Advocacy group to monitor reform efforts in public schools

Diane Ravitch, the historian and former assistant education secretary who has become an outspoken critic of those who favor high-stakes testing, tenure reforms and other controversial measures aimed at the public schools, has joined with other education advocates to form a group that will grade and endorse political candidates, the New York Times reports. The group will be called the Network for Public Education and is co-founded by Anthony Cody, a former teacher and now a blogger on education issues. It will try to bring together parents, teachers and other local interest groups from across the country through social networking. Ms. Ravitch said the network was calling for broad-minded public school curriculums that included arts, sciences, foreign languages and physical education; better financing for schools; more respect for teachers; and the “appropriate use of testing to help students and teachers, not to punish or reward students, teachers, principals, or to close schools,” she wrote in an eMail…

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U.S. probes racial disparities in Seattle school discipline

The Education Department is investigating whether Seattle’s public school district discriminates against black students by subjecting them to tougher and more frequent discipline than white students, agency and district officials said, Reuters reports. The inquiry, launched in May 2012, is focusing in part on the district’s own statistics showing that African-American high school students are suspended or expelled more than three times as often as other students, school officials said on Wednesday. In middle school, the racial disparity is greater, with blacks 3 1/2 times more likely to be disciplined than other students, according to district data shared with Reuters. More than a quarter of all black middle school pupils have received short-term suspensions in any given year since at least the 2006-07 academic year, compared with 7.4 percent or less annually for white students, the data shows…

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Report: CPS has capacity to close, consolidate 80 schools

Chicago Public Schools’ Commission on School Utilization late Wednesday released its final report on the district’s plan to shutter dozens of its schools, the Huffington Post reports. The report claims the nation’s third largest school district has the capacity to consolidate 80 schools over the next two years, an astoundingly unprecedented move for a district that has never before closed more than 11 schools in one year, Catalyst Chicago notes.

(Read the full report. View a map of schools on the district’s possible closure list.)

The CPS-appointed commission reportedly based the number 80 on the number of seats available in “better-performing schools” that students would — and should — be transferred to under the plan, according to Fox Chicago…

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What makes a good broadband network for schools?

High-quality broadband access will be particularly important schools roll out online Common Core assessments.

A panel of broadband experts recently agreed that high-quality access for schools and districts means more than providing a connection to the internet—good broadband provides a foundation for innovative initiatives, cloud services, telecommunications, and much more.

Hosted by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the panel discussed the power of broadband access in schools and how it takes extensive planning, research, and legislative backing to ensure not just access, but high-quality access that can sustain growth.

“Our biggest concern was to have equitable access for all schools and districts,” said Tim Sizemore, program manager for the Kentucky Department of Education’s Kentucky Education Network (KEN). “It started in the early 90s and has developed over the years to a statewide and state-funded broadband initiative.”

According to Mike Leadingham, director of the state education department’s Office of Knowledge, Information, and Data Services, the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA)—which passed in 1990—established funding for broadband access and services for the state’s school districts.

“Allocation of bandwidth for districts is usually based on size,” said Leadingham, “but we make adjustments based on initial usage. Some districts are advanced in terms of using online services and some are not. We make sure all districts get what they need, but we don’t over-allocate.”

Leadingham and Sizemore said the statewide broadband access helps Kentucky districts in many ways. KEN offers:

  • Hub-site connectivity.
  • Online applications access.
  • State-standard cloud services (including eMail, student information system, and financial management).
  • Network, security, and firewall services (including network monitoring and management, as well as district firewall management).
  • Telecommunication services (primary rate interface, long distance, and more).

“By offering equitable access, we can allow for state standards for technical and product aspects,” explained Sizemore. “It also supports state contracts and allows for leverage in buying power.”

Sizemore noted that funding from both the state and federal level is critical and that KEN is a cooperative effort with 100-percent participation from district, state, and federal leaders.

(Next page: California’s success—and how high-quality broadband access can help with student assessment and help boost achievement)

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The best tweets of the week for education

In today’s social networking world, many people use Twitter to access good information quickly. And the editors of eSchool Media are no exception—we rely on tweets from industry leaders and social media-savvy educators to inform our stories and keep us connected to what’s happening now.

But we’re not stingy! We want to share with you, our readers, the education-related tweets that we found most enlightening, helpful, or interesting this week. Each week we’ll post the best tweets of the week for education, so keep an eye out!

We’d also love to hear from you: See a great tweet you’d like to share? Find us on Twitter at eSN_Meris, eSN_Laura, eSN_Dennis, and eCN_Sarah, or leave your find in the comment section below.

—The Editors

(In no particular order…)

1. @SBEducation

Meria Carstarphen @SXSWEDU: the era of the career educator is over. Teachers are changing just as our students are changing. #sxswedu

2. @edutopia

New! Celebrate #PiDay: 7 Classroom Resources for Pi Learning http://edut.to/YUceYV  #teacherresources #edchat

3. @education_world

Seven Must-Have Centers for Math Class http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/math-ideas-for-centers.shtml … #EdChat #MathChat #Math #ElementaryEd #PrimaryEd #MathEd #Maths #Education

4. @WeAreTeachers

[Photo] Check out this #science project on the amount of sugar in the products we like. That’s real world learning! http://on.fb.me/ZuhzpU

5. @gcouros

Yup…hilarious –> Write your own incredible TED talk in just 9 steps with the TED-o-matic http://bit.ly/YNC92c

6. @SteveCase
Why teens are tiring of Facebook http://cnet.co/13wBMB4 “Too overrun by parents to give teens the type of digital freedom they crave”

7. @ACEducation

Peter Lange: #MOOCs can change education on our own campuses–innovation isn’t always disruption #LeadingChange13

8. @pearsonls

#STEM knowledge extends beyond a career; It’s knowledge for life: http://ow.ly/isMRD #alwayslearning

Bonus Tweets from the Editors:

Dennis Pierce, Editor in Chief, @eSN_Dennis

Linda Darling-Hammond at #NCE13: In 1900, just 10% of jobs were high skill. It’s now 90% #edchat @eschoolnews

Laura Devaney, Managing Editor, @eSN_Laura

Win 1 of 4 doc cams in this @EpsonAmerica grant, opening March 15. http://bit.ly/Y4aNoj  #schoolfunding #schoolgrants #edtech #edchat

Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor, @eSN_Meris

Are the CCSS going to the testing dark side? Fascinating read by a teacher who wrote a book initially praising CCSS http://wapo.st/VuxA15

Sarah Langmead, Assistant Editor, @eCN_Sarah

“In some ways, [#MOOCs] transcend the way students would interact with an instructor” @DaphneKoller #LeadingChange13

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Could this school’s police program be a model for the country?

Every school day, Simpsonville, S.C., police officer Justin Chandler patrols the halls of Plain Elementary School, the Huffington Post reports. But Chandler is not a school resource officer, a position typically filled by specially trained officers who are stationed at schools to bolster security. Unlike many armed guards in public schools, Chandler’s position comes at no extra cost to local taxpayers. According to a segment of “Today” that aired Wednesday, the town pays Chandler his regular police salary, and he voluntarily works out of the school, instead of the local police station. “All I needed from the school was a desk and WiFi,” Chandler told “Today.” While sources of funding for school resource officer programs vary by locality, many districts receive financial backing from the government or through private grants…

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Opinion: How social networking rules for teachers go too far

Teachers are expected to do a lot of things in the classroom — but what about outside, asks the Washington Post. Here’s a look at that issue, by Angie Miller, the 2011 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year and a TED2012 speaker. She teaches middle school and is a freelance writer.

At school we went over our social networking guidelines. Besides the obvious — don’t be inappropriate with students through texting and Facebooking (which no teacher in their right mind would do) – we were further directed to “always think and write like an educator” (boring) and “never use a blog…to comment about your job duties” (like this?) and “never blog or write about extremely personal subjects” (is my homeless mother, whom I write about, extremely personal?)…

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Teacher-turned-lawmaker wants two diplomas to graduate high school

Missouri state Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, is a teacher by trade and a freshman lawmaker in the General Assembly. Spencer introduced House Bill 294 in mid-February which requires all high school students in Missouri pass proficiency tests in four core areas before the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will issue a diploma, Yahoo! News reports. Local school districts can issue certificates of achievement, but those won’t count towards a student’s graduation. Spencer’s motivation for the bill is threefold, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch .

* The lawmaker says students already take exams to assess how much they’ve learned. The same tests could be used to ascertain whether students are ready to graduate. The exams also offer a way to evaluate teacher performance and increase the credibility of high school diplomas in Missouri…

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Can a school project make a difference in a community?

The Industrial Revolution isn’t exactly the sexiest of topics for high school students, TakePart.com reports.

“In education today, kids want to see the practicality of what they are learning,” says Andrew Holly, a social studies teacher in Grand Rapids, Mich. “The Industrial Revolution obviously isn’t that engaging in its historical sense to kids, so we tried to make it about things they care about in their lives.”

Holly and his fellow teachers embarked on a project at Kent Innovation High School to create a school-wide project using the Industrial Revolution as a link to 21st century social and political problems. It was a perfect project for Kent Innovation High School, a school that focuses on project-based learning in a team environment. At Kent, which first opened to 108 ninth graders in September 2011, students spend two thirds of their day at the new school focusing on four cores: English, math, science and social studies. The classes use projects, which depart from the age-old conception of the boring school project, as their learning tool…

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Four keys to success with digital textbooks

With certain considerations, schools can move to digital textbooks and tools.

Moving to digital textbooks is easier said than done—it takes months of planning, stakeholder buy-in, and perseverance. A new infographic from OnlineCollege.org pulls data from the Federal Communications Commission’s Digital Textbook Playbook to highlight important aspects of digital textbook implementation.

Each year, school districts spend $7 billion on textbooks, but most textbooks are 7-10 years old before they are replaced.

In a survey, 81 percent of teachers said they think tablets can enhance students’ learning. For example, laptops or tablets can use internet connectivity, interactive and personalized content, learning and video games, applications that encourage collaboration, and instant teacher and student feedback to boost engagement and understanding.

Here are four important needs when moving to digital textbooks:

1. Intensive planning and creating clear goals. Plans should be flexible and include content, infrastructure, maintenance, learning strategies, training requirements, and technical support.

2. Teacher training and involvement. Teachers should help plan the transition and should be involved in its implementation. They also should be encouraged and feel supported in identifying their own needs throughout the process.

(Next page: More keys to success)

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