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Week of 12/13/10: Teaching & learning tidbits

Oregon will allow use of spell check on state writing tests in 2011

The Oregonian newspaper reports on one state allowing spell check in schools.

Do you have to be good at spelling to be a good writer? Not necessarily, at least not in Oregon public schools. As middle and high school kids begin taking state writing tests next month, they’ll have a new tool at their fingertips: spell check. For the first time, Oregon is allowing students – those taking online and paper tests – to use a spell check button on a computer to check their work before submitting answers to the writing test prompts.

New award for Colorado’s top teachers

Stand for Children, an nonprofit education advocacy organization, with support from the Daniel’s Fund, has launched a new contest to acknowledge outstanding Colorado teachers. This contest, called Our Heroes, was inspired by the film “Waiting for Superman.” Stand for Children is asking people to nominate outstanding teachers to receive awards of $1,000 to use for classroom supplies or professional development. The panel of judges (including current and former teachers) will review nominations and select up to 10 winners, to be announced Jan. 17. Contest rules and the nomination can be found here.

Top Colorado districts, schools honored

Three outgoing state leaders recently thanked educators in Colorado’s highest-performing districts and in its high-poverty but high-growth schools, while warning of tough challenges ahead. Read the story and watch the video at Education News Colorado.

Are 9th graders smarter than everyone else?

9News reports on an odd phenomenon that even has educators flummoxed.

In every public high school across Colorado, there is a mystery that’s baffling state leaders. Students who are in 9th grade now have been scoring higher on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests than their peers in other grades.

“It’s like an intellectual tsunami,” said Jo O’Brien, assistant commissioner of education in charge of assessment.

Aurora Public Schools’ niche pathways hailed by Ritter, biz leaders

The Aurora Sentinel reports on an innovative program Aurora Public Schools is embracing to engage students who have very clear interests.

Autumn Page-Tinsley and Dominic Wegner spent four days in July simulating rocket launches and mingling with a former NASA astronaut. But before the 13-year-old students from Columbia Middle School in Aurora could pack their bags for Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., they underwent a rigorous application process. The trip, sponsored by a grant from Northrop Grumman, was only one part of a specialized kind of instruction at the school, a new, “pathways” oriented approach that’s being implemented across the Aurora Public Schools district.

Douglas County school board votes to research voucher program

The Denver Post reports on the voucher flap that has people in well-heeled Dougco and beyond talking. The

Douglas County school board recently took another step toward a voucher program, with the board president saying he would like a pilot program for the 2011-12 school year. The unanimous vote came after an hour of public comments that were about equally split on whether the district should pursue such a program.

Study backs ‘value-added’ analysis of teacher effectiveness

The Los Angeles Times reports on one study showing that value-added assessments of teachers work. The story concludes that teachers’ effectiveness can be reliably estimated by gauging their students’ progress on standardized tests, according to the preliminary findings of a large-scale study released recently by leading education researchers.

Backlog could force good Colorado teachers out of classrooms

7NEWS explores a growing backlog at the Colorado Department of Education that has background checks and licensing for teachers in Colorado backed up by as much as eight months. The delays could force good teachers out of the classroom temporarily until their license is renewed. The backlog could also force districts to retain bad teachers until new teacher applications are processed.

Study: States must move faster to close achievement gaps

Education Week reports on a study that finds if states continue their current pace of progress in narrowing achievement gaps between students of different races, ethnic groups, and income levels, it could take decades for lagging student groups in some states to catch up to their better-performing peers.

At California school, parents force an overhaul

Ever wonder if parents can really make a difference? Here’s an example of the power parents can have when they get organized. Read this New York Times story.

COMPTON, Calif. — By Marlene Romero’s count, her son has had just one effective teacher in his five years at McKinley Elementary School here. Most of the time, she said, he has merely shuffled through classrooms, struggling in math without ever getting extra help.

Poll: Most want easier way to fire bad teachers

The Associated Press reports on a study it conducted with Stanford University researchers that found that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe it’s too difficult to get rid of bad teachers, while most also believe that teachers aren’t paid enough.

Race to the Top: States that lost school money face reform dilemmas

9News reports on how districts are moving forward on reform plans without the federal money they sought.

It’s like buying a fancy dress but having no date to the prom – dozens of states that crafted new education policies to compete for a share of the $3.4 billion “Race to the Top” school reform grant prizes were shut out. Now, as the 11 winning states and the District of Columbia set about spending their awards, the losing states (including Colorado) are left wondering what to do with ambitious reform plans they planned to fund with the money.

Bleak prospects for future K-12 support

Not that you need bad news this time of year, but education funding in Colorado is just one of those perpetually grinch-like topics. Read this Education News Colorado for the latest budget update.

Sixty-five Colorado teachers gain National Board Certification

Sixty-five Colorado teachers achieved National Board Certification in 2010, according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. That gain represents a 13.5 percent increase in the total number of teachers holding National Board Certifications in just one year. Like board-certified medical doctors, National Board Certified Teachers have met high standards through intensive study, expert evaluation, self-assessment and peer review. Colorado ranks 25th among all states in the number of teachers achieving board certification this year and ranks 26th in the total number of teachers (545) who have earned National Board Certification.

The state’s top five school districts in terms of the cumulative total of teachers (based on where teachers currently work) are:

  • Denver Public Schools – 78
  • Boulder Valley School District – 77
  • Cherry Creek School District – 76
  • Douglas County School District – 49
  • Mesa Valley County School District 51 – 40

Broomfield High program lets students become the teachers

The Daily Camera writes about an innovative Broomfield program that turns the tables on teachers and students.

At first, when Savannah Peters, 17, saw the level of work involved in teaching, she didn’t think it was the career for her. But working with kids at Emerald Elementary School through the Teacher Cadet program showed her how important teachers are, particularly if a student doesn’t have a support system at home. She said she has found the experience extremely rewarding.

Denver embraces charter schools in hard-to-serve neighborhoods

Building on some of the key principles of its 2010 Denver Plan, the Denver Public Schools has created a groundbreaking District-Charter Compact built on the core value that excellent educational opportunities “must be available to all students in all parts of the city, and our students’ access to them must not be limited in any way by socioeconomics, language, citizenship status, or special needs of students.”

DPS recently hosted a national conference with the Gates Foundation and the leadership from eight other big-city school districts that have adopted similar compacts around Denver’s framework of equity of opportunity, access and responsibility, and accountability for all public schools, district-run and charter.

Read the story in Education News Colorado.

Special ed funding ignores need as well as numbers

Face the State analyzes what’s happened to special education funding in Colorado. It turns out the state’s approach to funding special education is flawed in more ways than one. Not only does the state formula risk shorting school districts whose special-ed enrollment is on the rise while rewarding those with declining numbers – but it also fails to recognize the severity of a district’s special-ed needs.

Study: Most students fail to meet common-standards bar

Education Week reports on a study showing that most students have far to go before they master the skills and knowledge outlined in the new common standards that have been adopted by all but seven states.

Demographics behind enrollment in Denver Public Schools

Education News Colorado has taken data from the October student count to populate a new database showing enrollment numbers, poverty and minority rates, and numbers of English language learners and students with special needs for all 169 schools and programs in Denver Public Schools. Click on the link to search.

Poll: Education backed, but not new school taxes

MSNBC reports on a recent poll showing that Americans don’t support new taxes for schools – despite their belief that the better the quality of education in this country, the stronger the U.S. economy will be.

Eighty-eight percent say a country’s education system has a major effect on its economic health. Nearly as many — 79 percent — say the U.S. economy would improve if all Americans had at least a two-year college degree, according to an Associated Press-Stanford University poll.

Pueblo principals say they are improving schools

The Pueblo Chieftain writes that progress is being made in turning around six low-performing schools.

“As we have begun the process, clearly we are getting on the ground and beginning to truly understand what’s working well and what are the needs and the challenges,” said Manny Rivera of Global Partnership Schools.

GPS is a New York-based consultant working with the district officials on developing and implementing school improvement plans for six schools that have deemed turnaround or transformation by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Parents fighting to save schools

The Coloradoan newspaper covers a story about parents fighting school closures in the Poudre School District.

Poudre School District administrators have asked five schools, Irish, Putnam, Lopez and Beattie elementary schools along with Lincoln Middle School, to develop plans for possible closure and consolidation. PSD is pursing the plan to address underutilization of its facilities. Eleven other schools have submitted innovation/ efficiency plans as part of the process.

New guidelines make teacher tenure less automatic in New York City

The New York Times reports on changes to the tenure system in one of the nation’s largest, most complicated school districts. In most schools across the country, tenure is not something to be gained, but something to be lost. Virtually every new teacher earns it, including in New York City, where all a principal has had to do to give a teacher guaranteed lifetime employment is to check a box on a computer program.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.