Free resources from the U.S. Geological Survey could aid in various subject areas

Free resources from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) help teachers and students explore different lessons and topics. Students can watch videos and animations, access online lectures, find maps and images, connect via social media, and learn about topics such as water science and climate change. The site offers resources for primary, secondary, and undergraduate levels. BioData, a new website from the USGS, provides access to aquatic biological community and physical habitat data collected from stream ecosystems across the nation. Users can read an overview of the website and watch a 7-minute video about how scientists study stream ecology.


Census: Poverty dominates many school districts

Nearly half of all children in America live in school districts with high levels of poverty, according to U.S. Census data released on Tuesday that pointed to financial traps many public schools are caught in, Reuters reports. According to the Census, 45 percent of all 54 million children aged 5 to 17 resided in school districts with poverty rates greater than 20 percent in 2010. Another 34.3 percent live in districts where poverty rates are between 10 and 20 percent.

There are 13,604 school districts in the country. At the same time, in one-third of counties, the rate of children living in poverty was “significantly above the national poverty rate of 19.8 percent” in 2010, the last year for which data is available. In 851 counties, the rate was “significantly below.”

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How kids in developing countries dream big compared to students in the U.S.

To find out what kids around the world dream of when it comes to pursuing the best life they can imagine, the ChildFund Alliance surveyed 5,100 children throughout Africa, Asia, the Americas and the United States, the Huffington Post reports. The nonprofit, which works with vulnerable kids in 56 countries, asked privileged kids and children in need questions about their ideal jobs and how they would improve their countries as president. The survey concluded that those in developing countries are focused on education, while kids in the United States have the chance to set their sights on the arts and sports.

“American children have the luxury of setting their career hopes high, but those in developing countries are focused on the single best way to disrupt the cycle of poverty—education,” says Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund International…

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Scholarship promises college tuition aid to high schoolers, years before they go

The nation’s college financial aid system is badly broken and getting worse. Students from mostly low and middle-income families now face nearly $1 trillion in college-related debt and, despite making such large investments, prospects are still low for college graduation. President Obama and congressional leaders have tried to address this problem by maintaining support for the federal Pell grant and making changes in loan programs. But is it time for a more fundamental rethinking of financial aid? Some students in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) may soon have a good answer. Last week, first-time ninth graders in 18 MPS schools gathered in assemblies to learn that they were eligible for a $12,000 college scholarship as part of a new program called “The Degree Project,” says Douglas Harris, associate professor of educational policy and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and co-director of the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study of financial aid, for Education Nation’s The Learning Curve blog. By promising the scholarship funds to students many years before they enter college, The Degree Project is considered a “promise scholarship.”

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Schools say ‘no way’ to Congress OK for pizza as vegetable

A week after Congress backtracked on some key components of landmark school nutrition legislation, nutrition advocates are saying that the battle for healthy school food needs to be fought district by district, along the lines of what several California districts are already doing, EdSource Extra reports. Last year, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which required school meals to have more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less salt and fewer calories in an effort to combat childhood obesity and the early onset of diabetes in children. But last week a Senate and House conference committee, under pressure from some food industry lobbyists, blocked implementation of some of the new regulations…

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Border staff, teachers join 1-day UK strike

Airline passengers arriving in Britain escaped chaos early Wednesday despite dire predictions of long waits, as border staff joined teachers, hospital workers and weather forecasters in the country’s largest strike in decades, the Associated Press reports. The one-day strike has been called in protest at the government’s plan to make public sector pensions less generous in the years ahead. The pension reforms are part of a package of austerity measures designed to get a grip on the country’s high borrowing levels. London’s Heathrow Airport and scores of airlines had warned that international travelers could be held in lines for up to 12 hours at immigration halls as a result of staff shortages…

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Big expansion, big questions for Teach for America

Family income is one of the most accurate predictors of how well a student will perform. The federal government and private investors are betting that TFA can help overcome poverty, but others aren't so sure.

In a distressed neighborhood north of Miami’s gleaming downtown, a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced instructors from Teach for America is trying to make progress where more veteran teachers have had difficulty: raising students’ reading and math scores.

“These are the lowest performing schools, so we need the strongest performing teachers,” said Julian Davenport, an assistant principal at Holmes Elementary, where three-fifths of the staff this year are Teach for America corps members or graduates of the program.

By 2015, with the help of a $50 million federal grant, program recruits could make up one-quarter of all new teachers in 60 of the nation’s highest need school districts. The program also is expanding internationally.

That growth comes as many districts try to make teachers more effective. But Teach for America has had mixed results.

Its teachers perform about as well as other novice instructors, who tend to be less successful than their more experienced colleagues. Even when they do slightly better, there’s a serious offset: The majority are out of the teaching profession within five years.

“I think ultimately the jury is out,” said Tony Wagner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and an instructor to the first class of TFA corps members.

For more news about education reform, see:

Report: Publishing teacher ratings will hinder reform

High-tech education clicks … but only for some schools

Five education practices that should be replicated nationally

School Reform Center at eSN Online

Teach for America teachers work with not just the poor, but also English language learners and special-education students. They provide an important pipeline of new teachers. But critics cite the teachers’ high turnover rate, limited training, and inexperience and say they are perpetuating the same inequalities that Teach for America has set out to eradicate.

“There’s no question that they’ve brought a huge number of really talented people in to the education profession,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income and minority children, and a longtime supporter of TFA.

But, she said, “Nobody should teach in a high-poverty school without having already demonstrated that they are a fabulous teacher. For poor kids, education has to work every single year.”

Overcoming poverty

Wendy Kopp started Teach for America while studying public policy at Princeton. For her senior thesis, she developed a plan to place top college graduates in the poorest schools. She sent the plan to dozens of Fortune 500 executives. Within a year, she had raised $2.5 million and had 2,500 applications.


With online testing on the horizon, infrastructure could be a challenge

Within a few years, school districts in most states will have to have enough computers to allow students to take multiple tests online throughout the school year.

With new online tests being designed to reflect the Common Core standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, school districts in these states will have to replace pencil-and-paper testing with the new online exams as soon as the 2014-15 school year. But school leaders are unsure how the computers and software needed for such a move will be funded.

Last year, the federal Education Department doled out more than $300 million in Race to the Top funding to two groups of states to create next-generation assessments tied to the Common Core standards.

One of these groups, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), includes 23 states and the District of Columbia. The other group, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, includes 28 states. For now, Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina belong to both consortia—and Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia belong to neither.

A hallmark of these new next-generation state assessments is that students will take them online.

The tests will be a major change from how things traditionally have been done in many states. Rather than fill in bubbles on a multiple choice test or write answers in a blue book or on loose leaf paper, students will sit in front of computer screens several times a year answering questions online. Some questions will include the use of video.

The tests are designed to measure students’ 21st-century skills and ensure they are ready for college or a career. Testing students via computer offers many advantages, its proponents say: It allows states to design more rigorous assessments that include computer-based tasks, measuring students’ abilities in ways that a pencil-and-paper exam cannot. What’s more, the new tests are intended to be formative rather than summative in nature, meaning students will take them several times per year—and teachers will get immediate feedback they can use to inform their instruction.

But it’s unclear how much the transition to computerized testing will cost participating states or their school districts. School districts must have enough computers to allow a large number of students to take multiple tests throughout the school year.


Condoleezza Rice: U.S. education system will ‘drive us into class warfare’ like never before

On a special Thanksgiving edition of Face the Nation, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told CBS’s Bob Schieffer that the U.S. public school system is the nation’s largest problem, the Huffington Post reports.

“Because with the failing public schools, I worry that the way that my grandparents got out of poverty, Rice said. “The way that my parents became educated, is just not gonna be there for a whole bunch of kids.”

Rice went on to say the system’s shortcomings, combined with poverty and racial divide, will cause serious problems in the future…

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