## Tennessee bill cuts welfare if kid fails

Welfare parents could lose up to 30 percent of their aid if their child fails in school, under a bill in the Tennessee legislature, reports Ed Week. Special-education students would be exempt.

Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield wants to penalize parents whose child is held back for poor performance — unless parents enroll the child in tutoring, attend a parenting course or attend “multiple” parent-teacher conferences. ”It’s really just something to try to get parents involved with their kids,” Campfield told the Tennessean. “We have to do something.”

Tennessee already docks welfare parents up to 25 percent of aid if their child is truant.

## Can ‘number sense’ be taught?

First graders with poor “number sense” rarely catch up in math skills, concludes a University of Missouri study. But it’s not clear how parents or preschools can teach number sense.

What’s involved? Understanding that numbers represent different quantities — that three dots is the same as the numeral “3″ or the word “three.” Grasping magnitude — that 23 is bigger than 17. Getting the concept that numbers can be broken into parts — that 5 is the same as 2 and 3, or 4 and 1. Showing on a number line that the difference between 10 and 12 is the same as the difference between 20 and 22.

Factors such as IQ and attention span didn’t explain why some first-graders did better than others.

Math learning disabilities often aren’t diagnosed till fifth grade, much too late, says Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke, of NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

David Geary, who conducted the Missouri study, thinks parents can help children develop number sense before they start school.  NIH’s Mann Koepke urges parents to talk to young children about “magnitude, numbers, distance, shapes as soon as they’re born.”

– Don’t teach your toddler to count solely by reciting numbers. Attach numbers to a noun — “Here are five crayons: One crayon, two crayons…” or say “I need to buy two yogurts” as you pick them from the store shelf — so they’ll absorb the quantity concept.

– Talk about distance: How many steps to your ball? The swing is farther away; it takes more steps.

– Describe shapes: The ellipse is round like a circle but flatter.

– As they grow, show children how math is part of daily life, as you make change, or measure ingredients, or decide how soon to leave for a destination 10 miles away,

However, researchers don’t really know why some kids get that 3, three and xxx are the same thing and others don’t. Children with poor phonemic awareness need to work harder to distinguish the sounds in a word. Perhaps some kids need to work harder — or differently — to see mathematical relationships.

## Parents blame parents for bad schools

Most Americans support school accountability, but also want to hold parents accountable too, concludes Will It Be on the Test? by the Kettering Foundation and Public Agenda. Based on focus groups held around the country, the report compares the views of parents and reform leaders.

Many see the accountability movement as “profoundly incomplete because it provides so few answers to problems they see as pivotal—too many irresponsible parents, too many unmotivated students, too little support from the community, and messages from society that undermine learning and education.

Only 29 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools, according to Gallup polls. That’s “a new low in public school confidence,” Gallup reports. In the early 1970s, 58 percent were confident of public school quality.

Just 2 percent of parents thought that the drive to raise standards in public schools should “be stopped and things should go back to the way they were.”

. . . surveys show continuing support for the basic goals of the accountability movement—that American children can and should learn at higher levels, that students from all backgrounds should have the chance to succeed, and that principals and teachers should be well trained and energetic in helping students learn. In fact, more than half of the parents (56 percent) say that enacting proposals to measure teacher effectiveness based on student performance should be a top priority for education reform.

In some cases, parents identify areas they believe need more attention (parent involvement and student behavior, for example). In others, they point to reforms that seem to them to be getting out of hand (testing, the drive to close poorly performing schools).

Most parents value neighborhood schools, even if they’re not performing well, and want to seem them improved,  not closed, the report found.

## No time for parents

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who paid for a nursery next to her office to care for her new baby, has told telecommuting employees to come back to the office.

Corporate America doesn’t respect parenting, writes Penelope Trunk, who commends Mayer’s “honesty about how people deal with work-life conflict.”

Because look: Marissa Mayer is the CEO, she gets to do whatever she wants. If it’s a bad recruiting policy then she will have to change it. But for now, what Mayer is saying is that she only wants to work with people who don’t have a personal life. She doesn’t have a conflict between work and home because she puts work first, and she wants to work with other people who do the same.

Trunk, a recent convert to homeschooling, blames schools for telling kids to work hard so they can get a “big job.” Homeschoolers can raise their kids to be good people and good parents.

I don’t follow the logic. Most homeschoolers — and school schoolers — want their kids to grow up to be good people with good jobs.

In Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to make career success a priority. But not everyone wants to be a corporate honcho.

Emily Matcher’s Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity looks at why women (and a few men) are leaving corporate jobs for quilting, canning, cupcake baking — and raising children on the family goat farm. (My daughter is Matcher’s agent, so I have an advance copy.)

## Superintendent suspended for poverty quotes

Oklahoma’s new A-F report card for schools closely tracks the poverty rate, reports the Daily Oklahoman. However, the one-school Ryal district — all low-income, mostly Native American, 40 percent in special ed — earned a B.

Now Superintendent Scott Trower, who turned around a school ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, has been suspended by the school board. He talked too vividly about Ryal families’ multi-generational poverty in an Oklahoman story on how Ryal is teaching very disadvantaged students.

“Sometimes students climb onto the school bus wearing socks but no shoes, even in the wintertime,” the story starts.

(Trower) drives down into the Ryal Bottoms, a floodplain of the North Canadian River where many students live.

A maze of dirt roads is lined by tangled barbed wire and gnarly scrub oaks.

“Meth and alcoholism rule down here,” Trower said.

Some students live in prefabricated sheds without electricity, plumbing or heat, said Trower, who was hired in May, 2011. Many parents don’t work. Some parents don’t see the need for their children to go to high school.

“They’re going to go home tonight and it’s going to be freezing cold,” Trower said. “They won’t eat until they come back to school the next day. And we expect them to score proficient or higher on state tests? It’s survival. It’s just basic survival.”

At the K-8 school, which serves about 70 students, each student has a personal learning plan. Students feel cared for, Trower told the newspaper.

Teachers pick students up in the mornings and take them home at night. They feed the kids, buy them clothes.

Trower got grants to buy iPads for each student, which has helped teachers personalize learning.

In the kindergarten class, students sat with headphones on, listening to phonics sounds and picking out letters and words on a screen.

Last year, the average student was two grade levels behind in reading. Now, most have caught up, reports the Oklahoman.  “Kids will rise to the expectations,” Trower said.

Locals say students have shoes and most live in homes with electricity, writes John Thompson on This Week in Education. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has called on Trower to resign.

## Cherry-picking isn’t just for fruit anymore

Cherry-picking: It Isn’t Just For Fruit Anymore, reports Students Last, a satirical site.

Philadelphia – Global Alliance Charter School is scrambling today to respond to questions from the School District of Philadelphia about its complicated and some say overbearing application process.

The application, which is more than 10-pages in length, requires  a 3,000-word essay, responses to 20 short-answer questions, proof of citizenship for the child and parents, three recommendations, and an interview. Additionally, parents of Global applicants have to complete a lengthy obstacle course which includes:  outrunning a pack of wild dogs, scaling an 8-foot fence, bench pressing their own body weight and trying to stay awake while watching, “Won’t Back Down” (a movie about turning a public school into a charter school).

Meanwhile, The Onion (also satire) reports that Chinese third graders have fallen behind U.S. high school students in math and science on international tests.

“This is certainly a wake-up call for China,” said Dr. Michael Fornasier, an IEA senior fellow and coauthor of the report. “Simply put, how can these third-graders be expected to eventually compete in the global marketplace if they’re only receiving the equivalent of a U.S. high school education?”

“The majority of Chinese third-graders are now a full year behind the average U.S. 12th-grader in their knowledge of calculus,” The Onion reports. In addition, third graders in Germany, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland and New Guinea have fallen behind U.S. 12th-graders in physics.

In more satirical news, a new federal law will set C- as the minimum grade in schools across the country. Some argue this is too low: California now requires a minimum grade of B+.

## Tiger Rhee

In Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, Michelle Rhee touts her skills at firing people — and buying them off — writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in a Wall Street Journal review of the book.

To get union approval for performance pay and a new teacher evaluation system, Rhee raised millions of dollars from foundations.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty backed Rhee — and lost his bid for re-election. Rhee resigned from the chancellorship and founded StudentsFirst to lobby for school reform.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Rhee “was urged by her Tiger Mom to go to law school,” writes Riley. Instead, she volunteered for Teach for America.  She almost quit after her first year at a tough Baltimore school, but her father told her to finish what she’d started. In her second year, she asked for advice from the best teachers and found new ways to “push her students harder and keep them interested.”

As chancellor in D.C., Rhee “became livid” when she learned a sign at a Washington school that read: “Teachers cannot make up for what parents and students will not do,” Riley writes. As a Tiger Reformer, Rhee thinks effort always pays off.

When she was a child, Rhee attended school in Seoul, South Korea for several months, she writes in Radical. Every child in her class of 70 was ranked, publicly. “Rather than damaging the souls of the less accomplished, the rankings focused every family on moving their children up the ladder.”

## Only one good school?

West Philadelphia parents are demanding spots in their neighborhood’s K-8 school, which now uses a lottery instead of first come, first enrolled. Penn Alexander, which is supported by Penn, is an excellent school, writes the Philadelphia Daily News. “Why hasn’t the district done more to replicate . . . success?

“In a large system, your shining examples cannot just be islands unto themselves,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of Philadelphia School Partnership. ”They need to be part of the effort to create more schools like their own.”

Since it opened in September 2001, PAS has attracted middle-class families to West Philadelphia, helped to increase home prices in its catchment area by tens of thousands of dollars and established a strong community in an area once plagued by crime.

Other popular schools in the city typically have strong parental involvement and partnerships with outside cultural organizations and businesses.

Penn Alexander caps class size at 18 children in kindergarten and 24 in other grade levels. It receives \$1,330 extra per student, up to \$700,000, from the university. The Graduate School of Education supplies student teachers and offers training to experienced teachers. ”But the money alone does not make it a great school,” Gleason said. “It helps. By itself, it doesn’t change anything.”

Education-minded families have been moving to the Spruce Hill neighborhood to send their kids to Penn Alexander, sending property values soaring, reports the Daily News. Plan Philly estimates a house inside the school’s boundaries fetches \$50,000 to \$100,000 more than one a block away.

## How charters get motivated students

Some charter schools screen students for motivation by requiring lengthy applications, essays or interview, writes Stephanie Simon on Reuters.

Five states – Florida, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas – let some charter schools screen applicants by academic performance, Simon writes. Alaska, Delaware and North Carolina let charter schools give admissions preference to students who demonstrate interest in the school’s educational focus, such as technology or performing arts. Most are required to admit students by lottery. But first students have to apply.

Roseland Accelerated Middle School, a charter school in Santa Rosa, California, won’t even enter applicants into the lottery until they have proved their mettle by writing a five-page autobiography (with no errors in grammar or spelling, the form warns), as well as a long essay and six short essays. Applicants also must provide recommendations, report cards and statements from their parents or guardians and submit a medical history, including a list of all medications they take.

Gail Ahlas, superintendent of the public school district that oversees the charter, says the process isn’t meant to exclude anyone, but to “set the tone” for the school as a rigorous college-prep environment.

Many charters specialize in serving low-income and minority children, Reuters concedes. These use simple application forms. Most for-profit charter school chains also make it easy to apply. But some charters ask for more.

No

rthland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff, Arizona requires parents to attend one of three information sessions to pick up an application form. “It’s kind of like a time share (pitch),” said Bob Lombardi, the superintendent. “You have to come and listen.” (The arts middle school — a district-run magnet — in Portland, Oregon has the same policy.)

Some charter principals told Reuters they use the application to ensure students really want to be at their school.

Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, a top-rated charter school outside of Los Angeles, uses a multistep application that requires assessment exams in math and English and a family interview.

Principal Esau Berumen said he does not screen prospective students for academic ability. But, he said, the process is demanding enough that about 10 percent drop out before the lottery – leaving him with a pool of kids he knows are motivated to embrace the rigors of his curriculum.

“If there’s any skimming off the top, it’s on effort and drive,” Berumen said.

Heather Davis-Jones tells Reuters it was a challenge to enroll her eight-year-old daughter, Shakia, in a charter school in Philadelphia. ”But I felt like I needed to do whatever it took to get her into a better school. If they want me to stand on my hands for 10 days, I’ll do it.” Her daughter got into one of the charter schools and loves it.

The Preuss School at the University of California, San Diego serves only low-income students who parents aren’t college graduates. But Preuss wants low-income, first-generation students with “aptitude, drive and parental support,” writes Simon.

The 23-page application requires students to hand-write a long essay and several short-answer questions. They must submit a graded writing sample from their old school, and then explain what they learned from the assignment and how they could have done better. They must provide three recommendations.

And their parents must respond to a page of questions, including: “Describe what type of service you will contribute to this school. Please be specific.” If they don’t speak English, parents are asked to secure help from a translator.

Principal Scott Barton said students’ writing skill doesn’t matter. The application is designed to screen out students who lack “the motivation and the potential to succeed.”

Even when charters use simple applications, they’re enrolling students whose parents care enough to find an alternative to the neighborhood school, says Mike Petrilli of Fordham, a charter advocate.

That’s true. Parents who choose a school — charter, magnet or whatever — are showing extra motivation that may be passed on to their children. If their children’s classmates also have parents who care about education, even better. I wish school districts would create more of their own schools of choice to give parents more chances to find a “right fit” with similarly inclined classmates.

Nationwide, charter schools “enroll a greater percentage of low-income students than traditional public schools (46 percent versus 41 percent), black and Latino students (27 percent versus 15 percent and 26 percent versus 22 percent, respectively), and students who perform lower on standardized tests before transferring to public charter schools,” responds the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Charters aren’t creaming the best students, responds the Center for Education Reform, which charges the story distorted its school lunch data. While 40 percent of charters don’t participate in the federal lunch program — the rules are too burdensome — most “feed all of their students,” CER data reports. The story also mischaracterizes state policy on charter admissions, CER charges.

Nationwide, suspension and expulsion rates are lower for charter schools than for traditional public schools, according to federal data published in Ed Week. However, the rates vary in different cities and the data is not complete. Charters in New Orleans are standardizing discipline policies. All expelled students in the city are sent to the same alternative charter school.

Preschool can’t compensate for poor parenting, editorializes USA Today.

A few small, high-quality programs have shown enduring benefits for at-risk kids. But intensive study of Head Start, the nation’s largest and oldest preschool program, finds that the beneficial effects, which are real, wear off by third grade.

. . . Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960.

Children born to unmarried mothers usually lose contact with their father by the age of 5, researchers have found. Without a strong role model, boys “are more likely to turn to gangs and crime.”  Single mothers ”

read less to their children, are more likely to use harsh discipline and are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime.” It adds up.

What if there is nothing the government can do for low-income children to improve their educational performance?” asks David Hogberg. Parents reading to toddlers shows a lasting educational benefit, he writes. “A study in Child Development found that only about half of low-income mothers were reading regularly to their children.”  Is it hopeless?

In Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, Fordham’s Checker Finn argues against tax-funded preschool for all children and expores which children need it, who should provide it and “what’s the right balance between socialization and systematic instruction.”