Monthly Archives: July 2009

Is Teach for America costing unionized teachers their jobs?

USA Today reports:

Despite a lingering recession, state budget crises and widespread teacher hiring slowdowns, Teach For America (TFA) has grown steadily, delighting supporters and giving critics a bad case of heartburn as it expands to new cities and builds a formidable alumni base of young people willing to teach for two years in some of the USA’s toughest public schools.

Nationwide, about 7,300 young people are expected to teach under TFA’s banner, up from 6,200 last year. TFA is expanding from 29 regions to 35, including Dallas, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

But critics say the growth in many cities is coming at the expense of experienced teachers who are losing their jobs — in some cases, they say, to make room for TFA, which brings in teachers at beginners’ salary levels and underwrites training.

In Boston, TFA corps members replaced 20 pink-slipped teachers, says Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman. “These are people who have been trained, who are experienced and who have good evaluations, and are being replaced by brand-new employees.”

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As school budgets shrink, class sizes increas

The Associated Press reports (via Yahoo! News) that the economic crisis has caused many states to reduce their public education budgets by laying off teachers, which in turn is creating larger average class sizes. Much research going back decades suggests that larger classes tend to be poorer learning environments for students.

The economic impact of community colleges

Two recent news articles look at the impact of community colleges on the economy.

This article from TIME Magazine profiles Austin Community College and discusses how community colleges in general can more rapidly meet the changing needs of industry than most four-year institutions.

This piece in the New York Times describes how some government-funded worker retraining efforts, many of which are centered on community colleges, sometimes fall short of expectations.

New study adds to evidence that grades depend partially on attractiveness

NEWSWEEK reports:

If you survived high school, or hope to, you probably made your peace with the fact that life is unfair: looks can compensate for a lack of brains and conscientiousness. Or to put it more bluntly, teachers give good-looking kids higher grades than homely ones, all other factors being equal, as numerous studies have found. The phenomenon is so well documented in science it even has a name: the attractiveness effect.

Now sociologist Michael T. French of the University of Miami and his colleagues have discovered yet another reason for plain kids with less-than-winning personalities to feel that the deck is stacked against them. In a paper on “Effects of Physical Attractiveness, Personality and Grooming on Academic Performance in High School“, to be published in the August issue of Labour Economics, they find that the three factors in their title indeed affect students’ GPA in high school. (Attractiveness, personality and grooming might affect grades in K-8, as well as college, too, but the researchers looked only at high school.) Physical attractiveness, they conclude, “has a positive and statistically significant impact on GPA for female students,” as other studies have found (the effect also exists for males, but not in a statistically significant way—that is, it may be due to chance). But in a departure from past studies, they find that personality and grooming can boost GPA even more than beauty.

Texas: U.S. history classes join biology as battleground for ‘culture war’

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Texas Board of Education, which recently approved new science standards that made room for creationist critiques of evolution, is revising the state’s social studies curriculum. In early recommendations from outside experts appointed by the board, a divide has opened over how central religious theology should be to the teaching of history.

Three reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

“We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it,” said Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister and one of the reviewers appointed by the conservative camp.

Three other reviewers, all selected by politically moderate or liberal members of the board, recommended less-sweeping changes to the existing curriculum. But one suggested including more diverse role models, especially Latinos, in teaching materials. “We have tended to exclude or marginalize the role of Hispanic and Native American participants in the state’s history,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, chairman of the history department at Texas State University.

In related news – Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has appointed Gail Lowe, described by critics as a creationism supporter, to head the Texas Board of Education (link to story from The Examiner [of Texas]). Perry describes Lowe as an ‘exemplary leader’ (link to story from the Houston Chronicle).

Does the U.S. face a shortage of scientists and engineers?

USA Today reports:

As the push to train more young people in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — careers gains steam, a few prominent skeptics are warning that it may be misguided — and that rhetoric about the USA losing its world pre-eminence in science, math and technology may be a stretch.

One example: Numbers from the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics issued Tuesday showed the unemployment rate for electrical engineers hit a record high, 8.6%, in the second quarter, more than doubling from 4.1% in the first quarter.

The rate for all engineers climbed to 5.5%, up from 3.9% in the first quarter. Those are still better than the nation’s overall unemployment rate of 9.7%, but the world is also still minting thousands of new graduates.

U.S. colleges graduated about 460,000 scientists and engineers combined in 2005 (many in social and behavioral sciences), according to the National Science Foundation.

Meanwhile, emerging nations such as India and China produced nearly 700,000 engineers alone. But the slow growth of U.S.-born STEM workers, analysts say, may have less to do with funding commitments than with cloudy career paths and low wages relative to other specialized careers such as medicine, law and finance.

Among the most vocal critics: Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York, which funds basic scientific, economic and civic research. He says there are “substantially more scientists and engineers” graduating from the USA’s universities than can find attractive jobs.

“Indeed, science and engineering careers in the U.S. appear to be relatively unattractive” compared with other career paths, he told Congress in 2007.

Texas high schools no longer required to offer health education

The AP (via Texas Cable News) reports:

Health class will no longer be a state requirement for high school students this fall, making Texas one of the few states in the country with no required health education, officials said.

Education Commissioner Robert Scott announced the move in a recent letter to school districts, causing some to worry Texas students will miss out on critical topics like alcohol awareness, sex education and basic nutrition.

“It was very surprising to a lot of people,” said Diana Everett, executive director of the Texas Association for Health Physical Education, Health, Recreation and Dance. “We’ve all been in shock.”

Individual school districts still can require students to take health classes, but Scott eliminated the state requirement to comply with a new law that bumps up the number of electives required to graduate. Starting this fall, students must take six elective courses, instead of the currently mandated three-and-a-half.