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NCLB Tested, Chinese Speakers Needed, and Podcasting in the Classroom

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Oct. 14-Oct. 20.

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Is NCLB working? That’s the question swirling about the education policy world this week, with results from a closely watched federal test showing scant improvement in students’ reading and math skills since the law went into effect. While math scores of the sampling of 4th and 8th graders who participated in the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress testing were up modestly, reading scores were virtually flat—after having risen significantly in the two years before NCLB was implemented. Still, interpretations varied. The Bush administration was officially encouraged by the results, pointing to incremental increases in the 4th graders’ scores as evidence that NCLB’s annual testing regimen is having an impact. Others weren’t so sure. “The numbers aren’t jumping in big ways, which tells us something’s not right here,” said Patricia Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy.

Meanwhile, lawyers in Pennsylvania opened their defense of the Dover school district’s efforts to introduce the alternate creation theory of intelligent design in 9th grade biology classes. In detailed testimony stretching over two days, the team’s star witness, Lehigh University biochemistry professor Michael J. Behe, availed himself of a laser pointer and a computer-screen projection to make the case that ID is a legitimate scientific theory backed by research and visible evidence. One thing Behe may have left out, however, is that he apparently hasn’t convinced his own colleagues of any of this. In a statement posted on Lehigh University’s Web site, faculty members in the department of biological sciences said that they don’t endorse Behe’s views, adding that “intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.”

While intelligent design’s place in the curriculum remains uncertain, Chinese appears to be gaining an unlikely stronghold. With support from grant programs established by both the U.S. and Chinese governments, a growing number of public schools—secondary and elementary—are now offering courses in the world’s most-spoken language. An estimated 50,000 students are now taking Chinese in the United States. As is the case with the burgeoning numbers of classes in Arabic, interest appears to be driven by China’s growing economic and strategic importance, as well as its cultural uniqueness. With waiting lists for courses growing, the problem now—in addition, of course, to the language’s dashed difficulty—is finding Chinese-speaking teachers who meet NCLB’s qualification requirements. “It’s hard when we can’t hire a teacher that is qualified because of that missing certification,” said Robert Davis, manager of the Chicago school district’s Chinese Connections Program.

On the other hand, in America today, it’s far less difficult to find certified teachers who know how to use an iPod. Rather than banning the kid-prized digital musical devices from their classes, educators across the country are increasingly using iPods as learning tools, primarily through the creation of student podcasts—or downloadable audio broadcasts. Examples of podcasts emanating from the nation’s classrooms include performances of student-composed musical works, community portraits, and, most commonly, group research reports. Some teachers swear that the mix of chic technology and broadcast exposure spurs students’ interest. “My students research better, read more, write better, and understand the material,” said Beth Sanborn, a 5th grade teacher and podcaster outside Omaha, Nebraska.

Students at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, New York, might have a little extra money to spend on downloading tunes this spring after the school’s principal canceled their prom. In a 2,000-word letter to parents, Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland explained that his primary objection didn’t involve the use of alcohol and drugs by promgoers, but rather the “financial decadence” surrounding the event. The last straw was apparently when 46 seniors at the Roman Catholic school put down $10,000 last year to rent a post-dance party house in the Hamptons—a venture later financed by some parents. It’s not unusual for kids these day to spend $1,000 on prom-night activities, observed Amy Best, author of Prom Night: Youth, Schools, and Popular Culture, adding that indulgent parents are partly to blame. “It is a huge misperception that the kids themselves are totally driving this,” she says.

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