Chicago teachers strike
September 17th, 2012
12:37 PM ET

Q&A: What's behind the Chicago teachers' strike?

by Ed Payne, CNN

(CNN) - The Chicago teachers strike drags into a second week, after a representative group of the Chicago Teachers Union decided over the weekend not to end the walkout even though union leaders and school officials had reached a tentative contract deal.

The strike in the third-largest school system in the country is affecting more than 350,000 children.

A quick primer:

Q. What's the sticking point?

A. Among the major issues, the teachers are negotiating over the length of the school day, objecting to their evaluations being tied to performance and fretting about potential job losses.

Q. How would the length of school days change?

A. Elementary students would gain 75 minutes to create a seven-hour school day. High school students would gain 30 minutes to create a seven-and-a-half-hour school day. Teachers wants additional money to teach the additional hours.

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Filed under: Issues • Policy • teacher unions • Teachers
Nation's Report Card:  Writing test shows gender gap
September 17th, 2012
04:32 AM ET

Nation's Report Card: Writing test shows gender gap

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) When it comes to writing, girls are better than boys.

That’s a generalization, but it’s one that is supported by the latest writing test from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), better known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The test, taken by 24,100 eighth-graders and 28,100 students in the 12th grade, was administered in early 2011. NAEP tests in different subjects have been given to students in the U.S. since 1969.  This year, however, marked the first time that the writing test was computer-based.  Students were able to take advantage of editing software and other writing tools, such as spell check and a thesaurus, as they crafted their writing samples.

Since this was the first large-scale writing assessment designed to be taken on a computer, the National Assessment Governing Board, which administers the NAEP, said that it could not make comparisons to previous “paper and pencil” writing tests.

Students were asked to perform writing tasks in three areas:  To persuade, trying to change the reader’s point of view; to explain, trying to broaden a reader’s understanding of a topic; and to convey experience, trying to provide an account of a real or imaginary experience to a reader.

The NAEP writing test is a scaled test with a range of 0-300, and a mean score of 150.  “Achievement levels” were set along that scale for the categories Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced.

Among eighth-graders, about 3% scored advanced, 24% scored proficient or above, 54% basic, and 20% below basic.  (Because the numbers were rounded, they do not add up to 100%).

Among 12th-graders, about 3% scored advanced, 24% scored proficient or above, 52% basic and 21% below basic.

According to the board, performances varied by race, ethnicity, gender, school location and other factors, such as parents’ educational attainment.  But the most notable achievement gap was between males and females in both eighth and 12th grades.
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Sandra Day O’Connor champions civics education
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor meets with students at an iCivics event in Washington, D.C.
September 17th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

Sandra Day O’Connor champions civics education

by Donna Krache, CNN

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Schools of Thought on July 19th, 2012. We're bringing it back for Constitution Day.

(CNN) - The retired Supreme Court justice is all business as she walks into our meeting room.

But inside, she’s got the heart of an educator.

Of course, Sandra Day O’Connor will always be associated with her historic “first,” as the first woman justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Prior to that appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she also served as a judge and a state senator.

Since her retirement from the high court in 2006, she has found a new passion – civics education.

How did she decide to become a champion of that cause?  O’Connor says that in her last year on the bench, she was “very much aware of the major issues and debates” being brought before the high court.  There were lots of complaints about the decisions, she says, and many were directed at the judicial branch – with some blaming the justices for certain outcomes.

“As you analyzed it, it appeared to show in many cases that the concerns were misdirected:  There was a tendency to blame the courts for things that were really not a judicial matter,” she told CNN.

The solution to that misunderstanding, she believes, is civics education – a subject she notes has changed through the years.  She remembers her own schooling in El Paso, Texas, and how she learned about Texas government.  Civics knowledge was helpful to her later in life, O’Connor says, and she’s disappointed that today, many schools have stopped teaching the subject.

But she believes young people do have a desire to learn civics because they want to participate in their government, to change things and better their lives. “There is an increasing appreciation that we do need to know how our government works:  national, state and local,” says O’Connor. “And that this is part and parcel of the things that every young person wants to know because they want to have an effect.”
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