Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to spot a world-class education

In an exclusive adaptation from her new book, "The Smartest Kids in the World," Amanda Ripley encapsulates her three years studying high-performing schools around the globe into a few powerful guidelines.
The first time I went to an open house in search of a school for my own child in Washington, DC, years ago, I spent a lot of time staring at classroom bulletin boards. I hoped the children’s drawings, the construction-paper borders and the rules posted by the teacher would reveal the classroom’s secrets.
Was this a place where learning happened? Was this a place where children felt safe? Inspired? Curious?
It never worked. The bulletin boards did not speak to me. Now I know I was looking in the wrong direction.
Since then, having spent years studying schools around the world, I judge them differently. It’s not easy, of course. Every child is different. An outstanding school for one child might be hell on earth for another.
Still, when it comes to finding a school that is both rigorous and alive, full of spirit and learning, there are a few reliable tricks. Based on what I have seen from visiting schools on four continents, listening to kids, teachers, and parents and studying the research of other, smarter people than myself, here are a few tips from my own evolving guide to spotting a world-class education.

Watch the students

If you are trying to understand a school, you can ignore most of the information you are given. Open houses? Pretty much useless. Average class size? Not as important as most people think. Some studies have shown that smaller class sizes benefit children in elementary school, but other studies have found no clear relationship. In fact, some of the highest-performing countries (Japan, say, or Korea) typically have larger classes than the United States; and some consistently unimpressive education systems have among the smallest class sizes (Greece, for example, or Italy). Assuming class sizes are within a range from roughly 15 to 35 students, the research suggests that other factors, including the quality of the teaching, matter more than size.
Test data? More helpful, but very hard to decipher in most places. How good is the test? How much value is the school adding beyond what kids are already learning at home?
Instead, the best way to gauge the quality of a school is to spend time — even just 20 minutes — visiting classrooms while school is in session.
When you get there, though, it’s important to know where to look. Turn away from the bulletin boards and watch the students instead. Watch for signs that all the kids are paying attention, interested in what they are doing, and working hard.
Don’t check for signs of order; sometimes learning happens in a lecture hall, but more often it happens in noisy places where the kids are working in groups without much input from the teacher. Some of the worst classrooms are quiet, tidy places that look, to adults, reassuringly calm.
Remember that rigorous learning actually looks rigorous. If the kids are whizzing through a worksheet, that’s not learning. That’s filling out a form. Kids should be uncomfortable sometimes; that’s okay. They should not be frustrated or despairing; instead, they should be getting help when they need it, often from each other. They should not spend long, empty stretches of time transitioning from one class to another or waiting for the next activity. There should be a sense of urgency that you can feel.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Brown vs. Board of Education – 60 Years Later - A Presidential Proclamation



May 17, 1954, marked a turning point in America's journey toward a more perfect Union. On that day, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing racial segregation in our Nation's schools. Brown overturned the doctrine of "separate but equal," which the Court had established in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson. For more than half a century, Plessy gave constitutional backing to discrimination, and civil rights organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People faced an uphill battle as they sought equality, opportunity, and justice under the law.

Brown v. Board of Education shifted the legal and moral compass of our Nation. It declared that education "must be made available to all on equal terms" and demanded that America's promise exclude no one. Yet the Supreme Court alone could not destroy segregation. Brown had unlocked the schoolhouse doors, but even years later, African-American children braved mobs as they walked to school, while U.S. Marshals kept the peace. From lunch counters and city streets to buses and ballot boxes, American citizens struggled to realize their basic rights. A decade after the Court's ruling, Brown's moral guidance was translated into the enforcement measures of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Thanks to the men and women who fought for equality in the courtroom, the legislature, and the hearts and minds of the American people, we have confined legalized segregation to the dustbin of history. Yet today, the hope and promise of Brown remains unfulfilled. In the years to come, we must continue striving toward equal opportunities for all our children, from access to advanced classes to participation in the same extracurricular activities. Because when children learn and play together, they grow, build, and thrive together.

On the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, let us heed the words of Justice Thurgood Marshall, who so ably argued the case against segregation, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody...bent down and helped us pick up our boots." Let us march together, meet our obligations to one another, and remember that progress has never come easily -- but even in the face of impossible odds, those who love their country can change it.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 17, 2014, as the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with programs, ceremonies, and activities that celebrate this landmark decision and advance the causes of equality and opportunity for all.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

‘Quilt University’ explores African-American cultural education

Written by Kevin Moore | | www.toledofreepress.com

Lucy Thelma Osbourne sees academia from a different perspective. Most people associate education with classrooms, teachers and textbooks. Osbourne, a woman now in her 80s who grew up in the sharecropping culture of the South, sees education as fabric, stitching and stories. She has shared her experience and thoughts on learning in her first book “Quilt University: Transforming Oral Learning into Academic Knowledge.”

Osbourne, who earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in 1999, returned to the University of Toledo to pursue a master’s degree in education. Her master’s thesis, which would become “Quilt University” 15 years later, was initially a struggle for her.

“I didn’t know what to write about. What I knew about was me. I grew up in a segregated town called Evergreen, Alabama, so I didn’t have the educational background for many subjects and wasn’t taught language well. Then I discovered a quilt my grandmother had made, which fell out of a cabinet when I opened the door. So I started reading quilt literature and looking at quilts going way back.”

Quilt-making played a prominent role in the South and in African-American families and neighborhoods. The process of making a quilt was a large undertaking that took up most of the day if not multiple days. Family members and neighbors would come together to make a quilt to celebrate life milestones such as a wedding, birth of a new child or someone going to college, with each person bringing scraps of cloth from everything ranging from drapery to flour sacks. While the group quilted, the family elders told stories and passed their knowledge down to the younger generations. Even the men in the community participated in a quilt-making project by gathering wood to build a frame on which the smaller sewn pieces could be stitched together to form the full quilt.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The First African-American Piano Manufacturer

At the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in February, one couldn't help but notice the striking new grand piano on the main stage, emblazoned with the name SHADD. When the many accomplished pianists that wee­­kend sat down to strike those keys, it was equally easy to spot their delight in the instrument.
That piano was the product of a trailblazer in his field. The Shadd in question is jazz drummer Warren Shadd, the first African-American piano manufacturer. That makes him the first large-scale commercial African-American instrument manufacturer, period.
For Shadd, piano making is part of his birthright. His grandparents were musicians: His grandmother was a ragtime pianist in the South in the '30s, and his grandfather invented (and performed on) a collapsible drum set. (He never patented it, a lesson his grandson learned.) Shadd's father was himself a piano technician, restorer, builder and performer — as well as a trombonist. And Shadd's aunt was the NEA Jazz Master pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn. A child prodigy, young Warren made his own concert debut at age 4.
Shadd Pianos are now in churches and concert venues across the U.S. — including the set of American Idol, where house keyboardist Wayne Linsey will play it on Wednesday night's episode. On a recent visit to Warren Shadd's home in a suburb of Washington, D.C. — a home that doubles as the Shadd Piano showroom — he spoke about his life and work. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The best (and worst) jobs for 2014

CareerCast is out with their annual ranking of the 10 best and 10 worst jobs for 2014, and let's just say that math and science guys everywhere are about to high-five.
Nine out of 10 of the best jobs fell into the STEM career category (science, technology, engineering and math), with the "numbers guys," in particular, locking in 3 of the top 4 spots.
"This absolutely verifies the importance of STEM careers," said Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com andJobsRated.com.
CareerCast looks at 200 of the most populated jobs and then ranks them on a variety of criteria that fall into four key categories: environment, income, outlook and stress. (Stress alone has 11 different factors, from high risk to tough deadlines.)
"When you look across a range of criteria - not just salary and hiring outlook but also the work environment, physical factors and stress - [STEM] jobs are the best," Lee said.
Mathematician was named the best job for 2014, followed by tenured university professor and statistician.
There were some wild swings in the rankings this year - all three of those top jobs jumped double-digits on the list. Normally, you see single-digit moves from year to year. The reason is because the Bureau of Labor Statistics just updated their database to include more recent statistics and projections through 2022.
The results weren't as dramatic in the 10 worst jobs - many of last year's worst remained on the list, only moving a few spots either way. That's because they tend to be dangerous jobs with low pay - factors that simply aren't changing for these jobs.
Lumberjack earned the distinction of being the worst job, followed by newspaper reporter and enlisted military personnel.
The worst jobs list is where you saw residual effects of the recession peek through: Some of these jobs took an extra hit in the hiring outlook due to industry consolidation, municipal cutbacks or other factors.
One interesting thing you'll find on the worst list: Many of these people love their jobs, be they lumberjacks, firefighters or broadcasters.
"There are always going to be happy lumberjacks!" Lee quipped, adding, "We've talked to happy lumberjacks who say, 'I love what I do. I love being outdoors. I don't care that I don't make much money or that there are layoffs pending."
The list has a very practical application for teachers, who use it to launch a discussion with their students about careers.
Hmm. That's a great point. You never hear a kid say he wants to be an actuary when he grows up, do you?!
Hey, someone had to get that conversation started!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Long Island high school student is accepted at all eight Ivy League schools

It's tough enough to get into one Ivy League school. But all eight?
That's what happened to Kwasi Enin, a student at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach, N.Y., this week. The 17-year-old received acceptance letters from Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale.
So where will he end up? Enin told Newsday he's already leaning toward Yale.
"They seem to embody all the kinds of things I want in a college," he said. "The family. The wonderful education. The amazing diverse students. Financial aid as well."
Enin scored 2,250 on his SATs, putting him in the 99th percentile. Still, the Long Island teen said he wasn't banking on getting into all eight prestigious universities.
“By applying to all eight, I figured it would better the chances of getting into one,” he told the New York Daily News.
Enin, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Ghana, told the newspaper that he'd like to be a physician, possibly a cardiologist or neurologist.
For the record, he was also accepted by Duke, Stony Brook University, SUNY Geneseo and Binghamton University.
Enin (far right), with dad Ebenezer (far left), mom Doreen (second from left) and sister Adwoa (second from right).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

New SAT: The Essay Portion Is To Become Optional

Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.

Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as "prevaricator" and "sagacious" in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

College Board officials said Wednesday the update — the first since 2005 — is needed to make the exam more representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward. The test should offer "worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles," said College Board President David Coleman at an event in Austin, Texas.

The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year's ninth graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will return to a 1,600-point scale last used in 2004, with a separate score for the optional essay.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Troubling Number Of Minority And Female Students Took This AP Exam In 2013

The Advanced Placement Computer Science exam clearly has a problem when it comes to minority and female high school students.
The College Board -- the association responsible for creating and overseeing AP testing -- on Tuesday released its annual report on AP exam participation and performance, noting that a vast majority of AP Computer Science test-takers in 2013 were white males. Of the more than 20,000 students to take the exam last year, 81 percent were male and 54 percent were white. Only 9 percent of the test-takers were Latino and 3 percent were African-American.
The following graphs break it down:
ap exam
Senior research scientist Barbara Ericson of Georgia Tech University provided a separate analysis of the test data, painting an even bleaker picture of the situation in some parts of the country. Her analysis reveals no African-American students took the AP Computer Science exam in 11 states, and that not a single female, African-American or Hispanic student took the test in Montana or Mississippi.
The numbers suggest that the world of technology, which is already dominated by white males, may continue being a white man's club.
Deborah Davis, the director of college readiness communications at The College Board, told The Huffington Post in an email that the organization recognizes these problems and has been taking steps to up the number of minority and female test-takers.
“The College Board is deeply committed to increasing access to rigorous computing courses, particularly for underrepresented female and minority students. In order to address this issue, we have collaborated with national organizations, other nonprofits and the private sector to ensure expanded access,” wrote Davis.
More than 1 million students took AP exams in 2013, according to The College Board report. Nine percent of these test-takers were African-American, and 19 percent were Hispanic.
By: Rebecca Klein

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Do ACT and SAT scores really matter? New study says they shouldn’t

Remember fretting about your ACT and SAT scores? A new study reveals that it really is only a number and not a reliable predictor for college success.

Teens across the U.S. are standing by their mailboxes, waiting anxiously for the envelopes that will seal their academic fate. It’s college admissions season and for many students a lot hinges on how well they performed in standardized testing.

But how much should exams like the SAT and ACT really matter?

A study published Tuesday that probed the success of “test-optional” admissions policies in 33 public and private universities calls into question the need for such testing.

Former Dean of Admissions for Bates College William Hiss led the study which tracked the grades and graduation rates of students who submitted their test results against those who did not over several years.

Hiss’ data showed that there was a negligible difference in college performance between the two groups. Only .05 percent of a GPA point set “submitters” and “non-submitters” apart, and the difference in their graduation rates was just .6 percent.

There are about 850 test-optional colleges in the U.S., and the trend is growing slowly.
What should college admissions officers look for instead? Hiss says GPA matters the most.

“The evidence of the study clearly shows that high school GPA matters. Four-year, long-term evidence of self-discipline, intellectual curiosity and hard work; that’s what matters the most. After that, I would say evidence that someone has interests that they have brought to a higher level, from a soccer goalie to a debater to a servant in a community to a linguist. We need to see evidence that the student can bring something to a high level of skill,” Hiss said.