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The Answer Sheet: January 17, 2010 - January 23, 2010

Teaching without gimmicks

By Diana Senechal. In discussions of “effective” teaching, we often hear about the “objectives” that teachers should spell out and repeat, the “learning styles” they should target, the “engagement” they should guarantee at every moment, and the constant encouragement and praise they should provide—all in the interest of raising test scores. DCPS IMPACT (the teacher assessment system for D.C. public schools) awards points to teachers who implement such practices; Teach for America addresses some of them in its forthcoming book. Except for the misguided notion of targeting learning styles, none of these techniques is wrong in itself. But together they raise a barrier.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 22, 2010; 11:19 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (13)
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Learning, Teachers  | Tags:  effective teaching  
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'Chasing' college acceptance

Many of you who have a child nearing college age (and even some of you with much younger kids) may already be anxious about the admissions process and may be wondering whether your child, who hasn’t cured cancer or started a successful business already, will get into a good school. According to a new report, it is no harder for the average and high-performing student to get into college today than it was a deade ago. Here are some of the other findings.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 22, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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That first big research paper

The following was written by Christiane Henrich, a 17-year-old high school student about how she wrote her first substantial research paper, which was published in the academic journal for high school students, The Concord Review. She begins: "Before crafting my research paper on U.S. Civil War Medicine, I had never composed a piece of non-fiction literature beyond six or seven pages. Twenty pages seemed to be an unconquerable length." I remember the dread that filled me as my AP United States History teacher, Mrs. Melissa Humphrey, handed out the assignment for the twenty-page research paper. She also passed around copies of The Concord Review as examples of research papers done well. For us, the first deadline was only a few weeks away. We had to have a thesis. It was then that I truly realized the depth of this academic adventure. My job was not to simply report on some topic in U.S. history; I had to prove something. I had to create an arguable thesis and defend it. I was overwhelmed.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 21, 2010; 3:49 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  History, Learning  | Tags:  history paper  
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Sidwell Friends scandal

If you ever labored under the illusion that kids who attend fancy private schools that cost $30,000 a year are any more insulated from scandal than anyone else, the arrest of a veteran Sidwell Friends School teacher on sexual abuse charges should dispel you of it. Year after year, bad things are reported at elite private schools, just like they are at public schools. Private school students have been caught printing counterfeit money to cover gambling debts, running mini prostitute rings; private school administrators have been caught stealing money, sleeping with students, and even committing murder. Human behavior--and misbehavior--doesn't stop at the walls of any elite institution. Any of the people connected with any of the expensive private schools have no bigger claim to a higher morality than anybody else. Attendance means nothing but the ability to attend.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 21, 2010; 11:08 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
Categories:  Private Schools  | Tags:  Sidwell Friends school, private schools  
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Writing for knowledge

By Will Fitzhugh. One major literacy study and report recently pointed out, in an aside, that the idea that reading books will do a lot for the literacy of students is sadly misguided. What students need, it was felt, is lots more technique and process classes, K-12, on “finding the main idea,” “identifying the author’s audience,” and all like that there. I would argue to the contrary. Not only does reading books contribute powerfully to the knowledge that students need in order to read more and more difficult material (such as they should face in high school and will certainly face in college), but, also, the work of writing a serious research paper will lead students to do a lot more reading and to gather a lot of knowledge in the process.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 21, 2010; 9:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, High School, Writing  | Tags:  Will Fitzhugh, writing for knowledge  
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Academic journal for high schoolers

Since 1987, educator Will Fitzhugh has been publishing what is probably the world’s only journal for the academic history papers of high school students writing in English. It’s called The Concord Review, and its contents belie the common thinking that young people today can not analyze their way out of a paper bag and can’t write a lick. The work produced for the review is impressive. Fitzhugh, a former teacher, accepts submissions from around the world though most of the 879 papers that have been published in the quarterly journal are from the United States, and the topics run the gamut. Student authors often send the papers to colleges as part of their application packages (more than 90 have been sent to Harvard University.)

By Valerie Strauss  | January 21, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  High School, History  | Tags:  The Concord Review  
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Russo on Duncan's Record

By Alexander Russo Over the long weekend a new Chicago Tribune story came out (Daley school plan fails to make grade) suggesting that Arne Duncan’s accomplishments as head of the Chicago public school system were not nearly as substantial as previously claimed. The article notes that Duncan’s signature reform, called Renaissance 2010, has “done little to improve the educational performance of the city’s school system.” That’s strong language, but it isn’t the first instance.... And it is a stark contrast from just a year ago, when now Education Secretary Duncan and President Obama were making bold claims.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 20, 2010; 4:30 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan  | Tags:  Arne Duncan, school reform  
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Good news amid screen gloom?

A new study tells us something we all pretty much know already: young people are spending all of their free time looking at one screen or another--more than 7 1/2 hours a day on electronic media. My colleague Cecilia Kang blogged about the Kaiser Family Foundation, providing interesting details about the lives of youths. Among the findings were that those kids and teens who essentially live on a screen do less well in school than kids who don’t, get in more trouble and report being sad. I’m not sure we know whether the screen time caused these problems or whether the kids with troubles retreat to a screen to escape. But one bit of news that has been portrayed as bad somehow doesn’t seem so bad to me.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 20, 2010; 11:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Technology  | Tags:  technology and kids  
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Does this sound fair?

The National Board of Medical Examiners denied a request by medical student Frederick Romberg to have extra time to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Romberg is a 41-year-old student at Yale Medical School who has been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. He is appealing the decision. Here is what Romberg told the board, and what the board told him. How would you decide the case? ... It wasn't until he was an adult that he finally learned what was causing his academic difficulties. A professor asked him why he was taking so much longer than anyone else to finish a 10-question quiz.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 20, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  Learning Disabilities  | Tags:  learning disabilities, test accommodations  
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Research on school burnout

By Debra Viadero. Some new research from the Academy of Finland suggests that teenagers who are burned out on school tend to have parents who suffer from work burnout. According to the Science Daily blog, which reports on this first-ever study

By Valerie Strauss  | January 19, 2010; 3:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Tags:  debra viadero, school burnout  
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A question for President Obama

I wonder if President Obama realizes the very huge gap between his pre-election talk about education and the program that his administration is advancing now. Today Obama went to a Virginia school to announce $1.35 billion new funding for his “Race to the Top” initiative for improving the country’s public education system. The total price tag is expected to be $4.35 billion. This effort is the successor to president Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program in ways more than just timing; the emphasis on standardized test scores that marked NCLB has been carried over into Race to the Top, and even, as some critics, made even more prominent. This is not at all the message that Obama as presidential candidate made repeatedly.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 19, 2010; 12:42 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (21)
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Standardized Tests, Teachers  | Tags:  president obama, race to the top, standardized tests  
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Broaddus: Reading college applications

By Henry Broaddus. Babies, wine and retirement are among the few things left that require waiting more than three months for a result after finishing all of the preparations. For high school seniors and the parents of high school seniors, there’s another: college admissions decisions. To anyone conditioned to expect immediate responses of the sort received when placing an order on Amazon or updating a Facebook status, the delay between pressing the submit button on the Common Application’s website and learning the final outcome may seem interminable. Unfortunately, technology hasn’t yet provided a shortcut that sufficiently accounts for the merits coded in recommendations, the strength of voice evident in writing samples, or the positive grade trends that belie overall averages.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 19, 2010; 11:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  College Admissions, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  college admissions  
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New study on dyslexia and IQ

A lot of people instinctively believe--without really knowing--that poor readers are not especially smart. It’s often not true. A new study by researchers explains how it is that exceedingly bright and accomplished people can have great difficulty reading. What gets in the way of many people’s ability to read is dyslexia, the most common learning disability, an unexpected difficulty in reading in people who have the intelligence and motivation thought to be necessary to be fluent readers.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 19, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Categories:  Learning Disabilities  | Tags:  dyslexia  
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More to education than data

Here's Diane Ravitch's response to a post I did last week about Teach for America. In that post, I had noted that “Teach For America” founder Wendy Kopp went to Capitol Hill to talk new research on effective teachers. Using test score data, the nonprofit organization--which recruits college graduates to teach in low-income schools for two years--has determined that effective teachers are those that employ the same strategies as successful leaders in any field. Read what Ravitch thinks of the findings.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 18, 2010; 4:22 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (10)
Categories:  No Child Left Behind, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  Diane Ravitch, NCLB, Teach For America  
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2010 Newbery winner named

Today the newest winner of the Newbery Medal--the gold standard in children’s literature for more than eight decades--was tweeted to a waiting world before it was officially announced. Oops. The winner was "When You Reach Me," by Rebecca Stead. "The Lion & The Mouse" by Jerry Pinkney won the Caldecott Medal for best children's picture book. But there has been controversy about the Newbery in literary circles for some time.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 18, 2010; 12:49 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Reading  | Tags:  Newbery Award, children's literature  
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Willingham: Textbooks too much

By Daniel Willingham The Spring semester at the University of Virginia begins this week, and I will be teaching some 350 students in a course called "Introduction to Cognitive Psychology." The list price for the assigned textbook is $123.75. You can get my book, "Why Don’t Students Like School?" for about twenty bucks. Why are college textbooks so overpriced?

By Valerie Strauss  | January 18, 2010; 11:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (9)
Categories:  College Life, Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  Daniel Willingham  
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Listening to 'I Have a Dream'

It is one thing to read the words “From every mountainside let freedom ring,” and it is entirely another to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver the magnificent "I Have a Dream" speech that helped change U.S. history. Once you hear it, it is not possible to forget. So today, on this national holiday that commemorates King and his impact on this country, sit down with your children and listen.... Where you can hear and see it, and why it wasn't easily accessible for a long time.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 18, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Civics Education, History  | Tags:  Martin Luther King, history  
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