NELMS NEWS Node 2009
An annotated list of current events &
issues related to the middle level

Massachusetts eighth-graders plan eco-friendly school redesign
One Massachusetts teacher recently challenged her eighth-grade students to propose an eco-friendly redesign of their school campus. Students were given an imaginary budget to fund their proposed renovations, which included the rationale for their designs as well as floor plans, a PowerPoint presentation and an estimate of all expenses. "This unit will help students to create a connection between their environment and key subjects, help them gain important work and life skills," their teacher said.
The Republican (Springfield, Mass.) (12/27)

Grant to fund technology initiative in Vermont middle schools
A $5 million donation from a philanthropic foundation will fund a new technology initiative between the University of Vermont and the state's middle schools. The Learning and Engaging Adolescents Project -- called I-LEAP -- will aim to better integrate educational technology into classrooms at an important time in students' careers, challenging teachers to find ways to leverage student interest in technology and improve learning. The initiative will focus on select middle schools but also offer technology training to teachers.
The Burlington Free Press (Vt.) (12/22)

Los Angeles school uses gender to group students,0,1860355.story
Young Oak Kim Academy, the newest middle school in Los Angeles, separates students by gender and has a goal to provide a project-based, holistic learning experience for students -- particularly minority boys -- who might otherwise fall "through the cracks in public education." But while the popularity of single-sex classrooms grows nationwide, opponents say the idea reinforces gender stereotypes and reduces opportunities for students.
Los Angeles Times (11/29)

Expert details differentiated homework strategies for teachers
Education professor Cathy Vatterott -- a former middle-school teacher and principal known as "the homework lady" -- outlines in this interview a nonpunitive, differentiated approach to homework that can be beneficial to teachers, parents and students. Vatterott, author of the ASCD book "Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs," discusses how poverty may affect students' ability to complete homework and how assigning homework that is too extensive or too difficult interferes with a student's motivation to learn.
Teacher Magazine (free registration) (12/11)

Schools struggle to sustain one-year gains in test scores
Studies show that many low-performing schools that make significant one-year gains in test scores struggle to build on their successes. Seven schools in Washington, D.C., posted academic gains in reading and math of 20 percentage points or more in 2008, but just one improved achievement in 2009. While changes in school leadership and policy can make it difficult for schools to sustain progress, smaller schools with smaller sample sizes may be subject to substantial swings in scores.
The Washington Post (12/6)

Rhode Island education chief presents school-reform plan
Rhode Island education chief Deborah A. Gist has offered the Board of Regents a plan to overhaul the state's schools within three to five years to improve student achievement, turn around struggling schools, improve teacher effectiveness and narrow the achievement gap among students from different economic and racial backgrounds. The board said it was concerned about adopting such a plan during difficult economic times. Gist said, "We are confident we are organizing our staff and redirecting the resources we already have to these priorities."
The Providence Journal (R.I.) (11/23)

Racial Achievement Gap Still Plagues Schools
Educators in a New Jersey district are questioning whether grouping students by ability -- called leveling or tracking -- may be perpetuating racial achievement gaps, but teachers and parents are divided on whether embracing mixed-ability classes will solve the problem. Raising expectations in lower-level classes is a goal, says school Superintendent Brian Osborne, but the question remains whether sorting systems undermine students' confidence and send the wrong message.
National Public Radio(10/31)

New approach helps Oregon students increase math achievement
Educators in Oregon say more of their middle-school students are understanding and retaining math concepts because they have reduced the number of topics covered in each grade, allowing them to spend more time with hands-on lessons that use real-life examples. Teachers also say they are collaborating more, sharing best practices in math instruction and working to more closely monitor student progress. The approach will be required by the state beginning next year.
The Oregonian (Portland) (11/7)

Does sorting students by ability exacerbate achievement gaps?
Educators in a New Jersey district are questioning whether grouping students by ability -- called leveling or tracking -- may be perpetuating racial achievement gaps, but teachers and parents are divided on whether embracing mixed-ability classes will solve the problem. Raising expectations in lower-level classes is a goal, says school Superintendent Brian Osborne, but the question remains whether sorting systems undermine students' confidence and send the wrong message.
National Public Radio (10/31)

Researchers look at career patterns, turnover of principals
Researchers at the University of Texas are attempting to explain why roughly half of first-time principals do not remain in the same job after five years and why many do not continue as principals at all. "We think the job has outgrown the ability of one person to handle it," says researcher Ed J. Fuller. Other state-specific research has shown that turnover is highest at lower-performing schools -- possibly because of pressure on principals to come in and quickly raise student test scores.
Education Week (premium article access compliments of (10/28)

Some Mass. schools are forced to trim foreign-language classes
Budget limitations and a focus on state tests are factors contributing to a decline in foreign-language instruction in Massachusetts' public schools, teachers and education experts say. Focusing on subjects evaluated by state standardized tests is a short-sighted strategy, some educators say. "The point of learning a language is not necessarily how useful it is but how to think differently," said a French teacher. (10/13)

Teacher: Literacy education must adapt to a changing world
Critical thinking can and should be taught through analyzing online media, and accurate assessments of literacy should start considering the multiple information platforms today's students use, argues Paul Barnwell, a middle-school language arts teacher in Kentucky. A continued reliance on nothing but traditional texts will not prepare students to understand or influence the media of their future, Barnwell writes in this column.
Education Week (premium article access compliments of (9/23)

Schools turning from textbooks to more versatile technology
More schools across the country are offering students laptops, e-readers and iPods rather than traditional textbooks. Schools are basing their decisions on the expected long-term savings of investing in technology that can be updated quickly with new information. "If we continue to prepare kids for their past, that's very expensive," a Harvard educator said. "Their future is largely going to be in new media. And textbooks are no longer preparing them for that future."
ABC News

R.I. officials move forward to compete for Race to the Top money
Rhode Island officials say they are poised to compete for federal Race to the Top funds and are embracing reforms to do so, including a change that would tie student performance to teacher evaluations. Public hearings on the issue will be held in October. Despite union opposition, state officials say they are committed to working with them and are hoping for an agreement.
The Providence Journal (R.I.-9/30)

Panel releases draft of national education standards
A group of experts and educators has released a draft of its proposed national education standards for students in English and math. The broad curriculum guidelines are expected to get more specific in 2010, when grade-by-grade standards will be outlined. For now, the proposal includes an expectation that students will be able to solve systems of equations and real-world problems using math and develop writing skills based on tone and topic.
The Washington Post (9/22) , Education Week (premium article access compliments of (9/21)

Seven of Ten Parents Want Their Kids to Become Teachers
In the highest favorable rating in more than three decades, 7 of 10 U.S. citizens want their children to grow up to be public school teachers, according to the 41st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude Toward the Public Schools. Although the poll revealed that the public views teachers in a more positive light, the public's overall perception of the nation's education system is substantially less approving.
Christian Science Monitor–8/26/09

Teacher: Discovery-based math has boosted student achievement
The recently released results of the 2007 Trends in International Math and Science Study show that U.S. students have made tremendous gains internationally, writes middle-school teacher Michael Sparks in this opinion article. In 1995, American eighth-grade students placed 28th among 41 nations, but the 2007 results showed that same age group in ninth place out of 45 nations. Sparks attributes the advance to reformed math curriculum in the U.S. and argues that the discovery-based math approach gets results despite criticism.
The Seattle Times (9/6)

Schools are innovating to raise standards and reach every student
As the federal government pushes to raise classroom standards, there are some good examples to look at across the country. Common themes among the innovations include individualized curricula, accommodating for different learning styles and allowing students to learn at their own pace. (8/3)

What would Einstein say about standardized testing?
As educators and politicians argue about alternative measures of accountability, former Michigan state teacher of the year Nancy Flanagan notes that most primarily consider the big picture, without examining the effects of such policies on individual students or educators. She wonders what Albert Einstein, with his famous declaration that imagination is more important than knowledge, would think of standardized tests.
Teacher Magazine (1/9)

Musical instrument training tied to higher verbal test scores
Children who take up an instrument for three years or more outscore those who take only general music classes, not only in dexterity and listening skills, but in verbal ability and visual pattern completion, according to researchers conducting a Harvard University-based study. Students who had played an instrument longer also increased their scores proportionately, researchers found.
ScienceDaily (11/5)

Educators: Fun summer reading may motivate students
More educators and librarians are encouraging students to pick up fun summer reading rather than classic novels and other literary works. The approach is meant to encourage reading and may help children develop a love for it, they say.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (6/14)

Low-income students suffer greater summer-learning losses
As the school year ends, a Washington Post story looks into "the summer brain drain" that leaves some students playing catch-up when the new school year begins. Experts say middle-class students improve their reading skills over the summer while their poorer peers suffer a setback of between two and three months. Across income levels, student math skills suffer the most over the summer months.
The Washington Post (6/15)

Revised NCLB may focus on teacher quality, academic rigor
President Barack Obama's planned changes to No Child Left Behind are likely to result in higher standards for teacher quality and academic excellence, say some observers. While testing benchmarks could be altered under Obama, some say NCLB will not be changed drastically.
The New York Times (4/14)

"Million Word Challenge" inspires a love of reading in ELL students
Sarra Said, 15, could not speak a word of English when she moved to the U.S. less than two years ago. But now she's a vociferous reader who has plowed through more than 40 books -- more than 1.5 million words' worth -- since October as part of a school challenge intended to expose English-language learners to more literature. "I want to put a generous helping of books in front of the students, and I hope they enjoy the taste," said Jayne Huseby, who chairs the school's department of English-language development.
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) (5/3)

Faculty rack up miles while racing to drop weight,0,6441276.story
More than 70 educators at a Florida high school collectively walked nearly 8,000 miles to lose 279 pounds of weight during a month long "Faculty Biggest Loser Contest." "We supported each other and developed friendships that have lasted past the end of the contest," said Charlotte Lockhart, the school's head media specialist, who walked 283 miles during the contest. "We exchanged recipes, health tips, provided encouragement during challenging times, and celebrated successes and fitness milestones."
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (4/19)

Legislators tackle "sexting" punishments
Some state legislators are hoping to stop police from charging students with child pornography for sending or receiving sexually explicit photos on their cell phones. Such charges may result in being listed on sex-offender registries. The Vermont bill would allow prosecutors to file other charges; the Ohio bill would make "sexting" a first-degree misdemeanor for juveniles.
eSchool News (4/17)

Report: 1 in 15 U.S. students has illegal immigrants for parents,1,5791776.story
Children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants are twice as likely to grow up in poverty as the children of U.S.-born parents are, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report. Illegal immigrants also are more likely to be spread across the nation than concentrated on the coasts as they were 20 years ago.
Los Angeles Times/The Associated Press, USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Times

Obama calls for major education reforms,0,6571296.story
In his first major education speech as president, Barack Obama unveiled a potentially controversial plan that includes merit-based teacher pay, a longer school year, tracking of individual students' progress and removal of restrictions on charter schools. "Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us," he said. "The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream."
Chicago Tribune (free registration) (3/11), MSNBC/The Associated Press (3/10), The Washington Post (3/11), Reuters (3/10), The New York Times (3/10)

R.I. commissioner overrides Providence teacher contract
Education Commissioner Peter McWalters has ordered the Providence, R.I., school district to grant principals the authority to hire and reassign teachers based on student need and teacher quality rather than seniority, usurping the district's last negotiated contract with its teachers union. McWalters also directed the district to develop teacher-leadership positions for its middle and high schools.
Education Week (premium article access compliments of (3/18)

Report: Physically fit Texas students outscore peers on state tests
Students who scored well for cardiovascular health on Texas' annual physical-fitness test were more likely to score well on the state's academic exams as well, according to a Texas Education Agency report. "Today's research results show that improving our children's physical fitness can have positive results not only for the children, but also for the schools as well," said Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott.
The Dallas Morning News

Duncan may take listening tour before deciding on future of NCLB
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that after working under No Child Left Behind as head of Chicago Public Schools, he is in step with school accountability, but wants NCLB to be less punitive. Duncan said that having every state devise its own standards under NCLB is a bad idea. He also wants to "rebrand" the law, but is unsure what to call it and says he's open to suggestions.
U.S. News & World Report (2/5)

Clay may help biology come alive for students clay_to_bolster_teaching_ability.html
Molding clay into the shape of human organs and placing them inside a human skeleton can help students better understand the biology of their own bodies, according to a Texas teacher-training workshop. "Clay is a good teaching tool because it makes it simple for every kind of learner (to learn about the anatomy)," said health science instructor Michael Herrera, who attended the workshop. "Instead of opening a textbook, kids will be able to build the body (with clay)."
San Antonio Express-News (free registration) (2/5)

Sites of the School Days
A weekly update to Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators on Discovery Education

Site 25

Lincoln Bicentennial Teacher Resources ...lesson plans, resources, and links to additional sites to celebrate the 200th birthday of Lincoln on February 12, 2009; use some of the Web 2.0 tools from this school year's list to collaborate and create!

Visit this and previous Sites of the School Days by going to

"The Thrill of Discovery in Your Classroom"

Stimulus plan could reshape U.S. education policy
The federal investment in education would more than double under a proposed stimulus package pending in Congress -- which includes $150 billion in new education spending -- changing the federal government's role in education. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the money will prevent hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs nationwide, and money also will go to support early childhood education, repair aging school buildings and improve special-education programs.
International Herald Tribune (1/28)

Technology allows educators to augment lessons
Teachers are more frequently turning to technology to breathe new life into classroom lessons, including using blogs, podcasts and online features such as Google Earth to engage students. Instead of using classroom time to lecture, some teachers are recording lessons onto podcasts that their students can listen to at home -- freeing classroom time for hands-on learning.

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