Algebra requirement highlights teacher shortage

Now that California has mandated Algebra 1 for all eighth-graders within three years, a deeply entrenched problem has become even more urgent: California does not have enough qualified teachers of mathematics, reports the Sacramento Bee. Districts recognize the problem and are doing what they can to cultivate more teachers. So are universities. The number of new math teachers emerging from colleges has been going up. At California State University, Sacramento, for example, small but growing numbers have signed up to join the profession. Among them: Isabel Montoya, a 20-year-old from Monterey County with enough idealism to inspire the most math-averse adolescent, and Roy Baty, a 60-year-old retired school maintenance worker from Citrus Heights with an affinity for numbers and teaching. Overall, however, the looming shortage of math teachers stands as one of the biggest challenges facing schools in coming years…

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Boston’s newest classrooms: schoolyards

The Boston Schoolyard Initiative started with parents and teachers clamoring for safe places where they could tell kids to "go outside and play," reports the Christian Science Monitor–and as it has evolved, its new motto could be: "Go outside and learn." The city’s effort to renovate school sites and add "outdoor classrooms" has become a national model as cities struggle to address both childhood obesity and academic gaps. Like many city schoolyards, Boston’s had largely been paved over because old, rotting play structures posed safety hazards. The shortage of open green space for children became so acute that Mayor Thomas Menino launched the initiative in 1995, bringing together city and school leaders, local residents, and private funders to create inviting outdoor settings for schools and communities to share. It started with transforming asphalt wastelands into colorful climbing structures, landscaped walking paths, and space for public art. In 2005, the initiative began adding outdoor classrooms–mini wilderness zones, gardening areas, and other features that teachers use for everything from science lessons to writing projects. "We don’t refer to them as playgrounds, because they are more than that," says Kim Comart, interim director of the Boston Schoolyard Funders Collaborative, the private side of the partnership…

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ED funding helps students learn key languages

The first-graders in Grace Yuan’s class in Fairfax County, Va., are playing "Jeopardy," eagerly responding to clues about animals and their habitats, diet, and movements.

Nothing special for a group of 7-year-olds, you say? Well, look again. These clues are in Chinese.


One girl, a bit uncertain, pondered the Chinese characters and pictures of animals. "Believe in yourself, Rachel," a classmate yelled. Applause rang out when she gave the correct response.

The class is a result of the National Security Language Initiative, introduced by President Bush in 2006 to teach students Chinese and other foreign languages considered critical to the nation’s future security.

"We’re going to teach our kids how to speak important languages," the president said. One goal, he added, was "to advance America’s interests around the world, and defeat this notion about our–you know, our bullying concept of freedom by letting people see what we’re about."

At Providence Elementary School in Fairfax County, principal Joy Hanbury believes that learning Chinese will stand today’s children in good stead.

"We are looking at how global our world is," she said.

The federal program is based on the premise that you can engage foreign governments and their citizens more effectively when you speak their language. The emphasis is on "critical needs" languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Hindi, and Farsi.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), one of four federal agencies involved in the program, has awarded 88 grants totaling about $26 million to communities around the country to expand instruction in these languages beginning in kindergarten.

Chinese, thus far, has been the most popular.

"People understand in a competitive world, you’ve got to be fluent in the languages where business is booming, and China is one of those places," said Holly Kuzmich, ED’s deputy chief of staff.

Studies have shown that young children are much quicker than adults to pick up foreign languages. Other research suggests that elementary school students perform better in other subjects, too, if they also take a foreign language.

"We do have pretty compelling data that show there are really good reasons to put in good programs at the elementary level," said Marty Abbott of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Fairfax County now offers Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Latin, and Italian, in addition to the more traditional Spanish and French. Arabic and Chinese were selected by parents, primarily to give their kids a future economic edge, said Paula Patrick, foreign language coordinator for the county’s schools.

The county is using the nearly $622,000 grant it received through the National Security Language Initiative in part to train teachers in those two languages.

Grace Belyea, 7, is a first-grader at Providence Elementary and a student of Chinese. "I like counting, and I like doing activities on the SMART Board," she said.

She and classmate Suzanna Kirchman demonstrated their counting skills, up to 31–the maximum number of days in a month. Every day the children review the day, date, month, and year, said teacher Yuan.

Yuan demonstrates on a computer the individual strokes needed to write Chinese characters. She creates computer games, such as the animal "Jeopardy" that the children were playing this recent day.

"Games are a good teaching tool," she said. "It lets them feel Chinese is not like a boring language."

The children clearly enjoyed their version of "Jeopardy," displayed on an interactive whiteboard. Hands flew up when it was time to pick players.

Later, Suzanna, 7, explained why she likes learning Chinese. "Maybe you can learn about China, because it’s very far away," she said.

Yuan, a Taiwan native, intersperses language instruction with lessons about Chinese culture. And she works with the classroom teacher to support regular lessons: When the children learned about the food pyramid in regular class, for example, they also studied fruits in Chinese.

The Providence first-graders have two 30-minute Chinese classes each week. Language instruction will continue through sixth grade. At that point, they can choose to continue Chinese or pursue another language.

The county school board aims to have each student competent in at least two languages by the time they graduate from high school.

ED officials say there’s room for foreign language instruction even as schools work to meet the math and reading requirements in the No Child Left Behind law.

"There are ways to integrate subjects into one another," Kuzmich said.

The 6-year-old education law also requires that teachers be highly qualified–generally that they have at least a bachelor’s degree in the subject they teach or pass a subject-matter test. But many people fluent in critical languages don’t meet the requirements.

Under the Bush initiative, grants are provided to help people with those language skills get training and certification. The goal is to add 1,000 new foreign language teachers by the end of the decade.


National Security Language Initiative


Coghead offers free web development platform for students and teachers

Through its new Academic Program, Coghead is giving teachers and students free access to its online, do-it-yourself platform for developing web applications. Reportedly used by more than 25,000 businesses and individuals, the platform enables users to develop rich internet applications without writing code, Coghead says. For example, Guillermo Asper, professor of information systems at University of Brasilia and a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, is using Coghead in his classroom to provide a basic understanding of database development and teach students how to develop business information system applications. “The Coghead Academic Program provides a complete and inexpensive way for academic labs, faculty, and students to stay on the leading edge of application development,” said Paul McNamara, Coghead CEO. “Students who might otherwise sit passively in a classroom and simply be lectured to can now roll up their sleeves and create applications that can transform the way they think about the adaptability of computer technology to the business world.”


Judge lifts gag on students over transit security

The Associated Press reports that a federal judge Tuesday lifted a gag order on three MIT students who were barred from talking publicly about security flaws they discovered in the state’s automated mass transit fare system, even as a lawyer for the agency acknowledged the system was "compromised." U.S. District Judge George O’Toole Jr. rejected a request by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to impose a five-month injunction blocking the students from revealing anything about the security system. O’Toole also dissolved a temporary restraining order that had prohibited the students from speaking about their findings this month at DefCon, an annual computer hackers’ convention in Las Vegas.
The transit agency sued after learning of a preconference Web advertisement for the presentation by the students — Zack Anderson, R.J. Ryan and Alessandro Chiesa — that said "Want free subway rides for life?"…

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Mixed results on paying city students to pass tests

Offered up to $1,000 for scoring well on Advanced Placement exams, students at 31 New York City high schools took 345 more of the tests this year than last. But the number who passed declined slightly, raising questions about the effectiveness of increasingly popular pay-for-performance programs in schools here and across the country, reports the New York Times. Students involved in the program, financed with $2 million in private donations and aimed at closing a racial gap in Advanced Placement results, posted more 5’s, the highest possible score. That rise, however, was overshadowed by a decline in the number of 4’s and 3’s. Three is the minimum passing score.
The effort to reward city students for passing Advanced Placement tests is part of a growing trend nationally and internationally, and one of several new programs in New York, to experiment with using financial incentives to lift attendance and achievement…

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Corporal punishment seen rife in U.S. schools

More than 200,000 children were hit as punishment in U.S. schools last year, reports Reuters. In the South more blacks than whites are struck, two human rights groups said in a report released on Wednesday. Texas accounted for a quarter of the instances of corporal punishment in the 2006-2007 school year, according to the study compiled by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The report, titled "A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools," plays into a debate in America about the effectiveness of corporal punishment and its role in the classroom and home…

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Microsoft, Novell expand Linux deal by $100 million

Microsoft on Wednesday extended its existing partnership with Novell with a pledge to pump an additional $100 million into the deal, reports CNET. The companies, which announced an interoperability deal two years ago, said that Microsoft will purchase $100 million in certificates that its customers can redeem for Novell’s Suse Linux service and support. The new Microsoft investment will begin in November, the companies said…

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‘MindLadder’ suggests the future of assessment

Recent advances in technology and nearly two decades of research into how students learn have come together in a series of programs that could represent the future of assessment.

Developed by researcher Mogens Jensen, these online programs reportedly can map a student’s behavior, both mentally and emotionally, and then suggest a highly customized solution for growth as the student develops academically.

In effect, the programs aim to pinpoint how each student’s mind processes information, then prescribe a solution that is targeted specifically to the individual.

The programs grew out of Jensen’s theory of “mediated constructivism”–in layman’s terms, the idea that all the cognitive and motivational tendencies associated with a learner can be developed with the help of teachers, parents, mediators, coaches, and guides who are aware of that student’s culture, as well as his or her mental and emotional proclivities.

This process is the basis for what Jensen calls “mediated learning experiences,” or experiences the student must have to “learn how to learn.”

Putting his theories into practice, Jensen–who received his doctorate in psychology from Yale University–founded the International Center for Mediated Learning (ICML) and developed MindLadder, a family of online programs.

The programs allow educators, parents, and administrators to work together as a team to help each student reach his or her full learning potential, Jensen says.

The first step is to discover how teachers can best reach a particular student both mentally and emotionally. To do this, a teacher (or someone else who knows the student well) fills out the first resource in the MindLadder solution–the LearningGuide.

The LearningGuide is best described as a snapshot of a student’s mind, Jensen said. It identifies both target areas in need of investment and strengths that can support growth and change.

The guide begins with background questions about the student’s general behavior, because Jensen believes that “context makes a difference.” For example, the questions might ask if the teacher has had any concerns about the student or has noticed any recent changes in the student’s behavior.

The questions then progress toward understanding a student’s “intellective functions.” These functions focus on the student’s concept of time, how the student interprets symbols and signs, whether the student is receptive to vocabulary, whether he or she is prone to being imaginative or creative, and so on. Some responses are based on a number scale, while others range from “not true” to “very often true.”

The guide then assesses the student’s non-intellective factors. This portion focuses on aspects of personality–social and emotional behavior. Non-intellective factors can include self-esteem, whether a student believes his or her emotions are ignored, whether the student has feelings of competency, how he or she responds to distractions, whether the student has a tendency to belittle others, how distracted he or she becomes, and whether the student gives up before trying a problem.

The LearningGuide also raises questions about students’ reading skills, math skills, and all other subject-area skills. These are rated on a scale from “low” to “excellent.”

“These questions begin the search for patterns in the student’s learning processes,” said Jensen. “We’re moving away from the wait-to-fail approach. With MindLadder’s reach-to-teach model, schools can anticipate, recognize, address, and document student learning needs and match them up, without delay, with specific and effective instruction.”

The LearningGuide can be printed out as a PDF, or a teacher can fill it out online or via eMail. The guide comes in a short version that focuses just on basic functions, a standard version that covers everything, or a long version that should be completed by a school psychologist for students with behavioral difficulties.

When the teacher has completed the LearningGuide, each function of the student’s mind is color-coded according to what must be developed (urgent), what must be strengthened, and what could be built upon (good). (See image below)


“Before, only school psychologists could complete these kinds of tests, and it would only be for troubled students. Now, the test is simple enough for any teacher to use and understand, and [it] can be used for all students to best help them learn,” Jensen said.

A teacher can click on an “advisor” button at the bottom of the guide to get help on how to teach to the student. For each function of the mind–for example, understanding symbols and signs–the advisor feature gives information about the function’s meaning, how to introduce it to the student in a private or classroom setting (including examples of real classroom scenarios), and how to embed the teaching of this function into the larger curriculum.

The advisor section for each function can be read either as a “novice” or as an “expert,” and it also contains the most recent research about these learning functions. Eventually, Jensen says, the advisor feature will include video of many classroom scenarios.

The LearningGuide doesn’t have to pertain to a single student–it can be used to provide a snapshot of an entire classroom by choosing “composite” before viewing the results. This composite report will show the teacher the strengths and weaknesses of the group as a whole. Teachers also can select which function they want to focus on specifically, such as reading skills, and the report will show which individuals in the class have strong reading skills and which have poor skills. Advice on how to teach each dynamic group of students similarly is available through the advisor feature.

Jensen said the LearningGuide doesn’t need to be refreshed often, just as much as the teacher thinks is necessary as the student progresses. He also believes that as students get older, they can be made aware of their learning functions and can understand how to take “ownership of their strengths and weaknesses to apply their knowledge to all subject areas.”

Lynda Lee Osborne, a teacher at Asa Philip Elementary School in Fulton County, Ga., said the LearningGuide questionnaires and cognitive mapping capabilities have “proven invaluable, allowing me to isolate areas of ease and challenge for my students with respect to their cognitive processing.”

Along with the LearningGuide, MindLadder’s program also includes a Dynamic Assessment.

If the LearningGuide offers a snapshot of a student’s mental and emotional processes and how they relate to learning, the assessment is a movie–one designed to make the student’s thinking as visible as possible. Educators can use the LearningGuide to collect information about the student in preparation for the assessment.

During the assessment, the examiner (educator) and the student explore processes that are used to collect, connect, and communicate information. Jensen said the assessment is an “interactive, collaborative relationship that treats the teacher as mentor”–a relationship much like students in Europe have with their teachers, he said. (See “U.S. educators seek lessons from Scandinavia.“)

Questions included in the assessment vary as to the amount and type of support that is offered, and the examiner selects problems that include many tasks, such as pictorial, figural, verbal, or numerical tasks.

The assessment measures the student’s efficiency, retention, and many other factors–including the difference between the questions students got right and the ones they got wrong. Eventually, the assessment will be viewable on both the student’s screen and the teacher’s screen, allowing each answer the student gives to pop up in real time on the examiner’s screen. (As of now, the assessments are still administered in paper format.)

“This is not meant to replace traditional testing,” Jensen said. “Instead, it is a whole new way of looking at assessments. The teacher is a mentor, not just an examiner. The test, along with the guide, measures students’ growth over time, allowing them to be the best learner they can be.”

Jensen first introduced the MindLadder programs five years ago during the meeting of the International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology (IACEP) in Seattle, and representatives from Singapore took immediate interest.

Since that 2003 conference in Seattle, ICML has conducted four training workshops in the United States: two in Atlanta, one in Sacramento, and one that just concluded Aug. 15 in San Diego. Four beta projects have emerged from these training workshops, Jensen said–two in North Carolina, one in California, and one in Georgia.

Fulton County’s Osborne says her students use the Dynamic Assessment in one-to-one scenarios or in small groups. Making sure her students know the goal of the assessment is not to judge, but rather to help them grow and learn, Osborne uses the assessment to pinpoint areas of weakness and work through challenges in how her students process information.

“Using the variety of MindLadder programs, I have seen students become more aware of their thinking and more confident in their expression of what they know,” she said. “My students have gained clarity in their reflection on their learning, thus enabling the transfer and application of what they’ve learned to subsequent situations. … They also really enjoy the camaraderie of learning and seem to gain a greater respect for their own minds–almost as if they were empowered by the comfort and knowledge that they now had cognitive tools to apply at will for processing information.”

Implementing the LearningGuide and the Dynamic Assessment might be a challenge for many educators, because “…we as educators are not prepared to think and conceive of learning as malleable and adaptable,” said Lynn Pennington, an independent education consultant specializing in data-based problem solving.

“Most of us were taught, implicitly or explicitly, that intelligence was a fixed entity, thanks in part to the proliferation of IQ tests and classification of students’ potential to learn over the last 50 years,” Pennington explains. “We need to throw away those old perceptions and embrace the idea that we can teach in ways that enhance students’ ability to think and learn, making mastery of any content standards possible.”

The total MindLadder package includes initial costs for training, as well as an annually renewable licensing fee of about $15 per student for continued access to the programs, upgrades, and support. Training can be customized to meet the pace, scope, and material requirements of each school or district, Jensen said.

“There’s a common saying in education that it takes 20 years for research to be put into practice,” said Pennington. “I am hoping this is not the case with Dr. Jensen’s work. We are desperately in need of a model with practical application tools, because the ‘different learner’ is already filling our classrooms. Too often, we don’t know what to do when our students don’t respond to our current approaches to teaching and learning. MindLadder offers us a tool that can support the mastery of all content standards.”




Student data exposed on test-prep site

Test scores, birth dates, and other personal information for more than 100,000 students were published accidentally on The Princeton Review’s web site this summer, according to the New York Times.

The information was available on the test preparation company’s web site for nearly two months, and the information should have been available only through passwords, the company told the Times for an Aug. 19 story. A Princeton Review official told the newspaper that the site’s protection probably was lost when the company switched internet providers in June.

A mistake in web site configuration exposed student records for anyone to see and made public Princeton Review internal communications and educational materials, according to the Times, which reported that the web site was accessible through a simple web address. In a statement, Princeton Review said only "highly sophisticated computer users" were able to access students’ information.

In a statement released by Princeton Review, the company confirmed that the security error occurred when its "web hosting was recently migrated to a new provider."

"We devote a lot of attention to the security of our data, and have extensive procedures in place to manage this process," the company said in the statement. "On Monday, we were advised that some information which had been kept safe and secure may have inadvertently been accessible to highly sophisticated computer users."

After a security review, The Princeton Review said the student data was never "widely available," as suggested in the New York Times article.

"Nonetheless, we have apologized to our customers for this situation, and assured them that access to the information has been closed, and that we are working diligently to put in place any needed remedies to make certain this problem does not recur."

The Times reported that another test-prep company discovered the error while conducting competitive research and alerted the newspaper. The Princeton Review reportedly blocked access to that part of its web site when a Times reporter informed the company of the mistake Aug. 18. The company said it would find out how many people might have accessed the files through search engines.

The exposed files included information from 34,000 students in Sarasota, Fla., and 74,000 students from the Fairfax County school district in Virginia, according to the Times. Both school systems had hired Princeton Review to improve standardized test scores.

Paul Regnier, a spokesman for the Fairfax County school system, told eSchool News that school officials were not aware of the security breach until a Times reporter contacted the district on Aug. 18. District officials are looking into the repercussions of the breach, Regnier said.

Regnier said Fairfax officials had a conference call with Princeton Review Monday night. The company agreed to send "all the data that had been exposed," Regnier said, adding that the test scores and personal information were from 2006. The school district would sift through that data and contact parents whose children’s information had been available online, he said. Fairfax schools’ contract with Princeton Review expired at the end of the 2007-08 academic year, Regnier said.

Asked if the district had received any complaints from parents or students, Regnier said complaints and concerns have yet to pour in.

"I’ve heard nothing," he said, adding that the school system would have more information for students later in the day.

Officials from the Sarasota school system also had a conference call with Princeton Review Monday night, schools spokesman Gary Leatherman said. Before administrators contact parents, Sarasota officials are trying to determine "exactly what the extent of the [security] compromise really was."

Recent Florida state legislation dictates that students use their social security numbers as identification numbers. Leatherman said the district was looking into how many students out of the 34,000 had their social security numbers available online.

Internally, the school district is deciding if it will continue its contract with Princeton Review, Leatherman said. If the company’s IT experts can assure school officials that a breach will not happen again, Sarasota is "very likely" going to maintain its relationship with Princeton Review, he said. 

"We may very well continue with them because we’ve been happy with the service they’ve provided," he said. "This was just something that was apparently a fluke."