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The Answer Sheet: February 14, 2010 - February 20, 2010

''The Wilen Index"--a new high school ranking, sort of

My esteemed colleague Jay Mathews recently published his annual, well-known, and controversial Challenge Index, in which he ranks high schools with this formula that he devised years ago: The number of Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate and/or other college-level tests taken by all students at a school, divided by the number of graduating seniors. I challenged readers to come up with a different way to rank schools. Here's one.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 20, 2010; 2:29 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (7)
Categories:  High School  | Tags:  high school rankings  
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Did Tiger HAVE to drag in the school kids?

I was hoping he wouldn’t do this in today’s mea culpa speech, but, alas, he did: Tiger Woods HAD to remind the public that he really is a great guy because his foundation helps needy kids get an education. He doesn’t seem to have learned the one lesson that many other people did from his sordid fall from grace: Nobody--not adults and especially not schoolaged children--should look to a celebrity as a model for a value system.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 19, 2010; 12:17 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
Tags:  Tiger Woods  
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The problem with Obama’s commencement speech contest

President Obama is promising to give a commencement speech at the public high school that best demonstrates how it is helping prepare students to meet the president’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 19, 2010; 11:38 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, High School  | Tags:  president obama  
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The six standards of school quality

By George Wood. "High-quality school" is one of those phrases that everyone can agree with only because they don’t know what it means. While I won’t give up using the phrase, I do think I should explain what I mean when I use that term--based upon my own experience as a principal of nearly two decades.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 19, 2010; 10:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Tags:  high quality schools  
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Colleges admit freshmen for winter term

A friend told me that her son was admitted to the University of Maryland at College Park as a freshman--but not for this fall. Instead, he was offered admission for winter term starting next January. She had not known this was a possibility, and wondered if Maryland was the only school that did this. The answer: No, far from it. A lot of schools, both public and private, accept students as freshmen but ask them to skip the first term and start later. Why?

By Valerie Strauss  | February 19, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  College Admissions, Higher Education, University of Maryland  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Data-driven gobbledygook from Ed Dept

Help. There is something about the “major findings” of a new report release by the Education Department that I’m not grasping. The conclusions seem to be so self-evident that I’m not sure why a study had to be done to reach them, though, to be fair, this is hardly the only education report that has crossed my computer screen and left me wondering. According to a recent press release now promoted on the homepage of the department’s website, researchers surveyed officials from 529 districts, conducted in-depth site visits to 36 schools in 12 districts leading the way in data usage, and analyzed secondary data from a survey of over 6,000 teachers to obtain a national picture of current data use practices at the local-level.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 18, 2010; 3:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (24)
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, Research  | Tags:  education research  
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Should 10-year-old train hard for Olympics?

Is it harmful or is it fantastic that a 10-year old Pennsylvania boy trains for hours most days every week and makes two five-hour round-trips to work out with an expert in the greater Washington area?

By Valerie Strauss  | February 18, 2010; 12:42 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Tags:  olympics  
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President Ken Starr? Yes, at Baylor

Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated president Clinton, has been named president of Baylor University. What will he bring to the school known has the largest Baptist university in the world?

By Valerie Strauss  | February 18, 2010; 9:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Higher Education  | Tags:  higher education  
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The trouble with algebra

By Debra Viadero. Studies have long suggested that algebra is a “gateway” course. Students need to pass it in order to move on to more advanced mathematics--and they need to have at least a couple of higher-level math credits on their high school transcripts to make it into a competitive college.That realization has led a growing number of school districts over the last couple of decades to try to ensure that all students, regardless of ability level, study the subject as early as possible, which in many cases means by 8th or 9th grade. Some newer research is beginning to suggest, however, that getting all students past the algebra hump has proved to be a knotty problem.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 18, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Math, Research  | Tags:  math, research  
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Why not link teacher pay to test scores?

At first glance, pay-for-performance plans sound reasonable. A closer look reveals why such schemes are doomed to fail, policy analyst Lisa Guisbond says.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 17, 2010; 8:36 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (20)
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, Lisa Guisbond, No Child Left Behind, Standardized Tests, Teachers  | Tags:  teacher evaluations  
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How to keep kids safe en route to school

Look at this photograph in today's Washington Post. This should never happen. Kids should not be forced to walk alone on a busy street, huddled together for safety. This happened because school started in the greater Washington region even though all the sidewalks and streets were not completely plowed after a historic snowfall. After a week of snow days, I agree that it was untenable to keep the schools closed much longer but kids shouldn't put in danger. Here's a solution.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 17, 2010; 3:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Tags:  snow days  
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Should we eliminate senior year?

Here’s what happens when politicians get into the business of making educational decisions: They come up with ridiculous ideas like lopping off senior year in high school to save money. A Utah legislator toyed with cutting it out, one of a number of proposals he made to shrink government spending. After being criticized, he pedaled back, suggesting that senior year be made optional for kids who have completed their credits, which, he obviously didn’t know, is an opportunity already available in the state.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 17, 2010; 12:15 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  High School, No Child Left Behind, Teachers  | Tags:  high school, high senior year  
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Lessons learned from snow days

1) No matter how many snow days there are, kids will wait until the last minute to do their homework. 2) School bus stops with unobstructed curbs are more important than anyone thought. Read the rest and add your own.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 17, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (4)
Tags:  snow days  
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Should we believe college rankings?

A college ranking system designed as an alternative to the annual U.S. News & World list has laudable goals, but the methodology leaves much to be desired.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 16, 2010; 12:00 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Tags:  higher education, student engagement survey  
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Fairfax doublespeak on school openings and MoCo’s gamble

In Fairfax, officials say it's safe enough for kids to return to school but county workers are allowed to take unscheduled leave. Something is wrong with this picture

By Valerie Strauss  | February 16, 2010; 6:31 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Categories:  Fairfax County Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools  | Tags:  school openings, snow  
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Senioritis: Minor affliction or serious disease?

By Jerome A. Lucido. This is it--your last year of high school. You’re on top of the heap and you’ve earned it. Your applications for admission are in. You may have already earned admission to one or more colleges through an early admission program. You will never pass this way again. Suddenly, it seems less serious....Your study time decreases. You drop a class or fall back from your AP courses. You party randomly, maybe even during the school day. It’s a disease without treatment. Nearly every senior gets a small case. Some get it bad. But there are serious side effects.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 16, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Dealing with snow: Officials must do better

Today, days after the last flake fell, some schools are begging students and parents to come and help them dig out the sidewalks and the curbs. And there are many streets still not safe to navigate with anything but a...

By Valerie Strauss  | February 15, 2010; 11:21 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
 
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Willingham: In defense of measurement

By Daniel Willingham. I have recently written about the problems in trying to use student achievement data to measure teachers’ effectiveness. But that doesn’t mean that I think teachers’ effectiveness should not be measured. Indeed, I think it’s essential that it is. People focus on just one of the uses to which measurement of teachers could be put: rewarding the successful and firing the unsuccessful. But if you’re interested in improving the practice of teaching, you must have a method of measuring teachers’ effectiveness.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 15, 2010; 11:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (11)
Tags:  accountability, teacher assessment  
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The college hunt: It's enough to drive a mom crazy

I promised myself I wouldn’t worry about my daughter’s college search ever and certainly not until she was a senior, and she’s still a junior. But without permission, my mind started analyzing everything in terms of the college hunt. To avoid becoming pathological, I sought advice from Susan Coll, an author who chronicled the college admissions process in her hilarious book “Acceptance” (which was made into a TV movie with Joan Cusack) and who is soon publishing her delicious new book called “Beach Week.”

By Valerie Strauss  | February 15, 2010; 9:13 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Who are we really honoring on Presidents’ Day?

I asked a few teenagers who is being celebrated on Presidents’ Day. One said George Washington’s birthday, two said Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and one wondered if it wasn’t a day to celebrate all presidents. You may be surprised to learn that officially, the holiday is still recognized by the U.S. government as Washington’s Birthday.... And in Alabama, it is called Washington and Jefferson Day.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 15, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Categories:  History  | Tags:  presidents' day  
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