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Education News Round-Up

Standardized TestsThe school year may be over, but there's still a lot happening in the world of education. Read on for some of the latest in everything from standardized testing reform to board of education elections!

Michelle Rhee group Students First’s Tax Records Reveal Questionable Spending In 2010, Michelle Rhee,  former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system (who garnered national attention for her controversial stance against teachers’ unions) launched Students First, a group for education reform trying to raise $1 billion for education over five years. But according to IRS forms released by the group last week, of the $7.6 million raised in Students First’s initial nine months, $1.7 million was spent on advertising and marketing, over $100,000 on public opinion research and over $337,000 on gathering potential donors. The business and financial news outlet Reuters describes hundreds of thousands of dollars in other spending that is leading to questions as to how the group hopes to achieve its goal if it spends so exorbitantly.

Evolution vs. Creationism at the Center of Kansas Board of Education Elections This year’s elections for the Board of Education in the fourth district of the Kansas public school system have rekindled the conflict between science and religion. Jack Wu, the republican candidate, has expressed his desire to remove the teaching of evolution completely from the classroom. Wu, a member of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church (famous for their protesting of the funerals of U.S. troops), says that evolution is a “satanic lie” and that creationism should be taught in accordance with the word of God. The debate comes as Kansas’ fourth district plans to rewrite the standards of science education in accordance with national standardization. The district’s previous standards allowed for the teaching of an “intelligent design” for the creation of the universe.

67-year-old Veteran Graduates High School with Army Grandson In 1961, Russell Leigh enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was 16 years old and never got a chance to finish high school. But last weekend, after 51 years, Russell graduated from Johnsburg High School in his native town of Johnsburg, NY. Russell was eligible for a program called Operation Recognition, which allows New York state residents who were satisfactorily discharged and served during WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War before they graduated high school to earn their diploma. He graduated alongside his grandson, Mike Allen, who recently enlisted in the Army. "It's an opportunity that not many people get," Mike told WTVY. "And it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime things that you'll never really understand until after the fact. I think it'll start to sink in a little later on."

Is Online Testing Becoming the New Standard? Online standardized tests are growing in frequency across the country, with educators saying that they allow teachers to receive results immediately, thus helping them adjust their teaching methods to fit the students’ performance. In the Appoquinimink school district in Delaware, students take three versions of the state math and reading tests online each year, and the state sends schools two scores showing how students did overall in reading and math. But some teachers don’t think a numerical score is enough, which is why Townsend Elementary School continues to give its students another set of tests on top of the state tests. Four years ago, the school began using a computer-based test known as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), which they administer to students three times a year. It gives teachers detailed reports on how students are doing and can group students based on their ability in certain skills. Students now take as many as seven online standardized tests each years, which educators are now arguing is helping them increase performance.

New York Parents Rally Against Standardized Tests The efficiency of standardized tests is an ongoing subject of debate, but after the now-infamous talking pineapple question on a New York State exam enraged parents, students and educators, dissatisfaction with high-stakes testing has escalated. “Field testing” is the practice of testing future exam questions on students, and this year, after three days of regular exams, students in grades three through eight across New York spent an extra day field testing. But now parents are asking why?

On June 22nd, parents from school districts gathered in front of Washington Irving High School to present NYS Board of Education Regent Harry Phillips with petitions, grievances and a bill for charges incurred for test preparation. On field testing, Phillips responded positively, saying “These tests were only used to provide free focus group testing to Pearson, a for-profit company that has a $32 million contract with NY State to provide standardized tests ... [but] I think we made the wrong decision, and I assure you we are going to listen. We realize the questions weren't good. ... The field test will not happen the same way next year.” He did maintain, however, that standardized testing was not a pressing issue in education reform.