Obama announces first-ever African-American education office

President Barack Obama is creating a new office to bolster education of African-American students, the Huffington Post reports. The White House says the office will coordinate the work of communities and federal agencies to ensure that African-American youngsters are better prepared for high school, college and career. Obama is announcing his election-year initiative Wednesday night in a speech to the civil rights group the National Urban League as he seeks to rally black voters. Aides say his executive order, to be signed Thursday, will set a goal of producing “a more effective continuum” of programs for African-American students. The president announced his election-year initiative, the first-ever White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, in remarks to the civil rights group National Urban League Convention Wednesday as he sought to rally black voters. Aides told the Associated Press that the executive order, to be signed Thursday, will set a goal of producing “a more effective continuum” of programs for African-American students…

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Teen wows Google with brilliant cancer diagnosis app

Have you ever helped the hard-of-hearing listen to music? Or built a computer program to diagnose breast cancer? These kids have, the Huffington Post reports. The five teenage winners of the second annual Google Science Fair were announced on Monday, according to Scientific American. Each of these brainy teens were chosen from among 30 finalists from around the world and were treated (along with the runners-up) to a gala held in an airplane hanger near the company’s Palo Alto headquarters in California. But the winners, of course, were awarded the best swag: Prizes included college scholarships from Google for $25,000 or $50,000, trips to scientific hotspots like CERN and Fermilab, and (perhaps best of all), trophies made out of Lego bricks. The Grand Prize winner of the science fair, for good reason, was a 17-year-old from Lakewood Ranch, Florida. Combining the fields of biology and computer science, Wenger wrote an app that helps doctors diagnose breast cancer, according to the description of her project on Google. The type of computer program, called a “neural network,” was designed by Wenger to mimic the human brain: Give it a massive amount of information (in this case, 7.6 million trials), and the artificial “brain” will learn to detect complex patterns and make diagnostic calls on breast cancer…

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Study: Online learning outcomes similar to classroom results

Critics of online learning claim that students are exposed to an inferior education when compared to traditional in-class instruction, but a recent study from Ithaka S+R, a strategic consulting and research nonprofit, questions this notion, U.S. News reports. The report, “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials,” notes that students who utilize interactive online learning–or hybrid learning–produce equivalent, or better, results than students participating in face-to-face education. Monitoring 605 college students taking the same introductory statistics course at six public universities–including the University at Albany–SUNY, SUNY Institute of Technology–Utica/Rome, the University of Maryland–Baltimore County, Towson University, CUNY–Baruch College, and CUNY–City College–during fall 2011, researchers split the students into two groups. One group completed the course in a traditional format, while the second group completed an online component complemented with an hour of in-class instruction each week. Students were asked to complete a series of tests before and after the course, and researchers found that “hybrid-format students did perform slightly better than traditional format students” on outcomes including final exam scores and overall course pass rates, according to the report…

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National physicians group pushes petition to ban milk from schools

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a national vegan and physician group based out of D.C., has filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking for milk to be banned from school lunches, according parenting site BabyCenter,  the Huffington Post reports. According to the report, PCRM claims that the beverage is “…high in sugar, high in fat and high in animal protein that is harmful to, rather than protective of, bone health.” Despite the American Heart Association’s recommendation that children between ages 1 and 8 drink around two cups of reduced-fat milk a day, the PCRM asserts in its petition there are better ways for youngsters to get their calcium…

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Enrollment off in big districts, forcing layoffs

Enrollment in nearly half of the nation’s largest school districts has dropped steadily over the last five years, triggering school closings that have destabilized neighborhoods, caused layoffs of essential staff and concerns in many cities that the students who remain are some of the neediest and most difficult to educate, the New York Times reports. While the losses have been especially steep in long-battered cities like Cleveland and Detroit, enrollment has also fallen significantly in places suffering through the recent economic downturn, like Broward County, Fla., San Bernardino, Calif., and Tucson, according to the latest available data from the Department of Education, analyzed for The New York Times. Urban districts like Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, are facing an exodus even as the school-age population has increased. Enrollment in the New York City schools, the largest district in the country, was flat from 2005 to 2010, but both Chicago and Los Angeles lost students, with declining birthrates and competition from charter schools cited as among the reasons. Because school financing is often allocated on a per-pupil basis, plummeting enrollment can mean fewer teachers will be needed. But it can also affect the depth of a district’s curriculum, jeopardizing programs in foreign languages, music or art…

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NBC launches new educational video series about the Summer Olympics

With the 2012 Summer Olympic games just days away, NBC Learn—the educational arm of NBC News—has launched a new video series called “Science of the Summer Olympics: Engineering in Sports.” This 10-part series explores the engineering and technology behind individual summer Olympic events.

The videos include a look at how engineers are designing faster pools and building safer helmets; the analysis of every motion involved in a weightlifter’s lift and a sprinter’s sprint; and analysis of how the principles of engineering are helping disabled athletes excel in such diverse sports as wheelchair rugby, basketball, and racing.

In many of the videos, the engineering is explained by capturing the athletes’ movements with a state-of-the-art, high-speed Phantom camera, which has the ability to capture movement at rates of up to 10,000 frames per second. These dynamic visuals allow for frame-by-frame illustrations of specific principles such as mobility and speed. Athletes who participated in the videos include swimmer Missy Franklin, boxer Queen Underwood, weightlifter Sarah Robles, runners Jenny Simpson and Usain Bolt, and decathlete Bryan Clay.

The series is a continuation of the Emmy award-winning “Science of…” partnership between NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation. Other videos from the partnership include the Science of the Winter Olympics, Science of NFL Football, and Science of NHL Hockey.

http://www.nbclearn.com/portal/site/learn/science-of-the-summer-olympics

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Opinion: America Has Too Many Teachers

President Obama said last month that America can educate its way to prosperity if Congress sends money to states to prevent public school layoffs and “rehire even more teachers,” says Andrew Coulson for the Wall Street Journal. Mitt Romney was having none of it, invoking “the message of Wisconsin” and arguing that the solution to our economic woes is to cut the size of government and shift resources to the private sector. Mr. Romney later stated that he wasn’t calling for a reduction in the teacher force—but perhaps there would be some wisdom in doing just that. Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs. Or would they? Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has shown that better-educated students contribute substantially to economic growth…

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How to increase teacher pay by 130 percent with current budgets

As part of its “Opportunity Culture” initiative to help close achievement gaps and meet rising global education standards, Public Impact used financial analyses to show that redesigning teacher roles to allow them to reach more students could feasibly free up enough money to pay those teachers up to 130 percent more, the Huffington Post reports. The organization maintains that this spike in teacher pay can be accomplished within current budgets, and without increasing class sizes. Public Impact offers over 20 models for extending the reach of teachers, many of which entail redesigning jobs, utilizing technology or some combination thereof. A financial breakdown of three models in particular shows that when teachers reach more students, additional per-pupil funds become available to support those teachers’ work. This additional funding, minus new costs, can in turn be used for increased pay and other priorities, depending on the needs of each school…

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Top U.S. high school hit with civil rights, discrimination suit

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a prestigious Alexandria, Va. high school, has been hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit, the Huffington Post reports. The Coalition of The Silence, a local minority advocacy group, and the NAACP filed a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education Monday alleging that black and Latino students, as well as students with disabilities, are being shut out of the school because Fairfax County consistently fails to identify them for gifted programs.

“Poor Latino kids are not being identified, and I worry part of that is language,” Martina Hone of the Coalition of Silence told NBC Washington. “African-American kids are not being identified. I’m worried that’s race.”

The complaint alleges that the county “…essentially operates a network of separate and unequal schools,” and that “for decades, these students have been grossly and disproportionately underrepresented in admission to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.”

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