March 2007 Archives

It’s an irony of the testing era that many educators have pointed out: As fateful as standardized tests have become for schools, they generally have little significance for the kids who actually take them. The San Marcos Unified School District in California wants to change that by implementing a “grade bump” program that would enable high school students to boost their course grades by scoring well on state tests. The idea is to give transcript-conscious students a reason to take the tests more seriously. “It’s demoralizing when you know that the school is being graded and the student ...


As tech-savvy as Americans like to think they are, a new report by the World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 7th in terms of its development and use of technology. At the top of the heap is Denmark, followed by Sweden, Singapore, Finland, and Switzerland. Although the U.S. is still technologically formidable, according to the forum, its pesky regulatory rules and the snail’s pace at which individuals and organizations adopt new technology is allowing other countries to pull ahead. The forum’s report echoes assertions made in a recent study by the U.S.-based AEA (formerly ...


After the death of a star student last spring, Florida high school teacher Paul Moore got to thinking about accountability. The student, Jeffrey Johnson, was the third at Miami Carol City Senior High School to be shot to death that academic year. Moore drafted a petition to governor Charlie Crist demanding that he make the state's schools and their surrounding communities safer. He concluded: "You are accountable to us for it!" Moore's petition, which several thousand people have signed, focuses on tightening Florida's gun laws, which are among the most lenient in the country. "I see these kids as the ...


The mantra at most schools these days—and rightly so—is something along the lines of, “All of our students will succeed.” But is that what every teacher really thinks? When it comes to city schools, at least, the answer is no. A new survey, sponsored by the National School Boards Association, finds that of the 4,700 K-12 educators polled anonymously in a dozen urban districts, 25 percent said most kids wouldn’t succeed in a community college or university. And another 18 percent weren’t certain. Administrators, perhaps predictably, weren’t as pessimistic: While roughly 16 percent admitted ...


Public-school integration has been the law of the land ever since 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” schooling unconstitutional. But now a class-action lawsuit in Florida charges that the Pinellas County School Board’s policy of equal access to education has unconstitutionally failed to properly educate the district's 20,000 African American students. The suit, headed for trial this July, was filed seven years ago by a father on behalf of his son, then a student at Sawgrass Elementary School in St. Petersburg. The boy had academic problems that were "typical of those difficulties commonly ...


An award-winning poet is speaking out in defense of two teachers in Los Angeles who were fired in connection with a planned recital of one of her poems. Earlier this month, administrators at the Celerity Nascent Charter School dismissed teachers Marisol Alba and Sean Strauss for signing a student’s letter protesting the school’s decision to cancel a reading of Marilyn Nelson’s poem “A Wreath for Emmett Till” during a Black History Month program. Now Nelson, a former National Book Award finalist, is urging that the teachers be reinstated. “It’s a terrible injustice,” she said. “I wanted ...


The news stories pop up with a regularity that triggers yawns instead of gasps: A student's "hit list" has been found in a locker, notebook, or online. It contains the names of classmates and categorizes them according to the harm the writer wants to inflict upon them—ranging from "kill" to "knock out cold." As hit lists become almost commonplace, school officials and experts are debating both what the lists mean and how best to respond. "It's like a fad ... It becomes something that's popular to do," says a university professor who's studied kids who kill their peers. Some students...


Science fairs have long been an education staple, but students in Florida displayed their knowledge of a different subject this week. The Polk County History Fair's theme of "Triumph and Tragedy" inspired interactive exhibits on the Black Death, Galileo's criminal trial, the Warsaw ghetto, and other scenes from the past. Two students even performed a skit on the history of standardized testing. "Anyone can sit in a classroom all day and learn," said Brittany Stephens, one half of the testing-skit duo. "But with the [history fair], you get involved and care about your subject." Rozy Scott, the district's American history ...


Like flowers in spring, those little tricks that supposedly boost student performance pop up every standardized-testing season. Some paint classroom walls a soothing pink while others, hoping to pump the adrenaline, lead pre-test physical exercises. In parts of Maryland this week, they’re handing out peppermint candies. And, as it turns out, there may be a good scientific reason. Back in the ’90s, a study at the University of Cincinnati concluded that the peppermint scent helped test subjects focus better on long-term tasks. Reactions at the 800-student Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring are mixed. “I don’t think [peppermint] ...


What if there were someone at each high school whose only responsibility was to keep students from dropping out? That’s the job description of 363 newly minted “graduation coaches” in Georgia, but the description is the only easy part of the work: about a third of the state’s high school students never make it to commencement. “Figuring out the best way to do this job has been a constant challenge,” says Kim Stewart, a former English teacher and guidance counselor who became North Gwinnett High School’s graduation coach when the program was launched this year. “But I’m...


From the changing-world department: An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal laments the displacement of libraries in today’s learning environment. While many adults “recall the libraries of our childhoods as magical places,” writes columnist Jeff Zaslow, kids today—virtually weaned on Google—“feel little connection” to the local stacks. “The library is removed from their lives,” comments one retired librarian. “It’s a last-ditch place to go if they need to find something out.” Zaslow believes the trend has a direct educational impact: As students become more reliant on the Internet for schoolwork, he says, many get to ...


Gary Spina grew up reading Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson, hunting squirrels, exploring the woods, and failing in school. "I never wanted to see the inside of a school again," he recalls. "I knew I wanted to experience things." So when his circuitous career path—including stints in the military, the police, and the merchant marine—delivered him back to a classroom to teach English, he understood his students' aversion to studying grammar. He tried to make it less painful by replacing the dry examples from the textbooks with sentences about his many adventures. Recently, he parlayed these into...


Perfection is an ideal, not a real-world goal. The politicians working on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind may realize this, but that doesn't mean they're ready to lower the law's requirement that 100 percent of children reach proficiency in reading and math by 2014. The reason: rhetoric. "There is a zero percent chance that we will ever reach a 100 percent target," said Robert Linn, codirector of UCLA's National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing. "But because the title of the law is so rhetorically brilliant, politicians are afraid to change this completely unrealistic standard. ...


Anyone who’s seen the film or stage version knows that The Fully Monty isn’t so much about seeing naked men as it is witnessing out-of-work guys finally find employment—in a strip show. But the opposite is true for Jason Brenner, a music teacher at Lemon Bay High School in Florida, who was told by school officials to either remove himself from the show’s nude scene or resign. Brenner plans to do the latter after he finishes the show’s run at a local theater March 18. School officials claim their decision is a moral, not an ...


Remember that Houston merit-pay mess a couple of months ago? It’s just gotten messier. In January, under the largest merit-pay program of its kind, school officials doled out $14 million to almost 8,000 staffers. Exactly who got what became public record—and a public outcry—after a local newspaper printed names and dollar figures. Perplexingly, some teachers of the year were not among the recipients, who got anywhere from $100 to more than $7,000. So then administrators gave out $1 million more to cover the hundreds of overlooked teachers. Now comes word that 99 teachers will have ...


You could argue that one thing worse than being attacked by a student is being told by administrators to keep quiet. But that may be happening in Baltimore, Maryland, where supposedly gang-affiliated middle-schoolers recently burst into two classrooms, cut the lights, and then pummeled the teachers. Although these and other attacks have been reported, the Baltimore Teachers Union claims that many similar incidents have not because administrators are seeking to avoid a school label of “persistently dangerous.” Pat Ferguson, chair of BTU’s school safety committee, says that, while 25 official complaints have been logged this year, an additional 50 ...


Sometimes education is uncomfortable. That's what a group of middle-schoolers in Anderson, Indiana, found out when each student was tagged with a randomly assigned black or white sticker representing race as part of a Black History Month exercise. The students wearing black stickers were segregated into separate classes and had to use the "Colored" water fountain, which only dispensed warm water. The simulation included sessions where teachers and volunteers acted out some of the social scenarios that would have been commonplace before the civil rights era. "This would be pretty bad day in and day out, " said one 7th grader, ...


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