Is the term “gifted student” outdated?

 From Education Week:

Whatever we call them, there are students who are ill served by grade-level curriculum—some because they have already mastered it, and others because they are far behind.

One recent study found that, across the United States, 95 percent of kindergartners tested in the fall demonstrated mastery of counting up to 10, identifying one-digit numbers, and recognizing geometric shapes. Despite this widespread level of proficiency, teachers reported spending an average of 12.7 days per month reteaching this content, a finding negatively associated with student learning.

American schools have long focused on remediation with the goal of ensuring that all students reach basic proficiency. But just as struggling children deserve resources to help them catch up, advanced learners also deserve differentiated programming if they are to grow.

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Charter legislation moving in US House

From Education Week:
Alyson Klein

States and districts would be encouraged to help grow high-quality charter schools—and ensure that they enroll and retain English-language learners and students in special education—under a bipartisan bill approved overwhelmingly by the House Education and the Workforce Committee last week.

The measure, which was sponsored by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the panel, was approved by a vote of 36 to 3 on April 8.

During debate on the bill, a number of committee Democrats lambasted charter schools for siphoning off resources from other public schools—before voting for the legislation anyway.

Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., bemoaned the fact that the bill does not require charter schools to hold open meetings, a criticism also levied by the National Education Association. And Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., even went so far as to say that charter schools are leading the country “back to a time before Brown v. the Board of Education.”  Read more

Is parental involvment overrated?

From the New York Times:

Most people, asked whether parental involvement benefits children academically, would say, “of course it does.” But evidence from our research suggests otherwise. In fact, most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.
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Common Core has students writing — on just about every subject

BELLE CHASSE, La. — In the early elementary school grades, Zachary Davis and his classmates at Belle Chasse Primary School in suburban New Orleans wrote almost entirely from personal experience: describing their ideal vacation, trying to convince readers that a longer school year would be a good (or bad) idea, penning a letter about their adventures during summer break.

That all changed this school year.

As a fourth-grader, Zachary more rarely writes stories or essays based solely on his experience or imaginative musings anymore. Instead, it’s all about citing “textual evidence.”

“In third grade they would just ask us to, like, describe your dream store. It was easy to me,” said Zachary, adding that he enjoys the new challenge.

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Ditching letter grades for a ‘window’ into the classroom

(CNN) — Krista Wolfram might be out running errands or in the pickup line at her daughter’s school when the alert appears on her smartphone.

Sometimes, it’s a picture from 7-year-old Serenity’s writing journal, with a line or two of feedback from her teacher; or, it could be a video of Serenity singing in music class.

The messages come at least once a week, sometimes more, and provide Wolfram with more than just a brag book of images. It’s real-time insight into her daughter’s learning, enabling her to think ahead about how she can help Serenity at home.

The messages started going out to some parents at Georges Vanier Elementary School in Surrey, British Columbia, in fall 2013 as part of a pilot program. The school wants to make communication between parents and teachers more detailed, frequent and collaborative.

Because Wolfram is getting frequent updates about her daughter’s educational highs and lows, there are no surprises come report card time. Eventually, the district is hoping to phase out periodic report cards in favor of regular, descriptive communication and a year-end summary or portfolio review, Surrey school district Superintendent Jordan Tinney said.

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Field-Testing of Common-Core Exams Gets Off to Shaky Start at Md. High School

At Thomas S. Wootton High School, teachers and administrators seem to be in agreement that field-testing for the common-core assessments is off to a bumpy start.

I spent the morning of April 2 in a computer lab at the school with 9th graders who were randomly assigned to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests in English/language arts. This was the group’s second attempt at completing the computer-based tests, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

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“Unprecedented” numbers opt out of state tests–what’s next?

Today students in New York State begin three days of state-mandated tests in English language arts. But thousands of families across the state, from Syracuse and Buffalo to the Hudson Valley, Long Island to New York City, will sit out the tests, citing concerns with their relevance and the sense that the curriculum has been taken over by preparation.

“It shifts the entire focus of the classroom,” says Jeannette Deutermann, the organizer behind Long Island Opt Out, a Facebook group with almost 16,000 members. “They seem way too young to have that much testing and that much focus on the tests.”

The spring of 2014 has seen a wave of grassroots activism against both standardized tests and the Common Core that Bob Schaeffer, a longtime activist with the group Fairtest, calls “unprecedented.” The numbers are small, but they’re found around the country. Chicago, site of the 2012 teachers’ strike, and Colorado have seen the most action so far, although opt-out protests have been reported in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennslyvania, New Jersey, and Alabama among other states.

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American Students Test Well in Problem Solving, but Trail Foreign Counterparts

Fifteen-year-olds in the United States scored above the average of those in the developed world on exams assessing problem-solving skills, but they trailed several countries in Asia and Europe as well as Canada, according to international standardized tests results released on Tuesday.

The American students who took the problem-solving tests in 2012, the first time they were administered, did better on these exams than on reading, math and science tests, suggesting that students in the United States are better able to apply knowledge to real-life situations than perform straightforward academic tasks.

Still, students who took the problem-solving tests in countries including Singapore, South Korea, Japan, several provinces of China, Canada, Australia, Finland and Britain all outperformed American students.

“The good news is that problem solving still remains a relatively strong suit for American students,” said Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy group focused on improving high schools. “The challenge is that a lot of other nations are now developing this and even moving ahead. So where we used to, in an earlier era, dominate in what we called the deeper learning skills — creative thinking, critical thinking and the ability to solve problems — in terms of producing the workers that are increasingly needed in this area, other nations are coming on strong and in some cases surpassing us.”

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Public education’s biggest problem keeps getting worse

Public education’s biggest problem just keeps getting worse.

No, it’s not “bad” teachers or “bad” students or “bad”
parents or “bad” principals.

It’s this, from this story by my colleague Lyndsey Layton:

A majority of students in public schools throughout the American South and West are low-income for the first time in at least four decades, according to a new study that details a demographic shift with broad implications for the country.

The analysis by the Southern Education Foundation, the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, is based on the number of students from preschool through 12th grade who were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meals program in the 2010-11 school year. …

Children from those low-income families dominated classrooms in 13 states in the South and the four Western states with the largest populations in 2011, researchers found. A decade earlier, just four states reported poor children as a majority of the student population in their public schools. [see graph below]

Nationally, 22 percent of children in the richest country in the world (and in the history of the world) live at or below the federal poverty line — but that’s not the worst of it. Nearly half live in low-income families that struggle to meet basic needs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

For years now, federal educational policy has largely ignored the issue of poverty, with too many school reformers arguing that citing the effects of living in poverty as a big obstacle to achievement in school is “an excuse.” Schools, they say, can overcome poverty, and further, students living in poverty in other countries do well on tests, don’t they? Well, the U.S. poverty rate is higher — and has been for many years — than in any industrialized country that participates in international tests, and people who are poor in America stay that way longer than anywhere else in the industrialized world, research shows.

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Pre-K Suspension Data Prompt Focus on Intervention

New data showing that thousands of children—including a disproportionate number of boys and black children—are suspended from school before reaching kindergarten have researchers and policymakers asking tough questions about pre-K discipline, and highlighting programs that help keep challenging children in preschool.

The notion that preschool pupils even face suspension surprised some, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who called the data “mind-boggling” at a press event March 21 where he rolled out comprehensive U.S. Department of Education data on a broad range of P-12 indicators, including discipline.

The Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2011-12 school year shows that more than 8,000 public preschoolers were suspended at least once, with black children and boys bearing the brunt of the discipline. Black youngsters make up about a fifth of all preschool pupils but close to half the children suspended more than once. Boys of all races represent 54 percent of the preschoolers included in the report but more than 80 percent of those suspended more than once.

The Education Department data do not offer any clues about the reasons behind the disparities. But other research has proposed a number of potential explanations, including teacher bias, classrooms with high numbers of children per teacher, and a higher likelihood of children in poverty showing aggressive or impulsive behavior.

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