Thursday, June 27, 2013

New Tablet Option for Classroom Learning

by Ashley Alongi, Spring Intern 2013

This March at SXSWedu, an educational conference in Austin, News Corporation’s educational unit unveiled their new tablet specialized to teaching. Spearheaded by former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, now CEO of Amplify, the Amplify tablet aims to change the classroom environment into one that students more readily understand. In Klein’s opinion, schools need to embrace technology instead of banning it if they want to move forward: “Kids use media and technology of all kinds but they’re told they have to turn them all off when they get to school,” says Klein.

The Amplify tablet will be preloaded with content and resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards Initiative and pre-programmed with customized software before a student even turns on the device.

Amplify aims to speed up daily classroom tasks and free up more time for active instruction. When each device is brought to class, attendance is automatically counted for the teacher. Alerts can also be programmed into the device to send reminders to students about upcoming tests or projects.

The hope for the tablet is that there will be a more clear view of how the class is fairing with a specific topic. With the push of a button, teachers can send a quick poll to students asking how well they grasp the topic, using emoticons to gauge their feelings. This way everyone’s feeling is noted, even those who are shy or may not feel comfortable admitting out loud that they don’t understand something. Tests and quizzes can also be sent to students through their tablets, with the results instantly tabulated so teachers can see who may need some more help. Teachers can then send individual students more information about topics the student is struggling with.

What makes the Amplify tablet different from other tablets like Apple’s iPad—which has been making a push into the education market—is the control teachers will be able to have over students’ devices. With its classroom management system, teachers will be able to pull focus back to them and off the screen, with options like locking down certain applications, such as the Internet or games, or simply locking the whole device to display the message “Eyes on Teacher.”

Not everyone is on board with the technology push. Some have commented that Klein wants to eliminate teachers, while others believe that the price may be too steep for many schools to afford. The Wi-Fi version of the tablet starts at $299, plus $99 per year for a content and services subscription. A version with access to AT&T's 4G LTE data service is $349, plus a $179 annual subscription fee. When asked about the cost, Amplify offices stated that “a variety of school systems do have the funding via [the Obama administration’s] Race to the Top initiative and in other ways. Large school districts in L.A. and Houston are moving in this direction. There are challenges but this is an investment.”

Another tablet on the market means more possibilities, and those schools that can afford to try devices like Amplify may pave the way for marking out the pros and cons of such technology in the classroom.

Further Reading

“Exploring the World Through Tablets,” published October 30, 2012,

“News Corp.'s Amplify Unit Unveils Education Table,” Publisher’s Weekly, published March 6, 2013,

“News Corp. Has a Tablet for Schools,” The New York Times, published March 6, 2013,

“News Corp.'s Joel Klein Outlines Plans for Amplify Education Unit,” Publisher’s Weekly, published December 5, 2012,

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pricier, Digitized GED Moves Forward and Raises Eyebrows

by Grant Bradley, Summer 2013 Intern
Two years after the American Council on Education (ACE), the parent company of the General Educational Development (GED) tests, teamed up with Pearson PLC to create the GED Testing Service, the ubiquitous high school equivalency exam is undergoing a makeover. In the coming months, test takers will put down their pencils and close their paper booklets in favor of a completely computerized exam, and they will open up their wallets to pay a doubled fee of $120. Because some adult students have no access to computers at home, some say the new computerized test disadvantages the very people it is trying to empower.

Toni Walker, a state representative for Hartford, CT, harbors some reservations about the digital GED. Walker, who also serves as assistant principal of the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center, states that less than 20 percent of her students own computers,
“so if we don’t show them how to use a computer, they’re never going to be able to pass the GED, because they won’t be able to do it online."

Randy Trask, president of the GED Testing Service, defends the move to digital, saying that computers are an integral part of any job. “
Computers are a necessary part of society today. If you’re going to apply at a Walgreens or a Walmart or a Target, you’re going to be filling out an application on a computer,” he said.

The exclusionary effects of a computerized GED, however, might not matter if students cannot afford it. Right now, the average price of the current GED hovers around $60 but varies state by state. State subsidies in Connecticut, for instance, lower the price of the old test to $13. However, other states tack on administrative fees. In states such as Missouri, where fees are added on, the new GED would cost $140.

Walker voiced concerns over the implications the price increase will have on the educational landscape of the next several decades. “
It is going to be prohibitive.… People come here with pennies and nickels, bringing us change to pay for their GED,” Walker said. “So it’s going to be a class issue. People who have no money will never be able to actually take the GED."

Trask believes the new price reflects the cost of a much-needed modernization of the GED, and any increase of the financial burden on test takers depends more on individual states than company policy.
“Historically, states have chosen to subsidize the GED test; some partially and some in its entirety,” he said. “The state then chooses what to charge test takers for the test. And the state bears—or has historically born—all of the costs associated with the delivery of that test and the scoring."

Many states are not taking these changes lying down, and several publishing companies are trying to pick up the slack. Educational Testing Service (ETS) and McGra
w-Hill are developing cheaper, paper-based exams. New York, New Hampshire and Missouri have already decided to ditch the GED and choose one of the new tests. Whether or not these newcomers can supplant the GED from its dominant position in the world of high school equivalency exams remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: the luster of the GED’s absolute supremacy of the market is beginning to dim.

Further Reading

Lisa Fleisher, “Revamped GED Faces First Big Challenge: Oldest High-School Equivalency Test Adapts to New Education Standards, With Other For-Profit Firms Quick on Its Heels,”
The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2013,

Heather Hollingsworth, “States Dropping GED As Test Price Spikes,”
The Huffington Post, April 14, 2013,

Diane Orson, “Educators Worry Revamped GED Will Be Too Pricey,”
NPR, November 28, 2012,

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Schools Look Forward to More Time

by Victoria Elliott, Spring 2013 Intern

Starting with the 2013–2014 school year, students in five states will be spending 300 more hours per year at their desks. Schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee will extend their time with students, individually choosing to accumulate the extra hours through longer days, longer school years or a combination thereof.

Advocates claim that this extra time, by providing more student–teacher contact hours, will give a needed boost to underperforming schools. Kuss Middle School in Fall River, Massachusetts, evidences this boost.

In 2005, Kuss was labeled as “chronically underperforming.” When Massachusetts began to subsidize longer days with an extra $1,300 per student in 2007, Kuss put the extra 300 hours into place as a test run. The test run proved positive, and Kuss has kept up with the extra hours, starting the school day at 7:10 a.m., much earlier than most schools. This early first bell gives students an extra ninety minutes with their teachers every day and has dramatically increased results on standardized testing scores in math and reading. Additionally, the longer day has allowed more time for extracurricular activities, such as art, dance and music. Since 2007, Kuss’s reputation as underperforming has faded away, and enrollment has increased dramatically, even extending to a wait list.

Another school that employs this extra hours method is Saltonstall School in Salem, Massachusetts. Saltonstall was developed in 1995 as a “break the mold” type of school, a K–8 that has completely turned away from the regular school schedule. At Saltonstall, days run from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The school year is longer as well, modifying the calendar to stretch all the way until the end of July. With this method, students attend school in six- to seven-week sessions, taking a weeklong break in between. Longer days have also allowed Saltonstall to create Friday Clubs, two hours a week that students participate in a chosen special interest club run by parents or volunteers.

Though some believe that schools simply need to make better use of the time they already have, the benefits for students of a longer school day appear to be myriad. Many schools are already working together with teachers to make longer days viable and working with unions to make longer days voluntary and with better pay.

With the nineteen schools in Massachusetts and a good deal more throughout the country that already employ the longer days, there seems to be promise that the initiative will become customary. Fall River Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown has already seen a change in her own child, a student at Kuss Middle School, since the added hours. She says she is “able to see as a parent how engaged [her] child was at school. He wanted to go each and every day.” Hopefully, this positive change for Mayo-Brown’s child will be observed in other students as the initiative begins more trials next school year.

Further Reading

Kelsey Sheehy, “Experts Challenge High Schools to Revamp Outdated School Day, Year,” U.S News & World Report, December 2, 2012,

Phil Hirschkorn and Jeff Glor, “Longer School Days Take Hold in Massachusetts,” CBS Evening News website, March 10, 2013,

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

YA Novel Transforms on Big Screen

by Jessie Miller, Summer Intern 2013

Judy Blume: one of the most prolific and influential writers of the young adult (YA) novels publishing craze. Her books, which explore sensitive and real-life topics applicable to many teens, have been both incredibly popular and controversial. Released June 7, the movie adaptation of Blume’s 1981 Bradbury Press novel Tiger Eyes features the first of her books to hit the big screen, yet it remains true to Blume’s original story—including controversial material that awarded it the number 78 spot on the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000.

The YA books-turned-movies industry has recently been dominated by widely popular, fantasy fiction, dystopian world stories, including series such as The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter. But Tiger Eyes could not be more different from these cult franchises: Blume’s film presents the realistic plot of a teenager dealing with her father’s sudden death and its effect on her family. Willa Holland, as protagonist Davey, embodies the perfect film version of a classic Blume teenager, yet the film takes on a very different tone.

Having been originally released over three decades ago, Tiger Eyes demanded an updated portrayal of Davey and her tragic story; the result is an edgier, off-the-wall film that appeals to an entirely different audience than its previously mentioned YA counterparts. Instead of an action-packed, unrealistic story featuring dramatic heroic teens, Tiger Eyes is a refreshing look at the inner world of a teenage girl who is wrestling with the emotions of loss, confusion and adolescence.

Yes, Katniss (from The Hunger Games series) and Davey are completely different characters, but the parallels and disparities between both girls’ lives point out an interesting trend in novel publishing and film production: The majority of today’s YA films are based around adrenaline rushes and unrealistic situations, while Blume’s film falls perfectly into a different genre of Bildungsroman plots. Upon watching Tiger Eyes, I was instantly reminded of films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Never Let Me Go, and upcoming release The Fault in Our Stars—all of which originate in novels.

So why did it take so long for Blume’s books, which transformed the young adult genre and touched millions of young girls’ lives, to reach movie production? The answer remains unclear—and I still don’t understand why now—but I believe Judy Blume’s need for creative control and the desire for her own son to direct the movie were determining factors. Though the movie version may be long overdue, I’m glad the Blumes stayed true to their own vision, because the final product is remarkable. Judy Blume’s dedication to the movie and Lawrence Blume’s long-time love of the book have created a film that transcends and transforms the original message of Tiger Eyes. Davey is no longer an adolescent teen—she is a passionate force leading the publishing fight back to its roots, something I greatly look forward to.

Further Reading

Jeannette Catsoulis, “Young Girl Grapples with the Facts of Life: ‘Tiger Eyes,’ Directed by Lawrence Blume,” June 6, 2012, The New York Times,

“Judy Blume Hits the Big Screen with ‘Tiger Eyes’ Adaptation,” June 7, 2013, NPR website,

Nicole Sperling, “Judy Blume’s Road to ‘Tiger Eyes’ the Movie and Her Next Chapter, June 7, 2013, Los Angeles Times,,0,3932030,full.story.

Sara Vilkomerson, “Are You There Hollywood? It’s Me, Judy Blume,” May 13, 2013, Entertainment Weekly,

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Actively Ignoring Bad Behavior

by Ashley Alongi, Intern Spring 2013

Instead of calling attention to students who misbehave, teachers in some schools are now practicing a technique called “active ignoring.” The idea behind it is simple: Teachers are no longer reprimanding students for their bad behavior but instead waiting for them to correct it on their own. When a student exhibits good conduct, they are verbally praised. For example, a teacher won’t acknowledge a student who calls out an answer. Instead of telling them to raise their hands or that they shouldn’t call out, teachers only acknowledge students with their hands in the air and who are doing the right thing.

This technique is similar to one used with parents and misbehaving children, and psychologists are curious about how well the idea will adapt to being used in a group setting. These Teacher-Child Interaction Training (TCIT) programs are being tested in several schools and are focused on preschool children; early findings suggest that not just the regularly misbehaving students improve, but the behaving students improve as well.

The principle behind active ignoring is that teachers and students need to build strong positive relationships. To do that, teachers need to acknowledge positive behavior, which in addition to building those positive relationships, also reinforces that the behaviors are the right thing to do. The goal of TCIT is to have students hear three positive comments for each negative one.

Active ignoring doesn’t only help students when in the classroom. Through active ignoring, children learn how to calm themselves down when upset. It also shows students that there are consistent consequences for their actions and helps them to establish limits and learn what is right and wrong to do.

Discipline actions are still taken if a child is seriously misbehaving. However, instead of being yelled at in front of the class, students are asked to move somewhere else until they have calmed down. The student is then told that when they are calm they can return to class. This method still allows serious issues to be addressed but also gives control to the students about when they feel they are comfortable to return, and doesn’t cause them to feel embarrassed by the extra attention discipline sometimes gives.

At first behaviors can worsen as students begin to adjust to the change and teachers begin setting new and different limits. According to those in the program, the hardest part is for teachers to ignore the bad behavior. But teachers participating in the TCIT programs find themselves reporting positive effects about two weeks into the program. Since one school has adopted the program, disruptive behavior has dropped 32 percent in the last school year. Any progression in the learning environment is beneficial to all involved, and sometimes that means trying methods that may seem odd at first but reinforce what really matters in the classroom.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Digital Outreach Brings Scientific Research into the Classroom

by Grant Bradley, Summer Intern 2013

The burgeoning use of Internet technologies in the classroom has enabled students to explore a nearly limitless reservoir of human knowledge. In the past four years, however, major research organizations from across the globe have begun to offer students not only access to their findings but also a way to actively participate in gathering, sorting, and analyzing scientific data.

Open Air Laboratories, or OPAL, is a British organization that strives to spark people’s interest in the outdoors and gain valuable insights into the health of Britain’s forests. Backed by a coalition of universities and museums and led by Imperial College, London, OPAL offers a variety of downloadable surveys that encourage students to go out in the field and document their natural surroundings. As part of OPAL’s Tree Health Survey, for instance, students can measure things such as trunk girth, foliage density, root structures and more.

Whereas OPAL prompts students to examine their external environments, a crowdsourced initiative from Cancer Research UK inspires them to look to the world within. The ingenious website asks participants to identify and evaluate photos of real cancer cells. Alongside hundreds of thousands of fellow citizen scientists, students learn to differentiate between cancer cells, tissue cells, and red and white blood cells, all while tracking their progress on individual web profiles.

Scientific American and the University of Oxford, among others, have teamed up to run Whale FM, an international research project that allows students to delve into a huge database of killer whale and pilot whale calls recorded using undersea hydrophones off the coast of Norway and the Pacific Northwest. Orcas maintain some of the most stable social groups in the animal kingdom, living in matriarchal pods whose unique calls form distinct dialects. Students can listen to the clicks and whistles of these creatures and document their similarities and differences in an effort to understand them.

Thanks to projects like these, students of all levels can become involved in cutting-edge scientific research and gain a hands-on understanding of the material. The classroom is no longer a place where students just learn from the scientific community—they can contribute to it, too.

Further Reading

Emeli Warren, “Students Get Hands-On Science Experience with Inquiry,” Publishing Solutions Group blog, March 19, 2013,

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Common Core Myths Revealed

by Hayley Gundlach, Summer 2013 Intern

As many schools across the country enter their final month, they are another year closer to a drastic change that has been looming for a while. In 2010, the Common Core State Standards (or just the “Standards,” as the Common Core State Standards website refers to them) were developed and introduced. Since then, 45 out of the 50 states, along with a number of US territories and the District of Columbia, have adopted the standards and are scheduled to fully integrate them in the next one to two school years.

The Standards are meant to revamp the curricula in US schools, which currently have no common standards across different states, and ensure that all the students in a single grade are following the same general principles. The Standards were developed with the intention of preparing high school students for achievement in college and successful twenty-first century jobs. Although the majority of the country has adapted to the new standards and is currently reforming its school districts, concerns are arising amongst the public as schools are coming closer to making the switch. Widespread nervousness and general misunderstanding over the Standards are causing people to question the 2010 decision. A few myths in particular seem to have seeped into the public mind; the following paragraphs will address these myths and provide the truth according to the authors of the Standards.

Myth #1: The new Common Core educational standards will bring higher state standards down to the lowest benchmark level across all adopting states.
Yes, one of the intentions of the Common Core is to more or less put all students on the same level, but that doesn’t mean they intend to put students on a lower level. In fact, when schools utilizing the Common Core Standards were compared to those using current state standards, scores in schools using the Common Core Standards were found to be superior to 39 states’ math scores and 37 states’ ELA scores. The new standards aim higher in order to improve scores for all students nationwide, not downgrade student standards to accommodate lower-achieving students and school systems, as some may think.

Myth #2: Classical literature will be left behind in the new curricula.
The Standards suggest that reading done in high school should be 30 percent literary and 70 percent informational, which makes it seem like there is little room for the classic literature that is commonly required and deemed fundamental in current ELA curricula. However, those who believe beloved classics will be forgotten are under the impression that 100 percent of reading will be done in ELA classes. In reality, the larger part of the suggested 70 percent informational reading will most likely be done in history and science classes, leaving plenty of room for classical reading to be done in ELA classes.

Myth #3: The Common Core will still not allow US achievements to match foreign countries’ achievements.

A primary US expert in international math performance, William H. Schmidt, claims that the Common Core math standards in the United States are comparable to those in the highest-achieving countries. While it will take time for US achievements to parallel the most accomplished countries, the Common Core seems to be a step in the right direction.The overall truth is that the success of the Common Core State Standards depends on effective reworking of curricula, appropriate instructional material and technological support, and proper professional development for teachers and staff. It also demands improved communication between parents, staff members and students. The achievement of US students is up to each individual school district implementing the standards in a valuable way.

Further Reading:

Barth, Patte, “The Common Core Standards: Truths, Untruths, and Ambiguities,” The Huffington Post, April 25, 2013,

“Myths v. Facts About the Common Core Standards,” Common Core State Standards website, accessed June 5, 2013,

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

From Homeless to Stanford

by Catherine Martin, Spring 2013 Intern

Chicago-based high school student Lane Gunderman will be one of the few kids starting their college career on a full scholarship at Stanford University this fall, but he is also one of the extremely few students in the history of the school who was homeless when he earned his scholarship.

Gunderman’s family had always been poor, but six years ago, they were forced to move into a shelter after their father left. Along with the move, Gunderman and his siblings also enrolled in public school for the first time—their mother had homeschooled them up until then. There wasn’t a lot of privacy and not much to do at the shelter, so Gunderman focused on his schoolwork. He originally enrolled at Burley Elementary School, but Gunderman’s teachers, noticing how bright and dedicated he was, suggested he apply to University of Chicago Lab High School, a selective private high school established by the University of Chicago.

Gunderman thrived at the Lab School; he made the final round of the Intel Science Talent Search, which is one of the country’s most elite high school science competitions, and was ultimately awarded the scholarship to Stanford.

Gunderman’s story is inspiring—he clearly worked hard, and it paid off—but it’s also, to some extent, a good illustration of his luck. Scholastic reports that there are an estimated one million homeless students in America, and the number of homeless students in the Chicago area has risen 22 percent in the past year. Gunderman exemplifies a strong dedication to and love of learning, but he wouldn’t have gotten to the Lab School without his teachers noticing and promoting his academic efforts, and he wouldn’t have gotten into Stanford without the Lab School.

Gunderman’s affection for school does not make him unique among other homeless kids. Denise Ross, a supervisor for homeless education programs in Maryland, says that for homeless students, “School is a safe haven.… They want to be in school.” Homeless students also often blend in with their fellow classmates either because they don’t want to be recognized as homeless or because their teachers don’t notice them. Sometimes, albeit less commonly, successful homeless education programs help homeless students blend in by providing kids with things like shoes, technological resources and showers.

The McKinny-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, enacted by the federal government in 1987, requires that every school district provide homeless students with equal access to public education. This means making school feel as normal for homeless students as it does for other students, and providing them with clothes, food or other essentials that they might not get anywhere else. However, the program is underfunded: $65 million a year goes to only 3,000 of the nation’s 15,000 school districts.

Gunderman’s unique situation helped him get noticed and ultimately propelled him to success. But, if anything, his story is a reminder of the importance of supporting homeless students, who just want—and deserve—the same opportunities as their peers.