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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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You are currently viewing all posts written by Claudia Rowe.

July 31, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Math teacher-turned-activist says Olympia needs more schooling

The battle to improve American education falls, roughly, into two camps: those who favor more evaluation of teachers (based, in part, on student scores), and those who insist educators need freedom to direct classwork as they see fit. The trouble is, both approaches pretty much leave teachers to sink or swim on their own. “In America,…

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July 29, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Preschool for all kids? Business leaders get campaign preview

Anh Tuan Ta, 4, second from right, and Jimwel Pelaez, 3, far right, lay out plans before they construct their "spiky space needle" during an open-ended activity session at the Denise Louie Education Center in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times.

Children participate in an open-ended activity session at the Denise Louie Education Center in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times.

In a preview of what’s to come this fall, three high-level speakers debated Seattle’s proposal to pay for universal preschool in front of a roomful of business leaders.

Voters will weigh in Nov. 4 on whether to fund a four-year pilot providing high-quality pre-K education to 2,000 4-year-olds. Total cost: $58 million, to be paid through property-tax increases.

The effort would align Seattle with numerous cities and states funding early-learning initiatives, from San Francisco to Florida. All are responding to compelling evidence about the benefits of preschool for young children. But many are also wrestling with significant questions about the staying power of those gains.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: early ed, pre-K, preschool

July 22, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Even the feds screw up FAFSA: Online glitch affects thousands

About 200,000 would-be college students, most of them low-income, may have received incorrect financial aid offers because of a recently-discovered glitch on the government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, better known as the FAFSA.

The problem came to light earlier this month after colleges and universities began noticing lots of applicants with questionable salaries entered in the box marked “Income Earned from Work”. That is, salaries that looked puzzlingly high for students seeking financial aid.

Turns out that thousands of students — apparently trying to respond to the FAFSA with utmost accuracy — entered summer-job or after-school incomes down to the penny. But the form was supposed to accept only whole-dollar amounts.

The result? Incomes of $5,000.19 showed up as $500,019 — an enormous difference, and one that would almost certainly affect eligibility for financial aid.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: FAFSA, financial aid, higher ed

July 18, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Think the least educated drink most? Data might surprise you

Numbers can anchor free-floating impressions, but sometimes they offer unexpected revelations.

To wit: Those with a master’s degree spend five times the amount that high-school dropouts spend on alcohol — $748 versus $148 each year.

On the other hand, dropouts spend more than double what the highly-educated spend on tobacco — $323 compared to $143.

Screen shot of the "Degrees of Spending" infographic

Screen shot of the “Degrees of Spending” infographic

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Comments | More in News | Topics: demographics, higher ed

July 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Common Core in Wash. schools: tougher testing on the horizon

common core blog graphic

Screen shot from the New America report

So here we are, about to plunge into the era of Common Core, that much-debated matrix of standards outlining what students must know when they leave high school. And what happens if they don’t.

That last aspect – exit exams – is the focus of an exhaustive report released Tuesday by New America, a public policy think tank, which marshals powerful evidence against using standardized tests as a requirement for graduation. Research shows that these graduation benchmarks have done little to improve overall student achievement, while increasing dropout rates – particularly among black and Hispanic students, the report says.

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July 15, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Moving money instead of students could save big bucks, lawyers say

You may not know them, but they’re there, in your schools, every day.

Since 2006, the number of homeless students in Washington has surged — from 16,850 eight years ago, to more than 30,600 today. They’re living in shelters, shuttling between the homes of friends or relatives — a week here, a month there — or waiting to be placed in foster care.

For these kids, school can provide an essential lifeline of comparative stability, which was the thinking behind the 1987 McKinney-Vento law. The federal legislation allows kids to stay enrolled in their neighborhood school, even as their lives outside send them hither and yon. The law also says that districts must pay to transport homeless students from wherever they’re living back to school — no matter how far.

To pay for this, Washington gets a paltry $950,000 every three years, which districts must divide, though it hardly covers the full expense. Seattle alone spent $1.2 million to transport homeless students in 2012; Tacoma, more than $1.5 million. Statewide, the full tab was nearly $17 million.

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July 10, 2014 at 5:00 AM

When swimming through data, skeptism can be a life raft

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

Few news beats offer a monsoon of data equal to that in education.

Numbers frame every argument and initiative. But Mark Twain said it best: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

In other words: Beware the study with provocative findings advertised by a screaming headline that supports one silver-bullet approach or another. A piece from The Atlantic makes this point eloquently, quoting Maine math teacher Tracy Zager:

Public education has always been politicized, but we’ve recently jumped the shark. Catchy articles about education circulate widely, for understandable reason, but I wish education reporters would resist the impulse to over-generalize or sensationalize research findings.

We hear that.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: data, Research

July 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Mrs. Obama: School counselor among country’s toughest jobs

First Lady Michelle Obama addresses members of the American School Counselor Association during their annual conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Tuesday. AP photo.

First Lady Michelle Obama addresses members of the American School Counselor Association during their annual conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Tuesday. Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack / The Associated Press.

School counselors — that oft-maligned group expected to perform emotional triage, academic guidance and college advising for millions of students every year — are attracting increased attention from some pretty high-profile folks.

First Lady Michelle Obama noted earlier this month:

While we talk a great deal about the role of teachers and principals and parents in preparing kids for higher education, often, engaged school counselors … are the deciding factor in whether young people attend college or not.

She reeled off a typical counselor’s day: Perhaps ministering to a girl who’s been bullied, then dealing with “the kid who’s been kicked out of every class.” Later, meeting with a distrustful parent and finally, trying to convince a promising student who refuses to apply to college, that “she has what it takes to succeed in life.”

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Comments | More in News | Topics: counselors, Michelle Obama, Obama

July 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It ain’t rocket science: Early experiments key to school success

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

We’ve heard plenty about the lousy performance of U.S. students in math and science, with accompanying alarm bells about future economic implications. A recent Education Lab story provides a case in point.

Now comes a raft of research suggesting that better science education could reap rewards even greater than creating an army of chemists.

The Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan policy center, has years of data showing that early education in science and math may be even more important to — and predictive of — future academic success than reading skills.

Here’s why: Science, even at the most basic level, requires reflection and explanation (providing a boost to vocabulary). It also involves identifying patterns, combining measurements and problem-solving — all key for math.

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Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: early learning, science

July 1, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Is test-prep teaching? It takes up 18 percent of school time

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Donna Grethen / Op Art

As lawmakers in Olympia prepare to grapple with court-ordered increases in school funding, it might help to have a better idea of the various tasks a teacher is expected to complete in a day.

So went the thinking behind a year-long study of 693 Washington educators, which is scheduled for release on Tuesday. It is believed to be the most comprehensive effort undertaken — by any state — to assess how much of a teacher’s time is devoted to instruction, and how much to paperwork, meetings and the like.

Drum roll, please: In Washington, about 73 percent of the school day — or four and three-quarter hours when students are present — is spent teaching. (That includes preparing for state tests.) The remaining 27 percent is devoted to parent conferences, professional development, lesson preparation and field trips, according to the study.

Educators and legislators may debate whether test-prep is, in fact, instruction. But either way, it accounts for nearly 18 percent of a teacher’s time, the data show.

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