Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools: Results of a National Survey

Nancy Rhodes & Ingrid Pufahl:

CAL has completed a comprehensive survey of K-12 foreign language programs nationwide, describing how our schools are meeting the need for language instruction to prepare global citizens. For comparative purposes, the survey has collected statistical data in 1987, 1997, and 2008. Elementary and secondary schools from a nationally representative sample of more the 5,000 public and private schools completed a questionnaire during the 2007-2008 school year. The 2008 survey results complement and enhance the field’s existing knowledge base regarding foreign language instruction and enrollment in the United States.
The report of the survey, Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools: Results of a National Survey, provides detailed information on current patterns and shifts over the past 20 years in languages and programs offered, enrollment in language programs, curricula, assessment, and teaching materials, qualifications, and trainings, as well as reactions to national reform issues such as the national foreign language standards and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. The survey results revealed that foreign language instruction remained relatively stable at the high school level over the past decade but decreased substantially in elementary and middle schools. Moreover, only a small percentage of the elementary and middle schools not teaching languages planned to implement a language program within the next two years. The findings indicate a serious disconnect between the national call to educate world citizens with high-level language skills and the current state of foreign language instruction in schools across the country. This report contains complete survey results, along with recommendations on developing rigorous long sequence (K-12 programs whose goals are for students to achieve high levels of language proficiency, and are of interest to anyone interested in increasing language capacity in the United States. 2009.

Jay Matthews comments.

The truth about Arne Duncan and the Chicago schools

Jay Matthews:

My colleague Nick Anderson, the Post’s national education reporter, has done a wonderfully balanced and nuanced job of answering a question I am often asked: If Arne Duncan is such a hotshot education secretary, then why are the Chicago schools he once led so bad?
Anderson’s front page story Tuesday provides all the relevant facts—disappointing test score gains, watered-down Illinois state standards, Duncan turnaround projects that didn’t work. But he also puts it in context, showing where Duncan forced some improvements and how daunting Chicago’s problems are.
He also makes it clear that you can’t expect anyone to transform our urban school systems in a big way quickly. The improvements that occur are always on the margins. Those districts will never rise to the level of their suburban neighbors. But you can see Duncan has been working at this very hard for many years, and (if you look at what he has actually said rather than what sloppy writers like me have suggested) he has been honest about how far his home town still needs to go.

Getting an education–it’s about power

Jay Matthews:

We all know that securing a good education for your children is strongly influenced by clout. Do we have it or not? The mayor’s kid usually gets more attention than the grocery checker’s kid. If you have taken the trouble to make friends with the principal, you are more likely to get your way than if you never appear in the building, or even PTA meetings.
But rarely have I seen a better illustration of this than my colleague Emma Brown’s terrific piece leading the Monday Metro section about how much Army and Marine Corps families are gaining from those services’ decisions to back their members when they seek help for children with disabilities.
Among other examples, she tells how Karen Driscoll, wife of a Marine Corps officer, was told by officials of a northern San Diego County school district that they could only offer a classroom aide for her son ten hours a week. The child’s previous school in Fairfax County had provided 21 hours and told her that was what she deserved under federal law.
Most parents seeking special education services know what that means. They are in for a long period of testy meetings, long emails, expensive private evaluations and maybe even legal action before they get what they need, if they ever do. But because of a new Marine Corps initiative, Driscoll had the services of a caseworker and a special education attorney in her meetings with school officials, and soon got what she was looking for.

Teacher Support for Compensation Reform Surveys Show Less Experienced Teachers Are More Supportive of Differentiated Compensation

Robin Chait:

Download this memo (pdf)

Policymakers have grappled in recent years with strategies for improving the effectiveness of the teaching workforce, particularly that segment serving students in poverty. There is a growing consensus that state and district systems for attracting, evaluating, developing, compensating, and retaining effective teachers are in need of a major overhaul. Three polls find that inexperienced teachers are open to reforms to one of these systems–compensation systems.
A number of promising compensation reform programs have shown that changes in payment structures often include upgrades to other systems as well, such as those needed for evaluating and developing teachers. It is unclear whether inexperienced teachers will continue to support differentiated compensation as they become more experienced, but these findings indicate that the time is ripe for targeting differentiated compensation to new teachers at the federal, state, and district level.
Targeting these new teachers is critical. Reforming the profession in ways that appeal to them could help increase the retention rates of the effective teachers in this group. Several forms of differentiated compensation reward the most effective teachers, hopefully increasing the proportion of highly effective teachers in the profession. And it is likely that these teachers will be more supportive of differentiated compensation as veterans if they have a positive experience with it early on in their career. If districts want to reform compensation systems more broadly, it is important that they eventually have veterans on board with these reforms.

30% of Teens Report Abuse in Relationships

Katie Couric:

“All I remember was landing face first on the floor,” said Tina, 18.
Tina – disguised for her safety – says the violence spiraled out of control during her six-month relationship with her 17-year-old boyfriend.
“I remember he got on top of me and he was slapping me back and forth,” Tina said. “And he said, ‘next time you walk by me, acknowledge me. Say that you love me.'”
Raped, beaten and berated on a regular basis, she stayed with him, believing the abuse was part of a normal relationship.
“I knew my aunt went through it so I thought, you know, if she stuck it out with him, with her husband for years, that I should just do the same and keep my mouth shut,” she added.
When another 15-year old – who did not want to be indentified – met a cute boy in one of her high school classes – she was smitten.

A much-needed message from state’s education commissioner

Newsday:

David Steiner, New York’s new education commissioner, gave a stirring address last week about where he hopes to lead public education in this state. He’s setting his sights very high, and both his message and his method are laudable. The State Education Department has needed an effective communicator at the top.
“Teaching well is a deeply complex professional activity,” Steiner told the Board..

In East Bay, where pollution goes, health problems follow

Sandy Kleffman & Suzanne Bohan:

In some hardscrabble East Bay neighborhoods, people die of heart disease and cancer at three times the rates found just a few miles away in more well-to-do communities.
Children living near busy freeways in Oakland are hospitalized for asthma at 12 times the rate of young people in Lafayette’s wooded housing tracts.
The East Bay’s striking health inequities extend far beyond life expectancy and involve more than differences between the rich and the poor. Disparities exist up and down the East Bay’s socioeconomic ladder, according to data compiled by the Alameda County Public Health Department for Bay Area News Group.
Middle-class communities in Dublin, Castro Valley and Fremont have higher heart disease death rates than wealthier neighborhoods in Walnut Creek and Berkeley, but lower rates than struggling areas of East Oakland and North Richmond.
These facts have led public-health leaders to advocate to equalize opportunities for healthful living, instead of focusing only on a never-ending battle to treat disease.

Silicon Valley companies’ help needed to shore up math education

Muhammed Chaudhry:

Thirteen-year-old Kayla Savage was failing math. Like many of her classmates in middle school, she hated the subject. Stuck in a large seventh-grade class with a teacher who had little time to offer individual help, Kayla was lost among rational numbers and polynomials.
Her frustration led to a phobia of math, an all-too-common affliction that often starts in middle school and threatens to derail students’ future math studies in high school and chances for college.
Kayla is like thousands of students across America who struggle with math. The struggle in California is borne out by this grim U.S. Education Department statistic: Students in California rank 40th in eighth-grade math, a critical year in math learning that sets the path for math success in high school and beyond.
In Santa Clara County, only about 39 percent of eighth-graders meet the California standard for Algebra I proficiency. One study showed that less than one-third of eighth-graders have the skills or interest to pursue a math or science career. Yet these careers are the drivers of our future.

Silicon Valley Education Foundation.

Notes on the history of information overload

David Weinberger:

I spent most of today tracking down some information about the history of information overload, so I though I’d blog it in case someone else is looking into this. Also, I may well be getting it wrong, in which case please correct me. (The following is sketchy because it’s just notes ‘n’ pointers.)
I started with Alvin Toffler’s explanation of info overload in the 1970 edition of Future Shock. He introduces the concept carefully, expressing it as the next syndrome up from sensory overload.
So, I tried to find the origins of the phrase “sensory overload.” The earliest reference I could find (after getting some help from the Twitterverse, which pointed me to a citation in the OED) was in coverage of a June, 1958 talk at a conference held at Harvard Medical School. The article in Science (vol 129, p. 222) lists some of the papers, including:

Educators face new challenges

Canan Tasci:

The decade began with ambitious plans for raising the bar on public education and student achievement.
After winning office as the nation’s 43rd president, George W. Bush introduced a federal program, dubbed No Child Left Behind, aimed at improving education through higher standards and greater accountability.
For the better part of the decade, educators and school administrators worked diligently to implement the program and meet its expectations.
More recently, however, a recession of historic proportions has taken a heavy toll on the public school system, prompting deep budget cuts, and in some cases, a rethinking of what schools will offer.
“Our future depends on our ability to prepare the next generation for success in the hyper-competitive global economy,” said Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. “In order to deliver the quality education our students need, we must get off this budget roller coaster and find a stable, long-term solution to education funding. Our future depends on it.”

Kindness taught in Seattle school’s online class

Linda Shaw:

If you recently found a shiny gold dollar coin in downtown Bellevue, thank the kindness class. Ditto if you stumbled upon a piece of glass art in Pioneer Square, or a lottery ticket taped to a bus shelter with a note saying, “This may be your lucky day.”
Since mid-September, the 250 people in Puget Sound Community School’s online course learned about kindness by practicing it.
Along the way, they took emotional risks, repaired relationships, improved their outlook on the world, and realized that kindness is contagious.

Times Guest Column on STEM Education

Charlie Mas:

There was a guest column in the Seattle Times by Bonnie Dunbar, the president and CEO of The Museum of Flight and a former astronaut, encouraging the community to support STEM education efforts.
The column itself was the usual pointless pablum that we typically see in these guest columns. Lots of goals with no action plan. The interesting bit, as usual, comes in the reader comments in which members of the community writes that we DON’T need more engineers because there are lots of them standing in unemployment lines and that engineering jobs are being outsourced to India and China or to people from India and China who come to the U.S. on guest worker visas.
This article is also written completely without reference to the ineffective math education methods adopted over the past ten years.

Indicators of School Crime & Safety: 2008

National Center for Education Statistics:

A joint effort by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics, this annual report examines crime occurring in school as well as on the way to and from school. It provides the most current detailed statistical information to inform the Nation on the nature of crime in schools. This report presents data on crime at school from the perspectives of students, teachers, principals, and the general population from an array of sources–the National Crime Victimization Survey, the School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the School Survey on Crime and Safety and the School and Staffing Survey. Data on crime away from school are also presented to place school crime in the context of crime in the larger society.

Test Data Help Cloud Duncan’s Legacy as Chicago Schools Chief

Nick Anderson:

Soon after Arne Duncan left his job as schools chief here to become one of the most powerful U.S. education secretaries ever, his former students sat for federal achievement tests. This month, the mathematics report card was delivered: Chicago trailed several cities in performance and progress made over six years.
Miami, Houston and New York had higher scores than Chicago on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Boston, San Diego and Atlanta had bigger gains. Even fourth-graders in the much-maligned D.C. schools improved nearly twice as much since 2003.
The federal readout is just one measure of Duncan’s record as chief executive of the nation’s third-largest system. Others show advances on various fronts. But the new math scores signal that Chicago is nowhere near the head of the pack in urban school improvement, even though Duncan often cites the successes of his tenure as he crusades to fix public education.

On Teacher Mentoring

Amy Hetzner:

Every morning before their classes start at North Middle School in Menomonee Falls, teachers Becky Zimprich and Kristi Seston have a chance to catch up with each other.
Everything from instructional questions about how to handle specific issues with students to more technical inquiries about how to navigate the district’s grading system is fodder for the discussions between the two. The fellow teachers of English language learners were paired up by the Menomonee Falls School District’s mentoring program for Zimprich’s first year teaching in the district.
“I find the mentoring program awesome,” said Zimprich, who has 16 years teaching experience, mostly in elementary and technology education. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a new teacher or experienced teacher. It helps you acclimate to the school. It helps you acclimate to the district.”

Menomonee Falls Superintendent Keith Marty is a consultant for the Madison school District’s  “Strategic Planning Process“.

Technology Leapfrogs Schools and Jurisdictions

James Warren:

Plainfield East High School doesn’t have a senior class. But it clearly possesses a new staple of American education: “sexting.” I urge a surely chagrined Principal Anthony Manville to buy several large boxes of fig leaves.
A 16-year-old honors student took a nude photo of herself, used her cellphone to send it to a friend and, bingo, for the last two weeks the photo has made the rounds of the three-year-old school with 1,300 students. Plainfield police seized some students’ phones and passed them on to computer forensic experts at the Will County Sheriff’s Department.
The school is contemplating punishment, the police are interviewing students and James Glasgow, the Will County state’s attorney, is mulling whether to prosecute anybody under Illinois child pornography statutes. In the meantime, everybody can spend time off over the holiday cheerfully consuming “Teens and Sexting,” a study just completed by the Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center.
Based partly on a survey of 800 teenagers, parents and guardians, it underscores the role of cellphones “in the sexual lives of teens and young adults.” Four percent of the teenagers indicated that had dispatched “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves” via text messaging, while 15 percent claimed they had received such images of a person they know.

Autism epidemic in Monroe County, Indiana

Steven Higgs:

Data from local school and federal public health officials suggest that children in Monroe County, Ind., are diagnosed with autism at nearly double the epidemic rate that afflicts the nation.
On Dec. 18, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report that put the incidence of autism in the United States at 1 in 110 for children born in 1996, or 0.9 percent of the population. A survey, sponsored by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration and published in the journal Pediatrics in October, showed 1 in 91 children between the ages of 3 and 17 had autism.

Advantages and Drawbacks to Attending a (Mostly) Women’s College

Susan O’Doherty:

Recent discussions on this blog about gender balance in colleges and universities have sparked a number of memories of my own college experiences. I thought it would be interesting to share them here and to invite you to share yours, as well.
As noted previously, in 1970 I entered a small college that had, until that year, been the “sister school” of a nearby men’s university. There were only a handful of men in my class, and of course none in the more advanced classes.
I had applied to only three colleges in total, all chosen by my parents, and all in the South; two private women’s schools and this, a well regarded branch of a state university system. I was accepted at all three, and my parents chose to send me to the cheapest school. I was in no position, or mood to argue; I had narrowly escaped secretarial school, at which I would have been a complete failure; I had no money, and because my parents did have money I was not eligible for the juiciest scholarships. I was grateful to be going anywhere.

2010 Education Appropriations Guide

Jason Delisle:

Congress completed the fiscal year 2010 appropriations process on Dec. 13, 2009, finalizing annual funding for nearly all federal education programs through September 2010 at $63.7 billion, up $1.1 billion from the prior year, excluding economic stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Making sense of the federal education budget and the appropriations process can be a frustrating task for education advocates, state and local policymakers, the media, and the public. The now concluded fiscal year 2010 appropriations process is no exception.
This issue brief is intended to be a helpful guide to the appropriations process and recently enacted fiscal year 2010 education funding. It includes an analysis of funding for major education programs and a timeline of the 2010 appropriations process. It also includes exclusive tables comparing 2010 funding to prior years, the president’s budget request, and funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Complete PDF Report

Report Finds Problems Plague State-run Juvenile Detention Centers

Cindy Rodriguez:

A report by a state task force recommended today that Gov. David Paterson close or significantly downsize state run juvenile detention facilities. A draft copy of the report obtained by WNYC, says the facilities are damaging young people and wasting taxpayer dollars.
Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, headed the task force and says the state must shift from a punitive approach to one that’s therapeutic.
The report says 1,600 youth enter the facilities annually, costing the state about $200,000 a year per child. Travis says those resources should be reinvested in services for youth.
“This is a big challenge that we are laying at the doorstep of the state of New York here,” he says. “Other states have made the shift and we have every confidence that New York State can make this transformation as well.”

MMSD Reading and the Poverty Achievement Gap

“The research around early reading intervention illuminates the complex decision making required to meet individual student literacy needs. There seems to be no one right answer, no quick fix for success. While recent research brings up questions as to the cost/benefit of Reading Recovery, what other supports and options are available? One thing is certain, alternative interventions must be in place prior to removing current systems.” Summary, “Reading Recovery: A Synthesis of Research, Data Analysis and Recommendations,” Madison Metropolitan School District Report to the Board of Education, December, 2009.

How well are we teaching our children to read?
The “Annual Measurable Objectives” under No Child Left Behind for Wisconsin call for all students to achieve reading levels of proficient or better under the WKCE by the 2013-14 school year. Benchmarks toward that goal are phased in over time. The current intermediate goal (ending this school year) is 74%. (Put another way, the percentage of students who are below proficient should not exceed 26%.) The goals move up to 80.5% in 2010-11, 87% in 2011-12, and 93.5% in 2012-13.
71.7% of MMSD 3rd graders scored at or above the proficient level on last year’s (November 2008) WKCE reading assessment (this and the rest of the WKCE data cited here are from the DPI web site). This did not quite meet the 74% Annual Measurable Objective. We should be concerned that achievement levels are going down even as achievement targets are going up:
mmsd_grade_3_reading_and_annual_measurable_objectives(2).png
The Annual Measurable Objectives also apply to demographic subgroups, including economically disadvantaged students. Economically disadvantaged students—whose futures are almost wholly dependent on the ability of their schools to teach them to read—and their achievement levels deserve particular attention.
How well are we teaching our children from low-income families to read?
%below_proficient_wkce_reading_-_economically_disadvantaged_3rd_graders.png
Can we continue to explain/excuse/blame poverty rates for this failure?
%_of_economically_disadvantaged_3rd_grade_students.png
What should we do to acknowledge and address this crisis?

Austin, TX School District Budget Survey

Austin Independent School District:

Budget Shortfall: The district is facing a budget shortfall of $15M for FY 2010-11 just to cover normal operating expenses. This deficit grows even larger when additional budget increases are considered for new Instructional programming tied to the District’s Strategic Plan and employee raises. The district is now contemplating various budget reduction proposals to assist in closing the budget gap for FY 2010-11. The District would like to obtain your input and feedback to the proposals that are currently being considered.
The Efficiency Study: In August 2008, the Board of Trustees commissioned an efficiency study that was conducted in May 2009. The study recommended a number of cost savings proposals to assist the District in making budgetary cuts. The District implemented nearly a quarter of the proposed recommendations from the report. A number of the proposals were rejected due to the severity of impact that would have occurred at local schools. Please click on the link: Budget Survey.

YC-Funded Lingt Uses Games To Turn You Into A Language Learning Addict

Jason Kincaid:

If there’s one thing that 2009 proved, it’s that there’s nothing like an addictive game to keep people coming back to your service for more. Over the last year, we’ve seen Foursquare and Gowalla tap into this with their colorful badges, and Zynga is making a killing off games like Farmville. But what if you could turn that habit into something that might actually be helpful to school or your career? That’s the premise behind Lingt, a new startup that’s looking to leverage gameplay elements to help with the mother of all repetitive tasks: learning a new language.
The Y Combinator funded company is launching today in public beta, offering a suite of matching games to help English speakers learn Chinese. Using the app is quite straightforward. First, you choose a set of words that you need to learn. You can use a one of Lingt’s suggested lists, a list of vocabulary words drawn from one of thirty US/Chinese textbooks, or you can manually enter your own words. From there, the site will quiz you on the meaning of the words. You can either input your answers via text, by saying them aloud, or as a matching game (click on one of five choices).

Students seek clout beyond campuses

Tim Holt:

An earlier generation of college students took on the Vietnam War. Now a new generation is poised to take on the mess in Sacramento.
This Christmas break, students from University of California and state and community college campuses will fan out across the state to collect signatures in support of an initiative that would free the Legislature from its two-thirds vote requirement on budget and revenue matters. Their goal is to collect enough signatures by April 15 to qualify for the November 2010 ballot.
Amid a welter of sit-ins, teach-ins and building takeovers, this is a bold effort to reach beyond the campuses and address the chronic problems of a dysfunctional Legislature and the state’s fiscal crisis. If it passes, the California Democracy Act will allow a simple majority in the Legislature to pass a budget and balance it if necessary with new revenue sources.

School district, Austin Education Association reach contract agreement: no salary increases and no benefit changes for two years

Rachel Drewelow:

Austin Public School (APS) District and the Austin Education Association announced Wednesday that they have reached a contract agreement.
The agreement includes no salary increases and no changes to insurance for the duration of the contract — the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 years. Approximately 85 percent of association members voted this week. Of voters, 91 percent voted yes to ratify the new contract.>

Related: Madison School District & Madison Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement: 3.93% Increase Year 1, 3.99% Year 2; Base Rate $33,242 Year 1, $33,575 Year 2: Requires 50% MTI 4K Members and will “Review the content and frequency of report cards”.

Extending Foster Care Past 18

Daniel Heimpel:

George White, 17, knows what happens to many California kids like him when they age out of the foster-care system. One of White’s eight biological siblings recently turned 18. When the payments stopped, his foster parents packed his belongings into plastic trash bags, leaving the teenager homeless while juggling work and classes at an L.A. trade school.
Of the roughly 4,500 18-year-olds who will “emancipate” from care in California every year, one quarter will experience homelessness like White’s brother. To drive this statistic home, White has organized a 4K run through Compton and will ride his bike 1,149 miles: each mile representing one California foster youth who will spend time on the street, in a shelter, or couch surfing. “It’s not enough having people on Capitol Hill saying they will or want to help you, you have to help yourself,” he says in the Compton offices of Peace 4 Kids, an organization that works to provide opportunity for foster kids in a community where services are notoriously lacking.
Last year, Congress authorized giving states matching federal funds to extend foster care until age 21. But the way that law is interpreted could mean that in 27 states, including California and the District of Columbia, 18-year-olds would still be left out in the cold.

Some See Benefits of Mentoring Teachers

Alan Borsuk:

Dion Haith was observing a new teacher and decided to make a chart of what she was doing. When the class was over, he showed it to her. She spotted something right away:
All the questions she asked were directed to girls. It wasn’t something she did intentionally. But she did it.
Haith’s observations drove home a lesson: You need to draw all your students into what you’re doing. That’s the kind of lesson Haith is supposed to be teaching as a full-time mentor for young teachers.
But the lessons go well beyond classroom tips. Stephanie Gwin-Matzat said her job requires her to be a bit of a marriage or relationship counselor, a bit of a financial counselor and a bit of a lot of other things. She’ll tell the people she works with how to open a credit union account or how to get photocopies done efficiently.

Cultures clash among classmates at SE Minnesota schools

Elizabeth Baier:

Abdalla Mursal moved his family from Atlanta to southeastern Minnesota a decade ago to raise his four children in an area with good schools and low crime.
“This city is a very peaceful city and everybody who lives here likes it,” Mursal said of Rochester. “I like this city.”
But in recent months, Mursal and other Somali parents have discovered that their children’s schools aren’t so tranquil, as Somali youngsters have been in fights with white and African American students.
On Oct. 14, another student teased Mursal’s son, Abdirahman, a high school junior, and hit him with a baseball bat at school.

I took a cab some time ago with a Somali Driver in the Western United States. The driver’s cell phone featured a 612 area code – surprising outside of Minneapolis. I asked about this and heard a remarkable story of his entire family leaving Somali as refugees and, finally, in the early 1990’s receiving asylum in the United States. His large family settled in Mineapolis for more than a decade. We had a fascinating discussion about culture, academics, particularly rigor and assimilation.

Rural school districts using 4-day weeks to save funds

Tom Weber:

When it rained in northern Minnesota a few weeks ago, water leaked into a room in Blackduck High School where students had stored art projects just a few hours earlier. Every project was damaged.
The school district is considering asking voters to approve higher taxes to raise $500,000 to repair the roof. But Superintendent Bob Doetsch is sure that voters would only agree to pay more if they’re convinced the district has done everything possible to save money.
To cut costs, the rural Blackduck, Warroad and Ogilvie school districts decided four months ago to implement a four-day school week as did the MACCRAY district did last year. The four districts say the change hasn’t solved their budget woes, but the shorter week helped. That’s attracted the attention of school officials elsewhere in Minnesota who are considering the change.

City Schools’ New Criteria for Diversity Raise Fears

Crystal Yednak & Darnell Little:

The Chicago public schools’ response to a recent court desegregation ruling — a plan to use students’ social and economic profiles instead of race to achieve classroom diversity — is raising fears that it will undermine the district’s slow and incremental progress on racial diversity.
Chicago schools, like the city itself, are hardly a model of racial integration. But a Chicago News Cooperative analysis of school data shows the district has made modest gains in the magnet, gifted, classical and selective-enrollment schools, where, for nearly 30 years, race has been used as an admission criterion. Those advances may be imperiled in the wake of court rulings that have prompted Chicago Public Schools to look for factors other than race when assigning students to such schools.
Nationwide, court rulings have prompted school districts to seek creative ways to diversify classrooms without using a student’s race as a factor. In Chicago, school officials last week moved ahead with their own experiment.
Instead of race as an admissions factor, they now will use socioeconomic data from the student’s neighborhood — income, education levels, single-parent households, owner-occupied homes and the use of language other than English as the primary tongue — in placing children in selective-enrollment schools.

You Could Hire This Robot Teacher for $77,000

Kit Eaton:

The robot revolution is indeed on its way: Soon we’ll have robovacuums, robot chefs, and now, robots teaching our kids about robots. But it’s not a one-way evolution, as humans are becoming little more futuristic too, with the help of a robo-knee.
Japan’s Bot for School Kids
The robot pictured above is yet another humanoid robot (that’ll be an android, then) joining the ranks currently led by Honda’s amazing Asimo. This unnamed machine is based on a design by ZMP and is pretty capable–even has a video-projection system built in. There’s a lithium battery to give it some autonomy, and all the gyros and accelerometers to give it a sense of balance as its 21 joints let it amble across the floor. It can speak and hear, and it’s WiFi enabled for remote control.
As you can see from the video below, this new robot just isn’t quite in the same class as Asimo. Its locomotion is stilted, and it basically hops from foot to foot while walking–Asimo’s gait, in comparison, is so very human that it can stroll, jog and even run pretty much exactly as we do. Asimo’s sensor array is also smarter, and it has manipulator hands for doing physical tasks.

‘Virtual schools’ gain popularity in Duluth

Minnesota Public Radio:

With the radio playing softly in the background and munching on spoonfuls of noodles and cheese, Maria Vespa sat at her family’s kitchen counter to take her geography mid-term on a recent afternoon.
The 15-year-old stared intently at her computer screen as test questions popped up. She’d study each for a minute, take another bite of lunch and click on an answer. When she got stumped, she pulled out her notebook.
“That’s one of the great things about online school,” Maria said. “You get to use your notes when you’re taking tests.”
Another great thing about online school: instant grades. A few moments after Maria answered the last test question, her score popped up.
“I got a B,” she said. “I would have loved an A, but a B is still pretty good.”

Recession? Teenagers Get It, and Are Cutting Back

Stephanie Rosenbloom:

After a year of observing their parents pinch pennies and fret about the economy, the nation’s teenagers may be coming to grips with reality.
Sales are down sharply in recent months at nearly every major retail chain catering to teenagers, and interviews with teenagers suggest that the reasons go beyond their own difficulty finding part-time jobs.
“I think my sister and I, throughout this year we’ve kind of lost an interest in getting gifts and things like that,” said Morgan Porpora, 16, who in the past had a list of things she wanted for Christmas. “I guess we’ve noticed the economy and we just kind of even feel bad I guess asking for a lot.”

Kentucky leads the nation in deaths from child abuse and neglect and at least half the deaths have come after the cases came to the attention of child welfare authorities.

Deborah Yetter:

Nearly 270 Kentucky children died of abuse or neglect during the past decade — more than half of them in cases where state officials already knew of or suspected problems.
During one recent 12-month period, 41 children died — the highest rate of any state, according to a recent report by the Every Child Matters Education Fund, a Washington child-advocacy group.
In a six-month review of the problem, The Courier-Journal found that:
— Child-protection officials, day-care workers, and parents, friends and relatives missed signs of abuse such as suspicious bruising and evidence of previous injury, or were hesitant to act.

Doyle proposes using possible federal windfall to change how schools are funded

Jason Stein:

Gov. Jim Doyle wants to use a possible federal windfall to change the way schools are funded in Wisconsin a plan that could help struggling schools but cost property taxpayers.
State schools could win up to $250 million in competitive “Race to the Top” stimulus money next year for programs to improve student learning. As that one-time money runs out, Doyle wants to lift state-imposed revenue caps on qualifying schools so they can raise property taxes if needed to keep the programs in place.
Doyle said his administration would provide more details on the plans in the state’s application for the federal funds, due Jan. 19.
“Part of Race to the Top (reforms) is how you demonstrate that you can sustain them over time,” Doyle said in a year-end interview with the State Journal. “If we can bring these two things together, we can make some really substantial long-term reform.”

Schools are a luxury not a right in Nepal

David Pilling:

The children walking along the dusty road, each with a thick stack of textbooks under their arm, are probably an hour away from school. For miles around, there is no sign of anything much: a scattering of stilted houses in the yellowing paddy fields, some buffalo trudging through a road-side ditch, a bridge over the trickle of a river.
In western Nepal, as in much of the country, indeed as in many rural areas in the developing world, schools are a luxury, not a right. In these parts, a 90-minute walk to school is an unremarkable fact of life. Among the children making this daily pilgrimage are girls sponsored by Room to Read, an educational charity that the Financial Times is supporting in this year’s seasonal appeal.

How teacher pay should work

Tom Vander Ark:

Kim Marshall’s December 16 EdWeek commentary attempts to “demolish the argument for individual merit pay.” He makes good points that suggest that individual bonuses based solely on value-added test scores are not a good idea. He suggests, instead, team-based bonuses and more pay for master teachers.
There’s an alternative in between that most big organizations and it works like this:

  • In collaboration with peers and a manager, a Personal Performance Plan, sets out objectives for the year. For a teacher these objectives may include several objective assessments, but would also include team contributions, and a personal growth plan.
  • A pool for merit increases is set based on the financial health of the organization and cost of living (let’s assume an annual target of 2.5%)
  • Quarterly conversations about performance are summarized in a year end document.
  • Merit increases would range from 0% for teachers that accomplished few objectives and 5% for teachers that exceeded expectations.

Gov. Patrick talks education reform at charter school in Norwell

Dana Forsythe:

Norwell had an important visitor this past week.
Bay State Gov. Deval Patrick stopped by the South Shore Charter Public School on Friday (Dec. 18), where he held an on-location cabinet meeting and used the opportunity to talk up his education reform bill.
Patrick and his cabinet met with the students and staff at the charter school and talked with Pru Goodale, the school’s executive director, about the school’s initiatives to diversify education through various programs.
“The South Shore Charter School is helping students thrive and opening up worlds of opportunity for them,” Patrick said. “All children deserve the same chance at a world-class education and that’s what our reform package will give them.”

To Deal With Obsession, Some Defriend Facebook

Katie Hafner:

Facebook, the popular networking site, has 350 million members worldwide who, collectively, spend 10 billion minutes there every day, checking in with friends, writing on people’s electronic walls, clicking through photos and generally keeping pace with the drift of their social world.
Make that 9.9 billion and change. Recently, Halley Lamberson, 17, and Monica Reed, 16, juniors at San Francisco University High School, made a pact to help each other resist the lure of the login. Their status might as well now read, “I can’t be bothered.”
“We decided we spent way too much time obsessing over Facebook and it would be better if we took a break from it,” Halley said.
By mutual agreement, the two friends now allow themselves to log on to Facebook on the first Saturday of every month — and only on that day.

Alderman Jim Bohl’s MPS Compromise

The Milwaukee Drum:

With competing plans for governing the Milwaukee Public Schools now petering out in Madison, I’m suggesting a modest compromise that gives each side something it wants.
First, give the Mayor of Milwaukee the ability to appoint the MPS Superintendent. The superintendent would be confirmed by the Common Council, and after confirmation, would serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

Living with their choices Teenage sisters sought freedom in pregnancy, but one found confinement

NC Aizenman:

When the Marquez sisters set out to get pregnant, Edelmira was 14 and Angela was 15.
Having babies, the girls thought, would force their Salvadoran-born parents to stop trying to keep them and their teenage boyfriends apart.
Edelmira was the first to succeed, giving birth to a baby girl in the eighth grade. She regretted it almost immediately, and warned her sister not to get pregnant.
Angela, whose round, brown eyes and shy smile are so similar to Edelmira’s they could almost be twins, stayed quiet.
“I didn’t want her to know I was still trying,” Angela recalls, sheepishly. “When I used to see my sister play with her baby, I was like, ‘She’s so cute; I want my own.’ “

Related: Between Two Worlds: How Young Latinos Come of Age in America.

4k-8 study Monona Grove School District Report

Peter Sobol:

At last nights board meeting former Winnequah Principal Patty McGuinness presented the results of the 4k-8 study commissioned by the board last summer. The report detailed the costs of implementing 4k-8 grade configurations in each community. The proposed configuration would require significant changes to Winnequah school to accomodate programming for Monona 3-8th grade students and some changes to Glacial Drumlin to shift CG 4th graders into the building.
The report (I’ll link it here when it is up on the district website) was very thorough, and I found it a useful exercise to see all the costs and factors that go into making a school laid out in one place. It is worth a read on that basis. One issue identified from the study was that the scheduling wouldn’t work with the current encore staff and additional staffing would be required. These additional requirements hadn’t been worked out, but they would add to the costs included the study.

Complete Report: 5MB PDF.

Human Identity

The Economist:

WITH the construction of the railways in the 19th century, a new sociological phenomenon was born: the travelling criminal. Until then, police had relied on local communities to recognise a bad apple in their midst, but now the felons were on the move, wreaking havoc in communities which had no knowledge of their past and hence no reason to be wary. For law enforcers trying to contain the problem by sharing descriptions of known recidivists, it became imperative to answer one question: what is it that identifies someone as a particular person?
This question has long troubled humanity, of course, and it is explored in all its facets in a new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London. One practical application lies in the forensic arena. The first solution offered, branding, was simple and effective. But even in a society that preferred to believe that criminals were born and not made, this was soon deemed unacceptable. So there was a need to find something innate to human beings that remains constant from the cradle to the grave, and that is sufficiently differentiated in the population to make it useful in identifying individuals.

New Programs Aim to Lure Young Into Digital Jobs

Steve Lohr:

Growing up in the ’70s, John Halamka was a bookish child with a penchant for science and electronics. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and buttoned his shirts up to the collar.
“I was constantly being called a geek or a nerd,” he recalled, chuckling.
Dr. Halamka grew up to be something of a cool nerd, with a career that combines his deep interests in medicine and computing, and downtime that involves rock climbing and kayaking.
Now 47, Dr. Halamka is the chief information officer at the Harvard Medical School, a practicing emergency-ward physician and an adviser to the Obama administration on electronic health records.
Hybrid careers like Dr. Halamka’s that combine computing with other fields will increasingly be the new American jobs of the future, labor experts say. In other words, the nation’s economy is going to need more cool nerds. But not enough young people are embracing computing — often because they are leery of being branded nerds.

20 Hilarious School Exam Answers

Speedy Wap:

The following questions were set in last year’s GCSE examination in England.
These are genuine answers from 16 year olds, not very bright, but entertaining, 16 year olds.
Q. Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink
A. Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists
Q. How is dew formed
A. The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire
Q. What causes the tides in the oceans
A. The tides are a fight between the earth and the moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins the fight

Child care quality studied Better early education would benefit region, but at double the cost

Erin Richards:

Southeastern Wisconsin could benefit economically by increasing the quality of early childhood education centers, but doing so presents a daunting tradeoff: more than doubling the expense of caring for infants and young children up to age 5.
A three-year study by Public Policy Forum researchers released Tuesday found that a system of high-quality early childhood education programs would cost about $11,500 per child, per year.
In the current system, child care providers are estimated to spend about $5,625 per child annually.
The new report relies on research showing a correlation between high-quality early learning experiences and higher rates of achievement in school, especially for disadvantaged children.
The analysis for policy-makers includes the economic pros and cons of maintaining the status quo, funding a variety of mid-level improvements and implementing a high-quality system of early childhood education across southeastern Wisconsin, said Anneliese Dickman, research director at the Public Policy Forum.

Complete 1MB PDF Report.

Senator seeks ‘strict testing’ for meat sent to schools

Blake Morrison & Peter Eisler:

A senator on the committee overseeing the National School Lunch Program called Monday for the government to raise its standards for meat sent to schools across the nation.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., urged “a strict testing program” for ground beef similar to those “used by industry leaders such as Jack in the Box and Costco.”
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture already sets special inspection and testing requirements for the meat it sends to schools, a USA TODAY investigation this month found that those requirements lag those set by many fast food restaurants and grocery chains.

Rotherham: Detroit schools are on a slow reform path

Andrew Rotherham:

Call it the soft bigotry of low expectations. As pressure increases on teachers unions to mend their ways and become better partners in school reform, the bar for what constitutes meaningful change seems to be getting lower.
In October, the New Haven (Conn.) Federation of Teachers agreed to a new labor agreement that was hailed by both American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as a breakthrough and national model. Yet the contract was actually a set of promises and processes to potentially undertake reforms after more discussion and mutual agreement.
Maybe the union was playing for time to make more reform-oriented deals away from the crucible of a labor negotiation. Critics were not buying it and argued the entire thing was a ploy. We’ll know who was right by next summer.

Beverly Hills Schools to Cut Nonresidents

Jennifer Steinhauer:

Daniel Kahn has never lived in this city, but he has attended its legendary public schools since the fourth grade. Now in eighth grade, he is vice president of the student council, plays in two school bands and is an A student who has been preparing to tread in his sister’s footsteps at Beverly Hills High School.
But Daniel will almost certainly be looking for a new place to hang his backpack next fall. The school board here intends to do away with hundreds of slots reserved for nonresident children, most of whom live in nearby neighborhoods of Los Angeles where the homes are nice but the city’s public school system is deeply distressed.
The students used to be a financial boon for Beverly Hills, bringing millions of dollars in state aid with them. But California’s budget crisis is changing the way schools are financed in many wealthy cities, suddenly turning the out-of-towners into money losers.

The Tyranny of the Explicit

Johnnie Moore’s:

Bob Sutton has an interesting post linking to this New York Times story: After Bankruptcy, G.M. Struggles to Shed a Legendary Bureaucracy. A manager relates how the company’s legendary bureaucracy is being cut down to size: his massively extensive performance review has been cut down to a single page. I liked his explanation for this:
We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday. But as soon as everything is important, nothing is important.
My feeling is that what appears to be happening at GM needs to happen in a lot more places. It often seems to me that everytime we experience a crisis, the solution is to write more rules. A child dies due to failings in care, and more forms have to be filled in. In absurd extremes, a council bans parents from entering a play area as they’ve not had a criminal records bureau check.
Alongside this is a creeping extension of the need for academic qualifications, the ability to write clever essays. Social workers will have their initial training extended to four years; nurses will have to get a degree level qualification in future. Soon, psychotherapists will have to get a masters degree in order to practice.

High School’s Last Test: Ratcheting Up Accountability in Grade 13

JB Schramm E. Kinney Zalesne:

But the real revolution, tucked away in the Race to the Top guidelines released by the Department of Education last month, is that high school has a new mission. No longer is it enough just to graduate students, or even prepare them for college. Schools must now show how they increase both college enrollment and the number of students who complete at least a year of college. In other words, high schools must now focus on grade 13.
To be sure, this shift is long overdue. It has been a generation since a high school diploma was a ticket to success. Today, the difference in earning power between a high school graduate and someone who’s finished eighth grade has shrunk to nil. And students themselves know, better even than their parents or teachers, according to a recent poll conducted by Deloitte, that the main mission of high school is preparation for college.
Still, this shift will be seismic for our nation’s high schools, because it will require gathering a great deal of information, and using it. And at the moment, high school principals know virtually nothing about what becomes of their graduates. Most don’t even know whether their students make it to college at all.

Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up

Jonah Lehrer:

It all started with the sound of static. In May 1964, two astronomers at Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, were using a radio telescope in suburban New Jersey to search the far reaches of space. Their aim was to make a detailed survey of radiation in the Milky Way, which would allow them to map those vast tracts of the universe devoid of bright stars. This meant that Penzias and Wilson needed a receiver that was exquisitely sensitive, able to eavesdrop on all the emptiness. And so they had retrofitted an old radio telescope, installing amplifiers and a calibration system to make the signals coming from space just a little bit louder.
But they made the scope too sensitive. Whenever Penzias and Wilson aimed their dish at the sky, they picked up a persistent background noise, a static that interfered with all of their observations. It was an incredibly annoying technical problem, like listening to a radio station that keeps cutting out.
At first, they assumed the noise was man-made, an emanation from nearby New York City. But when they pointed their telescope straight at Manhattan, the static didn’t increase. Another possibility was that the sound was due to fallout from recent nuclear bomb tests in the upper atmosphere. But that didn’t make sense either, since the level of interference remained constant, even as the fallout dissipated. And then there were the pigeons: A pair of birds were roosting in the narrow part of the receiver, leaving a trail of what they later described as “white dielectric material.” The scientists evicted the pigeons and scrubbed away their mess, but the static remained, as loud as ever.

Pittsburgh Mayor Strikes a Deal to Abandon Tuition Tax

Ian Urbina:

In what he described as a “leap of faith,” Mayor Luke Ravenstahl of Pittsburgh agreed on Monday to shelve his plans for the nation’s first tax on college tuition in exchange for an increase in voluntary contributions from local colleges and universities to the city.
City officials said the mayor also had a promise from university officials to help lobby state lawmakers in Harrisburg for changes to enable the city to raise certain taxes and fees.
“This is a leap of faith for us all; the future of our city and of our citizens is riding on it,” Mr. Ravenstahl said. “But it is a leap of faith that, if successful, will result in the revenue, $15 million annually, that Pittsburgh needs to solve our legacy cost problem.”
City and university officials declined to offer details about the commitment, but at a joint news conference on Monday morning, officials from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University said they had pledged to make larger voluntary donations to the city than they did from 2005 to 2007. In addition, some local corporations, including the insurer Highmark, are contributing additional money.

With Scant Jobs, Grads Make Their Own

Toddi Gutner:

Andrew Levine knew he wouldn’t find a job in investment banking when he graduated with an M.B.A. from the University of Miami in 2008. Wall Street was in the midst of a financial collapse. So instead the 24-year-old focused his efforts on launching a start-up. “I figured that starting my own company was the best use of my time while I waited for the market to thaw,” says Mr. Levine.
Faced with an unemployment rate of 16% for 20- to 24-year-olds, a growing number of recent college and grad-school graduates are launching their own companies, according to anecdotal evidence from colleges, universities and entrepreneurship programs around the U.S.
For his part, Mr. Levine built upon a business plan for a niche social-networking company he had created for an entrepreneurship class the prior year. He showed the plan to the father of a college friend who was an angel investor and got $40,000 in seed money in exchange for an equity stake in the business.
Armed with start-up cash, Mr. Levine created audimated.com, an online social-networking site for musicians and their followers. It serves as a forum for the independent music community–both fans and musicians–to discover and promote new music. The site is in beta testing now with a launch expected in January.

2009 Casey Medal Winner, Magazine: “Growing Up Bipolar” (Q&A)

Michelle Parks & Mary Carmichael:

How did you conceive the idea for the project?
At first, my editors and I were interested in childhood bipolar disorder simply because it’s a controversial topic — there’s a lot of debate about how the disorder should be diagnosed and whether it even exists in kids. But then I found that most of what had already been written was focused on either the academic side of the controversy — [such as] what is the definition of pediatric bipolar disorder — or the dangers of medicating kids. There weren’t many vivid descriptions of the actual experience of being, or raising, a child with the diagnosis. So I decided I wanted to bridge that gap — to show as well as tell, to force the reader to think through the difficult decisions that parents have to make instead of just saying “parents of these kids have to make tough decisions.”
I thought the best way to do it would be to zoom in on one family, to give the reader someone with whom to identify. I knew the Blakes were the right family when Amy [Max’s mother] said to me in our first interview that “no one understands how it feels” to raise a child like Max — after all, the whole purpose of the project was to show people how that feels.

In many area school districts, a need for painful financial cuts

Gayle Worland:

When the Stoughton Area School District shuttered its Yahara Elementary School last June because of declining enrollments, shrinking funds and a failed school referendum in 2005-06, the total $1 million cost savings was meant to help balance the district’s books into the next decade.
But despite that move, plus 68 staff layoffs and reduced bus routes in recent years, the district now faces another gap — of $3 million over the next three years — and the school board is considering taking a referendum to voters in April.
“The sense was that we would be okay for the 2010-11 school year,” former Yahara principal Cheryl Price, now principal of the new Sandhill Elementary School, said of Yahara’s closing. “They knew that this was one fix. But we thought we had a couple of years” without having to make more drastic cuts.
Those cuts could range from more staff reductions, increasing class sizes, raising athletic fees and eliminating talented and gifted programming.

Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate.

The Gift of Learning

Ellie Schatz, via a kind reader’s email:

What better gift to give that special child than the message that learning is cool. Most children really think that naturally as they begin to explore their world by walking, talking, and gaining new skills at a rapid rate as toddlers and preschoolers. A cartoon in the Dec. 14 “The New Yorker” shows two little kids in a sandbox. The older one says to the younger one: “It’s all learning-is-fun and invented spelling, and then-bam!- second grade.”
What’s wrong with second grade? As a teacher, consultant, longtime educational specialist, it is sad to often see fewer smiles and sparkling eyes with each advancing grade of school. Rather than continuing to believe that learning is fun, cool, an ultimate aim, too many children dumb down, hide their talents, and proceed in a lock-step method of learning that doesn’t fit them and holds little appeal. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Schatz founded WCATY and has written a new book: Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart.

Reading Recovery: Effectiveness & Program Description

US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, via a kind reader’s email:

No studies of Reading Recovery® that fall within the scope of the English Language Learners (ELL) review protocol meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. The lack of studies meeting WWC evidence standards means that, at this time, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Reading Recovery® on ELL.
Reading Recovery® is a short-term tutoring intervention designed to serve the lowest-achieving (bottom 20%) first-grade students. The goals of Reading Recovery® include: promoting literacy skills; reducing the number of first-grade students who are struggling to read; and preventing long-term reading difficulties. Reading Recovery® supplements classroom teaching with one-to-one tutoring sessions, generally conducted as pull-out sessions during the school day. The tutoring, which is conducted by trained Reading Recovery® teachers, takes place for 30 minutes a day over a period of 12 to 20 weeks.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.

Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them

Benedict Carey:

Many 4-year-olds cannot count up to their own age when they arrive at preschool, and those at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center are hardly prodigies. Most live in this city’s poorer districts and begin their academic life well behind the curve.
But there they were on a recent Wednesday morning, three months into the school year, counting up to seven and higher, even doing some elementary addition and subtraction. At recess, one boy, Joshua, used a pointer to illustrate a math concept known as cardinality, by completing place settings on a whiteboard.
“You just put one plate there, and one there, and one here,” he explained, stepping aside as two other students ambled by, one wearing a pair of clown pants as a headscarf. “That’s it. See?”
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

Teachers Defying Gravity to Gain Students’ Interest

Kenneth Chang:

Before showing a video to the 11th and 12th graders in his physics class, Glenn Coutoure, a teacher at Norwalk High School, warned them that his mouth would be hanging open, in childlike wonderment, almost the whole time.
Mr. Coutoure then started the DVD, showing him and other science teachers floating in an airplane during a flight in September. By flying up and down like a giant roller coaster along parabolic paths, the plane simulated the reduced gravity of the Moon and Mars and then weightlessness in 30-second chunks.
The teachers performed a series of experiments and playful stunts, like doing push-ups with others sitting on their backs and catching in their mouths M & M’s that flew in straight lines, that they hoped would help them better explain to their students the laws of motion that Sir Isaac Newton deduced centuries ago.
“You see the ball just hangs there,” Mr. Coutoure said.
“That’s hot,” a student interjected.

Arbitrator issues pay proposals for Calvert teachers

Christy Goodman:

An arbitrator recently released recommendations to help end an impasse over the current school year’s contract between the Calvert County Board of Education and the teachers union.
At issue are the terms of the third year of the teachers’ three-year contract. The board suggests a 0.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, but the Calvert Education Association wants a 4.5 percent increase.
M. David Vaughn of the American Arbitration Association met with a member of the board and the union and recommended that the teachers receive a one-time payment of 1 percent of salary and that a sick leave bank be established.
The board and the teachers are working under the assumptions that all step increases would remain, and a 1.1 percent lump sum increase was included for employees at the highest tiers of the pay scale.

Locally: Madison School District & Madison Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement: 3.93% Increase Year 1, 3.99% Year 2; Base Rate $33,242 Year 1, $33,575 Year 2: Requires 50% MTI 4K Members and will “Review the content and frequency of report cards”.

AP Juggernaut

NYT: Room for Debate
Advanced Placement classes, once open to only a very small number of top high school students around the country, have grown enormously in the past decade. The number of students taking these courses rose by nearly 50 percent to 1.6 million from 2004 to 2009. Yet in a survey of A.P. teachers released this year, more than half said that “too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads.” Some 60 percent said that “parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don’t belong there.”
Does the growth in Advanced Placement courses serve students or schools well? Are there downsides to pushing many more students into taking these rigorous courses?
Kristin Klopfenstein, economist
Trevor Packer, College Board
Patrick Welsh, high school teacher
Philip M. Sadler, Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics
David Wakelyn, National Governors Association
Saul Geiser, Center for Studies in Higher Education
“The original point of the A.P. program was to make college-level study possible for advanced high school students…. But now, the A.P. program has been transformed to serve many more purposes…. The new uses of A.P. are not benign…”
“Advanced placement courses and exams are appropriate choices for students who have developed the knowledge and skills to study at the college level in high school. Of course, advanced placement is not a silver bullet if a district or school merely parachutes an A.P. course into a low-performing school without having fostered academic rigor in the grades prior to the A.P…. [T]eachers are right to insist on adequate student preparation for advanced placement work. But studies have indicated that teachers’ preconceived notions of student potential are often at odds with student capability….”
“The original purpose of the Advanced Placement program was a noble one…. In the last 10 years, Advanced Placement has become a game of labels and numbers, a public relations ploy used by school officials who are dumping as many students as they can into A.P. courses to create the illusion that they are raising overall standards…. [T]he College Board is shamelessly pressuring public schools by creating the impression that A.P. courses are the only ones worth taking…”

Homework-tracking Web sites won’t work without teacher input

Jay Matthews:

My former Post colleague Tracy Thompson has two daughters in a Washington area school district. I promised not to say which one. It doesn’t matter, because the issue she raises involves all high-tech schools, of which we have many.
People aren’t using the new Web features designed to help families. Is it because parents like me are technophobes? Not entirely. The reluctant participants who concern Thompson are teachers.
Both of Thompson’s kids have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They have trouble getting their work done. Her school district, like several in the area, has Web sites on which parents can see their children’s assignments. That way, they cannot be fooled by sly evasions when they ask their children, sitting in front of the TV, whether they have any homework.
Thompson was delighted to discover the Web homework schedules when her older daughter was a sixth-grader. Disappointment followed, she said, when “I found out only about half of her teachers used it. Some teachers were weeks behind in updating the info. My older daughter is off to high school next year and has matured amazingly over the past three years, so I don’t have to worry that much about her stuff anymore. But now my younger daughter is in third grade, and I am in my second year of trying to get her teachers to use the Web.”

Related Infinite Campus and the Madison School District. Read the Middle School Report Card Report, which includes information on the District’s use of Infinite Campus.

The Advanced Placement Juggernaut

Room for Debate:

Advanced Placement classes, once open to only a very small number of top high school students around the country, have grown enormously in the past decade. The number of students taking these courses rose by nearly 50 percent to 1.6 million from 2004 to 2009. Yet in a survey of A.P. teachers released this year, more than half said that “too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads.” Some 60 percent said that “parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don’t belong there.”
Does the growth in Advanced Placement courses serve students or schools well? Are there downsides to pushing many more students into taking these rigorous courses?
Kristin Klopfenstein, economist
Trevor Packer, College Board
Patrick Welsh, high school teacher
Philip M. Sadler, Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics
David Wakelyn, National Governors Association
Saul Geiser, Center for Studies in Higher Education

Redefining Definition

Erin McKean:

If anything is guaranteed to annoy a lexicographer, it is the journalistic habit of starting a story with a dictionary definition. “According to Webster’s,” begins a piece, blithely, and the lexicographer shudders, because she knows that a dictionary is about to be invoked as an incontrovertible authority. Although we may profess to believe, as the linguist Dwight Bolinger once put it, that dictionaries “do not exist to define but to help people grasp meanings,” we don’t often act on that belief. Typically we treat a definition as the final arbiter of meaning, a scientific pronouncement of a word’s essence.
But the traditional dictionary definition, although it bears all the trappings of authority, is in fact a highly stylized, overly compressed and often tentative stab at capturing the consensus on what a particular word “means.” A good dictionary derives its reputation from careful analysis of examples of words in use, in the form of sentences, also called citations. The lexicographer looks at as many citations for each word as she can find (or, more likely, can review in the time allotted) and then creates what is, in effect, a dense abstract, collapsing into a few general statements all the ways in which the word behaves. A definition is as convention-bound as a sonnet and usually more compact. Writing one is considered, at least by anyone who has ever tried it, something of an art.

Michigan urban school districts get most stimulus help

AP:

As Michigan school districts fight to cope with state cuts, urban districts have a fallback their suburban and rural counterparts are less likely to get: direct grants from the federal stimulus package.
Schools in low-income areas such as Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint are getting direct grants from the Recovery Act that easily exceed the cuts of at least $165 per student districts will lose in state aid this fiscal year.
Wealthier suburban districts are getting far less direct help from the stimulus package. That leaves them with fewer sources to tap to avoid teacher layoffs and program cuts that some districts could see starting in January.
Detroit schools are “aggressively pursuing” the Recovery Act cash, spokesman Steven Wasko said. The district expects to receive roughly $800 million over more than two years from all sources of the broad program, including money that could help the district reduce class sizes and build or remodel schools.

DPS union must partner in school reform

Rochelle Riley:

Enough talk about a teacher’s strike.
Enough talk about recalling Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson, the first president the union has had in a long time who is dealing with the reality of a broke district and broken economy.
In the wake of the DFT ratifying its contract with the district, a minority of unhappy teachers has called for Johnson’s head.
To that vocal minority, let me say two things:
$219 million.
84,000 children.
The first is the school district’s deficit. The second is the number of children who should be at the forefront of all of our thoughts and efforts.

Hair incident besmirches MPS

Eugene Kane:

The facts of the braid-cutting case are not in dispute.
A Milwaukee Public Schools teacher was so upset with the behavior of a 7-year-old first-grader, she decided as punishment to cut off a section of her braided hair in front of a classroom of stunned students.
When she was done, she threw the piece of braided hair in a trash can and dared the girl to go home and tell her mother.
The child did just that.
The student’s mother complained to school authorities that her daughter had been humiliated, confused and hurt by the teacher’s actions. In response, the teacher was reported to authorities and she received a $175 ticket for disorderly conduct.
The girl was transferred to another classroom while the teacher faces a disciplinary hearing.

Finally some sense about 21st century skills–part three, the Wagner dialogue

Jay Matthews:

As promised, to end this series on adjusting schools to the new economy, I had an email chat with Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need–and What We Can Do About It.” We limited ourselves to no more than 100 words per response, to keep it moving. Here goes:
Mathews: I loved your book, as you saw in my review last week. It is the best book ever written about the 21st century skills movement. But why were you so hard on Advanced Placement? There are many AP teachers who think the program is terrific for the typical schools where they work (you focused on some of the tiny upper crust schools that are a different issue) and who are trying to do everything you and I want them to do. Why not see AP (and IB, which is pretty near exactly what you want) as a great platform for change rather than the enemy?

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New school, old funding problems

Alan Borsuk:

Conrad Farner is like a guy with a beautiful home and an ugly checkbook.
It’s impossible to escape the irony as the superintendent of Greenfield schools conducts a tour of the community’s high school, where the finishing touches are being put on a $48.5 million overhaul that has turned a building that was literally sinking into the ground and, in serious ways, falling apart, into a showcase.
Handsome classrooms, a spacious gym, great theater, terrific swimming pool, a set of new athletic fields. It’s an impressive setting for the 1,200 students (22% of them not from Greenfield, by the way). Only a few parts of the old high school were kept while the new structure was built around it.
But the subject of our conversation is Farner’s strong warnings that the actual work of education in Greenfield schools is being cut, year by year, in ways that are taking a serious toll.
And, he argues, unless something changes quickly in the way Wisconsin funds schools, Greenfield – along with numerous districts across the state – will reach a point where it will simply not be able to pay its bills or will have to go back to voters seeking operating money beyond the state-set limits.
The district budget this year “is not even close to what our students need,” he said in a presentation to the Greenfield School Board before the budget was adopted. He has a list of 122 positions or services that have been eliminated or reduced since 2002-’03.
Some of them are pretty minor. Some of them are matters of doing business smarter and more efficiently. But some of them affect kids in ways that really matter – fewer teaching specialists, fewer counselors, fewer extra-curricular activities. The ratio of students to teachers has risen in Greenfield from 13.8 in 2004-’05 to 15.9 this year, a sizable jump.

Madison grads say the district prepared them well

Susan Troller:

As college students finish up their first semester, it’s not just time to take a break, it’s also time to look at grades and study how well their college career is going. But it’s not just an individual assessment — it’s also an assessment of how well their K-12 schooling prepared them to compete in the world beyond high school.
According to Madison School Board member Ed Hughes, information from students is one of the most important ways to test how effective schools or school districts are serving their communities.
“Probably the best single source of information about how well we’re doing comes from students themselves, and how well-prepared they feel when they go out into the world,” says Hughes, a board member since 2008 as well as an attorney and a parent.
Earlier this year, Hughes — who has a daughter who is a senior at East High School and a son in college — did an informal survey of students who had graduated from the Madison Metropolitan School District and were now either in college, graduate school or the work force. The 143 respondents ranged from the graduating classes of 1999 through 2008; most had graduated from Madison schools within the last five years.

“A Throwback” Review keeps light shining on high school scholars

Adam Sell:

The Concord Review is a one-man outfit run from a cluttered office on Route 20 in Sudbury.
Back issues of the academic journal featuring research by high school history students sit in stacks, and editor Will Fitzhugh keeps his computer in the corner so he can leave even more room for books.
Fitzhugh, 73, has been running the quarterly publication for 22 years in an effort to keep old-fashioned term papers alive and well. He thinks scholarly research at the high school level has declined, and students are arriving at college unprepared.
“I think we’re doing the majority of public high school students a disservice,” said Fitzhugh. “They get to college and are assigned these nonfiction books and term papers, and they flame out. The equivalent is sending kids to college math classes with only fractions and decimals.”
Yet Fitzhugh, who started the journal while on sabbatical from his teaching job in Concord (hence the name), can’t find anybody to take over when he retires. He took no salary from the journal for 14 years, and even now averages only $10,000 a year.
“It’s going to be really hard, there’s no job security. But most people don’t want to work for nothing, and they don’t want to leave the classroom,” Fitzhugh said. “I don’t know how long I can keep going.”
Despite a perpetual lack of funding for his project–Fitzhugh said he’s been turned down by 154 foundations–The Concord Review has persevered.

Continue reading

‘Duplicitous and Shameful’ Democrats vote to send poor kids to inferior schools.

Wall Street Journal:

The waiting is finally over for some of the District of Columbia’s most ambitious school children and their parents. Democrats in Congress voted to kill the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides 1,700 disadvantaged kids with vouchers worth up to $7,500 per year to attend a private school.
On Sunday the Senate approved a spending bill that phases out funding for the five-year-old program. Several prominent Senators this week sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid pleading for a reconsideration. Signed by Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman, Democrats Robert Byrd and Dianne Feinstein, and Republicans Susan Collins and John Ensign, it asked to save a program that has “provided a lifeline to many low-income students in the District of Columbia.” President Obama signed the bill Thursday.
The program’s popularity has generated long waiting lists. A federal evaluation earlier this year said the mostly black and Hispanic participants are making significant academic gains and narrowing the achievement gap. But for the teachers unions, this just can’t happen. The National Education Association instructed Democratic lawmakers to kill it.

Are we dumbing down 9th grade physics?

Jay Matthews:

I am keeping my weekly Extra Credit column alive on this blog with occasional answers to reader questions, the format of that column I did for many years in the Extras before they died. This teacher, Michael Feinberg (no relation to the co-founder of the KIPP schools with the same name), sent me a copy of an intriguing letter about physics he sent to the Montgomery County school superintendent, and agreed to let me get an answer and use it here.
Dear Dr. Weast:
I am a retired MCPS teacher; I taught Physics at both Kennedy H.S. and Whitman H.S. until the time that I retired in 2005. After retirement I have, on occasion, tutored Physics students.
When the 9th grade Physics curriculum was introduced I opposed it on the grounds that Physics should be taught at a higher mathematical level. While tutoring students in both grades 9 and 11/12 I see that this is true; students in 11th grade learn rigorous Physics with mathematical applications while students in 9th grade usually do descriptive worksheets. I believe that it unfair that students in 9 th grade receive the same honors credit for what is promoted as the same curriculum but is not the same.

Detroit Public Schools’ teachers move to oust union president

Gina Damron & Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

On the heels of the Detroit Federation of Teachers approving a contract agreement with Detroit Public Schools, an effort to oust the union president is heating up.
Union members said Saturday they’ve nearly collected the 1,000 signatures needed to force a re-vote on Keith Johnson — a driving force behind the new contract, which requires most union members to defer $10,000 in pay and calls for wide-ranging school reforms.
“We’re not going to accept this,” Heather Miller, a math teacher at Marquette Elementary School, said Saturday, adding that a grievance has been filed over the voting process, including alleged flawed voter rosters and what those who filed the grievance consider wrongly placing information on the ballot about the dangers of a no vote. She said a hearing date on the grievance has not yet been set.
“This is about the future of Detroit; the future of our school district,” she said.

Stones Into Schools

Greg Mortenson via Jay Matthews:

Greg Mortenson’s first book, “Three Cups of Tea,” was a gravity-defying, wide-screen, wilderness adventure. It began with the author’s failed attempt to climb the world’s second-highest mountain. It included a daring rescue, a bonding with an alien tribe in a tiny cliffside village and his establishment of several dozen schools in Taliban territory despite being kidnapped and threatened with death.
That book, which came out in 2006, was a publishing-industry cliffhanger, too. Mortenson hated the subtitle Penguin insisted on: “One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time.” It sold nicely in hardcover, enough to merit a paperback edition and to persuade the publisher to insert Mortenson’s preferred subtitle: “One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time.”

90 cameras to be installed outside Chicago Public schools

Fran Spielman:

Ninety cameras will be installed outside Fenger and 39 other Chicago Public high schools to stop what Mayor Daley called the ugly “epidemic of children killing children,” thanks to a $2.25 million gift from the banking giant that employs the mayor’s brother.
Last year, a bloody weekend for CPS students prompted Daley to link 4,844 cameras inside schools and 1,437 exterior school cameras to police districts, squad cars and the 911 center. Until that time, real-time video from school cameras was accessible only to school security.
Thanks to J.P. Morgan Chase, where William Daley serves as Midwest chairman, 40 more high schools will get exterior cameras. They include Fenger, where 16-year-old Derrion Albert was beaten to death in September during a brawl captured on videotape and played around the world.
Another camera will be installed outside Walter H. Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St., where two students have been murdered this year.

Facebook Target of FTC Privacy Complaint

David Coursey:

Ten privacy groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over recent changes to Facebook’s privacy policy.
Led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the groups criticize Facebook for changes that made previously private information public.
“More than 100 million people in the United States subscribe to the Facebook service,” Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director, said Thursday in a prepared statement. “The company should not be allowed to turn down the privacy dial on so many American consumers.”
In response, Facebook said it was “disappointed” that EPIC took its complaints to the FTC instead of the company itself.

The education gap of greatest concern is the out-of-wedlock birthrate

Edward Hayes:

Before Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, the out-of-wedlock birthrate for African-Americans was nineteen percent. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2004 the illegitimate black birthrate was 69.4 percent. In contrast, the out-of-wedlock rates that year for Caucasians and Hispanics were 25 and 45 percent respectively. Consequently, in America well over half of our minority population enters the education sweepstakes with one parent tied behind their back. Our largest minorities groups have a parent gap that not only precedes the performance differential in math in reading, it guarantees it.
We are living in a moment in time where otherwise reasonable people debate the merits of raising a child in a same-sex-marriage home. Consequently, it is culturally reasonable to argue whether wealthy Americans can raise children in single-parent homes without handicapping their education. That said, it is criminally insane to suggest that a single parent of limited means is doing anything other than providing a rough life for both child and mother. Frankly, I have had it with televised images of sobbing single parent mothers lamenting the demise of their fatherless children because of the misdeeds of someone else’s single-parent child.

Wisconsin risks stumbling in ‘Race to Top’

University of Wisconsin School of Education Dean Julie Underwood:

President Barack Obama spoke at Wright Middle School in Madison last month and urged our nation to make improving K-12 education a national priority.
The president underscored the critical link between improving education and our nation’s future economy. He called for our schools to push all students to achieve at higher levels.
The president also spoke about our need to raise the bar for student achievement and to close existing achievement gaps. He is offering the states $4.35 billion in competitive “Race to the Top” grants to try to spur improvement.
His call for reform comes at a critical time for our schools. Our graduates face an increasingly competitive world. The future of our state rests on our ability to prepare our students with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.
In recent years, however, the real struggle in Wisconsin has been in maintaining the quality public school system created by previous generations. Our public schools operate under a financial system that chokes reform and chips away at quality.

Underwood’s School of Education has a close relationship with the Madison School District via grants and other interactions. Former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater now works for the School along with former Administrator Jack Jorgenson. Underwood attended the 2008 Madison Superintendent candidate public appearances.

Los Angeles Unified often hands out tenure with little or no review of novice instructors’ ability or their students’ performance.

Jason Felch, Jessica Garrison & Jason Song:

It is a chance L.A. Unified all but squanders, according to interviews with more than 75 teachers and administrators, analyses of district data over the last several years, and internal and independent studies. Among the findings:

  • Nearly all probationary teachers receive a passing grade on evaluations. Fewer than 2% are denied tenure.
  • The reviews are so lacking in rigor as to be meaningless, many instructors say. Before a teacher gets tenure, school administrators are required to conduct only a single, pre-announced classroom visit per year. About half the observations last 30 minutes or less. Principals are rarely held responsible for how they perform the reviews.
  • The district’s evaluation of teachers does not take into account whether students are learning. Principals are not required to consider testing data, student work or grades. L.A. Unified, like other districts in California, essentially ignores a state law that since the 1970s has required districts to weigh pupil progress in assessing teachers and administrators.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls himself a big fan of National Board Certification for Teachers. “What if every child had a chance to be taught by a National Board Certified teacher? I think the difference it would make in our students’ lives woul

Birmingham News:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls himself a big fan of National Board Certification for Teachers.
“What if every child had a chance to be taught by a National Board Certified teacher? I think the difference it would make in our students’ lives would be extraordinary,” he said recently.
Unfortunately, every child doesn’t have that chance. In fact, most don’t. But a growing number of teachers nationally and in Alabama are becoming board certified.
Nationally, more than 82,000 teachers are board certified, with nearly 8,900 joining the ranks this year. Alabama has 233 newly certified teachers, bringing the state’s total to 1,781, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced Wednesday. Alabama ranks 11th nationally in the number of teachers board certified this year, and 13th in the total number of certified teachers.

We need best education at least cost

Thomas Wasco:

I applaud the work of the Board of Education in their efforts to downsize the district’s infrastructure. During my service on the board, I learned how difficult that process can be when various factions of the community come before the board pleading to save their favorite schools. In fact, many current board members have campaigned for their buildings in the past. They cited educational studies praising the positive influences of small neighborhood schools and how important it was to maintain the configuration at that time. It appears they have now come to realize instead that what they once called warehousing of students does not lead to an adverse learning environment and that larger schools can indeed contribute to student success. That observation is supported by their decision to replace the plan that placed 400 students in each of six buildings to one that has three buildings with approximately 500 students and three with many fewer students.
Now the public is being asked to spend millions on four buildings Ridge Mills, John Joy, Denti and Gansevoort. I suggest that the board reconsider the proposition and look to renovate three buildings. Instead of closing Ridge Mills, they could close both Ridge Mills and John Joy that currently serve a total of 481 students. The combination would still be smaller in size than either Denti or Bellamy (about 500 and 485 students, respectively). The board can renovate either one of the closed buildings and reopen it to provide adequate space for their students and result in one less building for the district to maintain.

A Plan for California’s Failing Schools

Marisa Lagos:

Parents would be able to yank their children out of failing schools and ask any other school in the state to admit them under a compromise bill approved Thursday by the state Senate.
That change and other proposals are part of the state’s plan to compete for President Obama’s Race to the Top grants – up to $4.3 billion for all states and as much as $700 million for California alone.
States have until next month to apply for the federal grants, but political fighting over how to make California as competitive as possible has killed two competing proposals and left little time before the Jan. 19 application deadline.
To qualify, states have been asked to demonstrate a commitment to education reform. Under the bill, California would establish specific plans for failing schools, including closing a school, dismissing the principal and up to half of the teachers, or allowing the school to become a charter school.

Oprah Winfrey makes $1.5M donation to Atlanta school

Maria Parece:

Talk-show superstar extraordinaire Oprah Winfrey has made a very generous donation to an inner-city school in Atlanta, Georgia. The $1.5M donation isn’t the first time that Oprah Winfrey has contributed to this school.
In December 2008, Oprah gave The Ron Clark Academy $365,000.00 to be used toward their operating costs. The private middle school’s founder Ron Clark has made several appearances on Oprah’s wildly popular talk show. Ron Clark is also the author of “The Essential 55,” a book about life lessons that adults should teach to children.
Plans for the generous donation include the construction of a theater, a cafeteria, and a gym.

School fees

Financial Times:

Arriving in Christmas mail, the heaviest letter of them all: next term’s school fees. A century ago, the cost of a private education at a secondary British school was about seven guineas, roughly £7.35 or one and half ounces of gold. Today, the average bill is £4,000 a term, or six ounces of gold. At the most prestigious boarding schools, such as Eton, a term’s fees can reach £9,000 (before extras). That takes the total cost of a private secondary education to as much as £135,000 – about half a gold ingot.
Talk about a heavy load. During the past decade, school fees have risen by three-quarters. Broader UK inflation, meanwhile, has been about 20 per cent. Everything is relative, however, and by some measures school fees have actually fallen. Take what is typically the largest asset owned by a private educating family, their home. Now match it against their largest cost. In 1999, the value of an average UK house was equivalent to five years of Eton fees. Today it would buy almost 6 years.

Auditioning Their Hearts Out, for High School

Jennifer Medina:

Like a Lincoln Center hopeful, Aislee Nieves spends most afternoons in her cramped living room, the couch pulled aside so she can perfect her pointed toes and pirouettes. A spreadsheet tells her the tryouts she has attended, where and when the next one is and the one after that.
On a recent Sunday she flitted about her apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, collecting what she needed that day: ballet slippers, leotard, footless tights, all slipped into her bright green knapsack.
“Mommy, you have the admission ticket? And my transcript?” she asked, her 13-year-old voice betraying a slight edginess.
Yes, yes, her mother, Blanca Vasquez, answered. After all, they had been auditioning for high school nearly every weekend for the last month.
The high school admission process in New York City is notoriously dizzying, with each eighth grader asked to rank up to a dozen choices, and the most competitive schools requiring tests, essays or interviews. But for hundreds of students who sing, dance, act or play an instrument, trying out for the ninth grade is now an all-consuming routine.

More Michigan – Funky Rubber Room!

Andrew Rotherham:

Yesterday we checked in on the Race to the Top debate in Michigan. Today, Detroit News editorial writer and columnist Amber Arellano writes up a guest post on the debate in Motown over the possible arrival of “rubber rooms,” which as we’ve noted on this blog aren’t as fun as the name implies.

Detroit’s New Rubber Room

New York City’s embarrassment is Detroit’s education reform “revolution”

This month the Detroit Public Schools posted the lowest student achievement results in the 40-year history of the NAEP. Educators began weeping when briefed on the news. And city charter schools, once Motown’s hope for change, on average are performing just as terribly as the school district.

As if Detroit’s education reputation couldn’t get any worse, consider: a new teachers’ contract, if ratified today, would create Detroit’s first Rubber Room.

The GMAT Sentence Correction Challenge

Nick Saint:

What does mastery of the finer points of English grammar have to do with succeeding in business?
Nothing.
But if you want to get into a top business school, you need to do well on the GMAT. And that means tangling with some very ugly verbal questions.
Specifically, it means psychoanalyzing the folks who put the test together, who sometimes don’t include a correct English answer as one of the options.
When there’s no right answer to a question (which there often isn’t in business), you have to figure out the least-wrong answer–without being driven insane by rage at the stupidity of your questioner. Thus, the GMAT tests your aptitude for all sorts of things you WILL need in business.

Give diligencing its due in the lexicon of 2010

Michael Skapinker:

The New Oxford American Dictionary has announced its 2009 word of the year. It is “unfriend”, as in “I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight”.
Unfriend has “currency and potential longevity”, says Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford’s US dictionary programme. It is true, she says, that most words with the prefix “un-” are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant) but there are some “un-” verbs, such as unpack and uncap. “Unfriend has real lex-appeal,” she says.
“Unfriend” will irritate those who oppose the nasty habit of turning nouns into verbs. But nouns have been turning into verbs for ages. In his book The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker estimates that a fifth of English verbs started as nouns, including “to progress”, “to contact” and “to host”.
Also, many supposedly new words are not new at all. “Unfriend” has an ancient past, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1659, Thomas Fuller wrote in The Appeal of Injured Innocence: “I hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Unfriended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.”
I am interested in the words that did not make word of the year. They included “paywall” (admitting only paying subscribers to part of a website) and “birther” (someone who believes Barack Obama was not born in the US).

Milwaukee School Board Approves Condom Giveaways

Tom Kertscher:

Without discussion, the Milwaukee School Board voted 7-0 Thursday night to make condoms available at many of the city’s high schools, paving the way to make Milwaukee Public Schools one of the relatively few districts in the nation to provide contraception to students.
The communicable disease prevention program, as the district calls it, could be in place as soon as the 2010-’11 school year.
The proposal sparked some opposition after being made public Dec. 2, but the board approved the condom distribution without much dissent. Comments from the public are not allowed at board meetings and a board committee had voted 5-0 on Dec. 9 to recommend adopting the program.
The condoms will be available free of charge, but only to students in high schools that have school nurses and only after students request them at the nurse’s office, according to a fact sheet circulated by the school district. Up to two condoms will be distributed at a time.
Thursday’s vote does not authorize funding for the program, but the district has said it will not use taxpayer money to buy condoms and instead will seek other sources of funding.

Somewhat related: biggovernment.com and mediamatters.org have been going back and forth on Obama Administration “safe school czar” Kevin Jenning’s K-12 sex education activities.

The Explosion of Charter Schools in America

US News & World Report:

With 809, California leads the nation in the number of charter schools. In less than 20 years, the education activists have started nearly 5,000 of these institutions, which are publicly financed and free for students to attend but independently operated.

Rules on teachers, schools could change to snare aid

Dawson Bell:

Determined not to leave up to $400 million in federal funds on the table, state lawmakers appear determined this week to resolve differences in House and Senate bills that mandate significant changes in public schools.
To qualify for the Race to the Top federal stimulus money, Michigan would have to make changes to allow merit pay for teachers, lessen restrictions on opening charter schools, plan for sanctions for underperforming schools and make it easier for people to become teachers. Teachers unions and local school officials have fought the ideas in the past.
Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, said state and federal initiatives will produce “a sea change” in the way troubled schools operate and kids learn. “It’s a huge deal,” he said.
And it’s a lot of money for a state with big money problems. The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have approved different versions of legislation that must be resolved before Gov. Jennifer Granholm can sign it.

TJX hacker mulls Asperger’s defense

Dan Goodin:

The international hacker who has admitted to stealing more than 130 million payment card numbers has mounted a new defense claim that he might suffer from Asperger’s syndrome, a court filing indicates.
On Tuesday, attorneys for Albert Gonzalez filed a report from a forensic psychologist that questioned the criminal hacker’s “capacity to knowingly evaluate the wrongfulness of his actions and consciously behave lawfully and avoid crime,” according to federal prosecutors. The report went on to state that his “behavior was consistent with description of the Asperger’s disorder.”
Gonzalez becomes the latest hacker under prosecution to raise the Asperger’s defense in arguing for leniency. Most notably, NASA hacker Gary McKinnon has cited the Autism-related disorder in fighting extradition to the US to face computer trespass charges. UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson has repeatedly rejected claims raised by McKinnon’s attorneys and supporters and has indicated he will not stop the forced transfer.

When College Students Start to Think

Christian Schneider:

University of Wisconsin campuses have a well-deserved reputation for being safe havens for liberal thought. But at the UW-Fox Valley, something odd is happening – it appears a backlash is underway.
It all began in November, when Campus Dean Dr. James Perry suggested on his blog that the campus should have more “green” parking spaces. Apparently, the campus has set aside certain choice parking spots for students with Priuses (Prii?) or other “low emitting and fuel efficient” (LEFEV) vehicles. Dr. Perry suggested expanding the number of “green” spaces, to encourage more students to buy these cars, saying:

A holiday guide to books for kids

Jay Matthews:

I share this secret only with recluses like myself who lack the imagination to conceive of any gift better than a book. If you are buying for a child — particularly if you are in a last-minute Christmas shopping panic — scan this list compiled by a company called Renaissance Learning.
It is an amazing document. Parents who keep track of what their children are doing in school, particularly in this area, might be vaguely aware of Renaissance Learning and its famous product, Accelerated Reader, the most influential reading program in the country. It was started 23 years ago by Judi Paul and her husband, Terry, after she invented on her kitchen table a quizzing system to motivate their children to read.
Students read books, some assigned but many chosen on their own, and then take computer quizzes, either online or with Accelerated Reader software, to see whether they understood what they read. Students compile points based in part on the difficulty and length of each book and sometimes earn prizes from their schools.

A reason to hope for better schools

St. Petersburg Times:

They are two of the clearest reasons to be both discouraged and hopeful about public education in Tampa Bay. The wide disparities in passing rates for Advanced Placement exams, often within the same high school, indicate a failure by district superintendents and school principals to hold teachers accountable for performance. Looking forward, a $100 million grant to Hillsborough schools by the Gates Foundation offers a wonderful opportunity to improve teacher training and match salaries to more sophisticated measures of performance. The bold experimentation in Hillsborough could show the way to address the sorts of shortcomings exposed by the analysis of AP exams.
There are more immediate steps that can be taken to address a system that rewards schools for increasing the number of students taking AP exams but ignores teachers with ridiculously low exam passing rates. The state should proceed with plans to put more weight on passing rates in evaluating high schools. The schools should re-examine their policies that encourage even unprepared students to take college-level AP classes. Students should be challenged with rigorous courses, but it is a disservice to admit those who have virtually no chance to grasp the material well enough to pass the exam. That is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.