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U.S. Students Move Up in Math and Science

Critics who argue that the United States lags behind its international peers in the education rankings might find some evidence to the contrary in the recent results of a major international assessment, which shows fourth- and eighth-graders making strong gains in math and modest improvements in science.

“The message for the country is that we’re improving in mathematics, particularly at the 10th percentile,” or the lowest performing students, says Patrick Gonzales, the U.S. coordinator for the test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS ), at the Department of Education. “In science, there are more mixed results.”

U.S. fourth-graders scored 529, on average, in math, which is higher than the TIMSS scale average of 500, and they scored 539 in science. Eighth-graders scored 508 in math and 520 in science.

Some experts, while supportive of the results, say the devil may be in the details. Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit education organization, cautions that the U.S. results are relative. More developing countries participated in TIMSS this year than in previous years, and so while the results are heartening, “there is still much work that needs to be done,” he says.

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, offers another perspective: If the United States were in the international education emergency room, our vital signs would now be stable. “However, all the other patients are getting better faster. It’s time to ask, ‘What do we need to do to catch up with the others?’”


Newark Schools’ Learning Revolution

Big changes are afoot in Newark (N.J.) Public Schools, where a new initiative to curb the dropout rate will develop and open ten new schools and programs over the next two years.

Through the Newark-Alternative High School Initiative (AHSI) Partnership, the city and district will work with partners such as Rutgers University and Newark Alliance to ensure that students struggling in traditional high school settings, including out-of-school youth, have the opportunity to graduate prepared for college, work and life.

The partnership will open a portfolio of innovative high school models in existing school buildings, including three Big Picture Learning schools, which offer a rigorous personalized curriculum; four new Performance Learning Centers; and two or more Diploma Plus schools, which allow students to progress at their own pace.


N.Y. District Pioneers a Different Kind of Advanced Placement

Since our April 2007 article, “Certifying AP Courses,” in which Scarsdale (N.Y.) Public Schools Superintendent Michael McGill offered his thoughts—and concerns—regarding the merits of phasing out College Board-sponsored Advanced Placement classes, the school system has pared down its AP course offerings. From 18 classes to a mere five, it has 13 new “Advanced Topics” courses now taking center stage.

Although the district’s academic performance was never in question, Scarsdale High officials felt they could accomplish more without having to “race through” a curriculum in preparation for a standardized exam.

Because of the change, which has led to original courses like “Inventing Gotham: New York City and the American Dream,” most students and teachers are praising the curriculum for replacing memorization with more sophisticated and creative learning avenues.

Many exclusive private schools have done away with AP courses in recent years, but McGill says Scarsdale High has “set a precedent” for high-achieving public schools with its AT approach.

“Teachers felt it would be valuable to teach the courses with a depth and richness” that gave more time for critical analysis and for examining connections, says McGill.

Art students, for instance, are able to draw large-scale works rather than being confined to the College Board’s 18-by-24- inch parameters. Physics students are able to study string theory, and the advanced government class takes a three-day field trip to conduct research at Harvard’s Kennedy School.


Arne Duncan in the Spotlight

Here’s the scoop on the newly appointed U.S. education secretary:

In Chicago’s public schools, where 85 percent of the 400,000-plus students live below the poverty line, test scores, attendance and teacher retention rose significantly during his seven-year tenure; the dropout rate sharply declined.

He is credited with closing struggling schools, advocating merit pay for teachers, and adopting a program that uses private money to reward children for better grades.

Duncan supported a boom in charter schools with diverse models, from military academies to single-sex schools.

His vision of reform centers on boosting teacher quality and supporting students with added services such as after-school programs.

He worked for six years with the Ariel Education Initiative, which works to create educational opportunities for inner-city students on Chicago’s South Side.

The administrator played professional basketball in Australia from 1987 to 1991 and has been known to play pickup games with Barack Obama.


The Legacy of Educator Jim Tice

James “Jim” Knox Tice of Strafford, Mo., passed away on December 8, 2008, at the age of 74 years. Those close to him and education experts say his passing may hit hardest for the children of Missouri, where Tice—a former superintendent of both the Sullivan and Strafford school districts and a distance education pioneer—was one of their biggest advocates.

Tice consistently devoted his professional life to the question “What can we do to help the children?” He was a beloved member of the educational community in Missouri and a regular fixture at national education conferences. He served in many different roles since the 1950s: coach, teacher, administrator and educational consultant in the Springbluff, Sullivan, Strafford and Springfield areas. His most recent role was research associate for the Missouri Virtual school at Missouri State University.

“Jim was one of our great educators, because no matter how important his title or position became, he never forgot his number one constituency—the students,” says DA publisher Dan Kinnaman.




Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennett has been named to fill a Senate vacancy by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter that was created by the nomination of Sen. Ken Salazar to be Obama’s interior secretary.



Tony Bennett, Indiana’s new superintendent of public instruction, supports vouchers that force public and private schools to compete for state money, as well as small school district consolidation.



Connie Calloway has been dismissed as superintendent of Detroit Public Schools after less than 18 months. The school board attributes their decision to her alleged mismanagement of the district’s budget.



Ramon Cortines took over Los Angeles schools as superintendent on January 1 under a three-year contract. Educators say he can help the district recover from a financial crisis and improve graduation rates.



Anne Keehn is new VP of sales and business development at eCollege, a Pearson company and top provider of e-learning solutions and services. She has more than 25 years of experience in education technology.