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Obama, McCain education advisors to face off

Obama advisor Linda Darling-Hammond, left, and McCain advisor Lisa Graham Keegan, right

From 4 to 6 p.m. PT tonight, the education policy advisors for Barack Obama and John McCain — Linda Darling-Hammond (who just conducted Oakland’s small schools study) and Lisa Graham Keegan, respectively — will debate the future of public schools.

Tonight’s “Education and the Next President” debate at Columbia University’s Teachers College might not be quite as sexy to the average American as the Biden-Palin showdown. But for those steeped in the challenges of public schooling everyday, as many of you are, the event could illuminate how each of the candidates would tackle education policy, and how they differ.

Education Week is hosting a free, live Web cast. You can register for it here.

Update: If you can’t catch the debate live, considering the hour it’s airing in California, I’m told that it will be posted on Ed Week’s Web site by Wednesday afternoon.

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What’s more important than rocking the API

Three in 10 Oakland students are learning English, and this group of students made big strides in their test scores this spring. Monica Navarro, a third-grade bilingual teacher at Allendale Elementary School (which made a 63-point jump on the state’s Academic Performance Index and met all of its NCLB goals), describes her reaction to the numbers — and tells us what, in her view, is even more important. -Katy

So I was asked by Katy to write about my experience — as a teacher of English learners — to reflect on our test scores going up, or how I might have seen growth and change in my own students that reflect the rise in scores in my own class, or in the school as a whole. It’s been difficult for me to actually sit down and put into writing the many mini-reflections I’ve had over the past year, or even really pinpoint what it was that I wanted to write about.

Then at a staff meeting today, the principal reminded us of the OUSD press advisory listing Allendale as one of the schools that made huge API gains, particularly with English learners. He commended particular teachers whose students made significant improvements in both English and math — and cited my class, which made a 12 percent increase in math and 7 percent increase in English. It was nice to be appreciated and, of course, thrilling that we might actually get out of Program Improvement next year. I actually started to pretend screaming I was so excited.

I have to admit that since that that press advisory came out I have felt pretty proud of our school, and a sense of relief and hope that all the work that teachers have been doing has finally started to pay off. But I felt this sense of non-reaction to the “12 percent increase in math and 7 percent increase in Language Arts” that was a little strange to me, and I wrote it down.

Why didn’t these percentage scores mean anything to me? Continue Reading

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NCLB hurdles too high for many schools

It’s been almost a month since I’ve overloaded you with data. Good thing, because California’s No Child Left Behind and state Academic Performance Index results came out today.

This was a tough year for schools across the state, simply because the federal test score standard rose again. For an elementary school to clear the NCLB hurdle, 35.2 percent of its students — on average, as well as in various racial and academic “subgroups — needed to have tested at “proficient” or better in English (up from 24.4 percent last year). And 33.4 percent had to do so in math (up from 22.3 percent last year). It’s a similar situation for upper-grade schools.

I’m confident that you’re all proficient in math yourselves, but just to make it easy: That’s an 11 percentage point hike.

So, while Oakland’s test scores did rise this year, only about 37 percent of its schools met No Child’s challenge — down from 43 percent that passed the test last year.

Also this year, 12 Oakland schools hit the Program Improvement list after falling short of NCLB goals for two years in a row: Continue Reading

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Want to mandate 8th-grade algebra? It’ll cost $3 billion, O’Connell says

California’s superintendent of public instruction says that in order for Gov. Schwarzenegger’s de facto eighth-grade Algebra I requirement to work, the state will need to pony up $3.1 billion — “with a `b’” — dollars for smaller math classes, additional class time, more school counseling services, and expanded after school and summer programs.

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell said he was aware that he was making the spendy Algebra I Success Initiative proposal during state budget negotiations marked by deep deficits and planned cuts to education, health and social services. He also noted that the $3 billion proposal mostly included ongoing costs, rather than one-time expenses.

“If the governor is unable to come up with this (funding), then he should encourage the state board to reconsider this mandate,” O’Connell said during a teleconference this morning. Continue Reading

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Girls are just as good as boys in math, study finds

Girls tackle basic and complex mathematical problems as well as boys do, a departure from the findings of a 1990 study that found significant gender differences, a UC Berkeley professor and her research team from the University of Wisconsin concluded.

Armed with a National Science Foundation grant, the team crunched the standardized test scores of 7 million students to see how the boys’ and girls’ averages measured up. They also compared the percentages of boys and girls who scored at the high end of the spectrum to see if there were more boys than girls at the top. There weren’t.

The reason? Well, it’s not earth-shattering. Researchers think it’s because girls are finally taking the same number of advanced math courses as boys.

Notably, the researchers had to look beyond the standardized tests required by NCLB to determine how well children of each gender solved complex problems. They combed 10 state exams for examples of highly challenging, real-world math — and found zilch, according to this news release: Continue Reading

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Report: Shortage of Algebra I teachers is missing from the equation

Even without the de facto eighth-grade Algebra I mandate, middle schools across the state have struggled to find enough teachers with a solid foundation in the subject. So what’s going to happen now, with the rapid expansion of middle school algebra?

The Santa Cruz-based Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning just published a brief on the subject, titled “California’s Approach to Math Instruction Still Doesn’t Add Up.”

Here’s an excerpt:

The number of middle school students enrolled in Algebra I classes in which the teacher is either underprepared or assigned “out-of-field” rose from 73,000 in 2004 to more than 74,000 in 2007. In California, about 32% of the workforce assigned to teach Algebra I in middle school does not have a subject matter credential in mathematics and may lack the background and preparation necessary to effectively teach the subject.

Read the four-page brief here.

Educators and policy-makers seem to agree that Algebra I is a tricky subject to teach and learn. So how are kids supposed to learn it from someone with a layman’s understanding of the material? Continue Reading

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The Algebra I War continues

Each side of the Algebra I duel – Superintendent Jack O’Connell and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — sent out an e-mail blast today with quotes bolstering their respective positions.

Schwarzenegger’s office titled its blast “What They’re Saying… About the Governor’s Support for Algebra I in 8th grade.”

A few hours later, O’Connell’s camp sent its own press release headlined, “What Educators Are Saying…”

Touché.

Here’s what Schwarzegger’s supporters had to say about the governor’s courageous leadership:

EdVoice Board Co-Chair Eli Broad: “Governor Was Willing To Take The Bold Step On The Path Less Traveled.”

California Business For Education Excellence: Governor Shows “Bold Leadership.” Continue Reading

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Math alert! All eighth-graders to take algebra test

The California Board of Education just voted 8-1 to scrap the eighth-grade general math test altogether and require all students to take the Algebra I STAR exam — likely, within the next three years.

It appears the decision may have been influenced by a last-minute appeal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to do so.

Here’s the background: The eighth-grade general math test was deemed out of compliance by the feds, because it only tested sixth and seventh grade standards. In response, State Superintendent Jack O’Connell proposed creating a new general math exam for eighth-graders who take pre-algebra, one which would include some algebra concepts. The state board rejected that proposal.

A teacher’s perspective: I just talked with Juliana Jones, a former Montera Middle School algebra teacher (yes, after seven years in Oakland, she’s leaving for Berkeley Unified) and last year’s Alameda County Teacher of the Year. Jones said she understands the push to expose kids to algebra earlier, but that it’s not as simple as eliminating a test, or requiring schools to enroll all children in algebra by eighth grade.

Because algebra is considered by many to be the “gatekeeper” for academic success, Jones said, some policy-makers believe that students should simply take the course earlier. They figure that even if some students fail, they can take the course again as ninth-graders, she said.

But Jones said there are unintended consequences to repeating the same material, year after year.

“They take it in eighth grade, they take it in ninth grade, they take it in tenth grade — Algebra I, Algebra I, Algebra I,” Jones said. Continue Reading

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Arnold wants to pump up eighth-grade math tests

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks California’s general math tests are too weak for the state’s eighth-graders.

Today, the state board of education is expected to approve a change in the eighth-grade general math tests, which, until now, have measured sixth- and seventh-grade skills. But Schwarzenegger wants the state board to drop the general math exam altogether and require all eighth-graders to take the Algebra 1 exam instead.

In 2007, about half of Oakland’s eighth-grade students took the Algebra I STAR test, slightly above the statewide average. About 36 percent took the General Math exam. Six percent took geometry (Not sure about the other 6 percent).

In a letter dated yesterday, Schwarzenegger writes: Continue Reading

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Video touts Oakland’s Open Court reading program

Some of you had plenty to say about Oakland’s Open Court reading program in an earlier post — that it’s not challenging enough for advanced students, that it’s too scripted, etc. Well, not everyone agrees with you naysayers.

While honoring OUSD for its “Achievement in Reading,” Open Court publisher SRA/McGraw-Hill made this commercial (I mean, short film) about how the reading program has helped to turn the district around.

Watch the video here, and then tell us if you haven’t seen the light.

image from woodleywonderworks’ site at flickr.com/creativecommons