Research at Odds with Accepted Math and Science Performance
Despite countless reports on how the United States is falling behind in math and science education, a new report by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy research and educational organization, entitled "Into the Eye of the Storm: Assessing the Evidence on Science and Engineering Education, Quality and Workforce Demand," challenges the conventional wisdom.
The report's authors, the Urban Institute's Hal Salzman and Georgetown University professor B. Lindsay Lowell, show that math, science and reading scores at the primary and secondary level have increased over the past two decades, and U.S. students are basically at the top of international rankings. The report also finds that the U.S. education system produces more science and engineering graduates than the market demands.
President Bush said in his 2006 State of the Union address, "We need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations."
But Salzman and Lowell found the opposite was true - that enrollment in math and science is actually up. The report says in 1982, high school graduates earned 2.6 math credits and 2.2 science credits on average, but by 1998 the average number of credits had increased to 3.5 in math and 3.2 in science. The percentage of students taking chemistry increased from 45 percent in 1990 to 60 percent in 2004.
The report's authors even question the assumption that the United States is best served by being the first in the world in math and science, saying that the goal "confuses means and ends."
"The means to improving education is probably not through a narrow focus on math and science," claims the study. "The math and science deficits are not among the populations who are well-educated but, rather, the research suggests, those with non-school factors that hinder academic performance."
States Grapple with High School Exit Exams
A recent study from the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., says that this school year 65 percent of students will be required to pass one or more exit exams to earn a diploma and graduate from high school.
Other figures from the center say that 22 states are asking all graduating seniors to pass some type of exit exam; four states are working to phase them in.
The tests may seem a simple requirement, but they are proving controversial, especially for schools serving low-income and minority students. Educators are even divided on whether the tests improve education.
Students in Arizona who didn't pass the exam sued last year, saying the state didn't give them enough help. In another lawsuit, a court ordered more funding for ELL students.
A 2006 ruling in California even entitles students who don't pass the state exit exam to receive two years of free tutoring.
Unique Challenges of California Administrators
A new report from the California-based not-for-profit group EdSource, "Superintendents and Principals: Charting the Paths to School Improvement," demystifies the different roles superintendents and principals play in the state's schools and the unique challenges they face, and focuses on the issues of education and school quality from the perspective of district administrators.
The report, available at www.edsource.org, examines the professionals who are at the head of schools and districts, and finds that California administrators as a whole have students who are more disadvantaged than in most other states. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics included in the study indicates that California has a higher percentage of ELLs than any other state and ranks 13th in the number of students living in poverty.
Charts and graphs included in the report also show that the ratio of students to administrators in California is one of the highest in the nation.
Kansas and Louisiana Students Take Bite out of Apple Laptops
Apple recently landed large contracts with the Kansas City (Kan.) School District and Louisiana school districts to supply students with MacBook laptops. Each of the Kansas City district's 5,000 high school students will receive a laptop for use at school and at home, and 3,530 students throughout Louisiana (two classes of sixth-grade students in each school district) will receive in total about $5 million in hardware and software appropriated by the state.
The rolling out of computers in Louisiana is through Governor Kathleen Blanco's Turn On to Learning (TOTL) research program designed to measure the impact of 1-to-1 learning with laptops for sixth-graders.
"TOTL delivers on my promise to provide laptops to middle schools," says Blanco. She also says that one day all Louisiana schools will feature laptop computers.
The Louisiana laptops have wireless capabilities allowing for connection to overhead projectors and are equipped with the latest software.
The Kansas City project aims to better prepare students for college, and administrators say that taking the laptops home will allow students to delve deeper into subjects. A report from The Kansas City Star says principals there have lamented for years about their students not having computers at home and have feared their students being behind their peers by the time they get to college.
To prevent theft, each Kansas City laptop has a GPS tracking device installed and a sticker identifying it as Kansas City public school property, which allegedly cannot be removed without virtually destroying the laptop.
E-rate Filing Made Easier with New Tool
The Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the federal E-rate program, recently announced the opening and closing dates of the Funding Year 2008 E-rate Form 471 filing window: November 7, 2007, and February 7, 2008, respectively.
The announcement comes on the heels of the release of the new Form 471 Wizard, a new component of the E-rate Manager Services off ered by Funds for Learning, the nation's leading E-rate funding compliance services firm. The Manager Services is a Web-based solution that helps district technology and IT directors manage E-rate related business, and the new Form 471 Wizard allows the applicant to gather in one central location the multiple pieces of information required to complete the application.
Says Funds for Learning CEO John Harrington, "[The Wizard] simplifies the process to ensure they receive the funding they need."
Getting Smart from Working Out
With kids today having multiple options to be sedentary, from cable television and DVDs to the Internet and video games, a new study financed by the National Institutes of Health further stresses the importance of exercise, as it reports that kids who are more physically active might be working out their brains in addition to their bodies.
The study, carried out by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, found that children between the ages of 7 and 11 who play vigorously for just 20 to 40 minutes a day may be better able to organize schoolwork, resist impulses and learn mathematics.
Children were divided into three groups for the three-month study, and among the findings was that those in the 40-minute activity group increased about 4 points on a cognitive-performance scale. Those in the 20-minute group showed approximately half the improvement.
"School systems need to know that to reach their achievement targets, they need to add physical activity to the school day rather than reduce it," says Catherine Davis, associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College.
Utah Voters Say No to Vouchers
Voters in Utah killed what would have been the nation's first statewide school voucher program promising tax dollars for private tuition regardless of how much a family earned or whether students were in poorly performing schools.
It was the first voucher election in the United States since 2000, when voters in Michigan and California rejected plans to subsidize private schools.
With a conservative electorate, a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled legislature, Utah was seen nationally as a key test of voter sentiment for vouchers. But opponents, including the National Education Association, which spent nearly $3.2 million on the campaign against vouchers, persuaded residents to say no.
Voucher supporters, such as the Utahbased Parents for Choice in Education, contended the program would reduce class sizes in public schools, give parents a choice that's not dictated by where they live or what they can afford, and improve public schools through competition.
Vik Arnold, director of government relations for the Utah Education Association (UEA), says there is "little merit" to the voucher supporters' claims and that the program, if enacted, would have earmarked almost $430 million for private schools and done little to improve the quality of the state's public schools.
Says Kim Campbell, a voucher opponent and UEA president, "It's a big relief, and it's an expression of support for Utah's schools."