Chillin’ With Uncle Jay

by Robert Pondiscio
February 4th, 2008

Stressed out over your AP exams, high school seniors? “Forget about cramming until 3 a.m. Order a pizza, have your friends over and just talk, maybe about the course, maybe not. Go to bed when you feel like it. Have a nice sleep. You don’t need to ace the exam. It’s May, for heaven’s sake. You already got into college.” Listen to your Uncle Jay.

More is More

by Robert Pondiscio
February 4th, 2008

Is lengthening the school day the key to student achievement? Or is it just an extra helping of the thing that’s not working in the first place?

The Washington PostIn today’s Washington Post, Maria Glod looks at the extended-school push, which counts among its proponents Bill Gate and Eli Broad. Adding hours to the school day—and Saturdays and extended summer sessions—is intended to ensure students get the reading and math lessons they need without sacrificing music, art or even recess. “But experts say there is not yet enough research to prove that stretching out the school day is worthwhile,” Glod notes. “It’s an expensive proposition that can cause conflicts with teachers unions and cut into time traditionally spent on sports and other after-school activities. Most schools with longer days and higher test scores have also made other changes, often to the curriculum or teacher training” making it hard to determine if more equals better or there are other factors at work.

The most insightful quote comes from Elena Silva, a senior policy analyst at Education Sector. “We really don’t know if we need more time,” she tells the Post. “Could we design schools differently? If more time is spent on engaged learning and less on classroom management and other things, then you don’t really need to extend time.” As nearly any teacher in a struggling school can attest, time on-task lost to disruption is a serious impediment to student achievement, especially when it forces teachers to plan lessons around classroom management.

The 2% Solution

by Robert Pondiscio
February 4th, 2008

New York Daily NewsIf your child’s school is a persistent low performer, and you have the ability to transfer to a better school at no cost, including transportation, you’d leap at the chance, right? You might think so, except more people are still in the seats at the bitter end of the latest ugly Knicks blowout than transfer their children out of failing NYC schools. According to the New York Daily News, less than 2% of the 181,000 children eligible to transfer to higher-performing schools under NCLB actually did this year.

“Only 9,200 students even applied to leave their failing schools, and of those just 3,090 ultimately enrolled in a different school,” the paper reports. And if you’re tempted to ascribe those low numbers to a quirk in New York’s implementation of NCLB, think again. Nationwide last year, 120,000 students out of 5 million eligible took transfers, meaning New York’s average mirrors the country’s.

“Some parents of kids in failing schools told the Daily News they weren’t even aware they could transfer out, and some were turned away from better schools that are already overcrowded. And still other parents like their children’s schools just fine, even if they are labeled as failing, or think transferring kids will only make the institutions worse.”

California Screamin’

by Robert Pondiscio
February 4th, 2008

Last year, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pronounced 2008 would be “The Year of Education” in the Golden State. Now, it’s hasta la vista, baby.

Mercury NewsSharon Noguchi of the San Jose Mercury News looks at what lies ahead for California schools and doesn’t try particularly hard to mask her contempt: “Likely coming soon to a public school near you: ballooning class sizes, a wave of teacher layoffs and more outdated textbooks — courtesy of the spiraling state deficit. What a difference a few months — and a projected $14.5 billion budget deficit — make.”

The $4.8 billion dollars in projected cuts to education over the next 18 months are the deepest in nearly three decades, she notes, adding the cuts are based on optimistic economic predictions. “Art, music, elementary-level science, physical education? Forget about them,” says Noguchi. “The proposed cuts are daunting because schools have little discretionary spending. About 85 percent of their expenses pay salaries and benefits, locked in by union contracts. And much of other spending — for instance, updating textbooks — is required by law.”