LAEP NewsBlast 9.10.14

September 10, 2014 – In This Issue:

Bill Gates would like History to be BigIn a New York Times Magazine article that describes Bill Gates’s championing of “Big History” — a synthesis of history, biology, chemistry, astronomy, and other fields that Professor David Christian has woven into a unifying narrative — Andrew Ross Sorkin feels Gates’s goal is personal: It’s a class Gates wishes he’d had in high school. Funded by the billionaire himself, not the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the project was developed with Christian and a team of engineers and designers, and has a website of interactive graphics and videos. Units begin with the Big Bang and shift to the solar system, trade and communications, globalization, and finally, the future. With feedback from teachers, it’s contracted from 20 units to 10. It’s also been pitched to individual schools instead of entire districts, to grow organically and in real time, like a start-up. Gates is tracking the venture as he would any Microsoft or foundation project, with reams of data — regular student and teachers surveys, results from classes — which allow for continuous refinement. Still, the project faces challenges: bureaucracy, teacher capacity, traditional teaching practice, and — to Gates’s chagrin — hostility towards his participation. The course’s content also has detractors, from academics preferring distinct disciplines to, who else, Diane Ravitch. Yet the project has expanded each year, and may one day rival Western Civ or World History, Sorkin says. More


The new TFA: more than a face-liftSince its founding in 1989, critics both from within and outside the Teach for America (TFA) family have called for a reassessment of its model: recruiting elite young graduates and career-changers to teach two years in low-income schools after a summer crash course, writes Dana Goldstein for Vox. Yet new studies using value-added measurement (a reformers’ favorite) indicate that in schools with high teacher turnover, students lose significant learning in both reading and math compared to socioeconomically and academically similar schools with low turnover. The first changes of TFA’s new CEOs (Wendy Kopp stepped down in 2011, replaced by Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard) were to place teachers in regions where they’d lived, attended school, or volunteered, if possible. They also announced two pilots: one with a full year of pre-service training; one requiring five years in the classroom. TFA’s newest and highest-priority regional partnerships are now in rural America, where teacher need is high. That said, most recruits still undergo a “no-excuses,” content-neutral instructional training; both modes have been shown to interfere with student learning. But if the pilots succeed, the organization that helped build today’s no-excuses, high-turnover, standards-and-accountability driven movement might help to revise, transform, and reform it. More

Are test-score gains ‘real’?A new article from Education Next examines whether schools that raise test scores of disadvantaged students do so by improving underlying cognitive capacities or by “artificially” boosting scores to higher levels than predicted, based on measures of cognitive ability. The authors draw on data from 1,300 8th graders attending 32 public schools in Boston — traditional public schools, exam schools (admitting the city’s most academically talented), and charters. In addition to state scores typically used in research, the authors gathered measures of cognitive ability that psychologists refer to as “fluid cognitive skills.” Cognitive ability is often characterized as crystallized knowledge (e.g., vocabulary) or fluid cognitive skills (abstract reasoning). Researchers found that attending a school that produces strong test-score gains does not improve fluid cognitive skills. However, longitudinal studies also indicate that gains in processing speed support gains in working memory capacity (crystallized knowledge) that in turn support fluid reasoning. Developing school-based strategies to boost fluid cognitive skills could be an important next step in helping schools provide even greater benefits for their students, having an equally profound impact on academic and life outcomes. More

Grit reconsideredStudies presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference suggest “grit” may not boost creative achievement, reports Sarah Sparks for Education Week. It’s well known that Angela Duckworth found measures of conscientiousness and perseverance predicted everything from graduation rates at West Point to National Spelling Bee champions. Yet Magdalena Grohman of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology at the University of Texas argues grittiness is not essential to student success. In two analyses, undergraduates answered questionnaires on personality, extracurriculars, grades, and data on creative activities and accomplishments. Ratings of grit and openness to new experience were compared to academic and extracurricular records. Grohman found neither grit nor consistency and perseverance predicted success in creative endeavors in visual and performing art, writing, scientific ingenuity, or everyday problem-solving. Openness to new experiences was most closely associated with likelihood of creative success. In a separate study, Zorana Ivcevic Pringle of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence compared academics and reports on high school students, peers, and teachers, finding individual scores of grit, and teacher ratings of high persistence, were unrelated to creativity on group projects. Individual ratings of openness to experiences and teacher ratings of student passion for work predicted creativity. Pringle is still studying whether grit matters later, when creative ideas must be built into long-term projects. More

The math on hours in schoolAdding up hours, American children spend more time in school than all but three countries in the OECD, writes Mona Chalabi for Five Thirty-Eight. Only in Chile, Israel, and Australia do elementary students spend longer days in class each year than U.S. counterparts. In lower-secondary school (defined as starting six years after primary education and lasting three years, about the equivalent of U.S. middle school), the average year in America lasts 1,016 hours, or 42 continuous days, longer than in most developed countries. Combining primary and lower-secondary school hours, the U.S. ranks fourth of 34 countries. That said, OECD’s data can obscure important variations in each country’s classrooms. In the U.S., for example, not all states count what the OECD calls “required schooling” the same way. A study by the Pew Charitable Trust found that in Texas, where number of school hours per year (1,260) appears highest in America, unlike other states that total includes lunch and recess. Money might affect the syllabus, too. The 2007 schools and staffing survey by the National Center for Education Statistics found that in a typical week, third-graders in U.S. public schools spent 2.8 hours more on core subjects, but 30 minutes less on foreign languages and 30 minutes less at recess than counterparts in private schools. More

Do superintendents matter?A new report from the Brookings Institution is the first broad study to examine whether district effects on student learning are due to the superintendent in charge. Analyzing student-level data from Florida and North Carolina for 2000-01 to 2009-10, the authors found superintendency to be a short-term job. The typical superintendent stays three to four years, and student achievement does not improve with longevity of superintendent service. Hiring a new superintendent is also not associated with higher student achievement. In all, superintendents account for a small fraction (0. 3 percent) of student differences in achievement. While statistically significant, this is orders of magnitude smaller than effects associated with any other major component of the education system, including measured and unmeasured student characteristics; teachers; schools; and districts themselves. Individual superintendents who have an exceptional impact on student achievement cannot be reliably identified. Ultimately, the authors conclude that when district academic achievement improves or deteriorates, the superintendent is likely to play a part in an ensemble performance in which his or her role could be filled successfully by many others. In the end, it’s the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are basically indistinguishable. More Related:

Unplugging for computer scienceA new project called Computer Science Unplugged teaches computer science without computers, reports Annie Murphy Paul for The Hechinger Report. Beneath visible trappings of hardware and software, computer science is a mental discipline that uses computational thinking, the ability to understand and apply principles on which computers and networks operate. In conventional computer-science instruction, these principles are only accessible to those who learn to program. Taking computers out of the picture — for the time being — allows children as young as five to learn basic ideas that undergird computer science. Younger children might learn about “finite state automata” — sequential sets of choices — by following a pirates’ map, dashing around a playground in search of the fastest route to Treasure Island. Older kids can learn how computers compress text to save storage space by marking repetitions of a word within a text, crossing out the word each time it reappears, drawing an arrow back to its first appearance on the page. Computer Science Unplugged asks students to move and gesture or run and hunt in an effort to embody a computer’s operation. It employs real-life objects — crayons, string, chalk — to convey abstract entities like data and memory. And it nurtures social interaction among students and between students and their teachers. More

Let teachers help teachers with the CCSSOne of the best aspects of the Common Core State Standards is their focus on student literacy across subjects, rather than segregated in a single subject period of ELA, writes teacher Susan Carle on the Center for Teaching Quality website. Yet many non-ELA teachers have found cross-curricular literacy an uneasy transition. Some difficulty stems from educators asked to teach with unfamiliar Common Core techniques and texts — and without sufficient support. Some districts require scripted lessons, denying teachers an opportunity to adapt materials based on expertise and knowledge of students’ needs. As the Small Learning Community Lead Teacher at her school, Carle created two professional-development workshops: one for English and history teachers, another for math and science. She took colleagues’ individual and team needs into account to create workshops that were hugely successful. Teachers took away strategies for implementing the standards in class; learned to use familiar texts in innovative and engaging ways; aired concerns about the standards; and learned to better collaborate across the curriculum. By using teacher-leaders trained in Common Core techniques and curriculum writing, districts can effectively and cost-efficiently transition into Common Core implementation. Each school and classroom has specific needs, best evaluated and met by the teachers who work in them, Carle says. More

 Vergara prevailsA Los Angeles judge has affirmed a tentative ruling striking down five laws governing job protections for teachers in California. More

A good showing (up)

California students attend school more consistently than most U.S. peers, and attendance directly relates to better performance on national math and reading tests, a new analysis has found. More


Lawmakers in California have passed legislation that prohibits sale and disclosure of schools’ online student data in what officials say is the toughest law in the U.S. regarding K-12 students’ digital data. More

California is now Smarter and Balanced

With the State Board of Education’s approval, California became the ninth state to award a contract to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium for the standardized tests in the Common Core State Standards, which students will take next spring. More



A different STEM issue

Although a recent study found almost 75 percent of those holding science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) bachelor’s degrees have jobs in other fields, policymakers, advocates, and executives continue to push STEM education as a way to close achievement gaps and produce U.S. innovation. More

No strings

Tennessee and the District of Columbia have had their waivers extended, and without caveats.More

Two Newarks

A group of parents and students in Newark, New Jersey boycotted the first day of school to protest One Newark, a system that reorganized the state-run district this year. More

Good news

This year, for the first time, the state of Minnesota is picking up the $134 million tab for full-day kindergarten, a move educators hope will provide an academic jump-start for the state’s youngest learners. More

Better still

Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson has banned suspension of pre-k, kindergarten, and first-grade students, a unilateral move aimed at keeping children in class and forcing teachers to dole out discipline in school. More

Bad news

More than 76,000 Texas students in the fifth and eighth grades — about 1 in 10 pupils — were unable to pass the state STAAR math or reading tests on the third try this summer. More


The expulsion rate for D.C. charters in the past school year was half what it was two years before, and the rate of out-of-school suspensions decreased by 20 percent in one year, according to a new report. More

Thanks for the memories

The school board in Durham, N.C. voted 6-1 to end its relationship with Teach For America after the current crop of teachers finish their stints. More

End — or beginning — of an era

First Place Scholars in Seattle, serving homeless students for 25 years, will convert from a private school to Washington state’s first taxpayer-funded charter. More



  Jamba Juice: It’s About the Fruit and Veggies

The Fall 2014 Jamba Juice “It’s About the Fruit and Veggies” Garden Grant provides youth garden programs with gardening supplies, curricula, and funding for soil amendments and plants to create engaging nutrition and gardening experiences. Maximum award: $1,500. Eligibility: schools, community organizations, and non-profit programs in the United States, gardening with at least 15 children between the ages of 3 and 18. Deadline: October 1, 2014. More

IRA: Teacher as Researcher Grant

International Reading Association Teacher as Researcher grants support classroom teachers who undertake action research inquiries about literacy and instruction. Maximum award: $4,000. Eligibility: All applicants must be members of the International Reading Association (IRA) and practicing pre-K-12 teachers with full time or permanent half-time teaching responsibilities (includes librarians, Title I teachers, classroom teachers, and resource teachers). Classroom teachers will be given preference. Applicants may apply as a collaborative group or individually. Deadline:November 1, 2014. More

NCTM: Professional Development Grants for Grades PreK-5

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Professional Development Grants for Grades PreK-5 Teachers support professional development to improve the competence in the teaching of mathematics of one or more classroom teachers. Maximum award: $3,000. Eligibility: current (as ofOctober 15, 2014) Full Individual or E-Members of NCTM or teachers at a school with a current (as of October 15, 2014) NCTM Pre-K8 school membership, currently teaching grades PreK-5 level and with three or more years teaching experience. Deadline: November 7, 2014. More

NGA: Youth Garden Grants

National Gardening Association Youth Garden Grants support schools and community organizations with child-centered garden programs. In evaluating grant applications, priority will be given to programs that emphasize educational focus or curricular/program integration; nutrition or plant-to-food connections; environmental awareness/education; entrepreneurship; and social aspects of gardening such as leadership development, team building, community support, or service-learning. Maximum award: a $500 gift card to the Gardening with Kids catalog, seeds and plants from Bonnie Plants, an Ames tool package, and educational materials from NGA. Eligibility: schools, youth groups, community centers, camps, clubs, treatment facilities, and intergenerational groups throughout the United States. Deadline: December 5, 2014. More


Quote of the Week:

“Amid the sometimes fierce debate about improving our nation’s schools lies an indisputable truth: Students must attend school regularly to benefit from what is taught there. But each year, an estimated 5 million to 7.5 million U.S. students miss nearly a month of school.” — a new report from Attendance Works, “Absences Add Up: How School Attendance Influences Student Success.” More