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The Answer Sheet: December 13, 2009 - December 19, 2009

Traveling abroad in a snowstorm is a real education (WITH UPDATE)

Guess what day of the year my family decided to leave Washington D.C. and fly to the Middle East? Yes, you've got it right: The day of the biggest snowstorm in memory. Me, my husband and two daughters are headed to Israel to attend my nephew Adam’s bar mitzvah, which is on Thursday at the top of Masada. But at the moment, Adam and his sister and parents (his mom, Andrea, is my sister) are in Philadelphia, with us--and we are all hoping that our scheduled flight for tonight isn’t cancelled. Call us optimistic. Okay, I hear you: We’re delusional....As we research the probabilities we are learning a great deal about air travel routes, de-icing a plane, how people react in a stressful situation. It proves my point: You can turn anything into some kind of education.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 19, 2009; 9:16 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
Tags:  travel  
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Reader: Valerie, spare me ‘your snarky column’

I get a lot of emails from readers, sometimes expressing agreement with positions I've taken and sometimes raking me over the coals. Here's one that I received after I criticized a list of “best high schools” in America by U.S. News Y World Report. Because the school at the top of the list was Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, I used that school to question the premise of picking any single institution as the best. Some readers thought I was denigrating the school, including one who wrote the email below. That was not at all my intention, and in fact, my post says that Thomas Jefferson is one amazing school. I noted that it might not be “the best” school for everyone.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 18, 2009; 2:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  Fairfax County Public Schools  | Tags:  Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology  
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Author: 'My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry'

By Todd S. Farley For 15 years I was employed by the K-12 testing business, working for many of the biggest players (Pearson Education, Educational Testing Service, American Institutes of Research, etc.) on many of the biggest tests (National Assessment of Educational Progress, California High School Exit Exam, Florida Comprehensive Assessment, Virginia Standards of Learning, etc.). While I did enjoy the career (good money, nice people, fun trips), it also left me completely convinced of the utter folly of entrusting decisions about American students, teachers, and schools to the for-profit industry that long employed me. I don’t know how anyone who’s seen what I’ve seen could feel any differently.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 18, 2009; 10:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Standardized Tests  | Tags:  standardized testing  
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The decade's 10 big education ideas

Here are the 10 “Big Ideas” in education for the first decade of the 21st century, as decided by Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company: *Alternate Paths to Teaching— From Teach for America to Troops to Teachers to urban Teaching Fellows programs, schools of education are no longer the only place that teachers begin their careers....

By Valerie Strauss  | December 18, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Tags:  ideas in education  
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Brady on education unions: I'm no fan but they get a bad rap

By Marion Brady. "Good teachers are the key to good schools. A major obstacle to staffing America’s schools with good teachers is union protectionism." So goes the conventional wisdom. I’m no fan of education unions. I fault them for not taking the lead in education reform, for misplaced priorities, and for a willingness to support bad legislation just to keep a seat at the federal education reform table. I was hammering union leadership on those issues decades before I could do it with the click of a mouse. That said, when it comes to education reform, teacher unions get an undeserved bad rap.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 17, 2009; 11:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Marion Brady, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Teachers  | Tags:  NCLB, teachers, teachers unions  
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High School Report: From Bishop McNamara, a Facebook lesson and novel writing

Until I read a story in The Stampede,” the student newspaper at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., I had no idea that Facebook just changed its default settings and there are implications for your privacy and mine. News Editor Brandi Bottalico tells us that as a result, more people can see more of your stuff than in the past. Also, a report on a girl who wrote a novel in 30 days for a worldwide contest.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 17, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  High School, Writing  | Tags:  National Novel Writing Month, writing  
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How to create your own education jargon

Ever heard or seen the phrase “phonemic awareness” and wonder exactly what it meant? Or “Bloom’s taxonomy,” “problems-based learning,” “brain-based learning,” “outcome-based education,” “holistic learning,” “formative evaluation,” or internal evaluation?" How about my new favorite: "Unleasing research-based curriculum integration?" Okay, that last one is made up, but the rest are phrases now tossed around in the education world as if they actually mean something to most people. To help you figure it out, here are websites that can explain some of these concepts--and one that helps you make up your own jargon!

By Valerie Strauss  | December 16, 2009; 12:50 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (4)
Categories:  Learning  | Tags:  educational jargon  
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Religion and public schools at Christmas time: Can schools include sacred music in holiday programs?

“’Twas the nightmare before Christmas late last month for Michael Stratechuk of Maplewood, N.J., when a federal appeals court upheld a local school district policy barring religious music from school events during the holiday season.” So begins a recent blogpost by Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the Washington D.C.-based First Amendment Center, which is an operating program of the Freedom Forum. Haynes was referring to a Nov. 24 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that public schools are not compelled by the Constitution to include religious music in holiday programs.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 16, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Civics Education  | Tags:  religion in public schools  
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Book Whisperer: Are good readers born or made?

By Donalyn Miller. A recent Carnegie Mellon University research study indicates that children engaged in a 100-hour intensive reading remediation program improved both their reading ability and the white matter connections in their brains. While the study shows promise for educators and clinicians who work with developing readers, one casual mention in the study stood out for me— the 25 children designated as “excellent readers” in the control group still outperformed the 35 third and fifth graders who participated in the remediation program. The widespread belief that some readers possess an innate gift, like artists or athletes, sells many children short. I often hear parents claim, “Well, my child is just not a reader,” as if the reading fairy passed over their child while handing out the good stuff. Educators do this, too. Thankful that at least some of our students possess adequate reading ability, we focus our instructional efforts on those children who still struggle mastering basic literacy skills. So, what about those good readers? What do these children have going for them that the others don’t? Are readers born or created?

By Valerie Strauss  | December 15, 2009; 1:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (26)
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Reading  | Tags:  The Book Whisperer, reading  
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Montgomery Blair high school reopens bathrooms

The students at Montgomery Blair have received a holiday gift: the powers that be have reopened the second and third-floor bathrooms, which have been closed at lunchtime for the past few weeks. The school closed the bathrooms citing student vandalism...

By Washington Post editors  | December 15, 2009; 12:11 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
 
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What college kids are eating: Meatloaf with frizzle-fried onions

If you are worried that your child eats nothing but junk at college, relax. If they eat what the college serves, they are more often than not picking foods such as apricot-glazed turkey, meatloaf with frizzle-fried onions, Vietnamese Pho and other dishes, according to the Sodexo food provider, which services 600 schools across the country. College students like comfort foods with some zest, the company said, and they like foods that come from around the world. Here’s the 2010 trend list.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 15, 2009; 11:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  College Life  | Tags:  college life  
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A major reading program that gives more points to 'Breaking Dawn' than 'The Grapes of Wrath'

Play along with me for a minute. On one hand you have the book “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth book in the “Twilight Saga” by Stephenie Meyer. On the other, you have John Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” If you were going to assign points to each work that students could amass for reading them, which one would get the most? I’m guessing that most of you (myself included) would put Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning stunner on top. But that’s not what the Accelerated Reader program does--and, to me, this is a problem, especially given that AR is the largest web-based supplemental reading program in American public schools today.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 15, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (7)
Categories:  Reading  | Tags:  Accelerated Reader  
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Willingham: Does chaos at home lower a kid's IQ?

By Daniel Willingham Have you ever been to a friend’s house which seems, for want of a better word, a little chaotic? For some reason, it seems like it’s always noisy, people are always coming and going, and there seems to be no routine or predictability. If it’s extreme, you might even think, “Gee, how can people live like this?” Social scientists have studied such households, and they use a technical term to describe them: “chaotic.” More seriously, it turns out that chaos might not be good for kids. A recent study examined 302 families, and concluded that chaos in the home contributes to lower IQ and to child conduct problems (i.e., kids who are aggressive, or who get into trouble with the law).

By Valerie Strauss  | December 14, 2009; 12:15 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  Daniel Willingham, Early Childhood, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  Daniel Willingham  
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School drops assignment for students to argue for and against The Taliban

A Virginia middle school pulled an assignment given to eighth graders to argue in support of the Taliban because students and parents were uncomfortable with the exercise, school officials said. The assignment was to be completed in a eighth grade world geography at Swanson Middle School in Arlington as part of a project that called for students to research different topics and then take opposing sides and debate the merits. But some students and their parents became angered when they learned that one of the debates would mean that kids would be arguing in support of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban, which harbored Osama bin Laden when it was control of Afghanistan’s government before being overthrown in a U.S. invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 14, 2009; 11:07 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (21)
Categories:  History  | Tags:  history assignment  
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Civil Rights Lawyer: Is ‘gender balance’ in college admissions illegal discrimination?

I recently wrote about gender in college admissions, and today my colleague Daniel DeVise tells us in a Post story that civil rights investigators will soon begin reviewing admissions data from some Washington region colleges to see if women are targets of discrimination. The issue is this: Because there are so many more female applicants, some schools admit a smaller percentage of females applicants than male applicants in order to keep a relatively balanced student population. Some see this as discrimination. Here is a post from a public interest lawyer who does..... By John F. Banzhaf III. As the public interest law professor who used legal action to prevent discrimination against women by dry cleaners and hair cutters, and whose legal complaint forced The Citadel to admit its first female undergraduate, I was dismayed to read that some universities may now be discriminating against female applicants, allegedly because of a need to maintain “gender balance.” The argument that a need for “balance” justifies illegal discrimination goes back a century to the days when colleges limited the admission of Jews to maintain a “balance,” and is sometimes still heard today when Asian students may have a harder time being admitted (especially to science and engineering programs) so that classes will not be “unbalanced.”

By Valerie Strauss  | December 14, 2009; 10:18 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions, gender discrimination  
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How should history be taught?

Most historians writing about the historic events of the last year in the United States would likely concentrate on the election of the first black president, Barack Obama, and the conditions that led to his victory. Not Howard Zinn. The longtime historian and social activist said he would instead focus on “people who are still struggling." This approach to history--focusing on how ordinary people help turn people rather than presidents and generals--was seen in "The People Speak," a film documentary that premiered last night on The History Channel. What do you think of Zinn's approach to history?

By Valerie Strauss  | December 14, 2009; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Categories:  History  | Tags:  teaching history  
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