Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quick Hits

How schools are coping in the wake of the "Great Recession"?: Many states plan to spend less on education this year than in 2011 -- a symptom of the country's economic downturn that has caused schools to cut back on services and, in some cases, raise class sizes or drop courses with lower enrollment. This article from ASCD's current Educational Leadership offers insights on how best to navigate these difficult times from four educational leaders: Michael A. Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University; Allan Odden, professor of educational leadership and policy analysis and co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Anthony Rolle, professor at the University of South Florida's College of Education and chairman of the college's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies; and James W. Guthrie, senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute. (Educational Leadership)

Students' own technology supplement school resources:  Students in a Kentucky school district are being encouraged to bring their own technology to school, says superintendent Keith Davis. He says the devices will help supplement resources the district cannot afford. "We are trying to buy devices for our classrooms when we can, but there’s just not enough money for us to buy one for every kid," he said. "If there's a student who has their own and wants to use it, well, then that frees up the school computer for someone who doesn't." (The Courier-Journal)

How can community schools best support students, teachers?:  Community schools can help support teachers who work to address students' unmet needs by providing health and other services that allow teachers to focus on academics, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress and the Coalition for Community Schools. In a separate report, the two groups recommended strategies for community schools on collaborating with partners in the community to improve outcomes for students. (Beyond School)

What are the key elements of successful school turnarounds?:  Authors and educators Alan M. Blankstein and Pedro Noguera see problems with the federal government's prescribed methods for improving struggling schools, from failure to diagnose a school's particular problems to overlooking issues with discipline, parent engagement and others typically found at disadvantaged schools. Key elements of a successful turnaround include focusing on positive change, making simple changes to effect improvement early in the process, and providing examples of successful schools that serve similar student groups, they write. (Education Week)

New system for grading Fla. school districts is released:  A new system for grading Florida school districts is designed to help better track and compare performance across districts, officials said Monday. The districts' grades are based on students' scores on state standardized tests. Some, including the state teachers union, are critical of the system for overlooking districts' particular socioeconomic challenges or other factors. (State EdWatch blog)

Amid battles, many support a common definition of effective teaching:  The bureaucratic battle over teacher evaluations in New York state is overshadowing the fact that many policymakers and educators agree on the common qualities found in effective teaching, according to this article. Many on both sides of the battle support a rubric created 16 years ago by economist Charlotte Danielson -- now being used in several states, plus many New York City schools -- that rates teachers in four areas and establishes a common definition of good teaching. (The New York Times)

Should blogs be used to replace the traditional term paper?:  More educators in the U.S. are replacing traditional academic research papers with blogs as a vehicle for teaching writing to students. Advocates of the method, including Duke University English Professor Cathy N. Davidson, argue that the medium is more fun and engaging for students. But critics defend the traditional term paper, saying it requires more student reading and is a better tool for teaching students critical-thinking and other important skills needed in the job market. The New York Times (tiered subscription model)

Survey finds teachers seeking more access to school technology:  At least four out of five teachers say they lack access to adequate education technology, according to the results of a new survey by PBS LearningMedia. About 93% of responding educators said they believed interactive whiteboards enhance classroom learning, with 81% saying the same of tablet computers. (Digital Education blog), (T.H.E. Journal)

Is Internet use leading to more student plagiarism?:  The availability of material online is making it easier for students to plagiarize, some educators say. A recent survey of high-school and college students found that between 33% and 40% have committed "cut-and-paste plagiarism." A high-school teacher in Pennsylvania says she uses a software program called Turnitin, which scans the Internet for signs of plagiarism. She also focuses on teaching students how to properly cite their work and confronting plagiarism when it is discovered. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Teachers fill a void by writing their own textbooks:  Some high-school teachers who can't find the teaching materials they need have written their own textbooks. A teacher in Utah wrote a book about sports psychology after finding there were none available for high-school students, and a teacher in Georgia encountered a similar problem when textbook manufacturers did not respond to a change in the state's math curriculum. A potential drawback is that teachers often can repeat in class what they've written in the textbook. (High School Notes blog) 

Kentucky. districts cut fuel costs with hybrid buses:  Districts in Kentucky have a fleet of 160 hybrid school buses, which use a combination of diesel fuel and electricity to operate. The state is in the early stages of an experiment to determine if the buses could yield significant savings in fuel spending. In Jefferson County, which has 50 hybrid buses, officials expect to save at least $75,000 thanks to the hybrid buses' better gas mileage. (WLEX-TV)

Md. county may eliminate reading instruction in middle school:  School board officials in Howard County, Md., are considering a new schedule for middle-school students that would eliminate traditional reading classes. Instead, literacy instruction would be integrated in other courses throughout the school day. The change would not affect students reading below grade level, who still would receive reading-specific instruction, and advanced readers could elect to take a course in "advanced inquiry and innovation." (The Sun)

Can school choice improve education in the U.S.?:  A nationwide campaign is promoting school choice as a way to improve education in the U.S. The second annual School Choice Week is set to include more than 350 rallies and other events nationwide. In Utah, the state teachers union criticized the movement, saying that charters and alternative schools divert funding and resources from traditional public schools. "To promote choice is not necessarily the same thing as promoting educational excellence, and we would much rather promote educational excellence," said Mike Kelley, the Utah Education Association's director of communications. (The Spectrum & Daily News)

How to create engaging lessons using mobile technology:  School Technology Director Anthony Luscre suggests in a blog that educators capitalize on students' engagement with mobile devices as communication tools to provide more dynamic and interactive learning opportunities. Luscre debunks common concerns about using the devices for lessons, suggesting that teachers utilize the many websites that are not commonly blocked by school filters and recognize texting and tweeting as modern-day vehicles for student writing. (T.H.E. Journal)

Duncan: Next round of Race to the Top to target school districts:  Education Secretary Arne Duncan is planning the next round of the federal Race to the Top grant competition, which, he says, will offer funding directly to school districts. For fiscal year 2012, Congress has allocated $550 million for Race to the Top, which could be particularly useful for school districts in states that have not been successful in previous grant competitions, Duncan says. (Politics K-12)

Ideas for teaching students about income inequality:  The writers of this blog post suggest a lesson in which students learn about income and wealth distribution in the U.S. and what that inequality means for society. To begin, students should fill out a socioeconomic survey and review related resources. Then, students can be divided into groups of two to make and support societal arguments. (The Learning Network blog)

How drawing on students' prior knowledge can enhance a lesson:  Former teacher and instructional coach Elena Aguilar describes a writing lesson on heroes in which second-grade students defined their version of the word and listed heroes in their lives. Though the lesson veered away from Aguilar's original plan, it prompted a celebration honoring family and community heroes and plans for a classroom-authored book, all of which provided a more authentic learning experience for the students, she writes. (Elena Aguilar's blog)

6 design elements of a successful high-tech classroom:  Successful 21st century classrooms are not just filled with technology, but designed to maximize the benefits of technology on student learning. Key elements of such classrooms include furniture designed and arranged to support collaboration, enough electrical outlets to provide adequate power supply to charge students' and teachers' devices and a "smart" teacher lectern equipped with USB ports and other features. (T.H.E. Journal)

Department of Education seeks feedback on cheating scandals:  Following reports of cheating on standardized tests at schools nationwide, the federal Department of Education is taking steps to address the problem. The department hopes to publish a list of best practices -- compiled through public feedback -- used to "prevent, detect, and respond to irregularities in academic testing." At issue, according to this blog, is the pressure to perform well on high-stakes standardized tests. (The Answer Sheet blog)

This from ASCD:
What is your professional role, and where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I am an administrator/central office staff and see myself leaving education in the next five years.  19.25%
I am a classroom teacher and see myself in the same role in five years.  18.72%
I am a classroom teacher and see myself leaving education in the next five years.  15.33%
I am an administrator/central office staff and see myself in a higher-level administration position in the next five years.  14.35%
None of the above.  12.12%
I am an administrator/central office staff and see myself in the same role in five years.  10.87%
I am a classroom teacher and see myself becoming an administrator in the next five years.  9.36%

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