Consumer Reports for textbooks

EdReports.org wants to be the Consumer Reports for textbooks and other instructional materials. The nonprofit will review materials for alignment to the Common Core, usability, teacher support and differentiation.

The first reviews, due out in a few months, will deal with Pearson’s enVision Math, McGraw-Hill’s Everyday Math, Houghton Mifflin’s Go Math and other widely used K-8 math curricula.

Classroom teachers will be the evaluators, reports Politico.

The non-profit is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Textbook quality matters, writes USC Education Professor Morgan Polikoff on Common Core Watch. And improving textbook quality is a lot easier than improving teacher quality.

First, textbooks aren’t people. There is no union seeking to protect the interests of textbooks.

. . . Second, textbooks and online curricular materials can be improved over time through research and tinkering in ways that teacher effectiveness cannot. Especially if we collect better data, we potentially could learn about effectiveness at a granular level—for instance, which of these X lessons is the best at getting Y type of kids to learn division of fractions?

. . . Third, textbooks are incredibly cheap relative to other educational inputs. While U.S. schools spend billions on textbooks annually, the per-student cost of curriculum materials is, at most, 1 or 2 percent. …choosing a high-quality textbook over a low-quality one may be as effective as moving kids from a fiftieth-percentile teacher to a seventy-fifth-percentile teacher.

Common Core creates a nearly-national market for learning materials, Polikoff points out. There’s a very strong incentive for publishers to get this right.

Polikoff also hopes EdReports.org will “call out” the “dreadful assignments” that pop up in social media as “Common Core curriculum.”

One very big kindergarten

Brenda Scott Academy kindergartners come together in May to work on a Mother’s Day project. The three teachers, Sarah Hay, Michaela McArthur and Sara Ordaz, regroup the children for different lessons. Credit: Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press

 

Three teachers and a part-time aide are teaching nearly 100 kindergarteners in the “hub” (formerly the library) of a low-performing Detroit school, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Each teacher has a homeroom, math and reading class. For reading and math, kids are put in a high-, middle- or low-level group and move to the corresponding teacher’s section. There, activities can include whole-group lessons, small-group lessons and instructional games on laptops. Writing is taught in homeroom.

The entire group spends time together, too, such as on a day in May when about 70 students (a number were absent) sat on a rug to watch a teacher demonstrate how to cut out a paper watering can from an outline. A paraprofessional helps out two hours a day.

Grouping students by performance lets advanced students “really push each other, and just excel that much more and that much faster,” teacher Sara Ordaz said. “The same thing with our lowest kids.”

Many are skeptical.

“I would never put my child in that kind of experience,” said Joan Firestone, director of early childhood education for Oakland Schools.  “I think it’s too chaotic. There’s too many kids and too few adults.”

MOOKs (Massive Outrageous One-room Kindergarten) are a very bad idea, writes Nancy Flanagan on Teacher in a Strange Land.

Open classrooms were a fad in the ’70s. It didn’t work then.

But it’s possible to group students by performance without putting 90+ five-year-olds in the same large room. Elementary teachers did it in the ’50s. I believe I was a Robin. Or possibly a Bluebird.

Special ed kids sort trash, parents complain

Special ed students won’t be assigned to sort trash as part of a “life skills” class at a Southern California high school. Patriot High special-ed students were told to go through campus bins to find recyclables that had been thrown away.

Jurupa Unified Superintendent Elliot Duchon apologized to angry parents for the assignment.

“It is disgusting,” said Carmen Wells, who complained after learning her autistic son was digging through trash on his first day as a high school freshman.

Algebra or statistics?

Poorly prepared college students were more likely to pass college-level statistics than remedial algebra, in a controlled experiment at three New York City community colleges. Statistics is more useful to students in non-STEM majors, some believe.

School cops want semi-automatic weapons

A man holds a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle- similiar to what police will be armed with in Compton  Photo: Getty

A man holds a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Photo: Getty

School police will be armed with semi-automatic weapons in the gang-ridden Los Angeles suburb of Compton.

Officers say they need AR-15 assault weapons to prevent a massacre. Some recent school shooters have used rifles with high capacity magazines and worn body armor.

William Wu, Compton police chief, told the school board that rifles are more accurate than handguns and could “save lives.”

Some students and parents “expressed concern” over the militarization of the campus police force, reports the Telegraph.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Janice Campbell is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling.

16-year-old arrested for ‘killing’ dinosaur

Assigned to write a Facebook-style “status” update about himself, a 16-year-old South Carolina boy wrote that he’d “killed my neighbor’s pet dinosaur.” In a second “status,” Alex Stone used the word “gun” and the phrase “take care of the business.”

He was arrested for disorderly conduct and led away in handcuffs. Stone also was suspended from Summerville High School.

“Summerville police officials say Stone’s bookbag and locker were searched on Tuesday, and a gun was not found,” reports NBC.

But did they search for the dead dinosaur?

Who wants schools run like businesses?

“Today’s education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy,” wrote David Kirp in a New York Times op-ed.

Don’t beat up the strawman, responds Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk. The only people who think schools should run like businesses are business people. It would be more accurate to say that “reformers believe there are lessons to be learned from other sectors, including business, the non-profit sector, the military, medicine, and other professions.”

Kirp also writes, “High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.”

Who says this? asks Eduwonk. It’s not reformers.

To varying degrees reformers believe that accountability systems can’t capture everything that matters about schools and the best way to capture those other elements is by giving parents choice.

. . . the only people essentially arguing that test scores or similar metrics alone are the only way to judge schools are those (who) . . . believe that more centralized systems, like those often found in Europe, provide more coherence and that choice is a distraction.

You won’t find those people in the reform world, he writes.

“Structural reform” is “a way to increase the quality of relationships that educators have with each other – and with their students,” writes Neerav Kingland, who also urges mercy for strawmen.

ACT: College readiness gap is wide

Only 26 percent of 2014 graduates who took the ACT are prepared to succeed in college, according to ACT’s college readiness report. Another 13 percent passed three out of four benchmarks in English, reading, math and science. Thirty-one percent didn’t pass a single benchmark and 16 percent passed only one.

That’s no worse than in previous years, despite the growing number of students taking the test.

Nationwide, 57 percent of the class of 2014 took the ACT. While 86 percent want to go to college, but some live in states that require all students to take a college admissions exam. Last year, only 69 percent of ACT test takers actually enrolled in college that fall.

A student who meets a benchmark has a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher, or a 75 chance of a C or higher in first-year college courses, estimates ACT.

While 57 percent of Asian-Americans and 49 percent of whites met three or more benchmarks, that dropped to 23 percent for Latinos and 11 percent for  African-American test-takers.

Overall, 64 percent of test takers tested as college-ready in English, 44 percent in reading, 43 percent in math and 37 percent in science.

Average composite scores ranged from 23.5 for Asians, 22.3 for whites, 18.8 for Latinos and 17 for blacks.

Massachusetts students had the highest composite score, 24.3 points. Hawaii ranked lowest, with an average of 18.2.

40% of transfers lose all credits

More than a third of college students transfer, losing an average of 13 college credits, according to a new federal study. Nearly 40 percent of transfer students get no credit at all, losing nearly a full year of credits, on average. That costs them time and money.