Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wishing you the best in 2007

It is not your environment;
it is not your history;
It is not your education or ability.
It is the quality of your mind
that predicts your future.
- Dr. Benjamin Mays

Happy New Year!

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

No Child Left Behind: Five years later

Report examines impact of education law

A new policy paper, entitled "Ten Big Effects," examines the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind Law five years after it took effect. The paper comes from The Center on Education Policy (CEP), an independent, nonprofit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

The center has been conducting an ongoing review of the law, gathering information, surveying education officials in all 50 states and producing numerous reports on various aspects of NCLB.

The law, which is up for reauthorization in 2007, is aimed at raising achievement and closing the achievement gap. It holds schools accountable for test scores, test participation, attendance and graduation rates for all students. To read the CEP report (a PDF document), click here.

Related: What's next for NCLB?

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Examining freshman academies

Efforts to boost graduation rates

Freshman academies, where ninth-graders take classes in separate buildings away from older students, are part of a movement centered around smaller learning communities. Ultimately, the programs aim to boost graduation rates by helping students master the core curriculum of math, science, English and social studies early, while providing coping skills and fostering greater teacher-student interaction.
Details from The Journey News (New York).

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We're back!

Starting today, I will resume posting selected education stories on this site.

If you have ideas for future posts, just leave them in comments.
It's nice to be back. (smile)

By the way, continue to check out
Media by Sistrunk
because I will continue to post education stories of a general nature there.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

We're moving

Education stories are now being posted at
Media by Sistrunk
Please visit me there.

Selected writings are also posted at

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Missouri news: Addressing education turmoil in St. Louis

Missouri Commissioner of Education Names Special
Advisory Committee on St. Louis Public Schools

Commissioner of Education D. Kent King on Thursday appointed five Missourians to a special committee that will help find solutions to the continuing turmoil in the St. Louis Public Schools. King announced the appointments during a meeting of the State Board of Education in Jefferson City.

Since the abrupt resignation of the school district's superintendent two weeks ago, King said there have been calls for various types of intervention by state education officials in the operations of the school district.

"Under current law, we can consider various levels of intervention in the school district. However, I would like to give the new administration and the school board some breathing room so they can stabilize the district and prepare for the opening of school on August 28.

"I am grateful to these five citizens for their willingness to help the State Board of Education and the St. Louis Public Schools through this difficult time," King said. The following individuals have agreed to serve on the committee:

  • Dr. William H. Danforth, Chancellor Emeritus
    Washington University, St. Louis

  • Mrs. Frankie M. Freeman, Attorney

  • Mr. Ned Lemkemeier, Attorney

  • Mr. Michael Middleton, Deputy Chancellor
    University of Missouri-Columbia

  • Dr. Donald Suggs, Publisher
    St. Louis American newspaper

Dr. Danforth and Mrs. Freeman will co-chair the committee. They currently serve as co-chairs of the St. Louis Community Monitoring and Support Task Force. Mr. Lemkemeier is a member of the task force. The task force was created by the federal court to oversee implementation of the January 1999 settlement agreement in the St. Louis desegregation case.

Commissioner King said he will ask the committee to gather information and make recommendations on the following topics:

Analyzing the district'’s academic performance and identifying steps the district must take to regain full accreditation.

  • Reviewing issues related to the desegregation settlement agreement, governance of the district, and the district'’s accreditation status.

  • Clarifying the financial condition of the school district.

  • Clarifying the primary concerns of parents and community residents about the governance and operations of the district.

  • Recommending potential changes in state law concerning the state'’s involvement with the school district.

  • "The district's accreditation status will be determined this fall by the State Board of Education, based largely on the academic performance of St. Louis students during 2005-06. I am not optimistic that we will see improved test scores this year," King said. The district is currently "provisionally accredited" under state standards.

    "In the meantime, I hope this committee will help reduce tensions in the St. Louis community and help all parties restore their focus on the common goal of providing a safe and positive learning environment for children.

    "We do not have a goal of taking over Missouri'’s largest school district. That is a drastic measure, and we would rather spend our energy on improving education for the students. The St. Louis board of education, however, must find a way to restore stable and effective leadership for the district. If it cannot do so, we will not hesitate to intervene on behalf of the students, parents and teachers," King said.


    Source: Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

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    Parent involvment gets results

    Involved parents increase chances for student success

    All parents want their children to succeed in school. Research reveals that children whose parents are involved in their kids' education are more likely to succeed. But for many parents, it is hard to know how or when to start.

    Today's parents work long hours, extra jobs and must handle a host of other responsibilities. Resources such as Parent Information Resource Centers (PIRCs) offer assistance in many states. Many community centers also provide help. By all means, do not overlook your child's school, which can provide a wealth of information.

    Education starts at home. Kids spend most of their waking hours outside of school. Rose Jackson-Beavers, an author and director of parent services for the Parent Engagement and Empowerment Center in St. Louis, believes that even busy parents can take an active role in their child's education. According to Jackson-Beavers, the benefits of ongoing parent involvement are substantial.

    "A parent's opportunity to get involved in their child's education doesn't end the moment that child walks into the classroom," said Jackson-Beavers. "Studies show that children with involved parents have more positive learning experiences. This translates into better academic performance, higher grades and test scores. I know our parents can make this happen with a little help."

    Here are tips on how busy parents can work smart:

    - Send your child to school well-fed and rested.
    - Stay on top of homework.

    - Attend open house or back-to-school night at your child's school. It's the perfect time to meet your child's teacher. If you have to work, schedule a meeting with the teacher at another time.
    - Go to parent-teacher conferences.
    - Each day, ask your children what they are learning at school. Discuss it with them or have them explain it.

    - Set high expectations for your children. Encourage them to do their best.
    - Get involved in your school's parent-teacher organization, and find out other ways you can support your child's school.

    St. Louis parents offer their own advice on best practices. Kimberly Brandon is the mother of a middle school student. She also taught elementary school for 22 years in a suburban school district. Family friends notice that Brandon and her daughter, Margaret, always work together as a team. They even tackle homework at the hair salon!

    "I learned right away to be the best teacher you could be for your child at home," said Brandon. "Don't ever stop working with your child. Anytime my daughter has homework, I am involved in it." Brandon emphasizes that the effort comes with rewards. Margaret now carries a 4.0 grade point average.

    Another St. Louis mom, Leslie Smith, encourages parents to establish ongoing communication with their children. Kids will talk to me before they will talk to their mom or dad," Smith stated. "They are afraid to talk to their parents." Smith says it is important that parents listen to their kids.

    Debbie Crump has the experience of being a mother, a grandmother, and a foster mom. She says that when she was raising her own children, her job made it difficult for her to be active in school.

    Nevertheless, Crump emphasizes, "You definitely need to develop a relationship with the teacher. Let the teacher know that you really care about your child's education."
    Crump, who is proud of her adult kids, now raises two foster children.

    Bottom line: When parents are involved in their children's education, kids do better in school.

    Additional Resources:

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    Monday, July 10, 2006

    UK students to take "happiness lessons"

    Schools experiment with a new strategy
    to improve student performance and behavior

    "Happiness lessons" are being offered to students in the U.K., and American experts are being called in to help. In Britain, figures show that at least 10 per cent - three children in every average-sized class of 30 in the country - are experiencing symptoms of severe depression, including suicidal thoughts, prolonged bouts of despair and the urge to cry on a daily basis.

    Sources say that today, many children experience some form of mental illness as early as 14. Twenty-five years ago, the average age of people who fell ill to depression was 30. Details from The Independent (UK).

    Related: Why happiness lessons are the cure for those teenage ills

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    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Friday, June 23, 2006

    Making the case for effective teaching

    Teacher Quality
    © 2006 Editorial Projects in Education
    Education Week

    Research shows that good teaching matters.

    Effective teachers are capable of inspiring significantly greater learning gains in their students when compared with their weaker colleagues. Value-added assessment studies in Tennessee show that the difference in achievement between students who attended classes taught by high-quality versus those taught by low-quality teachers for three consecutive years is sizeable: approximately 50 percentile points on standardized tests (Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Such studies determine students' average annual rates of improvement, as measured by test scores. They estimate how much value a teacher has contributed to student achievement, factoring in the gains the student was expected to make based on past performance (The Teaching Commission, 2004; Crane, 2002). In Texas, economists have amassed a body of work that further emphasizes the measurable influence that teachers have on student performance (Hanushek, Kain & Rivkin, 1998).

    Even so, the specific characteristics that constitute an effective teacher are hotly debated. Teacher quality is extremely difficult to measure. As a result, most studies resort to measurable teacher inputs such as certification, academic degrees, and years of experience. Some studies that have correlated teacher test scores on basic skills tests and college entrance exams with the scores of their students on standardized tests have found that high-scoring teachers are more likely to elicit significant gains in student achievement than their lower-scoring counterparts (Ferguson, 1998; Ferguson & Ladd, 1996; Strauss & Sawyer, 1986).

    Deep content-area knowledge is also an attribute of teachers that seems to have a positive impact on student achievement (Monk, 1994). This appears especially true for science and mathematics teachers. A review of research by the Education Commission of the States found moderate support for the importance that teachers be well-versed in their subjects. The review points out, however, that the research is not detailed enough to clarify how much subject matter is critical for teaching specific course levels and grades. The same review found less support for the importance of pedagogical coursework or field experiences for teachers, although courses focused on how best to teach a particular subject may contribute to effective teaching (Allen, 2003).

    Teaching experience also appears to have an influence on student achievement. Teachers with less teaching experience typically produce smaller learning gains in their students compared with more seasoned teachers (Fetler, 1999; Murnane & Phillips, 1981). However, most of those studies have also discovered that the benefits of experience level off after the first five or so years of teaching.

    There is a lot less consensus about certification. Some reports claim that certified teachers are no better in practice than uncertified instructors (Abell Foundation, 2001) while others assert that certification is an important step in ensuring quality teaching (Darling-Hammond, 2002). A review of research found that certification in a particular subject area, in this case, mathematics, may result in more effective teaching (Wayne & Youngs, 2003). One recent and controversial study found that students of certified instructors out-performed students of uncertified teachers (Laczko-Kerr & Berliner, 2002); however, reviews have called into question the methodology and results of the study (Freedman, 2002; Imai, 2002).

    Regardless of the mixed research findings, teacher quality is a priority area in education policy. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that by the end of the 2005-06 school year, every teacher working in a public school must be “highly qualified”—meaning that a teacher is certified and has demonstrated proficiency in his or her subject matter, by having majored in the subject in college, passing a subject-knowledge test, or obtaining advanced certification in the subject. Veteran teachers have the additional option of proving their subject-matter expertise though a state-determined high, objective, and uniform standard of evaluation.
    A report by the Council of Chief State School Officers estimated, using data from the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, that only about two-thirds of secondary teachers in science and math would have been considered “highly qualified” (Blank, 2003). Education Week’s annual report on state education policies, Quality Counts 2004, found that 34 states and the District of Columbia currently require high school teachers to pass a subject-knowledge test in order to receive beginning-teacher licenses. Twenty-eight states require all of their high school teachers to have majored in college in the subject they teach.

    To meet the challenge of placing a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, some states are strengthening their traditional teacher-preparation programs and developing systems to hold those programs accountable. Such programs often come under fire for curricula marked by a lack of rigor and research-based instruction (Steiner, 2003).

    The federal government currently requires states to report the pass rates on teacher licensing exams for all of their teacher education institutions. However, the pass rates vary in meaningfulness because the standards for determining pass rates differ from state to state. Quality Counts 2004 shows that 12 states have taken their accountability systems a step further by holding their teacher-training programs accountable for the performance of their graduates in a classroom setting. The report also found that, while 39 states and the District of Columbia identify low-performing teacher-training programs, 26 had not yet designated a single program as low-performing for the 2002-03 school year.

    Many schools have also introduced induction and mentoring programs to address high attrition rates and improve the practice of their inexperienced teachers. Fifteen states require and finance mentoring programs for all new teachers (Quality Counts, 2004). Other states and districts are attempting to raise teacher salaries and improve working conditions in an effort to curb early departures.

    Some experts and researchers argue that, while efforts to improve teacher quality as a whole are necessary, significant attention should be focused on the disparities between high- and low-need schools. Quality Counts 2003: "If I Can't Learn From You...", which looked at state efforts to recruit and retain teachers, found that while students in high-poverty and high-minority schools are receiving instruction from less-qualified teachers on a variety of measures, states and districts are doing little in the way of targeting recruitment and retention efforts to find effective teachers for the students who need them the most.


    Abell Foundation, “Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality,” 2001.

    Allen, M., "Eight Questions on Teacher Preparation: What Does the Research Say?," Education Commission of the States, 2003.

    Blank, R.K., “Meeting NCLB Goals for Highly Qualified Teachers: Estimates by State from Survey Data,” Council of Chief State School Officers, 2003, October.

    Crane, J., “The Promise of Value-Added Testing,” Progressive Policy Institute, 2002, November.

    Darling-Hammond, L., “Research and Rhetoric on Teacher Certification: A Response to ‘Teacher Certification Reconsidered,’” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10 (36), 2002.

    Education Week, Quality Counts 2004: Count Me In Jan. 8, 2004.

    Education Week, Quality Counts 2003: ‘If I Can’t Learn from You…,’” Jan. 9, 2003.

    Ferguson, R.F., “Teachers’ Perceptions and Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap,” In Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips (Eds.), The Black-White Test Score Gap and Can Schools Narrow the Black-White Test Score Gap? pp. 273-374, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1998.

    Ferguson, R.F. and Ladd, H.F., “How and Why Money Matters: An Analysis of Alabama Schools,” In Helen F. Ladd (Ed.), Holding Schools Accountable: Performance Based Reform in Education, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1996.

    Fetler, M., “High School Staff Characteristics and Mathematics Test Results,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7 (9), 1999.

    Freedman, P., “Memo to Wendy Kopp, President, Teach For America, re: Laczcko, Kerr Berliner study,” 2002.

    Hanushek, E.A., Kain, J.F., and Rivkin, S.G., “Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement,” (NBER Working Paper No. w6691), National Bureau of Economic Research, 1998, August.

    Imai, K., “Comments on Laczko-Kerr, I. and Berliner, D. C. The Effectiveness of Teach for America and Other Under-certified Teachers on Student Academic Achievement: A Case of Harmful Public Policy,” Harvard University, Department of Government, 2002.

    Laczko-Kerr, I., and Berliner, D.C., “The Effectiveness of "Teach for America" and Other Under-certified Teachers on Student Academic Achievement: A Case of Harmful Public Policy,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10 (37), 2002.

    Monk, D.H., “Subject Matter Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement,” Economics of Education Review, 13 (2), pp.125-145, 1994.

    Murnane, R.J. and Phillips, B.R., “Learning By Doing, Vintage, and Selection: Three Pieces of the Puzzle Relating Teaching Experience and Teaching Performance,” Economics of Education Review, 1 (4), pp. 453-465, 1981.

    No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, (the complete text).

    Sanders, W.L. and Rivers, J.C., “Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Student Academic Achievement,” Knoxville, University of Tennessee Value-Added Research and Assessment Center, 1996.

    Steiner, D., “Preparing Teachers: Are American Schools of Education Up to the Task?,” Paper presented at the conference, “A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom: Appraising Old Answers and New Ideas,” hosted by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and the Progressive Policy Institute, 2003, October.

    Strauss, R.P. and Sawyer, E.A., “Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies,” Economics of Education Review, 5 (1), pp. 41-48, 1986.

    The Teaching Commission, “Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action,” 2004.

    Wayne, A.J. and Youngs, P., “Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement Gains: A Review,” Review of Educational Research, 73 (1), pp. 89-122, 2003.

    © 2006 Editorial Projects in Education


    For another discussion on teacher quality, check out a post by Dennis Fermoyle on his blog, From the Trenches of Public Ed.


    Friday, June 16, 2006

    The waning of America's higher education

    U.S. may be losing global edge, study suggests

    According to a new report, America’s competitive edge in higher education is waning. The U.S. has formidable rates when it comes to students entering postsecondary education, but declining rates of actual degree attainment. In 2002, the U.S. ranked only 13th in the percent of the population that enters postsecondary education and then completes a bachelor’s degree or higher.

    Much of the decline seems to be taking place in a number of major states with large populations. reports on the study, conducted by the University of California, Berkeley.

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    Thursday, June 15, 2006

    Quote of the week

    The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
    -- Alvin Toffler

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    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    A pair of magical hands

    Former trucker teaches surgery

    James Crudup, an ex-trucker with roots in Mississippi, is revered by many doctors. Crudup, who never went to college, who was never allowed to operate on a human, was considered the best surgeon in the University of Michigan medical school. And he's credited with training some of the world's most reknown specialists. The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, MS, tells this American story.

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    Sunday, June 11, 2006

    Building parent relationships

    Strategies from a teacher

    Relationship building is important in every profession, and it is certainly key to being a good educator. Kids succeed when the school and home work as partners.

    If you've never been a classroom instructor, then you'll never truly understand the balancing act teachers face each day - dealing with "boisterous" students, cranky parents, staying on schedule when it comes to curriculum, grading reams of papers and completing an abundance of other paperwork.

    Building and maintaining relationships with parents takes time. So how can busy teachers find the time, and why should they do it? Elementaryhistoryteacher, publisher of History Is Elementary, offers some ideas. Here is an excerpt from a recent post.

    Relationship building….that’s my mission. I think I already have some good pieces of the puzzle in place, however, I need to get over myself and call, call again, and call some more. Once I have my rosters in a few short weeks I need to call and introduce myself. I need to prepare some questions during my time off that well help me keep the conversation focused on their child and his or her needs as a student. What do you like best about your child? What is your child’s strengths? What discipline strategies do you follow at home? Who is at home when your child arrives? Who will be helping your child with his/her homework? I need to note previous low grades, previous low test scores, previous excessive absences or tardies and address them in a positive manner. I need to make myself available in this introductory phone call for questions the parent may have. Phone calls should continue through the first nine weeks and on into the year. Phone calls should not be made just when there is a problem. I believe that I could take my rosters and divide up the phone calling so that it would manageable for my busy schedule throughout each nine week period.

    Another strategy to continue building and maintain good relationships all year long would be to continue with my weekly or bi-weekly newsletter. This could be sent home as before, but this time I could employ the students to help of papers and they might be more willing to get it home when they should. I also would like to send the newsletter by email when possible and make it available on line. I want to develop a classroom blog where parents could see daily updates on what we are doing the classroom as well as pictures that could be uploaded for viewing. Student work could be posted and my writers could have their works published.

    I believe that I have here a good framework for cementing good relationships with parents. The key is communication. I am sure that I will still have a few parents balk at my overtures for a good relationship, but many more can be brought on board by a simple phone call. I am the teacher, and there really is no excuse not to pursue relationships.

    Hopefully, parents will show appreciation for our blogging friend's efforts. To read Elementaryhistoryteacher's entire post, click here.

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    Friday, June 02, 2006

    Entering college without a high school diploma

    Students seek higher education through the back door

    A growing number of colleges nationwide are accepting students who have not graduated from high school. Nearly 400,000 students without high school diplomas are enrolled in colleges, according to a survey by the U.S. Education Department conducted in 2003–2004.

    In an age of elevated dropout rates, observers note that the growth is fueling a debate over whether the students should be in college at all and if state financial aid programs should help pay their way. Karen Arenson reports for the New York Times.

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    Could adults work in this environment?

    Nearly one-third of black students report serious disruptions and distractions

    If an adult were forced to work in an environment where disrespect, bad language, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and other bad behaviors are inflicted by a relative few, but tolerated or winked at by management, it might be considered a "hostile workplace," a new report released by the nonpartisan research organization Public Agenda points out.

    Substantial numbers of the nation's black and Hispanic students report conditions like these in their schools, according to a Public Agenda national survey of parents, middle and high school students and teachers. Asked to rate their schools on key academic and social dimensions -– resources, promotion policies, dropout rates, truancy, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and others -- black and Hispanic students are more likely than their white counterparts to report "very serious" problems in nearly every category.

    In "Reality Check 2006: How Black and Hispanic Families Rate Their Schools" (the second report issued this year in the Reality Check 2006 series), Public Agenda found that American students have much in common regardless of racial or ethnic background. Majorities of all students back higher standards, say their teachers do a good job in most respects, and express some level of concern about lack of respect, profanity, and drugs and alcohol abuse in their schools. But for minority kids, academic problems like high dropout rates and kids getting passed through the system without learning, and social issues like profanity, disrespect for teachers and drug and alcohol abuse are far more prevalent and "serious" in their schools. According to the report, about 3 in 10 black youngsters attend schools with considerable turmoil:

    30% of black students report that teachers spend more time trying to keep order than teaching

    30% say their school has very serious problems with drug and alcohol abuse

    32% report very serious problems with fighting and weapons

    33% say their school is not consistent in enforcing discipline and behavior rules

    37% say their school has a very serious problem with kids cutting class

    52% say their school has a very serious problem with kids who lack respect for teachers and use bad language

    Nearly half of Hispanic students (48%) report that their school has a very serious problem with kids dropping out.

    Jean Johnson, executive director of Public Agenda's new initiative Education Insights and an author of the report said, "This is not grumbling from a group of easily-shocked adults who haven't been inside a school in years and still haven’t come to grips with today’s teen fashions. These are the judgments of young people themselves who say problems like truancy and disrespect for teachers are very serious in their schools -- not just 'somewhat serious,' but 'very serious.' A lot of these kids are highly aware that their schools are not serving them well, and that has to be discouraging."

    Minority parents are also more likely to report serious academic and social problems in their schools. Half of black (49%) and Hispanic (52%) parents say that it is a very serious problem that local schools are "not getting enough money to do a good job," compared to a third of white parents (33%). Minority parents are also twice as likely as white parents to say fighting and weapons are very serious issues and are more likely to question whether local school district superintendents do enough to ensure that schools are safe and orderly. Teachers in minority schools are more likely to complain about large classes, poor teaching conditions and lack of parental support.

    This edition of "Reality Check" does include some particularly heartening findings for those who seek silver linings. Majorities of all students -- black (66%), white (72%) and Hispanic (71%) -- report that they have had a teacher who was able to get them interested in a subject that they hadn't really liked before. Additionally, most parents (61%), across racial and ethnic groups, believe their children's schools are better than the ones they attended when they were young.

    To read the full report, click here.

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    Thursday, June 01, 2006

    Weird keepsakes

    Peeking at items confiscated by teachers

    Love notes, underwear, cologne, a live rooster, and a dead owl are among the treasured items students have smuggled into class -- and that teachers have taken away. Take a look at some of these weird keepsakes. Hear teachers describe their wackiest finds.

    Via: Public Education Network

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    Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    What's next for NCLB?

    Examining the effectiveness of the federal mandate

    The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) comes up for renewal next year. Educators voice growing concern over the federal law's impact and the rising number of schools facing sanctions.

    More than 23,000 schools, a quarter of all public schools, failed to meet their NCLB test targets this year. Growing numbers will face the now-familiar NCLB sanctions of student transfers and supplemental tutoring. Many schools also face penalties of "restructuring." That means state or private takeover, or other major reorganization.

    Critics of NCLB cite lack of funding to meet mandates, vagueness in the 1100-page legislation and questions as to whether the law has actually fostered improved student achievement. Stan Karp examines the issues for Rethinking Schools magazine.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    NCLB background

    In 2002, President Bush signed into law the most sweeping educational reform law since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was first enacted in 1965. Authors of the legislation say it is designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America’s schools.

    NCLB passed with bipartisan support. The statute addresses four principles of education reform:

    - stronger accountability for results
    - increased flexibility and local control
    - expanded options for parents
    - emphasis on teaching methods that are proven to work

    There are five nationwide goals for all children:

    - proficiency in reading and math by the 2013-2014 school year
    - English proficiency for limited English proficient students
    - qualified teachers in every classroom by 2005-2006
    - safe and drug-free learning environments
    - high school graduation for all students

    Related: U.S. Department of Education, National Education Association

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    Sunday, May 07, 2006

    Improving low-performing high schools

    Research addresses five challenges facing educators

    A new report, Meeting Five Critical Challenges of High School Reform: Lessons from Research on Three Reform Models, offers research-based lessons for helping low-performing high schools, which are the focus of increased concern by federal, state, and local policymakers. The study comes from MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization focused on education and social policy.

    Dropout rates at American high schools remain stubbornly high — estimated at 29 percent nationally and even higher for African-American and Hispanic students. In fact, 46 percent of African-American students and 39 percent of Hispanic students attend high schools where graduation is no better than a 50-50 proposition. And too many high school students who do manage to graduate aren’t ready for the worlds of work and college. For instance, 28 percent of all students entering public two-and four-year colleges in the fall of 2000 had to take remedial courses.

    Recent research on three high school reform models — Career Academies, First Things First, and Talent Development — offers hope that programs can improve low-performing high schools. Together, these three interventions are being implemented in more than 2,500 high schools across the country, and various components of these models are being used in thousands more schools. Each model has been the subject of rigorous evaluation by MDRC, and each has been shown to improve some measures of student success. The new report offers lessons from across these three studies on:

    - Creating personalized and orderly learning environments
    - Assisting students
    - who enter high school with poor academic skills
    - Improving instructional content and practice
    - Preparing students for the world beyond high school
    - Stimulating change in overstressed high schools

    In short, the report asserts that structural changes and instructional improvement are the twin pillars of high school reform. MDRC’s research suggests that transforming schools into small learning communities and assigning students to faculty advisors can increase students’ feelings of connectedness to their teachers. Extended class periods, special catch-up courses, high-quality curricula, and training on these curricula for teachers can improve student achievement. Furthermore, school-employer partnerships that involve career awareness activities and work internships can help students attain higher earnings after high school.

    In addition, students who enter ninth grade behind academically can make better progress if initiatives single them out for special support. These supports include caring teachers and special courses designed to help them to acquire the content knowledge and learning skills they missed out on in earlier grades.

    Freshman Academies housed in a separate part of the building may also be helpful. Developed for an audience of policymakers and practitioners, MDRC’s new research synthesis looks inside the “black box” of the three comprehensive reforms to draw reasoned conclusions about which particular aspects of the interventions made them effective (or, in some cases, proved ineffective).

    “Whether districts and schools adopt a comprehensive reform initiative like the ones MDRC studied or put together the elements of a comprehensive intervention on their own, much has been learned about what is needed — and what seems to work,” noted report author Janet Quint. “What remains is to make sure that practitioners have the support they need to put that learning into practice.”

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    The demise of the kindergarten nap?

    In academic push, "quiet time" replaces classroom shut-eye

    It's an experience many of us have had - comfy little naps during kindergarten. In the push for better classroom performance at all grade levels, naps for young students are becoming a thing of the past. Are we educating a generation of sleep-deprived children? Gail Smith-Arrants of the Charlotte Observer takes a look.

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    Monday, May 01, 2006

    New resource available for parents, teachers of learning disabled

    Online guide serves wide range of needs

    Teachers of struggling learners have a new resource to draw upon. The National Center for Learning Disabilities has just launched an innovative, online guide to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),which is designed to explain the federal laws that underpin special education in every state.

    Although created primarily for parents, the guide is also a valuable source of information -- in accessible language -- for classroom teachers who may not have a background in special education. Teachers can use the guide as a referral for parents or use it themselves to better understand the rights and requirements of their students who have special needs. For details, click here.

    Via: Public Education Network

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    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Helping students to become resilient

    New publication provides strategies for school counselors

    A new guide helps guidance counselors, educators, and after-school staff coach students on how to be resilient, as well as the positive effects of strong character. The publication combines the teaching of ethics with helping children to resolve problems in everyday life. Strategies include:

    - Strengthening adult and child partnerships in problem-solving

    - Drawing lessons and ideas from the experiences of story characters to apply to students' lives

    - Engaging in discussions to enhance listening, mentoring and coaching

    - Teaching a variety of coping mechanisms and strategies

    To read a free sample of the guide (a PDF file), click here.

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    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    Scrambling for scholarships

    Paying for college: Resourcefulness the key

    For college-bound high school seniors, scholarship-hunting is a serious endeavor. Only a fraction of students will get a full ride. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch examines the challenges facing kids and parents in its article, Piecemeal tuition.

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    Monday, April 10, 2006

    Katrina students: Seeking common ground

    Youngsters finding ways to fit in

    In the more than six months since Hurricane Katrina - thousands of students, and the schools that have taken them in - have had to walk a fine line between fitting in and loyalty to friends back home. Displaced students and their new schools continue to adjust, as CNN reports.

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    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Reconnecting out-of-school youth

    Doing 'Whatever It Takes'

    A new report documents what creative educators, policymakers, and community leaders are doing to across the country reconnect out-of-school youth to the social and economic mainstream. The publication, Whatever It Takes: How Twelve Communities Are Reconnecting Out-of-School Youth, provides background on the serious high school dropout problem and describes in-depth what twelve communities are doing to reconnect dropouts to education and employment training.

    The report also includes descriptions of major national program models serving out-of-school youngsters. Click here to download the report, which is provided by the American Youth Policy Forum.

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    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    Teacher's lounge goes global

    Web journals become the new fly on the wall

    It was only a matter of time. Teachers have entered the blogosphere.

    Many teachers' blogs are merely personal journals or opportunities for professional networking. But look out for the ones that are technology's answer to the teacher's lounge - complete with professional chit-chat, catty remarks about colleagues and - gasp! - gripes about students. More from Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post.

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    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    College prep for high school juniors

    Resources available for low-income students

    Questbridge is a non-profit organization dedicated to giving high-achieving, low-income students resources during the college application process. Questbridge is accepting applications for its college prep program for high school juniors. Maximum Award: Full scholarship to summer program, coverage of expenses for college travel visits, SAT prep course and material, and a new laptop computer. Eligibility: high-performing, low-income high school juniors. Deadline: May 15, 2006. More info:

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    Solving global problems

    Program encourages collaboration between schools of different countries

    The National Association of Independent Schools invites participation in Challenge 20/20, a program that brings together two schools: one from the United States and one from another country. Teacher-student teams from both schools work together throughout the fall semester of 2006 to come up with a solution to a global problem. Eligibility: All U.S. schools, elementary and secondary, public and private. Deadline: April 15, 2006. More info: Challenge 20/20.

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    Friday, March 17, 2006

    American Idol credited with filling music classes

    Pop! goes the curriculum

    At a time when music education budgets are in trouble, "American Idol" makes some teachers cry for an encore. The smash Fox show is known for crowning newly minted pop stars as well as for the critiques offered by "Mr. Personality," the inimitable Simon Cowell .

    "American Idol" has renewed enthusiasm for music education at the grass-roots level. Educators hope that the increased student interest will save music programs from the chopping block. Eric Spanberg writes for the Christian Science Monitor.

    Via: Public Education Network

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    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Why kids drop out of school

    High School Dropouts: The Silent Epidemic
    By George E. Curry

    If you listen carefully, you still can’t hear it. It’s the sound of a third of high school students dropping out before receiving their diploma. For people of color, the figure is almost 50 percent and that has profound implications not only for the students, but for the society that failed them.

    “The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts” is an important report on the dropout problem told from the viewpoints of true experts – the students themselves. The study, which focuses on polling and focus groups, is a joint project by the Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    In 2003, about 3.5 million youth 16 to 25 did not have a high school diploma and were not enrolled in school.

    The report begins with “An Open Letter to the American People” that gets directly to the point: “There is a high school dropout epidemic in America. Each year, almost one third of all public high school students – and nearly one half of all blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans – fail to graduate from public high school with their class. Many of these students abandon school with less than two years to complete their high school education.”

    And society has plenty of reasons to care.

    “The decision to drop out is a dangerous one for the student,” the report continued. “Dropouts are much more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced and single parents with children who drop out from high school themselves.”

    The report on this silent epidemic allows us to listen to what those who quit say about their predicament.

    “The central message of this report is that while some students drop out because of significant academic challenges, most dropouts are students who could have, and believe they could have, succeeded in school,” the study said. “This survey of young people who left high school without graduating suggests that, despite career aspirations that require education beyond high school and a majority having grades of C or better, circumstances in students’ lives and an inadequate response to those circumstances from the schools led to dropping out.”

    We tend to think of high school dropouts as being incapable of handling the academic workload and there is some evidence that supports that view. For example, 35 percent of those polled said “failing in school” was a major factor in the decision to drop out. And 32 percent had repeated a grade before dropping out.

    Nearly half of the former students – 47 percent – quit not because of the academic challenge, but because they found classes uninteresting.

    “These young people reported being bored and disengaged from high school,” the report said. “Almost as many (42 percent) spent time with people who were not interested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by those with high GPAs and by those who said they were motivated to work hard.”

    An even larger number of students – 69 percent – said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard. In fact, two-thirds said they would have worked harder had it been required of them.

    Naturally, there were other real life factors that caused some students to drop out. Approximately a third said they had to get a job and make more money, 26 percent said they became a parent and 22 percent said they had to care for a family member.

    It became clear that the decision to quit school was not a spur of the moment choice. Rather, it was a culmination of growing disengagement and frequent absences from classes.

    There was also a significant number of students who fell behind in the early years and never felt they caught up – or could catch up – with their classmates.

    Among the recommendations made in the report:

    - Provide a more supportive academic environment at school and at home that would improve the student’s chances of remaining in school

    - Improve the teaching and curricular to make school more relevant and engaging

    - Offering tutoring and summer school for struggling students

    - Operate a more disciplined classroom

    - Make sure that students have a strong relationship with at least one adult in the school

    - Improve communication between parents and schools

    And parents need to improve their communication with their children.

    “The majority of parents were ‘not aware’ or just ‘somewhat aware’ of their child’s grades or that they were about to leave school,” the report said. “Nearly half of the respondents said their parents’ work schedule kept them from knowing more about what was happening at school and 68 percent said their parents got more involved when they became aware their child was on the verge of dropping out.”

    Clearly, we all need to be more involved.

    George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site,

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    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Public vs. private schools

    Parent reveals 'Why I (still) send my kid to public school'

    When your child goes to public school, some anxiety often accompanies your decision, writes Whitney Otto. Like many parents, Otto pondered what was right her son. The pressure was on from family members to place the boy in a "better setting" - in other words, a private school. This prompted the author to ponder the public vs. private school issue.

    How could Otto and her husband leave their child in a system on the verge of cutting its academic year by five weeks? Leaving their son in a school district on the verge of laying off hundreds of teachers. The teachers, in turn, were contemplating a strike. The district already had overcrowded classrooms.

    The parents elected to leave their son in public schools, even though they have the financial means to provide him with a private school education. So why choose public schools? Otto explains in her article for the Oregonian.

    Via: Public Education Network

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    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    NASA spacecraft reaches Mars

    Probe to give fresh insights into the Red Planet

    A NASA spacecraft has successfully slipped into orbit around Mars, joining other orbiters already circling the Red Planet. Scientists cheered as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) emerged from the planet’s shadow.

    The two-ton spacecraft is the most sophisticated to arrive at Mars and is expected to gather more data than all previous Martian missions combined. It will explore Mars in low orbit for four years and should produce detailed information about the planet, its climate and landscape. The $720 million mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. MRO will join Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and fellow orbiters Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor and the European Space Agency's Mars Express.

    Later this year, the orbiter will begin exploring the Martian atmosphere. It will scan the surface for evidence that water has been present and scout for future landing sites to send robotic and possibly human explorers. The mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    Related: NASA, National Geographic

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    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    College admission: cat-and-mouse maneuvering

    Schools avoid class ranking, vexing colleges
    By Alan Finder
    © 2006 New York Times
    March 5, 2006

    Application files are piled high this month in colleges across the country. Admissions officers are poring over essays and recommendation letters, scouring transcripts and standardized test scores. But something is missing from many applications: a class ranking, once a major component in admissions decisions.

    In the cat-and-mouse maneuvering over admission to prestigious colleges and universities, thousands of high schools have simply stopped providing that information, concluding it could harm the chances of their very good, but not best, students.

    Canny college officials, in turn, have found a tactical way to respond. Using broad data that high schools often provide, like a distribution of grade averages for an entire senior class, they essentially recreate an applicant's class rank.

    The process has left them exasperated.

    "If we're looking at your son or daughter and you want us to know that they are among the best in their school, without a rank we don't necessarily know that," said Jim Bock, dean of admissions and financial aid at Swarthmore College.

    William M. Shain, dean of undergraduate admissions at Vanderbilt University, said, "There's a movement these days to not let anybody know that a kid has done better than other kids."

    Admissions directors say the strategy can backfire. When high schools do not provide enough general information to recreate the class rank calculation, many admissions directors say they have little choice but to do something virtually no one wants them to do: give more weight to scores on the SAT and other standardized exams.

    But high schools persist. The Miami-Dade County School Board decided last month to discontinue class rankings. Jeanne Friedman, the principal of Miami Beach High School and chairwoman of a committee of principals that lobbied to end ranking, said principals thought it would cut down on competition in schools and force college admissions officials to look more closely at each applicant.

    "When you don't rank, then they have to look at the total child," Dr. Friedman said.

    The shift away from class rank began with private schools making calculations that admissions officers might not look favorably on a student with an A- minus average and strong SAT scores who ranked 25th or 35th in a talented class of 150 students. But the movement has accelerated over the past five years or so, many deans of admissions say. Now nearly 40 percent of all high schools have either stopped ranking their students or have ceased giving that information to colleges, according to a survey released last year by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which represents high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers.

    At Kenyon College in Ohio, 60 percent of the students who enrolled last fall as freshmen did not apply with a class ranking. At Vanderbilt, 57 percent of those who applied for admission this year did not have a class rank. Last year, 51 percent of the applicants at Swarthmore and at the University of Massachusetts had no class rank, as did 42 percent of applicants to the University of Oregon.

    Many college deans deplore the trend, saying it forces them to either recreate class rank, make less informed decisions or overemphasize results on standardized tests.

    That is because when a high school provides a student's grade point average without giving class rank or other information that puts the grade in context, it significantly diminishes the meaning of the grade, Mr. Shain and a dozen other admissions directors said.

    "If a kid has a B-plus record, what does that mean?" said Jim Miller, the dean of admissions at Brown University. "If a school doesn't give any A's, it could be a very good record. You've got to position the kids in some relative environment."

    Mr. Shain said the lack of information could result in judging the student more on standardized test results, something he said was counterproductive.

    "The less information a school gives you, the more whimsical our decisions will be," he said. "And I don't know why a school would do that."

    While admissions officials emphasize the need for class rankings to view a student in context, the impulse to do away with rankings came from parents and high school administrators who thought colleges were failing to view students in their full context when they used shortcuts like class rank.

    Sometimes students are separated in class rankings by a few hundredths of a point in a four-point grading system, in which an A is worth four points and a B three points. In the most competitive private and public high schools, the gap between a student ranked second and one ranked 14th can be minuscule. Private schools in particular make this argument.

    "Especially in schools that are smaller, ranking is something that could hurt applicants," said Myronee A. Simpson, associate director of college guidance at the Ranney School, a private school in Tinton Falls, N.J. "Our top 10 percent of the class here, since we have 46 seniors, would be four or five students." Some high schools have other motivations for eliminating class ranking: to restrain cutthroat competition among students and to encourage them to take challenging courses without worrying about their grades.

    "The day that we handed out numerical rank was one of the worst days in my professional life," said Margaret Loonam, a co-principal and director of guidance at Ridgewood High School, a public school in northern New Jersey that stopped telling students and colleges about class rank a decade ago. "They were sobbing. Only one person is happy when you hand out rank: the person who is No. 1."

    "In a school like this, where the top 30 percent of the class is strong academically, it was unfair to all of those students who are in that elite group," Mrs. Loonam said.

    At some schools, including Ridgewood, officials continue to maintain class rankings in secret, disclosing them only when absolutely necessary, like when a student is applying to military academies, which require class rank, or when they are competing for merit scholarships that require the information. When high schools do not provide rankings, the broad information they sometimes include about grades can come in many forms: a bar graph showing how many students in a class had grade averages of A-minus to A or B-plus to B; a table listing grade averages by deciles (which averages fell in the top 10 percent of a class, for example); and even a graphic device called a scattergram, which shows the distribution of grades by plotting a dot for each grade average in a graduating class.

    That allows colleges to estimate where a student ranks.

    Still, some institutions, especially larger universities, may not have the time for that.

    "If we're looking at a particular student's file and we can't find a proxy for class rank, then we move on and we make a decision without it," said Martha F. Pitts, assistant vice president for enrollment management at the University of Oregon. "The question is, how good is that decision? Have we made a decision that is not as well informed as it could have been?"

    For some, the decline of class rankings represents an opportunity. "I think it kind of frees us in some ways; it enables us to take the kids who are a joy to teach," said Jennifer Delahunty Britz, dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College. "It allows you to tailor your admission process to what your institution strives for."

    But that is a distinctly minority view. Mr. Shain of Vanderbilt said an internal review showed that the admission rate at Vanderbilt was highest for students with a class rank and lowest for those whose schools provided neither a rank nor general data about grades.

    "You're saying your grades don't matter and that you won't tell us what they mean," Mr. Shain said. "I think it's an abdication of educational responsibility."

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    Filmmaker Gordon Parks dies

    Directed 'Shaft' and 'The Learning Tree'

    Movie director and photographer Gordon Parks is dead at the age of 93. For years, Parks captured poignant images for Life magazine. He then went on to critical acclaim as a Hollywood director, scoring with The Learning Tree and Shaft. USA Today chronicles Parks' accomplishments.

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    Saturday, February 25, 2006

    Educational equity after Katrina

    Lessons learned after the disaster

    The destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina exposed for all the world what many of us have long known: America remains deeply divided by race and class. The lack of opportunities for poor people and people of color continue to have devastating consequences. As Americans watched in horror, Katrina children were left behind by the storm and subsequent flooding.

    According to Robert Rothman, the implications for education are obvious and profound. Although leaving no child behind is national policy, many of our children didn't see national policy enforced in the aftermath of the hurricane. Many educators say that the Katrina debacle is just one more example of many of our children lack the same resources as their peers.

    Read Rothman's report in Voices in Urban Education, a publication of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University.

    Related: Separate but Equal? Schooling Of Evacuees Provokes Debate, Katrina became symbol of U.S. racial, social divide

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    Looking at plagiarism

    The growing problem of cheating

    Shirazi, publisher of Light Within, writes the following in an article on plagiarism by students:

    It is a chronic problem that has been greatly facilitated by the resources-rich Internet.

    This dangerous trend is not new, but advent of the Internet has facilitated the speed and methods used.

    Shirazi examines the connection between technology and the growing problem of plagiarism in a timely piece.

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