Plan to stem dropout rate stirs controversy

Only about 70 percent of high school freshmen go on to graduate, the White House says.
Only about 70 percent of high school freshmen go on to graduate, the White House says.

The Obama administration is offering a $900 million carrot to the nation’s school systems to tackle what many view as an abysmal dropout rate that threatens America’s ability to compete in the new global economy. But it’s the “stick” portion of the administration’s plan that has rankled many educators.

Districts would get the money only if they agree to one of four plans to dramatically change or even shut down their worst performing schools. One of these plans involves firing the principal and at least half of the staff members at a struggling school—a turnaround plan that captured national attention when it was tried by the Central Falls, R.I., school system last week.

President Obama took aim at the nation’s school dropout epidemic in a March 1 speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. During the event—which was sponsored by the America’s Promise Alliance, a youth-oriented organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma—Obama noted the economic impact that dropouts have on America’s ability to compete.…Read More

Obama urges states to raise academic standards

In order for U.S. to be first in world education, states need to raise their academic standards.
For the U.S. to lead the world in education, states need to raise their academic standards, Obama says.

Saying America’s “primacy in the world” is at stake, President Barack Obama on Feb. 22 prodded states to raise their academic standards by using the best leverage he has: money.

Speaking to governors gathered at the White House, Obama said he won’t “accept second place for the United States of America.” He noted that it continues to lag behind other nations in critical areas, including high school math and science skills.

Obama told the governors he wants a change in the nation’s education law that would allow states to receive federal aid for poor students only if they adopt academic standards that are deemed truly to prepare children for college or careers out of high school.…Read More

Are unions blocking school reform?

The issue of school reform has been heavily debated in recent months.
The issue of school reform has been heavily debated in recent months.

In a new film called Waiting for Superman, there is a scene in which hidden-camera video shows a teacher reading a newspaper and looking at his watch while his students fool around. Another scene shows slow-motion footage of teacher union leaders giving speeches opposing school reform.

Directed by the same filmmaker who made An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary could do for public education what the latter did for global warming, some observers say: Push the issue into the national consciousness as a dire problem in need of fixing.

Superman investigates student achievement, teacher quality, and assessment as it attempts to explain why U.S. students are falling behind their peers from other industrialized countries on international benchmark exams. But in exploring the troubles of American public education, the film ends up pointing to one culprit above all others, those who have seen it say: teacher unions, which are portrayed as blocking much-needed reform.…Read More

Commentary: Data undermining

Districts need more guidance on using school and student data.
Districts need more guidance on using school and student data.

School data systems are getting more sophisticated–but are their users?

It’s a fair question to ask, in light of a recent Education Department (ED) report suggesting that school leaders are making progress in using data to improve student achievement–but they’re still looking for examples of how best to do this.

Using data to improve instruction is a key focal point of the Obama administration’s school-reform efforts. And the tools that educators have at their disposal are getting better: A perusal of exhibitors at this year’s Florida Education Technology Conference, for example, revealed at least two companies now offering systems that can give teachers the full history of their students’ test scores. That means teachers can begin a new school year knowing their students’ strengths and weaknesses immediately, without wasting valuable class time early in the year.…Read More

AASA keynote: Focus on children, or risk nation’s status

We need to rethink our priorities as a nation, Canada said.
We need to rethink our priorities as a nation, Canada said.

Referring to the significant challenges facing public education today as a crisis that threatens the nation’s status as a global leader, educational trailblazer Geoffrey Canada urged school leaders to push for more funding and do “whatever it takes” to make sure all students succeed.

“I am convinced that if our country continues to treat its children the way it has, we will no longer remain a world superpower,” Canada said in a Feb. 12 keynote speech at the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education in Phoenix. “In fact, we won’t even be in the top 10.”

Canada is president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a project that the New York Times described as “one of the most ambitious social-service experiments of our time.”…Read More

Opinion: How competition fails our students

Zeller advocates mastery of educational concepts before students are encouraged to compete in the classroom.

Zeller advocates mastery of educational concepts before students are encouraged to compete in the classroom.

(Editor’s note: Brent Zeller is the author of the provocative book Evolutionary Education: Moving Beyond Our Competitive Compulsion. Here, he explains why he believes competition is detrimental to learning. Comments are welcome at the bottom of the page.)

In 1988, after 20 years of learning and playing tennis, and 14 years of teaching it to thousands of students, I had a simple realization: The introduction of competition before we achieve proficiency in the fundamental physical, mental, and emotional skills compromises all aspects of the learning process.…Read More

Duncan: Schools ‘need to be more creative’

Education Secretary Arne Duncan took questions from students.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan took questions from students.

Education leaders in the United States must work to close the digital divide and ensure that all students have access to top-notch technology, while at the same time using technology not just for technology’s sake, but as a game-changing learning tool, said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a national town hall meeting for students on Dec. 15.

During the town hall, which was a special edition of the Education Department’s (ED’s) television news program for parents, Duncan said that using technology the way today’s students use it is key to making an impact.

“We need to be much more creative and innovative in how we do things,” Duncan said. For instance, students today use cell phones and PDAs on a regular basis, he said, so coming up with creative ways to deliver content and curriculum involving technologies that students like to use is one way to grab students’ attention.…Read More

iSchools lift hopes in NYC

A series of theme-based high schools are springing up across New York City, based on a model that has been open for only a year but already is drawing rave reviews. Called the iSchool, this model school blends innovative technology with project-based curriculum modules–and its early success could have national implications.

In an open commons area on the fifth floor of SoHo’s Chelsea High School, where the iSchool is based, students gather proudly by their projects.

“Hi, would you like to come and see what we’re doing here at our school?” says one girl, dressed in a skirt and heels for her big day.…Read More