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The Answer Sheet: November 15, 2009 - November 21, 2009

The problem with 'Oprah as Teacher'

Oprah Winfrey seems to love to teach--on her top-rated television show, through commencement speeches, in her successful magazine. But in an era where educators say the one thing students need to learn is so-called “critical thinking skills”--or the ability to deeply analyze problems--Winfrey does very little to help on several levels.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 20, 2009; 10:06 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
Categories:  Intelligence, Parents  | Tags:  Oprah Winfrey  
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The (somewhat strange) List: Foods banned by law in school cafeterias

When I think about the “foods of minimal nutritional value” that are banned from school cafeterias by federal law, the first thing that pops into my mind is a doughnut, one made delicious by hideous amounts of fat and sugar. But when I was researching school nutrition on the Agriculture Department's website, I came across the list and discovered doughnuts aren’t on it. Soda water is, though. So are cough drops. Here's the list.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 20, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  school nutrition  
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In the Age of 'Twilight': About kids who read fantasy... and ‘readicide’

Does your child read fantasy books, one after the other, whizzing through series after series to the exclusion of any other genre? Are you worried that your child is: A) living in a fantasy world; b) wasting time on silly themes; c) wasting time reading easy books?

By Valerie Strauss  | November 19, 2009; 11:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
Categories:  Reading  | Tags:  adolescent literature  
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Diagnosed with “over-comprehension:” My standardized test nightmare

This really happened (and I hope Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich read this): Second grade. Everglades Elementary School in Miami. Mrs. Hirsch, my classroom teacher, passed out the first standardized test I had ever taken. Math and language arts. I took the exam and declared that I had done very well. Soon after the outstanding Everglades principal, Mrs. Kazer, called my mother and said, “Libby, we have to talk....” I got every answer wrong. Why?

By Valerie Strauss  | November 19, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (7)
Categories:  No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  Arne Duncan, standardized tests  
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Why can't kids eat in class if they are hungry?

Here is the story of one mother whose son attended a D.C. middle school and often got hungry in the late morning before his scheduled lunch, which was close to 1 p.m. He was not, however, allowed to eat. Read what she wrote, and then tell us if your children can eat in school.... "When should our kids be allowed to eat? Is five hours too long for kids to go without any food at all?

By Valerie Strauss  | November 18, 2009; 1:27 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)
Categories:  Community Colleges, D.C. Schools, Health  | Tags:  D.C. schools, eating in class  
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Gender and College Admissions: William and Mary Dean Talks Back

Yesterday I discussed why boys have an easier time than girls getting accepted to college at some schools. Part of that post included admissions statistics for the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where boys have an easier time getting in because more girls apply. Following, William and Mary Admission Dean Henry Broaddus talks back, explaining why the school does what it does. Read it and tell us what you think.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 18, 2009; 9:39 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Categories:  College Admissions, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  College of William and Mary, college admissions, gender  
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A critical look at the SAT and ACT

Of all the trials facing high school students, the one that may be the most daunting is taking the SAT and/or the ACT college admissions tests. The results can determine where they attend college, making these exams, and the organizations that own them, very powerful. In an effort to better understand these tests, I had an e-mail conversation with Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest. The tension between the nonprofit College Board, which owns the SAT, and FairTest is palpable: I asked the College Board to debate Schaeffer, but it refused, saying he was not a valid critic.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 18, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)
Categories:  College Admissions, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  FairTest, college admissions  
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BRADY: When captains of business and industry ‘hijacked’ education--and teachers let them

By Marion Brady. "We have met the enemy, and he is us," said Pogo. We educators should make the wise little opossum from Walt Kelly’s comic strip our mascot. The single worst shoot-yourself-in-the-foot act that contributed to our loss of control of education reform happened about 20 years ago. That’s when leaders of business and industry, convinced that educators either didn’t know enough or didn’t care enough about educating the young to be trusted, hijacked our profession. And we let them.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 17, 2009; 2:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
Tags:  Marion Brady, standards  
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Fairfax: You've got to be kidding

Music education without instruments? I wish someone were kidding. But that’s one of the possibilities in Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, one of the finest systems in the country and the largest in the Washington D.C. area, as it wrestles with a projected $176 million shortfall for next year.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 17, 2009; 10:11 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)
Categories:  Fairfax County Public Schools  | Tags:  Fairfax County Public School, music education  
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Do college admissions officers discriminate against girls?

Is it easier for boys to get accepted into college than it is for girls? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is yes, at least at some colleges. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has just begun investigating admissions practices to see if schools are favoring boys. It is starting by looking at admissions records from a dozen unnamed universities, mostly in the Washington, D.C. area, according to a recent report from Inside Higher Ed.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 17, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (77)
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions, gender gap  
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School meals: the breakfast sugar overload

The first thing that jumped out at me about today’s Washington Post story about kids in D.C. schools eating federally funded breakfasts was “sugar.” How much sugar was in the breakfast given to fourth-grader Alex Brown to consume before school?... Way too much.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 16, 2009; 3:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (19)
Categories:  D.C. Schools, Health  | Tags:  breakfast, d.c. schools  
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Willingham: We have math standards, but now what?

We’ve got good standards . . . now what? . . .Students need conceptual knowledge. They need to understand why the procedures work, e.g., why “invert and multiply” yields the right answer when dividing fractions. Without conceptual knowledge, it is difficult to solve novel problems. The student can recognize that certain procedures apply to certain problem types, but if a problem is dressed up in a slightly different format, the student likely will be stumped. American students generally have adequate (not terrific) factual and procedural knowledge. Their conceptual knowledge is, on average, terrible.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 16, 2009; 11:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, National Standards  | Tags:  Dan Willingham, math  
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The problem with ‘teachable moments’

"If I hear that overused phrase "Teachable Moment" again I may just jump in the lion cage." Posted by: mdsinc. To which BigBubba1 responded: "That would, without a doubt, be a teachable moment." Aside from making me smile, this exchange by readers to this week’s blogpost about the National Zoo stopping two lions from killing a misguided deer raises a useful issue: The bastardization of the term “teachable moment.”

By Valerie Strauss  | November 16, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Tags:  teachable moments  
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Definitive Stats on Foreign Students in U.S. and U.S. Students Abroad

Here are the definitive numbers on foreign student enrollment in the United States--and on American students studying abroad, that are being released today by the Institute of International Education, supported by the State Department.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 16, 2009; 1:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Tags:  foreign students, open doors, study abroad  
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