Published Online: December 11, 2012
Published in Print: December 12, 2012, as Blogs of the Week

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| NEWS | College Bound

Carnegie Unit May Get Revised

The Carnegie Unit, the time-based standard used to assign students course credit, may be replaced. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the very group that conceived the unit, has been awarded research funding to explore ways—instead of time—to measure competency.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation awarded $460,000 to the Carnegie Foundation in Stanford, Calif., for research on the role of the Carnegie Unit in American education.

Developed in 1906, the unit is a gauge of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. For example, a total of 120 hours in one subject, meeting four or five times a week for 40 to 60 minutes, for 36 to 40 weeks each year earns the student one "unit" of high school credit.

This approach has become the dominant way of tracking student progress in secondary education, but it is not without its critics. Some say the use of time is an arbitrary measure of educational attainment.

Researchers Thomas Toch and Elena Silva from Carnegie, an independent research and policy organization, will use the grant to reach out to the education community to get input on the future of the Carnegie Unit.

The credit hour is an efficient and simple way to move students through education—and it provides the framework for K-12 and higher education. Any change would require a huge shift in schools, says Ms. Silva.

A report on the findings is expected in early 2014.

—Caralee Adams


| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Study Finds Flaws in Repeating Algebra

New research takes a deep dive into the math coursetaking patterns of students across 24 California districts from grades 7-12, with a special focus on better understanding "when and why students stumble and veer off track."

It's clear from the study that repeating algebra doesn't seem to work for many students. For those who repeated algebra in grade 9, only one in five achieved proficiency afterward, according to the research by a team at WestEd and SRI International. It looks worse for students who first took algebra in 9th grade and again the next year. Only 9 percent scored proficient after a second attempt.

This dimension of the research raises questions about schools' decisions to have students repeat the subject, said Neal D. Finkelstein, a senior research scientist at WestEd and a co-author of the study.

"We think there ought to be a bright line on this question of 'Why do students repeat?' " he said. "And do districts understand the instructional strategies needed to help them?"

The report advises districts to carefully review their course-placement policies, and consider individual students' learning needs, rather than simply having them retake a class.

The study examined data on 24,000 California students who were 7th graders in 2004-05 and stayed in their district through 12th grade.

While the report is focused on secondary school, the researchers say elementary math is a critical gateway, too.

—Erik W. Robelen


| NEWS | K-12 Parents and the Public

U.S. Agencies Update Parents' Drug Guide

Today's adolescents face a much different drug landscape from that of young people raised in the late 1990s, so the U.S. Department of Education and the Drug Enforcement Administration have updated an in-depth guide for parents.

"Growing Up Drug-Free: A Parent's Guide to Prevention" covers an array of topics.

Originally published in 1998, the revised publication gives parents ideas about how to talk with their children about drugs, and what to do if families suspect drug or alcohol use.

The booklet aims to dispel a number of parental myths, including:

• My child isn't exposed to drugs and wouldn't do them anyway.

• It's normal for teens to experiment with drugs.

• My children don't care what I think.

• I can't change my child's future.

• I don't want to alienate my child by being too strict.

The publication gives parents an idea of what substances young people use, from the usual suspects—tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana—to the less anticipated, like inhalants accessed via household products, anabolic steroids, and synthetic stimulants called "bath salts."

—Michele Molnar

Vol. 32, Issue 14, Page 17

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