N.Y. adopts cyber bullying measure—without stronger penalties

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation putting more responsibility on schools to monitor and report incidents of cyber bullying, reports the Buffalo News—but the new measure does not include a more sweeping component sought by some lawmakers and victims of bullying: stronger and clearer penalties for those who harass others via texts, eMail, and social media. The new law follows the suicide last September of Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old freshman who blogged often about the bullying he endured for being gay. Local police at the time said their hands were tied in pursuing a case because of the vagueness of state law pertaining to cyber bullying. “This is a very good step,’’ said Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican who sponsored legislation that stalled in the Assembly to impose criminal penalties, including jail time, for cyber bullying. But, he added, “I think at some point in time we will need to define this in such a way that says to society, whether adults or young adults, that this activity is criminal in nature.”

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Does Facebook use lead to depression? No, says Wisconsin study

A study of university students is the first evidence to refute the supposed link between depression and the amount of time spent on Facebook and other social media sites, ScienceBlog reports. The study, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, suggests that it might be unnecessarily alarming to advise patients and parents on the risk of “Facebook depression” based solely on the amount of internet use. The results were published online July 10 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report on the effects of social media on children and adolescents. The report suggested that exposure to Facebook could lead to depression. UW researchers, led by Lauren Jelenchick and Dr. Megan Moreno, surveyed 190 UW-Madison students between the ages of 18 and 23, using a real-time assessment of internet activity and a validated, clinical screening method for depression. The study found that the survey participants were on Facebook for over half of their total time online. When Jelenchick and Moreno evaluated the data, including the depression-screening results, they found no significant associations between social media use and the probability of depression.

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Adolescent angst: Five facts about the teenage brain

They are dramatic, irrational, and scream for seemingly no reason—and they have a deep need for both greater independence and tender loving care. There’s a reason this description could be used for either teens or toddlers, LiveScience reports: After infancy, the brain’s most dramatic growth spurt occurs in adolescence. “The brain continues to change throughout life, but there are huge leaps in development during adolescence,” said Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who reviewed the neuroscience in “The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development” (Johns Hopkins University, 2009) by Clea McNeely and Jayne Blanchard. And though it might seem impossible to get inside the head of an adolescent, scientists have probed this teen tangle of neurons. Here are five things they’ve learned about the mysterious teen brain.

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Listen and learn: A new model for teaching

Teachers, do those relentless questions from the front row drive you crazy as you attempt to cover today’s state-mandated lesson plan? Then you’ll hate Paul Harris’ controversial new book, Fortune reports. In Trusting What You’re Told, the Harvard professor of education challenges entrenched notions of cognitive development. Rather than seeing children as “scientists in the crib” who learn through hands-on observation, Harris argues that they’re nascent anthropologists who learn best from the “testimony” of “informants.” That’s how we find out the world is round, for example. Harris’ research cuts against much of what happens in today’s classrooms; instead, it demands verbally acute teachers — one might imagine Mister Rogers as the paragon — as well as patient parents.

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Online writing tools focus on teacher development, student engagement

The rigorous Common Core standards for writing outline the skills that students should be able to demonstrate beginning as early as kindergarten.

If there’s one skill that everyone agrees all students must learn across the curriculum, it’s how to write well—and the move toward adopting the Common Core State Standards adds even greater urgency to this effort.

The rigorous Common Core standards for writing outline the skills that students should be able to demonstrate beginning as early as kindergarten. For example, sixth graders should be able to write arguments to support their claims “with clear reasons and relevant evidence,” among other standards.

“Obviously, the advent of the Common Core will shine a bright light [on writing instruction], and online technology offers a ray of hope and the potential for scalability,” said Ogden Morse, CEO of AcademicMerit.

For years, Morse noted, schools have been using software that scores students’ essays automatically using artificial intelligence technology, which allows students to practice writing and get constructive feedback more frequently than if teachers had to score all drafts by hand.

But these solutions “still must be grounded in sound pedagogy,” he said, “and that’s not easy.”

Most of the conversations about writing instruction, Morse said, focus on the abilities or limitations of automated essay scoring programs, or the struggles of teachers to assign more writing in the face of larger class sizes. “I would argue that, in doing so, we’re overlooking the obvious,” he said, which is “professional development. Student writing won’t improve if writing instruction doesn’t.”

To address this need, AcademicMerit created FineTune, which it calls a first-of-its-kind online professional development tool for supporting teachers in the rubric-based evaluation of student writing.

According to the company, teachers in a district can use FineTune to work toward calibrating their assessment of students’ writing to match up with a comprehensive rubric, the Common Core standards, and each other.

Teachers choose from a database of hundreds of actual student essays and evaluate each essay based on a five-category rubric aligned with the Common Core. They receive immediate, category-by-category comparative scoring and analysis for each essay they score. The, they take built-in assessments to measure the quality of their scoring from the company’s assessment product, Assessments21.

Once they pass these assessments, teachers become approved “readers” for common writing assignments and exams. Supervisors or mentors in the district can use the assessment data to provide focused professional development in support of teachers. The company also acts as a liaison to the district to analyze results and offer suggestions for additional training, as needed.

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N.Y. teacher evaluation system mimics Microsoft’s fatally flawed employee evaluation system

If you’re wondering how New York state came to pass a teacher evaluation system that will put all teachers on a bell curve, evaluate them based upon test scores, and have the ones who are ranked on the bottom of the bell curve fired as “ineffective,” look no further than Bill Gates’ own company, reports the Perdido Street School blog. Citing a report in Vanity Fair, the blog notes that a Microsoft-based management system known as “stack ranking” effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” investigative reporter Kurt Eichenwald writes. “‘If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,’ says a former software developer. ‘It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.’” Starting next year, this vaunted Microsoft employee evaluation system comes to New York State public education. Every year, two out of every ten teachers will be rated “highly effective,” three will be rated “effective,” three will be rated “developing,” and two will be rated “ineffective.” Those rated “ineffective” for two years in a row will be fired…

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More than 100,000 local teaching jobs have been lost in the last year

One major cause of the unemployment crisis, BusinessInsider reports, is ongoing cuts to public-sector employees at the state and local level. According to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, local education jobs dropped by 14,000 in the last month—and over the last year, the number is down by more than 100,000, from 7.9 million in June 2011 to 7.8 million today…

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Survey: Teens use their tech skills to hide online activity

From clearing their browser history to creating private eMail addresses, teens are increasingly leveraging their tech-savvy skills to hide their online activities from their parents, reports the Great Falls Tribune. More than 70 percent of teens said they have tricks for deceiving their parents about their online habits, up from 45 percent of teens in 2010 who said they used such tricks, according to a Teen Internet Behavior study released last week by McAfee, the online-security tech company. By contrast, many parents said they feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with technologies, with 23 percent saying they have thrown up their hands and “just hope for the best,” according to the survey. An equal amount said they don’t have the time or energy to monitor everything their teens are doing online. One example of the disconnect between what kids are doing and what parents think they’re doing: Only 12 percent of parents surveyed said they think their teens access porn online, while 43 percent of teens said they access it on a weekly basis. Moreover, 36 percent of teens (and more females than males) surveyed said they go online for information on sex-related topics such as STDs and pregnancy…

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