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Pratham Gala Raises $1.2 Million for Literacy in India

Access to education, Finances & Budgets, Global news, US

HOUSTON: Elegance and philanthropy were the hallmarks of the Pratham-Houston Gala 2012 when over 800 from this city’s diverse communities gathered at the Hilton Americas Hotel on April 21, to support the non-profit grass-roots organization’s literacy programs in India. The event themed We Are One World, chaired by Dr. Marie Goradia and Medha Karve, raised an unprecedented $1.2 million that will help educate over 60,000 underprivileged children and further Pratham’s vision of Every Child in School and Learning Well.

Following a cocktail reception, Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening Meena Datt welcomed guests and lauded their spirit of humanitarianism. President of Pratham-Houston Swatantra Jain told gatherees of the organization’s odyssey from humble beginnings in the slums of Mumbai in 1994, to its indomitable presence in 21 states and 42 cities in India today.

“Pratham is recognized for three important aspects of its work, said Jain. “First is the scale on which we work and second is the low costs with which we achieve this. The third aspect is our ability to innovate and grow. I am happy to share with you that Global Journal recently listed Pratham as the 22nd NGO among 100 best NGOS in the world. Today the organization continues to expand both geographically and in terms of the scope of work it undertakes,” Jain added.

He invited guests to visit Pratham programs in India to witness firsthand, how it impacts the lives of the children there. He also extolled Pratham India founders Dr. Madhav Chavan and Farida Lambhay, and Pratham USA founder Vijay Goradia as visionaries.

Keynote speaker for the event was Ajay Bhanga, President and CEO of MasterCard worldwide. He commended Pratham for making education a priority.

“It’s vital to our future and I agree with Pratham that it is a human right,” said Bhanga. He discussed India’s trajectory and the challenges, both present and future, and why education is so critical at this time in strengthening India’s global competitiveness and domestic economy.

“Everyone knows that India and Indians have made amazing strides in a relatively short period of time. Just look around the room and you’ll see a who’s who of first generation Indian success,” said Bhanga. But, he added, more than half of India’s population lives in poverty, malnutrition is rife, healthcare is poor, and 128 million Indians lack access to safe water. He pointed out that education is in dire straits, academic resources are scarce, there is child labor, a lack of teachers, and that more parental involvement is essential. The country’s infrastructure is under-developed, roads abysmal, there is a waste management problem, and the corruption and red tape impede India’s progress.

“Education has to align with vocational skills, and the workforce needs to be better prepared and critical thinking, comprehension, and social skills have to be reinforced for a strong stable India,” said Bhanga. “Pratham is breaking the cycle for the most vulnerable and uplifting prospects of millions who hold India’s future in their hands. Pratham takes a multi-dimensional, holistic approach to improving education and literacy, it recognizes that you can’t successfully teach children without addressing the root problems I just mentioned,” added Bhanga.

Dr. Rukmini Banerji, Director of Pratham Programs, gave the audience an update on the many innovative ways that Pratham has since impacted 33 million lives through Read India, the Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children, the ASER Centre that evaluates the status of elementary education in India, and the Pratham Institute that offers vocational training programs to young adults.

Dr. Subodh Bhuchar served as auctioneer for the evening and attendees bid enthusiastically for items sponsored by Easy Tours and Karat 22. During dinner guests enjoyed entertainment by the Fred Astaire Dance Studio and NAACH Houston Inc.

Indo American News, 26 April 2012


New York to consider making teacher evaluations available to parents

Global news, Teacher performance, US

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said they plan to take up the issue of whether to make teacher evaluations private or available to parents only, rather than allow the general public access to them.

Cuomo and Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, have said in recent days that they are considering making the records available on a limited basis.

“My inclination is the parent has a right to know the evaluation information of the teacher, so I think the parent’s right to know is important and should be protected,” the governor told reporters late last month.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said it wasn’t immediately clear whether there would be discussions on the issue after lawmakers return from their spring break April 17.

As new teacher accountability measures take effect across the country, policymakers are grappling with how best to balance government transparency and school personnel’s right to privacy. New York is implementing an evaluation system that factors in student growth on standardized tests for the first time. Unions, which oppose releasing evaluations, have philanthropist Bill Gates and other high-profile leaders on their side.

Nineteen states exempt teacher evaluations from disclosure, according to an Education Week report published last month. But a few states have moved to restrict access. Florida now requires districts to notify parents of children whose teacher has received more than one poor evaluation, and Michigan will implement a similar policy in 2015, the report said.

A bill to prohibit the release of evaluations to parents and the public is making its way through the Tennessee Legislature. At least 18 states, including New York, allow access through open-records laws, Education Week found. Other states disclose records only with permission of the teacher or a third party, such as a school district.

The issue came to the forefront in New York when the state’s highest court ruled against the United Federation of Teachers, which had sued to keep confidential the records of 18,000 teachers who were part of a pilot program to improve instruction. Several media outlets that had sought the records under the state’s Freedom of Information Law made them available to the public.

Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, said making the records public is an “abuse of the rights of teachers” and has no purpose other than to shame them.

The evaluation process is designed to support effective teaching and help professionals whose performance is less than stellar to improve, Iannuzzi said. If they don’t step up their performance, they should be removed, he said.

School officials and unions are in the process of agreeing on terms for the new teacher and principal evaluations, which have to be implemented if districts want to collect the aid increase included in the new state budget.

Gates wrote in a recent op-ed for The New York Times that he supports efforts to measure teacher effectiveness, but he disagrees with education advocates who want evaluations to be made public.

“Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today,” he wrote. “The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming.”

The National Council on Teacher Quality doesn’t support making evaluations public, not even to parents, said Kate Walsh, the group’s president. That information should be between the principal and teacher, she said.

Principals are responsible for identifying and working with unsatisfactory teachers and taking appropriate action, Walsh said. Those who don’t act “should be held accountable for not holding teachers accountable,” she said.

Lawmakers and the governor will have to weigh privacy rights against parents’ rights to information about teacher and school performance, Silver said in a recent interview with WAMC public radio. Teachers currently are the only public employees in the state whose evaluations have been made public, he noted.

“I think you probably need a method by which parents can know how a particular teacher or a particular grade performs in a particular school,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean that some newspaper should have a picture of a teacher and their evaluation … on the front page of that newspaper.”

The state School Boards Association generally supports “transparency,” but in this case it might recommend waiting a year or two for personnel to become familiar with the new system and make sure information is reliable and accurate, spokesman David Albert said. It’s important for parents to know how well their child’s teacher is performing, he said.

The group hasn’t taken a position yet on whether evaluations should be available to the general public or just parents.

“They’re very important and once someone has kind of been publicly branded as an ineffective teacher, will we ever be able to change anyone’s mind about their performance, even if they improve dramatically?” Albert said.

Democrat and Chronicle, 08 April 2012


Mass. Schools Show Dramatic Gains for Low Income, Minority College Prep

Global news, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), US

Independent report of largest high school STEM partnership highlights impact and cites untapped potential for low income students

BOSTON, Mar 02, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — –Thermo Fisher Scientific pledges $1 million to expand successful five-year program

Mass Insight Education has released an independent evaluation of its Massachusetts Math + Science Initiative (MMSI), a public/private partnership that increases college opportunities by expanding Advanced Placement (AP) participation and performance in high schools and currently supports close to 8,000 students in more than 50 high schools throughout the state. The report, conducted by INSTLL, LLC, an independent education research and consulting firm, found that MMSI, which was launched by Mass Insight in 2008 with a competitive $13 million national grant, significantly increased participation and success in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) AP courses and exams, especially among African American and Hispanic students.

“MMSI’s comprehensive academic strategy is a game changer for underserved high school students,” said William Guenther, president of Mass Insight Education. “The evaluation corroborated that MMSI high schools are closing achievement gaps and sending students to college with the skills to succeed. Imagine the impact if another 50 high schools offered these AP partnerships to thousands of other low income and minority students at the same success rate as the report projects.”

To help MMSI prepare students for highly skilled STEM careers, Thermo Fisher Scientific CEO Marc Casper announced at a State House event today a $1 million new investment in MMSI, spread over three years. Thermo Fisher has been a lead corporate sponsor of MMSI’s partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and local schools.

“We are pleased to sponsor MMSI as an investment in Massachusetts and in Thermo Fisher Scientific’s future STEM workforce,” Casper said. “Too often, low income and minority students with the potential to do more rigorous work don’t have the opportunities, through education and mentoring, to live up to their potential. MMSI has a clear and successful strategy that enables businesses to partner with the Commonwealth and invest in college success for thousands of underserved high school students.”

Independent Study Results

MMSI increases AP enrollment — a research-based strategy to improve college matriculation and success — by providing expanded teacher training and adding weekend study sessions with top AP teachers for students, among other opportunities. The independent report determined that if 16 non-MMSI high-need/low-income schools in Massachusetts had an AP participation rate similar to MMSI high-need/low-income schools, more than 1,000 additional AP exams would have been taken by African American and Hispanic students in 2010-11. The report highlighted four key findings:

Overall Performance

— MMSI schools have significantly increased the number and percent of AP math, science and English exams taken by students, in relation to the baseline year and a group of 30 non-MMSI schools with comparable populations. More than 400 AP exams were taken per 1,000 students in MMSI schools in 2010-2011, versus 160 AP exams per 1,000 students in non-MMSI schools with similar demographics.

— MMSI schools have significantly increased the number and percentage of students scoring 3 or higher — on a 1-5 scale — in relation to the baseline year and compared with non-MMSI schools. If high-need/low-income non-MMSI schools had participation and performance rates similar to the MMSI high-need/low-income schools, close to 700 more exams would have scored 3 or better in Massachusetts last year. Such qualifying scores can equate to college credit, saving families thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

Minority Achievement

— MMSI schools have significantly increased the number and percent of AP math, science and English exams taken by African American and Hispanic students, in relation to the baseline year and compared with non-MMSI schools. African-American and Hispanic students in MMSI schools take nearly 4 times more AP math, science and English AP exams than their counterparts in 16 non-MMSI high need/low income schools.

— MMSI schools are dramatically and significantly increasing the number of African Americans and Hispanics scoring 3 or better on a math, science or English AP exam, relative to prior years and to schools across the state. MMSI schools comprised 19 percent of the African American and Hispanic student population of the state, but accounted for 36 percent of AP exams by African American and Hispanic students scoring 3 or better.

The full independent report is available on Mass Insight Education’s website at www.massinsight.org .

About Mass Insight Education’s Massachusetts Math + Science Initiative

MMSI, launched in 2007 by Mass Insight Education in partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, now partners with 53 public schools and is the largest statewide high school science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) academic program. MMSI expands access and improves outcomes in college-level courses, particularly among African-American, Hispanic, low-income, female and other student groups under-represented in AP classes, in order to prepare them for highly-skilled STEM careers. The MMSI approach includes extensive teacher training and mentoring, tutoring and other academic supports for students as well as privately-funded financial awards for teachers and students. Schools participating in the program sign performance agreements with MMSI which include specific enrollment and achievement targets.

Market Watch, 02 March 2012


Unions Act In Teachers’ Interests — Not Students’

Global news, Teacher performance, US

Gov.Dannel P. Malloyproposed comprehensive education reforms involving teacher certification, evaluation and tenure, setting off an exciting, constructive public debate about whether and how to change the rules that govern the employment of teachers and administrators.

Reform requires that we change the way we do business. We must moderate seniority rules in favor of considering the abilities and training of teachers in making staffing decisions. We must add time to the school day and school year to increase the time teachers are engaged with students and with each other in professional dialogue. At present, however, these initiatives are often stymied by collective bargaining.

The Connecticut Education Association and American Federation of Teachers are actively involved in this public debate, as they should be. But we must recognize that the CEA and AFT are trade unions, charged by law with representing the interests of their members, not with setting public policy or implementing educational reform.

Teachers do important work, often selflessly above and beyond expectations. And their insights into education make them critical participants in the discussion of reform proposals. The role of teacher unions, by contrast, is very different. In my 35-plus years of representing school districts, whenever boards of education have proposed additional instructional or professional time, the teachers union has demanded increased compensation for any extra work.

That is their job — to advocate for better salary and working conditions. But the interests of children are not part of that discussion. Teachers unions are not and cannot be true partners in reform. While we value their perspective, they exist to represent the interests of their members in negotiations over wages, hours and conditions of employment.

School boards are prohibited from setting working conditions unilaterally, as is the right of non-union employers. Rather, with limited exceptions (such as the length of the school day or school year), school boards must negotiate with the CEA or AFT over wages, hours and conditions of employment. Moreover, proposed changes in the school day or school year trigger “impact” negotiations over demands for additional compensation.

Revision of the rules governing teacher evaluation and dismissal are key to reform efforts. Although the CEA and AFT purport to advocate for reform, there is a fundamental conflict of interests in such matters. In each school district, these teachers unions have legal status by virtue of their being the designated bargaining representatives of teachers.

That designation gives them the right to demand bargaining over any change in working conditions. It also imposes upon them the “duty of fair representation,” the obligation to represent bargaining unit members in grievance or dismissal situations. By law, teachers unions must represent all teachers, including the ineffective or incompetent. Their professed willingness to weed out low performers directly contradicts their legal obligation to their members.

As but one example, statutory changes were proposed last year by ConnCAN and others to change the “last in/first out” seniority rules. Somehow, the teachers unions got involved, and with little public discussion that initiative to change union rules in the interest of students morphed into a union proposal to give union designates an equal voice with management in establishing and implementing evaluation plans.

Such a role for union representatives in evaluations would directly conflict with their duty to advocate for their affected members. Fortunately, the legislation was not adopted, but not for want of union advocacy.

In the ongoing debate over reform, all voices should be heard. Teachers will be affected by the laws that are passed in this session. Their designated representatives are highly effective advocates who will and must argue on their behalf. But we must not forget that teachers unions are unions. In making important public policy decisions on education reform, the General Assembly must keep that truth in mind and base its decisions on the interests of the entire school community.

The Hartford Courant, 26 February 2012


Obama Calls for E-Textbooks, Tech-Education Partnership

Global news, ICT, US

The Obama administration is urging a nationwide transition to digital textbooks, underscoring a need for partnership between tech companies, publishers, and schools to improve learning.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chair Julius Genachowski said Wednesday schools and publishers should switch to digital textbooks within five years to foster interactive education, save money on books and ensure classrooms in the U.S. use up-to-date content.

The government released a 70-page guide for schools outlining the digital textbook transition plan, but made no mention of funding or other support for schools and publishers hoping to make the switch.

The plan recognizes the need for U.S. education to keep pace with changes in technology, but its implementation could prove difficult. In recent years, drops in tax revenues and government funding have left school systems around the nation strapped for cash, leaving few dollars available to spend on technologies such as tablet computers.

The Obama administration’s plan will face slow adoption if schools can’t find funding to give tablets for every student in every classroom, a necessary first step to making digital textbooks available to all.

Public-private partnerships such as the one created to give $35 tablets for students in India represent one possible solution. A tablet-subsidy partnership between a technology company such as Apple or an Android tablet maker and the U.S. government could speed adoption of the digital textbooks program, as well as save money in the long term, as schools could subscribe to automatic digital updates instead of paying for shipments of brand-new, paper textbooks every few years.

The government announcement is potentially good news for tablet makers, particularly iPad manufacturer Apple, which last month announced an initiative to reinvent easily worn, heavy textbooks by replacing them with digital versions that feature interactive, multi-touch capabilities. Videos, graphics, and built-in quizzes will engage students with the material, and reviews and instant feedback will help lessons come alive in a way particularly suited to a generation that grew up using digital media.

A recent pilot program by publisher Houghton Mifflin showed a 20-percent boost in standardized test scores for students who used a digital, iPad version of an Algebra 1 textbook as compared to those who learned with a traditional book.

Results like these should inspire both schools and publishers to find ways to make the switch to digital textbooks. Still, education budget shortfalls often go hand-in-hand with unwieldy approval processes for new textbook adoption and reluctance to adopt new technologies in many school districts, so barriers to digital learning are cultural as well as financial.

The government aims to change that attitude.

“Do we want kids walking around with 50-pound backpacks and every book in those backpacks costing $50, $60, $70 and many of them out of date? Or do we want students walking around with a mobile device that has much more content than was even imaginable a couple years ago and can be constantly updated?” Duncan said in his announcement.

The Department of Education and the FCC will hold a meeting next month to discuss implementing the e-textbook plan. Apple, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard are likely to attend, along with technology CEOs and representatives from wireless carriers and publishing companies, a first step toward forging the partnerships necessary to make digital education a reality.

Mobiledia, 03 February 2012


Sharing a Screen, if Not a Classroom

Global news, ICT, Learning Achievements, US

In a hushed first-grade classroom at Public School 55 in the South Bronx, Edward Muñoz, a bashful 7-year-old in scuffed sneakers and a worn hoodie, was sounding out tricky words with his tutor.

Together they plowed through a book about a birthday barbecue, tackling the words “party” and “presents.” Then they played a rousing game of word-based tic-tac-toe, with Edward eventually declaring victory.

Exchanges like theirs take place every day in classrooms around the country, now that links between early literacy gains and later school success have been clearly documented.

But Edward’s tutor was not in the classroom. His school, a 20-minute walk from the nearest subway stop in a crime-plagued neighborhood, has long had trouble finding tutors willing to visit. “It is hard to get anyone to volunteer,” said the school’s principal, Luis Torres, who sometimes cancels fire drills because of the gunfire he hears outside.

Now, newly designed software for the tutoring of beginning readers has bridged the gap, allowing volunteers to meet students online from a distance. P.S. 55 is testing the program with students in its four first-grade classes.

Edward’s tutor, Jenny Chan, was an hour away in Midtown, on a bustling trading floor at JPMorgan Chase, where she provides technology support. She was talking to Edward by phone and seeing the story he was reading with screen-sharing software on her desktop computer.

JPMorgan Chase is sponsoring the remote tutoring program and encouraging its employees to get involved from their desks during the school day. This is a boon for Ms. Chan, who has participated in corporate-sponsored volunteer reading programs at other firms. But since having two children and receiving a promotion, she has been unable to make the lunchtime trek to a school, particularly one as far away as P.S. 55.

As for Edward, he was perched on a blue plastic chair, listening to Ms. Chan’s encouragements through headphones as he read haltingly into the microphone. When he mispronounced a word, Ms. Chan prompted him to try alternatives, occasionally proclaiming, “Good job!” From her desk, she followed along and turned the pages of a virtual book for her budding reader.

The program is the creation of Seth Weinberger, a 56-year-old former technology lawyer from Evanston, Ill., and the founder of Innovations for Learning, a 19-year-old nonprofit organization that has set its sights on raising persistently low reading scores among the nation’s poorest children. The tutoring software is being tried by over 550 volunteers in 60 low-performing classrooms in Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Washington, as well as at P.S. 55, where in 2010, only 15 percent of the third graders passed the state English exam.

Countless studies, many outlined in an exhaustive 1998 literacy report by the National Research Council, indicate that there is a strong connection between how fast young readers progress and how often they encounter written language. But according to the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, less than half of the nation’s young are read to at home on a daily basis.

As a result, the literacy organization Everybody Wins! New York plants more than 1,000 volunteers in city schools. New York Cares sponsors volunteers in an early morning reading program. And in September, the national advocacy group Reading Partners began a volunteer tutoring initiative in seven of the city’s poorest-performing elementary schools.

What sets Mr. Weinberg’s program apart is that the tutors arrive via technology. “If it takes a village to raise a child,” he said, “it now takes technology to connect that village.”

His methods are not without critics.

At schools like P.S. 3, in the West Village, parents gush about the “magical” connection in-school mentors develop with the students they help. There, where 78 percent of third graders passed the statewide English exam, dozens of reading volunteers show up “live” every week.

At schools like P.S. 55, the Innovations for Learning program presents a welcome solution to a persistent problem.

To get the program started, I.F.L. trained educators at the school and installed Mr. Weinberger’s software on dedicated laptops donated by JPMorgan Chase. Volunteer tutors were required to watch a one-hour Web seminar and read a 20-page guide to basic reading skills, such as “chunking” groups of letters together to decipher a word, or using pictures to help get the gist of a story.

When a student and a tutor log on, they choose from 10 original stories, all suited to that student’s reading level, as well as games that use words from the stories. After the session, students can reread their stories on classroom iPod Touches.

Brenda Salazar, a first-grade teacher, says the greatest advantage of the program is the provision, which she can oversee, of much-needed one-on-one instruction for struggling readers. The software allows teachers to communicate with tutors about students’ problem areas via a messaging system. “When they come back to doing their reading and writing with me, they’ll often say: ‘I know that. I did that with my tutor.’ ”

Still, the program has yet to be studied, and at a time when educators are pondering the pros and cons of online learning, there are skeptics. Some question whether young learners, particularly struggling ones, have the communication skills needed to benefit from a virtual connection.

Joanne Meier, a research consultant at Reading Rockets, a literacy initiative based in Arlington, Va., wonders how effective tutors can be if they don’t have access to students’ facial expressions and body language. “Subtleties are missed with a phone call,” she said.

Ms. Chan, the P.S. 55 tutor, acknowledges this challenge. “You do lose the face-to-face,” she said. “But this is a good alternative.”

After her recent session with Edward, Ms. Chan hung up, and the 7-year-old unhooked his headphones and sauntered back to his desk, where his classmates were rifling through picture books. What was his favorite part of the new program, he was asked. He said it was when the phone rang in his classroom, a signal that a tutor was online.

“They get excited,” Mr. Torres said. “They all want to be on that call.”

The New York Times, 22 January 2012


At Top Public Schools, the Arts Replace Recess

Global news, US

In the art room at P.S. 188 in Bayside, Queens, a group of 9-year-olds was busily putting the finishing touches on an enormous poster for the fourth-grade play. Its topic: saving the Earth. Down the hall in the music room, beneath portraits of Mozart and Bach, classmates were breaking into a spirited rendition of “Hear Those Bells” on fluorescent-colored recorders. Cheerleaders in the gym were perfecting a victory chant, jumping, twisting and stamping their feet. And in the library, children in a Suzuki violin class were toiling away at “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” while their music teacher, a professional violist from Iceland, coached them “to stand straight and tall.”

All of this concentrated learning — activities parents commonly think of as enrichment — was taking place not after school hours, but during recess, the once-unstructured midday break that for some elementary school students is slowly being squeezed out of the day.

Jump rope, freeze tag and the jungle gym have some new competition. At some of the city’s highest-rated public elementary schools, recess is now being seen by parents and educators as a time to pack in extra learning.

Free time during school hours has become a hot topic among educators across the country, many of whom worry that children are not getting enough of it. Recent studies, including one published in 2009 in the medical journal Pediatrics, indicate that many children learn better and behave better when free time is part of the school day.

The New York City Department of Education does not require recess, although its Wellness Policy recommends that schools provide 20 minutes a day, preferably outdoors.

Nonetheless, the practice of packing enrichment classes into recess has become increasingly common at some of the city’s top-performing elementary schools, where parents see them as a way to fill gaps left by years of budget cuts and an increasing emphasis on standardized tests.

The parents at P.S. 188 — where class size can peak at 32 — are taking the approach that their children, who earn some of the best test scores in the city, need enrichment classes as much as they need free time.

To that end, the school’s PTA, which operates out of a converted bathroom on the first floor, raised $12,500 last year to support voluntary clubs, which meet once or twice a week at lunchtime and offer subjects that include art, music and computers.

Janet Caraisco, the principal at P.S. 188, has been fitting all of the clubs’ activities into her school’s schedule. “We do a lot of it at recess,” she said. “It’s not easy. But we think it’s important.”

Ms. Caraisco herself runs several book clubs and a musical theater club. Last year, one of her clubs spent weeks engaged in a dramatic reading of the script for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” with students and principal occasionally belting out lyrics in the principal’s neat but bustling office.

For the most part, each of the school’s clubs has as many as 14 or 15 members; some students join as many as four.

At P.S. 6, a highly regarded school on the Upper East Side, students can design video games, build miniature roller coasters, learn about electrical circuits and perfect magic tricks at PTA-sponsored recess clubs. “It’s a lot of little options, hobby-type stuff geared toward introducing kids to different things,” said Steve Tosi, whose son James attends first grade there.

Down the street at P.S. 290, lunch clubs allow students to learn improvisational performance, make comic books, learn sign language and knit.

And at P.S. 372 in Brooklyn, an arts-focused school where special education students learn alongside other students, fourth- and fifth-grade lunch club members can choose from an array including mosaic designing, mural making and embroidery. The school also offers chorus and dance.

Parents say lunchtime clubs give children a chance to learn in a setting more intimate than the typical classroom, and lets them spend time with like-minded students. “They’re coming from these classrooms of 30 kids,” said Nick Gottlieb, PTA co-president at P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village, where educators run a popular lunchtime program that pairs students with adult volunteers, who read and discuss books with them. “It’s quiet, individualized time,” Mr. Gottlieb said.

Principals say they work hard to keep students from becoming overwhelmed by recess club options. Ms. Caraisco, for example, does not send lunch club forms home, so students can choose for themselves how they want to spend that time. “We’ve had times when a parent really wants a child to do a club that the child really doesn’t want,” she said.

She also sends students to the schoolyard during her weekly book club, if it is clear they are fidgety and need some time to run around.

That did not seem to be the case during a recent meeting of the school’s computer club, where a pack of lively fourth graders was developing eight-page travel brochures. Their teacher, Steven David, showed them how to search for data, historical information and pictures.

But what about recess?

Elizabeth Katanov, 9, in jeans and a peace-sign T-shirt, said she was delighted to have extra time to work on computer skills with her friends. On the screen in front of her was a colorful rendition of the Florida state seal. “It’s definitely worth it,” she said, “especially on bad winter days when you’d have to go outdoors.”

The New York Times, 6 December 2011


Miami’s Teach for America Strives to Improve Reading & Math Scores

Global news, US

Teach for America is doing all in its power to give students in Miami a better education.

In a distressed neighborhood north of Miami’s gleaming downtown, a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced instructors from Teach for America is trying to make progress where more veteran teachers have had difficulty: raising students’ reading and math scores.

“These are the lowest performing schools, so we need the strongest performing teachers,” said Julian Davenport, an assistant principal at Holmes Elementary, where three-fifths of the staff this year are Teach for America corps members or graduates of the program.

By 2015, with the help of a $50 million federal grant, program recruits could make up one-quarter of all new teachers in 60 of the nation’s highest need school districts. The program also is expanding internationally.

That growth comes as many districts try to make teachers more effective. But Teach for America has had mixed results.

Its teachers perform about as well as other novice instructors, who tend to be less successful than their more experienced colleagues. Even when they do slightly better, there’s a serious offset: The majority are out of the teaching profession within five years.

“I think ultimately the jury is out,” said Tony Wagner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and an instructor to the first class of TFA corps members.

Teach for America teachers work with not just the poor, but also English language learners and special education students. They provide an important pipeline of new teachers. But critics cite the teachers’ high turnover rate, limited training and inexperience and say they are perpetuating the same inequalities that Teach for America has set to eradicate.

“There’s no question that they’ve brought a huge number of really talented people in to the education profession,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income and minority children, and a longtime supporter of TFA.

But, she said, “Nobody should teach in a high poverty school without having already demonstrated that they are a fabulous teacher. For poor kids, education has to work every single year.”
Wendy Kopp started Teach for America while studying public policy at Princeton. For her senior thesis, she developed a plan to place top college graduates in the poorest schools. She sent the plan to dozens of Fortune 500 executives. Within a year, she had raised $2.5 million and had 2,500 applications.

Over the past 20 years, thousands of recent college graduates have taught for two years in some of the most challenging classrooms in hopes of helping close the achievement gap. Applications have doubled since 2008. Foundations have donated tens of millions.

With Teach for America’s guidance, groups are being established in India, Chile and other places with deep educational inequalities.

Many countries, including those where students perform higher in math and reading, send the strongest and most experienced teachers to work with the lowest performing students. The U.S. has done the reverse. There are nearly twice as many teachers with fewer than three years’ experience in schools where students are predominantly low income and minority.

Family income is one of the most accurate predictors of how well a student will perform. Just 18 percent of low-income eighth-grade students, for example, scored as proficient or above in reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“When we started this 20 years ago, the prevailing notion backed up by all the research was socio-economic circumstances determine educational outcomes,” Kopp said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’ve seen real evidence it does not have to be that way.”

How to overcome the challenges of poverty is at the center of the debate over education reform, with an increasing focus on effective teaching.

Highly effective teachers are hardest to find at the least advantaged schools.

“The reality, particularly in urban centers in America, is they aren’t there,” said Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, who served as the founding director for Teach for America in New York City.
Teach for America believes it can create a corps of such teachers in a short time.

Research, however, shows that beginning instructors improve with experience.

A Harvard study of students in Texas found that a teacher’s level of education, experience, and scores on licensing exams have a greater influence on student performance than any other factor.

North Carolina research on teacher training programs, including Teach for America, showed that elementary students taught math by a first-year teacher lose the equivalent of 21 days of schooling compared with students who had teachers with four years of experience.

If inexperienced teachers don’t perform as well, then why pair them with students who struggle the most?

“When they started, we were staffing our high poverty schools … with anything that breathed,” said Haycock. But, she added, “Saying their solution is better than what came before it is not to say it’s the right thing.”

Wagner noted that his master’s degree in teaching from Harvard hardly prepared him for the challenges of being a first-year teacher. “Unless and until we have a dramatically different system, and a universally high quality system for preparing teachers, I think TFA is a stop gap, and an important one,” he said.
Most who apply for Teach for America have not studied education or thought about teaching, but consider it after speaking with a recruiter or program graduate.

For Ryan Winn, it was a picture of a recruiter’s third-grade class in Phoenix that persuaded him to apply. The recruiter told him that half the students were expected to drop out by the eighth grade.

“That struck me as incredibly unfair and I was upset about it,” said Winn, a teacher this year in Memphis, Tenn.

At Holmes Elementary in Miami, the classrooms of Teach for America teachers are filled with posters reminding students of the ambitious goals set for them.

“I have to make a change,” said Michael Darmas, a first-year teacher at Holmes. “I have to make a difference.”

Teach for America training starts with thick packages of readings and then five weeks co-teaching a summer class, usually in an urban school district, with students who have fallen behind and are taking remedial coursework in order to advance to the next grade.

The fledgling teachers are overseen by another instructor. That could be a more veteran public school teacher, or current or former Teach for America corps member.

“It was a real steep learning curve,” said Sarahi Constantine Padilla, a recent Stanford University graduate teaching at Holmes.

When the summer is over, teachers are sent to their assigned districts, which pay up to $5,000 to Teach for America for each corps member they hire, in addition to the teacher’s salary. Many don’t find out exactly what they’ll be teaching until shortly before school begins.

In interviews with nearly two dozen Teach for America corps members, many described classroom triumphs. Several also acknowledged feeling dubious about their abilities as first-year teachers.

“I struggled personally with my ability to be effective, and I think the gains my kids achieved were largely in spite of me,” said Brett Barley, who taught in the San Francisco Bay area. “I thought the key thing I was able to bring to them was communicating the urgency of the predicament they faced and having them buy in to the idea they could be successful.”

Most of the fourth-graders Barley taught entered reading and writing at second-grade levels. About 30 percent weren’t native English speakers; two were classified as blind.

“The biggest challenge was trying to learn on the job to meet all the kids at their different skill levels,” Barley said.

In her book, “A Chance to Make History,” Kopp tells the stories of several Teach for America teachers who achieved remarkable success in the classroom. But it’s not hard to find teachers who come out with a very different story about their experience.

Megan Hopkins, a Spanish major in college who was placed in Phoenix as a bilingual teacher, said she did not receive any training on teaching English language learners.

“I had no idea how to teach a child to read,” Hopkins said. “I had no idea how to teach a second language learner to read in Spanish, much less in English. After five weeks of training, I really had no idea what I was doing. I felt that was a big disservice to my students.”

Teach for America encouraged her to set a goal of advancing her students 1 1/2 grade levels. She didn’t know how to go about building such a measurement, but was able to develop one with other teachers.

Hopkins said she was praised “up and down” for increasing student reading levels, but she questioned the results. One student, a native Spanish speaker, could read fluently in English, “but if you asked him what he read, he had absolutely no idea.”
Teach for America, in its own review of external research, concludes that its teachers achieve student gains that are “at least as great as that of other new teachers.” In some studies they do better, and in others they do worse.

Teach for America gathers information on how its teachers are performing, but does not release any data to the public. “We just don’t feel it’s responsible to show,” Kopp said. “There are so many flaws in our system.”

One consistent finding is Teach for America’s high turnover rate. According to the organization, 33 percent of its graduates are still teaching. But in many districts, retention rates are significantly lower. A study published last year from North Carolina, for example, found that after five years, 7 percent of Teach for America corps members were still teaching in the state.

Kopp and others at Teach for America note turnover rates are high across low-income schools. But among teacher preparation programs, Teach for America has one of the highest.

She said requiring a two-year commitment is critical to attracting high quality candidates. The main reason Teach for America teachers leave the classroom, Kopp said, is because they want to have a bigger impact. Sixty percent of the program’s graduates are still working in education, whether it’s in policy, or for a nonprofit or government agency, according to TFA.

Throughout their time with Teach for America, corps members are frequently told about the organization’s “theory of change.” It’s the idea that, no matter what field they ultimately enter, they will remain committed to fixing educational inequalities.

Many of the graduates interviewed for this story did leave teaching.
Hopkins, the Phoenix teacher, earned a doctorate in education and has focused much of her research on English language learners.

“But what if their theory of change would encourage their teachers to stay in the classroom as a form of change, as a form of leadership in the field of education?” she asked.
At Holmes Elementary, much is at stake.

If the state isn’t granted a waiver from the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, the school could close unless it significantly improves math and reading scores on Florida’s standardized assessment.

“I like the pressure,” said third-grade teacher Daniel Guerrero. “It makes me want to stay up late and make sure everything is ready.”

Assistant Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says clustering Teach for America teachers together has worked in other district schools and he hopes to attract more beyond their two-year commitment.
Davenport, the assistant principal and a program alumnus, said that will depend on whether corps members feel valued.
“If they don’t feel that opportunity to exercise their abilities,” he said, “they won’t be compelled to stay.”

Fox News
, 27 November 2011


National Study Finds Widespread Sexual Harassment of Students in Grades 7 to 12

Global news, US

Nearly half of 7th to 12th graders experienced sexual harassment in the last school year, according to a study scheduled for release on Monday, with 87 percent of those who have been harassed reporting negative effects such as absenteeism, poor sleep and stomachaches.

On its survey of a nationally representative group of 1,965 students, the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit research organization, defined harassment as “unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically.” Over all, girls reported being harassed more than boys — 56 percent compared with 40 percent — though it was evenly divided during middle school. Boys were more likely to be the harassers, according to the study, and children from lower-income families reported more severe effects.

“It’s pervasive, and almost a normal part of the school day,” said Catherine Hill, the director of research at the association and one of the authors of the report.

Over all, 48 percent of students surveyed said they were harassed during the 2010-11 school year. Forty-four percent of students said they were harassed “in person” — being subjected to unwelcome comments or jokes, inappropriate touching or sexual intimidation — and 30 percent reported online harassment, like receiving unwelcome comments, jokes or pictures through texts, e-mail, Facebook and other tools, or having sexual rumors, information or pictures spread about them.

Whatever the medium, more girls were victims: 52 percent of girls said they had been harassed in person, and 36 percent online, compared with 35 percent of boys who were harassed in person and 24 percent online.

“I was called a whore because I have many friends that are boys,” one ninth-grade girl was quoted as saying. An eighth-grade boy, meanwhile, reported, “They spread rumors I was gay because I played on the basketball team.”

The study asked students to reflect on the 2010-11 school year in an attempt to capture the prevalence of sexual harassment, the effects it has on the harassed and the reasons the harassers engage in the behavior. It also questioned students about preventive measures. Coming amid increased attention to bullying and cyber-bullying, the report aimed to highlight the damaging effects of inappropriate sexual comments, online rumors or lurid Facebook posts.

“Bullying is getting a lot of attention,” said Holly Kearl, an author of the report and program manager of the university association’s Advocacy Fund. “We don’t want schools to forget about sexual harassment” and not talk about it, she said. Ms. Kearl said some schools that talk to students about sexual harassment and how to respond to it have been successful in reducing it. “We want to encourage schools to know what Title IX is,” she said, referring to the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender in schools, “to have a coordinator and to publicize it.”

The report documents many forms of harassment. The most common was unwelcome sexual comments, gestures or jokes, which was experienced by 46 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys. Separately, 13 percent of girls reported being touched in an unwelcome way, compared with 3 percent of boys; 3.5 percent of girls said they were forced to do something sexual, as did 0.2 percent of boys. About 18 percent of both boys and girls reported being called gay or lesbian in a negative way.

In the survey, students were asked to identify what had the worst effect on them. For boys, it was being called gay — “Everyone was saying I was gay, and I felt the need to have to run away and hide,” a ninth-grader said. For girls, the leading problem was having someone make “unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures to or about you.”

Girls also reported more negative consequences: 37 percent said they did not want to go to school after being harassed, versus 25 percent of boys. Twenty-two percent of girls who were harassed said they had trouble sleeping, compared with 14 percent of boys; 37 percent of girls felt sick to their stomach, versus 21 percent of boys.

Those students who experienced both online and in-person harassment experienced the worst effects: 46 percent said they did not want to go to school, 44 percent felt sick to their stomachs and 43 percent found it hard to study.

Half of those who were harassed said they did nothing about it; 9 percent said they reported the incident to an adult at school; and 27 percent of students (32 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys) said they talked about it with a family member.

When asked what types of students were most at risk of harassment, students said “good-looking boys” were the safest, with pretty girls, ugly girls and feminine boys the likely targets. Girls whose bodies are most developed are the most at-risk, students said.

“This is an issue that’s especially complex for girls, though it affects all students,” Ms. Hill said. “Boys are targets, and girls can be harassers.”

New York Times, 7 November 2011


Obama Unveils Education Plan

Global news, Learning Achievements, Quality, Teacher performance, US

President Barack Obama is replacing key planks of former President George W. Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind education law, allowing many schools to escape looming punishment if their states adopt a new set of standards.

Under the new system, which Mr. Obama announced Friday, states would qualify for a waiver from existing rules by requiring, among other things, that evaluations of teachers and principals be linked to the results of student tests and other measures of performance.

In announcing the change, Mr. Obama said his predecessor deserves credit for focusing the education system on accountability and closing achievement gaps, and said schools needs to stay focused on those goals.

“But experience has taught us that in its implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them,” he said.

The president was introduced by the Republican governor of Tennessee, a move meant to symbolize the bipartisan support his move enjoys among states, if not members of Congress.

The 2002 law has infused accountability into education across the nation but also has garnered widespread criticism for its rigidity. Schools are required by 2014 to have 100% of students proficient in math and reading. Those schools that fail face severe consequences, including staff dismissals, conversion to a charter school or closure.

The White House had hoped a bipartisan coalition in Congress would rewrite the law by now, but legislation has stalled, leading the administration to bypass lawmakers altogether. The act gives the education secretary broad authority to let states bypass provisions of the law.

“Congress hasn’t been able to do it, so I will,” Mr. Obama said Friday.

The vast majority of states are expected to apply for waivers. Those that receive them won’t be required to have all students proficient by 2014, but will be instructed to set “ambitious but achievable goals.”

To qualify, states must meet three tests. First is the rigorous evaluation system for teachers and principals.

Second, they must set high achievement standards. Under existing law, states can set their own standards, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said many set the bar too low. Under the new waiver program, students who meet standards must be considered ready for college or a career.

Third, states must develop strategies targeted to the worst-performing schools. For the bottom 5% of schools, that means turnaround plans akin to those under the existing rules. Other interventions must be targeted to another 10% of schools deemed low-performing.

Many Republicans like some of the changes pushed by Mr. Duncan but object to the mandate coming from Washington and say the administration is overstepping its bounds in granting these waivers.

“While I appreciate some of the policies outlined in the secretary’s waivers plan, I simply cannot support a process that grants the secretary of education sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers,” Rep. John Kline (R., Minn.), chairman of the House education committee, said Thursday. Mr. Kline has said his committee wouldn’t try to overhaul the law all at once, but in pieces.

Margaret Spellings, who served as education secretary under Mr. Bush and helped write No Child Left Behind, said she worried the new flexibility would allow states to set weak standards. “If these waivers allow the state to promise the sun and the moon and then not follow through—which some of them are famous for doing—then we will see a retrenchment of accountability,” said Ms. Spellings, who currently serves as a senior adviser at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the biggest teachers union, said in an interview that teachers would welcome the relief from the existing law’s emphasis on testing, and that his union was comfortable using test results as part of evaluations.

“Every teacher ought to be able to demonstrate evidence of student learning,” Mr. Van Roekel said. The union nonetheless believes no current standardized test is reliable and valid.

Mr. Duncan in August said the administration had no choice but to act on its own to change a law four years overdue for a congressional rewrite. He described the existing law as “far too punitive,” “far too prescriptive” and filled with perverse incentives.

The move builds on Mr. Duncan’s effort to drive change at the state and local level. He has already succeeded in pushing states to make a range of changes in order to compete for money through Race to the Top, a competitive grant program. Among other things, Race to the Top rewarded states that made it easier for charter schools to open. That isn’t part of the new waiver guidelines.

Under existing law, states are required to test students in math and reading in third through eighth grade and once in high school—and those tests, opposed by many parents, will continue.

The law has been widely criticized for labeling too many schools as failures, narrowing the school curriculum and prodding states to water down standardized tests. At least 13 states already have sought waivers from the Department of Education, including California, Michigan and Tennessee. South Dakota, Montana and Idaho simply told federal officials they would disregard key aspects of the law.

Wall Street Journal, 23 September 2011

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