Senator Proposes $23 Billion Fund To Save Teaching Jobs.
The Washington Post (4/15, Anderson) reports, “As public schools nationwide face larger class sizes and cuts in programs, the Senate’s leading Democrat on education issues proposed a $23 billion bailout Wednesday to help avert layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers and other school personnel in the coming academic year.” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is sponsoring a bill described by the Post as “a potential sequel to the economic stimulus law enacted last year.”
Bloomberg News (4/15, Staley) reports that at a US Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Harkin told lawmakers that “job losses at public schools and colleges in the US may top 100,000 in the next school year. … The legislation needs to be passed now because school districts are making budget decisions this month, he said.” Medill News Service (4/14, Yadron) reported that according to Harkin, “unless Congress acts, many of the education policy changes currently being weighed by the Obama administration and Congress will be pointless,” as educators are laid off en masse.
Education Week (4/14, Klein) reported that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Wednesday “urged Congress to pass” new legislation “to preserve education jobs. He testified before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that deals with education spending on the same day the panel’s chairman,” Sen. Harkin, “introduced a bill that would provide $23 billion for that purpose.” Under Harkin’s legislation, funding “could be used for compensation and benefits to help districts hold on to existing employees and to hire new staff members to provide early-childhood, K-12, or postsecondary services.”
NEA Supports Proposed Teacher Fund. The Grand Rapids (MI) Press (4/15, Murray) reports that according to the NEA, “at least 125,000 teachers nationwide are facing layoffs this year.” Therefore, the NEA “is urging Congress to pass a new bill that would extend surplus money directed at keeping teachers in the classroom.” In press release, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the legislation “would save or fund hundreds of thousands of education jobs, and it would be a tremendous help to states in dire financial circumstances. … But more importantly, it ensures that millions of America’s students will not be bearing the brunt of the nation’s economic woes.”
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In the Classroom
US Posts Mediocre Scores In International Comparison Of Math Teachers.
The New York Times (4/15, Dillon) reports, “America’s future math teachers, on average, earned a C on a new test comparing their skills with their counterparts in 15 other countries, significantly outscoring college students in the Philippines and Chile but placing far below those in educationally advanced nations like Singapore and Taiwan. The researchers who led the math study in this country, to be released in Washington on Thursday, judged the results acceptable if not encouraging for America’s future elementary teachers.” The “52-page report provides the first international comparison of teacher preparation based on a test given to college students in a significant number of countries,” said William H. Schmidt, the Michigan State University professor who was the study’s lead author.
Physical Activity Can Boost Student Performance, Government Review Finds.
USA Today (4/15, Hellmich) reports that a “government review of research shows that kids who take breaks from their class work to be physically active during the school day are often better able to concentrate on their school work and may do better on standardized tests. … ‘Some short-sighted people thought that cutting back on time spent on physical education to spend more time drilling for tests would improve test scores,'” yet the opposite appears to be true, says Howell Wechsler, director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wechsler “and colleagues reviewed 50 studies that examined the effect of school-based physical activity on academic performance.”
Study: Texas School Expulsions Hit Minorities, Special Ed Students Hardest.
Terrence Stutz wrote in an Education Front blog for the Dallas Morning News (4/14), “A new report Wednesday showed that minority and special education students are more likely to be expelled from Texas schools than other students. The report from Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center, found that 8,202 students were expelled from regular schools in 2008-09, with most sent to Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs.” The “study also noted that discretionary expulsions outnumber mandatory expulsions (required for such offenses as carrying a weapon to school) by two to one.”
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On the Job
Two Teachers In Ohio District Accused Of Forging Test Scores.
WBNS-TV Columbus (OH) (4/15) reports that two teachers at the Granville (OH) Exempted Village School have been “accused of giving perfect grades on a portion of the Ohio Achievement Test that was never administered.” According to Granville Exempted Village School Superintendent Scot Prebles, “the district noticed inconsistency when it prepared to send in the tests.” After speaking with the teachers, school officials sent “information” about the incident to the Ohio Department of Education office of assessment, Treble said.
The NBC4i.com (4/15, Thorpe) reports that “students in the English as a Second Language course were given scores for taking the standardized test. Now the investigation has moved to the state level.” Of the teachers, Prebles said, “They deserve all the respect, the reputation they have built a level of excellence in the district. And that is why at this point in time we have done what we are supposed to be doing at district level to comply with ODE’s investigation.”
Law & Policy
Crist Says Reaction To Teacher Tenure Bill Has Been “Unprecedented.”
The Orlando Sentinel (4/15, Postal, Hafenbrack) reports that as the deadline nears for Florida “Gov. Charlie Crist (R) to decide the future of a landmark teacher merit-pay bill,” educators and business leaders are stepping up campaigns to persuade the governor to either veto or not veto the legislation. “Business and education leaders who support the bill staged a Tallahassee news conference Tuesday…reminding him that he had advocated for merit pay in the past.” Meanwhile, educators throughout the state have been “bombarding the Governor’s office with letters, emails and phone calls, while others staged after-work protests and some in Miami-Dade County staged ‘sick-outs’ and stayed home to protest the bill.” The governor called the reaction “unprecedented,” saying, “I don’t think I’ve been lobbied this hard, and maybe lobbied isn’t a fair term. It sounds pejorative. Communicated with. I’ve never seen it this intense.”
Superintendent Asks Governor Not To “Burden” Already Strained Teachers By Signing Tenure Bill. The Bradenton (FL) Herald (4/14) reports that Manatee County Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal “on Tuesday sent a last-minute letter to the governor asking him to veto the controversial teacher tenure bill.” The Herald also notes that the Manatee County Education Association (MCEA) co-sponsored a rally against the bill. MCEA President Pat Barber said, “The citizens of Florida have shown overwhelming opposition to the changes contained in this very bad legislation.” The Palm Beach (FL) Post (4/15, Horgan) features an opinion piece titled, “Teacher of the Year: Why Senate Bill 6 is bad,” by Palm Beach County’s 2007-08Teacher of the Year Michael Horgan.
Palm Beach Post Points To Signs Crist Will Veto Bill. The Palm Beach (FL) Post (4/15) describes Crist’s veto decision as “the most anticipated decision from Gov. Charlie Crist since he kept the state’s political community on edge last year about his run for US Senate.” Although the governor “insisted late Wednesday that he still hadn’t made up his mind,” the Post adds, “signs point to a veto. Thursday.” This morning, Crist has meetings scheduled “with his top lieutenants. His afternoon is free.” Valerie Straus writes in the Washington Post (4/15) Voices blog that Gov. Crist “needs stop teasing and just veto the bill. Now.”
High Students In Florida Walk Out Of Class To Protest Teacher-Tenure Legislation. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (4/15, Gollan) Reports that about “1,500 students at Western High School in Davie walked out of class and onto the football field” Wednesday to show “their opposition to the controversial teacher merit pay bill that awaits a signature or veto by Gov. Charlie Crist this week.” At McFatter Technical High School, “also in Davie, several hundred students followed suit and gathered in the school’s courtyard for about 20 minutes, said principal Mark Thomas.” Meanwhile, “at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, roughly 100 students marched around the courtyard for roughly an hour during their second period of class, district officials said.”
At Least Two Teachers In Florida Support Senate Bill 6. WFTS-TV (4/15) reports that “on Wednesday, for the first time, ABC Action News found two teachers who support” Senate Bill 6, the teacher-tenure bill. The educators “asked that their identities not be revealed — for fear of retribution — but think merit pay and a loss of tenure are improvements.” One, an elementary teacher, said, “People should just get passed the idea of ‘I’m being judged, I’m being judged, I’m being judged.’ We should be judged.” The teacher added, “We should be paid according to our ability. And the only way to test our ability is to test our students’ ability. That means a test.”
Senator From Louisiana Challenges Race To The Top Criteria.
The Times-Picayune (4/15, Tilove) reports that after Louisiana failed “to win Race to the Top money in the first round of financing,” US Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) “challenged Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the department’s criteria for awarding the money, suggesting Wednesday that it overvalued buy-in from every school district and every union.” Said Landrieu, “If you push to get everyone there (to agree), you will give us no choice but to water down.” Louisiana’s “application had the support of 28 of the 70 school districts in the state, representing just less than half of all students in the state, but more than half of poor and minority students.” However, it did not have the backing of the state NEA affiliate.
New Maryland Law Limits Military Recruitment Of High School Students.
The Washington Post (4/15, Birnbaum) reports, “Maryland schools will no longer forward scores from a popular vocational test to military recruiters under new legislation that requires high school students to send the information themselves. The test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, is administered by the military in schools across the country as a public service and is used by career counselors as a tool to guide students toward an array of jobs, not just those in the armed services.” According to the Post, “Unless the school or a student checks an opt-out box, the scores are released to military recruiters, who can get in touch with prospective recruits” and the “new law, signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley [D] this week, requires Maryland schools to check the opt-out box.”
Education Cuts Expected To Double If Arizona Voters Do Not Approve Sales-Tax Increase.
The Arizona Republic (4/15, Kossan, Parker) reports that “regardless of whether a 1-cent-per-dollar sales-tax increase is approved in May, Arizona’s K-12 schools are going to take a financial hit next school year.” But, “if voters shoot down the sales-tax increase on May 18,” an eight percent cut to the education budget next year “will more than double.” The Arizona Republic explains that “the tax, known as Proposition 100, would increase the state sales tax to 6.6 cents and raise $1 billion for each of the next three years, with $2 out of every $3 going to K-12 and university education.” It also notes that “even some state organizations that…relentlessly oppose tax increases have thrown their support behind the increase, citing the severity of the budget crunch.”
Colorado Paying For Year Of College For Around 300 High School Seniors.
The Denver Post (4/14, Sherry) reported, “Almost 300 Colorado high school seniors are eligible for a state-paid year of college this fall – a policy garnering attention from the nation’s capital as a model to push poor kids to higher education. Colorado’s ‘fifth-year’ program allows seniors to elect to have high schools withhold their diplomas for a year so they can go to college on the state’s dime.” According to the Post, “Participating students, who must have at least 12 college credits by the spring of their senior year to be eligible, can go to any public college in Colorado, as long as the high school sets it up.”
Also in the News
Nine-Year-Old Boy Accused Of Hacking Into Virginia District’s Computer System.
The Washington Post (4/15, Jackman) reports, “Police say a 9-year-old McLean [VA] boy hacked into the Blackboard Learning System used by the [Fairfax County, VA] school system to change teachers’ and staff members’ passwords, change or delete course content, and change course enrollment. One of the victims was Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale, according to an affidavit filed by a Fairfax detective in Fairfax Circuit Court this week.” However, “police and school officials decided no harm, no foul,” as the “boy did not intend to do any serious damage, and didn’t, so the police withdrew and are allowing the school district to handle the half-grown hacker.”
NEA NCLB Overhaul Plan A Departure From President Obama’s.
Education Week (4/13, Sawchuk) reported that the National Education Association “has put forward its most detailed recommendations to date for the overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in what a union official calls a new approach for the federal law. … Many of the union’s recommendations differ significantly from the Obama administration’s blueprint for the law, continuing a divergence that began with the union’s objections to the shape of the $4 billion Race to the Top Fund.” The “NEA document, for instance, does not refer to the idea of ‘teacher effectiveness,’ as measured by evaluations that incorporate student academic growth” and though “the union, like the administration, wants to focus school improvement on only a coterie of schools, it seeks far less prescriptive interventions than the four options for school turnarounds championed by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.”
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In the Classroom
Kentucky Universities, Public Schools Partner To Develop Innovative Uses Of Technology.
Kentucky’s Herald Leader (4/13, Warren) reported that “the University of Kentucky and other state universities will partner to help public schools develop innovative ways of using technology to move Kentucky students from pre-school to postgraduate degrees.” With the partnership, “Kentucky becomes one of six states selected to develop such a program, joining Maine, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin. … Kentucky’s program will be based at UK’s new P20 Innovation Lab, created earlier this year to incorporate new technology into teaching.”
At-Risk Students, Dementia Patients Aim To Help Each Other Through Chicago Program.
The Chicago Tribune (4/13, Gregory) reported that students attending “one of Chicago’s most troubled high schools,” Bowen Environmental Studies High School, met with retirees “with dementia as part of a 12-week class called Memory Bridge” in October. The goal of the program “was to restore both – tapping the sometimes-buried empathy of the teens, and helping the dementia patients engage in unexpected ways.”
Law & Policy
Administration Aims To Spur School Reforms With Title I Funds.
The Washington Post (4/14, Anderson) reports that President Obama “aims to reinvent the Education Department as a venture capitalist for school reform, investing more in schools with innovative ideas.” According to the Post, “The Title I program, which supports…thousands of…schools in low-income areas based on formulas of need, is not facing extinction,” but President Obama “would freeze funding to the core of that program even as he sends billions of dollars to states that harmonize their policies with his.” The Post adds that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “is expected to pitch the Obama budget Wednesday to the Senate Appropriations Committee.”
School Administrators Concerned About Plan To Make Title I Funding Competitive. Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post (4/14, Strauss) “The Answer Sheet” blog that “as the Obama administration moves to turn more funding for federal education into competitive grants, superintendents across the country are becoming worried.” They are particularly concerned that the administration is “planning to turn new money for the crucial Title 1 program–which provides funds for schools with large percentages of low-income students–into competitive grants.” A recently-released study of superintendents by a school administrators group showed that “most superintendents believe that there is a role for competitive grants, but most worry about overinvestment in those grants at the expense of more reliable funding.” Strauss posts a letter issued by the Learning First Alliance — which includes the Association of School Business Officials International, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Education Association — “about concern over the administration’s strategy.”
Crist Still Pondering Whether To Veto Teacher Tenure Legislation.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/14, Silva, Bousquet) reports that “in the midst of the most intense lobbying he has faced as governor, Charlie Crist (R) faces a stark choice: sign a bill opposed by thousands of Florida teachers or veto it and alienate major forces in the business community and the Republican-led Legislature.” The governor has said that the bill “takes too much power away from local educators, offers vague guidance on how teachers will be evaluated, and was pushed through the House and Senate with little input from the public.” He has also “hinted that the Crist clan is not gung-ho for the bill.”
Public’s Expressed Opinions Overwhelmingly Favor Veto. The Miami Herald (4/13, Mazzei, Sampson, Mcgrory) reported, “In the most dramatic show of opposition in the state, more than 6,300 of Miami-Dade’s 21,260 public-school teachers took a personal or sick day Monday to protest” SB6. “That Monday’s protest took place in the diverse, largely low-income Miami-Dade school district — the state’s largest — was enough to catch the attention of Gov. Charlie Crist, who has until Friday to sign or veto the bill.” From March 1 to April 12, “Gov. Crist’s office had logged 15,694 calls, 1,869 letters and more than 18,000 individual e-mails opposing the bill. That’s compared to 264 calls, 11 letters and 80 e-mails in support.” There also are “an additional 33,000 calls that staffers haven’t yet been able to categorize.”
SB6 Veto Decision May Come Thursday. The Palm Beach (FL) Post (4/13, Bender) reports that “it increasingly sounds like Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision on the controversial teacher bill could be Thursday in Tallahassee.” Tuesday night Crist said, “It’d be Thursday at the earliest.” He “also said he would probably hold a public event in Tallahassee to announce his decision, whether it’s to sign the bill or veto it.” The Post notes that “a public veto — if that’s his decision — would be a rare event at the Capitol.”
Political Observers Note Partisan Divide Over SB6. The St. Petersburg Times (4/14, Bousquet, Silva) reports that according to “political observers,” Florida’s Senate Bill 6 “holds different weight for Democrats and Republicans. On the left side, candidates are universally against the bill, which is opposed by the Florida Education Association, a powerful electoral force representing teachers statewide.” State Sen. Sen. Dave Aronberg (D), a “candidate for attorney general,” noted that he’s “never seen people so upset over a bill in my eight years in the Legislature.” Meanwhile, on the right, the bill is “more an ideological test, particularly because former Gov. Jeb Bush, the GOP standard-bearer, is a force behind the measure.”
Kansas Pulls Out Of Race To The Top Competition.
KTKA-TV Topeka, KS (4/13, Rothschild) reported that “Kansas has dropped out of the competition for a ‘Race to the Top’ federal education grant” after a 9-0 vote by the State Board of Education. Board members “voiced several problems with” the competition. Some “board members said the federal criteria required more centralized control of public school education, which they said is contrary to Kansas’ culture of local control.” Others did not agree with the administration’s push for the state to provide “alternative pathways for people to become licensed teachers.” KTKA noted that “Kansas ranked 29th out of 40 states and Washington D.C. in the first round” of the competition. “Board member David Dennis, a Republican from Wichita, said the refusal to compete for the grant ‘sends a signal to Washington that we don’t want to play their game.'”
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Editor Warns Indiana Teachers About Possibility Of Teacher Tenure Legislation.
Karen Francisco, senior editorial writer, writes in an opinion piece for Indiana’s Journal-Gazette (4/14, Francisco), “All of the Indiana teachers who traveled to Florida for spring break should have picked up a local newspaper to read about Florida’s Senate Bill 6: It is likely their future.” She tells readers to “look for a teacher tenure bill to pop up in the next session of the Indiana General Assembly, particularly if Republicans win a majority in the Indiana House.” Citing details of Florida’s SB6, Francisco notes, “Interestingly, the bill’s opponents include Tea Party activists, who oppose it on the grounds that it represents consolidation and larger government.”
Rhode Island Lawmakers Drop Ratification Requirement For Teacher Contracts.
Katherine Gregg wrote in a blog for the Providence Journal (4/13), “Organized labor scored another victory at the [Rhode Island] State House when House Democratic leaders dropped a move to give city and town councils final say over new teacher contracts. One of many sore points for labor in the $220-million deficit-cutting bill up for a House vote on Tuesday, the provision said: ‘Final execution of a collective bargaining agreement between a School Committee and representatives of teachers and/or other school employees shall require approval of the city or town council(s) in which the school district is located.'” Governor Donald Carcieri (R) “and other backers of the proposal hailed it as one of the ‘tools’ for cutting local spending that would help them withstand state aid cuts without having to turn around and raise their local taxes,” yet “union leaders labeled it one of several unwarranted intrusions into the collective bargaining process.”
Judge Orders Mississippi District To Comply With Desegregation Mandate.
The Washington Post (4/14, Hsu) reports, “A federal judge Tuesday ordered a rural county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating its schools by grouping African American students into all-black classrooms and allowing white students to transfer to the county’s only majority-white school, the US Justice Department announced. The order, issued by Senior Judge Tom S. Lee of the US District Court of Southern Mississippi, came after Justice Department civil rights division lawyers moved to enforce a 1970 desegregation case against the state and Walthall County.” According to the Post, “For years, the local school board has permitted hundreds of white students to transfer from its Tylertown schools, which are about 75 percent African American and serve about 1,700 students, to another school, the Salem Attendance Center, which is about 66 percent white and serves about 577 students in grades K-12.”
Special Education Initiative In Staten Island, New York, Targets Staff Development.
The Staten Island (NY) Advance (4/14, Padnani) reports, “Eight borough schools will be among about 260” throughout Staten Island “to roll out a new special education initiative meant to improve the way students with disabilities are educated.” In addition, “Staten Island is…getting two new classes for young children with a mild form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome.” The special education initiative “involves training school staffs to think outside the box when teaching students in literacy and behavior, while emphasizing long-term goals for each child’s life after high school.” The new classes, meanwhile, “will give strong support to special-ed kindergartners, who will be mixed with their general-ed peers to learn about socializing.”
Safety & Security
Florida District Seeks To Establish “Safe Zones” Around Schools, Bus Stops.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (4/14, Wyman) reports, “Convicted sex offenders soon could face fines and jail time if caught loitering near a school or playground in Broward County.” County Commissioners have proposed “300-foot child safety zones around schools, school bus stops, day care centers, and parks. Sex offenders could face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine if they loiter in the zones.”
Analysis Finds Major Shortfalls In Teacher Pension Funds.
USA Today (4/14, Toppo) reports, “The multibillion-dollar pension funds that promise to pay lifetime benefits to millions of the USA’s retired teachers are more than $900 billion in the red, a new analysis shows. The shortfall could put taxpayers on the hook for nearly three times as much as the funds say they need to balance the books.” According to USA Today, “The analysis, released Tuesday from the right-leaning Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, finds that all 59 funds that cover most teachers face shortfalls” and in total, researchers say “the funding gap equals more than $932.5 billion, or about $600 billion more than the funds themselves claim in financial statements.”
Unions Demand Reinstatement Of Laid-Off DC Teachers Amid News Of Surplus.
The Washington Post (4/14, Turque) reports, “Teachers union leaders angrily accused D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee of unethical behavior Tuesday by failing to disclose the discovery of a $34 million surplus in the school system budget in February, three months after laying off 266 teachers because of what she described as a budget shortfall. News of the surplus comes at a critical time for Rhee and the teachers union, who just last week announced a tentative contract agreement that ended more than two years of often rancorous bargaining.” According to the Post, teachers’ union leaders “demanded Tuesday that Rhee reinstate the laid-off educators or face a renewed court challenge to the legality of the job reductions.”
NEA in the News
New Jersey Education Association Members Protest Education Budget Cuts.
New Jersey’s Shore News Today (4/14, Lowe) reports, “New Jersey Education Association members from all over the county gathered at the Mays Landing Country Club Friday to protest to Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) cuts to education.” The governor “recently slashed the state Department of Education budget by more than $1 billion, forcing school boards across the state to cut programs and lay off teachers.” The DOE said that the “$1 billion cut represented the non-recurring federal stimulus funds from the previous year, not a cut to what the state of New Jersey actually pays toward school aid.”
Teachers In Missouri District Agree To Lower Pay Increases To Save Jobs.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (4/13, Bock) reported that teachers in Lindbergh, Missouri, “have agreed to cut budgeted pay increases in half to spare seven teaching jobs eliminated earlier this year as part of $4.7 million in budget cuts.” The plan calls for a one percent pay raise for teachers, “rather than the two percent raise previously budgeted…by the district. The Lindbergh NEA approved the measure by a 9-to-1 ratio late last week.”
Leading the News
Colorado Lawmakers Reintroduce Teacher-Tenure Legislation.
The Denver Post (4/13, Meyer) reports, “A battle began anew Monday as a controversial bill seeking to change teacher-tenure laws was introduced into the legislature — much to the ire of the powerful teachers union.” According to the Post, “Senate Bill 191 would… define effective teachers and principals and use student academic growth data to set that mark,” give new teachers tenure after they “demonstrate three years of being ‘highly effective’ — a classification based on evaluations weighted heavily by student academic growth data,” and strip tenure status from teachers who receive “two years of ‘ineffective’ ratings,” among other changes. Deborah Fallin, spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, responded to the legislation, saying, “Our members, the more they learn about it, the more crazy they get. This is a very difficult piece of legislation, and they are concerned that we are going to end up with another bad evaluation system.”
Denver District’s New Rules On Assigning Teachers Freezes Hiring. The Denver Post (4/12, Meyer) reported, “A change to Denver Public Schools’ teacher-hiring process has frozen the system and could result in dozens of veteran teachers being paid even though they are without jobs and not working. … The result could be the creation of an ‘absent teacher reserve pool’ similar to the one in New York City, where more than 2,000 tenured educators not permanently assigned to classrooms continue to collect salaries and benefits at a cost of more than $200 million a year.” In “DPS, as in most districts, tenured teachers who have been let go at their current schools have a few months to find a new assignment” and if teachers “can’t find a position by the end of the spring hiring cycle, the district forcibly places them into a classroom – often against the wishes of the teachers and principals.”
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In the Classroom
Students In Tennessee District Use Technology To Solve Complex Problems.
The Crossville (TN) Chronicle (4/13, Mullinix) reports, “New technology continues to make the impossible possible,” and that is “what the technology engineering program” of the Cumberland County, TN “school system’s Career and Technical Education program does, teaching students to search for quicker, better and less-expensive ways to use materials to meet their challenges.” The program “focuses on projects that require the students to think creatively and critically” and projects “have included building suspension bridge models, magnetic accelerators, packaging containers for a single potato chip, bio-engineering, mechanics of simple machines and computer-aided drafting.”
Students Get Opportunity To Talk To Astronauts Orbiting Earth.
The Salinas Californian (4/12, Solana) reported, “About 700 Monterey Peninsula elementary school students woke at dawn on Saturday to get a special phone call made about 125 miles above Earth. The students, many from the area’s military families, began arriving about 6 a.m. at the Naval Postgraduate School’s King Hall” for a conversation with “crew members of the space shuttle Discovery orbiting above Earth.” According to the Salinas Californian, “The event, ‘Teaching From Space,’ hopes to inspire young children by exposing to them science and technology, said Alan Richmond, director of media, marketing and community relations at NPS.”
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Law & Policy
New York Legislation Would Give Principals Authority To Choose Who To Layoff.
The New York Times (4/13, A22, Medina) reports that when New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s “administration raised the prospect of teacher layoffs this year, administration officials complained that they would be forced to get rid of the youngest newest teachers, and called on legislators to rewrite the seniority rules.” A new bill introduced by State Senator Rubén Díaz (D) and State Rep. Jonathan Bing “would give principals in New York City the power to choose who should lose their jobs if the city needs to lay off teachers because of budget cuts.” The Times adds that the bill “is certain to raise the ire of teachers’ unions” and may also “a new round of battles between the” City teachers’ union and Mayor Bloomberg.
Maryland Bill Alters Teacher Tenure Process.
The Washington Post (4/13, Birnbaum) reports, “Maryland teachers will have to wait three years before they earn tenure and some will receive additional mentoring during their probation period under a bill approved Monday night in the state legislature. The measure is intended to strengthen Maryland’s application for as much as $250 million in federal education stimulus money under President Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ competition.” The “bill is a compromise between Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the state’s powerful teachers unions” and “leaves undefined how student performance and test scores will be used in evaluating teachers and increases the local unions’ role in structuring evaluations.”
Majority Of Iowa Districts Overspend On Special Education.
The Des Moines Register (4/13, Dooley) reports that the “West Des Moines school district has overspent in special education each of the past five years, a situation that has gained the attention of state education leaders.” From 2004-05 to the present, “the district has nearly tripled its yearly deficit in special education…bringing the shortfall this fiscal year to an estimated $3.1 million — the highest in the state.” The Des Moines Register notes that “Up to 70 percent of Iowa’s 361 districts carry a deficit in special education funding.” While that has been the case in recent years, Steve Crew of the Iowa Department of Education said that “the amount districts overspend each year has increased significantly.” Last year, “the 10 Iowa districts with the largest special education deficits” were “nearly $18 million in the red.”
Many Districts In Central Ohio Use Stimulus To Purchase Tools For Students With Special Needs.
The Columbus (OH) Dispatch (4/13, Squillante) reports that “with millions of stimulus dollars to spend on disabled students, many school districts are buying tools and technology that will stick around long after the one-time money is gone.” So far, “Central Ohio districts have spent about $10 million of the $52million received for disabled students,” state figures show. The majority of those funds are “being used to plug budget holes and pay for special-needs staff in most districts.” For instance, “the Hilliard school district bought wheelchair-accessible playground equipment and a specialized school bus.” Meanwhile, the South-Western district purchased “listening systems for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, talking word processors for students who learn better by listening, and word-prediction software for children who have difficulty learning spelling and grammar.”
District Addresses Problems Cited In Accountability Audit For Students With Emotional Disabilities.
The Desoto (MS) Times Tribune (4/13, Bullion) reports, that “DeSoto County school officials say they have addressed ‘minor’ problems noted by a team sent to assess the district’s identification of students with emotional disabilities.” The team found that “the district did not consider all information, namely parent and teacher input, when determining…five students’ classification and eligibility for services. The five files also had inconsistencies and lacked data for managing student behaviors.” According to DeSoto’s special education director, Susan Kizer, DeSoto, “the district has responded to the team’s findings and taken nearly all required corrective actions, primarily implementing updated policies and procedures and providing documented training for all staff involved in evaluating students for special education eligibility.”
New Jersey Governor Urges Voters To Reject Budget Plans That Do Not Include Teacher Pay Freeze.
New Jersey’s Star Ledger (4/13, Heininger) reports that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday “urged voters to reject school budget proposals in districts where teachers have not agreed to a wage freeze — the majority of districts statewide.” Cristie’s “state budget would cut aid to schools by $820 million, leading districts to propose staff layoffs and cuts in educational and extracurricular programs.” In order “to offset some of those cuts,” Christie has asked “local school boards and teachers’ unions to” implement “wage freezes and contributions to employee health benefits.” Although “more than 100 districts’ budgets include some type of salary freeze…few of those involve teachers, according to the governor’s office.”
Missouri To Receive $54 Million To Turn Around Low-Performing Schools.
The AP (4/13, Hollingsworth) reports, “Federal officials announced Monday that Missouri will receive a $54 million federal grant to turn around its most persistently low-performing schools by taking drastic action such as replacing principals and closing schools. Districts will apply to the state for the money, and amounts ranging from $50,000 to $2 million per building will be distributed over three years.” ED “said districts must choose one of four options: closing the school and transferring students to higher-achieving schools; replacing the principal and rehiring no more than half the teachers; converting a school or closing it and reopening it as a charter school under an education management organization; or replacing the principal and improving it through comprehensive reforms.”
Also in the News
Student School Board Member Uses Social Media To Advance His Agenda.
The Washington Post (4/12, Birnbaum) reported that Tim Hwang, a “senior at Wootton High School, was elected a student member of the Montgomery County [MD] school board last year, in part by campaigning among the county’s 142,000 students with a Web site modeled” on President Obama’s campaign Web site. Hwang “is the only board member with a blog, he has a volunteer staff of about 20, he posts videos about education issues on YouTube, and he has held town hall-style meetings at which students have been able to air their concerns.” Hwang “and Edward Burroughs III, Hwang’s student counterpart in Prince George’s County [MD], vote on most issues, although not on some of the most crucial ones the board faces, such as the budget and personnel.”
GLSEN Organizing Gay Day Of Silence.
FOX News (4/12) reported, “Thousands of public schools nationwide will allow students affiliated with a gay and lesbian advocacy group to sponsor an anti-bullying ‘Day of Silence’ on Friday, a demonstration some socially conservative family organizations say is a disruptive waste of taxpayer dollars and a reason to keep kids out of school. GLSEN – the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network – is organizing the 15th annual Day of Silence for April 16, encouraging students to remain mute during classes to call attention to verbal and physical abuse of gay students.” GLSEN “says students at more than 5,000 middle and high schools are expected to participate, and over 30,000 people have joined a Facebook group promoting the effort,” yet “family advocacy groups warn that GLSEN is using the day to try to indoctrinate kids and force a pro-gay agenda into schools – something they want kept out of class entirely.”
NEA in the News
Florida Education Association President Says SB 6 Is “Pure Politics.”
The St. Petersburg Times (4/13, Silva) reports that “as a Democratic bulwark in a state governed by Republicans,” the Florida Education Association “is used to political attacks. But the current fight over Senate Bill 6 threatens its very survival.” Gov. Charlie Crist’s (R) “signature on the bill would trigger an immediate power shift that would threaten the union’s clout.” FEA President Andy Ford said of the so-called teacher tenure bill, “This is pure politics about getting at us. … They are setting up the (state education) commissioner to be the most powerful bureaucrat in the state of Florida.” According to Ford, the bill is “payback for the union’s victory against Bush’s statewide private-school voucher program in 2006, when the Florida Supreme Court ruled the scholarship program violated the state Constitution’s promise of a ‘uniform system of free public schools.'” FEA members “are lobbying Crist” to veto “the bill by Friday.”
Some Tea Party Members Agree With Teachers, Unions On SB 6. The St. Petersburg Times (4/13, Bousquet) reports that Henry Kelley, “leader of a tea party group deep in the Florida Panhandle…would appear to have nothing in common with a teachers union known as a staunch ally of the Democratic Party.” However, both agree “that the teacher-pay bill known as Senate Bill 6 is a bad idea.” Kelly is against “the bill because…it would empower the education bureaucracy in Tallahassee to write rules for a teacher-pay program at the expense of elected local school boards.” The St. Petersburg Times adds that “tea party opposition to a GOP-sponsored teacher pay bill has caught the attention of Gov. Charlie Crist and his advisers in his race for the US Senate.” That could be significant, because it offers even broader cover for Crist to veto the bill: He could argue that opposition runs the gamut of the political spectrum.
Rhode Island NEA Official Rallies Against Teacher Contract Proposal.
The Providence Journal (4/13, Gregg, Peoples) reports, “On the day before the first big budget vote of the year, public employees packed the State House in an 11th-hour effort to head off pension cuts.” Their main target was “a proposal to limit annual pension increases to the first $35,000 in retirement pay initially.” Meanwhile, Rhode Island NEA Executive Director Robert A. Walsh “sought to kill a proposal that would give town and city councils ultimate approval of teachers contracts negotiated by school committees.”
“Give-It-A-Shot” Attitude Shields Hillsborough County From SB6.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/12, Matus) reports, “Teachers all over Florida are watching in anger as state lawmakers upend their profession, but not teachers in Hillsborough County. They alone have been given an exception.” Hillsborough schools have “for years…been willing to do what most Florida districts won’t — which is try things like merit pay, even though many teachers don’t like it.” According to the St. Petersburg Times, Hillsborough’s “give-it-a-shot attitude led the Gates Foundation to award” it with “a $100 million grant last fall to boost teacher quality.” It adds that If Gov. Crist vetoes SB 6, “Hillsborough will again be an outlier.” However, “if he signs it, Hillsborough will be allowed to follow through on a more thoughtful, collaborative approach to reforming the teaching profession while every other district gets steamrolled by new mandates.”
Teachers, Community Members Protest Against Bill That Eliminates Teachers Tenure. The Tampa Tribune (4/10, Whittenburg) reported that “Gov. Charlie Crist (R) now is at the center of a political firestorm over a contentious education bill that the Florida House voted to send him for approval.” But, “whether Crist will sign SB 6, the so-called teacher tenure bill, is anything but certain.” He was “supportive earlier in the session,” but last week he said “that he [could not] ignore the loud outcry from teachers and some parents.” On Friday, Crist commented that he had “never had an issue put as much political pressure on him since taking office. … His office has been flooded with calls and e-mails urging a veto.”
The St. Petersburg Times (4/11, Bousquet) reported that Crist “had barely set foot inside” a retirement center in The Villages “Saturday when retired teacher Bill Smith stuck out his hand and offered some blunt advice that set the tone for a day of campaigning.” Smith told Crist: “Don’t sign that bill.” Smith told Crist “that proposed changes to tenure and merit pay would discourage people from entering the field.” Another attendee at the “event featuring World War II artifacts” warned the governor that the bill “will drive away young teachers.” According to the St. Petersburg Times, “The feedback appeared to strengthen Crist’s resolve to kill the bill, but he said he has not made a final decision.”
The St. Petersburg Times (4/10, Sampson, Krueger, Rossetter) reported that Crist, “who has until next Friday to sign or veto the bill, said he expects to take his time. If he does neither, the bill becomes law without his signature.” Said Crist, “I think it’s too important to do anything hasty. … So I want to take as much input as I can and review it, get fully briefed on it again.” Meanwhile, he “denied being worried about the political consequences of his decision, as he continues to wage a tough battle for a US Senate seat.”
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In the Classroom
Report Shows New Teachers Are Less Effective Than Those With Experience.
North Carolina’s News & Observer (4/9, Bonner) reported, “Rookie teachers are much less effective than their more experienced colleagues, a new report says, pointing to a need for better preparation for prospective teachers and for more support once they’re standing in front of classrooms.” The study by researchers from the University of North Carolina “showed that teachers who graduated from the state’s public universities were in the middle of the pack in terms of effectiveness, while teachers who are in the Teach for America program excel in high school classrooms and in teaching middle school math.” The results were based on “student scores on end-of-grade and end-of-course tests,” which were “connected…to their teachers, how long they’d been teaching, and where they learned to teach.”
Top Schools In San Antonio Found To Have Strong Leadership, High Expectations.
The San Antonio Express-News (4/12, LaCoste-Caputo) reports, “Stellar schools in San Antonio are not relegated to one part of town.” Children at Risk will release “its second round of annual school rankings for the San Antonio metro area Monday.” A preview of the ranking show that “successful schools in the San Antonio area” have “several things they have in common: Strong leadership, almost fanatically dedicated faculty and staff, a focus on small learning groups, high expectations and a lot of hard work.” The Express News adds that “researchers used a wide array of indicators, including test scores, participation in advanced courses, graduation rates and class sizes to rank 374 of the area’s elementary, middle and high schools from best to worst.”
DC Students Responded To Cash Incentives, Study Shows.
The Washington Post (4/10, Turque) reported, “Paying [D.C.] middle-schoolers as much as $100 a month for good grades, behavior and attendance led to higher reading test scores for Hispanics, boys and students with behavior problems, according to the early results of a Harvard University study. The overall effect of the cash awards on the 3,000 students in 15 D.C. middle schools was less significant, however, and the study’s author acknowledged that the relatively small sample makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions about the initiative.” The Post added that compared “with the cost of other kinds of supports for at-risk children, such as smaller class sizes and Head Start,” D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said.
Elementary Students In Utah Compose, Perform Opera.
The AP (4/10) reported that Utah students from “Providence Hall Charter School in Herriman and Bluffdale Elementary spent the past several months writing” a plot, lyrics and melodies and they put on a “50-minute production of ‘A Rockin’ Opera’ on Thursday night at the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts Thursday to show off their hard work. … The kids got some guidance from Utah Opera composer Michelle Willis, who acted as a mentor, but the work was primarily a product of the little maestros.”
On the Job
Teachers In Miami-Dade County, Florida, Plan Absences Monday To Protest SB 6.
The Miami Herald (4/12, Mazzei, Mcgrory) reports, “Miami-Dade schools will be open Monday and parents should send their kids to class as usual, school district officials said Sunday, despite possible teacher absences to protest controversial legislation that would overhaul teacher pay and tenure.” According to a spokesperson for the school system, “fewer than 5 percent of Miami-Dade’s roughly 21,200 teachers are expected to be absent…though teachers could still have called in sick late Sunday.” However, the Florida Education Association is asking “teachers to go to work.” FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow said, “There are a couple of places that have some after-school activities planned. … Protests, sign holding, all after school during this coming week.'”
WFOR-TV Miami (4/12) reports that Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is also encouraging teachers to show up to work on Monday. It quotes Carvalho as saying, “We have always supported teacher quality and accountability. … And while we understand the frustration teachers are experiencing, we expect to have a regular school day tomorrow. Because instructional time is critical to our students, teachers are encouraged to use constructive means outside of regular school hours to express their opinions.” He and Deputy Superintendent Freddie Woodson “sent out phone messages to teachers over the weekend urging them to report to work.”
The Winter Haven (FL) News Chief (4/12, Gonzalez) and the Orlando Sentinel (4/12, Show) report on protests against SB6 held by teachers in Polk County and Tavares, Florida last week. Meanwhile, The Florida Times-Union (4/12, Palka) and Central Florida News 13 (4/12) reports on Florida parents’ reactions to SB6.
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Law & Policy
Los Angeles Teachers Agree To Shorten School Year.
The Los Angeles Daily News (4/11) reported, “The union representing Los Angeles Unified teachers has voted by a wide margin to approve a furlough deal which will make the school calendar one week shorter this year and next, officials announced Saturday. United Teachers Los Angeles members voted nearly 4-1 in favor of the deal, which is estimated to save 2,109 jobs from layoffs for the 2010-11 school year. It is also expected to prevent the district from needing to increase class sizes.”
The Los Angeles Times (4/11, Jason Song) added, “Under the agreement, which was negotiated over several months, teachers would take an unpaid day off the Friday before Memorial Day and schools would close four days earlier for summer vacation.” The Times notes that the district “is facing a budget deficit of up to $640 million and has been searching for ways to cut costs. Several unions…have agreed to take unpaid days off,” and “many non-unionized district employees, including upper management, have also begun to take furloughs.”
New Law In Utah Eliminates State Test Reporting.
The Salt Lake Tribune (4/12, Schencker) reports that “a bill recently signed into law means the state Office of Education will not be required, at least until 2013, to produce annual reports showing whether each school met state testing, or U-PASS, goals for the previous school year.” In previous years, “Utah schools have had to answer to two accountability systems: the state U-PASS system and the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Now, schools will no longer have to meet U-PASS achievement goals.” But beginning this year, “the state will cease publishing U-PASS reports this year.” According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “the change is a little talked-about effect of a bill, HB166, meant to help the state save money.”
Bilingual Education, Immersion Both Found To Be Effective Instruction Methods.
Education Week (4/9, Zehr) reported, “In the first randomized-assignment study in which English-language learners were followed for as long as five years, researchers have found that Spanish-speaking children learn to read English equally well regardless of whether they are taught primarily in English or in both English and their native language. The findings from the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University may take some fuel out of the fire in the national debate over which is best for teaching children from immigrant families to read: English immersion or bilingual education.”
Also in the News
Principal Combines Math, Exercise To Create PlinkoBall.
The Cape Code (MA) Times (4/12, Gouveia) reports on PlinkoBall, “the brainchild of East Falmouth Elementary School principal Sam Slarsky.” The game is “part exercise, part math and a whole lot of fun for students.” The Cape Cod Times explains how PlinkoBall is played, noting that “since its creation last fall, the game has not only been incorporated into gym classes — a playground equipment company has taken notice and plans to market Slarsky’s creation internationally.” Landscape Structures also “paid for Slarsky to travel to Houston over the weekend to demonstrate PlinkoBall at the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ conference.”
NEA in the News
Educators Say Black Male Teachers Are Ideal Mentors For Black Male Students.
The Jackson (TN) Sun (4/12, Cheshier) reports on the need for black male teachers in Jackson-Madison County Schools, where “black men make up 5 percent of” the districts’ 1,140 teachers. Although “about 60 percent of the student population is black,” Only “about 28 percent of the teachers in the system” are black men and women. According to a 2008 NEA report, “Black men make up one percent of the 3 million kindergarten through 12th-grade public school teachers in the United States.” Educators say that “black male teachers are important mentors, and in some cases father figures, to black male students.” Still, school officials say, “many school systems compete for a small number of black male teachers.” The NEA report “suggests that districts can hire more minority teachers if they create programs that help teachers of color pass entry tests and give them support once they’re in the classroom.”
New Grading Requirements In Tennessee Reduce Impact Of Grade Inflation.
The Tennessean (4/12, Echegaray) reports, “When a Nashville middle school principal told teachers to drop any scores lower than a 50, it triggered accusations of grade inflation and caught the local teachers union’s attention.” Erick Huth, president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, said, “Students need to begin to understand that they can’t just sit, have a pulse and receive a 50.” But according to Thurgood Marshall Middle Principal Barbara Ide “and other educators…giving some students a string of failing grades is like telling them to quit.” The Tenesseean points out that “the case draws attention to how subjective classroom grading can be.” Tennessee’s Board of Education has called for a study that compares students’ grades with their state test scores. And, beginning “next school year, end-of-course exam scores will account for 25 percent of a student’s final grade, up from 20 percent, diminishing the impact of inflated grades given through the year.”
Teachers Union In Nevada Expected To Seek Arbitration For Contract Negotiations.
The Las Vegas Sun (4/11, Schwartz, Richmond) reported, “Clark County’s teachers, resisting calls for wage concessions, may now start feeling pressure to buckle from an unlikely source: their colleagues in Washoe County, home of the state’s second-largest teachers association.” While the “Clark County Education Association is expected to declare an impasse on several” contract “sticking points and will ask for binding arbitration,” the Washoe Education Association “and other school district employee groups have agreed to salary freezes and furloughs of two professional days in the upcoming school year, saving the district $11 million and possibly avoiding layoffs.” Still, Clark County Education Association president, Ruben Murillo, said that “everything is on the table” in contract negotiations “when asked whether the local union would consider pay cuts or furlough days to help the district close its budget gap.”
Florida House Approves Teacher Performance Pay Bill.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/9, Solochek, Matus, Catalanello) reports, “Protests reached a fever pitch Thursday as the Florida House of Representatives approved a controversial bill tying teacher pay to student performance.” In a debate that lasted “late into Thursday night,” Representatives discussed “the push to overhaul how Florida teachers are evaluated, paid and fired.” Proponents touted the bill “as a way to reward the state’s best teachers.” Critics, however, say that “the tenets of SB 6…come straight from the [Jeb] Bush handbook.” The St. Petersburg Times points out that if Gov. Charlie Crist (R) “signs the tenure bill, local school district leaders will have to immediately plunge into a number of thorny issues – rewriting of salary schedules, revising evaluations, developing course exams and finding the money to pay for it all.”
The Miami Herald (4/9, Sampson) reports, “In a session that followed hours — and days, and weeks — of rancorous debate, lawmakers” Thursday passed a bill that changes “the way teachers are evaluated, compensated, and fired in Florida.” Once the bill goes to Gov. Crist, the Herald adds, “what he does with it is anyone’s guess.” On Thursday, Crist said, “There are things about it that I like and things about it that give me some concern. … I just want to weigh it out and continue to listen.” The Herald adds, “Thousands of educators, parents and students around the state have picketed, e-mailed, called and traveled to Tallahassee to vent their ire.”
Teachers Petition Governor To Veto SB 6. The St. Petersburg Times (4/9) “The Gradebook” blog reports that “teachers in Gov. Charlie Crist’s home county of Pinellas took to the streets Thursday, hoping to convince him to veto SB 6.” The group of “more than 200” waved signs, “getting supportive honks from hundreds of passing motorists. At one point, a plane flew over with a banner: ‘Gov. Crist pass teacher tenure bill you won’t pass November.'” Although “Crist’s comments this week have given teachers hope that a veto might actually happen,” sources close to the governor say that a veto is unlikely.
Florida House Approves Three Other Education Bills. The Orlando Sentinel (4/9, Postal, Hafenbrack) reports that prior to taking up SB 6, “the House sent three other major education bills to Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday that would” increase graduation requirements by “mandating students take harder math and science courses and pass new end-of-course exams;” request that voters decide whether “to scale back the state’s class-size law;” and “expand a voucher program (SB 2126) that gives poor children scholarships to attend private schools.”
Columnist Calls Teacher Merit Pay Bill “Simple-Minded”, “FCAT Worship.” Scott Maxwell writes in the Orlando Sentinel (4/8) “Taking Names” column that Gov. Crist “is acting like a 5-year-old boy who just yanked a new Star Wars lightsaber from its packaging and is now slashing it everywhere he can, just to get a reaction.” When it comes to merit pay, Maxwell asserts that “a veto might actually force teacher-bashing politicians and reform-resistant teachers unions to come together and work out a plan for real reform.” He adds, “We need a way to reward the best teachers and exorcise the worst. But this simple-minded version of FCAT worship ain’t it.” Instead, Maxwell suggests that “a good compromise would be a merit-pay plan that gives much of the responsibility for rewarding teachers to their bosses, which is the way most of the real world works.”
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In the Classroom
Massachusetts Schools Expanding Literacy Emphasis Beyond English Classes.
The Boston Globe (4/8, Plumb) reports that a “new system of note-taking, introduced in January, is part of a comprehensive effort across” Massachusetts “to improve literacy among older students – and not just in English class” but in math and science classes as well. According to the Globe, “Contrary to the past, when the expectation was that students would be proficient readers midway through elementary school and no longer need separate lessons, these days literacy is strategically being woven through all subjects in all grades.”
New Report Shows Increased Science Emphasis In Pennsylvania Districts.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/9, Langland) reports on “learning science by doing science, a change in instruction that is costing schools time and money, yet is fast gaining traction as educators heed warnings that the economic health of the region – and the nation – demands a science- and tech-savvy workforce. Surveying and interviews conducted by The Inquirer in recent months for this Report Card on the Schools show that schools are making concerted efforts to attract students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the so-called STEM fields.” According to the Inquirer, “This year’s Report Card, which focuses on science, also shows that math education continues as a priority for the region’s schools.”
On the Job
Chicago Schools Testing A New Tool For Improving Teacher Evaluations.
The New York Times (4/9, Yednak) reports, “In a Chicago Public Schools system where half the schools are on probation yet 93 percent of teachers are rated ‘excellent’ or ‘superior,’ administrators are testing an evaluation process to more accurately measure a teacher’s classroom performance – with an eye toward closing the huge gap. A pilot program called Excellence in Teaching, now being tested in 100 Chicago schools, seeks to produce an honest conversation about performance, useful feedback to teachers from principals and more realistic evaluations of performance in the classroom.” According to the Times, “Instead of a vague checklist that principals use to rate teacher effectiveness, the new program aims to define good and bad teaching, gives principals and teachers a common language to discuss frankly how to make improvements, and requires evidence that teachers meet certain criteria.”
Rhode Island Education Chief Calls For Sweeping Education Reforms.
The AP (4/9, Tucker) reports, “Failing schools are a drain” on Rhode Island’s “already sluggish economy and require wholesale transformation, not just minor tinkering, state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist told lawmakers Wednesday in a speech on education reform. Gist, whose reform efforts led to the firings of all teachers and staff at one of the state’s worst-performing schools, said test scores in the state need vast improvement, the graduation rate must grow and too few high school graduates — just more than half — are heading directly to college.” According to the AP, “Improving schools is critical to the economy in Rhode Island, a state with nearly 13 percent unemployment, since students who drop out will struggle and be a cost to society, Gist said in an address to the General Assembly.”
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Law & Policy
Reading Is Fundamental Program May Lose All Federal Funding.
The New York Times (4/9, Strom) reports, “Changes in the way the Federal government plans to allocate money to increase and improve literacy pose a severe threat to one of the country’s best-known nonprofit groups, Reading Is Fundamental.” RIF, “which provides free books to needy children and has been promoted in memorable public service announcements by celebrities like Carol Burnett and Shaquille O’Neal, stands to lose all of its Federal financing, which accounts for roughly 75 percent of its annual revenues.” According to the Times, “Under the Federal budget proposed for the 2011 fiscal year, the Department of Education has proposed pooling the money it allocates to RIF, another nonprofit organization, the National Writing Project, and five of its own grant programs, and instead distributing it to state and local governments.”
More States Implementing Teacher Pay For Performance Policies.
The AP (4/9, Turner) reports, “For parents and politicians hungry for better schools, the idea of paying teachers more if their students perform better can seem as basic as adding two and two or spelling ‘cat.’ Yet just a handful of schools and districts around the country use such strategies,” and in “some states, the idea is effectively illegal.” However, that “could all be changing as the Federal government wields billions of dollars” in Race to the Top “grants to lure states and school districts to try the idea.”
Connecticut To Focus On Data Analysis, Accountability For Second Phase Of Race To The Top.
The New Haven Register (4/9, Benton) reports, “Shut out of funds in the first round of the federal Race to the Top school reform competition,” Connecticut’s Department of Education “has begun work to retool its application for $175 million in the competition’s second phase.” Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan told the Board of Education this week that “the state’s second-phase application is expected to feature more prominently a comprehensive plan for preschool through college education.” In addition, “the plan…will seek to expand the state’s data analysis system, the Connecticut Accountability for Learning Initiative, to all districts within four years.” And in an effort “to attract wider statewide participation, McQuillan said his department is considering offering a minimum grant to all districts that sign on to the application.”
Safety & Security
Florida District Boosts Anti-Bullying Efforts Following Three “High-Profile” Violent Incidents.
The Miami Herald (4/9, Mazzei, Moskovitz) reports that schools in Broward County, Florida, “will ratchet up efforts to have students report bullying and security threats after three high-profile incidents of violence this school year.” The Miami Herald adds that “the school district’s announcement Wednesday came on the same day the mother of Josie Lou Ratley — the victim in one of those incidents — said her daughter can open her eyes and move her limbs but is still in a drug-induced coma.” The student “has been in the coma since March 17, when police say” she was attached by another student at the school’s “bus-loading area.”
New Jersey Governor To Continue School Construction Program.
Bloomberg News (4/8, McNichol) reported, “New Jersey’s $12.5 billion school- construction program will continue under Governor Chris Christie’s [R] administration,” said Marc Larkins, the “chief executive officer of the authority that oversees the projects.” According to Bloomberg, the “future of the program, which is funded through bonds issued by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, was unclear in light of Christie’s pledge to trim the state’s debt load, which was third-highest in the nation at $36.5 billion, according to a 2009 report by Moody’s Investors Service.” New Jersey’s “school-construction program is one of the largest in the US, the authority said in a financial report released this week.”
Cash Not Enough To Improve New York Student Test Scores.
Jennifer Medina wrote in a blog for the New York Times (4/8), “The results are in for controversial program that promised $50 to New York seventh graders who aced tests, and they show that money was not enough to prod students to perform significantly better. Roland G. Fryer, a Harvard economist who came to New York as the Education Department’s chief equality officer and came up with the program, released the results in a Time magazine story published online Thursday.” However, “results were different in other cities” as in DC, “students did perform better after being paid in areas like attendance and good behavior.”
Chevron Donates $1 Million For STEM Initiatives In California District.
The Los Angeles Daily Breeze (4/9, Morino) reports that officials at Chevron announced Thursday that “they will be handing out $1 million in science, technology, engineering and math grants to South Bay school districts.” The money “will be distributed to 15 South Bay campuses and used for a variety of projects,” including the conversion of a woodshop classroom into “an engineering lab” at El Segundo High School. The Daily Breeze adds that the donation is “considered the company’s largest for ‘STEM’ research at local schools.”
Also in the News
Teachers Suspended Without Pay After Performing Lap Dance At School Assembly.
The Canadian Press (4/9) reports, “Two Winnipeg teachers who simulated a lap dance at a student rally are no longer being paid while they wait to learn their fate.” According to a school board trustee, Mike Babinsky, “the two teachers were originally suspended with pay. … The male and female teachers made sexually suggestive motions during a pep rally at Churchill High School in February.” A student captured the dance on video and the video was posted on Youtube, prompting “calls from some parents for the teachers to be fired. The Winnipeg School Division is deciding whether to take further disciplinary action.”
Fundamentalist Church Plans Protests At Tampa Schools.
The St. Petersburg (FL) Times (4/9, Nipps) reports, “A fundamentalist antigay church is planning to visit Tampa to protest a church, a rock concert and a handful of schools this month. Westboro Baptist Church, which gained notoriety for protesting at military funerals, listed Plant High School among its April 19 stops on the ‘picket schedule,’ school officials warned parents this week.” The church “also plans to visit Tampa Catholic School, the University of South Florida and Without Walls International Church to protest Catholicism and Judaism.”
NEA in the News
California Ranks Second For Teacher Salaries.
The Sacramento Bee (4/9, Walters) reports that “California’s per-pupil spending on its more than 6 million elementary and high school students is the nation’s sixth-lowest, but its teachers have the nation’s second highest salaries, according to a new compendium of educational data by the National Education Association.” The NEA “compiled national and state data on revenues, spending, enrollment, and other indices, entitled ‘Rankings and Estimates,’ that runs 130 densely packed pages.” The Sacramento Bee lists several other major “revelations” indicated by the data.
DC Mayor, Teachers Union Tout New Contract Agreement.
The Washington Post (4/8, Turque) reports that DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) “and teachers union leaders touted a proposed new labor contract Wednesday as a historic moment for public education in the District but then turned to the task of selling the deal to the two constituencies that will have to approve it: rank-and-file instructors and the D.C. Council. The tentative agreement, which comes after more than two years of bargaining, would raise teacher pay by more than 20 percent by 2012, increasing the average salary of a D.C. educator from about $67,000 to $81,000.” Though “teacher tenure protections remain in place, the pact affirms Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s power to retain teachers on the basis of performance — not seniority — in the event that budget cuts or enrollment declines force the closure of some schools.”
The New York Times (4/8, Dillon) reports, “Capping two years of rancorous bargaining, the Washington schools chancellor and the city’s teachers’ union on Wednesday announced an agreement on a tentative contract that would increase teacher salaries, establish a voluntary merit pay system and give the authorities clearer powers to move teachers out of the system based on their effectiveness rather than seniority. … Throughout the negotiations, an intense media spotlight focused on a union famous for corruption in a city with many failing schools, and on the chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who appeared early in the talks on the cover of Time magazine, wielding a broom to dramatize her pledge to sweep away recalcitrant teachers and the tenure system.” The “tentative settlement includes some novel provisions, like partial financing by private foundations, but experts were divided about how profoundly they would change the district’s school system.”
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In the Classroom
“Little Rock Nine” Member Speaks To Students About Helping Desegregate High School.
The Salt Lake Tribune (4/8, Schencker) reports, “The first time Terrence Roberts walked into his new all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, he felt one overwhelming emotion: fear.” He and “eight other black students…integrated Little Rock Central High School” in 1957. This week, Roberts is visiting “several Salt Lake County schools” to share his story with a new generation. “Roberts said he and the others pressed forward despite daily beatings, threats and insults because it was the right thing to do.”
“Project Bee” Aims To Help Alleviate Students’ Fear Of Bees, Promote Beekeeping.
The Berkshire (MA) Eagle (4/7) reports that “on Tuesday, members of New Marlborough-based Project Bee visited three kindergarten classrooms at Lee Elementary School to teach youngsters about the habitats and culture of honeybees.” The purpose of the project is “to alleviate fears of bees” among children and to “promote agriculture through beekeeping.” Beekeepers Laura Endacott and Marius Lowe, “donned a beekeeping suit” throughout the presentation, and “using beekeeping tools and an inactive hive, he demonstrated where bees live in the hive, how they build honeycomb, and how apiarists harvest honey without getting stung.”
Students Seek To Halt Use Of “R” Word Among Peers, Educators.
The Chicago Tribune (4/7, Cox) reported, “Evanston Township [IL] High School senior Megan McCareins wants to stamp out the R-word as she and others try to change how fellow students talk and think about people with intellectual difficulties. McCareins and a handful of students recently gathered more than 3,000 signatures from students and staff, who pledged to stop using the words ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ as an offhanded insult or in a derogatory manner.” According to the Tribune, “Evanston Township was one of 75 schools, colleges and universities across the state that took part last month in the ‘Spread the Word to End the ‘R’ Word Day’ campaign, said teacher Leslie Wenzel.”
Students Write, Present Bill To Florida Legislature.
The AP (4/7, Merzer) reported that eight Florida high school students “who decided there ought to be a law prohibiting smoking in vehicles carrying children – and then wrote a bill – donned their best suits and dresses, struggled to tame the butterflies in their bellies and presented their case” to the state Senate Transportation Committee. The “Tampa-area students drafted the bill (SB 2596 and HB 1141) as part of the ‘Ought To Be A Law’ mentoring program established by Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, and Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa. The program encourages teams of students to compete by identifying a problem, researching the cause and then writing a bill to resolve the issue.”
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Law & Policy
Crist Concerned About How Merit Pay Bill Would Affect Special-Needs Teachers.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/8, Silva, Bousquet, Klas) reports, “Using his strongest language yet, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) said Wednesday that the Legislature should soften a controversial bill that would link teacher pay to student performance and criticized Republican leaders for trying to block any floor amendments.” Crist, who at one time supported the bill in its entirety, said, “There was a lot of complaining in Washington about health care legislation sort of being rammed through, and I don’t want Florida to do similar kinds of things.” He is particularly concerned about “how the legislation would affect special-needs teachers.” Crist explained that he had an epiphany after speaking to a friend who was the parent of a student with special needs. Said Crist, “He was concerned about the provisions of the bill that require progress. And he’s like, ‘How can my son have progress? … It’s very challenging. And that’s weighing on me heavily.”
Utah District Considers Implementing Social-Networking Policy For Teachers.
The Salt Lake Tribune (4/8, Winters) reports that “the Salt Lake Valley school district is considering a new social-networking policy that would forbid employees from fraternizing with students online, including being Facebook friends.” Also under the proposal, teachers would be allowed “to create online forums to engage students for educational purposes.” The Salt Lake Tribune adds that “the rules would be among the first of their kind in Utah, where most school districts have relied on general guidelines that teachers act as role models and not have inappropriate contact with students.”
Lawmakers In Missouri Endorse Bill To Give Districts More Control Over School Calendar.
The AP (4/7) reports, “Missouri senators have endorsed legislation that would allow school districts to decide whether to hold classes year-round and allow teachers to be paid on a merit system.” The legislation would allow school boards to “vote to adopt a year-round schedule.” Also under the bill, “teachers could decide to give up tenure and accept a merit pay system if a school district decides to implement it” and schools “could choose to offer two start dates for new kindergarten classes.”
Bill Would Require That Students In Florida Take Algebra I, Trigonometry To Graduate.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/8) reports that a bill going before Florida lawmakers today would require high school students “to take more advanced math and science courses in order to graduate.” Florida currently “requires four math credits and three science credits for graduation. Other than Algebra I, no specific courses are required.” But under the proposed legislation, “freshmen would also have to take geometry to graduate.” By 2013-14, freshmen “would also have to take Algebra II, biology, chemistry or physics, plus one equally rigorous science course.”
The Miami Herald (4/7, Sampson) reported, “High school students in Florida would have to take more advanced math and science courses to graduate under a bill set for a final vote Thursday, a move that supporters hope will better prepare teens for college and career. The proposed law would also eliminate the high-stakes Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in math and science for public high schoolers, replacing them with end-of-course exams in algebra, geometry and biology.” According to the Herald, under current Florida law, Algebra I is the only math course required for graduation, but under “the bill, which is expected to pass, that would change starting next school year, when incoming freshmen would also have to take geometry to graduate.”
Illinois’ Only Public School For Blind And Deaf Students May Close.
The Chicago Tribune (4/8, Smith) reports that the Philip J. Rock Center and School in Glen Ellyn, IL is Illinois’ “sole public facility serving” blind and deaf children, yet the facility “may be forced to close in coming weeks because of the state’s financial crisis. … The facility offers housing to people ages 6 to 21 from across the state who are legally blind and deaf, as well as severely disabled.” Also, the “center also offers support and training to 428 deaf and blind children, many of whom live at home and receive educational services through local schools or special education co-ops,” says Peggy Whitlow, chief administrator of the Rock Center.
As California Defers Payments, Some School Districts Take Out Loans To Cover Expenses.
The Sacramento Bee (4/8, Lambert) reports that California “sends fewer dollars to…schools these days — a total of $18 billion less over the last two years.” Moreover, “much of the money districts do receive is coming late — sometimes as much as five months after the payments originally were scheduled.” In a letter dated March 30, the state Department of Finance said that “districts collectively should expect three one-time deferrals of $2.5 billion next school year.” Only school districts that are facing bankruptcy may choose to opt-out of the deferred payments. Some school districts throughout the state are having to take out loans to cover expenses, though the Bee points out that “so far, most local districts have managed to avoid taking out loans” by “juggling finances through layoffs and program cuts, digging into reserves and borrowing from funds dedicated for other expenses, such as pensions and facilities.”
Donation To School System In New York Will Save 35 Teaching Positions.
The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette (4/8, Neumann) reports, “A donation of $1.71 million from the Corning Inc. Foundation will fund about 35 teaching positions in the Corning-Painted Post school district in the next school year and will help district officials and school board members as they struggle to put together a budget for 2010-11.” The school board passed a resolution requiring that the money “be used ‘in support of 2010-2011 instructional programs in the areas of art, business, English, French, humanities, math, music, physical education, science, Spanish and technology.'” The grant is the largest donation the school system has received, said Jeff Delorme, assistant superintendent for administrative services.
Also in the News
Sebelius Touts Community Schools Concept In Philadelphia Visit.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/7, Lala) reported, “More than 1,100 school administrators, healthcare personnel, parents and community members gathered in Center City today to rally around Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius’s call to utilize city school buildings as safe havens for families, even after the school bell rings. Sebelius, the keynote speaker at the two day Coalition of Community Schools’ National Forum said school buildings should be a cornerstone of the community, housing health clinics, after school programs and family activities.” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) “agreed saying, ‘Schools need to be the anchor of this community’s health.'”
Court Will Weigh Texas Principals’ Role In Banning Religious Candy Canes.
The Dallas Morning News (4/8, Meyers) reports, “The court case over candy canes continued Wednesday as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals listened to arguments on the liability of two Plano [TX] principals named in the lawsuit. Three judges heard appeals in a packed courtroom at Southern Methodist University, where the court is based this week.” According to the Morning News, “The candy cane case arose in 2003, when administrators at Plano’s Thomas Elementary School stopped an 8-year-old boy from distributing candy cane pens with religious messages on them” and one year “later, with assistance from the Plano-based Liberty Institute, the boy’s family and three other families sued the district on free speech grounds.”
NEA in the News
Tennessee Lawmakers Kill Bill To Prohibit Discussion Of Homosexuality In Schools.
The Knoxville (TN) News (4/8, Humphrey) reports, “Legislation to prohibit discussion of homosexuality in schools was killed for another year in a House subcommittee Tuesday after critics” argued that “the measure addressed a problem that does not exist and could promote bullying of children.” Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, “said the bill was unnecessary and an attempt to ‘bash’ public schools, teachers and the TEA.” The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Stacey Campfield (R) has “cited workshops and informational materials distributed by the National Education Association, parent organization of TEA, as examples of inappropriate homosexual discussion.”
Education Department Will Give States $350 Million To Revamp Tests.
The AP (4/7) reports that the Education Department “is looking to hand out up to $350 million” in stimulus funds “to states willing to revamp how they test students. The money is designed to encourage states to develop standardized tests that accurately measure how much a child has learned each year and ensure the student is ready for college or a career after high school.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “said Tuesday the tests must be designed to accurately depict what students know and can do.”
Michele McNeil wrote in a “Politics K-12” blog for Education Week (4/6) that the Education Department “has given the green light to the $350 million Race to the Top assessment competition, which will award grants to groups of states to create rigorous common tests to complement the common standards effort already underway. The $350 million is part of the larger $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund grant program.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “announced in June 2009 he wanted to peel off $350 million to help states create the ‘next generation of assessments.'”
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In the Classroom
Schools In Iowa, California Seek To Curb Teacher-On-Teacher Bullying.
USA Today (4/7, Matheny) reports, “Most schools have policies that target bullying, but they are usually aimed at students. Now, school districts in Iowa and California are developing rules to prevent teachers from bullying teachers.” USA Today adds, “The Sioux City, Iowa, community school district, which approved its policy last April, and Desert Sands Unified School District of La Quinta, Calif., which is awaiting final passage later this month, are believed to be the only two school districts nationwide developing anti-bullying policies for their adult employees, said Gary Namie, who, with his wife and fellow psychologist Ruth Namie, founded the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington.”
Idaho Will Not Administer Writing, Math Tests In 2010-11 School Year.
The Idaho Statesman (4/7) reports, “Idaho will not administer the Direct Writing Assessment (DWA) nor the Direct Math Assessment (DMA) in the 2010-11 school year, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said Tuesday.” He plans to “take a proposal to the Idaho State Board of Education in June to make the discontinuation of these assessments permanent.” Meanwhile, the State Department of Education plans to “make assessment prompts for the DWA and DMA available each year to those local school districts and public charter schools that choose to continue using the DWA and DMA to guide instruction.”
Report: ELL Students In US Schools Show Improvement.
The AP (4/7) reports, “Schoolchildren who are still learning English made progress on state tests over the last three years, according to a report that may indicate tougher accountability standards have resulted in positive gains among a growing segment of the US public school population. In a study released Wednesday, the nonprofit Center on Education Policy looked at the performance of English language learners – those students with limited English skills – on state tests in math and reading from 2006 to 2008, the years after federal testing for this group under [NCLB] became finalized.” According to the AP, “The study notes gains across many states: Twenty-five of 35 states with sufficient data made gains in fourth grade reading among English language learners.”
On the Job
Community Leaders Help Florida District Resolve Middle School Discipline Problems.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/7, Moore) reports that “Community leaders rushed in with offers of help after discipline problems and arrests at John Hopkins Middle School made headlines a few weeks ago.” Those volunteering time and services included “pastors, former educators, social workers, city officials and activists. Tuesday evening, the Pinellas County School District brought them together to take steps toward forming a Community Advisory Council, a concept superintendent Julie Janssen hopes will be replicated countywide.” Attendees suggested ideas such as “using social media to communicate with students, training teachers in ‘assertive discipline’ and starting a support program for administrators.” The group will meet again later this month.
DC Teacher’s Union Reaches Tentative Contract Deal With School District.
The Washington Post (4/7, Turque) reports, “D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the Washington Teachers’ Union have reached tentative agreement on a new contract, ending more than two years of closely watched and often-rancorous negotiations, union and District officials said Tuesday. The proposed pact, which must be ratified by union members and approved by the D.C. Council, provides teacher salary increases of more than 20 percent over five years, with much of it paid for through an unusual arrangement with a group of private foundations that have pledged to donate $64.5 million.” The pact “includes a voluntary pay-for-performance program that will allow teachers to earn annual bonuses for student growth on standardized tests and other measures of academic success.”
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Law & Policy
Federal Bill Aims To Promote Use Of Healthier Foods In School Lunches.
The AP (4/7, Wyatt) reports, “Under a bill pending in the Senate, more schools could be taking treats away from pupils, or at least making them healthier under tighter national nutrition standards. The bill would add $4.5 billion over the next decade for school meals for poor students.” According to the AP, the bill “also gives schools grants to help them buy local produce” and federal “officials who oversee school nutrition are taking their healthy-lunch pitch straight to their toughest critics – school diners.”
Arizona House Approves Bill Requiring Civics Tests For Middle Schoolers.
The Yuma (AZ) Sun (4/7, Roller, Fischer) reports that “legislation approved Monday by” Arizona’s House Education Committee “would require students get a passing grade on a test composed of questions from the same examination that the US government requires before someone can become a citizen.” The requirement “would take effect next school year,” according to state Sen. John Huppenthal (R). Huppenthal acknowledged that the timing is “probably…too soon to actually hold anyone back,” but added that “it is his intent that [the requirement] eventually become a barrier that students need to hurdle to get to high school.” Under SB 1404, schools would choose 20 questions from the federal government’s “list of 100 questions…used as the basis for citizenship exams.” Students would be “required to obtain a passing score to advance to the next school year.”
Florida Lawmakers Consider Requiring Middle School Civics Test. The St. Petersburg Times (4/7, Sampson) reports, “Hoping to educate students to not look foolish if quizzed by a talk show host, Florida lawmakers are poised to enact a law that would force kids to pass a middle school civics test in order to get to high school.” Bill sponsor, state Sen. Nancy Detert (R), calls it “the anti-Jay Leno bill” — in reference to “the host’s Jaywalking segment” — because, she said, “I’m not amused by the fact that nobody knows anything about their government — although they all have an opinion.” Current state law requires that middle school students “take social studies courses, including civics, but does not require them to pass a test to be promoted.” The proposed legislation would make the test up to “30 percent of a child’s final grade in the 2013 school year; by 2014-15, a student would have to pass the test in order to complete the course and move on.”
Wisconsin Prosecutor Threatens Charges Over Sex Education Rules.
The AP (4/7) reports, “A Wisconsin prosecutor is warning sex education teachers they could face charges if they follow a new state law that allows them to instruct students about proper contraceptive use. A letter sent to five school districts by Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said the instruction could amount to contributing to the delinquency of a minor if teachers know students are sexually active.” Southworth “said the districts should drop sex education until the law is repealed” and “also argued that teaching contraceptive use encourages sexual behavior among children, which equates to sexual assault because minors can’t legally have sex in Wisconsin.”
Colorado To Compete In Second Round Of Race To The Top.
The Denver Business Journal (4/7, Harden) reports, “Despite some earlier reservations, Colorado has decided to go ahead and re-apply for a share of the next round of federal ‘Race to the Top’ education-reform grants. The state was not chosen in the first round” and following “that disappointment, there had been some talk among state leaders of dropping out of the competition, given the time and effort involved in bidding for the funds.” However, on Tuesday, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) “along with Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien [D] and state Education Commissioner Dwight Jones, who had led Colorado’s first-round bid for a grant – announced jointly that the state would submit a second-round bid.”
Florida School Leaders Say Merit Pay Bill Is Too Costly.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/7, Solochek, Matus) reports, “As a bill to overhaul Florida’s teaching profession flies through the Legislature, local school leaders have focused their attention on the $900 million bottom line.” Under Senate Bill 6, school districts would have to “set aside 5 percent of their total budgets to establish a teacher performance pay system,” even as “school districts run out of more than $2 billion in federal stimulus money, and as they face big bills for implementing the final phase of the multibillion-dollar class-size amendment.” Moreover, school districts have already “made historic reductions in school spending…since the summer of 2007.” Asked Pinellas School Board member Janet Clark, “If they don’t have money, where do they think we’re going to get it?” Clark added, “I think they have all lost their minds.” But Rep. John Legg (R), the bill’s sponsor, responded to complaints, saying that districts should have implemented performance pay in 1999, “when there were 14 percent budget increases,” he said.
NEA in the News
New Schools Incorporated Seeks To Establish Technical School In South Bend, Indiana.
WSBT-TV South Bend, Indiana (4/7, Paul) reports, “Leaders from New Schools Incorporated are now working on an application for it to be chartered through Ball State University.” New Schools is not seeking to partner with the South Bend Community School Corporation. ” In a letter to South Bend Superintendent James Kapsa,” Larry Davis of New Schools said “that while he supports the school corporation’s efforts to establish its own New Tech school, his company is not willing to wait.” WSBT adds that “Davis admits once the school opens its doors, it would pull dozens of students out of the district.” Jason Zook, president of the South Bend NEA chapter said of the plan, “We believe the New Tech School is a great idea, but if New Schools get the funding for those students, we have lower class sizes. … And if there are enough students gone, we could have teachers laid off.”
American Chemical Society Announces High School Chemistry Teaching Award Winner.
The Des Moines Register (4/7, Hayden) reports, “Jeffrey Hepburn, a high school chemistry teacher at Central Academy in Des Moines, likes to give his students a little ‘CPR’ in the classroom: That’s chemistry, problem solving and relevance.” According to the Register, Hepburn’s method is working. “Hepburn estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of his students start college in a chemistry-related field, and each year his students score well above the national average on the Advanced Placement chemistry examination.” Last month, the teacher was presented with the American Chemical Society’s James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching. The Register notes that Hepburn is a member of the National Education Association and that he is “a semiprofessional magician.”
Some Omaha-Area School Districts Combining Grades To Save Money.
The Omaha World-Herald (4/6, Saunders) reports that combining second and third-grade classes at Jackson Elementary School has saved money for the Omaha public school system. “This year, there are 27 multi-grade classes in the district. In the fall, 47 are planned,” as Omaha “looks to trim 44 full-time teaching positions through attrition.” The district must “make up for more than $28 million in federal stimulus funding that ends in a year.” The Omaha World Herald adds that other Omaha-area districts are using the “largely budget-driven classroom approach” of combining grade levels. NAESP President Diane Cargile “said multi-grade classes aren’t ideal from an academic standpoint because the teacher has to teach two grades at once.” But, she added that “economics around the country are making the practice more common.”
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On the Job
Poor Good Friday Attendance Prompts School Board In Florida To Consider Changing School Calendar.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/6, Catalanello) reports, “Poor student attendance on Good Friday has Hillsborough school officials rethinking next year’s calendar.” A spokesperson for the district said that “anything is possible.” Last Friday, “forty-two percent of Hillsborough students stayed away from class,” roughly “19 percent of the bus drivers were absent,” and about 1,400 teachers — 10 percent of all teachers — “called in for substitutes.” District leaders had originally “planned to collect one more year of attendance data on Good Friday, the Christian holiday commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion, before deciding whether to make it a school holiday.” However, at least one board member thinks that “last week’s numbers give the district enough secular justification to revisit the calendar without crossing lines requiring separation of church and state.”
Initiative Would Call On Underperforming Schools In Hawaii To Enact Wide-Ranging Changes.
The Honolulu Advertiser (4/5, Moreno) reported, “A plan to turn around Hawai’i’s lowest-performing schools has the potential to deliver some of the most dramatic change ever seen in the state’s public education system.” The state’s proposed Zones for School Innovation initiative would “give administrators at struggling schools extraordinary authority to change the length of the school day and year, to overhaul teaching methods, and to measure the effectiveness of teachers and financially reward those who boost student achievement.” Teachers unions and school administrators unions “have said they would support those kinds of changes.” The plan is still in the development stage, say state education officials.
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Law & Policy
States Move To Overhaul Teacher Tenure Policies.
Education Week (4/5, Sawchuk) reported, “Over the past year, a handful of states have begun to overhaul their tenure-granting processes by increasing the number of years it takes teachers to win due process rights, and by trying to improve the evaluations that are supposed to guide determinations of whether a teacher qualifies for the benchmark.” According to Education Week, “With the lone exception of Florida, the states seek to change the tenure-granting process, rather than abolish it” and the “revisions are also being coupled with movements to tie tenure to student academic achievement, reflecting an increased emphasis in national policy circles on the importance of gauging teachers’ impact on student learning.”
Healthcare Legislation Includes Funding For Abstinence-Only Sex Education.
Education Week (4/5, Robelen) reported, that “a controversial abstinence-only approach to sex education that recently saw its federal support severed is getting…a five-year lease worth $250 million” in the healthcare legislation “signed by President Barack Obama.” Education Weeks points out that “at the same time, the health-care law also provides $375 million over five years” under the Personal Responsibility Education program “to promote more-comprehensive approaches to sex education that touch on both abstinence and the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” Maureen Downey wrote in a “Get Schooled” blog for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (4/5) “Health advocates weren’t happy to learn that the sweeping federal health care package extends funding for abstinence-only education in schools, a concession by the Obama administration, which had opposed an abstinence-only approach to sex ed. The push to revive abstinence funding in the bill had been led” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R).
Education Stakeholders In Florida Debate Teacher Pay, Evaluation Legislation.
The Tampa Tribune (4/6, Whittenburg) reports, “Powerful business groups and the state teachers union collided in debate” Monday “over politically charged legislation that would make it easier to fire experienced teachers and base more of their salaries on student test scores.” Senate Bill 6 has already been approved by the Senate and is now “barreling through the House toward final passage. … The teachers union…is lambasting the plan as punishing teachers and making it harder for Florida to recruit others,” because it “comes without sufficient funding to train teachers and create new end-of-course exams required under the bill.” Meanwhile, proponents say the legislation is “a necessary means to boost teacher quality.”
WFTS-TV Tampa (4/6, Chambers) reports that under House Bill 7189, also “known as the ‘Teacher Pay’ or ‘Teacher Tenure’ bill,” teachers would receive more money “if their students’ FCAT or end-of-term test scores were good. Some argue this would make teachers with low test scores easier to fire.” The House is currently debating the bill and could vote on it this week.
Florida Today (4/5, Downs) reports that “regardless of one’s political slant, a number of bills being debated by lawmakers in Tallahassee could drastically change classrooms next year.” The measures include “a merit pay plan for teachers…a voucher system,” and more “rigorous math and science courses for secondary students.” Florida Today describes each of the measures in detail, describes the current standing of each, and lists prominent supporters and opponents of each measure.
New Mexico Governor Signs Hispanic Education Act.
Education Week (4/5, Zehr) reported that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) “has signed into law the Hispanic Education Act, which aims to close the achievement gap for Hispanic and other students. The measure, which he had proposed, creates a Hispanic advisory council and a liaison to bring recommendations on Hispanic education to the state’s secretary of education.” The New Mexico Legislature “also passed a measure that expands the states dual-credit program to include high school students in Bureau of Indian Education schools and tribal colleges in New Mexico, along with a law aimed at increasing school boards financial accountability.”
Green Schools Program Saves Eight Tennessee Schools A Total Of $44,601 In First Quarter.
The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (4/6, Toussaint) reports on “Green Schools,” a “two-year project” by the Alliance to Save Energy that “trains teams at…local schools on how to implement the energy-efficiency program.” The teams — made up of “teachers, custodial staff, administrators and students” — attend a workshop that helps them “work together to create a customized plan for teaching about energy, saving energy in school, creating school-wide energy awareness, and taking the message home and into the local community.” The alliance also provides each team “with a tool kit to perform energy audits. The kit includes light meters, infrared temperature guns and watt meters.” The News-Sentinel adds that in “the first quarter of the Green Schools program,” which began August 2009, “measures implemented at the eight schools resulted in a combined savings of $44,601 or 452,916 kilowatt-hours.”
New Jersey School Districts Planning Layoffs, Cuts To Services Due To State Budget Cuts.
New Jersey’s Star-Ledger (4/6) reports, “With New Jersey school districts planning layoffs and sweeping cuts to services, school budget elections are the talk of most towns as the April 20 vote nears.” According to Gov. Chris Christie (R), education funding cuts “are necessary to help clean up the state’s historic budget mess.” He is asking districts to renegotiate “teacher contracts, which call for raises of more than 4 percent.” The Star-Ledger provides details on Christie’s plan for education cuts and a search tool to look up the amount of state aid individual districts received this year and are set to receive next year.
New Jersey’s Record (4/6, Brody) reports that “Educators, taxpayers and students took to a forum at Paramus High School” in Paramus, New Jersey, “Monday night to protest cuts in state aid that they contend will devastate the quality of their schools.” The governor’s “proposed budget for fiscal 2011 slashes state aid to schools by $819 million, with some districts losing as much as 5 percent of their entire budget.” The forum was held “in part because” the Paramus school district, “which is losing 99.8 percent of its state aid — $3.5 million — is a ‘poster child’ for the harsh impact of the cuts,” said Superintendent James Montesano. “The district faces the loss of 18 teaching positions and 18 support staff.”
Education Department Awards Foreign Language Grants To Two Iowa Districts.
The AP (4/6) reports that the “U.S. Department of Education has awarded $517,078 in grants to two Iowa school districts,” according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Grassley said that “the money is coming from the Education Department’s foreign language assistance program.” One grant of $214,102 will be given to the Bondurant Farrar Community School District “for a project offering international courses to elementary students.” Mid-Prairie Community Schools in Wellman “will receive $149,538 for a project that teaches students about China and its language, and $153,438 for a project that teaches Spanish culture and language.”
Los Angeles Unified Is Denied $20 Million Matching Funds For School Construction Project.
School Construction Project The Los Angeles Times (4/6, Vives) reports that “a tenacious group of Maywood activists” hoping to “block construction of a high school” in the Los Angeles Unified School District “has managed to hit the Los Angeles Unified School District where it hurts — in the wallet.” As a result of the group’s efforts including “organizing hundreds of families who would have to vacate their homes and apartments to make way for the proposed school,” the school system was recently denied “$20 million in state matching funds” for the construction project. The Times explains that construction of the $141 million high school “would require the demolition of 10 single-family homes and 29 multifamily homes and apartment buildings,” displacing “more than 100 families.”
Also in the News
Celebrity Chef Helps Reform Lunch In New York City Public Schools .
In a story about the surge in celebrity chefs promoting nutritious eating, the AP (4/6, Hirsch) reports that television chef Rachel Ray “is working to reform school lunch.” She “designs healthy recipes for the New York City school lunch program and started the Yum-o! charity, which raises money to teach kids healthy eating.” Ray said of the effort, ‘Everything has to change — access to food, attitudes, education.”
Howard Law School Dean Touts Program That Teaches Younger Students Higher-Level Math Concepts.
Kurt L. Schmoke, “the former mayor of Baltimore and dean of the Howard Law School,” writes in an opinion piece for the Baltimore Sun (4/6, Schmoke) that “across the country, the gap in minority student performance — especially in math and science — is wide, and the percentage of minority students is growing.” Therefore, he adds, “the quality of America’s future work force — and the ability of the United States to compete globally — depends on educating all students.” In order to close the gap, Schnoke asserts, we must motivate “all students to learn advanced mathematical concepts and sciences, as well as reading and writing.” Schmoke points to a Baltimore County Public Schools program called Project SEED that brings “trained mathematicians to teach higher-level mathematics to primarily urban elementary students.” According to Schmoke, the program’s methods are effective. He concludes, “Other school systems and philanthropic groups should learn from this model.”
Educator Says Parent Involvement, Support Is Essential To Students’ Academic Success.
Karen Spencer, a “speech/communication and education” instructor at Arizona Western College, writes in the Yuma (AZ) Sun (4/6) “Family Focus” column, “Recently, students in my education classes at Arizona Western College have been involved in surveying teachers in our public schools and asking them about some challenges they face in the classroom.” They asked teachers “to talk about challenges with parent involvement.” Many teachers say that overall, “there is a lack of parental support.” Spencer notes that “a research project titled “A New Wave of Evidence” reminds us” that “family involvement improves student success, regardless of race/ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education.” According to Spencer parents must “step up to the plate, take on their responsibility and become involved and supportive of their child’s education.”
Elementary School Loans Students iPods To Use For Math Practice.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/5, Perez) reports that in an effort “to help students who scored below grade level on the math portion of the FCAT last year,” High Point Elementary School in Clearwater, Florida, “decided to experiment with the iPod Touch.” High Point is “the only elementary school” in Pinellas County “where students are using the iPod Touch.” It “spent $8,000 on [the] effort, using money normally devoted to paying teachers a reduced hourly wage for after-school teaching. … Students get a fully loaded iPod — so far teachers have handpicked 84 applications — on Monday and return the devices on Friday.” Parents agree to supervise their children’s activity and verify that the students use the devices for at least a half-hour per day. The St. Petersburg Times notes that use of “the iPod Touch and similar hand-held devices in classrooms has become popular around the country.”
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In the Classroom
School Board In California Adopts Middle School Language Program Funded By China.
The Los Angeles Times (4/4, Ni) reported that “a proposal to bring more resources to his school’s Chinese program has sparked heated debate over whether the Chinese government…should have a role in helping American schoolchildren learn.” The Hacienda La Puente Unified School District board in January “voted 4 to 1 to adopt a new Chinese language and culture class at Cedarlane next fall.” Instead of the district funding the program, it “is paid for by the Chinese government’s Chinese Language Council International, also known as Hanban.” Former Hacienda superintendent John Kraer called the program “a propaganda machine” and said that it “has no place anywhere in the United States.” But “supporters insist the concerns are unwarranted.”
Law & Policy
Race To The Top Awards Favored Plans Supported By Unions.
The Washington Post (4/3, Anderson) reported, “Delaware’s surprising first-place finish in a fierce battle for federal school-reform dollars highlights a tension in President Obama’s education agenda: He favors big change, but he also prizes peace with the labor unions that sometimes resist his goals.” The announcement that Delaware “had won about $100 million highlighted that all of the state’s teachers unions backed the plan for tougher teacher evaluations linked to student achievement.” Delaware State Education Association President Diane Donohue said, “No one’s naïve. … This is going to be very challenging work. Absolutely, we’re taking a risk.” She noted, however, that “union leaders accepted the terms because they were guaranteed a voice in implementation and feared the consequences of not participating.” The Washington Post (4/3) editorialized that both states chosen to receive grants in the first round of the federal Race to the Top competition “have solid, comprehensive plans to reform education. But other states with even more ambitious plans lost out, at least partly because they couldn’t get unions and other stakeholders to support their goals.”
Teachers Unions In Delaware Prefer “Transformation” Of Underperforming Schools. Delaware’s News Journal (4/5, Dobo) reports that “for more than a decade, Delaware has tinkered with its public education system,” but now, “the tinkering is over.” Underperforming schools face “radical changes,” the News Journal adds, noting that “for the first time, the people funding Delaware’s reform agenda have a track record of removing teachers in the quest to improve schools.” Diane Donohue, president of the Delaware State Education Association, said that the union prefers “transformation” of schools to mass firings of teachers. Said Donohue, “I don’t believe that anyone in Delaware wants to fire everyone in a building and start from scratch.” Under the state’s education measures, “school districts with at least nine schools that are deemed chronically troubled will not be able to exclusively use the ‘transformation model.'” Instead, “these districts must select one of the three remaining options for at least half of the failing schools.”
Many Future Educators Unclear About Details Of Florida’s Teacher Pay, Tenure Legislation.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/5, Matus) reports that “if it becomes law,” Florida Senate Bill 6 “will change how all of Florida’s 170,000 teachers are paid, evaluated, contracted and certified.” Teachers largely object to the legislation, but “whether it will attract or repel new teachers is a huge question in a state that often needs 20,000 new teachers a year.” According to the St. Petersburg Times, many “up-and-coming teachers are left to wrestle with” the uncertainty of “many vital details,” although some “like parts of the bill that could weed out bad educators.” Under SB 6, teachers would be paid based mainly on “standardized test scores,” which “critics say…is enough to drive talented people away.”
Proposed Legislation Would Eliminate Health Insurance Subsidy For Retired Florida Employees. The St. Petersburg Times (4/5, Solochek) reports that “an assortment of bills moving through the Florida Legislature have” teachers hoping to retire soon “worried that their golden years won’t have much luster.” Last week, for instance, House Bill 5701, which would eliminate “a health insurance subsidy for retired state employees, failed narrowly on the floor, only to be revived by leadership in order to get a squeaker vote in favor.” Similar “proposals have people scared and looking for a way out,” the St. Petersburg Times adds.
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Donors Contribute $261 To Nevada’s Supplemental Pay Fund For Teachers.
The Las Vegas Sun (4/5, Ryan) reports that Nevada’s Education Gift Certificate program, intended to “supplement [teachers’] pay with voluntary donations,” has received a total of $261 in donations as of last Friday. Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) announced the program during his State of the State address on Feb. 8. According to state Superintendent Keith Rheault, “state officials’ plan was to distribute the donated money to teachers by the end of the year.” But the $261 would be leave each of “the state’s estimated 30,000 teachers” with “less than one cent.” The donations are now “being held in a trust fund and will remain there ‘until we get enough to do something,'” Rheault said.
House, Senate Urged To Pass Child Nutrition Bills.
The New York Times (4/5, A18) editorializes, “It is probably too much to hope that the more than 30 million school lunches served every day will taste absolutely fabulous,” yet “Congress should at least make certain that whatever lands on those cafeteria trays is nutritious and safe to eat. Every day it delays doing so is another mealtime when millions of students are cheated of programs that could help relieve hunger and reduce obesity.” According to the Times, “A reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is now before the Senate” and the bill “deserves prompt approval,” and the House should “produce its own version.”
Oregonian: Oregon’s Race To The Top Application Is A “Red Flag” For Parents, Employers.
The Oregonian (4/4) editorialized that “by applying for federal money under President Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ schools fund, Oregon accidentally outed itself as a state ambling toward the bottom.” And, even though the Oregon Education Association “signed onto the…application,” it did so “with no measurable enthusiasm.” According to the Oregonian, the state’s “public failure is a red flag for parents…about the quality of their children’s education and for employers concerned about the strength of the local hiring pool.” It points out, however, that the “lack of boldness and urgency is true only at the state level. Many districts and individual schools in Oregon have shown signs of true innovation.”
Safety & Security
States Moving To Address School Bullying Issue.
CBS News (4/4, Solorzano) reported on its Web site, “Three teenagers are expected to appear in a Massachusetts court Tuesday to face bullying charges connected to the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince” and six “other students also face charges in the case.” The US Department of Education “reports that 25 percent of American students say they were bullied at least once a day. States have tried to address the issue by mandating their school districts adopt anti-bullying initiatives.”
New Jersey School Districts Brace For Budget Cuts.
The New York Times (4/3, Hu) reported that Montclair, Westfield, Cresskill and other public school districts in New Jersey “have long attracted families because they offer some of the best public education in the state. But now many of these top school systems are preparing to reduce the academic and extracurricular opportunities that have long set them apart.” Gov. Christopher J. Christie (R), “striving to close a budget deficit that he says is about $11 billion, has proposed reducing direct aid to nearly 600 districts by an amount equal to as much as 5 percent of their operating budgets.”
Mistake In Tracking Special Education Expenses Resulted In Deficit For Rhode Island District.
The Providence Journal (4/5, Pina) reports that East Providence “school officials failed to track the expenses of up to 20 out-of-district special-education students, and the mistake created a deficit for the last fiscal year.” District officials will know “by the end of this week or next” how large the deficit is. “In fiscal year 2008, the district spent $7.9 million on out-of-district costs. Officials budgeted $8.1 million for fiscal year 2009, but undercounted the number of students to be served by up to 20 students.” The Journal notes that “district officials found the error while doing routine forecasting for the coming year’s budget.” According to some school officials, “part of the problem was the large turnover of administrators over the last two years.”
NEA in the News
New Jersey Education Association, Governor Clash Over School Aid, Teacher Compensation.
Over New Jersey’s Star-Ledger (4/5, Sherman) reports that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is “looking to cut school aid, public pension benefits and teacher salaries” and “has pushed the union and its members to accept a pay freeze” as the state deals with a growing budget shortfall. “For its part, the union says” that Christie “is trying to demonize it in an effort to push through an agenda by executive fiat, and it accuses Christie of trading the future of the state’s children in exchange for tax cuts for the rich.” The Star-Ledger presents the conflict between the governor and the NJEA as a battle and notes that the NEA state affiliate “is a voice to be reckoned with, from Trenton to Washington.”
Minnesota Governor Blames Education Minnesota For State’s Failed Race To The Top Bid.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune (4/4, Johns, Draper) reported that “when the Obama administration recently rejected Minnesota’s application for up to $250 million in ‘Race to the Top’ stimulus dollars for schools, it cited the state’s inability to dump bad teachers, to place the best teachers where they’re most needed, or to find faster ways to get teachers into the classroom.” Reviewers from U.S. Department of Education say that the state’s “system meant to produce and support good educators is broken and that the state may lack the political fortitude to fix it.” However, “Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R) office blames” NEA affiliate Education Minnesota “for preventing the kind of reform favored by the Obama administration.” Meanwhile, Education Minnesota contends that the governor “and the Minnesota Department of Education are unwilling to listen to teachers about what’s needed: Putting more teachers in schools to reduce class sizes, extending the school day or school year where necessary, and finding ways to recruit new teachers, especially teachers of color.”
Superintendent Defends School’s Response To Bullying In Wake Of Student’s Suicide.
The AP (4/1) reported, “A Massachusetts school superintendent is defending his administration’s handling of bullying that prosecutors say contributed to a 15-year-old girl’s suicide. South Hadley [MA] Superintendent Gus Sayer said Wednesday that high school officials disciplined students heard to insult and harass Phoebe Prince.” However, Sayer “says the faculty didn’t know the extent of the bullying until a week before Prince hanged herself on Jan. 14,” yet his “comments contradict the allegations of District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, who said school officials knew about the harassment but did little to intervene.”
The Christian Science Monitor (4/2, Khadaroo) reports, “The Phoebe Prince case is shaping up to be this generation’s Columbine moment for school bullying. Criminal charges are being filed against nine Massachusetts teenagers accused of harassing the 15-year-old Irish immigrant to the point that she committed suicide.” According to the Monitor, the “case should prompt more communities to develop a comprehensive range of preventive measures and consequences – from encouraging bystanders to come forward to training adults how to respond, experts say.” The New York Times (4/2, A1, Eckholm, Zezima) also covers the story on its front page.
Districts Urged To Ramp Up Anti-Bullying Efforts. The Austin American Statesman (4/2) editorializes, “This week, nine students at South Hadley High School in western Massachusetts were charged with felonies in what prosecutors say were nonstop bullying episodes that led” student Phoebe Prince “to take her own life, The New York Times reported. … It is not yet clear why she was targeted, but some students believe it had to do with being different.” The Statesman adds that “given the tragedies that seem to have been triggered by bullying and its spread by text messages and the Internet, school districts need to ramp up” their anti-bullying efforts and districts “should not wait for a tragedy or lawsuit” to spur them into action.
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In the Classroom
Two California Districts Grapple With Pervasive Errors In Elementary Math Textbooks.
The Sacramento Bee (4/2, Lambert) reports on several of the “errors in the Macmillan/McGraw-Hill math series that two area school districts — Sacramento City Unified and Folsom Cordova — started using this year in kindergarten through sixth-grade classrooms.” They include “lesson plans that don’t connect to homework assignments; tests that don’t match textbook lessons; student texts that don’t parallel teachers’ books; and mistakes in the answer keys.” Educators say that mistakes in textbooks are not uncommon. But, Folsom Cordova Assistant Superintendent Janie DeArcoss said that the mistakes in the “Macmillan/McGraw-Hill series are unusually pervasive.” In fact, “some teachers have students looking for the bloopers as a learning exercise.” So far, “the fourth grade has documented 90 errors in its textbook and related materials.” The publisher has visited both school districts recently and plans to “submit a proposal on how to resolve the issues.”
School Board Considers Increasing Middle, High School Teachers’ Instruction Periods.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/2, Solochek) reports the Pasco County, Florida, school board is considering “having all middle and high school teachers instruct six periods a day instead of five,” a move that could save the district $12 million. Board members have acknowledged that the move also would “upset teachers and parents.” But over the past two years, “the board has worked hard…to keep the cuts out of the classroom,” and now “has few other places to look,” board member Frank Parker pointed out at a budget workshop on Thursday. Other possibilities for saving money discussed at the meeting included “furloughs, reductions in paid benefits,” and “elimination of courtesy bus rides.”
Arizona Middle School’s Curriculum Redesign Emphasizes College Readiness.
The Arizona Republic (4/2, Yara) reports that “as part of a redesign aimed at emphasizing academic rigor and the importance of going to college,” Fees Middle School will get a new name and a new curriculum next year. “Fees College Preparatory Middle School will resemble the current format, but include expanded honors classes and an honors team for the school’s highest achievers.” Also, “Students who qualify for at least one honors course may apply to join a new honors team starting with the 2011-12 school year.” The team will attend “quarterly field trips and have additional requirements, including taking a fine-arts elective each year.”
On the Job
School Districts Still Struggle With Integration Issues.
Education Week (4/1, Aarons) reported, “More than a half-century after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered schools desegregated, districts are still grappling with how best to create the kind of demographically diverse public schools that many experts believe improve outcomes for disadvantaged students. The recent decision by a North Carolina district to move from a nationally recognized student-assignment policy that promoted socioeconomic diversity to one centered around community-based schools has alarmed advocates of greater integration in the schools.” However, according to Education Week, “school district leaders elsewhere, including in San Francisco and Kentucky, continue to work on crafting student-assignment plans that allow them to make demographic diversity a priority.”
North Carolina Democratic Party Enters School Diversity Fray. The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer (4/2, Goldsmith) reports that the North Carolina “Democratic Party is looking for volunteers to donate 10,000 hours to the fight over remaking Wake County schools. The party today announced that officials are looking for commitments from North Carolinians for volunteer for ‘phone banking and canvassing to elect county and state officials who will hold true to diversity policies.'” According to the News & Observer, “School board members recently voted to end Wake County’s policy of busing and other means to ensure socio-economic diversity in the schools and are working on a community-based assignment plan.”
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Law & Policy
Florida Education Commissioner Says Teacher Merit Pay Bill Needed To Win Race To The Top.
The St. Petersburg Times (4/2, Solochek) reports that according to Florida education commissioner Eric J. Smith, “the problem with Florida’s Race to the Top application was not too little teacher support,” but “the lack of law tying student achievement to teacher evaluation and compensation.” Smith told the St. Petersburg Times, “Tennessee and Delaware have in place statutes that are very similar to Senate Bill 6. … If we’re able to have legislation for this to be implemented statewide, it strengthens the application.” He also pointed out that Race To The Top is about “connecting student achievement to evaluations and compensation.” The St. Petersburg Times adds that “a careful review of the score sheets from the US Department of Education for Florida and the two winning states confirmed his viewpoint.”
Florida Bill Would Require Middle, High Schools To Teach About “Unhealthy” Relationships. The Miami Herald (4/2, Silva) reports, “Spurred by…tales of violent teenage relationships, Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would require public schools to teach about unhealthy romances in health class.” The bills would require that seventh-through twelfth graders learn “the warning signs of abusive behavior, what are healthy relationships and who to contact if they or someone they know is an abuse victim.” The legislation has already been approved by the House, and “a Senate education committee is expected to hear the bill soon.”
Teachers In Hawaii Approve Framework For Ending Furlough Fridays.
The AP (4/1) reported that on Wednesday, teachers in Hawaii approved a “new supplemental labor contract with 84 percent of the vote, putting pressure on Hawaii’s elected leaders to pay for the $92 million deal.” The contract would end the 17 days of furloughs currently on the school calendar “to resume a full 180-day school year.” In addition, “the deal between the teachers union and the Board of Education would restore more than half of the 8 percent pay cut teachers accepted when they ratified a contract in October calling for the furlough days.” The vote does not “reopen schools immediately,” but “it sets a framework for how school furlough days could end.”
Alabama Lawmaker Says Teacher Sacrifice Is Necessary To Avoid Layoffs.
Alabama state Rep. Alan Harper (D) writes in an opinion piece for the Northport (AL) Gazette (4/2) reports that the House passed an “austere” education budget this week that reflects “the tough times we live in. The budget focuses on protecting the classroom as much as possible, and does something that other states have not been able to do: prevent teacher layoffs,” he adds. Because the state has “lost more than 2000 teachers” in two years, Harper says, “Crafting a budget that saves teacher jobs is important for teaching and learning, and an important step in getting our entire state economy going again.” Nevertheless, he warns that “teachers will have to continue to sacrifice,” as “classroom supplies have been eliminated” and “they will have to pay higher” healthcare “premiums as costs continue to go up. This is the price to pay for saving teaching jobs,” Harper notes, concluding that a better economy may be “around the corner.”
Oregon Nears Target For Percent Of Special-Education Students With Regular Diplomas.
The Salem (OR) Statesman Journal (4/2, Ryan) reports that “more special-education students in Salem-Keizer School District are graduating high school with a regular diploma, according to a state report released Wednesday.” The state’s report card said that, “nearly 66 percent of students with individual education plans graduated with a regular diploma last school year,” up from 63 percent last year. The state target is 68.1 percent. “The report also said Salem-Keizer had 6.1 percent of special-education students drop out last year. The state target is 6 percent.”
Safety & Security
Philadelphia Officials Say Holding Classes On Election Day May Jeopardize Students’ Safety.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/2, Graham) reports, “Philadelphia city commissioners Wednesday publicly emphasized their fear that children’s safety could be jeopardized if school is held on the day of next month’s primary election.” May 18 was originally scheduled as “a day off for Philadelphia School District students,” however, “a rash of snow days forced the district” to add the day to the instructional calendar. District spokeswoman Evelyn Sample-Oates has assured the commissioners “that extra staff would be on hand at schools to keep an eye on safety, and that officials are mapping safety plans for each of the 200 schools that will host polling places.” Also, in response to commissioners’ concern that “principals would move machines, confusing voters and thwarting access for some handicapped voters,” Sample-Oates said that “the district will work closely with principals and vice principals to communicate that machines must not be moved.”
Also in the News
School Boards Debating Whether To Update Planetariums.
The Washington Post (4/2, Chandler) reports, “More than 500 planetariums were built in the heat of the space race, many of them proud additions to public schools made possible by federal funding. Today, school boards across the country are debating whether the costs of maintaining or updating the aging domes are worth it.” Some believe other, “newer” fields than space will inspire future students. “But many scientists and planetarium directors reject the notion that the study of space, a field that dates to ancient civilizations, could lose its currency or power to motivate. They say planetarium technology does not need to be on par with “Avatar” to wow students.” The article notes that outside funding from places like citizens groups are helping keep planetariums open. For instance, the “Howard B. Owens Science Center…is partnering with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to develop a program on a NASA mission to Pluto.”
NEA in the News
Alabama Lawmakers Propose Caps For Prepaid College Tuition Program Participants.
Inside Higher Ed (4/2, Stripling) reports that many parents have invested in “prepaid tuition plans” over the years, assuming “that paying into plans ‘guaranteed’ their children would receive a college education, and they’re none too happy to hear state officials now say that investment losses and skyrocketing tuition increases have put the plans on a path toward insolvency.” Now, an advocacy group in Alabama called Save Alabama PACT is pressuring state lawmakers to make good on “the state’s repeated assurances that the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition (PACT) program constituted a ‘guarantee.'” For their part, House and Senate members “have proposed legislation that would cover prepaid participants” and cap “tuition increases for” them. According to “Save Alabama PACT and the Alabama Education Association…the caps are necessary to deliver on the program’s promise, but universities have opposed the caps and argued that the tuition limits would force them to hike tuition even more on non-PACT students.”
California Lawmaker Hosts Summit On Race To The Top.
The Fontana (CA) Herald-News (4/2, Cano) reports that “in an attempt to improve educational achievement, Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto) hosted an education summit which focused on the federal Race to the Top initiative.” Panelists, including “Greg Johnson from the National Education Association,” discussed “the benefits and weaknesses of the $4.35-billion grant program proposed by the Obama Administration in its attempt to support states which have already adopted critical reform measures.”
Education Department Announces New Categories For Civil Rights Data.
Education Week (3/31) reports that “The U.S. Department of Education has announced that, for the 2009-10 school year, districts will have to collect data in several new categories that relate to students’ civil rights.” Schools will need to show student participation by race and gender in programs such as “advanced Placement courses, ACT and SAT college-admissions tests, math and science courses, International Baccalaureate programs, and General Educational Development (GED) programs.” Also, in order to receive “federal funds, districts must…disaggregate data on student retention; harassment and bullying; and restraint and seclusion.”
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In the Classroom
Actor Says First Six Months As A Teacher Has Been Harder Than Imagined.
The Los Angeles Times (3/31, Graham) reports from Philadelphia that “With the blessing of city and Philadelphia School District officials,” actor Tony Danza “became a first-year English teacher at Northeast High School and the star of an A&E reality show called ‘Teach.'” Now, after six months on the job, Danza said recently that he enjoys what he does, but that it is “tougher than he ever imagined, and sometimes he wonders if he’s done the right thing.” During “his first week in the classroom,” Danza said that “he cried three times” and was corrected by a student during a lecture when he “didn’t get his facts quite right.” At the end of the week, Danza “felt like calling every teacher he’d ever had and apologizing because he just didn’t get how difficult their jobs were.” Danza noted about his experience, “Sometimes you work your butt off, and it doesn’t pay off. … There should be some pride in what you did.”
On the Job
Push For Healthier School Lunches Gaining Momentum.
The New York Times (3/31, D2, Severson) reports, “Friday night, more than seven million viewers watched the premiere of ‘Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,’ an ABC reality series in which the British chef storms the kitchens of Huntington, W.Va., to improve the town’s collective diet. That only the N.C.A.A. Division I men’s basketball tournament pulled in more viewers signals that the nation has an appetite for the kind of wholesale food reform Mr. Oliver is pushing.” Also, a Senate committee “on March 24 cut by more than half a proposal by President Obama to spend a record $10 billion more on child nutrition programs over 10 years, including school food,” though stakeholders “who have been working with the Agriculture Department and Congress to improve school food say the bill’s $4.5-billion increase is an historic improvement.”
LATimes: Decision To Shorten School Year In Los Angeles Best Of Bad Options.
The Los Angeles Times (3/31) editorializes, “We never thought we’d praise a shortened school year,” yet “the agreement reached over the weekend by Los Angeles school administrators and union leaders to trim the school calendar by about a week this year and next was the best choice from a range of terrible options.” The Los Angeles Unified School District “is running out of acceptable ways to cut costs,” and the “new agreement allows it to retain close to 2,000 teachers as well as many counselors, nurses and librarians who were slated for layoffs. Better to have five fewer days of instruction than weeks of classrooms so crowded that no one can keep track of students, or teachers so overworked that they refrain from assigning homework because they won’t have time to grade it.”
Law & Policy
Washington Governor Signs Education Reform Bills.
The AP (3/30, Woodward) reported that Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) “returned to her hometown high school Monday to sign into law a package of education bills, including a plan that could help the state compete for a slice of the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program. Other measures significantly increase the state’s spending on public education, allow local officials to ask voters for more property tax money, and set up a new early learning program for preschool children.” According to the AP, “After the bill-signing ceremony at Auburn [WA] High School, Gregoire praised the state for not giving up on improving public education — even though a severe fiscal downturn has crimped spending on many government programs.”
Teachers, Students, Parents In Florida Campaign Against Teacher Policies.
The St. Petersburg Times (3/31, Logan, Silva) reports that “teachers, parents and even some students” throughout Florida “are flooding the Legislature with e-mails and phone calls” to protest SB 6, “legislation that would make it easier to fire teachers and base part of their salaries on test scores.” Last week, Gov. Charlie Crist’s “office received 700 calls on the issue.” And the campaign even has “a Facebook page called ‘Stop Senate Bill 6,’ which has almost 17,000 supporters. Visitors can find information on a dozen upcoming rallies across the state, as well as legislators’ contact information.” The St. Petersburg Times credits the Florida Education Association for spurring most of the effort.
Texas Caucus To Hold Hearing On Proposed Social Studies Curriculum Changes.
The San Antonio Express-News (3/31, Scharrer) reports that Texas Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D), chairman of Texas’ Mexican American Legislative Caucus, on Tuesday announced “a hearing on the state’s proposed social studies curriculum standards.” Martinez’s caucus “will bring academic experts to the state Capitol on April 28 in an attempt to ‘repair what undoubtedly will be a very broken history book for millions of Texas public school children,'” he said.
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Expert Says Milwaukee Schools Have Improved Early Identification Of Students’ Special Needs.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/31, Richards) reports that “An independent expert who’s tracking the progress the state Department of Public Instruction and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) are making on improving educational services for” students with special needs “says a ‘much higher level of effort’ is needed for both entities to be in compliance with court orders.” The expert, Alan Coulter, noted some progress “in the areas of identifying children early for special education services, and improving reading and math curriculum to help all kids succeed in MPS.” He also noted, however, that MPS “has failed to produce critical documentation of what it’s doing.”
Some Schools Opt For Exposed Green Systems To Help Students Learn The Technology.
Oregon’s Daily Journal of Commerce (3/31, Weinstein) reports, “Valley View Middle School in Snohomish, Washington, is being designed with many of its green building systems exposed to encourage students to learn about the building they attend class at everyday.” Scott Rose of the “DLR Group working on the new Petersen Elementary School in Scappoose” is working with teachers to introduce the school’s “sustainable building functions into classes such as math and science.” The Daily Journal of Commerce notes that “More architects nowadays are choosing to open students’ eyes to green design by designing new school buildings with solar arrays, storm-water drainage systems and other sustainable building features exposed intentionally.” Said Rose, “If nothing else, we want to use this building as a teaching tool. … If they can look at an exposed cistern with color-coded pipe showing how the rainwater is being recycled into the bathrooms, they will make the connections.”
All Public Schools In Delaware Will Get A Piece Of State’s Race To The Top Grant.
The Wilmington (DE) News Journal (3/31, Dobo) reports, “Every state public school will get a piece of the $100 million headed to Delaware in the next four years as part of a new federal reform program.” Every school system “and charter school will work with the state to write a plan that must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.” After approval, “the money will be divvied up based on an existing federal funding formula.” Meanwhile, the state will try to convince the Department of Education next week “to increase its grant to $107 million — the amount Delaware requested in its Race to the Top application.”
New York Governor Delays $2.1 Billion In School Aid, Citing Budget Shortfall.
The New York Times (3/31, Confessore) reports that New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D) “ordered the delay of $2.1 billion in aid payments to local school districts on Tuesday, saying the state did not have enough cash to pay bills and still end the fiscal year with its budget balanced.” Paterson “made the announcement after he and the Legislature failed to agree on a budget deal for the fiscal year that begins on Thursday, a deal that was expected to include provisions to cover the state’s cash crunch for the fiscal year that is ending. … Paterson took similar action in December, delaying $750 million in payments to schools and local governments and drawing a legal challenge from teachers unions and school officials, who argued that he lacked the legal authority to do so.”
Also in the News
Philadelphia School Cafeteria Doubled As Nightclub.
The New York Times (3/31, Urbina) reports, “Books by day, beers by night – at least that is what school district officials in Philadelphia say was offered at a charter school there, where they say the school’s cafeteria was used weekends as a nightclub. Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the school district, said his office was investigating whether the school, the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School itself rented the cafeteria to the bar, known as Club Damani, or if the landlord did so.” According to the Times, “The school is home to roughly 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade” and the “presence of the nightclub in the school building drew strong criticism.”
The AP (3/31) adds that Philadelphia Controller Alan Butkovitz “says his office has found questionable spending at the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School. Butkovitz announced his findings Tuesday following reports that Harambee operates in the same building as Club Damani.” According to the AP, “Authorities say the club served alcohol despite an expired liquor license.”
NEA in the News
Van Roekel Questions Legality Of Mass Firings At High School In Georgia.
Georgia Public Broadcasting (3/31, Montoya) reports on its website that NEA President Dennis van Roekel “believes the mass firing last week at Beach High School” in Chatham County, Georgia, “was against the law because it violated a system of evaluating teachers individually.” Said van Roekel, “We believe that they need to follow the law of the land, of the state, with due process.” Still, van Roekel said that he would prefer not going to court over the matter, noting, “I would much rather see them come to the table and say, ‘It’s up to us, the adults in this system, to devise a plan to make it right for students.'”
Teacher Surveys Provide Data Points For Education Policymakers.
Education Week (3/31, Sawchuk) reports, “Perhaps at no other time in the history of American education has there been more publicly available information about what teachers think about their profession, their students, and the conditions under which they work.” Surveys of teachers conducted in recent months “are generating new data points upon which” policymakers can draw. For instance, the NEA “and its independent foundation are using school-climate surveys to help tailor their initiatives to close achievement gaps in low-income schools and communities.” Also, the Gates Foundation “is also administering the New Teacher Center’s school survey” to study “the attributes of effective teachers.”
Delaware, Tennessee Win First Round Of Race To The Top.
The Washington Post (3/30, Anderson, Turque) reports, “Delaware and Tennessee won the first shares of President Obama’s $4 billion fund for education innovation and reform while the District of Columbia came in last among 16 finalists, federal officials announced Monday. Education Secretary Arne Duncan picked the winners after judges in the Race to the Top competition gave tiny Delaware the highest ranking, with Tennessee close behind. Delaware won as much as $107 million and Tennessee could get $502 million.” According to the Post, “In a conference call with reporters, Duncan acknowledged that the small winner’s circle was designed as an incentive for other states to continue revamping their education policies.”
USA Today (3/30, Toppo) reports, “In a move that could push educators nationwide to try new – and sometimes untested – school reforms, Delaware and Tennessee won a cash windfall Monday from the Obama administration by dumping limits on charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores and taking drastic measures to turn around persistently struggling schools. Saying the two had agreed to reforms that were ‘touching every single child’ in their schools, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that the pair would share about $600 million this spring.” USA Today adds, “Speaking to reporters Monday, Duncan said Round II would feature as many as 15 states, which will be announced in September.”
The New York Times (3/30, Dillon) reports, “Delaware and Tennessee beat out 38 other states and the District of Columbia to win a share of $4 billion in federal education grants, convincing the Obama administration that they have bold plans for overhauling their public school systems. … Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the two states had won because they had written new laws to support their policies and had marshaled overwhelming statewide support from teachers, school districts and business leaders for comprehensive school improvement plans.” The New York Times (3/30, Medina), the AP (3/30, Turner), the Christian Science Monitor (3/30, Paulson), and Education Week (3/31, McNeil, Maxwell) also cover the story. Several newspapers also reported on their states’ losses. They include the St. Petersburg Times (3/30, Matus, Solochek), the Denver Post (3/30, Meyer), the AP (3/30, Robertson) reporting on North Carolina, and North Carolina’s News & Observer (3/30, Bonner).
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In the Classroom
Math Software Program Incorporates Social Networking Tools.
Scripps Howard News Service (3/30, Shah) reports that the Minnetonka, Minnesota, school district “is one of the nation’s first…to try Planet Turtle, a new educational software program designed to drill kids on early math skills.” The program requires that students use “social-media-type tools — forcing [them] to interact — rather than” work “alone with paper-and-pencil worksheets.” Scripps notes that “the pilot program signals a major shift in school leaders’ attitudes toward social networking in schools.”
Students Research, Write From Perspective Of Historical Figures.
New Jersey’s Courier News (3/30, Sroka-Holzmann) reports that last week, “140 Village Elementary School third graders…portrayed people they felt have made a positive impact in the world” in a “project, titled, ‘Biography Pen pals.'” For the project, students chose “a historical figure and” researched “that person’s childhood, middle years, later years, education, accomplishments and the time period in which they lived.” For “the second phase of the project, teachers partnered the students with their peers to write anonymous letters in a ‘pen pal’ fashion.” Students wrote to each other “from the perspective of the historic person they were researching as if they were living in the era the person lived.”
New Jersey District Focuses On Building English Language Skills Of Haitian Students.
New Jersey’s Courier News (3/30, Russell) reports that eight Haitian students currently “attend classes at Linden High School after relocating to the city” after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Throughout the Linden public school district, “a total of 27 Haitian students have been taken in.” The students’ placement “is geared to allow them to catch up with their English language skills,” district officials say. “The district offers five levels of English as a Second Language classes,” and “ESL teachers work with them in content classes such as social studies, language arts and math.”
Oregon Schools Raising Graduation Requirements.
The Oregonian (3/30, Hammond) reports that public schools in Oregon “are gradually raising the requirements for what it takes to earn a high school diploma.” New requirements include passing ‘three years of high school math, one more year than in the past,” and passing the state math test. “Students will be able to retake the test three times a year until they pass, and they also will have the option of demonstrating their reading proficiency on a local performance task instead of the state standardized test.” Educators say that “once students understand their diploma hinges on passing the test, they’ll try a lot harder and passing rates will shoot up.”
High Number Of Absences Reported On Snow Make-Up Day During Week Of Spring Break.
North Carolina’s News & Observer (3/30, Ehlers) reports, “Snow in February may have technically robbed them of a vacation day this week, but thousands of Wake County school students and their families still treated Monday like the first day of spring break.” On Monday, 30,439 of the district’s 140,689 students were reported absent, compared to 9,728 absences on “March 22, a week earlier.” Some schools, such as West Cary middle, anticipated a high number of absences on what would have been the first day of spring break. “Monday was set aside as” a day for “seventh-grade social studies students at West Cary” to catch up on missed assignments. Those who were caught up “watched a movie about China.”
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On the Job
Los Angeles Students May Lose Permits To Attend Non-Zoned Schools.
The Los Angeles Times (3/29, Rivera) reported, “Parents touring Richard Henry Dana Middle School in Hawthorne were impressed last week with descriptions of its history, science and arts programs, intrigued by a class conducting DNA experiments and pleased with the cleanliness of the campus. But one issue dominated: Will my child get a permit from the LAUSD to attend Dana?” This question is “on the minds of thousands of parents in the wake of a decision by Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines to greatly limit permits that currently allow more than 12,200 students who live in the district to attend schools elsewhere.”
Law & Policy
Duncan Outlines NCLB Overhaul Priorities.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan writes in an op-ed for USA Today (3/30), “As my staff and I traveled to all 50 states on our Listening and Learning tour, we heard one thing loud and clear: No Child Left Behind isn’t working for our students and teachers. We need to be more flexible with high performing schools, more focused on the lowest performing schools and those that are failing to close the achievement gap, and more effective with schools in the middle.” Duncan adds that the Obama Administration’s proposal to overhaul NCLB aims “to measure growth and gain of all students instead of only tracking how many students meet state standards,” and require “all schools… to meet higher college- and career-ready standards.”
USAT: Administration’s NCLB Proposal Contains Accountability Loopholes. USA Today (3/30) editorializes, “Education Secretary Arne Duncan had an opportunity to press thousands of weak schools in middle-class areas to do better when he introduced changes to the controversial” NCLB, yet “while Duncan proposed an impressive toughening of consequences for failing schools (often the poorest) and their teachers, he left significant room for merely ailing schools (often in middle-class areas) to get off the hook.” According to USA Today, “To be sure, improvement has come more slowly for low income and minority kids, and that’s why Duncan’s focus on the specific failures of their schools is welcome and important.” However, “teachers’ unions and other opponents of high-stakes testing have deep influence, assuring a risk of making loopholes bigger and accountability weaker.”
Poll Shows Florida Voters Are Willing To Eliminate Class-Size Limits To Save Money.
The Tampa Tribune (3/29, Ackerman) reported, “A new poll says Florida voters are willing to get rid of class-size limits altogether, reversing their own vote on the issue, if it means saving money.” School districts throughout the state “have lobbied for a change in the 2002 voter-approved class-size amendment so districts can calculate their teacher-student ratio by school rather than by individual class.” This “change would save millions of dollars, proponents say, and would require another statewide vote.”
Criticism Grows For Florida’s Education Reform Bill. WFTV-TV Orlando (3/30) reports that before “Florida lost out in round one to get billions of federal dollars to fund education…the State Senate [had] already passed controversial new education reform bills, including a teacher merit pay program to try to get the ‘Race to the Top’ money.” Now, however, state “lawmakers are taking a lot of heat over the bill.” They “are being inundated with thousands of emails” from upset constituents. Florida Education Association official Mark Pudlow said, “There are a lot of teachers in the state of Florida that are really upset about this bill and they’re making their voices heard.” But even with “the massive outcry, the legislation is expected to clear the State House soon,” WFTV adds.
Writer Calls For “Rebalance” Of Texas’ Social Studies Curriculum.
Writer Taraneh Ghajar Jerven wrote in a commentary for the Christian Science Monitor (3/30, Jerven) that “if the Texas Board of Education has its way, many of the 48 million textbooks it buys per year, for 10 years, will represent a Republican partisan agenda and a new emphasis on Christian beliefs.” Jerven asserts, however, that “the purpose of a public school’s curriculum is not to push one particular viewpoint.” The National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) says that “an effective social studies curriculum should provide students with an understanding of the multiple forces that affect civic issues throughout history, in order to create a base from which citizens can contribute to democracy.” Jerven concludes that “with more national attention on this issue, there’s a chance that the” final vote “in May will rebalance the K-12 curriculum.”
Chicago Public Schools To Make Special Education System More “Parent-Friendly.”
The Chicago Tribune (3/30, Huppke, Ahmed) reports that according to critics, “the Chicago Public Schools special education system” is “so complex and litigious that parents of children with disabilities must hire a cadre of medical and legal experts to have any hope of getting their child proper educational services.” After the Tribune published “a series of Tribune stories” on the issue, CPS officials announced Monday that “they will launch a ‘major reorganization’ of the district’s special education program, promising to eradicate systemic problems that many say make it difficult for the city’s most vulnerable children to get the educational services they need.” The overhaul will “include changes that would make the $850-million-a-year special education program more ‘parent-friendly,'” said district spokeswoman Monique Bond.
Tennessee To Expand Online Learning With Federal Grant.
The Murfreesboro (TN) Post (3/30) reports that on Monday, Tennessee Education Commissioner Timothy Webb “announced…Title II-D Education Technology funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to expand the Tennessee Department of Education’s e4TN online learning initiative.” The initiative “will expand opportunities for students to enroll and succeed in online courses through the e4000TN program.” The federal “grant provides the districts serving high school students $10,000 to be used for personnel and equipment, and another $10,000 credit available to access current e4TN e-Learning courses.”
Superintendents In Oregon Plotting Strategies To Increase Availability Of Online Classes.
The Oregonian (3/29, Owen) reports, “Students across Oregon may be able to take online classes as soon as this fall if the state’s Education Service Districts (ESD) can pull together a plan for a statewide cyber-school hub.” Earlier this month, “superintendents from nearly all of Oregon’s 20 ESDs converged in Salem…to consider strategies for offering a broad range of online classes.” The online classes “The virtual courses could allow students in the far corners of the state to take the same Advanced Placement courses as students” in the rest of the state. The superintendents are especially focused on “classes enabling students to make up credits to graduate, and classes that offer both high school and college credit.” They “will continue to meet and work out details.”
Editor Pushes For More Online Education Opportunities For K-12 Students. Katherine Mangu-Ward, “a senior editor at Reason magazine,” writes in a commentary for the Washington Post (3/28) that “it’s time to take online education seriously — because we’ve tried everything else.” Mangu-Ward points out that “since the Internet hit the big time in the mid-1990s, Amazon and eBay have changed the way we shop, Google has revolutionized the way we find information, Facebook has superseded other ways to keep track of friends and iTunes has altered how we consume music.” However, “kids remain stuck in analog schools.” She points to “powerful” teachers unions, “which prefer…traditional classrooms” as the major reason why “online education hasn’t taken off.” Moreover, Mangu-Ward adds, “government policies need to be tweaked, and companies need investment to grow.”
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In the Classroom
Teachers Facing Intense Pressure Over Student Test Scores.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (3/28, Vogell) reported, “The pressure Atlanta educators…face is rooted in a complex set of district testing goals that are harder to reach than those set by the state. The system has rewarded school staff who were successful with nearly $17 million in bonuses since 2001.” Now, the State of Georgia “is asking whether some schools took shortcuts to net those impressive scores,” as a “state probe last month identified suspicious erasures on state tests in more than two-thirds of Atlanta’s elementary and middle schools.”
The Denver Post (3/28, Meyer) reports, “On an early February morning at Stedman Elementary School, the pressure was high. … It was the day the third-graders took their first Colorado Student Assessment Program exams, and the 8- and 9-year-olds were all nerves.” The “reading test – given to third-graders weeks before exams in math and writing so results can be used to help struggling kids before the end of the school year – was a stop on the long road to get most Stedman students performing at grade level or better by summer.” According to the Post, “In the increasingly loud debate around reforming America’s public school system, most every change being discussed focuses on the teacher,” and reform proposals “are calling for a link between teachers and student test scores, more thorough evaluations, changes to tenure laws and merit pay.”
“Egg Baby Week” Teaches High Schoolers Responsibility.
The Miami Herald (3/27, Sampson) reported on “egg baby week at Plantation High, an 18-year tradition that entrusts hard-boiled eggs to AP Psychology students with one objective: Keep them alive for a week, no matter what.” The exercise is intended as “a crash course in responsibility.” Teacher Jeanne Dishowitz “checks up on, practically stalks, the students for a week making sure they are taking proper care of the eggs.” At the beginning of the week, Dishowitz “‘breathes life” into each baby to begin, marking them with a forgery-proof signature stamp, affixing a sticker and writing the students’ initials in a color assigned to the class.” Students must allow the eggs “to breathe at all times” and the eggs must “remain uncracked.” Studdents must also bring their eggs to class each day or “have to have an eggsitter signup sheet on hand — with a phone number she can call.” By the end of last week, “49 eggs out of 61 had survived.”
Middle School Rotates Schedules, Adjusts Cafeteria Procedures To Deter Problem Behaviors.
The St. Petersburg Times (3/28, Hayes) reported that facing “its share of problems – tardiness, bullying, fights,” Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg, Florida, has come “up with an ambitious restructuring plan,” voted on by teachers. The plan includes rotating students’ schedules so that they begin “with a different class each day to eliminate antsy behavior and stay fresh” and lunch was given revamped. “This year, teachers began escorting students to lunch, filing them into the cafeteria to sit with their assigned class. A hall monitor on a microphone now dismisses them, table by table, to the lunch line.” Also, roughly “seven adults…stay in the cafeteria through lunch.” Since the plan began this year, arrests at the school decreased to 32 from 40 during the 2007-08 school year.
Hallmarks Of Effective Teaching Analyzed.
In a column for the Washington Post (3/28), Marc Fisher wrote about his experience serving on a panel tasked with evaluating applicants to the Inspired Teaching fellows program in D.C., noting that candidates come “from all walks — college seniors looking for their first job, current teachers trying to improve their skills, older people in unrelated careers looking for a change.” According to Fisher, “The idea that great teachers are born, not made, is a mainstay of novels and movies in which heroic teachers are forces of nature, charismatic connectors who instinctively know children and find a way in. Some of that romantic concept of the educator born whole is evident in the rhetoric of school reform,” and it is “the idealism behind the image” of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee “wielding a broom to sweep out the bad teachers and make room for the good.”
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On the Job
Illinois Districts Lay Off Nearly 10,000 Teachers As State Struggles To Catch Up On Payments.
The Chicago Sun-Times (3/27, Ihejirika) reported that “in recent weeks, state education funding woes have triggered a tsunami of pink slips to thousands upon thousands of teachers and support staff in school districts statewide, with about 9,800 announced layoffs of teachers so far.” Said Illinois Education Association spokesman, Charlie McBarron, “What looms this school year is devastating for all of Illinois. It’s going to significantly diminish the quality of education throughout the state.” Because the state is “woefully behind on paying its 2009-2010 bills — and eyeing further budget cuts in 2010-2011 — districts such as the Chicago Public Schools are drastically plugging holes that may only get bigger.”
Studies Say Small Class-Sizes Give Students Little Academic Advantage. The Chicago Tribune (3/29, Black, Ahmed-ullah, Bowean) reports that “as thousands of Illinois teachers receive pink slips in this spring’s brutal budget season,” school administrators are assuring parents “that the modest increases being proposed at many schools won’t make a significant difference — and research largely backs them up.” According to the Chicago Tribune, “studies…show that small class sizes bring small academic gains in kindergarten and first grade, with some reports maintaining that those early educational benefits carry through eighth grade.” However, based on “research over the past 35 years,” there is “little evidence” that larger class sizes strain teachers, “and thus detract from learning,” the Tribune adds.
Connecticut District To Provide “Power” Substitutes With Core Subjects Training.
The Greenwich (CT) Time (3/29, Gustafson) reports that the Greenwich “school district is beefing up its substitute teacher ranks with a select corps of so-called ‘power subs’ to stand in for regular educators who are called away from the classroom for teacher training.” The pilot program will train “about two dozen of the district’s best substitutes, out of the several hundred on call…this summer in math, literacy and technology instruction” in an effort “to ensure that these substitutes have a strong grasp of the elementary math and literacy curricula, as well as the classroom technology used to teach it, so they can jump into the middle of a lesson without missing a beat.” The district expects to spend “between $10,000 and $12,000” to train the substitutes.
Virginia Governor Signs Special Education Testing Accountability Measure.
The Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch (3/29, Meola) On March 9, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) “signed a bill requiring school superintendents to give the state an annual justification that each student using the Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA) assessment meets participation criteria.” This, advocates say, “sends a message to schools that state lawmakers are keying into the rapid increase in the test’s use.” The Times-Dispatch explains that several “teachers and parents” throughout Richmond expressed concerns last year “that schools were funneling students into taking the alternative assessment who do not need it in order to help test scores.” VGLA is intended for use by “students in grades three through eight who are physically, cognitively or emotionally unable to take the Standards of Learning.”
Los Angeles District To Cut School Days Amid Budget Shortfall.
The Los Angeles Times (3/28, Song) reported, “Los Angeles school district officials and employee unions announced an agreement Saturday to cut five days from this school year and seven days next year in an effort to maintain up to 2,100 campus jobs. If approved by members of the teachers and administrators unions, the move would save the Los Angeles Unified School District about $140 million and preserve class sizes in grade and middle schools, officials said.” According to the Times, the “district, the second largest in the nation, is facing a $640-million deficit.”
Also in the News
Revenues At Student-Run Snack Store Plummet After California School Junk-Food Ban Enacted.
The Los Angeles Times (3/29, Zwahlen) reports, “Tiger’s Den, the student-run snack bar at South Pasadena [CA] High School, has watched its profit plummet by more than half this year after a law banned junk food sales in California public schools and forced it to yank its best-seller, AriZona ice teas.” According to the Times, “For the students, it’s been a real-life business lesson on the risk of relying on a star product and on the power of lawmakers to wreak havoc on small companies.”
NEA in the News
Coalition Says More Than 20,000 Teachers In Illinois May Lose Jobs Next Year.
The Chicago Daily Herald (3/29, Holdway) reports that “a coalition of Illinois education groups says more than 20,000 teachers could be laid off from state schools in the next school year.” Based on surveys returned by three-quarters of the 944 school districts that received the, the coalition says that 9,764 of the planned layoffs will be “certified staff members — basically, teachers,” another 5,867 will be “noncertified staff members,” and 1,597 will be “certified retirees not being replaced.” In a news release, coalition member Brent Clark said, “This data only reflects expected job losses. … The situation is far worse when we factor in elimination and reduction of hundreds of programs in sports and music and school activities that are so beneficial to students.” The Daily Herald notes that the coalition is made up of the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, “the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Principals Association,” and the Illinois Association of School Administrators.
Educator Says Recess Coaching Is Better Than No Recess At All.
David Elkind, “a professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University,” wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times (3/27, A19) that “recess is no longer child’s play,” as schools nationwide, “concerned about bullying and arguments over the use of the equipment, are increasingly hiring ‘recess coaches’ to oversee students’ free time.” Some critics say “that such coaching is yet another example of the over-scheduling and over-programming of our children.” Elkind asserts that in the past, he may have opposed recess coaches. In recent years, however, “childhood has changed so…that I think the trend makes sense, at least at some schools and with some students,” he adds. According to data from the NEA, about 160,000 students throughout the US skip school each day “because they fear attacks or intimidation by other students.” Moreover, he adds that “recess coaching is a vastly better solution than eliminating recess in favor of more academics.”
Florida Will Ask Voters To Reconsider Class-Size Limits; Teachers Rally In Tallahassee.
The St. Petersburg Times (3/26, Silva) reports that on Thursday, the Florida Senate “voted to put class-size limits back on the ballot.” The measure “would let voters consider a new constitutional amendment that would gauge whether class-size restrictions have been met by measuring a school’s average, not by counting students in each classroom.” The proposal has gained support from “superintendents, who argue hard class counts would cost too much and create problems with student enrollment.” Meanwhile, “across the Capitol” on Thursday, “security guards rushed to protect lawmakers from a hostile crowd after House Republicans rammed through a bill that would tie teacher pay to test scores.” About “2,000 parents, students and teachers gathered at the Capitol to decry the education measures and funding cuts.”
WSVN-TV Tallahassee (3/26) reports that “the rally got underway at around 11 a.m. Thursday.” Miami-Dade public schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who was at the rally, told the crowd, “I do not stand alone, I stand with you. … Let us fight wrong policy, protect education funding; let’s protect the arts and music.” In addition to “possible cuts to arts and music classes, protesters” also “clamored for the failure of a bill linking public school teacher pay and employment to student test scores.” The bill “has already passed in the Florida Senate and is now headed to the house after passing a house committee.”
The Tampa Tribune (3/26, Ackerman) reports that Hillsborough County, Florida, “already ties teacher salaries to student test scores,” and has been exempted from SB6 “because so many of its provisions already are included in the district’s plan for” using grant money provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
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In the Classroom
High School Students In Florida Create Sign Language Videos For Use In Theme Parks.
The St. Petersburg Times (3/26, Solochek) reports from Land O Lakes, Florida that students in “Sunlake High School’s sign language program” are creating videos “for deaf students and patrons to use on tours at Lowry Park Zoo and Busch Gardens. The tours could become available as podcasts that deaf visitors could play on their own iPods, although officials are still exploring the best ways to deliver the videos.” According to the St. Petersburg Times, the project is being conducted by “third- and fourth-year ASL students, many of whom hope to use their skills in future jobs.” Said one student, “You’re actually interacting with the community. You’re not just in a classroom learning it. It’s more fun to have projects like this.” The St. Petersburg Times adds that the ASL class is also “signing articles for a new youth-oriented online magazine called Tween Tribune.”
Pennsylvania District’s Expo Teaches Students About Emerging Green Careers.
Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Courier Times (3/26, Pietras) reports that on Wednesday, the Hatboro-Horsham High School “hosted a green futures fair for students in and out of the district.” The event “was a combined effort of the district, the Hatboro-Horsham Educational Foundation, and the Greater Horsham Chamber of Commerce,” and featured “more than 40 vendors representing ‘green’ professionals, government agencies, and various businesses, as well as colleges and universities providing information on environmentally driven curriculum, hundreds of students attended.” According to the fair’s coordinator, Susan Fox, “the expo was another tool to help students learn about emerging careers in which they could thrive.”
Spelling Textbook’s Lesson On Texting Abbreviations Puzzles Some Parents.
KOAM-TV Pittsburg, Kansas (3/26, Olliges) reports that Martin Luther Elementary School in Joplin, Missouri, has a lesson “about texting abbreviations, and some parents are asking why. On Thursday students debated their latest spelling lesson at the school — decoding abbreviations commonly used to text.” The lesson “has been in the textbook for three years with brief lessons about technology but it took some parents by surprise.” Betty Lingenfelter, “the Communication Arts teacher for fifth to eighth grades,” noted that the lessons are intended to stress when it is appropriate to use texting messages: on the telephone or online, “but not in formal writing,” she said.
On the Job
Teachers In Illinois District May Have To Re-Interview For Positions.
The Rockford (IL) Register Star (3/25, Bayer) reports that this week, the Rockford School Board “approved the dismissal or reclassification of a projected 573 teachers, administrators and support staff,” but most “of those positions will be filled,” according to Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield. However, she said, “staff members must be prepared to re-interview for their jobs and defend their positions.” Teachers will need “to supply – in addition to their resumes and transcripts – a portfolio documenting specific lesson plans, student assessments, proof of motivating students and earning their respect, communication skills, classroom management and an ability to work with students of different cultural, linguistic, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.” School principals will hire “their own assistant principals and teachers” as “part of Sheffield’s mandate to hold building leaders accountable.”
Failing Georgia High School Firing Entire Staff.
The AP (3/26) reports that Beach High School, an academically failing school in Savannah, GA “is firing its entire staff in an effort to avoid further sanctions from the state and to make the school eligible for up to $6 million in federal money, officials said Thursday.” The school’s 200 employees, “will work there through the end of the year but will not be rehired for that school, said Karla Redditte, spokeswoman for the Savannah-Chatham County school district. The teachers can reapply for their jobs but only half can be rehired under federal education law, she said.”
Efficacy Of Standardized Tests As Progress Gauge Analyzed.
In a “The Juggle” blog for the Wall Street Journal (3/25), Sue Shellenbarger analyzed the emphasis on standardized testing in recent education reform efforts like NCLB, noting that many environmental factors play a role in test scores and thus results are not always an accurate gauge of a student’s education progress. Shellenbarger notes that some schools have successfully implemented teacher evaluation systems that are individualized and provide specific feedback, which in turn has led to higher student performance.
Law & Policy
History A Key Point Of Contention In Debate Over Standards.
Education Week (3/25, Robelen) reported, “As debate continues around the development and adoption of common standards in English and mathematics, several states are independently wrestling with rewrites of standards in a content area largely absent from that national discussion-social studies-and encountering their own shares of controversy. Flash points in the social studies debates tend to occur in the teaching of history, from what should be taught to when and how much.” According to Education Week, “Many of the issues are throwbacks to the squabbles that enmeshed the voluntary national standards in that subject a decade and a half ago, when critics complained about an ideological bias and contended that the standards omitted key historical symbols and figures.”
Safety & Security
School Administrators In Florida District Use Reports From Bullying Hotline To Catch Red Flags.
The Tampa Tribune (3/26, Ackerman) reports that “parents are treating the” Hillsborough County public school district’s “Website as a 24-hour complaint line for everything from their children’s passing squabbles with classmates to grievances about teachers.” Still, school leaders “are using the new tool to spot red flags before they escalate.” Half of the “nearly 250 complaints [that] have been lodged since the system debuted in August” have involved middle school students, and “at least 41 were confirmed as bullying incidents, the district said.” The “anonymous online reporting system” on the school district’s website came about in response to a 2008 state law requiring “school districts to create their own anti-bullying policies, track incidents,” and “provide prevention.” Hillsborough reviews every complaint “received by the school’s principal or another staff member.”
Virginia District To Increase Use Of Trailers.
The Fairfax County Times (3/25, Hobbs) reported, “Trailers are a reality at nearly 70 percent of public schools” in Fairfax County, VA and given the fact that “enrollment at public schools expected to increase by about 1,700 students in the 2010-11 school year, the number of trailers needed to house those students in crowded schools also could go up, Fairfax County public school officials say.” According to the Post, Wayne F. Pullen, the Fairfax school system’s coordinator for capital projects, says that budgetary “constraints and the time needed to obtain building permits make trailers a necessity, he said, adding that permits for trailers can be obtained in three to four weeks, and school construction permits can take up to a year.”
Merged Illinois Districts Failed To Achieve Cost Savings, Analysis Shows.
The Chicago Tribune (3/26, Banchero) reports that as schools across Illinois “get pinched financially, the idea of merging small districts – once so poisonous it touched off battles across the state – is cropping up again. Gov. Pat Quinn [D] jumped on the consolidation bandwagon during his budget address this month, suggesting it could help schools drowning in debt.” Also, according to the Tribune, 13 districts “are actively researching consolidation,” yet a “Tribune analysis of Illinois districts that merged in the past decade revealed that most are spending more than they did before the merger, and many are keeping pace with the state’s rapidly increasing per-pupil expenditure.”
In her short DVD Fluency Rubric Debbie Diller shows how students can record themselves reading and score their fluency on a four-step scale, giving them a fun new tool for monitoring pace and expression alone or with a partner. 12-min. DVD + Viewing Guide. Click here for details, including a sample video clip!
Also in the News
Elementary School’s Online Tutorial Helps Parents Assist Students With Math.
The Laguna Beach (CA) Independent (3/26) reports, “Help has arrived for parents who struggle to assist their children with math homework, thanks to the efforts of the El Morro Elementary School fourth-grade teaching team, which has created the Parent Math Tutorial.” The online tutorial is available “in both English and Spanish” to help “parents understand the math lessons their children are learning in school” and provide “additional ways for students to practice and enrich their math skills at home.” Parents can also view their children’s “math test results” on the password-protected website.
Food Show In Virginia District Allows Students To Vote For Favorite School Meals.
The Washington Post (3/25, Williams) reports, “The 20th annual Prince William County [VA] School Food Show, held March 16 and 18 at C.D. Hylton Senior High School in Woodbridge, gave kids an opportunity to” vote on “what they might like to eat for breakfast and lunch in school next year. Prince William’s is the only major school system in Northern Virginia to conduct such an event.” According to the Post, “Serena Suthers, director of food and nutrition services for Prince William schools, and members of her staff will tally the results to determine which items were popular enough to merit consideration for next year’s menu.”