Monthly Archives: August 2009

Charter schools lead a turnaround of New Orleans public schools

Even pre-Katrina, New Orleans had a reputation as one of the worst public school systems in the United States. Post-Katrina, the city moved to a new public school model incorporating many more charter schools.

USA Today reports:

52 charter schools [operate] in New Orleans, which also has 37 traditionally run schools. Nearly 60% of the city’s public school students attend charter schools — the highest percentage of any American city. School district officials hope to raise that percentage to 75% in the coming years.

New Orleans’ school district’s performance score — a tally of test scores and other performance measures — jumped from 56.9 pre-Katrina to 66.4 last year, according to state Department of Education figures. Statewide, the average during that same period stayed roughly the same: 87.4 pre-Katrina and 87.2 last year.

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SAT scores still vary by race, gender and economic class

USA Today reports:

Average national SAT scores for the high school class of 2009 dropped two points compared with last year, a report out today says. And while the population of test takers was the most diverse ever, average scores vary widely by race and ethnicity.

On one end, students who identified themselves as Asian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander posted a 13-point gain. On the other end, students who identified themselves as Puerto Rican posted a 9-point drop in average scores.

The SAT’s owner, the nonprofit College Board, highlighted the 40% minority participation rate among test-takers this year, up from 38% last year and 29.2% in 1999. Also up from previous years: More than a third of students say they are first-generation college students whose parents never went to college, and more than a quarter said English is not their first language.

“We are tremendously encouraged by the increasing diversity,” said College Board president Gaston Caperton. “More than ever, the SAT reflects the diversity of students in our nation’s classrooms.”

Additional information is available from the College Board here.

U. S. Dept. of Ed report shows American students lag behind other nations in science and math

CNN reports:

…A special analysis put out last week by the National Center for Education Statistics [compares] 15-year-old U.S. students with students from other countries in the Organization for Economic Development.It found the U.S. students placed below average in math and science. In math, U.S. high schoolers were in the bottom quarter of the countries that participated, trailing countries including Finland, China and Estonia.

According to the report, the U.S. math scores were not measurably different in 2006 from the previous scores in 2003. But while other countries have improved, the United States has remained stagnant.

In science, the United States falls behind countries such as Canada, Japan and the Czech Republic.

The report is available here.

Scientific literacy in the U. S.

Dan Vergano of USA Today writes:

Science enjoys the best and the worst of times today, celebrated as the secret sauce behind economic growth, but embattled in high-profile areas such as climate change, stem cells and evolution.

“Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before,” said President Obama, in April at the National Academy of Sciences.

At the same time, Obama noted, federal funding of physics and related sciences has fallen by nearly half since the 1980’s, U.S. schools trail in math and science versus Japan, England, South Korea and others. “And we have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas,” he said.

ACT organization: Less than a quarter of incoming college freshmen ready for college coursework

USA Today reports:

Even as high school graduates in recent years have grown increasingly better prepared for college, too many members of the class of 2009 cannot adequately perform all of the academic skills they will need to succeed, a report says.

Just 23% of students, up from 22% last year, earned test scores suggesting they can earn at least a C in first-year college courses in English, math, reading and science, says the report, released today by the non-profit Iowa-based testing company ACT. It’s based on scores of 1.48 million 2009 high school graduates who took the ACT’s college entrance exam.

NEWSWEEK on “The death of handwriting”

NEWSWEEK reports on ‘the death of handwriting’ – as a combination of technological change and standardized testing, among other factors, lead students to spend more time on math and reading and less time on practicing their penmanship, some educators and others worry about the ramifications of poor handwriting skills.

The NEWSWEEK article cites a study published in the February 2009 edition of the Journal of Educational Psychology. That study’s abstract reads as follows:

A random sample of language arts, social studies, and science high school teachers (N = 361; 53% women) from the United States were surveyed about what their students wrote, their use of evidence-based writing practices, the adaptations they made for weaker writers, how they assessed writing, their preparation to teach writing, beliefs about the importance of writing, and judgments about their students’ writing capabilities. The findings from this survey raised some concerns about the quality of high school writing instruction. The writing activities they were assigned most frequently by teachers involved little analysis and interpretation, and almost one half of the participating teachers did not assign at least one multiparagraph writing assignment monthly. Although the majority of high school teachers did apply most of the evidence-based practices and adaptations included in the survey, they used these practices infrequently. Most teachers did not believe their college teacher education program adequately prepared them to teach writing. A sizable minority of language arts and social studies teachers indicated that their in-service preparation was inadequate too. For science teachers this was close to 60%.

The study can be accessed here (subscription required).

The “new science of learning”

The journal Science has published a paper on a developing “new science of learning.” The article’s abstract states:

Human learning is distinguished by the range and complexity of skills that can be learned and the degree of abstraction that can be achieved compared with those of other species. Homo sapiens is also the only species that has developed formal ways to enhance learning: teachers, schools, and curricula. Human infants have an intense interest in people and their behavior and possess powerful implicit learning mechanisms that are affected by social interaction. Neuroscientists are beginning to understand the brain mechanisms underlying learning and how shared brain systems for perception and action support social learning. Machine learning algorithms are being developed that allow robots and computers to learn autonomously. New insights from many different fields are converging to create a new science of learning that may transform educational practices.

The article is available here (subscription required). Science Daily has a summary of the article here.

Note: this is cross-posted with my Cognitive Science Blog.