November 29, 2006

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Vol. 26, Issue 13
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Nearly 50 years after the inception of a project now called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS—one of the biggest and most influential assessment programs in the world—it still hasn’t delivered on its early promise, say experts who attended a conference this month aimed at rekindling the original vision of the program’s founders.
In one of the most closely watched school finance cases in the country, New York’s highest court has put a minimum price tag on a basic public education while at the same time saying judges shouldn’t be determining how much to spend on schools.
A plan by the College Board to scrutinize high school Advanced Placement courses to ensure that they adhere to college-level standards is getting mixed reviews from educators. Some say the process will add rigor and relevance to their AP programs, while others worry it will just add up to busywork for teachers.
Students in urban schools struggled with relatively basic tasks in a recent test of their science skills, a weakness observers say reflects many teachers’ tenuous knowledge of the subject, as well as the inconsistent way in which it is taught across the country.
Jon Schnur favors rewarding educators in carefully thought-out ways for significantly increasing their students’ performance. But as the co-founder and chief executive officer of the group New Leaders for New Schools, he saw a new federal grant program designed to steer schools in that direction as the opportunity to do much more.
District Dossier
News in Brief: A National Roundup
News in Brief: A National Roundup
People in the News
Caught in a steep enrollment decline, the Cleveland school district must revise its $1 billion construction program.
State special education directors hope that when Congress takes up the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act next year, it will consider making changes that more closely link special education and general education.
While some leaders in Washington may believe that the No Child Left Behind Act is almost perfect, researchers who took part in a recent conference suggest it’s more like a rough draft of a term paper that needs major rewriting.
Inspired in part by questions from educators in the field, the Web search-engine company Google Inc. has unveiled a variety of online interactive tools, curriculum resources, and lesson plans for teachers.
North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system got new leadership in August, but it wasn’t the superintendent or the school board. A civic group, Mecklenburg Citizens for Public Education, was launched with the aim of becoming a major player in district policy.
Most abstinence-until-marriage sex education programs financed by the federal government are not reviewed by the government for scientific accuracy, nor does the government require grant recipients to review the materials they use to make sure they are medically accurate, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
States’ flagship universities are serving disproportionately fewer low-income and minority students than they were more than a decade ago, according to a report released last week by the Education Trust.
Report Roundup
The statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education is conducting a study to see how states’ definitions of student academic proficiency compare with the way it is spelled out by the prominent national test known as “the nation’s report card.”
Only 15 to 22 countries participated in the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study in 1995, 1999, and 2003. Of those, the nation with the biggest gains in student achievement over that time period was tiny Lithuania, a former Soviet republic on the Baltic Sea.
In an attempt to reduce property taxes in New Jersey, a legislative committee is recommending that the state completely rewrite the way it finances schools and wipe out the special-needs designation that has driven billions of dollars in extra funding to its poorest urban districts.
In their quest to bring more private school options to parents, school choice advocates say they’ve run into a formidable and unexpected opponent: the rural school superintendent.
State Journal
After seven years of a school accountability program, achievement gaps in California’s schools are widening in some grades, according to a recent assessment of the state education system.
The California Charter Schools Association has launched a public-awareness campaign and grant-making initiative designed to significantly increase the number of parents who have access to charter schools in their neighborhoods.
News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
After 16 years of litigation over how to pay for school facilities in Idaho, the only certainty in the case is uncertainty.
Democrat Jim Rex has been declared South Carolina’s next schools chief, surviving a contentious campaign that featured TV ads and debates over school choice.
Less than four years after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the consideration of race in admissions at the University of Michigan’s law school, the court returns Dec. 4 to the highly charged topic of racial diversity in education.
Even if the Democratic-led Congress doesn’t reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act in the next two years, Democrats will have plenty of chances to push forward with their K-12 priorities.
Federal File
News in Brief: A Washington Roundup
Education legislation took a back seat to other priorities during much of the 109th Congress, a pattern that appears likely to continue in the lame-duck session that began after Election Day.
In taking a more centrally managed approach to high school curricula, Chicago joins a small but growing cadre of school districts nationwide, including Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Portland, Ore. The switch represents a distinct culture change in a world where teachers and schools have been accustomed to choosing or writing their own material.
Education professors Bruce Baker and Michael A. Rebell explain why they think weighted-student funding is not the "100 percent solution."
Charles L. Glenn, an education historian and the interim dean of Boston University’s school of education, makes the argument that private schools and charter schools are justified not because of the excellent academic results they produce, but because parents want them.
On Nov. 10, readers and reporters from the paper explored the implications of the midterm election results for education. The guest panelists were Associate Editor David J. Hoff, Assistant Editor Linda Jacobson, and Staff Writers Michele McNeil and Jessica L. Tonn.
Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder argue that accountability should begin with realistic goals that recognize human variability.

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