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Thursday, May 26, 2011

News Roundup (Local and National)

Only one Director community meeting this Saturday.  That would be with Betty Patu from 10am-noon at Tully's, 4400 Rainier Avenue South.

 Also, word is that New School Foundation is merging/joining with the League of Education Voters (LEV).  I heard this from more than one person who attended a function where this was announced.  I'm trying to get more information on this interesting news.  

On a personal note (and speaking of LEV), you can find the article "Hall Monitors" in the latest issue of Seattle Magazine featuring the usual line-up of education advocates (including me).  We all struck a pose at Roosevelt High and we look fierce.   What is hilarious is the listing for staff, funding and budget for each of our groups (at which this blog comes in at zero across the board). 

Really interesting article in Science section of the NY Times about learning geometry without a protractor.  It can be done and was done by adults and children in an isolated community in the Amazon. 

Another great article was about how we remember (and learn) with fonts

Trick question: Is it easier to remember a new fact if it appears in normal type, like this, or in big, bold letters, like this

The answer is neither. Font size has no effect on memory, even though most people assume that bigger is better. But font style does. 

New research finds that people retain significantly more material — whether science, history or language — when they study it in a font that is not only unfamiliar but also hard to read. 

A study to be published this year in the journal Psychological Science, led by Dr. Kornell, shows how strong this effect can be. Participants studied a list of words printed in fonts of varying sizes and judged how likely they would be to remember them on a later test. Sure enough, they were most confident that they’d remember the words in large print, rating font size (ease of processing) as more likely to sustain memory even than repeated practice. 

They got it exactly backward. On real tests, font size made no difference and practice paid off, the study found. 

And so it goes, researchers say, with most study sessions: difficulty builds mental muscle, while ease often builds only confidence. At least one group has demonstrated this principle in dramatic fashion, also using fonts.

 Oh, and did you hear?  New York City is developing more than a dozen new standardized tests to grade teachers, not students.   From the NY Times comes this article published this week.  Elementary kids, starting in 3rd grade, would take 1-2 extra tests with high school students taking up to 8 extra tests ( in addition to the English, math and Regents tests they already take).    There's a big cha ching! for some businesses.

Under the law, 40 percent of a teacher’s grade will be based on standardized tests or other “rigorous, comparable” measures of student performance. Half of that should be based on state tests, and half on measures selected by local districts. The remaining 60 percent is to be based on more subjective measures, including principal observations. 

But New York City, which has made standardized tests a centerpiece of its school reform efforts, is pushing ahead. The city schools system is planning to use up to one-tenth of its $256 million share of the federal grant money for as many as 16 new standardized exams to cover science, math, social studies and English in the 3rd through 12th grades. 

“We are not focusing on teaching and learning anymore; we are focusing on collecting data,” said Lisa B. Donlan, a parent in Manhattan who has advocated against standardized testing.  


Daniel Koretz, a professor of education and a testing expert at Harvard University, expressed concern with the proposed design of the new tests. “When you give kids complicated tasks to do, performance tends to be quite inconsistent from one task to the next,” Dr. Koretz said. That makes it hard to use the test to draw broader conclusions about how much a student is learning, unless the test is long enough to include many tasks, he said. 

Wondering how education spending is going nationally?  According to this NY Times article, spending slowed in 2009 with public schools spending an average of $10,499 per student.  This is up 2.3% from the previous year but spending had risen 6.1 and 5.8 in the years previous to that.

New York state leads the nation in spending at $18,126 per student.  D.C. is second with their spending going up a whopping 12.4%.  Those two are followed by New Jersey, Arkansas and Vermont.  Utah spends the least at $6,356 followed up by Idaho, Arizona, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Speaking of New Jersey, you may remember that their Governor Chris Christie was facing down their Supreme Court over his drastic cuts to education.  The Supreme Court has now ruled that $500M has to be put back for spending in poor, urban schools.

“Like anyone else, the state is not free to walk away from judicial orders enforcing constitutional obligations,” Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote in the ruling. She added that “the state made a conscious and calculated decision” to renege on the commitment it made two years ago, the last time the case, Abbott v. Burke, went before the court. 

Christie fired back that he was going to appoint people who he believes "understand their job, which is to interpret the law and not make law from the bench."  But, he's not going to fight the decision.

And in the "be careful what you wish for" category, we read a lot about how well Asian countries do in educating their students.  This article on an elite Korean University and the suicide rate of their students is a lesson about not making success in life all about one thing. 

After the last of the student deaths, on April 7, the Kaist student council issued an impassioned statement that said “a purple gust of wind” had blown through campus. 

“Day after day we are cornered into an unrelenting competition that smothers and suffocates us,” the council said. “We couldn’t even spare 30 minutes for our troubled classmates because of all our homework. 

“We no longer have the ability to laugh freely.” 

Young people in South Korea are a chronically unhappy group. A recent survey found them to be — for the third year in a row — the unhappiest subset among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Education Ministry in Seoul said 146 students committed suicide last year, including 53 in junior high and 3 in elementary school.

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