New social network for minority students

Zoomz.net is a new social network for minority students interested in or currently enrolled in college to share their experiences.

You’re a senior in high school,  where there’s one guidance counselor for 2,000 students in your low-income school, and you don’t know who to talk  to about information about financial aid – or whether  to take AP history or what colleges you should shoot for.  Or you’re a freshman at Cal State, the first your Latino family to go to college, and you feel lost. Everyone but you seems to know what to do and how to study;  your self-confidence is ebbing.

Where to turn to? One place is Zoomz.net, a new social network for first-generation high school and college students to meet and interact with each other. A Facebook for the college-hungry minority students, Zoomz offers testimonials from “first generation heroes,”  blogs, advice corners, FAQs on applying to colleges and dealing with family issues, and discussions on college life, like “how to avoid the so-called freshmen 15” (as in pounds, not credits). And, like any good social network, it has member pages with photos and profiles. Zoomz is approaching 300 users.

Launched in August by ALean, a small education nonprofit based in Los Altos, Zoomz is just off the ground and waiting to go viral. Teachers and guidance counselors of minority students: It’s worth checking out and spreading the word.

Weekend extravaganza of learning at Stanford

Stanford grads and undergrads share their hobbies and intellectual passions with 680 middle and high school students through Splash!, a weekend of learning that other colleges should adopt.

A shout out to the 180 undergrads and grad students of Stanford who taught 200 mini-courses through Splash!, a program that brings middle and high school students to the campuse for what’s billed as — and turned out to be — an extravaganza of learning.

The 680 students came from all over the Bay Area and beyond last month to take fun and mind-challenging courses with intriguing titles: NanoSmores: Learning Nanoscience through Food, Collage and Poetry, Creating a Fully Functional Website with Notepad!, How to Identify any Insect and Impress Your Friends, Top 5 Coolest Things About the Brain, the Evolution of Sexy, Backpacking Around the World, and of course, the always popular, Making Ice Cream (with liquid nitrogen).

Continue reading “Weekend extravaganza of learning at Stanford”

SJ 2020: Will districts work together?

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Superintendent Chuck Weis are leading SJ2020, an ambitious initiative to end the achievement gap in the state’s third largest city by 2020. But will the city’s 19 school districts collaborate in ways they’re not accustomed to in order to make it happen?

Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Superintendent Chuck Weis are betting that an appeal for collaboration,  a moral imperative and a hint of money will work where the iron fist of No Child Left Behind law hasn’t. Here’s hoping they’re right.

Weis and Reed are the instigators of SJ2020, an initiative to see that all students in San Jose are proficient at grade level by the end of the next decade. Last Thursday, a handful of superintendents, college presidents, charter school leaders and non-profit executives were among the 300 people at City Hall to pledge their efforts.

No Child Left Behind demands that all children be proficient in English language arts and math by 2014. There’s been incremental progress — but, with five years to go, at least 40,000 students — and probably closer to 60,000 or more than 40 percent of San Jose’s children — aren’t at grade level. Continue reading “SJ 2020: Will districts work together?”

Governor squelches finance reform

In vetoing AB 8, which would have taken the first step to overhauling the irrational way the state funds K-12 education, Gov. Schwarzenegger once again gave the back of his hand to recommendations of his Eduction Excellence Committee.

If  the blog had been up last month, I would have ranted about this then.  The Educated Guess is still fuming, so let me vent.

It’s not often that by near-unanimity, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature agree on a potentially significant education reform.

That happened with the passage (79-0 in the Assembly, 31-6 in the Senate) of AB 8, which would have taken the first small but important step toward rethinking how the state funds K-12 schools.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, with water, levies and dams on the brain , vetoed it hours before the signing deadline for legislation.

He did so with a puzzling and dismissive veto message.

He did so even though AB 8 was in line with the recommendations of his own Advisory Committee on Education Excellence.

He did so even though the Hewlett Foundation* had offered to pick  up the costs of the study that the bill created. Continue reading “Governor squelches finance reform”

Distorting facts about Race to the Top

Critics of Race to the Top say that the amount coming to California — at most $500 million — is not worth battling over and that the program is the Obama administration’s ploy to impose merit pay based on a standardized test. Both claims are distortions.

The Educated Guess will consume many kilobytes in coming months writing about Race to the Top and related,  $5 billion federal competitive grant programs that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is hoping will spur innovation in the states.

Education reform has always been Washington’s biggest shaggy dog, and, for now, Race to the Top is wagging it. What’s surprising is how a relatively small amount of the $100 billion stimulus money for K-12 is already changing conversations nationally, with states changing laws on charter schools and data restrictions (California) to position themselves to pursue grants. Serious discussions about national standards for reading and math, teacher evaluations, and strategies for turning around low-performing schools are happening in Washington and in state capitals. If nothing else, Race to the Top has, for the moment, broken through the polarized debate over No Child Left Behind.

But  Race to the Top have also generated considerable opposition. Some of the criticism is legit: There is a long checklist of requirements that states must meet to qualify, and some of these have little to do with the program itself; it’s Duncan’s leverage to force change.

And some critics say the prescriptive draft regulations are at odds with the program’s goals: to let a thousand flowers of reform bloom.

But in California especially, critics – particularly the California Teachers Association and some Democratic legislators — have mischaracterized Race to the Top, perhaps to discourage the Legislature from acting and the state and school districts from earnestly applying.

Continue reading “Distorting facts about Race to the Top”

It’s great to be back

Thanks for stopping by for the christening of  this blog. In popping your  virtual Champagne, a  few of you may be experiencing deja vu.

This is the second time I have launched The Educated Guess. About two years ago, while doing this blog at the Mercury News, I put Educated Guess in dry dock after an eight-month run. (The archives are available; some remain relevant and make a good read.)  Staff cutbacks at the Merc, where I worked for 11 years as an opinion writer,  made it hard to continue the blog. But now, through a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, I can recommit time and energy to it. And the timing is right for a blog on education policy in California, for three reasons:

  • Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top competition for $5 billion in grants and the debate over the renewal of No Child Left Behind — or its successor — have renewed serious interest in education reform. Continue reading “It’s great to be back”