07/22/2009

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Charter school market at a crossroads? by Bryan Goodwin The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of charter schools in the U.S. is likely to mushroom in the next few years as a result of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warning states that if they’re unfriendly to charter schools, they shouldn’t expect to see much of the $5 billion in federal stimulus for schools. Not surprising, many states are now scrambling to create charter-friendly environments. Last month, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, released a nationwide study analyzing charter school performance. The report was notable for a number of reasons—starting with its methodology. To control for any possible “cherry picking” (i.e., enrolling easier-to-teach students), the study compared the mathematics performance of students in charter schools with their “virtual twins”—students with similar demographic, socioeconomic, and special needs status—in traditional public schools. Using this analysis, the study painted a mixed picture. It found that only about one in six (17%) of the 2,400 charter schools studied were actually successful in helping their students perform better than their “virtual twins” in traditional public schools. About half (46%) offered little or no bump for their students compared with their “twins.” And nearly two-fifths (37%) appeared to have a negative impact on achievement; their students learned at lower rates than their comparable peers in traditional schools. Whither market forces? So what happened to the market forces of choice and competition that were supposed to make charter schools better than public schools? It appears that...
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Do IWBs Change Instruction? There seems to be a lot of controversy lately over the impact that Interactive Whiteboards have on instruction. Some say that they increase student engagement and achievement and help to create a 21st-century classroom. Others argue that they are simply a modern tool for an outdated method of learning and that they only promote teacher-directed lecture & instruction.

 I left the classroom in 2004, several years before IWBs were common tools in school buildings, so I never experienced actually integrating one into my instruction. I wanted to find out for myself: Do Interactive Whiteboards change instruction? When Bud the Teacher Tweeted about his district's upcoming Flipchartapalooza, I knew this would be an ideal opportunity to see how teachers integrate both the hardware and the software into their instruction. Bud and his fellow teachers in St. Vrain were gracious enough to let me come and observe and ask questions. (And I thank all of you!)

 What I saw were teachers learning simple, but vital, programming and scripting language as they created interactive activities for students. I saw teachers realizing that the ultimate goal was having students use these tools. One teacher even stated, "My goal this year is to have students at the board more. [My first year using it], I was the one at the board." I saw professionals collaborating, teaching, and learning together. If technology and learning are going to morph the way I think they are (fingers crossed), teachers are going to have a plethora of tools that...

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