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Blogs of the Week

September 11, 2012 4 min read
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School Choice: Location, Location

People who live in certain urban areas know this flow well: Once families have children old enough to enter kindergarten, they pack up and move to an area with a public school district that has a better reputation than the one where they currently live.

Trulia, a real estate website, attempted to track this trend. Using 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, the company compared the number of children from birth to age 4 with the number of those ages 5 to 9 living in every school district.

The website suggests that if a school district is as attractive to parents of young children as it is to parents of school-age children, the numbers in these two groups should be fairly equal, resulting in a ratio of 1. A ratio below 1 suggests that families are moving out of a given district, and a ratio above 1 suggests that these families are moving into an area.

The 1-plus districts also tend to be less dense, and more affordable.

Based on Trulia’s methodology, the country’s most desirable school district is Saratoga Union, a K-8 district of about 2,100 students in the San Francisco Bay Area. The district has 2.38 elementary school students for every preschool student.

In contrast, the 2,000-student Hoboken district in New Jersey has 39 elementary students for every 100 preschool students.

—Christina A. Samuels


Many Fixes as District Responds to ADA Suit

Thirteen years after a family sued the San Francisco school district over its lack of adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the district has installed its last elevators, ramps, and accessible toilets in its schools.

The district spent $250 million to fix 50,000 violations, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week.

The work entailed adding elevators, wheelchair ramps, new light switches, wider doorways, wheelchair lifts, Braille signs, and water fountains accessible from wheelchairs, the Chronicle reported. In the process, the district spent another $550 million to replace roofs, heating systems, and windows, repainting, repaving playgrounds, and so on.

Complying with the ADA took so long in part because San Francisco has the oldest school building inventory in California, and the city’s hilly landscape made work more challenging, the school district’s facilities director told the newspaper.

—Nirvi Shah


Edmodo Now Closer To Social Network

Edmodo, the popular learning-management website that is now approaching 10 million worldwide users, is a lot of things: a course manager, a marketplace for education apps, an online gradebook.

But ultimately, it is a social network, a way for teachers to interact with their students, colleagues, and peers. With new features announced last week, Edmodo will look more like the kind of social network teachers and students use at home, but through the lens of school.

In the same way that Facebook users can share photos, links, and video with their friends, teachers using Edmodo will now be able to share lessons. Teachers can connect with other teachers who are teaching the same subjects, and find lessons posted to the site based on grade level and subject.

Lessons that are popular or produce certain outcomes can be targeted to teachers seeking that kind of content. Edmodo features allow teachers to tag students’ work with insights like “spelling mistakes,” “needs improvement,” or “outstanding.” Students can tag the assessment items and lessons they complete with reactions like “confused,” “awesome,” or “wasn’t in notes.” Teachers can then sort, categorize, and analyze the trends from those reactions to decide what lessons are working.

There is also a new “activity stream” that will look similar to Facebook’s news feed on most users’ home pages.

Other sites like Lore and Grockit’s new Learnist project apply user experiences from social networks to education.

—Jason Tomassini


College-Prep Checklist Breaks Down Process

There is something so satisfying about checking something off your to-do list.

And when it comes to the overwhelming task of preparing for college, it can be especially encouraging to break down the process into steps that parents and students can check off.

The U.S. Department of Education is providing academic and financial checklists for elementary, middle, and high school students and parents on its website, Those pushing for increased college enrollment and completion stress the importance of early planning. This tool is designed to help families save and get students to map out coursework so they are best prepared for college.

The elementary school checklist emphasizes the importance of reading and starting college-savings accounts. By middle school, students are encouraged to think about career interests and develop strong study habits, while parents are guided to use the FAFSA4caster to find out how much federal student aid their child might receive.

By high school, the lists are more focused, beginning in 9th grade with counselor discussions of AP courses and résumé building. The to-do list for juniors is especially demanding, as many think of this year as crucial to the college-admissions process. There are SAT and ACT exams to take and the fun of coming up with a college wish list begins. By 12th grade, the checklists include scholarship applications and financial-aid forms.

—Caralee Adams

A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2012 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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