Noteworthy This Week

This week, Thomas Linn at Wired profiled an inspiring science teacher who became demoralized by the overly structured and financially under-supported realities of the US education system.

The bell blares. Upstairs in the “Cornell University” homeroom, so named to get kids thinking early and often about college, Channa Comer addresses her students with a big voice and an even bigger Cheshire cat smile: “Cornell, 10 seconds to take out your homework, 10, 9, 8 … ” The students scramble, rifling through their backpacks, until they are all seated at their desks with their notebooks in front of them. They all wear blue school-issued shirts with big white letters across their backs. Over the course of the year, they earn shirts with letters that spell TRY, TRUST, TRAIN or THANK. Today the shirts say TRY.

All around them are reminders to try, including posters that advise: “Life is complicated: Let’s deal with it,” and “Think like a proton and be positive.” In front of the classroom, printed above a whiteboard with the day’s schedule, are vocabulary words like “parameter,” “syntax” and “data type,” along with their definitions. A shelf at the back of the room holds clear containers packed with pine cones and shells. Below are containers for compost, soil, plants, rocks, starfish and safety goggles.

Standing 5 feet 1 in two-inch-high platform sandals, Comer projects an outsize presence. Her voice easily fills the room, but she rarely raises it, except to let loose a mammoth laugh or to sing the praises of a student—today it’s Shawnay—who got 100 on her scorecard for good behavior. Comer has an athletic build that comes from years of martial arts and marathon training, not to mention amateur competitive bodybuilding, activities that have taken a toll on her now bandaged 40-something-year-old knees. A naturally inquisitive serial career changer, Comer took advanced biology courses as a nursing student, studied some physics and engineering for a job coordinating the construction of group homes, and, after becoming a teacher, spent several summer vacations conducting scientific field research.

“There’s nothing that has no relationship to science,” Comer said after the class. “It’s very important to me that students know how the world around them functions.”
— Thomas Linn at WIRED

Read more at WIRED.

The Upshot Blog of the New York Times discussed new research suggesting that increased funding really is one of the keys to improving educational outcomes in school districts.

If you spend more on education, will students do better?

Educators, politicians and unions have battled in court over that crucial question for decades, most recently in a sweeping decision this fall in Connecticut, where a judge ordered the state to revamp nearly every facet of its education policies, from graduation requirements to special education, along with its school funding.

For many years, research on the relationship between spending and student learning has been surprisingly inconclusive. Many other factors, including student poverty, parental education and the way schools are organized, contribute to educational results.

Teasing out the specific effect of money spent is methodologically difficult. Opponents of increased school funding have seized on that ambiguity to argue that, for schools, money doesn’t matter — and, therefore, more money isn’t needed.

But new, first-of-its-kind research suggests that conclusion is mistaken. Money really does matter in education, which could provide fresh momentum for more lawsuits and judgments like the Connecticut decision.
— The Upshot / New York Times

Read more at The Upshot Blog.

Renee Dudley at Reuters revealed some of the challenges facing The College Board as it revamps the SAT. The standardized testing industry finds itself in a period of flux as it faces shifting government policies and technological trends.

Redesigning the SAT to reflect the Common Core has solidified Coleman’s influence as one of the most powerful figures in education. He has emerged as “the arbiter of what America’s children should know and be able to do,” Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education for President George H.W. Bush, wrote in her blog.

But Coleman’s “beautiful vision” for remaking the exam soon met some harsh realities.
— Renee Dudley at Reuters

Read more at Reuters.