Archive for August, 2012

School districts from across the country will compete in the Race to the Top-District Competition

School districts from 48  states and the District of Columbia will be competing in the first ever Race to the Top- District Competition.

The Department of Education announced that 893 districts have submitted their intent to apply.

In a statement to the press, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “I believe the best ideas come from leaders at the local level, and the enthusiastic response to the Race to the Top-District competition highlights the excitement that districts have to engage in locally designed reforms that will directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness. We hope to build on this nationwide momentum by funding districts that have innovative plans to transform the learning environment, a clear vision for reform and a track record of success.”

Applications are due October 30th. The 15 to 25 winning districts will receive a four year grant ranging from $5 million to $40 million. Winners will be announced no later than December 31st.

Find out more here. The list of districts who have submitted their intent to apply can be found here.

The Road Map Project has the dish on the Seattle/South King County application collaboration here.

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West Seattle Herald: UW researchers, Highline schools aim to make science more engaging

This story originally appeared in the West Seattle Herald on August 30th, 2012.

Traditionally, many junior high and high school students have seen the prospect of going to science classes as a dim one: a gauntlet of numbers, formulas and memorization.

University of Washington professors and researchers Elham Kazemi and Jessica Thompson are continuing their work and teaming up with Cascade Middle School and Evergreen high schools teachers, administrators and students to buck that trend, thanks to a $450,000 grant from Washington STEM, a non-profit dedicated to “advancing innovation, equity, and excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in Washington state.”

Thompson said they are jumping in on “great things going on in these schools already … trying to capitalize on that and understand what is going on and help the work forward.”

Specifically, their work will include further development of four core science teaching principles that make learning more engaging (Thompson’s area of expertise), along with Kazemi’s focus on developing school-wide professional development through an instructional focus. In other words, how to make science and math fun while getting the kids ready to land good jobs and make an impact in world. They also hope the research will help define a way for administrators – from school to school and district to district – share their models of success.

Read the whole story here.


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Gallup Poll: Majority of Americans dissatisfied with public schools, rank private schools the highest

Gallup recently asked Americans to rate the quality of schools in the U.S. by ranking Independent private schools, Parochial or church-related schools, Charter schools, Public schools, and Home schools . Although most American students attend traditional public schools, the majority of respondents to the survey rank those schools below private schools, religious schools, and charter schools.


The poll also broke the results down by party preference and found that while Democrats are more optimistic about public schools than Republicans and Independents, they still ranked them at the bottom for school quality when compared to private schools, religious schools, and charter schools.

The poll also found a disconnect between parents’ overall perception of U.S. schools and satisfaction with their own schools. Only 44 percent of respondents stated that they are satisfied with the overall quality of U.S. education. However,  75 percent of parents stated that they are satisfied with their own school.

Find the whole Gallup poll here.

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New study reveals that stress and academic performance negatively linked for young children

Researchers at New York University found that children from low income backgrounds who live under under stress (“crowded conditions, financial worry, and lack of adequate child care”) exhibit high levels of the hormone cortisol, which was found to be linked to behavioral and academic problems. The researchers came to this conclusion after looking at stress hormone levels, behavior tests, and school readiness scores for young low income students enrolled in Headstart. For one study, researchers took saliva samples to measure cortisol levels and asked students to identify similarities in pictures and to do other tasks to exhibit their self control skills. Researchers found that those children with normal levels of cortisol were high in self-control. Students with low levels of self control had high levels of cortisol. The same students were reassessed in kindergarten. Researchers found that the students with low Math, Reading, and Writing performance had high levels of cortisol.

The study also linked parenting style with cortisol levels, finding that children of parents who practice “scaffolding behavior” (engaging their children in learning opportunities like building blocks) have lower levels of the stress hormone.

Clancy Blair, Ph.D of NYU stated in a press release on the findings: “Research indicates that stress from a variety of sources—including crowded and chaotic home and classroom environments, for example, or problems with family or peers—impedes learning. The potential good news is knowing that stress is a malevolent force means that finding ways to thwart it could boost children’s learning capacity.”

According to the release, “The researchers are now testing a new program that teaches parents how to engage in scaffolding behavior—to provide opportunities for their children to learn while providing supportive and loving care. The program is also testing a new curriculum that gives preschoolers and kindergarteners more control over their learning activities. In a year, the researchers will compare the children’s cortisol levels and executive functioning.”

Read the whole press release here.

For more information how stress can affect behavior and academics, check out LEV’s profile on Lincoln High in Walla Walla.


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Infographic: Help Our Kids Compete Globally

The Center for the Next Generation (TCNG) has released an infographic that compares America’s educational standing with India and China. Based on their joint study with The Center for American Progress, TCNG has found that the U.S. is slipping behind. In China, the majority of children are enrolled in early learning programs and India has seen a 400 percent growth in public school investment since the 1980s. Public opinion seems to match the statistics, with 55 percent of U.S. parents believing that India and China are doing more to help their students get ahead in school.

Check out the inforgraphic below for more stats.


Help Our Kids Compete Globally


More education infographics can be found at

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Study: Bilingualism Can Ease Poverty's Effects

A soon to be published study shows that bilingualism is an asset for students, including those who live in poverty.

The study found that though the bilingual students from low-income homes knew fewer vocabulary words than their monolingual peers, their ability to focus and remain on-task despite distractions was much higher. The study also found that bilingual children had better memory recall and visual processing skills.

Authors suggest that this study not only adds to the growing evidence that bilingualism is an asset to students, but that teaching a second language may be part of effective interventions for students in poverty.

“This is the first study to show that, although they may face linguistic challenges, minority bilingual children from low-income families demonstrate important strengths in other cognitive domains,” study author Engel de Abreu said in a news release.

Read the full, unedited manuscript of the study here (PDF).

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Republicans release education platform

The national Republican party has released their official platform for 2012. Here is what they have to say about education:

Education: A Chance for Every Child

Parents are responsible for the education of their children. We do not believe in a one size fits all approach to education and support providing broad education choices to parents and children at the State and local level. Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential. Today’s education reform movement calls for accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of State and local control of our schools, and it wisely sees consumer rights in education – choice – as the most important driving force for renewing our schools.

Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a personal and cultural identity. That is why education choice has expanded so vigorously. It is also why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have not succeeded, but they have done immense damage.

Attaining Academic Excellence for All

Since 1965 the federal government has spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with no substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates (which currently are 59 percent for African-American students and 63 percent for Hispanics). The U.S. spends an average of more than $10,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $550 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2010. Of that amount, federal spending was more than $47 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free.

More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance. After years of trial and error, we know what does work, what has actually made a difference in student advancement, and what is powering education reform at the local level all across America: accountability on the part of administrators, parents and teachers; higher academic standards; programs that support the development of character and financial literacy; periodic rigorous assessments on the fundamentals, especially math, science, reading, history, and geography; renewed focus on the Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers, and an accurate account of American history that celebrates the birth of this great nation; transparency, so parents and the public can discover which schools best serve their pupils; flexibility and freedom to innovate, so schools can adapt to the special needs of their students and hold teachers and administrators responsible for student performance. We support the innovations in education reform occurring at the State level based upon proven results. Republican Governors have led in the effort to reform our country’s underperforming education system, and we applaud these advancements. We advocate the policies and methods that have proven effective: building on the basics, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) and phonics; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, proper implementation of technology is a key factor in providing every child equal access and opportunity.

Consumer Choice in Education

The Republican Party is the party of fresh and innovative ideas in education. We support options for learning, including home schooling and local innovations like single-sex classes, full-day school hours, and year-round schools. School choice – whether through charter schools, open enrollment requests, college lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers, or tax credits – is important for all children, especially for families with children trapped in failing schools. Getting those youngsters into decent learning environments and helping them to realize their full potential is the greatest civil rights challenge of our time. We support the promotion of local career and technical educational programs and entrepreneurial programs that have been supported by leaders in industry and will retrain and retool the American workforce, which is the best in the world. A young person’s ability to achieve in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, zip code, or economic status.

In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. We believe the gap between those two realities can be successfully bridged, and Congressional Republicans are pointing a new way forward with major reform legislation. We support its concept of block grants and the repeal of numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools.

The bulk of the federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for disabled youngsters should follow the students to whatever school they choose so that eligible pupils, through open enrollment, can bring their share of the funding with them. The Republican-founded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts by Congressional Democrats and the current President to kill this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions. We support putting the needs of students before the special interests of unions when approaching elementary and secondary education reform.

Because parents are a child’s first teachers, we support family literacy programs, which improve the reading, language, and life skills of both parents and children from low-income families. To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with abstinence education which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. It is effective, science-based, and empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes and avoid risks of sexual activity. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception. We support keeping federal funds from being used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio- emotional screening programs.

We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous litigation and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. We support legislation that will correct the current law provision which defines a “Highly Qualified Teacher” merely by his or her credentials, not results in the classroom. We urge school districts to make use of teaching talent in business, STEM fields, and in the military, especially among our returning veterans. Rigid tenure systems based on the “last in, first out” policy should be replaced with a merit-based approach that can attract fresh talent and dedication to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.

Improving Our Nation’s Classrooms

Higher education faces its own challenges, many of which stem from the poor preparation of students before they reach college. One consequence has been the multiplying number of remedial courses for freshmen. Even so, our universities, large and small, public or private, form the world’s greatest assemblage of learning. They drive much of the research that keeps America competitive and, by admitting large numbers of foreign students, convey our values and culture to the world.

Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in private institutions may be, in State institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination. We call on State officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the Left.

Addressing Rising College Cost

College costs, however, are on an unsustainable trajectory, rising year by year far ahead of overall inflation. Nationwide, student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, roughly $23,300 for each of the 35,000,000 debtors, taking years to pay off. Over 50 percent of recent college grads are unemployed or underemployed, working at jobs for which their expensive educations gave them no training. It is time to get back to basics and to higher education programs directly related to job opportunities.

The first step is to acknowledge the need for change when the status quo is not working. New systems of learning are needed to compete with traditional four-year colleges: expanded community colleges and technical institutions, private training schools, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector. New models for acquiring advanced skills will be ever more important in the rapidly changing economy of the twenty-first century, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math. Public policy should advance the affordability, innovation, and transparency needed to address all these challenges and to make accessible to everyone the emerging alternatives, with their lower cost degrees, to traditional college attendance.

Federal student aid is on an unsustainable path, and efforts should be taken to provide families with greater transparency and the information they need to make prudent choices about a student’s future: completion rates, repayment rates, future earnings, and other factors that may affect their decisions. The federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans; however, it should serve as an insurance guarantor for the private sector as they offer loans to students. Private sector participation in student financing should be welcomed. Any regulation that drives tuition costs higher must be reevaluated to balance its worth against its negative impact on students and their parents.

Find the Democratic 2012 education platform here.

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Identifying high-performing and high-progress "Reward Schools"

OSPI recently released the list of “Reward Schools” for the 2012-2013 school year. Reward Schools are categorized in to Reward A and Reward B. Schools with Reward A designation are among the highest performing, having met the Annual Yearly Progress Progress (AYP) for three years in a row in Math and Reading and displaying no significant in-school opportunity gap. Schools with Reward B designation are high progress and have been in the top 10 percent for Reading and Math AYP scores for three years.

There are eight Reward A schools and 50 Reward B schools, making 58 in total. There are currently 2,349 public schools in Washington state.

In order to be eligible for an ESEA waiver, states had to identifying Reward A and Reward B schools. We wrote about Washington’s ESEA waiver agreement here.

Check out the full list of reward schools here.

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New enviroments for learning in the 21st century

Educators across the country are coming up with ways to engage students outside of the classroom utilizing 21st century technology. In an interview with Education Week, Michael H. Levine, the executive director of a research lab that studies digital learning stated, “Kids spend only a fifth of their time in school. The rest of their day is out of school, where they are often connected [virtually] in some way.” It appears the trick is finding the best way to use this “connectedness” in a meaningful way that helps students learn.

In Chicago, the downtown library has created YOUmedia, a program that connects high school age teens to technology, workshops, and mentors. Students enrolled in the program have access to computers, cameras, editing software, and even a recording studio. The program is so successful, that Education Week reports that 30 cities across the country plan to emulate it.

In Seattle, there’s the YMCA and University of Washington’s Center for Communication and Civic Engagement collaborative program, Ytech. Ytech, which targets high school students, uses technology to not only help participants gain 21st century skills, but it also encourages civil engagement. For example, Latino Ytech students utilized digital media to share stories about their cultural heritage and then used the videos to teach other Ytech students about mobile technology.

Researchers David Theo Goldberg, the executive director of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at the University of California, Irvine refer to this new field as “Connected Learning.” In an interview with Education Week, Goldberg had this to say about the potential of connected learning: “We’ve lost kids in school who no longer have a great deal of interest in learning, because not all kids learn in the same way. Connected learning is about catching kids in their passions and making their learning passion- and interest-driven. This means connecting them through their intersecting interests with other learners to expand their own learning.”

Read more of the story here. See what Washington students had to say about how they picture classrooms in the future here.

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Arne Duncan addresses teachers

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently addressed a group of teachers in Baltimore on the Obama administration’s education platform.

In the address, Secretary Duncan stated some of the Obama administration’s accomplishments. “President Obama spent $60 billion to keep teachers in the classroom,” he said. “That’s why he’s calling for another $25 billion right now to protect teaching jobs.That’s why – year after year – he has protected education from budget cuts – and that’s why he has pushed a bold agenda for change.”

He also addressed some of the challenges that U.S. face when it comes to education. “The fact is that today 25 percent of our kids don’t even graduate from high school,” he said. “About half of all students who go to community college need remedial education. And over 90 million adults in America have limited literacy skills. Our families, our communities, and our country deserve better. And we won’t change those numbers without high standards and high expectations.”

The secretary ended his address with inspirational stories from teachers across the country, including one about Shira Fishman from Washington D.C. who took a pay major cut when she went from a job as an engineer to one as a teacher and believes strongly in accountability and teacher evaluations. “Teachers who are struggling need to be helped. The ones that are continuously ineffective need to find a different career because it’s not good for the kids. Those that are good need to be acknowledged and used by the school to help everyone get better.”

Read Secretary Duncan’s address here.

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