Curtis Whatley is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Here’s what educators, advocates, wonks and policymakers are talking about today:

News & analysis

Is television the new second-hand smoke?
Sure, we’ve been hearing about how watching television rots kids’ brains for decades now, but apparently secondhand television can be harmful to children who aren’t watching it, too. According to a new media study presented at the International Communication Association annual conference in Phoenix, Ariz., children ages 8 months to 8 years are exposed to nearly four hours each day of television playing in the background. Matthew Lapierre, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, Jessica T. Piotrowski, assistant professor for communication research at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, and Deborah L. Linebarger, an education professor at the University of Iowa, surveyed more than 1,450 English-speaking homes with children from 8 months to 8 years old. The researchers found on average children spent four hours daily with television in the background—not counting the more than 80 minutes that children under 6 watch television shows on average each day. Television was even more likely to be the soundtrack for young and minority children’s lives. Children under 2 years old had background television on average 5.5 hours a day, compared to under 3 hours a day for children 6 and older. Likewise black children were exposed to 5.5 hours of background television each day, compared to 3.5 hours each day for white children. (Inside School Research)

New $60M in Promise Neighborhood grants announced
Another $60 million in grants for the Promise Neighborhoods program will be made available by the U.S. Department of Education, both for existing grantees and for a new round of grants, the department announced Friday. The Promise Neighborhoods program provides support to a range of youth services, from K-12 education and early-learning programs to health and safety initiatives in neighborhoods, and access to learning technology. The department specified in a statement that the next rounds of grants can be used inside and outside of schools, and can also be used to “establish data systems to record and share the community’s development and progress.” In this upcoming round, the department will provide $27 million for up to seven new Promise Neighborhood grants. The grants will be made annually for three to five years. An additional $7 million will fund 14 new, smaller grants of about $500,000 each. (Politics K-12)

Minnesota: Schools find active kids make smarter students
When students at Meadowview Elementary in Farmington needed to improve their reading scores last fall, they were turned over to physical education teacher Joe McCarthy. Each morning for months, McCarthy had the students spend 15 minutes running or shuttling from side to side in the gym. It wasn’t any type of punishment, but part of a growing trend in education that focuses on increased physical activity to improve learning. The students were selected based on their scores on fall state assessments. When the kids took the tests again earlier this year, after McCarthy’s exercise regimen, they showed the greatest improvement of any students at Meadowview, double the school average, McCarthy said. “And all we did was move more,” McCarthy said. Educators say there is a growing body of research showing that physical activity — even something as subtle as chewing gum — helps not only a child’s health but also a child’s ability to learn because of increased blood and oxygen flow and the creation of new brain cells. “It’s more than a theory. It’s a well-established fact,” said Jack Olwell, incoming president of the Minnesota Association for Health, Physical Education and Dance, the group representing the state’s thousands of physical education teachers. “The more active you are, the more brain cells you create.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a paper in 2010 urging more physical activity for students because of the health and academic benefits. (Star Tribune)

Maryland: Schools Superintendent Hite pushes for special session
As legislative leaders continue to squabble over who was responsible for the General Assembly’s inability to sign off on an agreed-upon tax package before the end of the session, School Superintendent William Hite Jr. is trying to apply pressure on them to resolve their differences and schedule a special session to address the state budget. Hite said he and the Board of Education have written to Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel). He sent a message asking parents to do the same. But this week it appeared as though a resolution was no closer than it was on April 9 when the General Assembly adjourned. In a letter sent to state senators this week, Sen. Miller accused members of the House of participating in actions at the end of the session that were both “immature and beneath the dignity of the General Assembly.” Miller was responding to Busch, who has complained that the senate president was obsessed with the bill that would bring a casino to Prince George’s County, creating an impasse at the close of the session. (WaPo)

Maryland: Lowery, Delaware schools chief, takes ed. job in MD
Lillian M. Lowery, who has been Delaware’s education secretary since 2009, will take over this summer as state superintendent in Maryland, the state education department announced today. The Maryland board of education is scheduled to take official action on the appointment at its April 24 meeting. Lowery is officially scheduled to begin her Maryland duties on July 1. Lowery succeeds longtime Maryland schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick, who retired from the position in 2011 after 20 years in that job. Bernard Sadusky had been serving as the interim superintendent. Both Maryland and Delaware are federal Race to the Top grant winners. (State EdWatch)


Kathleen Porter-Magee: The pineapple, the eggplant, and the missed  moral
Leonie Haimson—a vocal ed reform critic—helped generate a media firestorm about testing yesterday when she posted about an absurd passage that was included on this year’s New York State 8th grade ELA test. The post itself generated more than 2,000 hits in its first few hours and led to a New York Daily News article entitled “Talking pineapple question on state exam stumps … everyone!” The passage on the exam needs to be read in full to be believed. (Read to the end of the Daily News article.) It’s a perfect storm of bad writing, poor structure, and inexplicable questions. If you haven’t read it—and you should—it’s enough to know that the moral of the story—included in bold at the end—is this: Moral of the story: Pineapples don’t have sleeves. Haimson and her fellow testing foes are right to call out this passage as absurd. And critics of accountability can and should play this role, helping surface problems and draw attention to the need for change. But the real outrage among those of us who care deeply about accountability is why these problems aren’t being caught earlier. For too long we have been focusing our attention on expanding the use of tests to more grades and more subject areas and increasing the consequences tied to the results of these tests without taking a hard look at the uneven quality of the tests themselves. (Fordham Institute)

Claire Needell Hollander: Teach the books, touch the heart
For the last seven years, I have worked as a reading enrichment teacher, reading classic works of literature with small groups of students from grades six to eight. I originally proposed this idea to my principal after learning that a former stellar student of mine had transferred out of a selective high school — one that often attracts the literary-minded offspring of Manhattan’s elite — into a less competitive setting. The daughter of immigrants, with a father in jail, she perhaps felt uncomfortable with her new classmates. I thought additional “cultural capital” could help students like her fare better in high school, where they would inevitably encounter, perhaps for the first time, peers who came from homes lined with bookshelves, whose parents had earned not G.E.D.’s but Ph.D.’s. Along with “Of Mice and Men,” my groups read: “Sounder,” “The Red Pony,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth.” The students didn’t always read from the expected perspective. Holden Caulfield was a punk, unfairly dismissive of parents who had given him every advantage. About “The Red Pony,” one student said, “it’s about being a dude, it’s about dudeness.” I had never before seen the parallels between Scarface and Macbeth, nor had I heard Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies read as raps, but both made sense; the interpretations were playful, but serious. Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read “The Grapes of Wrath” and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” His historical perspective was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening. Year after year, ex-students visited and told me how prepared they had felt in their freshman year as a result of the classes. I may not be able to prove that my literature class makes a difference in my students’ test results, but there is a positive correlation between how much time students spend reading and higher scores. The problem is that low-income students, who begin school with a less-developed vocabulary and are less able to comprehend complex sentences than their more privileged peers, are also less likely to read at home. Many will read only during class time, with a teacher supporting their effort. But those are the same students who are more likely to lose out on literary reading in class in favor of extra test prep. (New York Times)


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