Archive for May, 2011

Dropping out of school to prove your genius and getting paid

A while back, I mentioned the Thiel Fellowship, a unique program by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to spur young innovators to drop out of school to try to launch a business based on their ideas. The first class of fellows has been named.

In return for their gamble, Thiel, whose billions also come from investing in Facebook, provides the 24 fellows with a $100,000 grant and mentoring assistance. Several hundred people applied for the grants, which have been awarded to, among others, an 18-year-old hoping to extract minerals from asteroids and comets and a 19-year-old who wants to apply unschooling tenets to higher education.

These young fellows  — recipients must be under the age of 20 — are in a class by themselves.

Consider the bio of 17-year-old Laura Deming:  “She wants to extend the human lifespan for a few more centuries—at the very least. She started working in a biogerontology lab when she was 12, matriculated at MIT when she was 14, and now at 17 plans on disrupting …

Continue reading Dropping out of school to prove your genius and getting paid »

Feds also announce $200 million consolation prize to RTT finalists

The feds are busy today.

From US DOE:

The U.S. Department of Education announced that nine finalist states that did not win grants in the first two rounds of Race to the Top will be eligible to compete for $200 million in additional funds this year.  Applications will be available in the early fall.

The nine states, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and South Carolina, can seek grants ranging from $10 million to $50 million, depending on state size and the final number of grants.  Given that these grants are smaller than the ones originally applied for, states will work with the U.S. Department of Education to update their RTT plans to reflect a more limited scope of work.

“Every state that applied for Race to the Top funds now has a blueprint for raising educational quality across America,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These funds will encourage states to continue their courageous work to …

Continue reading Feds also announce $200 million consolation prize to RTT finalists »

Feds announce Race to the Top competition for early learning programs. Georgia seems a strong contender.

 Could Georgia have an edge in a new Race to the Top program for early learning because of it pre-k program? (AJC file)

Could Georgia have an edge in a new Race to the Top program for early learning because of its pioneering pre-k program? (AJC file)

In a media conference call today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a Race to the Top initiative aimed at preschool-age children.

Duncan said the goal of the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge was to fund programs that show “courage, creativity, commitment and capacity.”

The intent is also to spread best practices in early childhood education, said Sebelius.

“It is more than teaching them colors and letters,” she said. “Children need social and emotional skills, and they need families engaged in their education. Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge takes a holistic approach to early learning,  driving innovation and focusing on what it takes to put young kids on a path to learning opportunities and success.”

Both leaders talked about the …

Continue reading Feds announce Race to the Top competition for early learning programs. Georgia seems a strong contender. »

A dream and a degree deferred to age 90: She earns diploma and standing ovation.

The mother of a co-worker, Ellen Nizzi earned her college degree this weekend at age 90. (Family photo)

The mother of a co-worker, Ellen Nizzi earned her college degree this weekend at age 90. (Family photo)

I have worked with AJC editor Carolyn Warmbold for many years, and heard a lot about her spunky and energetic mother’s dream of earning her college degree.

Well, Ellen Nizzi did it this past weekend — at age 90 at Eckerd College in Florida.

Here’s a lovely St. Petersburg Times story about an amazing lady whose daughter is one of my bosses at the AJC.  (A lifelong learner and holder of a doctorate from the University of Texas, Carolyn is pretty amazing, too, but I will save that for another day.)

Ellen Nizzi’s belief in education is inspiring.

By Danny Valentine

One by one, the graduates of Eckerd College crossed the stage Sunday morning beneath a big white tent.

The crowd politely clapped as men and women in black robes and caps accepted diplomas. Some cheered. Others whistled. One blew a bullhorn.

But of the 532 graduates, only one brought the audience to its feet with …

Continue reading A dream and a degree deferred to age 90: She earns diploma and standing ovation. »

First-time data on what a college major is worth

We have been debating college debt and whether a degree is worth the cost.

Here is a great new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce that addresses that question using first-time ever Census data.

In a nutshell: Yes, a degree still pays off, but particular degrees pay off a lot more.

“What really matters in the end is your major,” said center director Anthony P. Carnevale in a media call today.

From the center:

On average, bachelor’s degrees pay off. But a new study confirms that some undergraduate majors pay off a lot more than others. In fact, the difference in earnings potential between one major and another can be more than 300 percent.

Using United States Census data available for the first time, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce is helping Americans connect the dots between college majors and career earnings. In the new report, What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors, this first-time …

Continue reading First-time data on what a college major is worth »

In New York, it will be teachers praying for the A on the test as city moves to performance ratings

I am not sure this was the outcome that anyone wanted with Race to the Top — more tests.

In response to the push in the federal grants for meaningful teacher evaluations based on student performance, New York City is developing its own battery of new tests that will be used to rate teachers. (Students in New York City will still also have to pass the state’s Regents test.)

The city understands the fear that more testing will be seen as an assault on true classroom learning and a drain on instructional time.  Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s chief academic officer, told The New York Times, “How do you create an additional assessment that is actually going to strengthen instructional practice, rather than divert time away from instruction?”

(Here is a link, but the Times’ content is now accessible only to paid subscribers.)

New York City is getting $256 million in RTTT money, and will use about a quarter of it to develop as many as 16 new standardized exams to cover science, …

Continue reading In New York, it will be teachers praying for the A on the test as city moves to performance ratings »

The arms race for top spots in high school: Did we create a monster?

Who is No. 1 in high school graduating classes? Should we care? (AJC/file photo)

Who is No. 1 in high school graduating classes? Should we care? (AJC/file photo)

The AJC has a story today on a trend that I wrote about here a few months ago: Schools moving away from class rankings and from naming valedictorians and salutatorians to avoid what has become an arms race for the titles.

Eliminating public rankings, something many private schools already do, lessens the competition in top high schools where kids are vying for the most competitive colleges. High schools that have made that choice contend that college admissions officers have to look more closely at applicants’ test scores, the rigor of their classes and their essays when there are no class ranking on high school transcripts.

The story revisits the controversy at Etowah High School where the top slot was going to a student who had never attended the high school. A private school student enrolled at Etowah to access an early college option offered to public school students. Because college grades …

Continue reading The arms race for top spots in high school: Did we create a monster? »

APS will get a new board chair. Will that save the day?

The chair of the APS board has agreed to step down in the name of unity. (AJC Photo)

The chair of the APS board has agreed to step down in the name of unity. (AJC Photo)

As expected, APS board Chair Khaatim Sherrer El agreed to give up his chairmanship Monday in the name of board unity and in an effort to appease the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which put the district on probation because of board bickering and in-fighting. No formal vote was taken to seal the deal.

El will retain his school board seat, as will Vice Chairwoman Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, who said she is also willing to step down. They will be replaced by Brenda Muhammad and Reuben McDaniel, although it’s unresolved which of the pair will be chair.

The censure of APS by SACS surprised some people, who felt that the accreditation agency overstepped its bounds in calling for more unity and less divided votes by the Atlanta board.

SACS did not intervene when a state audit suggested widespread cheating on state exams by some Atlanta schools, but acted when the board coalesced into two …

Continue reading APS will get a new board chair. Will that save the day? »

Let’s make a deal: Gwinnett pays dearly for school land

The AJC has done a terrific series of reports about disheartening land purchases by Gwinnett County schools. The investigation has revealed instances where Gwinnett taxpayers paid developers far more for the property than the developers paid months or even days before.

In a four-month investigation, the AJC examined 10 land deals in which developers bought property and then sold it to the school district at much higher prices.

In response to the AJC series, the school district launched its own investigation into its land purchases, which is expected to be completed soon. District Attorney Danny Porter has said he’s considering convening a special grand jury to review the transactions.

According to the AJC’s Tim Eberly:

The district bought the 26 acres from developer and former state Rep. Keith Breedlove’s company in 2006 for $105,000 per acre — the same land that Breedlove had acquired from several property owners for about $65,000 per acre, property records show.

“That’s …

Continue reading Let’s make a deal: Gwinnett pays dearly for school land »

A school closes but 60 years of memories live on: Goodbye Medlock

Medlock was one of eight DeKalb schools that closed for good Friday.

Medlock was one of eight DeKalb schools that closed for good Friday.

Thousands of families in DeKalb bid farewell to beloved schools on Friday.

The last day of school for the county’s students marked the last day ever for eight DeKalb schools, shuttered due to restricting.

The schools were Atherton, Glen Haven, Gresham Park, Peachcrest, Medlock and Sky Haven elementary schools, Avondale Middle School and Avondale High School.

I wanted to write about the closings and wondered the best way to do it.

A Medlock Elementary School parent did it for me with a lovely tribute to his children’s school. I have always loved the atmosphere of Medlock, an elementary school tucked away in a old central DeKalb neighborhood. This is a sweet piece that honors Medlock, but speaks to the sadness that all affected DeKalb families must be feeling as they say farewell to their schools.

By Amin Bhayani.

As my son Ali and I were walking toward the car, Ali said to me: “You know Dad today is the last …

Continue reading A school closes but 60 years of memories live on: Goodbye Medlock »