Become a Required Core Subject

U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan stopped by a rally yesterday and received petitions from people who want federal lawmakers to provide the money needed for music and the arts to be required core subjects in public schools, according to the Associated Press and ed.gov blog. Texas, by the way, will soon require middle school students to take one fine arts course, if the Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, signs a bill on Monday that will revamp the state's school accountability system. Folks at the Texas Coalition for Quality Arts Education are very happy about the arts provision in ...


Sound and Unsound Strategies in Science Instruction

What works in science? Teaching from the textbook, hands-on experiments, and requiring extended written answers boosts student learning in science, a study suggests.


WolframAlpha, the High-Powered Math Engine

A new Web site that performs very complex math calculations at breakneck speed is causing controversy among some math experts, who wonder if it will discourage students from being forced to work out problems the old-fashioned way. As this nice story in the Chronicle of Higher Education rightly notes, it's a variation on the unceasing debate over the role of calculators in math classes, rewritten for the age of the math super-engine. The online tool, called WolframAlpha, was created by Stephen Wolfram, the entrepreneur who invented Mathematica, one of the first computer math engines. It basically provides answers to questions ...


Counselors and Career Tech

We don’t write that often on this blog about career-and-technical education, or what used to be called voc-ed. And that’s probably an oversight. After all, almost all students in this country take some sort of career-and-technical education class. The Perkins Act is the largest federally funded high school program in the nation. And high school students, on average, earn more credits in vocational education courses (4.01) than they do in math (3.68) and science (3.34). I’ve taken this information from the 2004 National Assessment of Vocational Education and other federal data on voc-ed. Advocates ...


The Teacher as Reader

Who wants to learn to read from a teacher who doesn't read much herself? It seems there's no danger of a child being in that situation if he or she has Donalyn Miller as a teacher. She's a 6th grade language arts and social studies teacher in Texas, who is otherwise known as "the book whisperer." Now that school is out, Miller has set for herself a summer challenge of reading a book a day. In a blog entry this week, she reviews Tillmon County Fire, a novel by Pamela Ehrenberg, set in Appalachia. She also interviews Ehrenberg on the ...


California, Here We Come!

Like the gold miners of yesteryear, the nation's publishers appear to be setting out for California, hoping to stake their claims in a new online textbook market. Well, maybe the interest was not quite that intense. But Since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced plans to give districts access to free, online math and science textbooks, beginning at the high school level, the state has received interest from nine publishers, large and small. I've heard of some of them. Others were unfamiliar. The list includes Connexions, the Wellesley-Cambridge Press, Curriki, and what appear to be offers from individuals with experience in the ...


Revisiting Reading First

MDRC has just put out a policy brief summarizing the impact of Reading First, the flagship reading program under the No Child Left Behind Act for which funding was eliminated in fiscal 2009. Since I'm new to the curriculum beat, I walked past two rows of office cubicles to the desk of my colleague Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, who covered reading for Education Week for 12 years. I asked if the policy brief had any new information. The short answer from her is "no." It summarizes how the federal impact study for Reading First (see Kathleen's article about that research here) ...


The Teacher-Recruiting Trail

States have a message for career-changers thinking of math and science teaching careers: We want you! A number of states have launched or are planning initiatives aimed at loosening state certification requirements and drawing people who haven’t gone through the traditional teacher-college route into the profession. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell says he will ask state lawmakers to establish a “residency teaching certificate” in subject areas where the state’s education secretary determines there’s a state or regional shortage. To get that certification, candidates must have either a bachelor’s degree with five years of relevant work experience, ...


How Does Your State Stack Up?

The American Institutes for Research have released a study that allows for the comparison of U.S. states and cities with foreign nations, using a standard, and very familiar measure: letter grades. We've published a story about the study, authored by Gary Phillips, on our web site and in this week's print issue. Phillips uses statistical methodology to link state and city scores on a prominent domestic test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP, with an international exam, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS. The report will be discussed at a forum in Washington today. ...


Draft Literacy Bill Would Increase Funding for Grades 4-12

This summer, some members of the U.S. Congress hope to introduce a comprehensive literacy bill, which I wrote about in this week's pages of Education Week. The bill would authorize $2.4 billion for reading and writing programs serving children along a continuum of birth to grade 12. It would increase funding considerably for literacy programs in grades 4-12. It would replace the federal Early Reading First, Reading First, and Striving Readers programs....


Proportion of Schools Offering the Arts Stays About the Same

It's been more than a decade since the National Assessment of Educational Progress tested 8th graders in what they know and can do in the arts. In that amount of time, the proportion of schools offering the arts at least several times a week has stayed about the same, according to the NAEP arts report released today. In 2008, 57 percent of 8th graders attended schools where music instruction was provided at least three or four times a week, while 47 percent went to schools where visual-arts instruction was offered at least as often. See my story on the report, ...


Odds and Ends: A TFA Grant, a "STEM" Bill, and Tech Inequity

A couple items worth catching up on today: The medical-technology corporation Medtronic Inc., will provide a $1.4 million grant to support Teach For America’s efforts to find, keep, and train math and science teachers. The award follows an earlier amount of money given by Medtronic in 2007. The latest amount will support additional training for TFA educators through online resources and other means, according to a statement from Medtronic. The money will also pay for the possible expansion of TFA’s program in Minnesota this year and to enhance ongoing efforts in Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., where ...


Today Would Have Been Anne Frank's 80th Birthday

The Anne Frank Elementary School in the Philadelphia School District is having an event today to honor the school's namesake: Anne Frank. Starting on her 13th birthday, 67 years ago, Anne began writing a diary, which was published as The Diary of Anne Frank following her death in a Nazi concentration camp. As you all know, the book is widely read by school children, and the play based on the book is often put on by high school students. Today would have been Anne Frank's 80th birthday. The elementary school was scheduled to have a Holocaust survivor, Kurt Herman, speak ...


Top of the World, in Science

How does the U.S. fare in producing top-tier science students? Depends on how you look at it.


Williamson Evers on Anti-Intellectualism in America

Williamson "Bill" Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a conservative, expounds on why students in the U.S. don't perform as well in math and science as students do in some other countries. His views are published in a Q&A in the Stanford Review. (It's promoted on Evers' Ed Policy blog, which he infrequently updates.) Textbooks in the United States lack depth, and teachers here aren't as well prepared as teachers in some countries, Evers contends. In addition, Evers notes that U.S. culture has a current of anti-intellectualism, as Americans admire characters such as ...


A Note from Home (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue)

The Prez issues a get-out-of-class card.


Carnegie Corporation on "Transforming" Math, Science Ed

A new report calls for a "mobilization" of the public and private sector to improve math and science education. Are its goals realistic?


Compulsory Education Is Topic in Carnival of Education

Joanne Jacobs and Robert Pondiscio over at Core Knowledge blog are both skeptical about the practicality of former New York City schools Chancellor Harold Levy's proposal that compulsory schooling should include one year of postsecondary education. If you missed their posts this week, you have another chance to read them as part of this week's Carnival of Education, a collection of posts by education bloggers. Pondiscio writes: "College entrance is still something largely driven by interest and merit. Might that have something to do with the generally sound state of U.S. higher ed and the relatively poor state of ...


Evolution, Enthusiasm, and Science Learning

Academic scholars, as well as educators, have debated the link between students' enthusiasm for academic work and its connection to learning. If an activity can be made fun, will that help a child pick up new knowledge? David Geary, a professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, explores this topic in a recent, provocative study in the journal Educational Psychologist. Some of you may be familiar with Geary through his work as a member of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, but he has an extensive background in cognitive developmental psychology. His study, published late last year, examines what ...


Three More States Sign on to '21st-Century Skills"

From Guest Blogger Stephen Sawchuk Nevada, Illinois, and Louisiana are the latest states to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, according to a release from the partnership this morning. That brings the number to 13. As part of membership, the states agree to retool their standards, tests, and professional development to integrate into core-content classes an emphasis on tech literacy, communication, and entrepreneurship. It's especially interesting that Illinois is on board, with Obama in the White House and EdSec Arne Duncan at 400 Maryland Ave. So far, I haven't been able to get a really good read on where ...


And the Sequel to Reading First?

Alyson Klein reports over at Politics K-12 that members of the U.S. House of Representatives are writing a bill that could replace the federal Reading First program under the No Child Left Behind Act. Our colleague Kathleen Kennedy Manzo already blogged about a literacy bill being drafted in the U.S. Senate that would do the same. I'm working on an article about these literacy bills for the next issue of Education Week....


Schwarzenegger Makes His Case for Digital Ed

California's governor makes the case for taking his state's math and science textbooks digital.


Online Chat: Informal Science Education

EdWeek will host a chat with two experts at 1 p.m., on Tuesday on how zoos, museums, TV shows, films, and "informal" approaches to science ed can help students.


Toward a Better State Science Test?

A critique of Florida's science test reflects common concerns across states.


NCTM on Standards: Don't Forget About Us!

The influential National Council of Teachers of Mathematics wants a say in shaping common academic standards.


Tracking Is a Hot-Button Issue—Follow-Up to Recent Post

As you know I'm new to this curriculum beat, and I gather from the comments on the blog entry I just posted today, "The Problem of Tracking in Middle Schools," that I've hit on a hot topic. Prompted by reader Jginberg, I just called Stacey A. Kopnitsky, the assistant principal at Cabin John Middle School, to ask her what happened to the performance of the gifted and talented students at her school after they were mixed in English-language arts classes with the low-performing students. She says that those students scored "advanced," the highest of three levels, on the Maryland state ...


Mrs. Obama, on Inspiring Students

Michelle Obama discusses her visits to DC schools with NBC's Brian Williams.


The Problem of Tracking in Middle Schools

At a seminar hosted last week by ACT on improving the quality of education for students in middle schools, Nancy M. Doda, a consultant for Teacher to Teacher, expressed a strong dislike of tracking in middle schools. She explained that she'd recently visited a middle school in Long Island where tracking of successful students and unsuccessful students was so evident that it seemed to be a form of "apartheid." She observed students who referred to themselves as being in the "dumb class," she recalled. "What are we doing about that?," she asked members of a panel who were presenting possible ...


A Former Ed-Sec Speaks on Math and Science

A former education secretary opines about the future of math and science education in this country, and getting universities more involved in K-12.


Lessons, and Caution, in PISA

We should be wary of drawing overly broad policy conclusions from the data presented in the international test known as the PISA, a pair of scholars say.


Imagine that the Carnival of Education Were a List of Summer Films

The Learn Me Good blog has cleverly recast blog posts in this week's Carnival of Education as summer feature films. For instance, my blog entry about teacher George Mayo teaching middle school students how to make films, and teaching literacy at the same time, is recast as Mr. Mayo's Opus. In Don't Mess with the Book Whisperer, a teacher takes to heart Donalyn Miller's recommendation that it's not a good idea to teach one novel to the whole class. What do you think about Miller's seven reasons not to teach the whole class a single novel? Can some of you ...


Ask an Expert About High School Literacy

The National High School Center, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and housed at the American Institutes for Research, is hosting a discussion about how literacy can be improved in high schools. Terry Salinger, the managing director and chief scientist for reading at the AIR, is available during the month of June to answer questions about that topic. Submit your questions by e-mail. Salinger hasn't posted any questions and answers yet on the site, so maybe she hasn't yet received any. This topic is getting a lot of play within various education organizations. On June 8, ...


Introducing Students to World Hunger

Over at Digital Education, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo features online lessons about world hunger created by the United Nations World Food Program. She suggests that the lesson plans, blogs, videos, interactive games and other resources hold more promise of helping children understand world hunger issues than the standard reminders that parents use to urge kids to clean their plates at dinner. (You know the typical words: "Eat your vegetables. Children without food in India would be really happy to eat those.)...


A Forum on "Informal" Science Education

Students encounter science every day, outside formal classroom settings. These informal experiences—which occur in zoos, museums, on walks through the park, even in computer games—offer the potential to increase students' understanding and love of science, a study released earlier this year found. Next week, at 1 p.m. on June 9, EdWeek is hosting an online chat on informal science education, which will allow readers to submit questions to researchers who've studied the topic extensively. Our guests will be Philip Bell, of the University of Washington, and Heidi Schweingruber of the National Research Council. Both of them worked...


A Well-Rounded Curriculum, a More Competitive Nation?

The key to U.S. students competing with Asian and European peers? Ground them in the arts and humanities, not just reading and math, a new report by Common Core argues.


Civics in Schools: Richard Dreyfuss and a Former U.S. Senator Have the Same Goal

Actor Richard Dreyfuss is in the media limelight today for his interest in creating a curriculum to teach civics to students in grades K-12. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat from Florida, has a similar interest in seeing civics stressed more in schools and in colleges and recently wrote a book, America, The Owner's Manual, on how this can happen. He wants to see youths get engaged in politics. Dreyfuss characterizes civics as "political power." He fears that the nation's young don't understand well the origins of the United States and would like his new curriculum to help ...


Innovation: Filmmaking and Literacy

Students from the Silver Spring International Middle School got a chance to see films they'd made in an elective class at school on the big screen this morning at a film festival at a local movie theater. The movies were made as part of the class, "Lights, Camera, Literacy!," that is taught in 15 schools in the Montgomery County, Md., district as part of a middle school reform effort. That reform effort aims to make academics more engaging for students. George Mayo, an English teacher who taught the elective class at Silver Spring International to 84 students this school year (and...


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