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Monday, February 1, 2010

Who Should Influence Education Reform

James Farwell, an educational psychologist from San Francisco, unloads in Fixing our failing schools in the San Francisco Chronicle. He writes:

Those who are the furthest removed from the classroom are the ones who create laws that impact our children's learning. Think tanks, special interest groups and politicians are the ones who have created one failed program after another over the past 40 years.

Farwell, without mentioning the President or Secretary of Education by name, takes direct aim at the Administration's current education "improvement plan" when he writes, "Top-down decision making will fail every time." He concludes, "Educational policy needs to be made by those who actually work with children and know what works - not by members of think tanks, special interest groups or politicians."

Indy Star Volunteer and Mentoring Campaign

Indy Star - January 31, 2010The Indianapolis Star launched a mentoring and volunteering campaign yesterday with goals to:

  • Increase by 10,000 the number of adults in Indianapolis who volunteer to help young people this year.
  • Reduce the dropout rate in Marion County schools by 10 percent by the end of the 2010-11 school year.
  • Ensure that at least 50 percent of children in Indianapolis Public Schools pass the math and language portions of state standardized tests by the end of the 2010-11 school year. (from a 38 percent passing rate in 2008-2009)

Star Vice President and Editor Dennis R. Ryerson pledged in Star asks Indy to join its effort to help kids to "tell you the costs of failing these kids, a cost that's already being paid in troubled cities such as Detroit and Cleveland." He went on to write that the Star would also "write stories of hope, about how lives are changed when individuals, institutions, community organizations and businesses take the time to invest in our children."

In a companion column, 9 problems we must overcome to help save our children, Andy Gammill and Robert King deviate from the teacher bashing so prevalent in our current reform culture and list nine points that all must be addressed for schools in Indianapolis to provide quality education to their students. Unlike the current Race to the Top and other federal proposals, Gammill and King acknowledge the negative effects of poverty, poor to nonexistent parenting, and low community expectations that must be addressed:

  1. Children start out behind and many never catch up.
  2. Without the ability to read, their options will narrow.
  3. Teachers are key: Two bad ones in a row, and a child may never catch up.
  4. Children's basic needs must be met before they can learn.
  5. When children change schools or homes, education suffers.
  6. For good or for ill, kids will take their cues from parents and neighbors.
  7. Without their community, students can't succeed.
  8. Children won't have a chance to learn if outside distractions can't be controlled.
  9. Children are held back by a sprawling, unwieldy bureaucracy that gets in the way.

They conclude that "Failing the children fails the community. It's our future, too." Editor Ryerson notes a number of pragmatic reasons for the effort, but adds, "But we're doing this mostly because it is the right and just thing to do for our children. They deserve and must have every opportunity to succeed."

Shuttle Successor in Question

The space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday, February 7, 2010, at 4:39 A.M. (EST). It will be one of five remaining scheduled shuttle missions before the fleet is retired.

Endeavour on Pad 39A

President Obama's new budget proposal that is expected to be announced today would scuttle the Constellation program that was supposed to replace the shuttles. Obama Plan Privatizes Astronaut Launchings and No Moon Trips: Obama's Space Vision a 'Paradigm Shift' relate that "the Obama administration intends to move toward relying on commercially-built spacecraft, rather than NASA's own vehicles, to carry humans to low-Earth orbit."

Duncan Comment on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Schools

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan created a stir with an insensitive comment about Hurricane Katrina and education in New Orleans in a TV interview with Roland Martin. Nick Anderson's Education Secretary Duncan calls Hurricane Katrina good for New Orleans schools tells the story. The comment, quoted in Valerie Strauss's Duncan’s own Hurricane Katrina:

This is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that "we have to do better."

Both Strauss and the Post's Jay Mathews viewed the comment as Mathews wrote as "hurtful and insensitive. There were nearly 2,000 confirmed deaths from the storm and the floods." Anderson quotes Paul G. Vallas, superintendent of the Recovery School District in Louisiana, as saying he had "'no problem' with Duncan's comments about the hurricane's beneficial effect on education."

iPad Update

iPadThe announcement last Wednesday of Apple's new iPad tablet device may have raised more questions than it answered for educators (and others). One obvious use for the iPad is as a digital textbook reader. It's color screen gives it a leg up on Amazon's Kindle. It also uses the open standard ePub format for e-books.

Whether current iPhone/iPod Touch education apps will scale up well on the iPad remains to be seen. App writers will almost certainly improve graphics in their next round of updates with the potential for increased sales to iPads.

How well the iWork productivity suite works on the iPad also remains to be seen. On my desktop, I tend to avoid using Pages, Keynote, and Numbers in favor of the old AppleWorks (ClarisWorks) suite and Microsoft Office. But it's cool that Apple realized its new device would need such an application.

Whether the iPad is a good choice for chronically cash-strapped schools instead of desktops, laptops, netbooks, and/or the iPad Touch won't get sorted out until teachers begin using the device with kids and application writers begin creating amazing new apps.

I've pretty well decided that for now, the iPad doesn't really fit my computing needs. But it sure looks interesting.

Here are some good articles about the iPad I ran across over the weekend:

While I saw nothing wrong with the iPad name for Apple's new tablet device, a lot of folks around the web thought it pretty lackluster. Then my wife informed me the name was a really bad choice, as it brought up visions of an electronic feminine hygiene product!

Odds 'n' Ends

Sam Dillon's Obama to Seek Sweeping Change in ‘No Child’ Law looks at what might be in a No Child Left Behind reauthorization proposal. Dillon writes that "the law’s 2014 deadline for bringing every American child to academic proficiency" will be replaced with a new goal "for all students to leave high school 'college or career ready.'" Dillon also quotes a source who was briefed on the Administration' plans:

They want to recast the law so that it is as close to Race to the Top as they can get it, making the money conditional on districts’ taking action to improve schools. Right now most federal money goes out in formulas, so schools know how much they’ll get, and then use it to provide services for poor children. The department thinks that’s become too much of an entitlement. They want to upend that scheme by making states and districts pledge to take actions the administration considers reform, before they get the money.

A Federal Communications Commission decision reported on eSchool News will necessitate "schools and colleges that use wireless microphones operating on the 700 megahertz (MHz) frequency band...to change the radio frequency or buy new equipment" by June 12. Wireless mic frequency change could affect schools relates that the decision "is part of a larger government effort to clear the 700 MHz band for use by cell phones, digital TV transmissions, and emergency communications. About 25 percent of the country’s wireless microphones will have to be modified or replaced, according to federal projections."

Saner minds have prevailed in the Indiana legislature.The sound bite proposal of presidential aspirant Governor Mitch Daniels to flunk all third graders not reading on grade level (Gee, I always thought "grade level" was an average with half above and half below.) has been pulled from legislation and passed off to "the state Board of Education to develop its own program to address the issue." Of course, now the legislature is off on a quest to codify an after Labor Day start of school. Some parents in the state are upset with early August school starting dates, but probably haven't considered that with a required 180 day school year and traditional vacations, you're either going to have to go some in August or well into June.

Related personal experience: When I was union president at the good old MSD of Backwash (fictitious name of the corporation), I listened to my buddies who wanted the longest summer vacation possible. They wanted as many summer days as they could get to increase their earning power on summer jobs. We cut Christmas vacation to nine days, Veteran's Day, and many other holidays to accomplish the task. I was lucky to remain alive after the outcry from the "spring/Christmas vacation in Florida" types that taught at the corporation. Parents in the corporation weren't particularly pleased, either.

Advertising Note

I've given over our advertising column to love and romance as we lead up to what my wife calls a "Hallmark holiday." And actually, there aren't any love and romance ads there, but there are a whole lot of ads for flowers, candy, cookies, popcorn, and even Valentine electronics!

So if your significant other does treasure Valentine's Day, be sure to remember to get on the stick and find that perfect Valentine's gift to make their heart throb with love and joy. (Clicking through one of our ads to make your purchase would be greatly appreciated. Smile )

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

NASA Image of the Day

The NASA Image of the Day of the M51 galaxy shown below caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, I always enjoy good astrophotography, but I also noticed that the Hubble Space Telescope image had received some "additional processing" by Robert Gendler.

M51

Gendler is a Connecticut physician who has taken astrophotography from a science to an art form. His web site is filled with incredible images he has taken, first from his driveway in Connecticut, and more recently, from the pollution-free skies in New Mexico. He writes on his bio page:

Astrophotography has evolved to become a valid and significant art form in its own right. The rigors of celestial imaging are less well known. The physical and technical demands are great. Equipment is costly and experience comes only at the expense of sleep and comfort. It requires a substantial commitment but pays back in huge rewards. I can tell you it has enriched my life. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone with an interest in the areas of astronomy, imaging, or computer science as astroimaging is a marriage of these disciplines. Just a word of caution; after your first successful image be prepared to be hooked for life!

I made a good bit of use of space photos when I was in the classroom. They were eye catching, and they often induced reluctant readers to delve into the text accompanying the photos to find out what they were looking at. We printed out and hung the Astronomy Picture of the Day in the hallway, creating a surprising amount of interest and hallway congestion. The photos were later bound and placed in a reading area where they still got lots of attention.

We also used astronomy photos as our desktop photos for a cart of laptop computers. Out of this World Desktop Pictures has lots of links to sites where one may download free astronomy photos for such a project.

Capturing the Stars

Capturing the Stars: Astrophotography by the Masters

To gaze at the stars is one thing; to capture that gaze in photographs is something else, a tantalizing scientific art that many attempt and few master.  That rare mastery is on full display in this beautiful volume of space photography from thirty of the most accomplished astrophotographers in the world, both professional and amateur.  Galaxies, star clusters, nebulae, and other deep-sky treasures fill the pages.  Along with the marvels of the night sky--the Andromeda and Whirlpool galaxies, the Pleiades and the Praesepe, the Orion and Crab nebulae, and many more--each section features a profile of the photographer’s work, techniques, philosophy, and experiences.  Compiled by the world's leading amateur astrophotographer, with an introduction to the history of space photography, this spectacular volume is an essential for every stargazer’s bookshelf.

Odds 'n' Ends

Today is definitely one of those "the day after" kind of days. Education postings around the web are mostly concerned with what we covered here yesterday, the education part of President Obama's budget proposal. So...I decided to just enjoy some great astrophotography. Hope you enjoyed it.

PuzzleManiaWednesday, February 3, 2010

Black History on History.com

Black History MonthAn eSchool News article, History.com offers several resources for commemorating Black History Month, relates that the A&E Television Networks’ History Channel and History.com have compiled several online resources:

"An interactive timeline of milestones in United States black history ranges from slavery in America in 1619 to President Barack Obama’s inauguration last year; clicking on any of the milestones takes users to video clips and additional information. Short video clips include a portion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as footage of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Site visitors also will find profiles of 65 African-American icons, as well as interactive maps showing slave trade routes, the Underground Railroad, public school segregation by U.S. state in 1954, and more."

I clicked through to History.com's Origins of Slavery video and found it to be an excellent tool for teaching about how America got into slavery and the slave trade.

I also clicked through my Educators' News feature, Resource Sites for Teachers, and was able to quickly pull up quite a few Black History resources from the various sites reviewed:

Teachers' Domain
Smithsonian Education
Thinkfinity
FREE (Federal Resources for Educational Excellence)
Library of Congress

Abstinence-only Study

A study published this week in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine concluded that "Theory-based abstinence-only interventions may have an important role in preventing adolescent sexual involvement." Amanda Paulson writes in Abstinence-only study could alter sex-education landscape that the study is important, as "it’s the first rigorously conducted study demonstrating that an abstinence-only program can be effective."

Paulson notes that the intervention studied was different in a number of respects from the kind of programs promoted by the Bush Administration and warns against extrapolating the evidence too broadly.

The targeted population – with an average age of 12 – was quite young. And for another, the abstinence program was carefully designed to try to avoid pitfalls others have encountered. It counseled children to delay sex "until they are ready" rather than until marriage, avoided a moralistic tone, and was careful not to disparage condom use, and to help children get rid of misconceptions about contraceptives if the subject came up during discussion.

Valerie Strauss writes in Why I doubt the abstinence-only sex ed study that "the program tested was created for the study and is not used in schools."

Asteroid Collision Recorded

Science@NASAAsteroid collisionDr. Tony Phillips relates in Hubble Sees Suspected Asteroid Collision that "NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a mysterious X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust that suggest a head-on collision between two asteroids." The object was first discovered on January 6 and thought to be a "'main belt comet'--a rare case of a comet orbiting in the asteroid belt." But follow-up images taken by Hubble "revealed a complex X-pattern of filamentary structures near the nucleus," leading scientists to conclude that it may be the result of an impact between two bodies.

Postings on Science@NASA are written in vocabulary appropriate for middle through high school students. They also have audio files and other language versions available as well as being available as podcasts on iTunesicon.

Duncan Apology

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan apologized this week for his remark that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans." He called the remark "a dumb thing to say." Neither Diane Ravitch nor Valerie Strauss were willing to let the Secretary off easily, though. Ravitch wrote:

Funnily enough, this is the same story that one reads in conservative journals. Katrina created a grand opportunity to privatize public education, to break the teachers' union, and to start over. A couple of other things happened: some 2,000 people died, large numbers of residents left the city, never to return, and the city was devastated. But, hey, there's good news. Now New Orleans has schools run by private entrepreneurs!

Strauss came on even stronger in a posting on The Answer Sheet:

By the time we find ourselves praising a natural catastrophe for education reform, we are in big trouble. Such talk is the last refuge of someone bereft of new policy ideas.

Wow!

Odds 'n' Ends

Medical Journal Retracts Article Linking Vaccines, Autism relates that the "Lancet medical journal announced today that it has fully retracted a controversial, landmark study that linked autism to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine."

I thought I had this update of Educators' News "in the can" when I ran across Michael Doyle's Magic pipette posting. It's about testing and, oh my gosh, giving away answers on tests! And, it's very, very good.

And then with a quick, last check of RSS feeds, I saw ScienceDaily's Scientists Discover Alterations in Brain's Reward System Related to Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity Disorder. It's a long title, but the short version is that the study sheds some light on why a child one knows to be hyperactive can sit at some tasks for long periods without displaying any signs of ADHD.

...ADHD is not only caused by brain alterations affecting cognitive processes, but also by anomalies which cause motivational deficiencies. This would explain the imbalance in levels of attention and hyperactivity in a child with ADHD depending on his or her motivation when engaged in a specific task and the immediacy of the gratification/pleasure while carrying it out.

...and Dan Knight's Is the iPad Apple's True Successor to the 12" PowerBook on Low End Mac.

As teachers, we often get very, very tired of all the bad publicity teachers and schools are currently receiving in the press. But sometimes, members of our profession just ask for it, damaging us all:

Since that's a pretty dreary note on which to close a posting, let me share a bit of brightness I've shared here before. It's a macro shot I took for a Senior Gardening feature story about pollinating gloxinia blooms. (It makes a great classroom lesson!)

Gloxinia bloom

The image is available as a free download on our Desktop Photos page for use as a desktop photo (wallpaper). All other use requires prior consent.

Desktop Photos

Thursday, February 4, 2010

OpenOffice for Kids

OpenOffice4Kids WriteOpenOffice for Kids (OOo4kids) is a relatively new, open source project that has created a slimmed-down version of the OpenOffice.org productivity suite. Updated this week to version 0.8, the project provides a word processor, spreadsheet, draw, and presentation functions with simplified controls targeted for children between the ages of 7 and 12. It could also be quite useful for older computer users who might appreciate the larger than standard controls and a simplified interface.

OOo4kids presentationI tried all the modules yesterday and found them all quite responsive and workable. The word processor can open .doc format files, but isn't yet up to .docx files. The presentation module looks and feels like PowerPoint or the presentation module of OpenOffice. I imported a large PowerPoint file without difficulty in about the same time the full Open Office takes.

The spreadsheet is limited to 128 lines, but for me, imported and opened a file with large, easily read entries. I'll leave any review of the draw module to others who may possess some artistic talent. Technically, it works.

OpenOffice for Kids is available as a free download in versions for the Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. I've added it to our Freebies page of free software for educators.

The full OpenOffice.org suite today reached version 3.2.0rc5. If you're not familiar with the naming conventions of software releases, the "rc" in the version number stands for "release candidate." Software before all the features are installed is called an alpha version. Beta versions have most or all of the an application's features, but have bugs to be worked out before release by beta testers. When an application or software suite receives the "release candidate" designation, it's pretty much good to go, although this OpenOffice release is now at its fifth release candidate version, so the developers must have been tweaking something.

NeoOffice,a full-featured set of office applications (including word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs) for Mac OS X based on the OpenOffice.org suite, was updated to version 3.0.2 on Monday.

Textbooks for iPad

A Wall Street Journal (requires paid subscription) story yesterday started a flurry of postings about textbook publishers getting their materials ready for the upcoming Apple iPad. The Unofficial Apple Weblog reported yesterday that "McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-12, Pearson Education and the Washington Post Co.'s Kaplan Inc." are already onboard for the iPad.

Odds 'n' Ends

The Indianapolis Public Schools received a quick wrist slap this week from the State Superintendent of Public Education for their plans to have an "emergency" two-hour delay on Monday. The Indy Star's Andy Gammill writes in IPS adjusts post-Super Bowl plans that the delay was IPS's attempt "to avoid a repeat of the day after the Colts' 2007 Super Bowl win, when bus drivers called in sick en masse and forced the district to decide to close in the wee hours of the morning." Having their delay plan shot down, the district will now "delay the start of classes at all schools by one hour and dismiss half an hour later at the end of the day Monday."

Go Colts! And I'll be sleeping in Monday morning!

Getting totally of subject, I realized yesterday that there's a free Photoshop application for the iPhone. Photoshop.com for iPhone, iPod touch adds new features tells about the app that can "edit and share photos via a simple intuitive interface." And Slate's Sara Dickerman tells in A Moveable Feast: The pleasures, and stresses, of cooking with an iPhone about her adventures with using her iPhone for online recipes. She writes that her iPhone "screen cover is coated with streaks of flour and butter and overlaid with a haze of anonymous kitchen grease."

Getting back to education, Debra Meier and Diane Ravitch both have excellent recent posts on their shared, Bridging Differences blog. Why Isn't the 'Mother of Small Schools' Feeling Smug and Closing Schools Solves Nothing both brandish some pretty sharp needles for New York Mayor Bloomberg. Meier asks, "When and how might 'small schools' and 'choice' become a favorite of teachers and parents and kids rather than, as in NYC these days, a heavy-handed intruder?" Ravitch writes, "It is odd that school leaders feel triumphant when they close schools, as though they were not responsible for them."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snow Day

4With heavy snow predicted for a good bit of the eastern half of the United States, many schools are watching forecasts with a wary eye. The D.C. Public Schools announced noon dismissal for their students last night in anticipation of late afternoon heavy snowfall. The prospect of getting snowed in with 600-1000 students or putting buses on unsafe roads strikes terror in the hearts of school administrators.

Here in southwest Indiana, it looks like we may get off with just 4" of snow. As I write, it's just raining outside (Oops, it's snowing now!), although the forecast for Indianapolis still calls for 4-8" of snow by tomorrow afternoon. Only one area school closed today in anticipation of the snow, and that county has some truly "wild and woolly" roads for school buses to cover.

School closings and early dismissals cause all sorts of supervision problems for parents. I think the typical home reaction to a school closing is a loud "Yippee" from the kids in contrast to groans (at best) from parents.

Whenever I think of snow days, I remember a "snow day" we had when I was student teaching in Carter County, Tennessee. There were two high schools in the county system, Happy Valley High School and Roan Mountain High School. The county called off school one day in anticipation of heavy snow. I student taught at Happy Valley. While we had a lot of rain in the valley, we didn't have a flake of snow that day. Roan Mountain got well over a foot!

Segregation in Charters Study

A new study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project found that segregation is more common in charter schools than in regular public schools. San Francisco Chronicle writer Jill Tucker writes in Study: Segregation rife at charter schools that:

Nearly 3 out of 4 black students who attend charters are in "intensely segregated" schools with student populations that are at least 90 percent minority, according to the study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project. That's twice the rate of regular public schools.

Howard Blume writes in Charter schools' growth promoting segregation, studies say in the Los Angeles Times:

Charter school advocates contend that the researchers' presumptions about racial separation are out of date. They said parents -- including low-income minority parents -- are turning to charters for a quality education that traditional schools have not provided.

Odds 'n' Ends

The Department of Education has released "the states' narrative responses to the application criteria" of the Race to the Top program for download. Rulings on MySpace suspensions leave more questions than answers on eSchool News is an interesting read about school control over students' MySpace pages. NYC student arrested for doodling on school desk? Oh, my!

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Snowy Day

Fun in the snow

We didn't get the heavy snow that areas north and east of us got. But ours was just enough for my wife to take one of our granddaughters out for a ride on a sled. With more snow predicted for early next week, it will be interesting to see if schools in the heavy snow areas will be able to open.

Spirit Day?

Addai JerseyA Louisiana student got sent home yesterday for wearing a Colts jersey on Maurepas High School's black-and-gold day. Depending on whom you're going to root for tomorrow, you can pick your story link:

The student, 17-year-old Brandon Frost, lived in Indiana before moving to Maurepas three years ago. He's now made the national news. And his principal probably wishes he'd just let the whole thing go. According to Frost, as quoted in the Times-Picayune, the principal said, "If you like Indiana so much, why don’t you go back?" "Frost’s situation caught the attention of the ACLU on Friday afternoon and Majorie Esman, the executive director of the organization’s Louisiana chapter, sent a letter to Vampran opposing his actions."

Our youngest daughter, Julia, now lives in Baton Rouge with her husband. She's had a tough time over the last week or so, too, as she's become a solid Saints fan, but still has some pretty strong (Colts) roots as well. Her co-workers have given her a congenial hard time, recently.

Odds 'n' Ends

Pass the Squishy by Jennifer Medina is an interesting story about the Haven Academy, a charter school in the South Bronx, "designed to serve children from broken families." Holly Epstein Ojalvo asks on the New York Times Learning Network, How Has N.C.L.B. Affected Your Teaching? And the Scholastic blog, This Week in Education, is now making the news for pulling a posting by Marc Dean Millot. Millot had the audacity to suggest the fix is in on Race to the Top grant applications. I think most educators would probably respond, "Well, of course it is." Scholastic pulled the posting and Eduwonk's Andy Rotherham had a cow over the posting's comments. The Schools Matter blog has some interesting views on the controversy. Thanks to cached web pages, you can read Three Data Points. Unconected Dots or a Warning and decide for yourself if it should have been censored.

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