Oakland Teachers and Parents Rally for New Contract, Better Pay

Parents and teachers from Oakland Unified School District held a march on Tuesday demanding an increase in teacher pay and a reduction in class size. During the contract negotiations, some teachers have adopted a labor tactic known as "work-to-rule": working only the hours stipulated in their contract, and nothing more. We'll discuss the ongoing dispute and the impact of the "work-to-rule" practice on classrooms.

Moving Beyond Standardized Tests

Citing the need to adjust to new Common Core standards, the California Board of Education decided earlier this month to suspend the use of standardized test scores as its main measurement of school performance. This comes as teachers, parents and students nationwide protest against the overuse of tests. We talk with NPR education blogger Anya Kamenetz about the perils of overusing test scores and other methods of measuring school and teacher quality.

PBS NewsHour

Researchers cut down procrastination by making it less fun

Researchers delved into how to stop students from letting online distractions keep them from getting work done. (Photo:
         Blake Patterson)

Researchers delved into how to stop students from letting online distractions keep them from getting work done. Photo by Blake Patterson

The key to making online students focus on their course work may be making procrastination as unenjoyable as possible, according to a study out of Cornell University.

It’s a familiar problem to anyone with a deadline and a computer: the assignment is open on the screen, half-finished, but is quickly lost in a stack of web browser tabs. Upon rediscovery (with an accompanying pang of guilt), the procrastinator resolves to buckle down and type out the last few paragraphs — right after clearing the notification that just popped up and checking just one more website.

Richard W. Patterson, a Ph.D. student in policy analysis and management at Cornell, wanted to see if software could reduce procrastination and, as a result, improve students’ grades.

“People frequently fail to follow through on the plans they make: they fail to meet deadlines at work, finish assignments for school, go to the gym and deposit money in their savings accounts,” Patterson writes in the report titled “Can Behavioral Tools Improve Online Student Outcomes? Experimental Evidence From a Massive Open Online Course,” published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

In higher education, Patterson writes, that failure to follow through can be seen in the number of students who enroll in a degree program but never graduate. His study looked specifically at online education, where completion rates are lower than face-to-face programs. MOOCs, in particular, have been sharply criticized for completion rates that sometimes register in the single digits.

Patterson’s report, written last November but released this month, examines the effects of different types of antidistraction software. His study looked at 657 students enrolled in a statistics MOOC offered by Stanford University. The students, all of whom agreed to download software that would track their activity online, were then separated into three groups, plus a control group.

Students in the group that tested a commitment tool set their own daily allotments for time they could spend on distracting websites such as BuzzFeed, ESPN and Facebook. If the students hit the cap during the course of a day, the software blocked them from the distracting sites, forcing students to give a new reason every time they wanted to unblock one.

On average, students allotted 2.7 hours per day to spend on distracting websites and went over that limit four times during the nine-week MOOC. Even though the software sent them a daily email at 6:45 a.m. reminding them of that limit and asking if they wanted to reset it, the average student only did so once.

Students in the reminder group received a notification with a link back to the course after every 30 minutes they spent on distracting websites. The notification triggered an average of 48 times for each student in that group.

Finally, students in the focus group were given the option to block access to distractions for 15, 30 or 60 minutes when they accessed the course. Students in that group activated that feature only 1.7 times on average during the MOOC, blocking distractions for 38 minutes.

Only students testing the commitment tool showed statistically distinguishable performance improvements. Compared to those in the control group, the students spent 24 percent more time on course work (or 5.5 hours), submitted 27 percent more homework assignments and were 40 percent more likely to finish the MOOC. Their grades were also 0.29 standard deviations higher than for students in the control group, which is “roughly the same difference in course performance observed between students with Ph.D.s or M.D.s and students with bachelor’s degrees,” according to the report.

Patterson said he approached the study expecting the results from the first group to produce the most promising results, as that software in some ways included features tested in the other two groups.

“With the commitment device, you’d get an email asking if you would like to reset your limit — so it kind of acted like a reminder,” Patterson said. “It also had the incapacitating effect once you reached your limit that the focus study session included, but it also included this goal aspect of setting your own limit. I have a feeling that might be the most effective — adding something important on top.”

The results suggest a second reason for why the commitment tool was the most effective of those tested: students in that group were 81 percent more likely than those in the control group to say the tool made procrastination less enjoyable. In other words, the software made wasting time a hassle, causing some students to go back to studying instead.

Yet the results also present some limitations to antidistraction software. Those most likely to benefit from software were those who in a precourse survey said completing the MOOC was “very” or “extremely” important to them, leaving the question of how to help students who lack self-motivation largely unresolved, Patterson said.

Patterson, who will this fall join the economics faculty at the United States Military Academy, said researching student behavior allowed him to face his own tendency to procrastinate.

“Certainly one of the fun things about doing a project like this is I got to work with, test the software and use it myself to see how I interacted with it and how it impacted my productivity,” Patterson said. “One of the things I noticed with this software is that there were things I thought I was spending a lot of time on that I wasn’t, and other things I thought I was spending a couple of minutes on that was sucking up a lot of time.”

Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education.

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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These student whistleblowers spoke up to prevent a shooting


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JUDY WOODRUFF: This month we have been bring you stories from high school students around the country reporting on how the concept of school safety is evolving.

Tonight, we travel to the town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where a potential attack by students was foiled one year ago.

As part of our ongoing Student Reporting Labs series called The New Safe, student television network correspondent Nick Weiss investigates what inspired a handful of brave students to take action.

NICOLE MALINOSKI, Principal, Cedar Crest High School: You know, the first thing I do when I wake up every morning is think about the safety and security of all students here. It’s actually even before education, just because of school safety, how it’s been in the media and, unfortunately, you know, things that have happened over the last number of years.

I was actually out of the building the day that this occurred and I received a text message from Ms. May, who’s an assistant principal here. She asked me if I could call ASAP. She had something very important to discuss with me.

NICK WEISS, Correspondent, Student Reporting Labs: What Ms. May was calling about was a threat made by two students in March of 2014 to walk through these halls gunning down students.

NICOLE MALINOSKI: I have to thank and applaud the students who came forward and shared that information with Ms. May, because, if it wasn’t for them, who knows what would’ve happened here.

MATTHEW GARRETT, Cedar Crest High School student: I mean, I knew it was a threat, and I knew that if I didn’t do something and if like my fellow students didn’t do something, it could’ve been a pretty big tragedy.

I sat at the one kid’s lunch table. At first, it was kind of like –he would kind of like bring it up every now and again, but like it wasn’t a recurring thing. Then it escalated pretty quickly, and things were said and items were shown, that just I knew it was a serious threat.

A couple weeks later, he started bring this, like, school shooting thing up and he would joke about it a little bit, and I was like, oh, whatever. I mean, I just let him go. And then, like a month or two, it kind of like disappeared and, like, it didn’t come up. Then, he came with a map and was like, yo, guys, look at this, this is what I’m going to do. And I was like, dude, that’s — that’s too far.

NICOLE MALINOSKI: A lot of students looked at that as just a joke. The weekend prior to us receiving this information, there was an incident that happened outside of school that prompted some students to put two and two together, and made them think that this might really happen. That incident made it real for a lot of individuals that, yes, it could happen here.

NICK WEISS: After Matt and a few other students reported the threat to Ms. May, an investigation took place that led to the arrest of the two potential shooters. It was after this incident that the seriousness of the situation was revealed to the public, causing the spread of various rumors.

MATTHEW GARRETT: I heard everything from, like, they had guns already in the school, to he actually shot somebody, and just some really wacky ones.

NICK WEISS: The students and parents of Cedar Crest put the responsibility of safety on district police officers Kristen Houck and Justin Schlottman, but, as Matt has shown, a gun and a badge aren’t always the first lines of defense.

JUSTIN SCHLOTTMAN, Police Officer, Cornwall-Lebanon School District: I feel they did the right thing. They took some concern for the lives of their fellow students. There’s no perfect scenario. If nothing was said, what — you know, you can sit there and go through your mind what could’ve happened, what would’ve happened.

We reacted accordingly and made sure all the students were safe. You do your best to prepare for it. Having a proactive approach, rather than a reactive approach is more beneficial. It’s almost like the school’s your community, and I’m only one person. I only have one set of eyes, and we can’t be everywhere all the time.

But you — the students, they’re all over the place. Those are extra sets of eyes. Those are extra people in your community that are able to see what’s happening. You know, some people might be afraid to say stuff. And it happens out on the street. It’s not a bother. I would rather investigate something and find out it’s false, rather than it be, you know, somebody not say something, something terrible happen here, and that person has the guilt of, oh, I could’ve said something, but I chose not to.

It’s a form of community policing, and it’s not snitching. It’s doing the right thing.

MATTHEW GARRETT: Everyone needs to pitch in to keep everyone else safe. It just goes to show that, like, one comment can just ruin your life. And I feel like it wasn’t blown out of proportion, because a lot of people make threats. You got to address them, because sometimes they will actually turn out to be a real incident. And then you’re the one that just shrugged off a threat, and let it happen, and you have to live with that then for the rest of your life.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because Matt Garrett stepped forward and blew the whistle, the students that planned the attack were later tried and convicted of criminal attempt and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and terroristic threats.

For more reports like this, please visit


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Does Ohio’s third grade reading test miss its goal?

reading classoom

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GWEN IFILL: A growing number of states are promising to stop promoting students who haven’t learned to read by the end of third grade. It’s a controversial idea we first reported on two years ago.

Tonight, special correspondent John Tulenko of Learning Matters Television, which produces reports on education for the NewsHour, returned to Ohio to see how that’s working.

JOHN TULENKO: Two years ago, the city of Cincinnati and others across Ohio faced a major problem. On a national reading test, 60 percent of fourth-graders were failing, a gap that many we spoke with then feared would just grow wider.

PEGGY LEHNER (R), Ohio State Senator: We don’t teach reading in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh grade. So if they haven’t learned that, they’re not going to learn it. And that’s just unacceptable.

JOHN TULENKO: So, two years ago, Republican State Senator Peggy Lehner put a wall around fourth grade, passing legislation that promised to hold back any third grader who failed the state’s reading test. Ohio called it the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

LINDA HISSETT, Teacher, Carson Elementary School: It’s now or never. We’re finished with passing kids along that are unable and unprepared to actually reach success at the higher grade levels.

JOHN TULENKO: At the outset, third grade teacher Linda Hissett of Carson Elementary in Cincinnati welcomed the guarantee, and saw it as a solution.

LINDA HISSETT: I had some students who are at a kindergarten-level reading, first grade-level reading, second grade. You know, I guess I just — I look at it with dismay.

JOHN TULENKO: But Carson’s principal, Ruthenia Jackson, was wary of the guarantee. Some 40 percent of her students were in danger of being held back.

RUTHENIA JACKSON, Principal, Carson Elementary School: The research shows that if you retain children over — it doesn’t help them down the line, because they’re just getting older, and then eventually they will get in high school, and they will just drop out. Who wants to be 17 in ninth grade? Nobody.

JOHN TULENKO: No doubt, the reading guarantee had raised the stakes considerably for Ohio’s 125,000 third graders and their teachers. But how would it all turn out? Would the threat to hold students back spur schools to innovate? Just how many students would make it over the bar?

What emerged in the end is a story with both good news and bad news, and we will tell it in that order.

PEGGY LEHNER: The result was remarkable; 96 percent of our third graders passed the test this year.

JOHN TULENKO: We returned recently to speak with Senator Lehner, who told us Ohio’s results have a simple explanation.

PEGGY LEHNER: That kind of improvement is incredible. But that only came about because of a lot of hard work, a lot of attention to the importance of reading.

JOHN TULENKO: Carson Elementary seemed to be a case in point. Ruthenia Jackson is still principal.

So, two years ago, you were apprehensive.


JOHN TULENKO: How do you feel about the reading guarantee today?

RUTHENIA JACKSON: Pretty good. It’s — and that’s because we’re making some gains.

JOHN TULENKO: Reading scores here had risen 10 points, following changes made across the school. The entire staff had been reassigned to teach individual subjects. That way, the strongest reading teachers could concentrate on that.

WOMAN: Let’s check that vowel before you write.

JOHN TULENKO: Reading specialists were also brought in, with some $13 million Ohio set aside for schools.

RUTHENIA JACKSON: Now we have two. One reading specialist works with those kids who we consider non-readers, and teaching them phonics.

JOHN TULENKO: The second specialist focuses on kids just on the cusp of passing. For everyone else, local high school students were brought in as volunteer tutors. There were reading workshops for parents. Hundreds of books were sent to homes. And in the end, 94 percent of Carson’s third graders passed Ohio’s reading test and were promoted.

WOMAN: All right, keep on reading.

JOHN TULENKO: Good news for early supporters of the reading guarantee, like Linda Hissett.

LINDA HISSETT: What we have started here is hugely different than how it was prior to three years ago. And the focus that they have on the reading and the intensity, it’s a totally different tone.

JOHN TULENKO: But how different was it? Hissett’s third grade class still had struggling readers, more than a few. And we found the reading guarantee, which had promised to bring everyone up to grade level, had another side.

LINDA HISSETT: To answer the question if the kids are more prepared, it’s very hard, because a lot of the kids that we actually educate, a lot of them will leave.

JOHN TULENKO: Forty percent, in fact, while another 40 percent come in, all midyear. This revolving door, not unusual in urban schools, poses problems for the reading guarantee.

RUTHENIA JACKSON: We get non-readers. We will get a third grader who — who’s never heard of a sound, cannot read.

JOHN TULENKO: So, is it that the reading guarantee, it only works in a bubble?

RUTHENIA JACKSON: Right. Exactly true.

JOHN TULENKO: Was it any better in Carson’s fourth grade? Remember, under the guarantee, to get here, students first had to pass a test, prove they were ready.

Fourth grade teacher Maria Cleveland.

How many of your kids are actually reading at a fourth grade level?

MARIA CLEVELAND, Teacher, Carson Elementary School: Probably 50 percent. But the reality is that kids are all over the place. They just aren’t ready for some of the things — I mean, you know, kids don’t know how to sound out words; they’re working on some phonics skills that they never received. It’s — it’s an eye-opener.

JOHN TULENKO: And yet all of them passed Ohio’s reading test, and that could be the bigger problem.

MARIA CLEVELAND: They get to take it multiple times, the same test. They get to take it in the fall. If they don’t pass it, they take it again in the spring. If they don’t pass it, they take it again in the summer. And now they have thrown in a new test.

JOHN TULENKO: And how high was the bar? It turns out the score for promotion, advancing to fourth grade, was set below the mark that defines a proficient reader.

PEGGY LEHNER: There are different scores, and here’s why. This is a very, very hard policy. Parents don’t want their kids retained; schools don’t want to retain them. It’s expensive to retain them, $10,000 a year.

If we had set those at the exact same level, at that proficient level, which is, of course, where we want kids to be, this policy would have been dead within a year.

LINDA HISSETT: I don’t think that that little window of promotable vs. proficient is really anything to discuss, because it’s — it’s too close. It’s like three questions.

JOHN TULENKO: To Hissett, the lower pass score is a good thing because it gives students a cushion, which makes sense, she says, when the test is high-stakes.

LINDA HISSETT: It’s an isolated day. Who knows what happened the night before? Who knows if they had sleep? Who knows if they even ate dinner? So, yes, if they have got the basic skills and they can at least get it close, it’s that little shadow of a doubt, that’s fine with me.

JOHN TULENKO: But a big shadow of doubt still hangs over Ohio’s 96 percent pass rate. A close look at test documents reveals more on just how low the bar was set. Ohio will promote third graders even if they lag behind 85 percent of their peers nationwide.

Aren’t you just setting those kids up for failure?

PEGGY LEHNER: No, I think they’re getting help because we have focused this attention on reading. And the teachers are aware.

MARIA CLEVELAND: That, to me — now it’s just — this is just my opinion — that, to me, would be a state issue, wanting to make it look like, you know, the kids are doing better.

PEGGY LEHNER: Well, you know, if they want to take that attitude, fine. But what we’re trying to do here is so terribly important. It’s important that we do it right, and not try to do it all at once. That only invites failure.

JOHN TULENKO: Ohio is on track to slowly raise the score for promotion until it matches the score for proficient. At the higher score, Ohio third graders will still lag behind roughly 75 percent of their peers nationwide.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, I’m John Tulenko reporting for the NewsHour.

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PBS NewsHour names 18 fellows for inaugural student reporting academy

PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Lab participants and newly named fellows,

PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Lab participants and newly named fellows, top row: Ben Root, Alex Trevin and Chloe Golan; Bottom row: Isabel Evans and Erykah Williams.

This summer, 18 talented young storytellers from 11 states will convene in the nation’s capital with a common objective: to help build the future of public media.

The middle and high school fellows are participants in the first Student Reporting Labs Academy in Washington, D.C. They’ll work alongside public media mentors to produce original digital content and sharpen their journalism and production skills. They will also help program leaders develop strategies to engage young people with the news and current affairs and ensure that diverse youth voices are active in the conversations about critical issues facing the nation.

During the 2014-2015 school year, these young journalists have reported on the challenges of keeping schools safe, how political advertising reaches young people and service projects at their own schools, contributing to the NewsHour’s broadcast and digital platforms.

Here is the list of this year’s fellows:

Georgie Abbey, Royal Oak High School
Annie Collick, Royal Oak High School
Isabel Evans, Philip’s Academy Charter School
John Fabella, Maui Waena Intermediate School
Chloe Golan, Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High
Evan Gulock, Royal Oak High School
Alexander Lischak, Trumbull Career & Technical
Alex Maxwell, Judge Memorial Catholic High School
Sydney Payne, Carlsbad High School
Keenan Penn II, Fraser High School
Alizah Rizvi, Philip’s Academy Charter School
Ben Root, Stephen F. Austin High School
Jakira Smith, Free Spirit Media and Simeon Career Academy
Giel Marie Tolentino, Maui High School
Alex Trevino, Stephen F. Austin High School
Nicholas Weiss, Cedar Crest High School
Zoe Whitney, Maui High School
Erykah Williams, Vista PEAK Preparatory

The fellows are connected to local PBS stations KLRU in Austin, Detroit Public TelevisionPBS HawaiiUtah Education NetworkWNET in New York,  NJTV in New Jersey, Rocky Mountain PBSKPBS in San Diego and Western Reserve Public Media.

To learn more about the students and to watch their submission videos, please visit the official SRL Academy Tumblr.

Student Reporting Labs is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of the public media initiative, “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen,” which is helping communities improve education opportunities for all students and build the next generation of skilled graduates. Student Reporting Labs is also funded by National Science Foundation.

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