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Education Lab Blog

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

December 31, 2014 at 3:04 PM

Roundup: Court rules Kansas school funding is inadequate; ‘Sesame Street’ goes digital

Court rules Kansas school funding insufficient (The New York Times): A state court panel has ruled that Kansas schools are unconstitutionally underfunded, but it failed to provide a specific dollar amount lawmakers should be spending. The state is expected to appeal the decision to the Kansas Supreme Court.

‘Sesame Street’ focuses on digital e-learning offerings (NPR): “Anytime, anywhere learning” is the mantra for a new line of digital products developed by Sesame Workshop, an offshoot of “Sesame Street.” Vocabulary development is one key focus of the new educational tools.


Comments | More in News | Topics: roundup

December 31, 2014 at 12:26 PM

Guest: New math textbooks are the right choice for Seattle schools

Ted Nutting

Ted Nutting

Earlier this year, the Seattle School Board changed the kind of math textbooks used in our elementary schools, selecting texts intended to be used with explicit instruction. Under explicit instruction, teachers are expected to actually teach rather than turn students loose to discover mathematics principles on their own. The board picked the Math in Focus series, a version of Singapore Math.

Seattle Public Schools began using reform math textbooks in the 1990s. In that approach, students are supposed to learn by discovering mathematical truth in the process of solving problems. They typically work in groups, noting their thoughts in journals and portfolios, and using calculators constantly as they complete discovery-type projects. Advocates have touted reform math as a way to get kids excited about math and create a culture of learning.

Unfortunately, this approach was based on an unrealistic vision rather than on fact. It has been a failure both in Seattle and in the U.S. as a whole; our math students have fared poorly in comparison with those of other developed countries. On the most recent international math test, the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. finished 36th of the 65 countries participating, behind virtually all other developed countries. Earlier tests showed similar results.

During the last seven years, my students at Ballard High School consistently performed better than their peers at other public Seattle high schools on Advanced Placement Calculus exams. Since 2011, when state end-of-course tests were established, I have taught only one class that has a state test and is required for graduation — Algebra 1, our school’s lowest-level math class, in the 2011-12 school year. My students earned the highest passage rate in the district on that test.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: explicit instruction, math, Seattle Public Schools

December 31, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Some education news to watch for in the upcoming year

As the final days of 2014 tick by, here are five of the education stories we plan to keep an eye on in 2015:

From left, Kelsey McCleary, 20, mother and plaintiff Stephanie McCleary, and son Carter McCleary, 15. Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times.

From left, Kelsey McCleary, 20, mother and plaintiff Stephanie McCleary, and son Carter McCleary, 15. Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times.

1. More money for schools

Lawmakers in Olympia will wrestle this session with how to meet a court order to give more state dollars to public schools and pay for a sweeping class size initiative that voters approved in the November election. Some lawmakers say they’re ready to send Initiative 1351 back to voters with a price tag and a proposal for how to pay for it.

But lawmakers will have a tough time dodging the state Supreme Court’s unanimous September decision to hold the Legislature in contempt for failing to ramp up public school spending quickly enough, which the court ordered back in 2012. The court gave lawmakers until the day after the session to come up with a plan to increase school spending to the required levels or convince justices they shouldn’t issue sanctions.


Comments | More in News | Topics: 2015, Initiative 1351, Larry Nyland

December 30, 2014 at 1:20 PM

Roundup: Remembering former UW president; sub shortage common across state

Former UW President William Gerberding dies at 85: Gerberding, the University of Washington’s longest-serving president, presided over the school during a tumultuous period in the ’80s and ’90s. He died Saturday in Seattle at the age of 85.

Survey finds most WA districts have sub shortage: A recent survey conducted by the Washington Office of the State Actuary and presented to a legislative committee found 74 of about 90 districts across the state are having trouble finding substitute teachers. The districts cited several potential reasons for the problem, including low pay and a pension plan that prevents some retired teachers from returning to the classroom before they turn 65.


Comments | More in News | Topics: roundup

December 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It’s possible to love science and math. Hoosier ‘Leads the Way’

Bertram pic

Vince Bertram visiting with high school students in rural Indiana in 2011. Courtesy photo.

Acronyms are the bane of the education writer. Attempt to dissect test scores and you find yourself untangling definitions for NAEP, EOC and MSP. Try to discuss science, technology, math or engineering and you must first stumble through the obstacle course called STEM.

No doubt, this dissuades readers, too, which is a problem because those four subjects have become so daunting to Americans that our very economy is threatened. That’s a point central to a new book by former school superintendent Vince Bertram, and one that riles anyone who sees education as a zero-sum game: Nurture one area of study and you necessarily starve another.

Bertram sees no need for such a siloed approach. What if we explained to students who dream of becoming NBA stars or millionaire musicians that rappers use technology to mix their singles, that athletes need engineering for better sneakers?

Essentially, this is the concept behind Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit that aims to boost science and tech in public schools, particularly those that educate low-income students. The program’s real-world approach attracted dozens of kids at Toppenish High School to advanced math, as noted in this Education Lab piece from last spring.


Comments | More in News | Topics: STEM, Toppenish, Vince Bertram

December 29, 2014 at 12:32 PM

Roundup: Garfield’s Black Student Union finds renewed purpose; ex-UW student deported

Garfield’s Black Student Union finds renewed purpose: Garfield High School’s Black Student Union has been around since the 1960s, but student and staff leaders say the group has found a renewed purpose amid the national outcry over recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City. “This is our time, as youth, to speak,” student Issa George said.

High-school guidance counselors overworked (The New York Times): Guidance counselors across the U.S. face an average caseload of 500 students, a number that has remained virtually unchanged for the past 10 years. An April Education Lab story focused on this issue and explored how nonprofit groups are helping to fill the gaps in some cities.


Comments | Topics: roundup

December 29, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Free online tool shows top jobs for community college grads

What jobs will be in high demand four years down the road, when today’s college freshmen enter the workforce?

A new report released by the advocacy group Young Invincibles outlines broad employment trends, but if you’re looking for a more specific guidance — what to study now — there are also newly-available online tools that can help.

The Future of Millennial Jobs suggests that future technological shifts are likely to mean fundamental changes in the way we work. But “futurists are split on whether technological advances will produce a net increase or decrease in employment, and rapid changes in technology mean that the jobs of the future may be vastly different than what we see today,” the report says.

Millennials (born after 1980) — and others — looking for specific guidance might want to try Career Coach, a free online career-search tool recently rolled out by Tacoma Community College. The tool is used by a number of other institutions, as well, including Highline College in Des Moines and the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County. It’s built by EMSI, a Moscow, Idaho, company owned by CareerBuilder.

The website allows students to enter the degree they’re pursuing — or thinking about — and shows related careers in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area, including salaries and prospects for future employment.


Comments | More in News | Topics: higher education

December 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Governor seeks money to train special ed leaders

It’s hard to imagine a more complex and demanding responsibility for a school district administrator than overseeing the education of children with disabilities.

Such leaders are in high demand; Seattle Public Schools’ new special education director, Wyeth Jessee, is the ninth person to hold the job in 10 years.

A new two-year master’s degree program to train future special ed directors has begun meeting that demand, graduating its first group of 10 students last summer. All the graduates, who already had at least five years experience in special education, received job offers.

The program, Enhancing Capacity for Special Education Leadership, is run by the University of Washington Bothell and Washington State University.

Graduates receive a UW Bothell Master’s degree in Education with emphasis in Educational Leadership.

State and federal dollars pay 90 percent of the cost for each scholarship in the program. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed $2.3 billion education plan includes $800,000 to pay for 20 new slots and also to create a central location for “best practices” in special education at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.


Comments | Topics: special education, University of Washington Bothell, Washington State University

December 24, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Inslee’s budget calls for all-time biggest boost to early learning

Among a slew of education proposals announced during Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget rollout last week, Inslee suggested a hefty boost to the state’s Department of Early Learning — $177 million over the next two years, more than doubling the amount of money the department gets from the state today.

The governor hailed that increase as the “largest-ever state investment in early learning.”

He is right.

Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee

As far as the 8-year-old Department of Early Learning is concerned, the $177 million increase would be the department’s biggest ever, said Mike Steenhout, its chief financial officer. Among other child care and early learning services, the department runs Washington state’s preschool program, called the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or E-Cap, which currently provides preschool to about 10,000 low-income students statewide.

If adopted, Inslee’s suggested $177 million increase would be nearly three times greater than the next largest funding spike in the department’s history, which came as it was ramping up around 2007. Inslee proposed adding $2 million for home visits, $4 million for early intervention with special needs toddlers and providing $70.5 million in state dollars for the Early Achievers child care rating and improvement program, which is today almost entirely funded by a one-time federal grant.


Comments | Topics: early learning, Jay Inslee

December 23, 2014 at 3:48 PM

Roundup: Ruling paves way for adjuncts to unionize; accessibility to Catholic colleges questioned

Labor ruling gives PLU adjuncts right to unionize: A decision by the National Labor Relations Board found Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma could not bar its adjunct faculty from forming a union. The ruling could clear the path for adjuncts at other private colleges to unionize.

Catholic colleges among most expensive for poor students (The Hechinger Report): Half of the 10 U.S. colleges with the highest net cost to the poorest students are Catholic, according to a report from the New America Foundation. Critics say the lack of significant financial aid packages conflicts with the church’s teachings on social justice.


Comments | Topics: roundup

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