What happens to the kids when charter schools fail?

Terri Griffin made herself a promise when her youngest daughter was ready for kindergarten: the little girl would never set foot in an Akron public school. Griffin, an Akron jewelry store clerk who is a graduate of the Ohio city’s school system, had sent eight children–two of her own and six others she raised as her own–to traditional public schools, TIME reports. She felt they were pushed through to a diploma and didn’t learn enough. Teachers were eager to recommend special education, but Griffin couldn’t get them to provide other basic extra help. Two years ago when her youngest daughter was entering kindergarten, she sought out a charter school, Lighthouse Academy, and hoped for a better outcome. Griffin didn’t know about the Lighthouse Academy’s low test scores or that it had been identified by the state as being in an academic emergency on and off since opening in 2000. Instead, when she visited the West Akron school, Griffin saw caring teachers working with small classes in a school that was well established in the community. She hasn’t once regretted her decision…

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School bans fuzzy boots used to hide cell phones

Singer Nancy Sinatra may have had boots made for walking, but she never attended Pottstown Middle School, Reuters reports. Starting Monday the Philadelphia suburban district is banning the wearing of fuzzy open-top boots, including the popular Ugg brand, to middle school classes because students have been stashing cell phones in the loose footwear, according to district director of community relations John Armato.

“Cell phones are a problem for obvious reasons,” Armato said.

Superintendent Reed Lindley said the school principal asked for the boot ban “because of the classroom disruptions that are resulting from ringing cell phones.”

Students at the school can avoid going toe-to-toe with school officials by wearing boots that lace up and usually have a snugger fit…

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Toddlers subjected to palm-reading assessments in China

Several kindergartens in a province in northern China are charging parents 1,200 yuan ($190) for a palm-reading test that they claim can predict their toddlers’ intelligence and potential, state news agency Xinhua said, Reuters reports. Many parents have flocked to palm readers for the test, used in kindergartens in northern Shanxi province and designed for children above the age of three months, the report said. According to the company that designed the tests, Shanxi Daomeng Culture Communication Co, the reading of palms helps “determine the children’s innate intelligence and potential,” Xinhua reported. In Communist Party-ruled China, a one-child policy has raised the stakes for parents who place great emphasis on educating their children in the expectation that the offspring will support them when they grow old…

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Opinion: ‘Gilded Cage’ of bureaucracy affixes stereotypes to teachers

The Daily Caller reports a millionaire public school teacher in New York is keeping his lucrative paychecks and adding to his pension despite being kicked out of the classroom, Owen Rust for Yahoo! News reports. Even worse: The man could have retired four years ago at age 62 but is keeping his “job” to mess up the school system. The “iron cage of bureaucracy” that often seems to doom teachers everywhere to a life of state-mandated drudgery, consisting of lack of academic freedom and rigid bureaucratic oversight, can also pay off big for a few lucky bad apples. According to the New Yorker in 2009, there were over 600 teachers languishing in New York’s controversial “rubber rooms,” officially known as Temporary Reassignment Centers. The school district’s teachers’ union, United Federation of Teachers, requires teachers accused of all manner of inappropriate or incompetent behavior be allowed to defend themselves in arbitration. This expensive and time-consuming process gums up the works and keeps bad teachers from getting the boot…

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Reading is not a race: The virtues of the ‘slow reading’ movement

Go to just about any elementary school in this country and you will see teachers with stopwatches assessing “nonsense word fluency,” says Thomas Newkirk, a former high school teacher and currently professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, for the Washington Post. When I first heard the term, I though someone was pulling my leg. Fluency in reading, I had always thought, was about meaning, about understanding. It had nothing to do with nonsense. But children are tested regularly in 60-second bursts on meaningless letter combinations—often pushed to go faster than one per second. Fluency equates to speed. I understand the importance of decoding skill, and I’m sure that some kids—the sprinters—might like this form of racing. But I wonder what image of reading we are passing on, and how the stragglers feel…

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ED: States applying for NCLB waivers should do more to reach students

In their applications for waivers from NCLB rules, states didn't do enough to ensure that schools would be held accountable for the performance of all students, ED says.

In its initial review of No Child Left Behind waiver requests, the U.S. Education Department (ED) highlighted a similar weakness in nearly every application: States did not do enough to ensure schools would be held accountable for the performance of all students.

The Obama administration praised the states for their high academic standards. But nearly every application was criticized for being loose about setting high goals and, when necessary, interventions for all student groups—including minorities, the disabled, and low-income students—or for failing to create sufficient incentives to close the achievement gap.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools where even one group of students falls behind are considered out of compliance and subject to interventions. The law has been championed for helping shed light on education inequalities, but most now agree it is due for change.

Indiana’s proposal to opt out of the federal law’s strictest requirements was criticized by ED for its “inattention” to certain groups, like students still learning the English language. New Mexico’s plan, a panel of peer reviewers noted, did not include accountability and interventions for student subgroups based on factors like achievement and graduation rates. In Florida, the department expressed concern that the performance of some groups of students could go overlooked.

For more school reform news, see:

States strengthening their teacher evaluation standards

Expert: Federal school reform plan is wrong

Beyond ‘Superman’: Leading Responsible School Reform

The concerns were outlined in letters sent last December by the administration to the 11 states that have applied for a waiver. Since then, state and federal officials have been talking about how to address the concerns; some states have already agreed to changes.

The letters were obtained by The Associated Press for all of the states except Tennessee and Kentucky, which declined to provide them until an announcement is made on whether a waiver is granted. ED previously has said it expected to notify states by mid-January.

“Our priority is protecting children and maintaining a high bar even as we give states more flexibility to get more resources to the children most in need, even if that means the process takes a little longer than we anticipated,” said Daren Briscoe, a department spokesman.

Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, said federal officials are in a challenging spot.


$3M gaming project could help spark STEM education

MIT will develop an online multiplayer game for high school math and biology.

A $3 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant will help the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Education Arcade build a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) to help high school students learn math and biology.

Part of the grant’s purpose will be to change the way that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics are traditionally taught in secondary schools. Studies indicate that many students fail to remain engaged and interested in STEM education in high school and college, leading to a need for highly skilled STEM employees in the nation’s workforce.

MIT Associate Professor Eric Klopfer, director of the Education Arcade and the Scheller Teacher Education Program, has researched educational gaming tools for more than 10 years. Klopfer created StarLogo TNG, a platform that helps kids create 3D simulations and games using a graphical programming language, as well as several mobile game platforms—including location-based augmented reality games.

MIT’s Education Arcade explores games that promote learning through authentic and engaging play. Aside from STEM education topics, Education Arcade projects have included history, literacy, and language learning and have been tailored to a wide range of ages. They have been designed for personal computers, handheld devices, and online delivery.

For more news about STEM education, see:

Inquiry-based approach to science a hit with students

Climate change skepticism seeps into classrooms

Meet six of the country’s best STEM schools

In a MMOG, many players’ avatars can interact and cooperate or compete directly in the same virtual world.

“This genre of games is uniquely suited to teaching the nature of science inquiry, because they provide collaborative, self-directed learning situations,” Klopfer said. “Players take on the roles of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to explore and explain a robust virtual world.”

The game will be aligned with the Common Core standards in mathematics and Next Generation Science Standards for high school students. It will use innovative, task-based assessment strategies embedded into the game to let students use and display mastery of the topics and skills necessary to play the game. This task-based assessment strategy also will give teachers targeted data that will enable them to track student progress and provide valuable, just-in-time feedback.

Klopfer’s team will work closely with Filament Games, a Wisconsin-based games production studio, as the project’s primary software developers.


Teacher: I won’t ‘teach and shut up’

I remember the moment I stopped resenting the deduction in my paychecks that went to my union. It took me three years, and happened suddenly, says Eric Shieh, founding teacher of the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, “A School for a Sustainable City.” Halfway through my third year of teaching music, in 2007, administrators in my St. Louis district decided to cut student time in the arts by 64 percent at the middle-school level as part of a plan to improve student test-scores. Appalled, I sent an email to my fellow arts teachers across the district asking what we were going to do. The response from my colleagues? There is nothing you can do; this has been happening for the past 20 years. Nonetheless, unwilling to let the arts programs go quietly, I circulated petitions among staff, acquiring signatures from several hundred teachers—arts and non-arts teachers alike. It didn’t do anything…

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Antioch College waiving tuition for students enrolling in next 3 years

Four years after Antioch College suspended operations due to financial problems, the private liberal arts institution in southwest Ohio is recharging its system by extending full scholarships to current students and anyone who applies over the next three years, CBS News reports. Based on the value of the current $26,500 yearly tuition, that makes each scholarship worth at least $106,000, according to CBS News. In addition, students who qualify for financial aid may pay less for room and board, which costs around $8,600 per year.

“We don’t want economics to be an impediment to a high-quality liberal arts education,” Antioch President Roosevelt said in announcement on the school’s website Tuesday.” By providing four year, full-tuition scholarships, we make attending Antioch College a realistic option for the best and brightest students, regardless of their family’s economic situation.”

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High school graduation: Four students discuss obstacles to success

Rafiat, 19, says that five years from now, she hopes to be “heading into my first year of getting my master’s degree.” She hasn’t always been as committed to education, Youth Communication reports. After several years of cutting school, she moved to Texas, caught up, and is now finishing her final semester in Brooklyn, New York. She will graduate in June. Matthew, 21, fell behind in school, but caught up just in time. The age limit for New York high school students is 21, and Matthew will graduate in June. He hopes to become a chef, a lawyer, or a child psychologist. Alexis, 19, dropped out of high school when his daughter, who is now 1½, was born. He eventually re-enrolled in a transfer school and graduated in March. He plans to go into business management. Marco, 17, wants “to do aerospace engineering and study propulsion systems” in college. If he doesn’t sound to you like someone who hates academics, you’re right. Marco’s obstacle is that he hasn’t felt challenged enough in school. Marco is graduating on time, in June, but says he wishes he’d had more opportunities to, for example, take AP classes and electives during high school…

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