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News Update

News Update


Three States Eye Bold Change for Schools

Talk is cheap when it comes to high school reform, but three states—Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Utah—are doing just that as they experiment with some new ideas to prepare students for a competitive workforce and global economy.

The states are pioneering programs closely aligned with proposals laid out among a set of education reforms in a 2006 report by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Among the changes being implemented are college at age 16, teacher-run schools, and state exams featuring teacher-determined assignments.

“This is a challenging time of initiating such a change movement,” says Massachusetts education secretary Paul Reville, referring to the economic downturn, “but the cost of not initiating this scope and scale of change far exceeds in the long run the cost of doing it.”

One recommendation in the report, Tough Choices or Tough Times, is to ensure that children have the supports they need to do well in school. In response, Massachusetts has created a Child and Youth Readiness Cabinet, a panel that will share health, social services, and education information in a student data system.

The report also urges that teaching be treated as a quality profession on par with other jobs, so Utah has begun raising teacher salaries to recruit top college graduates. The state also created the 21st Century Workforce Initiative to address the fact that almost 60 percent of its high school graduates don’t move on to postsecondary education.

In New Hampshire, education officials are considering a state board exam that echoes one of the report’s key proposals: for all students to demonstrate that they’re ready for the next level of education, even though they might arrive there at different paces.

One possible model for the exam is the University of Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education, which includes an exam as well as a series of assignments graded by teachers.


Community Colleges in the Spotlight

The brightest high school seniors often vie for a spot at some of the most prestigious—and expensive—universities, but in the current economy community colleges are also enjoying their fair share of attention.

A recent survey of 2,500 users of the Web site, an Internet service providing information on colleges and scholarships, found almost 60 percent of graduating seniors were considering a less prestigious school for money reasons as a result of the economy.

In addition, an unprecedented range of policymakers and philanthropic organizations are also setting their sights on community colleges to wrestle with some of education’s most intractable problems—low achievement for poor and minority students, and embarrassing college completion rates.

Prominent foundations such as Lumina, Kellogg and Ford have begun focusing on community colleges, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced it would spend up to half a billion dollars over the next four years on a college completion initiative. The initial focus of the program would be on twoyear schools.

“More young people are enrolled in college this year than ever before,” Melinda Gates said during the announcement of the initiative. “But the payoff doesn’t come with enrolling in college; the payoff comes when a student gets a postsecondary degree that helps them get a job with a family wage.”


English for the 21st Century

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the National Council of Teachers of English (NC TE) have recently announced their completion of a framework that will provide educators and administrators with teacher-created models of how 21st-century skills can be infused into English classes.

The 21st Century Skills and English Map highlights the connections between English and new literacy skills and demonstrates how the integration of 21st-century skills into the English curriculum can support teaching and learning and prepare students to eventually become productive U.S. citizens.

The map includes specific student outcomes and project models. For example, a project for fourth-graders involves reading folktales and reviewing cartoons. After the lessons, students can write their own contemporary version of a folktale and present it as a stopmotion or Claymation film. Such an activity, the framework developers say, helps students learn how to communicate new ideas to others and demonstrate inventiveness in schoolwork.

The English map is the second in a series of core content maps being released this year. (The social studies framework is featured in this issue of DA.) Additional maps for math, geography and science will be revealed over the course of this year.


People Watch


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