Occupy Wall Street spills into classrooms

While on Wall Street many protesters decry economic inequality, and in Washington, D.C. debates continue over federal education policy, teachers across the country are occupying their classrooms, the Huffington Post reports. In the eyes of the president of the second-largest teachers’ union, the two issues of inequality and education are closely related. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has been a frequent visitor to New York’s OWS protests. The AFT recently revised its “working document” — a sort of mission statement — to include language referring to the richest 1 percent…

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Study: More than half of young children use digital media

Nearly three out of four zero- to 8-year-olds have a computer at home.

Fifty-two percent of children ages 5-8 use smart phones, video iPods, iPads, or similar devices, and four in 10 2- to 4-year-olds use the same devices, according to a new national study on young children’s use of media.

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America” documents young children’s use of new digital media devices such as iPads or other tablet devices and mobile apps, along with older media platforms such as television, computers, and books.

The study, which was presented and discussed at a panel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25, is the first in a series of reports from Common Sense Media’s new Program for the Study of Children and Media, and it has important implications for educators charged with teaching today’s youth.

Despite the proliferation of new technologies and platforms, television continues to dominate children’s media use. Among all children up to age 8, an average of one hour and 40 minutes is spent watching television or DVDs in a typical day, compared to 29 minutes reading or being read to, 29 minutes listening to music, 17 minutes using a computer, 14 minutes using a console or handheld video game player, and 5 minutes using a cell phone, video iPod, iPad, or similar device.

Even among infants and toddlers, screen media use dwarfs time spent reading. In a typical day, zero- to 1-year-olds spend more than twice as much time watching television and DVDs (53 minutes) as they do reading or being read to (23 minutes). And some young children have already begun media multitasking—23 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds use more than one medium “most” or “some” of the time.

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Opinion: Should Halloween parties be held at public schools?

Political correctness is ruining school celebrations once again. It seems like there is at least one story every October in recent years relating to Halloween parties at public schools, says Yahoo! News contributor Tara Dodrill. This morning on Fox and Friends a New Jersey school district announced there would be no getting dressed up in fun costumes and eating cupcakes decorated to look like pumpkins. Parents and students are not taking the decision lightly and registered their displeasure at a recent board meeting. The Springfield Schools Superintendent Michael Davino was kind enough to ask teachers to lessen the homework load on trick-or-treat night so the kids could have fun after school…

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Students compete to design better lunches

Instead of pizza and hotdogs, high school students in six U.S. cities are trying to serve up healthier lunch options to their classmates as part of a national cooking contest, U.S News reports. Students in public high schools with vocational culinary programs in Chicago; Denver; Jacksonville, Fla.; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; and Winston-Salem, N.C., will compete to make the tastiest, healthiest lunch to serve their peers in the Cooking Up Change contest. The catch? The six-person teams can only spend about $1 per lunch and must order food from their school system’s food supplier…

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Suburban high school eliminates class rankings, valedictorians

In 2007, Hinsdale Central High School eliminated class rankings. Now, the affluent suburban Chicago high school, which has been consistently named one of the best schools in the state, decided to eliminate valedictorians as well, the Huffington Post reports. The Doings reports that the school’s principal said it was only natural to eliminate a position based on class rankings when the school was no longer ranking students. Instead, the school will recognize the top 2 percent of graduating classes, which would honor 13 or 14 students out of about 675 in a graduating class…

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Opinion: The impact of Michelle Rhee’s ‘culture of urgency’

It is an almost universal tribute offered about Michelle Rhee’s 3 1/2 -year tenure of the Washington D.C. school district—that if she accomplished one thing, it was to instill a sense of urgency in the city about the need to fix broken schools that had failed children for decades, says Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss. Actually, it was Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who hired Rhee and gave her carte blanche, who made school reform the city’s top priority. Rhee got all the attention because Fenty wanted it that way. And because he did, she rushed to move the needle by implementing half-finished and poorly thought-out initiatives. Her speed helped fuel the sense that she was more committed to change than everybody else—which wasn’t true then and isn’t now…

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Missouri repeals law restricting teacher-student internet and Facebook interaction

Some teachers said Missouri's original law also could have had other unintended consequences.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Friday repealing a contentious law that had limited online chats between teachers and students and caused a judge to warn that it infringed on free-speech rights.

Nixon’s action eliminates a law enacted earlier this year that barred teachers from using websites that allow “exclusive access” with students or former pupils age 18 or younger. The law generated an unexpected backlash, with teachers raising concerns they would be barred from using popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter that allow private messages.

A judge temporarily blocked the law shortly before it was to take effect in August, declaring that it “would have a chilling effect” on free-speech rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Nixon then added the law’s repeal to the agenda for the special session that began in September.

Legislators, who had voted overwhelmingly for the law this spring as part of a broader crackdown on teacher abuse of students, voted overwhelmingly this fall to repeal the restrictions. But the most recent bill they sent to the governor also requires school districts to develop their own policies by March 1 on the use of electronic media between employees and students in order to prevent improper communications.

Nixon said he signed the legislation with some hesitancy. The governor said school districts may find it challenging to develop policies that prevent improper communications without also preventing appropriation online conversations.

“This bill is not as good as it should be, but to veto it would return us to a bill that would be far worse,” Nixon said in a written statement announcing his decision.

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iNACOL updates its online teaching standards

The standards give teachers a set of criteria to be effective online educators.

As online learning becomes more ubiquitous in schools and districts across the nation, a leading online-learning organization has updated its national standards intended to help shape high-quality online teaching practices.

In its National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, Version 2, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has revised its existing standards that define high-quality teaching in online and blended-learning programs to address the need for more personalize learning.

iNACOL representatives said they hope the revised standards will help educators use their knowledge, skills, and abilities to meet the individual needs of each student more effectively.

“The new standards focus on providing teachers with a set of criteria for effective online learning and aim to guarantee that the teachers are better able to understand the technology, new teaching methods, and digital course content … to foster an personalized online learning environment for every student,” said Susan Patrick, president of iNACOL.

For more on online teaching and learning, see:

Demand for online learning increases

Report cites 40 diverse examples of blended learning

Five lessons from the nation’s best online teacher

The standards are accompanied by different components, and teachers’ progress can be measured on a rating scale, with a score of zero indicating that the component is missing, a score of 1 being unsatisfactory and needing significant improvement, a score of 2 denoting somewhat satisfactory progress with targeted improvements needed, a score of 3 indicating satisfactory progress with some necessary discretionary improvement, and a score of 4 being very satisfactory with no improvement needed.

The 10 new online teaching standards include the following criteria:

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Study: Student progress can be tied to teacher education

The differences between the best and the worst teacher education programs were as significant as differences between teachers at different experience levels or with different class sizes.

The academic progress of public school students can be traced, in part, to where their teachers went to college, according to new research by the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research.

But the center’s director, Dan Goldhaber, cautioned that the study is just a first step toward determining what kind of training—not where the training occurred—best prepares teachers for excellence in the classroom.

Even so, it’s the kind of information U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan would like every school to have access to, and that’s why he recently announced a new program to use federal dollars to pay for similar research.

Washington state schools are among the first to see which teacher education programs seem to result in the best student test scores, but 35 states now have the means to do similar research, according to the Data Quality Campaign, a national organization formed by education and business groups to track state progress on collecting data about students and schools.

Where teachers are credentialed explains a small part of the variation of teacher effectiveness, Goldhaber said, with the best way to pick out a great teacher still being a visit to his or her classroom.

Still, the findings of this study, which focused on in-state schools, and a similar report published in Louisiana in early 2010 are meaningful. They both found that the differences between the best and the worst teacher education programs were as significant as differences between teachers at different experience levels or with different class sizes.

For more news on education reform, see our School Reform Center at eSN Online.

”Improving teacher training has the potential to greatly enhance the productivity of the teacher workforce,” Goldhaber wrote in the report.

The study examined which teacher education schools were tied to better student progress, without naming any particular aspect of training that the schools did differently.

Duncan earlier this month announced new initiatives to identify the best teacher-education programs and encourage others to improve by linking student test scores back to teachers and their schools of education. The federal government also plans to give away millions of dollars in scholarships to send students interested in teaching in-demand subjects like science and math to the best teacher training programs.

Carrie Black, a middle school math teacher in Rochester, Wash., says she could have used a lot more time practicing her skills before taking over a classroom on her own, and she doesn’t think she could ever had learned enough about how to keep control in class.

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