Your comments: Cheating widespread?
March 30th, 2012
03:20 PM ET

Your comments: Cheating widespread?

by the Schools of Thought Editors

(CNN) - This week we reported on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s investigation into possible nationwide cheating on standardized tests.

Read: Report: Test cheating may be widespread.

There were hundreds of comments on this story, many of them focused on different aspects of this story, from security, to teacher evaluation, to No Child Left Behind pressure, to flaws in our culture. Here’s a sampling of what was posted, edited for length and clarity:

WhatNow said:I  know people want accountability in schools, however, when you tie test scores to a teachers’ job security, you set the groundwork for problems. Once upon a time, we used the bell-shaped curve to decide if a teacher was doing their job. For those who don't know, that meant we actually expected some students to excel, most would be average and some would even fail. Somewhere along the line, we decided that all should be passing with high grades. If not, it must be the teachers’ fault. Why? Not everyone will be great in school. Not everyone deserves an A. Everyone deserves the opportunity to an education. This does not mean that all will be successful. We need a new way to evaluate teachers.”

Leila said: “If test scores are tied to job security, we will see many more cases of cheating, especially in underserved school districts where people live below the poverty line, where many kids live in motels rather than real homes, and where many kids are living with relatives because CPS intervened or parents are incarcerated. Exaggeration? No. This is reality. It is a challenge to motivate kids who come to school sick, are battling with domestic issues, and poverty. Try teaching the art of persuasive writing, proper diction, syntax, sophisticated vocabulary and compound sentences to kids who quite frankly have far more important and life threatening issues to deal with when 3:00 comes around. In my school, we are not only educators, but we are counselors, listeners, advisers, and sometimes protectors. There ARE other factors out there involved in educating our at-risk, underperforming students.”

kls817 said: “Maybe we need to keep the tests out of the hands of the teachers, who might be tempted to edit them. Have a third party administer and collect the tests. This does involve a small amount of additional head count, but it is needed.”

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Filed under: Cheating • Policy • Practice • Testing • Voices
March 30th, 2012
01:38 PM ET

Got (chocolate) milk?

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at why one school's attempt to make lunch healthy backfired.

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Filed under: Kids' health • video
March 30th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

Today's Reading List

Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:

CBS 2 Chicago: School Board Unanimously Approves Longer School Year
Despite protests from the city's teachers union, Chicago's school board voted to add ten days to the school calendar, making it the longest in the country. Some parents also questioned the move in light of the school district's projected $700 million shortfall in next year's budget.

International Business Times: 'Bully’ Movie Rating Change: ‘We Thought We Could Win’
“Bully” opens today without a rating, after its production company failed to convince the MPAA to change the documentary’s rating from “R” to “PG-13.” Anti-bullying activists wanted the PG-13 rating so that more children could see the film; the nation's second largest theater company, AMC, says it will allow unaccompanied minors into the movie with a note from a parent or guardian.

NPR: Alan Alda Asks Scientists "What Is A Flame?"
Veteran actor Alan Alda challenges scientists to define a flame so that ordinary people can understand the concept. Instead of Alda or other scientists judging the definitions, 11-year-olds around the world will.

Edudemic: 15 Ways To Use The New iPad In Classrooms
With the new iPad, users can connect to the Internet, take pictures, record movies, and produce presentations. Teachers tweeted how students can use these functions to create digital content.

Daniel Wilingham: Students should be taught how to study.
The majority of college students study by rereading their notes, which University of Virginia psychology professor Daniel Willingham argues is a terrible strategy. Willingham says that self-testing – the ninth most used strategy – is the best for recall, and should be taught.

There is no student loan 'crisis'
State cutbacks to higher education are forcing some people to take out more student loans.
March 30th, 2012
10:11 AM ET

There is no student loan 'crisis'

by Tami Luhby @CNNMoney

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - Total student loan debt has topped $1 trillion ... but there's no need to panic.

Most borrowers have a reasonable amount of debt, and the total balance is not likely to cause major damage to the economy like the mortgage crisis did, experts say.

"I don't think it's a bubble," said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, a financial aid website. "Most students who graduate college are able to repay their loans."

This is not to say that there aren't problems with student loans, which now exceed the amount of credit card debt and auto loans. Students are taking on more debt, on average, and more than a quarter of borrowers are behind on their payments. And a hefty debt load could delay recent graduates' purchase of a home or starting a business.

But all the talk of a crisis or bubble in the student loan industry is exaggerated, experts say.

There's no doubt that student loan balances are rising fast, bucking the trend of other consumer debt, which fell during the Great Recession. In 2007, the total level of student loan debt was about $600 billion.

But more people are going to college these days, said Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the George Washington University School of Education. This is prompted in part by the economic downturn: When people lose their jobs or the economy turns shaky, a lot of folks return to school to learn new skills or bolster their resumes.

Read the full story from CNNMoney
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Filed under: Policy
March 30th, 2012
05:30 AM ET

Stiff security at Tucson school board meetings angers Latinos

By Thelma Gutierrez and Traci Tamura, CNN

Tucson, Arizona (CNN) – It was the evening of March 13, people lined up outside the Tucson Unified School District office in Tucson, Arizona, to attend a school board meeting. Nine-year-old Nicolas was in line with his teenage sister Juliana, waiting to enter the meeting. Juliana, who is in high school, was there to voice her support for the Mexican-American studies program, which was dismantled this year after it was banned by the state.

One by one, each person had to first go through security screening. It wasn’t until Nicolas, wearing a yellow Batman t-shirt, standing with his legs and arms spread apart while being wanded by an armed security guard, that Roberto Rodriguez, an associate professor of Mexican-American studies at the University of Arizona, took notice of the process. Rodriguez grabbed his phone and took two photographs of Nicolas going through security.

Rodriguez, who is also a syndicated columnist, says he sent one of the photographs to several colleagues. Before he knew it, the picture went viral. It seemed to strike a nerve with some people, particularly within the Latino community, who say the pictures symbolize what Rodriguez calls an anti-Latino, anti-immigrant atmosphere in Arizona.

Read the full story from the In America blog
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Filed under: Issues • Policy • video
My View: Trayvon Martin’s death is more than a teachable moment
March 29th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

My View: Trayvon Martin’s death is more than a teachable moment

Fred Marcus StudioBy Yvette Jackson, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Yvette Jackson, Ed.D., is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education and former Executive Director of Instruction and Professional Development for the New York City Board of Education. Tune in to AC360 at 8 and 10 p.m. ET for the special series "Kids on Race: The Hidden Picture”.

The death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is sparking national indignation and debate over the role race played in this premature loss of life. But it also opens the door to a teachable moment that, if ignored, will only compound the tragedy.

The teachable moment is particularly true for adolescent youths. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in more than three decades of working in schools is that students - particularly adolescents - want teachers to meet them where they are. It’s an anxious, hyper-emotional, and uncomfortable place for adults, but students crave this connection.

Trust me, an incident like the death of Trayvon only intensifies those emotions because all adolescents have a frame of reference from their own lives, be it race, how they dress, or fear of being singled out by a stranger based on how they look. This frame of reference during adolescence greatly impacts their understanding of how and why they are perceived a certain way.

To ignore the story of Trayvon in any classroom is to ignore an event that is shaping how countless young students of all races and ethnicities are seeing their world, the adults around them, and visions for their futures.

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Filed under: Issues • Resources • Voices
New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests
March 29th, 2012
10:47 AM ET

New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests

By Brian Vitagliano, CNN

New York (CNN) – Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television. These are a few of the 50-plus words and references the New York City Department of Education is hoping to ban from the city’s standardized tests.

The banned word list was made public – and attracted considerable criticism – when the city’s education department recently released this year’s "request for proposal" The request for proposal is sent to test publishers around the country trying to get the job of revamping math and English tests for the City of New York.

The Department of Education's says that avoiding sensitive words on tests is nothing new, and that New York City is not the only locale to do so. California avoids the use of the word "weed" on tests and Florida avoids the phrases that use "Hurricane" or "Wildfires," according to a statement by the New York City Department of Education.

In its request for proposal, the NYC Department of Education explained it wanted to avoid certain words if the "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people."

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Filed under: Curriculum • Policy • Testing
March 29th, 2012
07:58 AM ET

My View: Don't ever judge someone by their paycheck

Peter Dressel PhotographyBy Taylor Mali, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Taylor Mali spent nine years in the classroom teaching everything from English and history to math and SAT test preparation. He is an advocate for teachers and speaks at education conferences and teachers’ workshops.  His book, “What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World,” will be released on March 29.

“Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.”– Norman Vincent Peale, American minister and author

On one level, my new book, “What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World,” is an explication and expansion in prose of a piece of writing that first came to me in the form of poetry.

At a New Year’s Eve party in 1997, a young lawyer managed to insult me and the entire teaching profession by essentially saying that no person dumb enough to want to be a teacher should be allowed to actually become a teacher. The poem I wrote in the weeks that followed, "What Teachers Make," is the response I wish I had been smart enough to give to the lawyer at the party.

The simple truth is that you should never judge another law-abiding person. Ever. Of course it’s human nature to make comparisons between ourselves and others just to see how we think we measure up, but such comparisons inevitably lead to feelings of jealousy when we think ourselves inferior and feelings of contempt when we feel superior. OK, fine. Just stop right there and keep those feelings to yourself.

Everyone is different. You might try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but even then you’ll never know what it has been like to be them for their whole life, what their childhood was like, what struggles they had with their siblings and friends. What life of poverty or opulence they came from, or how great is their capacity for love, the history of heartbreak they carry around their necks like a cinderblock on a gold chain, the sheer firepower of their intellect or the hours and hours of hard work they are willing to put to the service of their vision of the future. How dare you judge from a place of such ignorance?

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Filed under: Voices
Education secretary defends Obama administration's use of school waivers
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defends the Obama administration's issuance of NCLB waivers at a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 28, 2012.
March 28th, 2012
04:23 PM ET

Education secretary defends Obama administration's use of school waivers

by Sally Holland, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republicans on Capitol Hill Wednesday criticized Education Secretary Arne Duncan's use of waivers for schools that haven't met the benchmarks for the No Child Left Behind law

"I don't believe that the language of the law allows the secretary to provide conditional waivers," said Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

When No Child Left Behind originated over 10 years ago, it set standards that students had to meet by certain dates or the schools would face sanctions. As the standards have gotten progressively higher, schools have had difficulty reaching the goals. Last fall, the Obama administration began providing waivers for schools that were unable to reach the benchmarks.

Bills to reauthorize and rework the No Child Left Behind Act are waiting for floor debate in both the House and Senate.

"Our children only get one shot at a world-class education and they cannot wait any longer for reform. And that's why we've offered states regulatory relief from (No Child Left Behind) in exchange for reforms that drive student achievement," Duncan said.

Kline, meanwhile, said in his opening statement: "The obscure process of granting these quid pro quo waivers leads me to question whether states are being pressured to adopt the administration's preferred reforms."

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Filed under: NCLB • Policy • Practice
March 28th, 2012
03:28 PM ET

SAT cheating scandal leads to new security rules

A college entrance exam cheating scandal leads to new nationwide security rules.  CNN's Mary Snow reports.

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Filed under: Cheating • Policy • video
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