November 2006 Archives

Even as educators throughout country strive after innovative new strategies to improve the literacy skills of low-income and minority students, a small middle school in the Bronx is banking on an old one: teaching Latin. The three-year-old Bronx Latin School is premised on the notion that studying the classical language, with its intricate grammatical system and building-block vocabulary, will bolster kids’ knowledge of English. And there’s some evidence to suggest that the plan might be working: On a recent state English exam, Bronx Latin 7th graders outscored their neighborhood peers by nearly 20 percentage points. Skeptics question the long-term ...


The real meaning of “highly qualified” teacher may just have gotten a little murkier. A new study by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University has concluded that, on the whole, teachers without certification are just as effective as their certified counterparts. Looking at the standardized test scores of students in New York City, the study found that, by their third year on the job, both uncertified and alternatively certified teachers perform just as well as traditionally certified teachers. The moral, according to the researchers, is that school systems should spend less time focusing on teachers’ certification status and more on ...


The days of quaint school Thanksgiving assemblies featuring pint-sized Pilgrims and Indians breaking bread together may be on the way out. Increasingly, school and teachers are taking a harder look at the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations and turning a critical eye to what might have been left out. San Francisco Teacher Bill Morgan, for example, walks into his 3rd grade classroom and takes away students' pencils and backpacks, saying he's "discovered" them. When the kids protest, he uses it as a jumping-off point for a lesson on the complexities of Pilgrim/Indian relationships. Some American Indian organizations are embracing such methods, ...


The new Democratic-majority Congress will have a lot ponder when it takes up reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act next year. Drawing on a range of different student-performance measures, a number of recent studies have concluded that little progress has been made toward the law’s central goal of closing the achievement gap between minority and white students by 2014. “Poor and minority students are doing very poorly, and in most states are not making significant gains—and this in spite of NCLB and all the other reforms of the past 15 years,” commented Chester Finn Jr., president ...


Getting teenagers to talk about their problems or their worries about classmates is no easy task. But Westfield High School in Houston has come up with a method its officials think may make some inroads with a generation immersed in instant messaging and MySpace. With the help of a communication firm, the school has set up a private Web site to which students can e-mail anonymous tips about their own or their peers’ issues. The system then provides regular reports to help the school’s staff address trouble spots—bullying and self-mutilation being the greatest last year. Students’ identities are ...


This is obviously a big week for political performances, but another drama is being played out on a stage in Greenwich Village: an off-Broadway one-woman show entitled No Child. For more than six months and 170 performances, Nilaja Sun has played all the roles in a show about a teacher trying to stage a play with underprivileged kids in the Bronx. “When I wrote this piece, I thought I’d be doing it for three weeks for the standard theatergoing audience,” says Sun, who spent eight years as a guest artist in New York City schools. Critics, however, weren’t ...


Yet another sign that the traditional classroom is undergoing a transformation: School districts in Texas, among other places, are increasingly replacing hardcover textbooks with e-books. In the most extreme case, the Forney district in north-central Texas is in the midst of a plan to use only digital textbooks in grades 5 through 12 within two years. (The initiative depends on the passage of school bond package that includes $11.8 million for student laptops and systems upgrades.) Among the advantages of e-books, school officials say, are that they are easier to update and can be ordered more quickly than traditional ...


When parents in Simsbury, Connecticut, became concerned that their high school’s demanding grading system was jeopardizing students’ chances for admissions into elite colleges, a local nuclear engineer decided to do something about it. Robert M. Hartranft, a self-proclaimed workaholic who was forced into early retirement because of Parkinson’s disease, developed an extensive mathematical model to compare school grading systems across the nation by tracking grade-point averages against SAT scores. The model can thus purportedly show, for example, that a B at Simsbury High School is equivalent to an A at many other schools. Simsbury High now includes the ...


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