An iPad on Every Desk: A Trojan Horse, Teachers Say

An iPad on Every Desk: A Trojan Horse, Teachers Say 

by Samantha Winslow

A group of Los Angeles teachers and students says their school district’s plan to distribute iPads to every student is too good to be true.

The teachers say the money could be better spent than on cutting big checks to software and technology corporations. They suspect the iPad plan is a Trojan horse brought in to increase reliance on standardized curriculum and testing.

“It strikes all of us as utter nonsense,” said teacher Noah Lippe-Klein from a South L.A. high school, “at a moment when our schools are being stripped of nurses and college counselors.”

Teachers in Progressive Educators for Action (PEAC), a caucus within the teachers union; students; and members of the Schools Los Angeles Children Deserve coalition, made up of community allies and teachers, marched through downtown November 7 and rallied in front of district headquarters.

They questioned the iPads as one of many quick fixes pushed onto students and teachers by advocates of one-size-fits-all approaches to learning.

“This is not technology that helps my classroom,” said high school social studies teacher Rebecca Solomon.

Members of the Union Power slate participated in the march. They are running in elections next February to lead the L.A. teachers union, criticizing the current president for not building parent and community alliances to improve the schools.

The union’s upcoming rally demanding a salary increase is a case in point. The Union Power teachers want instead to advocate for more resources for schools, in addition to teachers’ salary concerns.

“Our students deserve a lot more than teachers who have a slight raise,” Solomon said.

‘iPREFER SMALLER CLASSES’

Teachers and students from different schools met at central L.A.’s Pershing Square for the protest. They walked over a freeway overpass and held their banners for commuters to see.

Students carried giant puppets and homemade signs mocking Apple’s marketing and branding: “iNeed a college counselor” and “iPrefer smaller class sizes.”

The district is hailing the iPad rollout as a technology breakthrough. Distribution began at 47 of L.A.’s 1,100 schools this fall. Every student will have a tablet by 2014, if the program goes according to plan.

Funding comes from a 25-year construction bond meant for school buildings and infrastructure. Protesters questioned whether voters will endorse future bonds for badly needed classroom repairs and facilities improvements if administrators continue to pour the money into botched technology projects.

BUMPY START

The L.A. school board made adjustments to the plan after problems sprang up. Within days of the first distribution, students hacked the security which was supposed to block them from getting to the Internet and using programs like Facebook and YouTube.

There was confusion among administrators and parents about who was responsible if iPads were lost, broken, or stolen; 70 were reported missing. Within a week several schools recalled the iPads altogether or suspended their use off-campus.

These glitches were accompanied by questions about the program’s cost—which could reach $1 billion.

Other adjustments include more evaluation of the program, slower iPad distribution, and a possible shift to laptops for high school students.

The decision to purchase iPads, one of the most expensive tablets on the market, is puzzling. The iPads cost the district nearly $800 each ($200 more than the store price) because they come pre-programmed with materials from Pearson, an education software and standardized testing company. The devices may also need keyboards, an extra cost, to work for older students.

The district has three-year contracts with both Apple and Pearson, so there will be another round of costs for the district to repair devices past their warranty and to update the software. It is unclear where the additional money will come from.

“They are hiring hundreds of people to monitor this rollout, when we still have teachers that have been laid off,” Solomon said.

SCRAP IT?

Solomon said the district is rushing the technology in a frantic attempt to get Race to the Top federal funds, which Los Angeles missed out on in 2012 and 2013, and other education grants. Race to the Top money is tied to implementing technology and “Common Core” standards, which are developed into software with support from pro-corporate education reform interests like the Gates Foundation.

The Core standards are federally established curriculum guidelines. Companies like Pearson are pushing Common Core as a way to assess student performance across the country, which will get their products into schools. Apple and Microsoft compete to provide the tablets and computers to house this software.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Deasy’s deputy charged with setting up the iPad deal used to work for a Pearson subsidiary. He claims he stayed out of the decision to buy the iPads.

Deasy touts the fast-tracked plan as a way to get new technology into the hands of low-income kids. But teachers at the rally said it will actually harm these students by accelerating the push to measure school success through standardized testing.

In addition to taking new statewide tests on the iPads, students will be shifted onto preset Pearson lesson plans and assignments.

TEACHERS WANT TECH

It’s not that Solomon and other teachers are anti-technology. In fact, teachers have been asking for more computers and technology in their classrooms for years. They share computers and have to sign them out and wheel them into their classrooms to use them. “In my school we fight over the computer carts,” Solomon said.

But she faults the new program for disrupting tried and true teaching practices: iPads individualize learning, limiting discussion and collaboration among students and with the teacher.

A better use of the funding, Solomon said, would be to work with teachers on how best to integrate instructional technology into students’ time in school, such as equipping schools with computers and wireless Internet so students can research, write, and edit papers.

The November 7 protest was part of a coordinated week of teacher action against testing that included events in New York City, Chicago, and North Carolina. The idea developed out of the Social Justice Unionism conference that the Chicago Teachers Union’s CORE caucus hosted in August. 

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The Death of the Question

The Death of the Question

by David A. Gerstner

In 1968, Roland Barthes penned his famous — some say infamous — essay “The Death of the Author.” Now something of an “elegant slogan” (as scholar Jane Gallop identifies it), Barthes’ polemic called for a shift from the authority of the author to the authority of readers. In this way, the meaning of something (a book, for example) is made by many authors (the readers), not by a single author. The authorized voice, in other words, is not the final word on the subject. Soon afterward, a somewhat condensed version of Barthes’ argument appeared on a bumper sticker. Emerging from the late 1960s’ counterculture movement, the American-style soundbite declared, “Question authority.” Both Barthes’ theoretical assertions (written against the backdrop of France’s own cultural revolution) and America’s punchy declaration emblazoned on a bumper sticker insisted that authoring/authority is not a form of control but malleable elements to be questioned if a democracy is to be viable.

Such participation through questioning is nothing new in the United States. Its history is shaped by oratorical debate in which proposing a well-thought thesis question intervenes in public discourse so as to persuade, provoke, and make change. The rewards and failings in American culture are due in no small part to this lively history. Importantly, academia is often the place where the rigors of this tradition are shaped and disseminated.

The “death of the question” in our education system thus carries significant consequence for the very ideals on which this history takes shape. What I mean by this is that the shift in culture from one that “questions authority” to one that demands data memorization for standardized testing asks the public to yield power rather than challenge it. Those in these transformative crosshairs are none other than the students of America. It is no surprise that university public-relations offices now prefer to identify students as consumers. However, their rhetoric neglects an important aspect of student life: that students are at once consumers and producers. They are a unique bunch in society in that they are simultaneously required to take in information and give it back in freshly conceptualized ways. Treating students as empty vessels who merely absorb in order to be unilaterally assessed underestimates both the student and the culture to which they will offer their talents.

With the topic of student consumption and rigid assessment a current and hot debate in the pages of higher-education journals, it is worth taking stock of what is at stake for the student. On the one hand, Alexandra Logue champions strict models of assessment so that students “learn widely accepted correct information.” On the other hand, in an address to those of us who teach at universities and colleges, retired high-school teacher Kenneth Bernstein publicly expressed his concern about “No Child Left Behind.” Along with the more recent “Race-to-the-Top” initiatives, Bernstein pointedly highlights the way that these directives enforce learning as consumption only. Learning thus emphasizes memorization of “correct” responses for multiple-choice exams. Hence, the model that Logue offers measures intellectual ability through marketplace sentiment in which student equals consumer. Alternatively, Bernstein argues that measuring intellectual gain requires a student to consume and produce in order to think independently and creatively. “Correct information” is not always “correct” once and for all, because, as Logue argues, it is certainly not always “widely accepted.”

With critical thinking taking a backseat to a more functional and efficient method of learning, rigorous conceptualizing and strong writing skills have been sidelined by a process of regurgitating preauthorized answers. Students enter the academy, Bernstein warns, with a deficit in critical thinking, and with the expectation that their job (as it were) is to repeat exactly what their instructor imparts. In short, students entering college do not know how to frame a question, which, in turn, prevents them from constructively and critically questioning authority in order to actively participate in culture.

Universities (mine included) have lined up in good form behind these efficient modes of assessment. “Outcomes,” “sustainability,” and “value added” are buzzwords that academia embraces when describing education. The idea, of course, is that the best-prepared student is one who gives back without question, or, as Logue views it, repeats “widely accepted correct information.” If Bernstein sets out in his letter to flag the critical shortcomings embodied in a new generation of student, his comments are also directed to the culture at large. A vibrant society depends on innovative if discomfiting ideas. Given the United States’ rich heritage in which questioning authority is crucial to the process of equality and democracy, is it not important — indeed urgent — to question the way learning is authorized and to teach students not to parrot what I and my colleagues believe to be true? If we are to assess students’ “outcomes” in the classroom, is it not incumbent on us to develop curricula and pedagogical practices to guide students in ways to pose critically effective questions? Is not a successful classroom “outcome” one in which students question everything that they have just learned?

Some students focusing on food waste this Thanksgiving

Some students focusing on food waste this Thanksgiving

As part of the Food Recovery Network, 34 colleges and
universities are feeding the hungry in their communities.

A number of college students and alums are rethinking how we eat, distribute and think about our food this Thanksgiving.

And it comes at a time when Americans throw out the equivalent of $165 billion of food each year and 40% of food in America goes uneaten, according to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, nonprofit environmental organization.

As part of the Food Recovery Network, 34 colleges and universities are feeding the hungry in their communities.

Collectively, schools in the Food Recovery Network have donated more than 222,000 pounds of food since September 2011.

Recover Rochester has done outreach this year and grown its community to 30 members, according to Wai Hon Chan, president of the chapter at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The group has donated 15,000 pounds of food and wants to expand to other universities — as well as establishing its own facility.

“It’s a dream for us to have a facility serving strictly over production of food from restaurants, college dining halls and retails.”

For three years, Denison University’s Homelessness and Hunger committee had been recovering food from their campus halls and donating it. A chapter of the Food Recovery Network at Denison was formed this month.

In Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan’s chapter won $1,074 recently at Ann Arbor SOUP, an event that offers grant opportunities for projects in Ann Arbor.

In the startup world, the community members of Feast , an online cooking school founded by David Spinks, 2009 graduate of SUNY Geneseo, are exchanging ideas for what to cook on Thanksgiving or “Thanksgivukkah” this week.

“For a lot of our students it’ll be the first time they cook for their families on Thanksgiving with their new kitchen skills, so it’s an exciting time for them.”

Feast will teach members to utilize ingredients in different ways so ingredients do not go to waste.

If everyone in this world cooked, waste would be greatly decreased because people would make the correct portions and start to care about food issues in general, says Spinks.

Some students agree that food and hunger issues are not emphasized enough.

Simone Wilson, senior at Emory University, says that events and initiatives geared toward fighting hunger should happen throughout the year, not just over the holiday season.

Ally Rooker, junior at University of Michigan, agrees, explaining that there although there are some, there aren’t enough events striving to fight hunger at her campus.

“I think it’d be good to see more events like that and more education about global hunger and how it affects people differently in different parts of the world.”

 

Walker Pushed By Tea Party, To Abandon Common Core

Gov. Scott Walker Pushed By Tea Party,
Conservatives To Abandon Common Core Standards

by Rebecca Klein

Tea Party and conservative groups across the state of Wisconsin are calling on Gov. Scott Walker to lead the fight against the Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core State Standards have been adopted in more than 40 states and are being taught to the same benchmarks. While the standards are typically seen as more rigorous than what most states previously used, in Wisconsin, some critics are arguing the standards are too mild and represent an example of federal overreach.

On Tuesday, the groups sent Walker a letter asking him to encourage the legislature to pass a bill rejecting the Common Core Standards, even though the state adopted the voluntary benchmarks in 2010. The letter, which was signed by more than 60 groups, reads in part:

You have the ability to be the hero in this story. The question is, will you choose to rise to the opportunity? Or, will you instead tacitly allow the children of Wisconsin to founder on the rocks of abridged knowledge, empty skill sets, and data mining?

Walker has been a critic of the Common Core Standards, and in late September, he told reporters he would like “Wisconsin have its own unique standards that I think can be higher than what’s been established.” However, according to the Associated Press, Walker has not committed to actually rescinding the standards.

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin state Assembly and Senate organized Common Core select committees in response to pressure from critics, according to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. After hearings on the standards, a committee member told the outlet that he did not think the committee recommend abandoning the benchmarks, although the group has yet to release official suggestions.

Schools in Wisconsin have already spent about $25 million on the standards’ implementation process, the AP notes.

Is Teacher Education the Real Problem?

Is Teacher Education the Real Problem?
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by Matthew Lynch

Last week seven U.S. states announced intentions to revamp teacher-preparation and licensing requirements that essentially make it tougher to become and remain a teacher. Some of the new requirements include steeper admission requirements for teacher-training programs and licensing based on performance of a specific set of skills. The plan is intended to make for better teachers, and ultimately better students over time, but stricter teacher requirements will not necessarily lead to higher-achieving students.

There are still too many outside forces with which everyday teachers contend that make it difficult for them to be as effective as legislation and policy-makers would like. Training and education for teachers is not the problem; here are three issues in K-12 education that have a larger negative impact on overall learning for students:

  1. Lack of parental involvement. Of all the things out of the control of teachers, this one is perhaps the most frustrating. Time spent in the classroom is simply not enough for teachers to instruct every student in what he or she needs to know. There must be some interaction outside school hours too. Of course, students at a socio-economic disadvantage often struggle in school, particularly if parents lack higher levels of education. Students from middle and upper class families aren’t off the hook though. The demands of careers and an over-dependence on schools put higher-class kids at risk too when it comes to the lack of parental involvement in academics.
  2. Overcrowding. The smaller the class, the better the individual student experience. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 14 percent of U.S. schools exceed capacity, but that does not include individual classrooms at schools that may not be overcrowded overall. At a time where children need more attention than ever to succeed, overcrowded classrooms are making it even tougher to learn and tougher still for teachers to be effective.
  3. Screen culture. I am an advocate for technology in the classroom. I think that by ignoring the educational opportunities that technology has afforded us puts kids at a disadvantage. That being said, screen culture overall has made the jobs of teachers much more difficult. Education has become synonymous with entertainment in many ways. Parents are quick to download educational games as soon as kids have the dexterity to operate a touch screen, and with the best of intentions. The quick-hit way that children are learning academics before and during their K-12 careers makes it even more difficult for teachers to keep up in the classroom setting, particularly since each student’s knowledge base and technological savvy varies.

I’m not saying that stricter teacher requirements are a bad thing – I’m just not sure that is where all the focus should be. What about a program that targets parental and community involvement in what kids are learning? Maybe even a seminar for parents on tangible ways to get more involved academically in what their kids do at school? There is no way to make parents attend these but perhaps there could be an incentive. With the right funding, I’m sure schools could find a way.

Instead of making it harder to become a teacher, why not spend money on making classroom size smaller and more manageable when those teachers start their careers? Or on technology programs and training that give teachers an advantage when it comes to educational gaming?

This pilot teacher-prep program seems like just another way to blame teachers for what they cannot control. More education can’t hurt, but there are so many other issues that deserve this spotlight instead.

What do you think about stricter teacher-prep laws?

Ending Education Reform to Reimagine What’s Possible

Ending Education Reform to Reimagine What’s Possible

by Courtney O’Connell

According to a recent PEW Research Study, 66 percent of Americans say either that the education system in this country needs to be completely rebuilt or that it requires major changes. I couldn’t agree more. In this post, I am infusing innovation research into the education reform debate. We need to ditch the agenda to reform, and shift our focus on to creating anew. In my TEDx talk, “Go All In on Education,” I took the audience through a visualization exercise using the four images below.
These first two images serve as a visual representation of society and it’s progress over the past 83 years.

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These next two images serve as a visual representation of education and it’s progress over the last 83 years.

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These images are powerful, and provide us with a visualization of the problem we are facing in education as it relates to progress and change. Most critics make the mistake of assuming that innovation does not exist in education. I can assure you that innovation exists; the problem has a lot to do with the environment and the ability for disruptive ideas to thrive. Below is an outline of two critical issues we face as it relates to the environment in education.
Issue #1: Innovating Education Is Different Than Innovating the Telephone

Innovation, in just about every industry, has a similar trajectory or cycle. First, a revolutionary idea is born and goes to market. Next, the industry reacts to that idea and replicates it. For instance, when Apple introduced the first iPhone we saw the entire mobile phone industry react by quickly creating their own version of a smart phone. This cycle of innovation is why phones don’t look like they did 83 years ago. However, education faces a unique challenge. A new revolutionary idea introduced in a school, no matter how great the idea, does not necessarily work in another school across the country. Ask any teacher, education administrator or student, and they will tell you this. When you try to replicate an idea from one school to another, you often will get something that feels like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Product ideas can be replicated much easier than approaches to education.
Issue #2: We’re Trying to Fix A System That is Severely Outdated

Much of the modern education system — the design, structure and delivery — was originally designed in the industrial age. Society has progressed significantly, and yet our educational experience for students has not changed fundamentally. There have been advances in technology, and the education system has found ways to adapt and infuse technology into the educational experience. However, the structure, design and delivery of education still remains closely the same as it did over 80 years ago. This is depicted by the images of the classrooms above. Any great innovator will tell you that in order to be revolutionary, one must create with a blank canvas. The education reform agenda is constricting our educators to think of new and big ideas for our students within the constraints of a completely outdated education system. For instance, you can come up with a big idea for teaching students math and science, but it has to fall within the traditional school day, classroom, curriculum, etc. This is a problem.

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The important point is that the whole notion of reforming education has created an environment where creativity is unable to thrive and multiply. Are you an educator or a student? If so, imagine you had free reign to design an educational experience from scratch. What would it look like? How about employers of college and high school graduates? How would you design the education system? It might be hard to think outside the constraints that are engrained in our mind of what education is ‘supposed to’ look like, but imagine if we started with a blank canvas. What would you create? I have some ideas that I plan to share over time in a series of posts, but I would love to hear from educators, students and employers. It’d be fantastic to feature your ideas in follow up posts. Let’s begin the conversation and create an educational experience where all can thrive.

Officials hide evidence: After 4 years of Common Core – test scores plummet

Officials hide evidence: After 4 years
of Common Core – test scores plummet

GULFPORT, Miss. – A Common Core school district – Gulfport, Mississippi – is covering up failing test scores.

At a recent meeting by Superintendent Glen East, parents were told that the test scores of the district had improved dramatically under the implementation of the Common Core curriculum.  The Superintendent made his claims regarding dramatic academic improvement of all students by using ONLY the scores of the  top 150 students.

In his comments to parents, Mr. East stated,

“This district already had national average ACT scores. We’ve now gone with our top students, our top 150 students, we’ve gone from a 23 average to almost a 25 in over four years. That is not a new ACT, that is the ACT we are currently working with. We’ve improved reading achievement for all students. When I look at that data about how we’ve grown over the past four years and the success we’ve had, if you are in my shoes, you have to celebrate what you are doing. Very Powerful!”

However, a couple of weeks later at a subsequent event, it seems that parents had a chance to research the data that the Superintendent had reported. Upon closer inspection of the data, parents found that the Superintendent completely misrepresented the data, and that the results were worse, not better. They were not simply a little worse, but a lot worse.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should take note. This father does not look much like a white suburban mother. Chris Ashley is the pastor at a local Baptist Church who has a son attending the Gulfport schools. He opens his talk with congratulating the district on the gains they had made. After a brief applause from the audience, he goes into the data.

“According to the Mississippi Department of Education website and their stats, and I can leave them here with Mr. East or all you all can go and get them yourself, everywhere else we are dropping. From 2009 to 2012, almost every grade has dropped in their scores. Not all of them, but overall our test scores have dropped.“…Greatschools.org you can go there, they’ve pretty much done all the  math for you, they tell you the percentages of students that have scored proficient or better.  Third grade language arts, we’ve dropped 4%, this is all 2009-2012. Math 3rd grade we’ve dropped 6%. Fourth grade language arts, we’ve went up 8% but we dropped 5% in math. Fifth grade we dropped  5% in language arts and 6% in math. Sixth grade we went up 1% in language arts, we dropped 2% in math. Seventh grade and eighth grade, went up 8 and 4, and eighth grade went up 4 and 12.“The 5th grade MST test we did well at we up we went up 9 and 17 points.”

Well, that is good, right? But what about on the
very SAT and ACT that the school district touts?

“The SATP from 2009-2012  in Algebra we dropped 34%. In 2009-2012 in English  we dropped 18%, in Biology we dropped 46% in those same years, and in history we dropped 38%. You see I heard a lot about our ACT scores and how great they are from the 10th grade and that is awesome. I didn’t check the 10th grade scores, but I did check the graduating seniors…. From 2007-20011 we’ve dropped 1% in English, 0.7% in math, we are level in reading, we’ve dropped a half a percent in science and a half a percent in composite scores.“Now, we all know we can take data and we can twist to show what you want it to show. I took the numbers straight from there and said I didn’t give you just the 10th grade or just the 7th and 8th grade where it looks good. I gave it all to you.”

Then this parent details what the No Child Left Behind
testing shows, that Gulfport schools appear to be falling behind.

“I have our district report card  here from the No Child Left Behind, and we have dropped.  We have dropped without a doubt. Every grade 3-8th in mean score scale, everyone one  has dropped. The 3rd-8th grade in language arts, and math, and science, the mean scale score, we have dropped from the previous year, every grade. We have dropped in  algebra in the high school, we’ve dropped, uh, we’ve dropped in the mean score in every except biology we stayed even 648. “Like I said, I have all kind of common core curriculum questions, but what I don’t like is somebody to screw the numbers and tell us we are doing good when we are really not doing good.”

What was the answer to this parent from
Dr. Carla Evers, Director of Instructional Programs?

“I looked at the Greatschools website, it will show the Gulfport schools going up, and then all of a sudden we just dive like we went off a cliff and stopped teaching. Well, we did. We stopped teaching the state standards and we shifted to the common core standards state standards. So that should have happened because the things that are on that test were not what we were now teaching in our classrooms. So we understood that, the state department put that in our newspaper, but for some reason they still put those test scores on their state website.”

Now, what material would it been that is no longer taught in the Gulfport schools? Reading? Addition? Subtraction? Multiplication? These are huge score drops. Further, the ACT was the same test that Superintendent East had just bragged about, so how is it that it can be used to brag about improvement for one grade, but not erosions in learning in another grade?

Even worse, the school district is upset that the State Department of Education failed to hide the scores from the state website?  This is outrageous!

If the ACT and SATP are not valid measures of student learning in Gulfport, MS, then what measure is? Do the colleges in Mississippi no longer accept the ACT and the SAT?

Activists at Stop Common Core Mississippi Facebook page noted,

“Common Core clearly fails to teach the foundational material needed to pass tests. Whose fault is it that the failures was leaked to the public?”

Oldest Homework Excuse in the Book Turns Out to Be True

Oldest Homework Excuse in the Book Turns Out to Be True
– and Eighth-Grader Has Her Dog’s X-Rays to Prove It

by

Payton Moody, 13, had just spent a painstaking stretch of time on what was not your garden-variety kind of science project.

More along the lines of an invention from the confections aisle — a model of Maui’s Mt. Haleakala volcano, made of chocolate and candy held together with pins.

 

“She had chocolate as the mountain and used Twizzlers for lava coming out, with blue M&Ms for water,” Payton’s mother, Kara Moody, told GoodMorningAmerica.com. “She used the pins because I didn’t want the hot glue gun around her younger brother.”

 

Dog Eats Homework    and Pays for It with an Emergency Trip to the Vet

 

But no one told the family dog, Reggie — a 2-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever with a hankering for the occasional midnight snack.

 

“I woke up one morning and I came down to my desk and it was just all over the floor,” Payton told ABCNews of her edible edifice.
“I was very scared.”

 

She was right to be. Reggie was the culprit and consumed “every last bite” — including about 50 pins, now sitting inside the pooch’s stomach, x-rays confirmed.

 

Fortunately a vet’s endoscope down the doggie’s gullet removed all but five pins while emergency surgery took care of the rest.Dog Eats Homework    and Pays for It with an Emergency Trip to the Vet

 

Reggie is fine now, as is Payton, who was able to say to her teacher, “My dog ate my homework” with a straight face and without her fingers crossed behind her back.

 

She even got a shot at the project again.

Dog Eats Homework    and Pays for It with an Emergency Trip to the Vet

 

 

Of course, the Englewood, Colo. eighth-grader came home with an A.

 

Study Finds Students Can Improve Grades If They Show Up to Class

Study Finds Students Can Improve Grades If They Show Up to Class

A study revealed that New York City students with major attendance problems were able to turn things around academically if they started showing up to class. According to the study, students who started missing school 10% of the time saw their average grades fall to 67% in the 2011-12 school year from 72% in the 2009-10 school year.

But students can turn things around if they simply attend class. Researchers found that students who had been chronically absent but began to show up saw their average grades rise slightly, from 72% to 73% over the same time frame, writes Lisa Fleisher of The Wall Street Journal.

The study was conducted by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. Robert Balfanz, study co-author, said the study shows that “if we can actually get kids to go to school, we can reverse some of these academic outcomes.”

According to Balfanz, for the first time, researchers were able to follow individual students over the years and track their absentee patterns. Previously, researchers had largely noted that students with absence issues had lower test scores than students who showed up.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration worked hard to fix the problem of chronic absenteeism. Three years ago the administration launched an effort to focus the attention of a variety of city agencies—including schools, police and homeless services—on students who missed at least 20 days of school in an academic year.

The New York City commissioned the study and Balfanz said he gave the city technical advice during the project. Though Mayor Bloomberg has given more than $1 billion to Johns Hopkins, Balfanz said the center he runs hadn’t received any donations. His brother, Jim Balfanz, is the president of City Year, a nonprofit organization that worked with the city on the project by providing mentors to chronically absent children.

The new study found that poor students who attended schools in the city program were 15% less likely to be chronically absent than poor students at similar schools. Homeless students in the program were 31% less likely to be chronically absent than comparison students, according to the research.

The study also found that about 15% of city middle-school students and 26% of high school students missed more than 20 days of school last year. Teachers and researchers cite a variety of reasons. Homeless or poor students sometimes move frequently, making it difficult for parents to develop a routine or have time for them to attend school.

Some students miss schools due to health problems, with asthma as a major problem among city schoolchildren, according to principals. Sometimes parents take children out of school on extended family vacations, such as trips to home countries in Africa, Asia or the Caribbean.

By focusing on students’ absentee data, teachers were able to spot trends. “Some kids just think it’s OK to take every Wednesday off,” said Dominique Broccoli, 28, a Spanish and math teacher at the High School of Computers and Technology in the Bronx. The school uses incentives such as digital dollars toward free prizes to encourage students.

“If the students realize that somebody cares about them, it’s almost like you’re trying to prove that you can do it,” she said.

How Poverty Impacts Students’ Test Scores, In 4 Graphs

How Poverty Impacts Students’ Test Scores, In 4 Graphs

Earlier this month, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that while national test scores are slightly improving, most fourth- and eighth-graders around the country are not proficient in math and reading, and a sizable portion only have a basic understanding of the core subjects.

But how do these numbers look when you break them down based on social class?

Below we have created graphs comparing how the NAEP results looked for students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch based on their families’ income versus how they looked for students whose families’ are of a higher social strata.

The graphs unsurprisingly indicate that poverty is bad for learning, as students eligible for free and reduced lunch did significantly worse on the tests than their wealthier counterparts. Clearly, if we want to raise our nation’s test scores and reach a higher level of global competitiveness, lifting vulnerable learners out of poverty would be one way of doing so.

What do you think of the graphs? Let us know in the comments section.

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