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The Answer Sheet: February 21, 2010 - February 27, 2010

Teaching kids about quakes, tsunamis

My 13-year-old daughter was riveted today by the terrible news of the strong Chilean earthquake and tsunami warnings (which she learned about on Twitter). She wanted to know if it was connected to the earthquake hours earlier off the coast of Japan, and with the one in Haiti last month. We talked about how it happened--the theory of plate tectonics that she learned (and I got a refresher) when she was in sixth grade--and I was glad to hear that she had retained an understanding of it, though exactly how tsunamis move across the ocean was less clear. The Chilean earthquake was far more powerful than the one in Haiti that killed an estimated 200,000 or more in January. This quake and its aftermath are going to be in the news for some time, and if you didn’t teach your kids about earthquakes when Port-au-Prince was struck now is a good time, especially with the added potential for disaster from tsunamis. Here is some information and websites that can help you.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 27, 2010; 2:30 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Parents  | Tags:  earthquakes  
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Falling into a ditch

By Marion Brady. A recent Washington Post headline said, "Lawmakers to launch bipartisan effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind." Reading that headline, professional educators on familiar terms with the King James version of the Bible are likely to recall one of the Jesus’ parables as quoted by Luke: "Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?" With very, very few exceptions, the education reform chatter of members of Congress exhibits a level of educational ignorance that would be laughing-out-loud funny if those engaged in it weren’t making policy, and the consequences of those policies for the young and for the future of America weren’t so devastating.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 26, 2010; 5:07 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Marion Brady, No Child Left Behind  | Tags:  No Child Left Behind  
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Schools need to step up obesity fight

By Sean Slade. The federal government has become more serious about the health and well-being of our kids, perhaps most obviously through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move!” initiative which seeks to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation....Some of the health goals of "Let’s Move!" can be achieved without the explicit help of schools, but as our kids are in school more than seven hours a day, what happens at school (and how and why it happens) has a direct influence on what they do, think, eat, and learn.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 26, 2010; 9:45 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (13)
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Health  | Tags:  health, obesity  
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Why you should read Diane Ravitch's new book

Among the many important lessons in Diane Ravitch’s new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” this one keeps knocking about in my head: “Reformers imagine that it is easy to create a successful school, but it is not.... When a school is successful, it is hard to know which factor was most important or if it was a combination of factors." This is hardly original with Ravitch, but when she says it, and details the factors that can--and can't contribute to success--people listen.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 26, 2010; 1:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (13)
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, No Child Left Behind  | Tags:  Diane Ravitch, school reform  
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The hype of 'value-added' in teacher evaluation

By Lisa Guisbond. As a rookie mom, I used to be shocked when another parent expressed horror about a teacher I thought was a superstar. No more. The fact is that your kids’ results will vary with teachers, just as they do with pills, diets and exercise regimens. Nonetheless, we all want our kids to have at least a few excellent teachers along the way, so it’s tempting to buy into hype about value-added measures (VAM) as a way to separate the excellent from the horrifying, or least the better from the worse.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 25, 2010; 12:16 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Tags:  assessment, teachers  
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Writer David Carr's unconventional education

David Carr writes about media and culture for The New York Times, though that is not why I wanted to interview him for this Talking Out of School series. Rather, it was what Atlantic Monthly called his “joyous peculiarity.” Here he talks about going to a Catholic boys school he "loathed," a teacher who told him he didn't know anything and inspired him to read a long list of American contemporary works, what he thinks of his own children's education, and more.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 25, 2010; 10:25 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Talking Out of School  | Tags:  David Carr, Talking Out of School  
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College application videos: Good or bad idea?

Underscoring the fine line between art and reality, the movie “Legally Blonde” seems to have foretold the newest innovation in college admissions: YouTube videos. In the movie, the rich sorority girl Elle played by Reese Witherspoon submits a video, supposedly directed by Francis Ford Coppola, video to Harvard Law School and winds up being accepted. During the current admissions season a few schools gave students the opportunity to submit optional videos telling about themselves.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 25, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Why not fire all the teachers?

Finally, a school system has decided to fire all of the educators at an ailing school.Why didn’t we think about this sooner? Firing some of them hasn’t really proven effective in turning around schools, has it? So why not get rid of all of them and start over?

By Valerie Strauss  | February 24, 2010; 2:55 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (64)
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan  | Tags:  firing teachers, school reform  
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So you really think your kid doesn’t sext?

I was all caught up in the controversy about the Pledge of Allegiance when a colleague sent me this message in our internal Post message system: diamondback story. a female student is quoted as saying sexting can come in handy when you’re looking for a late-night hook up. I said goodbye to the Pledge and quickly called up the story on the University of Maryland student newspaper’s website, to find a story in which a student is quoted as saying this about sexting: “It’s fun. When it’s just a hookup, there’s this ‘forbidden fruit’ kind of idea, so sexting makes it even more appealing.”

By Valerie Strauss  | February 24, 2010; 1:06 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  sexting  
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Passions high over the Pledge

At a school board meeting in Marion County, Fla., last year, World War II veterans packed the audience to protest a move to drop a requirement in the Student Code of Conduct that kids must stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. “Get the hell out of Marion County,” 85-year-old James Phillips said to those who didn’t want to stand for the pledge.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 24, 2010; 11:21 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (12)
Categories:  Civics Education  | Tags:  civics education  
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How to realistically focus your college search (or don't watch 'Grey's Anatomy' and go pre-med)

By Angel B. Perez. With so many different colleges out there and so much information on the web, in book stores, the media, and other sources – how does one begin to look for the right college? The college process is about finding the right “fit.” Every college offers an academic program, but finding the school that compliments you the most takes work. I begin by offering you 3 areas you should focus on in a broad manner, before you begin to narrow down your college search.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 24, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  College Admissions, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  college admissions  
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First Amendment folly in Moco school

The Montgomery County public school teacher who wrongly humiliated and disciplined a student who chose not to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance clearly did not understand the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. But, then again, neither do most Americans.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 23, 2010; 4:44 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (26)
Categories:  Civics Education, Higher Education, Montgomery County Public Schools  | Tags:  civics education, montgomery county schools  
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Is heckling a First Amendment right?

If you were to list the people who could easily be heckled off a podium in the United States, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would surely be one of them. He has, among other things, accused the U.S. government of terrorism and repeatedly denied the Holocaust. But when he was invited to speak at Columbia University last fall during his visit to the United Nations, he was allowed to give his speech as he wanted. Over at the University of California at Irvine, however, some Muslim students didn’t extend the courtesy to the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 23, 2010; 11:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Higher Education  | Tags:  free speech, higher education  
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Senior to parents: Let kids pick their own college

By Adam Turay. Over the summer and early at the start of this school year, I was one of many college-obsessed young students. I remember checking out numerous schools and trying to figure out which would be best for me. I looked at class size, best programs of study, and requirements for admission. All in all, I did a pretty good job of deciding where I wanted to apply and what I wanted from each of the schools that I chose. I thought I had more or less figured things out. Between information sessions at school and all the research I’d done, I felt pretty prepared to start applying to the colleges I’d chosen. I had taken the classes, sat the standardized tests, and written the essays. Bring on the application process! I was ready to go. Or so I thought.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 23, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (9)
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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New claims about baby 'educational' videos

I’ll give this to the Brainy Baby Company: It doesn’t give up. For years the company, along with the Baby Einstein folks, has been selling DVDs for the very young on the notion that they were educational and helped kids learn. Child development experts fought back, saying there was no scientific evidence to prove that contention.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 22, 2010; 8:35 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Categories:  Early Childhood  | Tags:  early childhood, infants watching tv  
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The high school courses students need for college

By Bruce Vinik. It’s that time of year again. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training and high school students are puzzling over which classes to take next fall. The choices students make do matter. Outside of grades, nothing is more important in college admissions than the classes kids take in high school. “Strength of Program” is a big deal

By Valerie Strauss  | February 22, 2010; 11:57 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (6)
Categories:  Bruce Vinik, College Admissions, Higher Education  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Willingham: Why goals matter in education

By Daniel Willingham. In my last post I made the point that measurement is essential to progress in education. If we are ever to improve the methods by which students learn, we must be able to measure the consequences of those methods. Only then can we eliminate the methods that don’t yield the results we want, and adopt new methods that work better. But what outcomes do we want to measure? Outcomes are important or unimportant depending on the goals we set for schooling. Yet I hear remarkably little discussion of big-picture goals. Why do students go to school? Here is a non-exhaustive list of possible reasons.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 22, 2010; 11:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, Learning  | Tags:  Daniel Willingham, guest bloggers  
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D.C.'s National Merit winners aren't all from D.C.

Poor Washington D.C. Not only does it not have full representation in Congress but, it turns out, its residents don’t get full representation in the National Merit Scholarship Program either... One might assume that scholarship winners live in the state in which they are named, thus achieving the state proportional representation that the National Merit folks say they want. But that’s not always the case.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 22, 2010; 6:30 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (7)
Categories:  College Admissions, D.C. Schools, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  National Merit Scholarship program, college admissions  
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The panic over 'missing' application documents

This scene has been happening in a lot of homes where high school seniors are awaiting college admissions decisions: An envelope from a college is in the stack and is immediately ripped open. Inside is a letter that says that the application--the one that you thought was complete--may be missing some documents. Sometimes the document is specified, and sometimes it isn’t.

By Valerie Strauss  | February 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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