Archives for July 2011

Give up sex to not lug college texts?

To avoid toting heavy textbooks, one in four college students would give up sex for a year — or so they said on a survey by Kno, an education software company.  One third would take 8 a.m. classes every day; 28 percent would rather have parents visit every other weekend for a year than carry textbooks daily

That said, it’s no surprise that 71 percent said they would use digital textbooks through apps on tablets, laptops and netbooks. If students could access textbooks from anywhere without having to carry them around, about 62 percent said they would study more often and 54 percent insisted they would study more efficiently.

Or so they said. Nearly half predict physical textbooks will be obsolete in the next five years. That’s probably correct.

Amazon now rents textbooks on Kindle e-readers. Students can download free Kindle reading apps for various laptops, netbooks and smart phones.

Kindle Textbook Rental gives users up to 80 percent off the list price of a print textbook. For example, accounting textbook Intermediate Accounting is available through Amazon for $183.53 in hard cover and buying it through Kindle for $109.20. However, it’s listed for rental on Amazon for only $38.29.

As a relatively new Kindle user, I don’t think it’s as easy to read as a book — especially a textbook. But the convenience and cost savings of rentals are bound to attract students.

Confession of a cheating teacher

A Philadelphia teacher explains why she helped students cheat on the state exams: It was for the children, the high school English teacher tells The Notebook/Newsworks.

At various times, she said, she gave the students definitions for unfamiliar words, discussed with students reading passages they didn’t understand, and commented on their writing samples.

On a few occasions, she said, she even pointed them to the correct answers on difficult questions.

The high school was not identified for suspicious test results in a state report, but the teacher  claims that adult cheating there was “rampant.”

Taking eight hours of tests over three days was exhausting and depressing for her students, the teacher says. “There’s a whole self-esteem side that people aren’t talking about.”

Almost all of her students were poor and African American. Most, she said, came into 11th grade reading far below grade level and dealing with challenging personal circumstances.

“It was absolutely amazing what was going on in their lives,” she said.

The teacher also felt that standardized tests like the PSSA, particularly the reading passages, were biased against her students.

One year, she recalls, most of the passages on the reading exam were about gardens.

“I was like, ‘What the [heck]?’” she said. “This is so unfair. It doesn’t have anything to do with my children’s lives.”

The school’s largely African-American administration pushed teachers, mostly white, to encourage students to do well on the tests.

 The administrators, she said, mistook her stance that her students were being set up to fail for a belief that they were incapable of succeeding:

“They really believed we didn’t care about the kids, which is ridiculous.”

OK, she cares about students’ feelings. But she also doesn’t believe they can learn.

The state exam is a low-stakes tests for her students.  They can fail the exam and pass her course, if she sets her expectations low enough. For the administrators and teachers, the school’s failure to make progress has high stakes. Eventually, the school could be required to fire the principal or replace the teaching staff.

If the post-turnaround school has new staff and the same curriculum, it probably will have the same results.

When students enter high school with very poor reading, writing and math skills, they need intensive catch-up help, not faux college-prep classes with very low expectations.  I think many students would be motivated by the chance to qualify for job training programs in 11th and 12th grade or in community college. Academically ambitious students should get genuine college-prep classes: I bet some students are capable of reading about gardens.

40% of new teachers took alternative path

Forty percent of public school teachers hired since 2005 came through alternative preparation programs, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Information. That’s up from 22 percent of new teachers hired between 2000 and 2004, notes Ed Week‘s Teaching Now.

In addition, the survey found that alternative-route teachers are more in favor of using reforms such as performance pay, elimination of tenure, tying student achievement to teacher evaluations, and market-driven pay to strengthen the teaching profession than are their traditionally prepared counterparts.

However, nearly all teachers, regardless of certification route, support removing incompetent teachers without concern for seniority.

All teachers surveyed were “slightly more satisfied with general working conditions” and “more satisfied with the status of teachers” than those surveyed in earlier years, going back to 1986, reports Profile of Teachers in the U.S. 2011.

Baby boomers are retiring: Less than a third of teachers are 50 or older and 22 percent are younger than 30.

Eighty-four percent of public school teachers are female, up slightly, and 84 percent are white, down from 91 percent in 1986.

Job growth is in low-wage, low-skill fields

The recovery isn’t jobless, a new report finds. However, most new jobs are in lower-wage, lower-skill occupations such as cashier, shelf stocker or food preparation worker, according to The Good Jobs Deficit (pdf), a National Employment Law Project report. Sixty percent of jobs lost in the recession were in middle-wage occupations, while 73 percent of jobs added pay less than $13.52 an hour. That explains all those college-educated bartenders.

Net change in occupational employment during and after the Great Recession.
Source: National Employment Law Project analysis of Current Population Survey

The number of lower-wage jobs is close to the pre-recession peak, while mid-wage jobs are 8.4 percent below the peak and higher-wage jobs are 4.1 percent below their former peak.

The lowest third of the nation’s occupations pay $7.51 to $13.52 an hour, according to the report. That would equal $15,621 to $28,122 a year for a full-time worker. In the middle third, workers earn $13.53 to $20.66 an hour or $28,142 to $42,973 a year. High-wage occupations in the top third range from $20.67 to $53.32 an hour or $42,994 to $110,906 for yearly full-time work.

Real wages are down 0.6 percent since the recession’s start, the report concludes: Median wages fell 2.3 percent for the bottom third and 0.9 percent for the middle third. Wages rose by 0.9 percent for workers in the top third.


Narcoleptic pupil sues British university

Next Media Animation looks at a narcoleptic college student who claims her British university didn’t give her enough assistance.

Do vouchers boost achievement?

Vouchers have “no clear positive effect” on student achievement and mixed outcomes overall, according to a review of 27 studies by the Center on Education Policy. From Ed Week‘s Inside Schools Research:

Low-income students receiving vouchers made similar achievement gains to comparable public school students in district schools in several studies, the report found.

The report also noted that some research found that voucher students graduate at a higher rate than their public school peers, and that overall achievement at public schools was higher in those schools most affected by voucher competition. However, the report said it is difficult to tease out causation in those results, because schools most affected by vouchers often are targeted for other intensive school reform efforts.

The CEP review did not include privately funded vouchers or tax credits or voucher programs for students with disabilities or students in foster care.

“CEP’s study narrowly cherry-picks school choice studies in a handful of states and inaccurately characterizes the results of these studies,” said Andrew Campanella, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a voucher advocacy program based in Washington.

A rival analysis of voucher research by the Foundation for Educational Choice found large benefits for some programs, but modest gains for most.  No voucher studies have found a negative effect, said Greg Forster, a senior fellow at the foundation. “When the small, restricted programs produce moderately positive results, that indicates we should be trying bigger things,” Forster said.


NYC tenures only 58% of eligible teachers

New York City has made it much harder for teachers to get tenure after three years of experience. Only 58 percent of eligible teachers received tenure this year, 39 percent were given another year to qualify and 3 percent were rejected.

Five years ago, roughly 99 percent of eligible teachers received tenure, reports the New York Times.

“We’ve turned what had been a joke interpretation of the state law to make it something that you have to work hard, earn, and show that you are better than the average bear” to get, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a news conference.

Under the city’s new standards, teachers are rated on a four-point scale as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on students’ tests scores, classroom observations, feedback from parents, and other factors. (Previously, they were simply rated satisfactory or not.) Principals, who make recommendations on tenure, and supervisors, who make the decisions, were allowed to give tenure only to teachers who were rated effective or better for two consecutive years.

Some teachers complained that evaluation standards are unclear.

Teachers can remain on probationary status indefinitely, “although last year, one-third of those whose probation had been extended were dismissed,” reports the Times.

Pell Grants may be safe — for 2 years

Pell Grants may be safe — for two years, but the student-aid program will have to be rethought. Costs have grown by 182 percent in five years.

Michigan teachers report pressure to cheat

Nearly 30% of Michigan teachers report pressure to cheat on standardized exams, according to a survey by the Detroit Free Press. In addition, 34% of public school educators said administrators, parents or others pressure teachers to change grades.

At schools that don’t meet federal standards, the tension is higher: About 50% say pressure to change grades is an issue, and 46% say pressure to cheat on the tests is a problem.

Some cave in — about 8% say they changed grades within the last school year, and at least 8% admit to some form of cheating to improve a student’s standardized test score.

Another 17% report cheating by a colleague.

However, the most common cheating method — writing down vocabulary words to teach to next year’s classes — doesn’t seem like cheating to me. Does Michigan give exactly the same tests from year to year? That would be asking for trouble.

Two out of three teachers surveyed oppose using standardized tests to gauge student achievement and 95% oppose using standardized tests to make decisions about teacher salaries.

Michigan will base 25% of a teacher’s evaluation on students’ progress by 2013-14; that will rise to 50% in 2015-16.

In addition, the state education department plans to raise standards on the state exam, making it harder to score as proficient. “ACT scores show only 17% of Michigan students leave high school prepared for college,” notes the Free Press.


Civics teachers dispatched to D.C.

With Congress deadlocked on raising the debt ceiling, “a special team of 40 eighth-grade civics teachers was air-dropped into Washington in a last-ditch effort to teach congressional leaders how the government’s legislative process works,” reports The Onion.

“We started them off with the basics, like the difference between a senator and a representative, and then moved on to more complex concepts, like what a resolution is,” Bozeman, MT social studies teacher Heidi Rossmiller told reporters as all 535 members of Congress copied down the definition of “checks and balances” from a whiteboard in the House chamber. “It’s been a bit of an uphill battle, since most of them seemed to have no real sense of how or why a bill is passed, and Sen. [Harry] Reid [D-NV] had to come up to me during a break and ask, ‘Ms. Rossmiller, what happens if Congress can’t reach a compromise?’ But hopefully it will all start to sink in soon.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) stormed out of a lecture on bipartisan cooperation, claiming it was “too hard,” reports The Onion, which is a satirical publication.