NELMS NEWS Node 2008
An annotated list of current events & issues related to the middle level

Extra time for planning, professional development angers parents A Massachusetts district's decision to add to the middle-school calendar two more early-release days in which students are dismissed from school early so that teachers can engage in professional development to improve teaching quality and curriculum has prompted some parent complaints. Parents say their children should be spending more time in school, not less, and the irregular schedule makes finding after-school supervision difficult. The Boston Globe (11/16)

Colorado district to categorize students by what they know A struggling Denver, Colo.-area school district will no longer divide students by grade level beginning next year, but rather by what they know -- a change officials hope will boost test scores and graduation rates. "In a standards-based system, time becomes the variable and learning is the constant," said Roberta Selleck, superintendent of the Adams 50 school district. "When a kid can demonstrate proficiency of a standard, they move on. There is nothing magical about a quarter, semester or the end of school. That becomes blurred. Learning becomes much more 24/7." The Denver Post (12/21)

N.H. educators debate two-year high school degree New Hampshire's plan to allow some students to graduate after their sophomore year has sparked passionate discussions among educators throughout the state about what high school should be and whether 16-year-olds are ready for college. "The purpose is to change the way education is delivered to students," said Lyonel B. Tracy, the state's education commissioner. "It will allow students who want to get on with advancing their education to do so. ... We are overdue for a change in our educational system." The Boston Globe (12/21)

School Chief From Chicago Is Cabinet Pick Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools superintendent known for taking tough steps to improve schools while maintaining respectful relations with teachers and their unions, is President-elect Obama’s choice as secretary of education, Democratic officials said Monday. The New York Times, Education section, 12/16/08

Study: Sleep central to learning, memory A single night's sleep helped people learn complex tasks and remember information they thought they had forgotten, according to a study. "Sleep consolidated learning by restoring what was lost over the course of a day following training and by protecting what was learned against subsequent loss," said researcher Howard Nusbaum, a University of Chicago psychology professor. "These findings suggest that sleep has an important role in learning generalized skills in stabilizing and protecting memory." ScienceDaily (11/19)

Engaging students more important than an engaging subject Teachers must know how to engage a wide range of learners, writes sixth-grade teacher Bill Ferriter. Building relationships with students and helping them develop their strengths and address their weaknesses are far more important than being a subject expert, he says. Teacher Magazine (11/19)

Google erects virtual model of ancient Rome Ancient Rome circa 320 A.D. has been virtually rebuilt by Google as an educational tool. The company is offering prizes to teachers who design the best lesson plans based on the site. The Sydney Morning Herald/Agence France-Presse (11/13)

Following Grades Like the Stock Market Numerous schools have started posting grades online so that both parents and students can check them with a few clicks of a mouse. An ASCD blog post highlights how these online "grade books" allow users to receive e-mail alerts when grades are posted; calculate what grade a student needs to get on a future project to achieve a certain overall grade; and perhaps most important, track their children's progress and intervene if one is struggling. The post also asks readers if they think grades will improve if parents have access to them 24/7 online. The ASCD Commnity Blog.

District to bring more parents to court over children's truancy A Connecticut district that during the 2007-08 school year brought to court the parents of 87 chronically truant students from two schools will expand the program to two more buildings after drastically reducing unexcused absences. The district found parental mental-health and poverty played a role as did extended vacations, but the most frequent cause for absences was found to be children's asthma attacks, so the judge worked with the district to put parents in touch with clinics and other medical resources to help address their children's condition. Republican-American (Waterbury, Conn.) (9/14)

Half of schools in Mass. fall short Half of all Massachusetts public schools this year failed to meet achievement standards established by the state under the No Child Left Behind Act. That includes 100 of 143 public schools in Boston, according to a report released yesterday by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Boston Globe (9/20)

Stretched schools tally more student poverty, homelessness Even as many U.S. districts are increasingly strapped by growing food and fuel costs, more students are qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches. The number of homeless students in Mobile, Ala., schools, for instance, tripled at the end of the 2007-08 school year over 2006-07 rates and will likely continue to rise, a school social worker said. NY Times (9/22)

Report: 29% of lowest-scoring students enrolled in advanced math Some 38% of U.S. eighth-graders are now taking algebra or other advanced math classes, but many may be missing out on arithmetic fundamentals, according to a new Brookings Institution report based on National Assessment of Educational Progress data. Some misplaced students "don't know very much math at all and yet they're taking courses in advanced math," said the report's author, Tom Loveless. "It might make everyone feel better, but the whole arrangement is counterfeit." USA TODAY (9/22), Google/The Associated Press (9/21), Los Angeles Times (free registration) (9/22), The Washington Post (9/22)

R.I. students demonstrate knowledge with mandatory projects For the first time, all graduating Rhode Island seniors this spring must demonstrate what they've learned, not only by standardized testing, but via two state-mandated performance-based assessments, such as presenting a portfolio of their work spanning all four years of high school or completing a senior project. "It really ramps up the meaning of senior year" and better prepares students for college and work, said English teacher Kevin Blanchard of the performance-based assessment construct. Education Week (premium article access compliments of (6/16)

Educational wikis can facilitate student learning Wikis can help encourage classmates to think of learning as a collaborative, interactive process and better involve parents as well, says Michael Bolognino, community marketing manager for a company that designs wiki templates for classrooms. However, educators emphasize that students need to realize that information found in such documents often needs to be verified using additional sources. E-Commerce Times (9/10)

TEACHING SECRETS: FIVE TIPS FOR THE NEW TEACHER We highlighted Cindi Rigsbee's excellent middle grades blog, The Dream Teacher, earlier this year. Now the newly named North Carolina Teacher of the Year has an essay in Teacher Magazine in which she shares her five favorite comments to new teachers in her school.

Rigsbee begins with "Hit the floor running and breathe when you leave" and ends with "Don't hide your light under a bushel." This essay, one of a series written by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, is currently the "most viewed" article at the TM site. Other veteran teachers are leaving additional tips in the Comments section.
You might, too! Teacher Magazine (9/3)

N.Y. school experiments with "grounding" poorly performing students Students at a Buffalo, N.Y.-area middle school who score poorly in any class or appear ambivalent about their studies will no longer be allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities like school dances, sports or academic clubs unless they show weekly improvement. Although some parents applaud the policy, some educators are concerned it may be counterproductive. The New York Times (4/4)

Presidential race offers educators many teachable moments The 2008 presidential primaries have engaged students and provided teachers with many real-life civics lessons. "It's exciting," says Jack Greenberg, a sixth-grader in West Haven, Conn. "A lot of kids want to see the first woman president, and a lot of kids want to see an African-American president." USA TODAY (6/2)

Study: Middle Schools Struggle to Get Their Share Are middle schoolers the "forgotten generation?" A new study of the Los Angeles County middle schools concludes just that. In fact, over 70% of the city's middle schools are failing and factors like overcrowding, insufficient funding, and unqualified teachers combine to play a role in that alarming number. The study shadows the nationwide struggle that most middle schools face to receive adequate funding and employ highly qualified teachers in a culture that far too often overlooks the middle level. Los Angeles Daily News, 5/29/08 (5/27)

Involved parents play a major role in student achievement Students whose parents are actively involved in their education or schools do much better academically, according to University of New Hampshire research on more than 10,000 U.S. eighth-graders. Parent involvement has as much effect on student achievement as would schools spending an additional $1,000 per child, according to researcher Karen Smith Conway. Concord Monitor/Associated Press (5/27)

Report: Most teens understand writing basics More than 80% of eighth- and 12th-graders are familiar with the basics of writing, but relatively few of these students are capable of writing proficiently, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress results released Thursday. Just one in three eighth-graders and one in four high-school seniors were found capable of using proper spelling, grammar and higher-level writing skills needed to craft a clear and well-organized essay. Education Week (premium article access compliments of (4/3)

New site helps teachers use Google Earth in classrooms

A new teacher-created site allows educators to share lesson plans incorporating the free Google Earth software. In addition to dozens of lesson plans, the site offers guides to help teachers become more comfortable with the software. eSchool News (4/2)

Extracurriculars might teach students life skills

After-school opportunities give teens, who more often mimic their peers than risk being different, a chance to experiment within a safe environment. "Kids need the opportunity to take risks and learn from them," said Abigail Baird, a Vassar College director of adolescent studies. "After-school programs can provide the perfect opportunity to experiment." The Providence Journal (R.I.) (free registration) (4/8)

New Strand Added to 2009 Annual Conference

Executive Director Robert Spear recently announce that a new Unified Arts strand will be added to enhance the program options for the Annual Conference. The "Call for Presentations" form is available online at Spear hopes that teachers from the Unified Arts areas will step up and offer to present at the conference. He stated, "If unified arts teachers offer to present on their effective practices, this strand will be extremely successful." It was also stated that this new strand will again offer "UA" teachers a forum for discussion and sharing of best practices. NELMS looks forward to receiving a large number of submissions for this strand and to have many more "UA" teachers at the Annual Conference.

The strand states: Unified Arts - Issues and Ideas All things pertaining to the Unified Arts are a part of this strand. Topics within the areas of Art, Health, Physical Education, Music, Technology Education, Family and Consumer Science, Performance groups, and Drama are appropriate. Also issues such as connecting to grade level teams, scheduling, UA classes and state testing, and current trends are also suitable.

Interested in becoming a NELMS presenter for this or other strands click here for more info on strands and a registration form.

Many teens lack financial savvy

U.S. high school seniors scored the lowest yet on a national Federal Reserve survey testing students' knowledge of economics and personal finance, on average correctly answering just 48.3% of the questions. "In light of the problems that have arisen in the subprime mortgage market, we are reminded of how critically important it is for individuals to become financially literate at an early age," said Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. "The financial preparedness of our nation's youth is essential to their well-being and of vital importance to our economic future." Houston Chronicle/Associated Press

Building NELMS Community

Here is an invitation for members to join the New England League of Middle Schools group on FaceBook!

For those who are unfamiliar with FaceBook, it is site that allows users to create an account and to build a profile. Once those are established (in a process that takes about 5 minutes), users may search for and join networks and groups. Members of these networks and groups can share information (discussions, pictures, video, events, and messages) with others in the group. The NELMS group was started by the Technology Committee. We look forward to new members and a growing web presence for NELMS.

Registering for FaceBook:

Point your browser to this page:

Click the Sign-Up button.

Check your email and follow the link to confirm your registration.

Search for the group New England League of Middle Schools.

Gary Ackerman (1/18)

Inflexibility cited as culprit in NCLB reauthorization stalemate
With Congress not likely to take up NCLB reauthorization in 2008, some observers are putting the blame for this year's legislative stalemate on President George W. Bush and interest groups that opposed many elements of draft legislative language released earlier this year by members of the House and Senate. Education Week (premium article access compliments of (12/17)

Teachers learn to spice up learning with drama, art
One Colorado artist is helping educators find new ways to infuse their lessons with creativity. "I have found that in the last 15 years, teachers are frustrated with the lack of creative response," theater artist Patrick Elkins-Zelarski said. "Education as a process has become less and less about creativity and more about conformity." Fort Collins (Colo.) Coloradoan

Study: Children left behind before school starts
Four major factors driving students' standardized test performance aren't even within schools' control, according to a new Educational Testing Service study. Simply by knowing the percentage of students who were often absent, raised by a single parent, not read to daily or watched five or more hours of TV daily, researchers were able to predict each state's results on a federal test with "impressive accuracy," The New York Times reports. The states that scored lowest tended to be those that had the highest percentages of children who met each of the four criteria. New York Times, The (12/09)

Discussions help students organize, understand topics
Discussions help students organize, understand topics Preparing students for and engaging students in vigorous classroom discussions might prepare them to write more thoughtful, coherent essays, veteran language arts teacher and literacy coach Kathie Marshall writes. One student who rarely wrote little more than a "word salad" at the beginning of a four-week unit wrote a strong, thoughtful essay at its completion. Teacher Magazine (2/19)

Gym resources, class time vary widely across Massachusetts
Massachusetts schools vary widely in terms of their physical-education resources: Some newer schools feature regular sessions in new facilities with rock-climbing walls and pricey fitness machines, while older schools might have to make do with outdated, cramped gyms. The Boston Globe (1/10)

Digital textbooks expand into K-12 classrooms
Teachers may be driving growth in digital texts as they experiment with tweaking material for different learning styles or to aid English-language learners. "Essentially what you're doing is you're able to reach all types of learners," said Jim Blackwell, whose central California district participated in a pilot program for a digital text in 2005. "Reaching them verbally and visually, you're letting them control the material and go at their own pace. They stay engaged at all times." USA TODAY (12/17)

Longer day helps 10 Massachusetts schools boost test scores
Ten Massachusetts public schools that last year lengthened the school day by 25% or more to offer extra reading, writing and math lessons saw student scores increase across the board. Education leaders across the U.S. are weighing whether they should follow suit, and U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., wants Congress to approve legislation to make school days longer. Massachusetts spent about $20 million administering the program, at a cost of $1,300 per student. The Boston Globe (11/30)

Better organizational skills may improve boys' academic performance
Tutor Ana Homayoun helps teens -- especially adolescent boys -- learn and maintain key organizational skills vital to their educational success. Boys may have more difficulty than girls in terms of organizing and multitasking as the demands on students to take responsibility for homework and studying grow in junior high and high school, education experts say. International Herald Tribune (1/1)


*Node=a point at which lines or pathways intersect or branch; a central or connecting point.