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The Answer Sheet: October 18, 2009 - October 24, 2009

The secrecy of Pynchon, the giraffe's blue tongue and other things I learned this week

Writer Thomas Pynchon is a recluse, giraffes sometimes have tongues that are distinctly blue, the secret telegrams of British ambassadors are sometimes shocking, and other stuff.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 24, 2009; 11:53 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Tags:  Things I Learned This Week  
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Educator: 'Race to the Top's' 10 false assumptions

By Marion Brady. "Race to the Top? National standards for math, science, and other school subjects? The high-powered push to put them in place makes it clear that the politicians, business leaders, and wealthy philanthropists who’ve run America’s education show for the last two decades are as clueless about educating as they’ve always been. If they weren’t, they’d know that adopting national standards will be counterproductive, and that the "Race to the Top" will fail for the same reason "No Child Left Behind" failed—because it’s based on false assumptions.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 23, 2009; 11:47 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (31)
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, National Standards, No Child Left Behind, Standardized Tests, Teachers  | Tags:  Race to the Top  
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What teachers think about their jobs, testing

Federal officials take note: A new study shows that 40 percent of the country’s 4 million K-12 teachers are “disheartened” with their jobs and the vast majority think there is too much standardized testing and that it is a “drawback” to teaching.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 23, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Standardized Tests, Teachers  | Tags:  standardized testing, teachers  
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Dolly Parton? Michelle Obama? Who should get an honorary degree?

First Lady Michelle Obama is eligible to receive an honorary degree from George Washington University, the student newspaper reports today, because the Board of Trustees just approved her. Are honorary degrees a way to honor achievement, or to get famous people to come to commencement?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 22, 2009; 3:22 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
Categories:  Higher Education  | Tags:  George Washington University, Michelle Obama, honorary degrees  
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What Kind of Sex Ed Works?

Lately I've heard people say that if parents want their teenage girls to abstain from sex, they should make them listen to Taylor Swift’s song “Fifteen,” or read the wildly popular “Twilight Saga” series of four books. I wondered what reach into the teen psyche popular culture has on individual teen behavior so I conducted a scientific survey. I asked three people involved with sex education how much the popular culture affects teen behavior.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 22, 2009; 11:28 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  sexual education  
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When do kids need cell phones? Maybe never

There is no issue that gets me more exercised than the one that currently looms large in the life of my 6th grade daughter, and many of her peers: When is the right time to get a cell phone? My preferred answer is age 16 or 17, when a young person hopefully is mature enough to use a mobile phone properly, independent enough to actually need it and earning enough money at an after-school job to pay for it.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 22, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (17)
Categories:  Parents  | Tags:  cell phones for kids  
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'Talking Out of School' with... Attorney General Eric Holder

This is the first in what will be an occasional series of quick conversations about school with people from different walks of life. Today's snapshot is on Attorney General Eric Holder.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 21, 2009; 11:40 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (22)
Categories:  Talking Out of School  | Tags:  Eric Holder, Talking Out of School  
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A real "human calculator"

Meet Scott Flansburg, human calculator. He can accurately add, subtract, multiply, divide, and do square and cube roots, at dizzying speed. He is, in fact, faster than some calculators (which he proved in a demonstration to The Answer Sheet). Flansburg said he believes people struggle with math because they are taught how to count incorrectly--and he believes he has devised a way to help that revolves around the number 9.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 21, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (4)
Categories:  Learning  | Tags:  The Human Calculator, math  
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Should teachers tell kids the truth about the Tooth Fairy?

This actually happened to my editor: It was Sunday morning and his 8-year-old daughter woke up fully expecting the Tooth Fairy to have left a gift. Craig and his wife forgot, and here’s what he said he did: “I panicked, tried to slip a dollar bill into her bed and GOT CAUGHT. Then, of course, I desperately lied, and reasonably well, but suspicion remains...” Afterward, Craig started wondering if he should have come clean at that point.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 20, 2009; 2:48 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  No Child Left Behind, Parents  | Tags:  Telling the Truth to Kids  
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Going back to college at 59: You can't do it "on a shoestring"

By Kay Dawson. I went back to school at the age of 59--and I’ve learned a lot more than Spanish. Books are heavier. Combining a caffeinated soft drink and a two-hour class with a 59-year-old bladder is not a great idea. Professors are so young. But what seems to have changed the most from when I was last in school is that it is no longer possible to go to college on a shoestring.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 20, 2009; 12:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
Tags:  Going back to school at 59, Higher Education  
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Checking It Out: Does music interfere with studying?

Have you ever seen your children studying with iPod earplugs in their ears and wondered how they stay focused? Experts say that they don’t, at least not as well as they would if the music weren't on--unless, that is, the music is solely instrumental...And when they tell you they can text while studying and keep their concentration? Tell them to guess again.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 20, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
Tags:  Music While Studying  
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Obama and sensible school lunch schedules

hen President Obama made a surprise visit today to Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring to share a meal with third- and fifth-graders, he picked a school that has reasonable lunch schedule for its kids. The school says that its students have 30 minutes to eat their lunch every day. But there are plenty of other schools where kids have 15 or 20 minutes to eat. And some students are forced to eat lunch before 11 a.m. How much time for lunch should students get?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 19, 2009; 2:44 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  President Obama, Viers Mill Elementary School, school lunch  
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Willingham: Is School About Learning or About Grades?

By Daniel Willingham. I have always told my children that school is not about grades, it’s about learning. I tell them that they shouldn’t compare themselves to other kids but should just mark their own progress in learning. I’m starting to rethink what I tell them.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 19, 2009; 11:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (4)
Categories:  Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, National Standards  | Tags:  Daniel Willingham, mastery standards, performance standards  
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The Best High School in America?

A reader asked if Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Va., is, in fact, “America’s best high school.” It says so on the cover of Washingtonian magazine’s October issue. The answer: For whom is it the best?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 19, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (4)
Categories:  High School  | Tags:  Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, high school rankings  
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