D.C. at-risk students paid $5.25 an hour to attend summer school

The District of Columbia is paying more than 300 students $5.25 an hour to attend summer school, the Washington Examiner reports. The “Summer Bridge” program pays rising ninth-graders who are identified as “less likely than their peers” to graduate on time, the Examiner explains. According to the report, only 53 percent of D.C. public school (DCPS) students graduate high school within four years — a number the summer program hopes to elevate. Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokesperson for Chancellor Kaya Henderson, told the paper that officials plan to examine the results to determine whether the program should be extended. The Summer Bridge program comes after a similar 2008 district experiment, in which some students were given points — each worth $2 — for good grades, behavior and attendance. Harvard economist Roland Fryer was the motivating force behind the Pay-To-Behave program, saying money can be used as a reward to underperforming and unmotivated students…

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Report: Where do the ‘irreplaceable’ teachers go?

The high rate of teachers cycling in and out of schools is detrimental to the education profession and worse for students, decades of policy and research asserts. But a new report from an influential advocacy group makes the case for treating teacher turnover differently, the Huffington Post reports. The study, called “The Irreplaceables,” took several years for TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) to produce, and asserted that a high rate of teachers moving in and out of the profession isn’t necessarily bad.

“The whole basis of federal education policy since the ’60s has been the idea that if kids got greater access to opportunity, they would do better, so the main focus of policy should be increasing that sort of equity, access to teachers,” TNTP president Tim Daly said in an interview.

Rather, TNTP asserted, a high turnover rate among teachers who are “so successful they are nearly impossible to replace” — the “irreplaceables” — is the real problem. “Our analysis suggests that the problem is not the loss of too many teachers, but the loss of the wrong teachers,” Daly wrote in an e-mail introducing the report…

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Opinion: Can school performance be measured fairly?

More than half the states have now been excused from important conditions of the No Child Left Behind education law, the New York Times reports. They’ve been allowed to create new measures of how much students have improved and how well they are prepared for college or careers, and to assess teacher performance on that basis. Teachers will be evaluated in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests. One study, though, found that some state plans could weaken accountability. How can we measure achievement of students, teachers and schools in a way that is fair and accurate, and doesn’t provide incentives for obsessive testing, and cheating?

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QAMA: The only calculator a student should ever use

Long, long ago, before I discovered the joys of public school administration, before I fled from said administrative post for the easy life of private industry, before I left private industry behind to focus on writing and educational policy, I was a math teacher. And in my math classes, we rarely used calculators, says Christopher Dawson for ZDNet. Calculators are designed to eliminate the need for repetitive, tedious arithmetic, leaving time to actually think about the math. When used correctly in the classroom, modern graphing calculators can do wonders for visualization, simulation, and encouraging that critical thought that we’re all after. Calculators were supposed to eliminate the tedium and simple mistakes that plague many calculations but instead have become the go-to device for any math problem. Worse, students frequently lack the mathematical savvy to know when the answer output by the calculator doesn’t make sense. Estimation, it would seem, is a lost art. Enter QAMA…created by Ilan Samson, a retired physicist and serial inventor, to address exactly the problems I described above, the QAMA calculator forces students to provide a reasonable estimate for their answer before it will output the exact answer…

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Nobel writer scorns S.Africa education as ‘a wreck’

Nobel literature prize winner Nadine Gordimer poured scorn on South Africa’s education system on Tuesday as “a wreck” over the failure to deliver textbooks to thousands of public schools, the AFP reports. The scandal has caused a national furor after leaving more than 5,000 rural schools without textbooks for more than six months of the academic year in a damning measure of South Africa’s schooling 18 years into democracy.

“Our education system is a wreck. It’s a shamble. I can’t believe that three-quarters of the year have gone by and so many of our schools, especially in the rural areas, have been without textbooks,” said Gordimer, 88, on SAFM public radio news.

“It is the (education) minister’s responsibility to see that the books are ordered in time and delivered. How can you teach people to read if there are no books to read from?”

President Jacob Zuma is facing increasing calls to fire Education Minister Angie Motshekga. On Monday, he said he was waiting for a final report from a team he appointed to investigate the debacle. The education department was found to have violated students’ rights to education after being taken to court and was ordered to remedy the situation…

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Veteran superintendent brings turnaround model to schools nationwide

Under the new program, consultants help district staff who often “know what they need to do, but don’t know how to do it,” said Judy Zimny, vice president of Voyager Education Services.

Can turnaround results in one troubled school district be replicated in another? A new partnership between an education intervention provider and veteran superintendent Paul Vallas aims to find out by bringing Vallas’ proven reform model to more schools.

Through the Vallas Turnaround System, teams of educational consultants provide staff training and planning support to chronically underperforming schools. The program launched this summer in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Voyager Education Services, a division of Cambium Learning Group that focuses on academic interventions, announced in June an exclusive partnership with The Vallas Group Inc.

Vallas made a name for himself as a school reformer during stints as superintendent at notoriously challenging districts such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and post-Katrina New Orleans.

His turnaround system focuses on three critical areas—academics, finance, and operations—and aims to strengthen five core factors in troubled districts: Financial Health and Stability; Student-Focused Administration and Operation; Superior Instructional Improvement Models; World-Class Human Resources; and Building Local Capacity.

For more news and opinion about school reform, see:

New project aims to transform the ‘first five days’ of school

Bill Gates: The keys to effective teacher evaluation

Beyond ‘Superman’: Leading responsible school reform

Often, school staff already are “doing their best,” and they “know what they need to do, but don’t know how to do it,” said Judy Zimny, vice president of Voyager Education Services.

Zimny said the Voyager consultants balance acting as collaborators and leaders as they facilitate proposal planning and oversee implementation—tasks that district staff most likely intended to do but had trouble completing.

The Vallas partnership builds on Voyager’s past work as an intervention provider.

Previously, Voyager focused on solutions for academic intervention. For example, a district suffering from chronically low math or reading scores might bring in Voyager consultants to provide professional development, identify pain points in school culture, or prescribe supplemental curricula.

For districts that are functioning well overall and merely need to boost a particular academic area, that sort of service is enough. But for some schools, the problems are more systemic and require turnaround solutions that extend beyond academic improvement, Zimny said.


Nissan awards $655,000 in grants

The Nissan Foundation awarded $655,000 in grants this past week to 26 nonprofit organizations from across the country during a special luncheon commemorating the institution’s 20th anniversary, the corporation announced on its website in a news release. Located in California, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee and Texas, all of the organizations receiving grants in 2012 demonstrate a strong commitment to fostering cultural diversity in their local communities.

Children’s Museum Corporation of Rutherford County, which operates the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, will received $45,000 in grant funds. The money is part of “Project Reach Out,” designed to increase accessibility to the diverse exhibits and programs the museum offers and engage children and families in the exploration and appreciation of their own cultures and the diverse cultures of others.

Other Tennessee nonprofits receiving funds include the Frist Center for the Visual Arts ($20,000); Global Education Center ($25,000); Nashville Public Television ($60,000); Oasis Center ($50,000); Tennessee Foreign Language Institute ($20,000); and Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition ($25,000).

Since 1992, the Nissan Foundation has distributed $6.4 million to more than 100 nonprofit organizations that offer educational programs that foster a greater appreciation and understanding of America’s diverse cultural heritage. Many of the nonprofits receiving grants in 2012 are repeat awardee..

“Diversity is strength, whether in a company or a community. We see the Foundation as a means to promote respect for others, generate alternative ways of thinking, strengthen self-awareness and enrich community life,” said Becker.


Grants awarded to St. Mary’s College of Maryland physics department

The St. Mary’s College of Maryland physics department has been the recipient of several grants from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), each helping to build the small but talented group of faculty and students who work and learn in the department. The strong research partnership between the St. Mary’s physics department and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) is key to the success of research in and development of physics technologies.

Most recently (May 2012), ONR awarded the St. Mary’s atomic physics research group in the department of physics a $270,000 grant, which will be used over three years to fund an ongoing study, led by Professor Josh Grossman (Professor Charles Adler participates) and Dr. Frank Narducci of NAWCAD,  of miniaturization of atom traps. The study investigates bichromatic forces, an enhanced form of laser cooling and trapping of neutral atomic gases, which may be applied to develop new sensors, atomic clocks, and quantum computers. All of these technologies have applications in the Navy and beyond. The grant supports summer research intern students, equipment costs, and the sabbatical salaries to allow designated faculty members to focus on the research. The Office of Naval Research awarded a grant of $180,000 to the atomic physics research group in 2009 for similar research. Nine summer research students and three senior research projects were supported by that grant.  NAWCAD received companion grants valued at $300,000 as part of the joint partnership with St. Mary’s College.

The Defense University Research Instrumentation Program of the Office of Naval Research also awarded a $245,000 grant to the atomic physics research group in 2009 for research that is still ongoing. The grant pays for research equipment for two projects: most notably, the study of trapping individual cold atoms above the surface of a microchip. This technology may be applied to construct a quantum computer. Research for this project takes place entirely in on-campus labs. The grant also supports equipment for the bichromatic force research funded by the other two ONR grants.  This work by St. Mary’s faculty, students, and NAWCAD staff takes place in the Atomic Physics & Optical Research Labs at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

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NYL Foundation awards NFTE $500K grant

The New York Life Foundation has awarded the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) a two-year, $500,000 grant to support programs in Boston, Chicago, New York City and Westchester County, NY.  Nearly 2,000 at-risk youth will benefit from this grant, which builds on the $200,000 grant given by the Foundation last year.

“The funding from the New York Life Foundation will enable us to help more young people see their futures – including the importance of graduating from high school – in a different, positive way,” said Amy Rosen, president & CEO, NFTE.  “The support will allow us to continue to help students improve their academic, business and life skills while they forge new paths to success.”

“We are pleased to expand our support of NFTE, whose focus is to help students facing multiple challenges get the attention they need before they quit or fail out of school,” said Chris Park, president of the New York Life Foundation. “NFTE’s approach illustrates that what students are learning in school is relevant to the real world and helps them graduate with their own personal plans for success.”

NFTE is a 65-hour, classroom-based program for middle and high school students.  The entrepreneurship education curriculum emphasizes core academic and workforce skills and is experiential.  The students create and present an original business plan based on their own special interests and talents. According to NFTE, more than 80 percent of high school dropouts say they would have stayed in school if it had been more applicable to real life.  NFTE meets that need, providing relevant learning that engages young people and keeps them in school.

The New York Life Foundation funds will provide support to these NFTE programs:

  • In New York City, NFTE works in schools that serve disadvantaged students who have not been successful in regular schools and are facing their last chance to earn a high school diploma.  NFTE also works in career and technical education schools that link academics to industry skills, occupational knowledge and workforce experience.
  • In Westchester, NFTE works in high schools in Yonkers and Mount Vernon, with plans to expand the program to middle-grade students.
  • In Chicago, funds will support NFTE’s expansion in schools serving disadvantaged, marginalized students who are highly at risk of not finishing high school.
  • In Boston, NFTE is working with public schools and have a joint goal of strengthening the NFTE program there.

According to NFTE, the United States is experiencing a drop-out crisis.  Every 29 seconds an American youth drops out of high school – that’s 7,000 young people per day, or 1.2 million each year.  One-third of all high school students, and nearly half of all African-American and Latino youth, do not graduate.  The individual and societal effects of this crisis are staggering:  Over their lifetimes, on average, high school graduates earn $300,000 more than dropouts.  College graduates earn an additional $1 million.

To learn more, please visit the Foundation’s Web site at www.newyorklifefoundation.org.