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Education Roundup: Teachers Should Tread Lightly When Teaching Politics

In this week's roundup: Facebook tips, education reform news, and year-end lists.

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Welcome to the new High School Notes weekly roundup of education news. Every Friday, you'll find out what's making headlines around the Web.

Teaching politics

With the Republican presidential campaign in full swing, history and government teachers have a good opportunity to talk about politics with their students. But, according to an article in the StarTribune, they should tread carefully when expressing their own views—being sure to "not [tell] students what to think, but [to give] them more to think about."

STEM education 

Perry High School in Arizona will begin offering two new science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) focused degrees to next year's incoming freshmen. Students will have the option of earning a traditional high school diploma or one of two more rigorous STEM diplomas.

To earn the STEM diplomas, students will be required to take at least five credits of math and six credits of science. In order to earn the more prestigious "scholar" diploma, students will have to complete summer enrichment programs at Arizona State University and shadow a STEM professional before their senior year. The diplomas are designed to prepare students for "college readiness in science, medicine, engineering, and math."

Social networking

Teachers who use Facebook may face scrutiny when they begin friending students, but the New York Times has an advice column for teachers who want to join the social networking service. Among the most important: Keep your privacy settings set to "friends" only, and try to avoid friending current students.

Education reform

Last week, the Department of Education announced that Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, and Kentucky would split $200 million in education grants due to their performance in President Obama's Race to the Top competition, which rewards states that make education reforms.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, the Cincinnati school district is combining middle and high schools, forming schools that teach grades 7 through 12. District Superintendent Mary Ronan says students in grades seven and eight are able to take high school courses earlier if they're ready. "We've been moving to 7-12 high schools because of better academic performance," she says.

Over in Chicago, the city is extending the school day for high school students, who will now have to attend school for an extra 36 minutes each day. District officials say the lengthened day will give teachers more time to focus on math and reading.

Prayer in schools

Nearly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that official prayer in schools was illegal under the Constitution's separation of church and state. But many schools around the country, especially in rural areas, defy the law, according to the New York Times. Kelly Shackelford, a proponent of school prayer, says "the free-speech rights of students and teachers are under an all-out assault."

Education technology

Christopher Dawson, a writer at ZDNet, is looking forward to how technology will affect education in 2012. He predicts that more school districts will allow students to bring their own computer or tablet to school in 2012. In 2011, many schools tried to provide computers to students, but the cost of such "1:1" programs became prohibitive. He also believes free online video tutors such as the Khan Academy will become more popular and may cause problems for companies who charge for tutoring services. 

Year in review

Joy Pullmann, an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank, writes in The Daily Caller that the most underreported education story of 2011 was the fact that several Missouri districts, including St. Louis and Kansas City, lost their accreditation but continue to serve students. Other ignored stories include the true cost of implementing the national Common Core standards, and Pullmann says reporters should take a closer look at New York City's education reforms. Pullmann argues that the city's education gains are largely due to a huge increase in education spending since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office.

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