In Brazil, a plan to send students to world’s top colleges

With their economy booming, their currency at a level that makes even London prices seem cheap and their foreign policy one of the world’s most ambitious (President Dilma Rousseff this week will to be the first woman ever to open debate at the U.N. General Assembly), Brazilians have gotten used to going abroad for tourism, business, shopping and diplomacy, TIME reports. Now their students are finally getting an incentive to see the world, thanks to a major government program that aims to award 75,000 scholarships to attend the world’s top universities. Available only to Brazilians studying subjects of strategic national importance, like engineering, they reflect “an effort by the government to take a quantum leap in the formation of a scientific and technological elite,” says Aloizio Mercadante, Brazil’s Science and Technology Minister…

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Where did all the male teachers go? France worries that boy students may be suffering

There are too many women in English schools, declared British Prime Minister David Cameron. In order to restore authority in the classrooms, Cameron thinks that the presence of male teachers-who can show both “strength and sensibility -should be reinforced as soon as possible, TIME reports. The idea has been given some thought in France as well. An advisor close to French President Nicolas Sarkozy said “there are too many women teachers” and that the situation should be “more balanced.”

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Charter school smackdown

Is it the best of times or end times for public charter schools? Asks TIME. 4,000 charter school leaders, teachers, advocates, and policymakers will gather in Atlanta later this month at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference. The gathering of upstarts is now larger than many long-standing traditional education groups can muster, but in states and cities across the country, charter schools are facing increased political pressure and scrutiny. In Georgia, the state’s supreme court just ruled that the arrangements for charter schools are unconstitutional. Welcome to town!

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No Child Left Behind: Can Obama revamp the education law?

The Obama Administration is doubling down on its push to overhaul the federal No Child Left Behind Act, reports TIME. Last Wednesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified before Congress and aggressively urged action to revise the landmark and contentious education law that was passed in 2001. The President began this week with a speech at a northern Virginia middle school urging Congress to act and then spent part of Tuesday cutting several radio interviews prodding Capitol Hill even more. This isn’t the first time the Administration has implored Congress to change this law: it’s been a constant drumbeat since 2009 (the law was due to be “reauthorized,” Washingtonspeak for tuned up, in 2007 but Congress couldn’t agree on how to do it) and even during the 2008 campaign. Now, frustrated with the lack of action, Obama and Duncan are trying a new approach: scaring Congress into acting. Both Obama and Duncan are highlighting Department of Education estimates that more than 80% of schools will not meet performance targets this year if the law isn’t changed. One wag dubbed the new strategy a “fail wail.”

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Professor commissions creepy robot that looks exactly like him

This isn’t eerie at all: Geminoid DK, in conjunction with Professor Henrik Scharfe of Aalborg University in Denmark, has created a robotic version of the associate professor that looks identical to him, Time reports. If it weren’t enough that the robot looked exactly like Scharfe, it also mimics the professor’s shrugs and facial expressions. The Japanese firm focuses on creating lifelike machine versions of real people and has had success making people look twice at machines like this one, which strikes an uncanny resemblance to robotics professor and creator Hiroshi Ishiguro. This device in particular will be sent back to Denmark where it will be used to study human interactions with robots in different cultural contexts, Fast Company reports…

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No junk food for you! Parents and principals not pleased about coming school lunch guidelines

Beef jerky, Rice Krispie treats and four varieties of Mazzio’s pizza are a few of the À la carte choices in the lunchroom at Jenks High School outside Tulsa, Okla., where football is king and the players have royal appetites. But those items, plus the one-pint cartons of whole chocolate milk beloved by many players – average weight on the offensive line is 250 lb. – could be gone now that the federal government has issued new restrictions on fat and sodium offered during the school day, reports Time…”Just a typical unfunded mandate,” sighs Jenks principal Mike Means as he contemplates guidelines predicted to cost schools an extra 14 cents per lunch – of which the feds will pay only 6 cents. Washington hopes that school districts will get more creative in controlling expenses and menu planning. Principal Means thinks kids about to enter the real world need to learn how to make choices on their own–without the government breathing down their gullet. Do they want a slice of pepperoni pizza or a healthier serving of turkey-pepperoni pie? All of this is looming because the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January proposed sweeping new nutrition standards for school lunches: limiting French fries and starch to one cup per week, lowering calorie limits and sodium levels, replacing whole milk with skim or 1% and mandating leafy greens and red and orange veggies like squash. The rules will affect some 30 million lunches served in America each school day. Next on the USDA’s target list: À la carte items and so-called competitive foods–like the Mazzio’s and Arby’s available in the Jenks cafeteria and the Donatos pizza being served at high schools in Columbus, Ohio…

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States’ rights and states’ wrongs on school reform

States are the toast of Washington again. Tea Partiers and the incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives idealize them. When Congress read the U.S. Constitution last week, the 10th Amendment – the one reserving power to the states – was an applause line. Of course, celebrating states and localism is nothing new. More than 150 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville declared that it is “the political effects of decentralization that I most admire in America.” More recently, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis hailed states as “laboratories of democracy.” But when it comes to education, we shouldn’t lionize states when they’re too often failing to fix our schools, Time reports.

Consider two recent examples. In 2008 then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings asked states for creative ways to improve failing schools and offered regulatory waivers to support the best ideas. The response? Underwhelming. “States were not bold enough in seeking meaningful and disruptive change to confront school failure,” Spellings told me the other day…

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Jackson Browne: Singer, L.A. charter school board member

Jackson Browne is a commercially successful and critically acclaimed musician. (When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce Springsteen did the honors.) He is also a longtime activist on causes ranging from Tibetan independence to opposing nuclear power. And now he has added school board member to his resume, reports Time. In November, Browne, 62, joined the board of the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), a high-performing network of publicly funded charter schools in South Central Los Angeles. With 15 campuses and 4,600 students, ICEF’s schools are among the best in the city; 100% of its graduating seniors get into college, and 91% are still enrolled three years later. This is no fairy-tale operation, however. The school made news this fall when fiscal problems prompted management changes, and just this week ICEF announced a new $10.5 million infusion of funds from individuals and foundations.

But the money issues haven’t stopped Browne from describing ICEF’s founder, Mike Piscal, as an incredible example of someone who rolls up their sleeves to solve a social problem. I spoke with the Hall of Famer turned school board member about his sympathy for parents who opt out of traditional public schools, why he never went to college and what qualifies him to help bring education reform to inner-city students.

You have a history of activism on a host of issues. Why education?
I’ve always supported education, especially music education in Los Angeles public schools. It goes hand in hand with my other activism. There should be access for everyone, and public education doesn’t effectively address this right now.…Read More

Is the golden age of education spending finally over?

As America starts to grapple with its out-of-control spending habits, we as a nation really should reckon with our education costs, says Andrew Rotherham for Time. Few federal education programs were targeted by President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission, but that’s because most school funding comes from the state and local levels. And that’s where the big-time money problem is. According to a report issued jointly last week by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers, when federal stimulus funds run out in 2011, states – and, by extension, schools – will tumble off a fiscal cliff, and even an economic upturn won’t bring state funding back up to where it was a few years ago. The problem, however, is not just the struggling economy. In 1970 America spent about $228 billion in today’s dollars on public schools. In 2007 that figure was $583 billion. True, some of the increase can be traced back to growing enrollments, better programs, and improved services for special-education and other students, but much of the increase is just a lot of spending without a lot to show for it. And given all the various pressures on state budgets (including our aging population, health care costs and the substantial obligations states and school districts owe for pensions and benefits), the golden age of school spending is likely coming to an end. One of the big problems with reforming education spending is that school districts are opaque and often deliberately confusing about how they’re using their dollars. When education analyst Adam Schaeffer recently looked at a sample of school districts from all over the country, he found their actual spending was, on average, 44% more than the officially stated amount. Items such as capital costs, meaning buildings and renovations, frequently are considered off-budget so that they are not reflected in the per-pupil spending school districts and states report publicly. Likewise, calculations of how much money is spent at each school often do not include teacher salaries, which account for the majority of spending. These practices further mask the ridiculous spending inequities that exist within many states, leaving poor students – who need more resources – with less than the wealthier kids nearby…

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Does income-based school integration work?

Economic integration, a concept first floated by early public-school crusaders like Horace Mann, is a compelling idea with intuitive appeal: reduce the preponderance of high-poverty schools by spreading poor students around, says Andrew J. Rotherham for Time. The idea jumped back into the spotlight this month when the Century Foundation released a new study touting the benefits of economically integrated schools. The glaring problem from a policy perspective, however, is that low-income families tend to live in the same neighborhoods, and dramatically changing housing patterns–or school-zoning boundaries–as a large-scale reform measure is impractical. The study looked at about 850 low-income students whose families took advantage of housing programs that enabled them to live in affluent parts of Maryland’s Montgomery County. Over the course of seven years, the high-poverty students attending low-poverty schools had better outcomes than their peers who attended schools that had greater numbers of poor students. In particular, the achievement gap at the elementary level was cut in half for math and by a third in reading…

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