Rise and Shine
When teenagers are able to catch a few more zzzzz's, they perform better in class, some education experts say. But when high schools start as early as 7:15 a.m. and students are loaded down with homework assignments and extracurricular activities, who has time for sleep?
A national trend to delay high school start times is gaining supporters. For example, students in Arlington County, Va., now arrive at 8:15 a.m., as opposed to their past start time of 7:30. High schools in Henrico County, Va., have had later days for a few years, starting at 8:45 a.m.. Minneapolis high school start times were changed in 1997 from 7:15 to 8:40 a.m. at the urging of the Minnesota Medical Society, which indicated most students are not alert and ready to learn in the early morning.
A recent University of Minnesota study found that students are getting an average of one hour more sleep per night, the number of students transferring out of the district dropped significantly and grades improved.
Although proponents of later start times have evidence of some improved student achievement, naysayers don't want administrators to forget about certain challenges: stores depending on students who work part-time; students need time for sports and extracurricular activities and transportation dilemmas.
Turning the Tables
The St. Louis Public School District uses many different methods to communicate with the city's residents, including the typical cable TV show, school Web pages and school newsletters. But one of its programs last year was unusual.
Right before the results of the state's annual tests were released, the district invited reporters who cover education to take a test themselves. The reporters' test included questions similar to those on the state test, ranging in difficulty from the third grade to the 11th grade.
"The reaction was what we anticipated," says Chester A. Edmonds, the executive assistant to the superintendent. "They felt it was quite difficult, and they understood that they had to have some sort of prior knowledge" to answer correctly. "One reporter delayed her next assignment so she could find out the correct answers."
The event resulted in numerous reports, from TV segments to weekly newspaper columns that helped educate the community about the difficulty of the state test.
Using Humor to Make Work More Enjoyable
"Most people in education don't look like they're having a whole lot of fun anymore," says Mary Kay Morrison, a consultant for the Kishwaukee Intermediate Delivery System, a regional education office in Illinois. That's why she created a Humor Improvement Plan workshop for school administrators six years ago. Thousands of participants have learned how humor helps in dealing with stress and change, builds morale, decreases aggressive behavior and assists in dealing with conflict. And humor is needed more than ever in today's society, she says, where administrators aren't "honored or understood. [We] keep asking them to do more with less."
Here are some ways to use humor to put joy, energy and fun in your life work:
Place a staff member "in charge" of humor in the school or office each month
Look at a serious problem in a funny way. When administrators from a large district attending her workshop explained that their schools can't afford light bulbs, they created a list of the "Top 10 Reasons You Want a Dark Classroom"
Use self-depreciating humor. Morrison says, "It sends the message that you're human and make mistakes, and it allows others the freedom to do the same."
What Do Students Want?
High school geometry students at Edmonds School District 15 in Lynnwood, Wash., have a few ideas about must-have's for the school of the future. Their plans for a state-ofthe-art high school in the year 2050 reveal a lot about student concerns today. Some highlights from three designs presented to a panel of professional architects:
Small learning communities: Each academic department has a separate building with a distinct look. Their circular shapes help protect against natural disasters. Each classroom includes a tubelike structure for virtual reality experiences. Class sizes of 20 students or less help ensure better communication with teachers.
Different learning styles: Students are most comfortable when they can learn in their own way. Through three classes a day (two hours long each), students have more one-onone contact with teachers. Desks are shared by two students and adjacent spaces for project work are built into the design, promoting individual and group learning. The domeshaped buildings reduce heating and cooling costs.
Ownership of learning goals: Twenty-eight classroom buildings feature glass walls and/or ceilings so students don't feel confined or bored. A holographic 'teacher' provides guidance as the students work together to design their own goals and figure out what learning plans they'll use to meet those goals.
POLL: Politics Frustrate Superintendents
Politics is a dirty word for many superintendents, according to a recent survey of superintendents and principals.
And they say it is among the chief irritants compelling them to run from their jobs, leaving a district of school children, teachers, staff members and parents scratching their heads.
Eightyone percent of superintendents say when talented superintendents leave the field it is likely they are "frustrated by politics and bureaucracy in their district," according to the recent report from Public Agenda, Trying to Stay Ahead of the Game: Superintendents and Principals Talk about School Leadership.
"It's right on target. ... If they stay in one district for a long time, then they are happy. ... But that's not the majority. When they do move around, it's always politics and bureaucracy," says Don Hooper, president of the American Association of School Administrators and superintendent of Fort Bend (Texas) Independent School District.
Legal issues, politics on school boards, parents with complaints, and collective bargaining are among the chief irritants for superintendents, the survey shows. Only 10 percent leave the field because of frustration from unreasonable demands due to higher standards and accountability. Only 5 percent leave due to low pay and prestige, the survey shows.
The study, which surveyed 853 public school superintendents and 909 public school principals, was financed by Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds, which is working to increase quality education leadership. The survey's results are well-timed, considering the increased focus on high standards and a drive for accountability, according to Jean Johnson, director of programs for Public Agenda.
While superintendents accept all aspects of their job, including paperwork, addressing special interest groups, safety issues, legal aspects to hiring and firing, parental complaints, and school board politics, the pressures involved in these tasks make for unhappy superintendents, Johnson says. "The accumulation of these things saps their energy," she says.
When superintendents recall how they spent their time during the last school year, 50 percent say legal issues and litigation required too much attention, 48 percent say parents with complaints and special interests took up time, and 43 percent point to union and collective bargaining issues.
One unnamed administrator wrote: "Litigation concerns give extreme parents and special interest groups far too much contact and make management, safety and instructional issues far more complex than necessary."
America values the right of any individual to run for public office, notes Hooper, but this leaves the door open for some people to be elected to school boards who do not "fully understand the magnitude" of the job and who end up creating problems. "One of the next studies ... could and should be the actual examples of these political things," he says. "School board members have their own opinions on matters and ... you have multiple viewpoints."
Johnson says she was bothered to see that bureaucracy played such a huge role. "I think there is a kind of message being sent here. We hope the study will be talked about," she adds.
But she says there is hope.
"The interesting thing from the study is that ... superintendents and principals feel they have the power and they have the confidence that they really could make education better," Johnson says. And superintendents stated in interviews that to maintain direction and purpose they had to "stay focused" and try not to do "everything." -Angela Pascopella www.publicagenda.org
EXCLUSIVE: School Boards Should be Audited, says AASA Official
Now that school board politics is pinpointed as a major irritant for superintendents ationwide, a head administrator is calling for state mandated audits of school boards to ensure greater efficiency.
Don Hooper, president of the American Association of School Administrators and superintendent of Fort Bend (Texas) Independent School District, says "one piece that is truly missing is checks and balances on the board."
He says an outside auditor should audit boards, such as review minutes of meetings and keep track of board members' activities, and then publish the findings. "If individual board members are driving the rest of the board and superintendent crazy," they are held accountable, he says. "It takes one real irritant to gum up the whole works."
But Joseph Villani, deputy director of National School Boards Association, says the idea is more theoretical than realistic. And he adds that checks and balances are already in place with local media coverage and the public, especially when election day arrives.
"It's a sort of a pie-in-the-sky idea that's not very practical," Villani says. "First of all, it's ludicrous to think that the federal government would put [forth] money to watch 15,000 school boards. ... And it's the political process that resolves the issues in a local community."
"The superintendent needs to work with the school board members as a team," he adds. "While I agree that not every board member does things the way I'd like them to be done, they're part of the political process." Hooper says he sees the idea of an audit eventually becoming a "legislative priority" for AASA. -Angela Pascopella www.aasa.org, www.nsba.org
Will an Extra Year of Kindergarten Help ESL Students?
Superintendent Al Mijares is in a desperate situation. In the Santa Ana School District, located near Los Angeles, three of every four students entering kindergarten don't speak English. Most come from Hispanic households with parents who speak only Spanish; 85 percent of his students live in poverty. As these students progress through the system, they routinely lag behind in English language skills. "It is not uncommon to find ninth graders functioning at a sixth grade reading level," he says. "These students enter kindergarten with no preschool and no Head Start."
By expanding kindergarten to a two-year program, Mijares hopes to give these students a better foundation in English language skills. It is obvious the district's traditional half-day kindergarten class isn't working for this non-traditional student population, he argues. He wants a two-year program that would monitor English language progress and assess whether a kindergarten student is ready to move to first grade. It is estimated that the expansion will cost the district an extra $12 million in staffing and other costs.
The cost of an expanded kindergarten is equal to what it would cost the district to open a public preschool. "Absent a preschool program, which is desperately needed, we are looking at a two-year kindergarten program," Mijares says. He has considered an alternative-making kindergarten a fullday program but his district doesn't have the space. As the state's fifthlargest school district, Santa Ana is "beyond over-crowded," he says. Almost half of the district's 61,000 students are cramped in schools that are two to three times beyond capacity.
The state of California, however, has to do further analysis on the legality of a two-year kindergarten program. California prohibits schools receiving state and federal funds from tracking students into classes for the disadvantaged. "I think this might be seen as tracking children by language ability," explains Ada Hand, a California education consultant.
Mijares has yet to make a formal proposal to his school board, something he will do this spring, he says. State officials, including Ada Hand, will then meet with him for further discussion. "I think, basically, that people are impressed with the superintendent's ability to focus on these big issues," Hand says. It remains to be seen though whether his vision meshes with California's education policy.
Philadelphia Takeover:School System Up for Grabs
In the showdown for control of Philadelphia's public schools, the governor has won. In fact, Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker and Philadelphia Mayor John Street, who have verbally sparred in the past, are now on amicable terms and forming a strategy for the largest state takeover of a city school system.
Schweiker and Street have already appointed a five-member School Reform Commission to study the academic and financial challenges of the district, which serves 205,000 students at 264 schools.
Each politician took care to select educators, business executives and non-profit professionals. The five appointees are James Gallagher, president of Philadelphia University and president of the state's board of education; Daniel Whelan, an executive at Verizon Pennsylvania and chairman of Greater Philadelphia First; James Nevels, a businessman and board member of Chester Upland Schools in Delaware County; Michael Masch, a management vice president at the University of Pennsylvania; and Sandra Dungee Glenn, president of American Cities Foundation, an organization that promotes community development. The latter two have also served on Philadelphia's board of education.
The commission now must choose a consultant to run the district. Edison Schools is estimated to be at the top of a short list. Prior to helping form the commission, Schweiker paid Edison Schools $2.7 million to study Philadelphia's education system. Edison concluded the city's public school system needed an overhaul and should be managed by a private company. Schweiker stresses that the final decision rests with the new commission, but adds, "I think everybody knows my outlook. I believe that Edison can do the work ... and they've got the capacity to do it well."
Chancellor and Beacon Merge
Chancellor Academies and Beacon Education Management agreed to combine forces in January. The two for-profit, K-12 education companies have become Chancellor Beacon Academies. Total student enrollment is 19,000, total schools, 81.
The new company is now the second largest education company of its kind. Edison Schools, based in New York City, remains the market leader, serving 75,000 students at 136 schools.
Neither Chancellor nor Beacon were profitable at the time of the merger, admits Octavio Visiedo, chairman of the newly formed company and former chairman of Chancellor. Still, Chancellor Beacon Academies won a vote of confidence from Warburg Pincus, its lead investment firm, and Goldman Sachs Group. The financial firms are investing $26 million in the education company. The merged company will use the financing to improve financial and technical systems at its schools, Visiedo says.
To date, the merged Beacon and Chancellor interests operate charter and private chools in eight states and the District of Columbia. Chancellor Beacon Academies will continue to implement a "cluster strategy," focusing on developing schools in geographical locations. www.chancelloracademies.com
Cyber School Squabble
District administrators in Pennsylvania claim a new charter cyber school, Einstein Academy, is incorrectly billing them to cover public education costs. According to state law, districts are required to cover 75 percent of a charter school's expenses for educating a student. The district is allowed to retain the remaining 25 percent for its own administrative costs. In the case of Einstein Academy, however, district superintendents say they are being asked to reimburse Einstein for educating students who have left the cyber school and now attend traditional public schools, or those that are being home schooled and not entitled to public education funds.
Administrators in 95 school districts have retained The Levin Group, Huntingdon Valley, Pa., to file legal complaints against Einstein. The cyber school's current enrollment totals 2,300. The school, which went online in September, has physical locations in both Philadelphia and at the Morrisville (Pa.) High School. Morrisville Borough School District officially granted Einstein its charter.
"Einstein is billing our district and we've been advised by counsel not to pay," says Gerald Huesken, superintendent of Conestoga Valley School District.Huesken estimates that three of every four students in his district who are enrolled in cyber charter schools were home-schooled last year. He alleges that Einstein Academy is charging school districts to educate students who are only home schooled.
Einstein Academy disputes the charges. Mimi Rothschild, who says she is one of the academy's founders, calls the complaints a challenge to her school's "right to exist." "I can tell you exactly what is going on. The status quo is desperately trying to hold on to a long, tightly held monopoly in public education," she says.
"Public school administrators are resisting innovation," she says. Students enrolled at Einstein may have been home schooled in the past, but they are now part of the public school system, she says.
The lead administrator at Morrisville Borough School District-the man who oversees Einstein's charter-does concede that the new school has made accounting and billing errors. But he says the billing mistakes were inadvertent oversights made by new staff. Given that the per-pupil education cost varies from district to district, initial mistakes are understandable, if not excusable, says John Gould, Morrisville superintendent. He claims Einstein's staff is rectifying the billing problems.
Allison Snyder, an attorney for The Levin Group, remains dissatisfied. The law firm is moving forward with legal challenges to Einstein Academy and is challenging the state law that allows cyber charter schools to be reimbursed for public education.
Einstein Academy, while officially a not-for-profit entity, is admittedly managed by TutorBots, a for-profit technology company that collects funds from Einstein. "The charter school law requires that these schools be organized public, nonprofit corporations," she says.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education did not return repeated telephone calls. www.einsteinacademy.org
Unsettled at School: Judge Rejects Microsoft's Plan
Microsoft is preparing to go to trial now that its proposed settlement plan, which would have given $1 billion in software, cash and technology to needy schools nationwide, was rejected in U.S. District Court. After Judge J. Frederick Motz announced his decision, the company accepted the next step: prepare for trials in various states.
After Motz delivered his opinion in mid-January, Microsoft began focusing on its legal defense in Mississippi and California, according to Jim Desler, a spokesman for the company. Lawyers for plaintiffs in California were especially critical of the settlement plan, claiming at the time it was presented in November, that it did not resolve the claim that Microsoft overcharged educators for its Windows operating system.
The door is not completely closed on a settlement, however. "We've spent a few days reviewing the judge's ruling, and there are some suggestions we are considering," the Microsoft spokesman says. It isn't clear exactly which suggestions these might be, although a broad hint might be taken from Motz's 20-page decision.
The judge's main objection to Microsoft's plan to give free versions of its own software to make up for the alleged overcharging was the adverse effect on competitors in the education market. "To put it bluntly in the words of the opponents of the proposed settlement, the donation of free software could be viewed as constituting 'court approved predatory pricing,'" He suggested a cash payment, not a software giveaway, might be more acceptable.
At the time the plan was proposed, Apple, Red Hat and other software and technology companies cried foul. Apple, which has an estimated 50 percent penetration in the education market, fought the plan on the grounds that it would eventually give Microsoft an unfair advantage in the education market.
Apple executives issued no comment regarding the ruling, but other industry groups lauded the outcome. "We are very pleased the judge recognized this wasn't suitable," says Jason Mahler, general counsel for the Computer and Communications Industry Association. "The ublic interest is not served by Microsoft trying to take over the education market." www.microsoft.com, www.apple.com
Virginia District Re-boots Its iBook Program
Administrators in Virginia's Henrico County School District learned a timeless lesson recently: Kids will be kids. When given their own districtfunded laptops, along with wireless Internet access, a handful of students will always push the limits.
Five months after administrators gave 12,000 high school students and their teachers their own iBooks, Henrico's Superintendent Mark Edwards admits that 30 students had downloaded pornography off the Internet. Most who had downloaded pornography did so from home. Another student had hacked into other school-issued iBooks. The latter student even bragged about electronically changing his grades, although investigations determined that he had not gained access to the school's grade files.
Henrico officials have now installed safeguards to prevent unauthorized student downloads.
Edwards is still enthused about the iBook program, which received national attention last summer when it was announced during an Apple press conference. The program will continue, giving 12,000 iBooks to junior high school students in 2003, he adds.
The current turmoil is a "learning process," says Edwards, whose technical staff is already "scrubbing" each iBook to remove inappropriate material, games and MP3 music files. At press time, Edwards and his staff were accessing software programs to block pornography and limit access to games and music files.
"I want to emphasize that most students have used the laptops appropriately," says Edwards.
"I hope people don't overreact when things like this happen," adds Leslie Conery, interim CEO for the International Society for Technology in Education. "Much good comes from students having laptops."
Schools should stress acceptable use policies. Enforce the rules, just as an employer would, says Conery. Administrators could temporarily take laptops away from students who misuse them, she adds.
Only seven months old, Henrico's program has yet to yield formal research about its impact on learning. Edwards does have anecdotal evidence that students are more capable at using computers and accessing online academic information. A formal study on the iBook program will be completed early next year.
Education Tech Leaders Map Long-term Objectives
To meet the top goal set by the No Child Left Behind Act-increased student achievement-a group of leaders came up with five main technology suggestions during a recent meeting in Washington, D.C.
Leaders from the education community, corporations and government met at a half-day summit hosted by the National Coalition for Technology in Education. They focused on the issues educators may face in the implementation of the new federal K-12 education law and possible policy initiatives aimed at increasing the effective use of technology in K-12 schools and classrooms.
The group also talked about new protocols for public-private partnerships, closer alignment of federal, state and local policies and more effective ways to scale up successful projects.
Some of the suggestions from the group include:
Measure student achievement and technology effectiveness in a manner that recognizes the need for students to achieve academic skills as well as 21st century skills such as technology literacy, information synthesis, communication, inquiry-based learning and problem solving;
Improve collaboration by all parties-federal, state and local governments, industry and advocacy organizations, educators and researchers-on setting and achieving development agenda;
Expand federal government incentives to promote and enhance industry's development of educational software and other electronic learning solutions for schools;
Create a standard research roadmap that all parties could understand and that makes research and development practical, relevant and timely;
Continue to improve broadband connectivity with a goal of ensuring all students and schools have access to online learning tools.
Looking to the future, the group identified areas where research and development funding and support is needed to measure the impact of technology on national goals and priorities. One recommendation the group agreed on was the need to develop strong public-private partnerships for research and development in education technology.-Laura Dianis
AASA Creates Guild to Assist Urban Superintendents
The American Association of School Administrators has created a new guild to assist superintendents in urban districts and those who are considering posts in big cities. The goal is to halt the superintendent turnover in urban districts.
The guild will cull models for training and recruiting future leaders by interviewing sitting urban superintendents. The hope is for education leaders to find mentors and "critical friends"-leaders who can be "trusted colleagues to share opinions" about the job's role and performance," says Paul Houston, AASA's executive director.www.aasa.org
Maine Inks a Deal with Apple
Maine Gov. Angus King took a step closer to fulfilling his vow to outfit every seventh and eighth grader with a laptop when he signed a deal with Apple Computer last year. The deal will equip 33,000 students and teachers with iBooks. The $37.2 million contract also includes wireless networks, training and technical support. www.apple.com
NCS Pearson Reorganizes
NCS Pearson is combining three K-12 product divisions under the new NCS Learn banner. NCS Learn will include the company's K-12 Enterprise Software Solutions, an administrative software product; School- CONNECT, a student information management service; and NCS's courseware.www.ncslearn.com
Riverdeep Teams with Kaplan
Riverdeep is joining forces with Kaplan K-12 Learning Services to train Florida teachers. Kaplan's consultants will teach educators how to use Riverdeep's online courseware. www.riverdeep.net, www.kaplan.com