Education News Bulletin
November 2, 2009
CHARTERS, CHOICE AND NEW SCHOOLS
Desert excellence: An Arizonan model
ARIZONA--By the time these fifth-graders at the BASIS school in Scottsdale, Arizona, reach 8th grade they will have the option of taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams, standardised nationally to test high-school students at college level. By the 9th grade, they must do so. As a result, says Michael Block, the school's co-founder, our students are "two years ahead of Arizona and California schools and one year ahead of the east coast." But that, he emphasises, is not the yardstick he and his wife Olga use. Instead, their two BASIS schools, one in Tucson and this one in suburban Phoenix, explicitly compete with the best schools in the worldSouth Korea's in maths, say, or Finland's in classics. They had to overcome fierce resistance, as anybody must who takes on America's unionised and sclerotic public-school system. But they persevered. Their schools have charters to receive public money, so they cannot charge tuition fees or select the best students as private schools can. Instead, they have hired the best teachers they can find, many from Ivy League universities. They give them autonomy in the classroom, but then hold them accountable for meeting AP standards. It is working. The BASIS schools rank at or near the top in most surveys of American public schools. (The Economist)
Op-ed: Teach Your Teachers Well (By Susan Engel, a senior lecturer in psychology and the director of the teaching program at Williams College)
NATIONAL--ARNE DUNCAN, the secretary of education, recently called for sweeping changes to the way we select and train teachers. He's right. If we really want good schools, we need to create a critical mass of great teachers. And if we want smart, passionate people to become these great educators, we have to attract them with excellent programs and train them properly in the substance and practice of teaching. Our best universities have, paradoxically, typically looked down their noses at education, as if it were intellectually inferior. The result is that the strongest students are often in colleges that have no interest in education, while the most inspiring professors aren't working with students who want to teach. This means that comparatively weaker students in less intellectually rigorous programs are the ones preparing to become teachers. So the first step is to get the best colleges to throw themselves into the fray. If education was a good enough topic for Plato, John Dewey and William James, it should be good enough for 21st-century college professors. (New York Times registration required)
ACCOUNTABILITY AND ASSESSMENT
STEM Defection Seen to Occur After High School
NATIONAL--Despite popular opinion, the flow of qualified math and science students through the American education pipeline is strongexcept among high-achievers, who appear to be defecting to other college majors and fields. That is the provocative conclusion of a study , released today, which disputes the idea that students are leaving the mathematics and science fields because they lack preparation or ability. A chorus of elected officials and policymakers have suggested that U.S. schools are not producing students with the talent necessary to make it academically or professionally in the "STEM" fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. The new study calls that assumption into question. The authors find that overall retention in STEM majors and careers remained robust among three generations of students they studied from the 1970s through the past decade, with the exception of those in the top-tier category.
The real break in the pipeline, it turns out, is among the top high school and postsecondary students, as measured by ACT and SAT scores and college grade point averages, who choose other studies and occupations, a trend that appears to have begun in the 1990s, the authors conclude. Lack of STEM ability, they say, is not what is driving many students away. (Education Week subscription required)
Read the report Steady as She Goes? Three Generations of Students through the Science and Engineering Pipeline at http://www.heldrich.rutgers.edu/uploadedFiles/Publications/STEM_Paper_Final.pdf
NEWSCHOOLS AND OUR VENTURES IN THE NEWS
Grade the teachers: A way to improve schools, one instructor at a time
NATIONAL--A good teacher equals a good school year.
Nearly everyone can probably recall a teacher who lit their passion for poetry or who was able to help them connect all the dots in a seemingly incomprehensible algebra formula. We know that individual teachers can make a huge difference. But public schools in America have been bent on ignoring the obvious: Almost nothing about the way we hire, evaluate, pay, or assign teachers to classrooms is designed to operate with that goal in mind. Most teachers receive only cursory performance evaluations, with virtually every teacher graded highly. We use a one-size-for-all salary structure, in which the only factors used in raises are teachers' higher-education credentials and number of years in the system, neither of which is strongly linked to their effectiveness.
In June, the New Teacher Project, a New York-based nonprofit, released a report that looked at teacher evaluation data from 12 school systems around the country. In districts that use a so-called binary evaluation system with just two categories (usually "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory," or some variant of those), more than 99 percent of teachers were judged satisfactory over the four-year period from 2003 to 2006. In districts with more categories, 94 percent of teachers were in one of the top two rating categories, while less than 1 percent were rated unsatisfactory. (Boston Globe)
L.A. Unified to allow parents to initiate school reforms
LOS ANGELES--Under the superintendent's school-control resolution, low-performing campuses can be forced to undergo major changes if a majority of parents demand it. For the first time in Los Angeles, parents will be able to initiate major reforms at low-performing individual schools, rather than waiting for the school district to make changes, under a plan unveiled Tuesday. This new parental power has emerged as part of a school-control resolution that allows for groups inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District to take over campuses. Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has included 12 underachieving schools and 18 new campuses in the process, but the parent option could add others to the list, especially in future years. Under Cortines' plan, a majority of parents at a school could trigger reforms at a local campus. Parents whose students are matriculating from one school to another also could take part. (LA Times registration required)
Schools Are Where Stimulus Saved Jobs, New Data Show
NATIONAL--The best symbol of the $787 billion federal stimulus program turns out not to be a construction worker in a hard hat, but rather a classroom teacher saved from a layoff. On Friday, the Obama administration released the most detailed information yet on the jobs created by the stimulus. Of the 640,239 jobs recipients claimed to have created or saved so far, officials said, more than half 325,000 were in education. Most were teachers' jobs that states said were saved when stimulus money averted a need for layoffs. Although the stimulus was initially sold in large part as a public works program, only about 80,000 of the jobs that were claimed Friday were in construction. Of course, counting jobs that were saved can be a squishier proposition than counting jobs that were created. Teachers have been laid off in some areas and budget officials say that there would have been more layoffs without the stimulus money but it is difficult to say with certainty how many teachers would have been laid off without that money. (New York Times registration required)
Teddy's Rightful Heir: Alan Khazei should get his seat.
NATIONAL--Ted Kennedy's death got plenty of coverage, but the battle to replace him in the Senate has been overshadowed by elections this week in New Jersey and Virginia. While all four candidates in the Dec. 8 special election in Massachusetts are liberals in the Kennedy tradition, only one is carrying forward his reform ideasand those of President Obamaon the most important domestic issue of the 21st century. It's not health carethe politicians will work something out soon enough. It's education. If we don't tuck in our shirts and pay attention to educating the workforce of the future, we're going to flunk as a nation. The days when we could write off millions of young people and expect to survive economically are over. Kennedy worked closely with President Bush on the flawed and deeply unpopular No Child Left Behind Act. Like a packaged-goods company with a tainted product, the Obama administration has left that name behind and now calls its program the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, LBJ's original title in 1965. But the accountability-and-standards movement Kennedy and Bush launched is essential, and Obama has moved much faster than expected to advance it. He and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are showing some Chicago muscle and giving states a "choice" right out of The Untouchables: lift your caps on the number of innovative charter schools allowed and your prohibitions on holding teachers accountable for whether kids learnor lose a chance for some of Obama's $5 billion "Race to the Top" money. Massachusetts recently lifted its charter cap and nearly a dozen other states are scampering to comply. Now that's hardball we can believe in. (Newsweek)
Educational Video Games Mix Cool With Purpose
NATIONAL--One of KC Phillips's favorite video games is the Xbox shoot-'em-up Halo, because, he says, his dad taught him how to play it when he was younger. Now 15 and a high school sophomore in Madison, Wis., KC views the game with a more discerning eye. Last year, he played Gamestar Mechanic, an educational video game that asks players to solve a set of puzzles in order to win enough power to design and create their own video games. "Now every single time I play video games, I really think about how the designers built it and what mechanics went into it," he said. KC is one of a growing number of children who are playing educational video games as part of their school curriculum, in after-school programs or via the Web from home. After years of watching technology transform the way children play, socialize and learn, a range of academics, foundations and now start-ups are working on games that will put the passion children have for the genre to good use. Gamestar Mechanic, for example, is part of the curriculum of Quest to Learn, a New York City public school focused on game-based learning that opened in New York City this fall. A nonprofit group called the Institute of Play set up the school, and its executive director, Katie Salen, helped design the game with financing from the MacArthur Foundation. (New York Times registration required)
New York Times Bits Blog: Will the Digital Divide Close by Itself?
MOUNTAIN VIEW--On the subject of tech and education, academics and executives are worried about many divides. There's the growing divide between kids who have access to technology and those who don't; kids who participate in creating content with technology at home and school, and those who can't; and the kids who know a lot about technology, and the parents who fear them. Divides also enter into the equation for proponents of education reform. Early Wednesday at Google's "Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age," at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., a spat broke out over the urgency of filling in all the gaps. Jim Steyer, chief executive of CommonSense Media and co-sponsor of the event, stressed that "every kid needs to be digitally literate by the 8th grade" and called for a major public education campaign to make that happen. He argued that technology and learning are synonymous and that schools, parents, and kids must get up to speed in the next five years. "This has to be a revolution for all kids," he said. Immediately after Mr. Steyer's call to action, Reed Hastings, the founder and chief executive of Netflix, contradicted him directly, saying it would take well more than five years to bridge the divide. Mr. Hastings, an avid education philanthropist and proponent of school reforms, argued that at the advent of any new technology television, cars, even rockets people get riled up and wring their hands over a growing gap between the haves and have-nots. (New York Times registration required)