Cellphone use tied to changes in brain activity

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have found that less than an hour of cellphone use can speed up brain activity in the area closest to the phone antenna, raising new questions about the health effects of low levels of radiation emitted from cellphones, Well reports. The researchers, led by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, urged caution in interpreting the findings because it is not known whether the changes, which were seen in brain scans, have any meaningful effect on a person’s overall health…

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A founding father’s books turn up

A literary detective story that began 18 months ago and was advanced through a chance reading of an 1880 edition of The Harvard Register has led researchers from the Jefferson Library at Monticello to a trove of books that were among the last ones that Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s most bibliophilic president, collected and read in the decade before he died, reports the New York Times. The 28 titles in 74 volumes were discovered recently in the collection of Washington University in St. Louis, immediately elevating its library to the third largest repository of books belonging to Jefferson after the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia…

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Successful credit recovery programs from four districts

Here’s how four districts have had success with credit recovery.

While the Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston, Texas, has a strong early intervention program that is successful in keeping more kids from failing classes, the district still uses credit recovery as an element in its overall student graduation plans.

Students who have failed a course may take credit recovery with Aventa’s online courses, or they may be required to retake a class in the traditional way. The choice is sometimes up to the student, but the teacher, the counselor, and the parents all have a voice in the decision. If a student simply missed too much of the course, he or she likely will be required to retake it in a traditional setting. But other students can benefit greatly from online credit recovery, says Sheri Alford, director of educational technology for Spring Branch ISD.

“We like it because it’s a continuous enrollment,” says Alford; students can begin taking the online course as soon as they’re in trouble.

The district gives each student in an online credit recovery course a liaison—a teacher who can help when that student hits a snag. “The liaison is also the person who says, ‘I notice you didn’t log in yesterday,’ or, ‘You were only online for so long, and you’re not progressing.’ So the liaison can provide one-to-one help,” Alford says.

The liaison also sets up tutorials. For example, if the liaison is an English teacher and the student is struggling with a certain portion of an online math course, the liaison can set up a tutorial with a math teacher.

Alford says Aventa is far superior to a prior credit recovery program the district was using. That program, from another vendor, was not as rigorous, and students had figured out how to manipulate it without actually learning anything.

The Tucson Unified School District in Arizona is another district that is offering online credit recovery to students. If a student is a junior or senior, has failed a class, and needs those credits to graduate, the student is eligible to take an online credit recovery course free of charge.

Stuart Baker, Tucson USD’s coordinator for online learning, likes the Aventa program because the focus is on the skills a student learns, not on the amount of time he or she spends on the class. Additionally, Baker says, the speed at which a student learns is entirely up to the student, not up to the online class.


Laura Bush announces new graduation initiative

The George W. Bush Institute has introduced its second big education initiative, a program that seeks to improve graduation rates by focusing on middle schools.

Former first lady Laura Bush announced the initiative, called “Middle School Matters,” at Stovall Middle School in the Aldine Independent School District on Feb. 9. She said research has shown that middle school—and sixth through eighth grade in particular—is a crucial time in determining future success.

“We know now from research that a lot of kids that drop out in high school really drop out in middle school. They just leave in high school,” she said. “One of the goals will be making sure they are prepared for high school.”

For the program, the institute has compiled research done by various institutions on what determines success in middle schools and plans to take that information and work with middle schools to implement new practices.

The program focuses on 11 elements for success, including school leadership, reading interventions, effective teachers, dropout prevention, and school, student, family and community support. The Bush Institute’s research team has come up with specific measures that can be taken in the classroom to improve performance in all of these elements.

“Within each area, researchers are coming up with principles and practices to implement,” said Kerri Briggs, the Bush Institute’s director of education reform.

For example, the institute said, dropout preventions could include assigning adult advocates to meet regularly with students at risk of dropping out. Those advocates also could greet students as they arrive, meet with students to review grades and assignments, and regularly talk with the student’s parents.

The research team is working to make sure all the components of the program are in place. They plan by the 2012-13 school year to implement the program in 10 to 15 schools. And then, making adjustments in the program from what they’ve learned, they will add more schools in the 2014-2015 school year.


Detroit schools closing: Michigan officials order Robert Bobb to shut half the city’s schools

State education officials have ordered the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools to immediately implement a plan that balances the district’s books by closing half its schools, reports the Huffington Post.

The Detroit News says the financial restructuring plan will increase high school class sizes to 60 students and consolidate operations…

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In a related story, read Document: Newark may consolidate schools


Anaheim school district takes a big brother approach to truancy

The Anaheim Union High School District really doesn’t want students to skip class, so it is doing the only logical thing (sarcasm intended): It’s tracking delinquent students with GPS devices, reports Mashable. According to The Orange County Register, the district is the first in California to take part in a six-week pilot program targetting students that frequently ditch school. The hope is that a combination of new-school Big Brother tracking technology and old-school nagging and haranguing will keep kids in the classroom and off the streets where gang susceptibility rises. In practice, it kind of strikes us as creepy. In the program, seventh and eighth graders with four or more unexcused absences are given a handheld GPS device that looks like an old-school cell phone…

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For autistic children, a school’s coffee shop imparts skills while raising money

The coffee shop at Woodrow Wilson Middle School is serious about service with a smile. When Edward Lin, a seventh grader, stared silently at his feet the other day instead of greeting a customer, his teacher prodded him.

 “How can I help you?” the boy mumbled, still staring at his feet.

His teacher prodded him again. Edward looked up. Then he wrote out the customer’s order and, finally, broke into a smile, braces and all. Edward is in a special class for children with autism or multiple learning disabilities that is charged with running the coffee shop every Friday morning, reports the New York Times. Setting up in the home economics room, Edward and 11 classmates have rung up more than $1,000 in sales of coffee, tea, doughnuts, cookies and cupcakes to the school’s staff since October. On request, they deliver to classrooms…

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Arizona university founds civility institute

A university in Tucson is seeking to turn the shooting rampage that severely wounded U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords last month into a teachable moment with a new institute promoting civility in politics, Reuters reports. The University of Arizona on Monday inaugurated the National Institute for Civil Discourse, which is a nonpartisan center for debate, research, education and policy.

The center seeks to “advance the national conversation currently taking place about civility in political debate,” the university said in a news release…

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German iPhone app guides handicapped around cities

Raul Krauthausen, who has used a wheelchair since childhood, has always been uncomfortable with the services Germany provides for the physically handicapped, like special taxis and grocery delivery–saying they feel patronizing and further isolate him from the able-bodied world. So Krauthausen took matters into his own hands and launched wheelmap.org, an iPhone application and website in German and English that allows users to share ratings and tips on how accessible shops, bars and other places are, the Associated Press reports.

“Sometimes I feel I’m treated like a child who isn’t allowed to decide specific things by myself,” said the 30-year-old who suffers from a genetic disorder that makes his bones brittle. “I want to remain flexible and not be dependent on when a driving service has time to pick me up.”

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States make gains in building data systems

States have improved, but can do more, when it comes to using student data in all aspects of education.

States have made unprecedented progress collecting longitudinal data in education, but they have not taken action to ensure data are used to improve student achievement, according to the Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) sixth annual state analysis, Data for Action 2010, which tracks states’ progress toward a set of goals that will help states use educational data to the fullest.

When the DQC launched in 2005, no state had all 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems. Now, 24 states report they have implemented all 10 elements, and every state has committed to implement them by September 2011. States that implement the 10 elements have the necessary information to understand what works in education and can allocate scarce resources accordingly to improve student achievement.

Those 10 elements are:

  • A unique statewide student identifier that connects student data across key databases across years
  • Student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information
  • The ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year to measure academic growth
  • Information on untested students and the reasons they were not tested
  • A teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students
  • Student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned
  • Student-level college readiness test scores
  • Student-level graduation and dropout data
  • The ability to match student records between the preK-12 and higher education systems
  • A state data audit system assessing data quality, validity and reliability

For more on school data use, see:

Student Information Systems: Making the Grade?

State data systems present privacy concerns

In spite of this progress, the elements on educational data that lag behind are also those that are most critical to current policy discussions. Seventeen states cannot link teacher and student data, 15 states do not collect course-taking information, and 11 states report the inability to link K-12 and postsecondary data. These states cannot inform critical policy questions about teacher effectiveness and college and career readiness despite the growing demand for answers.