February 2007 Archives

So your district's students aren't performing well on state standardized tests? Here's one way to motivate them: Allow students who pass the state tests to skip their in-class final exams. That's what's planned for spring semester at Cypress-Fairbanks district high schools in Houston, Texas, where students who pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and have at least a D average can say "no thanks" to several final exams. But some parents and education experts are uneasy about the plan and the message about mediocrity that students might take away. "Who wants their kids going to a district who ...


Two National Assessment of Educational Progress reports were released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education. One found that students who graduated in 2005 had racked up more high school credits, more college-preparatory classes, and markedly higher grade-point averages than students 15 years ago. The other report showed that 12th grade reading scores on standardized tests have generally been dropping since 1992, which throws into doubt what students are actually learning in those ostensibly college-prep classes, but also whether two decades of education reform have actually made any significant headway. Math scores were also low—fewer than one-quarter of the...


This year’s winner of the highly coveted Newbery Medal, The Higher Power of Lucky, is a book you may not see on your school’s library shelves. Why? Because of one word that refers to a part of a male dog’s anatomy that’s been bitten by a snake. The book’s 10-year-old eponymous heroine, after hearing the word, thinks it sounds “like something green that comes up when you have the flu.” And on one of the many school-library-affiliated mailing lists abuzz with debate over Lucky, the reference is compared to “Howard Stern-type shock treatment.” As school ...


Most people agree that teachers should not be allowed to turn their classrooms into forums for their personal and political beliefs. But where is the line? Legislators in Arizona are working on a proposed law that would prohibit instructors in public schools and colleges from expressing opinions on politically contentious issues. "In any class, any issue could be discussed as long as the instructor is neutral on the issue and not telling you what your conclusion should be," said the bill's author. But some worry the law would discourage classroom discussions on controversial subjects, or require educators to bend over ...


It’s perhaps a sign of the times—when public schools are being pressured to pour every available resource into acing standardized tests—that the Scotts Valley Unified School District in California is asking parents to donate $36.13 for each school day a student is absent. The exception: sick days. “If a child is sick, we want that child to stay at home,” Superintendent Susan Silver explained. “But if a child is out skiing or going to Disneyland or whatever, that has a financial effect on other children in the district.” That’s because California funds schools according to ...


Just when you were getting used to the idea of a Highly Qualified Teacher requirement, a high-profile panel comes along and says what we really need is a Highly Qualified Effective Teacher requirement. A much-anticipated report by the Commission on No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan panel convened by the Aspen Institute to advise Congress on refurbishing NCLB, recommends that states be required to set up systems to track teachers’ effectiveness based on student achievement data over time, as well as principal and peer evaluations. Under the plan, if a teacher does not achieve “HQET status” after five years (including ...


What do you do with mostly low-income students from single-parent families who need something constructive to keep them busy after school? If you’re Confluence Academy, a charter school in St. Louis, you create a table tennis team coached by a Chinese pro. Sheri Xu, a former junior champion from Shanghai, is the one who, during a dinner party, suggested forming the team to school founder Susan Uchitelle. Effusive in her praise, Uchitelle says of the sport, known more commonly as pingpong: “It ties in with achievement. [The students] have to concentrate, have agility ... practice for hours.” She’s not ...


Forget about grievance policies and transfer rules—the teachers union in Newark, New Jersey, has more important things to worry about these days. The union recently paid for six billboards in the city that read “HELP WANTED: STOP THE KILLINGS IN NEWARK.” At least 106 people have been murdered in the city of 227,000 in the past year—a wave of violence that the union says has become a grim working-conditions issue for educators. Some 100 teachers have resigned or retired from Newark schools since September, and in a recent poll, the union’s members cited improving safety and ...


Maybe you won’t need that summer job after all. A new report by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative New York think tank, finds that teachers actually have it pretty good. Who knew? The report, which looked at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that teachers’ average hourly wage in 2005 was $34.06—roughly $9 more than the average for other white-collar workers. “It’s a widely held belief that public school teachers are horribly paid,” said Jay P. Greene, one of the report’s authors. “The facts are public school teachers make more than ...


How would you feel if you discovered that a kid in your class, a seemingly shy 7th grader, was really a 29-year-old convicted sex offender? “Our staff is devastated,” says Rhonda Cagle, spokeswoman for Imagine Charter School in Surprise, Arizona, where “Casey Price” was enrolled for four months before being kicked out for attendance problems. The man’s real name is Neil H. Roderick II, and it wasn’t until after he’d attempted to enroll in two other Arizona charters that school officials alerted police, thinking, ironically, that the 5-foot-8-inch, 120-pound “Casey,” who claimed to be 12, was possibly ...


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