May 2011 Archives

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which has made headlines lately because of its plans to lay off thousands of teachers, also intends to cut 85 school librarian positions. Bill Chappell of NPR reports that the librarians "have been told that they no longer count as teachers," and that "the change in classification would make it easier for the school district to cut the jobs." Chappell also writes that the librarians are being grilled by the district's lawyers—with questions such as, ""Do you know how to take attendance?" and "How many weeks are in a school year?"—as an administrative...


Steven Pearlstein at The Washington Post offers a lofty vision for the future of the U.S. education system, in which students do most of their learning through individualized online programs.


Should kids go to recess before they eat lunch rather than after? Some in the Pleasanton Unified School District in California think so, according to an article in the Contra Costa Times. The "play-first lunch" program—already used throughout Montana and in other states—first went into effect in Pleasanton at Alishal Elementary School two years ago, reports the newspaper, which covers the Contra Costa and Alameda counties in California. The concept spread to other schools in the district after administrators observed that students who went to recess first wasted less of their lunch food, were more focused in classes,...


The Wall Street Journal reports on a new study finding that negative classroom environments--often the result of school budget cuts--cause students to feel stress.


Researchers, policymakers, and parents tend to agree that effective teachers are the key to high-quality schools—and, by implication, to maintaining an educated and thriving citizenry. So why are teachers in the United States so undervalued and lately even disparaged? That's the question at the heart of "American Teacher," a new documentary produced by author Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari, a former teacher who helped Eggers create the 826 National tutoring centers. The film was shown last night at an advance screening in Washington attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and assorted other government officials and ...


NYC Educator relates a story about a student asking to charge her cell phone in the classroom, and him refusing her request (cell phones are not allowed at school). But more recently, he writes, he saw another girl pull her phone charger out of the outlet at the end of class--and he let it slide.


I had to read this story a couple of times to make sure it wasn't satire of some sort: Chicago Public Schools this week has apparently issued new guidelines—to the tune of 45 pages—designed to allow schools to provide students with a 20-minute recess break. Currently, according to the Sun-Times, due to scheduling changes implemented in the 1970s, only 42 percent of the city's schools offer recess (with many of those schools holding it only in classrooms). And in most schools, because of the limit on students' free time, teachers' lunch breaks are relegated to the end of the...


Testing pressures and curriculum mandates may have "squeezed" current events out of many schools, but a high school teacher in Farmington, Conn., takes it upon himself to teach a five-week course on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars every May, according to an article by New York Times education writer Michael Winerip. Chris Doyle, an Advanced Placement United States History teacher at Farmington High School, turns to the current wars after his students have completed their A.P. exams. He brings in combat veterans to speak to his students, and, since textbook coverage of the wars is nonexistent, assigns readings from ...


The Simpsons' 22nd season's finale began with a pointed—but not-so-timely—education-policy spoof.


For a little Friday fun, check out The Onion's satirical news article about a "budget mix-up" in which the Congressional Budget Office accidentally sent $80 billion earmarked for defense to the Department of Education.


There are two eerily similar stories this morning about students trying to poison teachers by putting things in their coffee.


Gary Rubinstein questions the data undergirding Teach For America's contention that two thirds of its alumni remain in education, with half of those continuing as teachers. He calculates that the number of TFA alums who, like himself, remain in teaching is probably something more like 10 to 15 percent—which he believes is still pretty impressive. The concern is that the higher figure—tantamount, Rubinstein contends, to "PR spin"—can have the effect of swaying education policy against other teachers: Politicians often believe it and then make policies based on it, like "those TFA teachers keep teaching so we can solve...


Noting that 21 slots for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching went unclaimed this year because of a lack of qualified applicants, Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, says that the U.S. desperately needs a "new model" for recruiting and preparing STEM teachers. He points to his own program as a possible example: The fellowships use state, philanthropic, and other resources to support, prepare, and place recent graduates and career changers with strong STEM backgrounds in classrooms where they'll do the most good. Each fellow receives a $30,000 stipend to ...


In a lengthy article published in The Atlantic that's being debated across education blogs, former New York City school chancellor Joel Klein makes the case that "a major realignment of political forces" is needed to improve the nation's education system.


They say that authentic literacy assignments can help prepare students for college. But Tobie Lynn Trachina, a 4th grade English-language learners teacher in suburban New Orleans, is taking the concept to a new level by having her students actually read and analyze college and university informational materials. As part of the project, the students have to write an essay comparing various aspects of three different schools and then, by means of a graphic organizer, choose which one they would attend. Trachina told the The Times Picayune that the project has helped the students better understand what colleges and universities have ...


What do you do when a good and kind student—a teacher's "favorite"—suddenly begins to show signs of disengagement and defiance? The drama teacher who writes at the Apple a Day Project finds herself in this situation. In a thoughful post, she's ponders whether she should swoop in and try to figure out what's going on in the student's life, or whether she needs to stop projecting her own worries and interpretations onto him and just give him space. "Yup," she sighs, "it's always the favorites that really get you ..."...


Recently, amidst teacher bashing, budget cuts, and unimpressive international rankings, it's been hard to feel good about the state of education in this country. But having spent the last week in Nicaragua and seen a slice of the education system there, I have to say I'm feeling a bit better about the way things are going on our turf.


The journal Science is publishing a study finding that, in an introductory college physics course, students placed in an experimental, collaborative-learning class performed significantly better on an end-of-course exam than students who were given a traditional lecture-based class.


Educators are more tech-savvy today then they were just two years ago, according to a survey overseen by Project Tomorrow. The findings, based on feedback compiled from 35,525 teachers, reveal a substantial increase in educators' personal use of smart phones and Facebook, as well as a 50 percent jump in the use of podcast and videos in classroom instruction. Another interesting revelation is that teacher interest in teaching an online class has grown by 76 percent since 2008. Homework also continues to be the number one way that teachers integrate technology use for student learning, above other methods such ...


When the Wasilla (Alaska) High School symphonic jazz choir's plan to sing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" at this year's graduation ceremony was suddenly cancelled due to parental complaints about the Freddy Mercury's sexual orientation, an angry—and resourceful—choir member took the matter to a local gay and lesbian support group and thence to the ACLU. The performance is back on again (although the lyrics about killing a man have been excised). "We were joking about singing Elton John's 'Candle in the Wind,' instead," noted one choir member. "I guess no matter what you do, someone's feathers are going to...


Prior to its semi-controversial Evening of Poetry event last night, the White House held a poetry workshop yesterday afternoon in which poets Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, and Alison Knowles (among others) discussed their craft and took questions from students. The video is now available....


With some 6,000 New York City teaching jobs on the chopping block, Chester E. Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, reassures Gothamites that teacher layoffs aren't necessarily bad for education, so long they aren't seniority-based. Resulting increases in class sizes, he argues, can be outset by improvements in teacher quality and technology. NYC teacher Ms. Eyre—who, despite a distaste for crowds, was planning on attending a rally for public schools this afternoon—is considerably less sanguine: I'm rallying for the kids in my class who already get too little of my time one-on-one and who desperately...


An editor in Minnesota recalls his time working as a volunteer in a struggling inner-city Minneapolis high school and what it taught him about the difficult odds teachers face in working with impoverished students. There is a great deal going on in poor students lives, he stresses, that is almost nighmarishly out of educators' control: In a sense, the reformers are right: Teachers are often the most important people in these kids' lives -- no one else is helping. But I felt these kids slipping from my grasp one by one, even when they were sitting right in front of ...


In case you missed the fireworks last week, Diane Ravitch recaps the negative reaction to Education Secretary Arne Duncan's open letter to teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. A memorable way of putting it: It [the letter] should have been about as controversial as the president's annual Thanksgiving message, but in this case the letter backfired. Teachers reacted to the letter with outrage, as if it were addressed to the turkey community on Thanksgiving Day. As Ravitch notes, the department insists that the negative feedback does not represent the views of the majority of teachers or at least teachers as a ...


Are the nuns ahead of you? Contributing to Powerful Learning Practice's "Voices from the Learning Revolution" feature, Sister Geralyn Schmidt, wide area network coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., explains how the diocese's recent integration of Web 2.0 technology into instruction is helping teachers enhance essential skills and further the schools' educational mission of outreach and discovery. She also has some advice to teachers who are wary of technology and new approaches to pedagogy: As educators in the 21st century, we must model lifelong learning, and not be reluctant to say to our students (who often understand more ...


This past Sunday, the Los Angeles Times released a major update to its elementary school teacher value-added ratings, much to the chagrin of many teachers, administrators, and civic leaders in the community. The teachers' ratings are determined by their students' progress on the California Standards Tests for English and math. This is the second time that the Times has caused a stir related to teacher ratings. Last August, the newspaper released teacher performance data for about half the number of teachers that were released on Sunday. When the Times invited teachers to view their scores before publication, only a few ...


Hot on the heels of the release of an updated set of teacher standards, a different consortium has released a similar set for teacher-leaders—those teachers who now serve in the coaching, mentoring, curriculum writing, and other roles that have proliferated over the last decade.


Yesterday I had the chance to speak with several Teacher Ambassador Fellows at the teacher town hall meeting hosted by the U.S. Department of Education.


Political blogger Matthew Yglesias points to a new report showing that nearly half of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate. In that light, he contends, it's hard to argue against the need for standardized testing in schools: Under those circumstances, I find it difficult to be seized with worry that schools are going to be ruined by teachers "teaching to the test" too much. It is true that school districts that have started taking testing more seriously now need to step up and also take the possibility of outright cheating more seriously. But the fact that huge numbers of kids ...


The White House hosted a 30-minute webinar yesterday directed at students and teachers about the killing of Osama bin Laden. Ben Rhodes, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speechwriting, began by recapping the tragic events of 9/11 and the raid on the compound last Sunday, during which Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces. Students were also briefed on Bin Laden's involvement in al Qaeda, and were shown a map of Pakistan that indicated where Abbottabad, the town in which he was hiding, is located. A couple of photos were ...


The Economist provides some fascinating—and starkly depressing—data on male employment levels in the U.S., finding that, among the so called G-7 nations, America has the lowest percentage of "prime-age" males in the workforce. Along with race, low education levels appears to play huge part in this: If you adjust official data to include men in prison or the armed forces (who are left out of the raw numbers), around 35% of 25- to 54-year-old men with no high-school diploma have no job, up from around 10% in the 1960s. Of those who finished high school but did ...


Loudoun County, Va., one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, is developing its own corps of teachers through an initiative it started eight years ago called the Teacher Cadet program. According to the Washington Post, Loudoun created the program in order to recruit and train a new generation of Loudoun natives who could fill some of the several hundred teaching positions that open up in the jurisdiction each year. Currently, there are about 200 students participating in the program, a jump from the 34 students who participated the first year. Students in the program get first-hand teaching experience when ...


The Intelligencer Journal in Lancaster, Pa., reports on a young elementary school librarian who has transformed his facility into an invaluable technology resource center for teachers and students. But that still might not save his job: He is among 20 school librarians the district is planning to furlough next fall. "It's difficult to think how different this place is going to be next year," says the school's principal, who credits the library in part for a recent jump in students' literacy scores. (HT: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, from Facebook)...


Gary Weddle, a middle school teacher in Ephrata, Wash., shaved for the first time in nearly 10 years on Sunday night, according to numerous news reports. Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Weddle vowed not to shave until Osama bin Laden was captured or killed. He thought that would be a matter of a couple of months. Alas, his beard eventually grew to 14 inches at some points, giving him, as the Huffington Post remarks, a distinct ZZ Top look. At the start of each school year, Weddle would explain to his new class of students that ...


In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari, the founders of the tutoring organization 826 National, highlight the need to recruit and retain a new generation of talented teachers, with 3.2 million K-12 teachers expected to retire in the next 10 years.


Last night's killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. military is a momentous—and complicated—event that will shape our nation's history.


Michelle Shearer, a chemistry teacher at Urbana High School in Ijamsville, Md., has been selected as the 61st National Teacher of the Year, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers.


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