REPORT FINDS CRISIS IN TEACHER RETENTIONS
This commentary is in The Washington Post: A comprehensive study three years ago by the New Teacher Project showed how U.S. schools generally fail to recognize teacher quality, instead treating all teachers the same. Now comes an even more devastating finding from the group: Even when schools know the difference between good and bad teachers, they make no special effort to retain the good ones. Just as the previous report spurred improvements in teacher evaluation systems, this study should prompt changes in how teachers are treated. The aptly named report, “The Irreplaceables,” concludes that the real teacher retention crisis in urban schools is not about the number of teachers who are leaving but the loss of really good ones. The two-year study identified the top 20 percent of teachers whose students consistently make the most progress on state exams. Not only do these teachers on average help students learn two to three additional months’ worth of math and reading compared to the average teacher (and five to six months more compared to low-performing teachers), but they also get high marks from students.
BILL TO CREATE STATEWIDE TEACHER EVALUATION SYSTEM CLEARS KEY HURDLE
A key Senate committee approved a bill Thursday aimed at enhancing teacher evaluations that would effectively eliminate state requirements to use student standardized test scores to measure an instructor's effectiveness. AB 5, by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), would establish a statewide uniform teacher evaluation system that would increase performance reviews, classroom observations, training of evaluators and public input into the review process. The bill was approved, 5-2, by the Senate Appropriations Committee after Fuentes found $89 million to fund it and move it forward. But the bill would require negotiated agreement with unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, which opposes the Los Angeles Unified School District's use of student test scores as one measure of teacher effectiveness. LAUSD Supt. John Deasy has said the bill, which the district opposes, would make it more difficult to push forward a new voluntary evaluation program. The article is in the Los Angeles Times.
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ALGEBRA REALLY IS WORTH THE EFFORT
Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, writes in The Tennessean: Political scientist and emeritus professor at City University of New York Andrew Hacker stirred controversy last month with an opinion piece questioning the place of algebra in the K-12 curriculum (“Is Algebra Necessary?” New York Times, July 28). The response to Hacker’s opinion has been swift and stern. From The Huffington Post to “Scientific American,” experts have been quick to defend the importance of algebra. Evelyn Lamb, in “Scientific American,” rightly noted that algebra is rooted in understanding relationships, solving problems, and developing logic skills. And she rightly observed that few of us can predict in high school the precise knowledge that will be required of us in our future careers. But we can predict that students able to persevere and solve problems are more likely to be successful than students who throw in the towel at the first sign of difficulty.
RIDING THE MOOC WAVE
As mayor of Rancho Mirage, Calif., Scott Hines is in charge of a town of about 17,000 people in the Coachella Valley. As the chief operating officer of World Education University, a new company that says it “will forever alter the landscape of post-secondary education” by offering free courses online, Hines is now in charge of the personal information of about 50,000 prospective students and more than $1 million in seed funding. But as World Education University continues to raise money and populate its database with the personal information of curious students, some observers in the higher education community wonder whether the company, which is not authorized to award degrees and has no formalized academic program, may be a mirage -- an idyllic fantasy that is more likely to dissolve into the landscape than alter it. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
ALGEBRA CAN BE TAUGHT AS BASIC SOFTWARE PROGRAMMING
Julia Steiny writes in Education News: Recently, in The New York Times opinion section, Professor Andrew Hacker asked, Is Algebra Necessary? Surely he knew the educated, newspaper-reading public would revile him for such heresy. He states obvious truths, however. Algebra, and math requirements generally act as linebackers blocking “unqualified” kids from college altogether, and pushing large numbers of students who did manage to get in to drop out. In high school and college, students fail math courses far more often than other subjects. Hacker suggests colleges ease their requirements so mathematically-challenged “poets and philosophers” can thrive. Naturally, the four zillion reader-comments passionately argue that algebra is necessary. For good reasons. Many howl that we’d be nuts to continue “dumbing down” the already-low bar that Americans set for most students. But I applaud Hacker for sparking the conversation. He’s right that math is a huge problem. It begs creative solutions.
EXPANDING THE IMPACT OF EXCELLENT TEACHERS
Bryan C. Hassel and Celine Coggins write in Education Week: If you are a teacher who helps students learn exceptionally well, this is your moment—schools and policymakers must vastly expand your impact, now. Today, our nation is at a crossroads; we simply cannot fall short educationally for another decade as other countries surge. Why is this time unique? Two crucial trends are at play. First, the United States has begun to act on the compelling data showing great variation in teachers’ success in helping students learn, as well as the monumental impact this variation can have on the life chances of students. As states and districts work to build better teacher-evaluation systems, schools will have increasingly accurate and useful data to identify which teachers are exceptionally effective.
SHOW AND TELL FOR TEACHERS, INSPIRED BY REALITY TV
Great teaching, it is sometimes said, is one of those things where you know it when you see it. Now, teachers in Washington will be able to see a lot more of it. In deference to a world enthralled by shows like “Extreme Makeover” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” the public school district in Washington has hired a reality television company to produce videos intended to improve the skills of its teachers. The 80 videos, 5 to 15 minutes in length, are peppered with quick jump cuts, slick screen labels and a jaunty soundtrack. In short interviews and classroom snippets, the district’s highest-performing teachers demonstrate how they teach a range of lessons, from adding decimal numbers to guiding students of differing ability levels through a close reading of the Marshall Plan. The article is in The New York Times.
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MAJORING IN FREE CONTENT
The Saylor Foundation has nearly finished creating a full suite of free, online courses in a dozen popular undergraduate majors. And the foundation is now offering a path to college credit for its offerings by partnering with two nontraditional players in higher education – Excelsior College and StraighterLine. The project started three years ago, when the foundation began hiring faculty members on a contract basis to build courses within their subject areas. The professors scoured the web for free Open Education Resources (OER), but also created video lectures and tests. The foundation currently has more than 240 courses up on its website. They are self-paced and automated, and designed to cover all the requirements of an undergraduate major in disciplines ranging from chemistry and computer science to art history and English literature, as well as a general education major. The course material is roughly 95 percent complete, Saylor officials said, and should be finished this fall. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
HOW THE FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION AFFECTS BUSINESSES
Higher education is going to look much different in the future, with a greater reliance on teleconferencing and distance learning, according to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Sixty percent of the 1,021 respondents, which included a variety of technology experts, education professionals, and venture capitalists, agree that hybrid learning, which combines online education with in-class instruction, and "individualized, just-in-time learning approaches" will be much more common by the year 2020. The article is in U.S. News & World Report.
John Jensen writes in Education News: “The Myth of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’” is a misleading title of a Time/Opinion article by Annie Murphy Paul published earlier this year. I bring it up even several months later because the issue it addresses is important. Practice is the only means of developing skill in either physical actions or knowledge, so discarding it is not a good idea. The title implies that the very notion of “practice makes perfect” is a myth, is false, though the article does not imply this nor refer to any “myth.” We might guess that a copy editor in the bowels of Time Magazine chose it to broaden the article’s appeal beyond psychologists. Practice not only “makes perfect,” but also “permanent,” “perseverant,” “persistent,” and “productive” (as several comments on the article noted). Aspects of practice provide a context.
FLIP VIDEO CO-FOUNDER TACKLES ONLINE EDUCATION WITH NEW VIDEO PLATFORM, KNOWMIA
Ariel Braunstein and Scott Kabat know a thing or two about building (and selling) a user-friendly mobile video experience, but can they do the same for the world of digital education? We’re going to find out. Braunstein and Kabat are the co-founder and former marketing executive, respectively, of Pure Digital Technologies, the makers of the popular Flip Video line of hand-held camcorders. Pure Digital was acquired by Cisco in 2009, which has since retired the production of the mini camcorders. In the meantime, Kabat and Braunstein have turned their attention to online education and the growing role video technology is assuming in the transformation of learning. Today, the co-founders launched a new venture called Knowmia — a crowdsourced video platform designed to help teachers find and create online video lessons while improving the learning experience for students. Knowmia has created software that organizes and curates video lessons from teachers all over the world to provide users (and students) with a more personalized, efficient and affordable alternative to online tutoring. Today, the platform offers more than 7,000 free lessons that cover a variety of subjects, including algebra, chemistry, history and American literature. The article is in TechCrunch.
EDUCATION: A PREDICTOR OF LONGER LIFE
If you want to know how long you will live, you might stop fretting over genetics and family history and instead look at your educational achievements. Education is certainly not the only variable associated with longer lives, but it may be the most powerful. Recent study findings published in the journal Health Affairs present a remarkable update to the already considerable research showing education to be a powerful predictor of longer life spans. The article is in U.S.News & World Report’s The Best Life blog.
BEWARE THE GREMLINS IN "TEACHER VALUE ADDED" MODELS!
Philip C. Williams, president of McNeese State University, writes in The Huffington Post: One of the seductive new tools available to policy makers these days is the statistical device known affectionately as the "teacher value added model." What makes this device so seductive is its promise to identify exactly which teachers are performing well in the classroom and which ones are performing poorly. Here's how the model is supposed to work: Demographic information about school children -- such as each student's age, gender, race, and socioeconomic background -- is fed into a software program. Similar demographic information is compiled about each classroom teacher. At the beginning of a school term each student takes a standardized test on a particular subject -- say American history -- and the results are saved. At the end of the school term the same set of students takes another standardized American history test and this score is compared to the student's initial score. The difference between these two scores would represent -- at least in theory -- each student's intellectual growth in the field of American history.
5 TIPS TO CONQUER MATH PHOBIA, FOR YOUR KIDS' SAKE
Danica McKellar, actress and author, talks with TODAY's Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb about her fourth book, "Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape." Much like how moms can model positive body image, we can influence our kids' outlook on math in healthy ways. Math is a crucially important subject that all too often gets rejected, especially by girls, and then they risk missing out on the brain-building, confidence-boosting gifts that tackling math has to offer. Here are some tips for how to start your kids off on the right foot, and keep math phobia away.
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TEXAS GETS AN INCOMPLETE
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has terminated a high-profile college completion grant in Texas, a decision one community college leader in the state called abrupt and surprising. Dubbed Completion by Design, the $35-million grant encourages groups of two-year colleges in four states to work together to keep more low-income and young students from slipping through the cracks and to better help guide them on a pathway to graduation. Teams of colleges in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas beat out 27 teams in nine states to participate in the five-year project, which began in 2010. The Lone Star College System led the Texas cadre, which included the Dallas County Community College District, El Paso Community College and South Texas College. Completion initiatives have been popular in the state, including with lawmakers. Texas is a young, growing state, not to mention big, and will be a key cog in the achievement of any national college completion goals. The five Texas colleges participating in the Gates project enroll 289,000 students, accounting for one-third of the state’s community college students. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
By Corey Donahue
In Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science, physicist and essayist Michael Nielsen emphasizes how the internet has created the conditions for a completely open research field in which increased collaboration can help spur innovation. Using inventive examples from a wide range of fields, including chess, math, bird-watching, and astronomy, Nielsen outlines how online tools can accelerate the rate of scientific discovery. By allowing for many voices to contribute to the work of a large project, networked science can refocus expert attention and, with the condition of a standard body of knowledge and techniques, create data-driven intelligence.
Nielsen, a member of the open science movement, wants to restructure research such that scientists benefit from sharing their data and ideas, thus allowing for increased collaboration and innovation. In doing so, Nielsen believes that we can amplify collective intelligence and reinve... Read more...
HOW TO MEASURE A GOOD TEACHER
In the past decade of national anxiety over the quality of American public education, no area in education reform has gotten more attention than teacher quality, and few reforms have encountered as much pushback as the efforts to change how to take the measure of a teacher. Spurred by Race to the Top, the competitive Obama administration grant program, numerous states are now rushing to implement intensive teacher evaluation systems that, in most cases, are heavily influenced by test-score gains, which can affect a teacher's employment status and pay. Done right, say advocates, strong evaluation systems could be a game changer for both teachers and their students, reshaping the profession and pushing teachers to improve. The article is in the Alaska Dispatch.
NEW WAY OF TESTING ROOKIE TEACHERS COULD BE A GAME CHANGER
Marcy Singer-Gabella, professor of the practice of education and associate chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, writes in The Hechinger Report: Those of us who prepare teachers for the classroom find ourselves at the center of a national conversation about teacher preparation and “effectiveness,” as well as how to measure and improve student achievement. In each of these cases, students’ standardized test scores are the central metric. And now, federal and state policymakers have begun to use student test scores to evaluate teacher education programs. Without question, teacher education programs should be genuinely concerned with their graduates’ impact on student learning and achievement. However, using student test scores to measure program effectiveness is both inappropriate and unhelpful. There are significant challenges—substantive and logistical—to accurately linking student scores to preparing institutions and interpreting what they mean. And even if these were solved, it is extremely difficult to control for the variation in the K-12 schools where graduates end up teaching.
FORMER UTAH TEACHER EXPLORES IN FILM WHY U.S. KIDS FAIL MATH
Scott Laidlaw’s math students just weren’t getting it. While teaching sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the private Realms of Inquiry school in Salt Lake City three years ago, Laidlaw wracked his brain for ways to improve his students’ competency in math. Only 21 percent were testing proficient in the subject. He joined forces with Utahn Jennifer Lightwood and launched Imagine Education, a company that designs learning games. Titles such as "Ko’s Journey" and "Empires" have helped middle-school math concepts — ratios, graphing and geometry — click with students through interactive games. But Laidlaw hasn’t stopped creating new tools to help bolster student achievement in math. His and Lightwood’s new documentary, "The Biggest Story Problem: Why America’s Students Are Failing at Math.” The film is meant to start a conversation on what Laidlaw calls the country’s "middle school math crises." The article is in The Salt Lake Tribune.
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A DEGREE STILL MATTERS
Stories abound of college graduates working at Starbucks, living at home and facing an uncertain economic future. And many of these stories have led to increased questioning of the value of a college degree. But a report released today says that -- despite the current economic hardships faced by people at all levels of education -- the value of a college degree remains strong. The unemployment rate for recent four-year college graduates is 6.8 percent, higher than the rate for all four-year graduates of 4.5 percent. But the 6.8 percent is much, much better than the 24 percent rate for recent high school graduates. These figures, and a series of others, appear in "The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm," from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.