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President-elect Obama just announced Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools chief, as his secretary of education. In doing so he suggested that pragmatism, not ideology, will be his guiding principle in navigating the wars inside the Democratic Party over how to improve schools. "Let's not be clouded by ideology," he said, praising Duncan's "deep pragmatism."
Obama reiterated his support for innovations like merit pay for teachers and charter schools, yet also indicated he may sympathize with the incrementalists in the disrupter-versus-incrementalist debate that George Miller, the chair of the House's education committee, laid out recently. "We're not going to transform the schools overnight," he said.
As Elizabeth wrote yesterday, the next place to watch is the sub-cabinet positions.
Educators have been worrying about American students' math performance for decades. 1939 saw the introduction of innovative teaching techniques to some New York City math classrooms: Rather than learning "to compute for the sake of computation," students learned arithmetic by applying it to baseball statistics, electrical bills, and other real-life situations, "informal, human and vital."
At the time, some claimed students' failure in high school math classes could be attributed to Regents exams:
On the high school level, where algebra, geometry, and trigonometry are still rigid, formalized subjects, a 25 percent failure record still exists. Officials have blamed the Regents examinations, in part, for this condition.
The rest of the article is after the jump.
Last year, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said he wanted to increase the number of students passing Advanced Placement tests. But for high-achieving kids with special needs, taking AP classes can be near impossible.
This week, I talked to a parent about how hard it was for her to find a high school that says it will offer AP classes to her child, a high-achieving eighth-grader who is legally required to be placed in a team-teaching setting.
Specifically, this student must be in a Collaborative Team Teaching class, where two teachers, one with special education certification, work with a class made up of some students who have special needs and some who do not.
Despite her careful research, the mother told me, it hasn't always been clear which high schools will meet her child's needs. In the high school directory released each year by the DOE, most selective schools say they will offer special education services "as needed." Some schools have reputations for including kids with all kids of special needs in their most challenging courses, but others do not.
At Manhattan's PS 140, students in Tony Paulino’s middle school Spanish classes are exploring the geography, economics, and culture of South America, all without leaving their classroom.
They're using the Internet to follow the One Road South team of adventurers on a 14-month bicycle trip around the continent. Through a program called Reach The World, kids at 60 of the city's elementary and middle schools are getting a taste of global citizenship by following the One Road South bikers, a family traveling in Europe, a bike trek in Africa, and a Harlem teacher working with scientists in Antarctica through online videos, journals, and field notes.
Sometimes, students even get to meet the travelers they are following online. Three of the four One Road South bicyclists recently visited Paulino's classes to present a slide show about the places they plan to visit.
The students jumped in with questions, asking if the travelers were afraid of wild animals, running out of food, or going for 14 months without having a girlfriend.
But Reach the World isn't just for fun.
One example of the narrowing gap in teachers' academic qualifications. (From Wyckoff, J. et al., 2008)
Teach For America, the program that places recent college graduates in high-need schools, has long drawn criticism for recruiting people who leave the classroom after only a few years. Critics say this perpetuates a cycle where poor students get inexperienced teachers.
But in reality, programs such as Teach for America and the city's Teaching Fellows program have made the distribution of high-achieving teachers more equitable across New York City and might have helped narrow the gap in students' test scores, a recent study concludes.
Between 2000 and 2005, these programs drove an improvement in the academic qualifications — SAT scores, college selectivity, and other measures — of teachers at schools with lots of poor students. At the same time, the test scores in those schools rose. The researchers' analysis suggested that the increase in qualifications contributed to the higher scores.