NELMS NEWS Node 2010
An annotated list of current events &
issues related to the middle level

What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Students

How useful are the views of public school students about their teachers? Quite useful, according to preliminary results released on Friday from a $45 million research project that is intended to find new ways of distinguishing good teachers from bad.
N.Y. Times 12/10/10


Web Site for Teenagers With Literary Leanings

When Jacob Lewis helped create the beta version of the Web site Figment with Dana Goodyear, a staff writer at The New Yorker, Mr. Lewis envisioned it as a sort of literary Facebook for the teenage set.
N.Y. Times 12/5/10


Thoughts on "middle schooling" in New England for the 21st century...

Check out Gary's technology blog. Gary has been working with kids and computers and science and math for decades. Recently he has been working in a K-12 school. Yup, all grades in one building. (He can be working with first graders who are learning to read one moment and then working with seniors on differential equations minutes later). Come on in and join the conversation.


How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?

That's the question the Motherlode blog asked adults last week, and now we're asking you. How do your parents react to your report cards? Do you think you should be punished in some way for bad grades? Rewarded for good ones? How?

NY Times (10/22)


At a Long Island Middle School, a Course in What Unites and Divides

Fifteen eighth graders at Jericho Middle School were considering a fictional case of stereotyping by hair color the other day, or how a boy came to be prejudiced against people with green hair, or "greenies." From there, they extrapolated to the stereotypes in their own lives: dumb football players, Asian math whizzes, boring bankers.

"We can feel stronger going back to our hallways," the teacher, Elisa Weidenbaum Waters, said, "going back to our homes, going back to our society, and saying: 'You know what? What you said is a stereotype, and that's not cool.' "

NY Times (10/22)


Study: Half of teens admit bullying in last year

Half of high school students say they've bullied someone in the past year, and nearly half say they've been the victim of bullying, according to a national study released Tuesday.

The survey by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics asked more than 43,000 high school students whether they'd been physically abused, teased or taunted in a way that seriously upset them. Forty-three percent said yes, and 50 percent admitted to being the bully. (10/26)


The strains on schools a worry statewide
When work crews went to inspect the city's schools this summer, they knew years of neglect had taken a toll. But the damage still took them aback.
Roofs were leaking, ceiling tiles had collapsed, mold had infected three classrooms, and 100 toilet seats were broken. Trees and brush blocked emergency exits. The inspections, the first since the city took over maintenance this year, set off a scramble for repairs by fall.


Thousands of students flee home districts articles/2010/10/10/thousands_of_students_flee_home_districts/
The number of Massachusetts students leaving their local public schools for other districts has surged 60 percent in the past decade, with thousands more waiting for openings, a movement that signals rising discontent with many hometown schools and a level of desperation to attend better ones.


Massachusetts: Pact on Schools
Federal officials and the Boston public school system have reached an agreement over accusations that the district violated federal law by not providing English instruction to students with a limited grasp of the language, the Justice Department announced Friday.

NY Times (10/1)


More school could be costly
President Obama's call for a longer school day and year for America's children echoes a similar call he made a year ago to little effect, illustrating just how deeply entrenched the traditional school calendar is and how little power the federal government has to change it. (9/29)


MCAS scores fall shy of target
More than half of Mass. schools fail to meet new federal standards.
For the first time since testing began, more than half of Massachusetts schools are out of compliance with federal achievement standards, education officials said yesterday, a finding that raises warning flags for local educators but also sparks questions about whether the national benchmarks are too high. (9/17)


Conn. seeks education grant to help teen parents
Connecticut education officials are applying for $6 million in federal grants to help schools provide more services to pregnant and parenting teenagers. The money would be spread over three years to boost a program that helps school districts provide the services. (9/6)


First virtual school in Mass. opens Thursday
On the first day of the school year, some Massachusetts students will be staying home.
As students in the state's first online-only public school, they will log onto a computer and find out what books they need to read and what new skills they should master. (8/31)


Mass. offers schools some help to combat bullying
The state Education Department released a model antibullying plan yesterday to help local schools develop their own policies to protect students from being picked on. (8/25)


Given Money, Schools Wait on Rehiring Teachers
As schools handed out pink slips to teachers this spring, states made a beeline to Washington to plead for money for their ravaged education budgets. But now that the federal government has come through with $10 billion, some of the nation's biggest school districts are balking at using their share of the money to hire teachers right away.

The N.Y. Times (8/17)


The Senate's Important Lunch Date
WITH federal child nutrition programs due to expire Sept. 30, the Senate should approve reauthorization legislation this week, before the monthlong Congressional recess.

The N.Y. Times (8/3)


The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers
How much do your kindergarten teacher and classmates affect the rest of your life?

Economists have generally thought that the answer was not much. Great teachers and early childhood programs can have a big short-term effect. But the impact tends to fade. By junior high and high school, children who had excellent early schooling do little better on tests than similar children who did not — which raises the demoralizing question of how much of a difference schools and teachers can make.
The N.Y. Times (7/27)


Many States Adopt National Standards for Their Schools
Less than two months after the nation's governors and state school chiefs released their final recommendations for national education standards, 27 states have adopted them and about a dozen more are expected to do so in the next two weeks.
The N.Y. Times (7/21)


The Critical Years
Articles in this series will look at changing theories of how middle school should be taught.
The N.Y. Times (7/8)


Transfer program has early success at Houston school
Nineteen Houston teachers with successful teaching records are part of a national study that offered them a $20,000 bonus to transfer to a struggling school for two years. In teacher Cheryl Contreras' first year at a troubled middle school, about 95% of her eighth-grade students achieved a passing grade on state tests, while students in another transfer teacher's classroom had an 88% passing rate -- all improvements over the students' seventh-grade scores. Houston Chronicle (5/31)
The Houston Chronicle (5/31)


Literature: Mockingbird Activities
To mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," NCTE contributor and media literacy expert Frank Baker created this engaging "compare-and-contrast" activity, which invites students to analyze the images and text of paperback editions published over a half-century. And don't miss Baker's complete TKAM film study guide at his website:


Common academic standards outline what students need to know
A final version of common academic standards for English and math instruction in U.S. schools was released Wednesday by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards -- posted at -- outline what students should know in each grade, from elementary school through high-school graduation. Many states are expected to adopt the standards, but others such as Virginia, Texas and Alaska say they will not participate. The standards took a year to develop and led to more than 10,000 public comments.
The New York Times (free registration) (6/2)


Teacher seniority under fire in many districts
In Cleveland and elsewhere, there is increasing pressure to do away with teacher seniority as officials consider ways to lay off teachers without the "last hired, first fired" constraints. However, unions have resisted giving up seniority without a viable alternative. Thomas Ash of Ohio's Buckeye Association of School Administrators says seniority is an objective measure, but gauging teacher performance on standardized tests and subjective appraisals can be unreliable.
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) (5/31)


Research: There's no one-size-fits-all model to curb bullying
Researchers believe a school's collective environment can support or suppress a culture of bullying, and experts are finding that there is no one model for deterring the problem in the nation's schools. Various anti-bullying programs have had some success by adopting school-wide efforts, while some target bullies and victims directly or are focused on teachers' or bystanders' responses to bullying behavior. "There's such diversity across schools and across the country, that it's really hard to say what works in one school is likely to work in another," one researcher said.
Education Week (premium article access compliments of (5/18)


We hate to give up two excellent Middle School Portal resources in a single issue - but 'tis the Fair season and time is a'wasting. I love Jessica Fries-Gaither's opener to this great resource: "I have a confession to make: I hate science fairs." She avoided them for many years, but "the importance of inquiry-based learning kept drawing me back to the topic." Maybe, she concluded, "the mechanics just needed revamping." That done, she's now prepared to help others expand the notion of a science fair "to encompass a much wider and more flexible range of possibilities." It's time, she says, to "move past the volcanoes and studies of plants in light and darkness to real kids, real data, and real questions."


We're agreeing with the ASCD Inservice blog: "When the advice is good and the price is right, what's not to like?" The site is [No Charge] Technology for Teachers, and it's the brainchild of Richard Byrne, a high school social studies teacher who not only reviews the latest online web tools but suggests ideas about how teachers might build them into their instruction. If there's a slight bias in the direction of history, we shouldn't be surprised, but 15,000 subscribers will testify that much of what Byrne has to offer applies to most content areas.


Boston students offer input on improving homework
Boston students are asking policymakers to consider improving the quality of homework assignments. The proposal, submitted by the Boston Student Advisory Council, includes a recommendation that teachers devote an hour of professional development annually to improving homework, which students say is often busywork. In addition, the students have asked that teachers spend at least five minutes in class explaining homework assignments. The council has also proposed allowing students to provide anonymous feedback about teachers and have input in teacher hiring.
The Boston Globe (4/20)


Freshman academy helps keep ninth-graders on track
A program at a Minnesota high school is helping keep at-risk ninth-grade students on track for academic success. Northfield High School's freshman academy enrolls students who are deemed at-risk upon entering high school and offers them extra academic support. Students in the program take English, science and social studies together in smaller classes and receive extra help in an intensive study period during the school day.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.) (4/13)


Survey: More teachers are career-changers, taking on "hybrid" roles
A growing number of teachers are career-changers, and many are taking on more varied roles at their schools, according to a recent survey conducted by MetLife. About one-third of teachers surveyed reported having other careers before entering teaching, and more than half of educators reported holding "hybrid" positions, where teaching is combined with other responsibilities in a school or district. The survey also found that close to 60% of teachers were satisfied with their jobs, down from 62% the year before.
Teacher Magazine (premium article access compliments of (3/29)


Obama administration offers details of changes proposed for NCLB
Schools will be labeled as high-performing, needs improvement or chronically low-performing under President Barack Obama's proposed revisions to No Child Left Behind, and more of an emphasis would be placed on student progress in a wider range of subjects, rather than just student scores in reading and math. Obama released his full proposal to Congress on Saturday and encouraged lawmakers to overhaul the law this year. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was critical of the plan, which she said "appears to place 100 percent of responsibility on educators and gives them zero percent authority."
The Washington Post (3/14)


Massachusetts pushes for higher standards in national curriculum
Massachusetts' top education official said the state will only adopt national academic standards in English and mathematics if they are higher than state standards -- considered among the most rigorous in the country -- and is pushing for changes in the final version. "I'm cautiously optimistic that this will end up in a positive place," state Education Secretary Paul Reville said, "but we are not going to endorse anything that is not at least as rigorous as our own standards."
The Boston Globe (3/15)


Teachers say in survey that good leadership is more important than pay
Supportive leadership is more likely to keep effective teachers in the classroom than higher pay, according to a teacher survey sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation along with Scholastic. Teachers also said they valued "relevant" professional development, safe working conditions and having time to collaborate with other educators. Of the teachers who were surveyed, 59% said that establishing a national curriculum would help improve student achievement.
The Washington Post (3/3)


PBS survey shows increase in digital-media use in classroom lessons
A PBS survey shows that classrooms using digital technology among K-12 educators is at 76%, up from 69% in 2008. The survey also showed that while teachers prefer using pre-screened DVDs in the classroom, 72% use content downloaded or streamed from the Internet as a way to integrate short segments of electronic content into their lessons. The report looked at responses from preschool educators for the first time, revealing that 33% are frequent or regular users of digital resources.
eSchool News (1/6)


Increased emphasis on algebra yields mixed results

A push to have more students take algebra before ninth grade to boost college readiness has had mixed results, research shows. In Chicago schools, more students took algebra courses but many received poor grades or failed, and no evidence of increased college readiness was found. Positive effects, however, have been found among middle-school students who took feeder courses such as pre-algebra first. "Simply sticking students in courses without preparing them ahead of time for the class does not seem to work as an intervention," one researcher said.
Education Week (premium article access compliments of (2/10)


Middle-school initiative rewards students who are "caught" reading
Educators at a New York state middle school are developing initiatives to maintain students' interest in reading. One program rewards students with a chance to win a gift card to a bookstore when they are caught reading during free time. "We want to reward students for reading in a way that doesn't base the reward on who has read more books or longer books than someone else," the school's literacy coach said. Teachers are also working with students in smaller groups based on reading levels.
Watertown Daily Times (N.Y.) (1/19)

Students make sense of numbers through "ethno-mathematics
Some middle-school students in Somis, Calif., are learning about Mayan culture and history as part of their math lessons -- an approach known as "ethno-mathematics" that connects math with culture to engage students. During a recent class, students used the Mayan number system to add and subtract, reinforcing their math skills. "It can help kids feel that they're part of the mathematics world," said Hank Kepner, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "It's sort of a motivation for kids to make sense of mathematics."
Ventura County Star (Calif.) (free registration) (1/24)


Math family night and fairs
This new teacher's guide from the Middle School Portal describes how teachers and schools can provide both the challenge and the support needed to interest students in challenging math problems through Math Fairs, Family Nights and friendly competitions. The resources "address not only cognitive but also social needs of the adolescent," says the MSP staff. A family math night brings younger middle school students together with family members for math games and hands-on math activities. A math fair involves students in hosting booths where they present and explain games and experiments. "Projects have as real a place here as they do in a science fair," says MSP. "In fact, these can be interdisciplinary efforts."


6 states are selected for program to curb high-school dropout rate
The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices is launching a two-year initiative to curb high-school dropout rates in six states by assessing the extent of the problem there, evaluating existing services and developing policies to address the issue. The participating states -- Colorado, West Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Minnesota -- applied to the program and will each receive $50,000 from the NGA to implement their plans.
Education Week (premium article access compliments of (1/5)


Officials encourage Connecticut schools to end academic tracking,0,4004824.story
Connecticut education officials adopted a policy to discourage the use of academic tracking in schools, saying that the practice has a negative effect on the academic success of minority and low-income students, who are often placed in less challenging classes. The policy is not binding on districts, but it does call on schools that use tracking to inform parents of students on low tracks of their children's progress, and it requires schools to file annual reports detailing their tracking systems.
The Hartford Courant (Conn.) (1/7)


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