Urban Ed: Lots of Problems, Not a Lot of Solutions

Guest blogger Jonathan Plucker from Indiana University recommends a book for Education Week’s Straight Up blog.  I will be adding this one to my list, without a doubt.

Matthew Tully’s Searching for Hope: Life at a Failing School in the Heart of America (Indiana University Press) … is the best book I’ve read about urban education in years, certainly one of the best I’ve ever read.

Tully is a columnist for the Indianapolis Star and spent an entire school year in Manuel High School, a depressingly typical school in a poor neighborhood, with all the normal problems faced by struggling urban schools in poor neighborhoods. [He] was given nearly unlimited access to the school and its educators and students, and he wrote frequent columns for the newspaper throughout the 2009-2010 school year, and the book is pulled from those columns and experiences ….Tully draws the reader into his experience quickly, and it’s hard not to get caught up in his observations as he works his way through the school year. […]

[T]he aspect of the book that is perhaps most important is that people care. Tully recounts the immediate, positive response whenever, for example, he mentioned a particular student who didn’t have enough to eat each day, bags of food would be dropped off at the school the next day. Those reactions—relatively small community responses to desperate needs—gave me perhaps the greatest sense of hope. People do care about these apparently hopeless situations, and perhaps these small acts can help tide us over while we struggle to find the big solutions to the overwhelming problems of urban poverty and education.


Bulking up STEM comes with a price tag, educators say

From the Tampa Bay Times, via NTSA WebNews Digest:

STEM education—science, technology, engineering and math—is being touted by lawmakers and business people as the key to future job creation and international competitiveness. But as campuses move to aggressively bulk up their STEM programs, they are grappling with a perpetual question in K–12 education: How to pay for it?

What Kinds of Things DO Teachers Buy for Their Classrooms?

This is actually a timely question for me, personally, as I have been going through boxes of my classroom things which have spent the past couple of years in my garage.  We’re going to be moving after the first of the year, and, well, the less boxes to move, the better.

I was never as good about keeping receipts as I should have been.  And now, looking at some of what I’ve accumulated over my teaching career, I don’t really even want to speculate on what I personally have spent.

Bill Ferriter at The Tempered Radical blog has no such trepidation, and shares his observations after a recent shopping trip:

After swinging through Target and dropping another $10 bucks on supplies that I need for an upcoming science lab, I decided to pull out my envelope o’ receipts and see how much I’ve spent on school purchases so far this year.

Grand total: $875 — and that only includes the stuff I remembered to save receipts for.


What’s REALLY CRAZY is that the $875 that I’ve spent so far — which works out to roughly $73 per month, y’all — is actually LESS than I’ve spent in the past few years. I’ve intentionally cut back on my school spending because I’m as broke as everyone else!

Study: Science pushed out of California elementary schools

Well, this can’t bode well for the rest of us, as California tends to set trends.  From the San Jose Mercury News, by way of NSTA WebNews Digest:

California’s elementary schools spend too little time teaching science as volcano models and germination kits vanish to focus more on English and math, a new statewide study says.

And when science is taught, classroom teachers feel unprepared, the study found. More than four-fifths of teachers think the emphasis on English and math has hampered science teaching, according to the survey that sampled hundreds of administrators and teachers. […]

Among the study’s findings:

  • 44 percent of principals think it is likely that a student would receive high-quality science instruction at their schools.
  • 40 percent of elementary teachers spend 60 minutes or less on science instruction each week.
  • 10 percent of elementary classrooms offer high-quality science learning.
  • 60 percent of districts have no staff dedicated to elementary science.
  • More than 85 percent of elementary teachers received no science-related professional development in the past three years.

California’s test scores reflect its lack of attention to science. In national tests, the state’s fourth-graders ranked at the bottom, along with students from Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii. Performance is worse for Latino and African-American students. Fewer than 10 percent scored proficient or above on national science tests.

California sets no minimum for how much time elementary schools spend teaching science, although science curriculum publishers suggest 90 to 135 minutes per week.

DISD’s Dallas Environmental Science Academy needs your help — starting today

From Tawnell Hobbs at the Dallas Morning News’ Dallas ISD Blog comes this:

The highly-rated Dallas Environmental Science Academy (DESA) is competing for a $50,000 grant in the Clorox Company’s Power a Bright Future grant competition. The grant provides funding for new or existing programs to help give students “a brighter future.” […]

The Dallas Environmental Science Academy would like to use the $50,000 to purchase iPads for students to use for research, educational apps and many other uses, including writing their own apps. (Click here for more details).

Texas May Cut Almost Half of Undergrad Physics Programs

This is NOT good news.  Via Inside Higher Ed:

Almost half of undergraduate programs at public colleges and universities in Texas are in danger of being eliminated because they do not meet a new state requirement of graduating at least 25 students every five years, UPI reported. Many physics programs nationally do not graduate large numbers of undergraduates, but are considered vital nonetheless because of the role of the discipline in preparing students for a variety of science and engineering related fields, and because of the significance of research in physics. A delegation from the American Physical Society recently met with officials of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to discuss concerns about enforcing the rule with regard to physics. Raymund Paredes, the Texas commissioner of higher education, said he would not back exceptions to the rule. “In this budgetary environment, we can’t afford the luxury of programs not producing graduates,” he told UPI. “It’s up to academic departments faced with closure of programs to salvage them.”

NSTA Member Poll: Teachers Paying Out of Pocket for Many Science Supplies

This sounds all-too-familiar.  I didn’t always keep track of my out-of-pocket expenses for my classroom, but I know I spent at least as much as some of the teachers quoted in this NSTA Reports story:

Nearly all science educators expect to pay for some classroom supplies out of their own pockets this school year, according to a recent online survey of NSTA members. With 67% reporting their typical school budget for classroom supplies as less than $500, many said they would be buying office supplies, “grocery items,” and other consumables to equip their labs and their students. Several respondents listed specific items—including acetone, batteries, onions, strawberries, and vinegar. Twenty-six reported they would be buying notebooks and glue, 63 include pencils on their shopping lists, and 80 said they’ll purchase paper in various forms, from graph to construction to notebook. One educator who teaches at the middle and high school levels summed it up briefly: “I buy a lot of perishables and household items.”

With Dallas ISD shuttering both its Living Materials and Science Resource Centers this year due to budget cuts, I expect Dallas teachers will now be hit even harder.  Share your experiences with us in the Comments section!