Report Slams Reading First, But Others Defend It
President Bush's $1 billion a year initiative to teach critical reading skills to low-income children has not improved their reading comprehension one iota, according to a new study from the program's own champion, the U.S. Department of Education.
The interim report, carried out by the DOE's research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), found no significant differences in comprehension scores between students who participated in No Child Left Behind's federally subsidized Reading First (RF) program and those who did not. But there are some experts who claim that the non-RF schools examined in the study-which applied for the federal grants but did not receive them-do not differ enough from the RF schools for the conclusions drawn from the comparisons to be valid.
Also, "IES may have overlooked the fact that many states used up to 20 percent of the federal funds for low-achieving schools to adopt the same instructional reforms mandated for the RF schools," Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a policy research group, wrote in the political magazine City Journal.
The study's possibly flawed findings notwithstanding, many RF administrators around the country are standing by the program's effectiveness.
In Florida, for instance, where 583 elementary schools in 45 districts use the program, educators are "very happy" with its results of significantly increasing the number of K3 students reading at or above grade level and reducing the number of students with serious reading difficulties, says the state's executive director of reading programs, Evan Lefsky.
"The study has motivated us to go beyond the question of 'Does Reading First work' to examining the conditions under which it works and why," says Lefsky. He adds that administrators are currently visiting the schools that have made the biggest improvements so they can learn about the characteristics associated with achievement gains.
And in California, the 200 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District that use the program have utilized a variety of professional development, teacher coaching and principal training initiatives that have helped to raise district achievement levels, says LAUSD deputy superintendent Ronni Ephraim.
New York City school officials, none of whose 64 RF schools were evaluated in the study, say the report didn't shed any new light for them on the effectiveness of the Reading First program.
Did You Know?
Half of principals view bullying as a serious problem at their schools, but they appear to underestimate the extent of harassment that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students experience, according to a new study released by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
For another unique perspective on the problem of bullying, see this issue's Conversations article.
Effective Board Meetings
Wanting to have effective school board meetings is one thing; actually having them is another. And knowing what makes board meetings "effective" is something else entirely. So says the new edition of Becoming a Better Board Member: A Guide to Effective School Board Service, a publication from the National School Boards Association (NSBA).
With a 22-page chapter devoted just to board meetings, this resource offers vital information not just on how the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of your boardroom deliberations affects your school system, but on all aspects of effective meetings, such as gaining control, planning an agenda, and increasing public participation. It also includes a checklist of essential meeting policies and practices. Go to www.nsba.org for purchasing information.
Making the Case for Green Schools
Faced with ever-increasing dire assessments of global climate change, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently testified before Congress about the importance of green buildings as a solution for "one of the biggest challenges facing society today," and schools were a key ingredient in their argument.
"Buildings are the single largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for 39 percent of emissions in the United States," said Michelle Moore, senior vice president of policy and public aff airs for USGBC. "Of those buildings, school buildings represent the largest construction sector in the country, and 20 percent of America goes to school every day. It's fundamental to promote the design and construction of green schools."
Moore joined actor Ed Norton, a trustee for the Enterprise Foundation, USGBC's partner to promote green affordable housing; Kent Peterson, president of ASHRAE, which is working to develop the nation's first green building code standards; and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, a leader on green building practices.
Currently, 28 states, more than 120 local governments, 12 public school jurisdictions and 36 higher education institutions have made policy commitments to use the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
Microsoft Joins the 1-to-1 Laptop Project
Microsoft, a longtime hold out in partnering with the computing and education project One Laptop per Child (OLPC), recently announced plans to offer Windows on the nonprofit group's laptops. OLPC's $200 machines previously ran exclusively on the Linux operating system, a freely distributed alternative to Windows.
The first of the OLPC's child-friendly XO laptops running Windows XP were tested in several undisclosed countries last month, and machines running the operating system will generally be available by September, Microsoft officials say.
Physical Safety Rises, Cybersafety Goes Down
School districts nationwide have improved their physical safety by nearly 40 percent since 2007, but scores on cybersafety have dropped by 25 percent in the same time period, according to the second annual School Safety Index from CDW Government Inc. (CDW-G).
"The silos between physical and cybersafety are converging," says CDW-G senior K12 director Bob Kirby, "but districts are still not leveraging information technology-the backbone of all security solutions-as much as they could."
Despite new tools and techniques to improve cybersafety, such as network access control (NAC) and modern mass notification systems, the survey of 400 district IT and security directors says schools are struggling with budget constraints and how best to utilize limited staff resources.
One recommendation put forth by the study is that districts should consider giving local police instant access to IP cameras. More schools are using security cameras, but only a small number are giving police the ability to access digital footage in real time during an emergency, the report says.
To download the report, go to www.cdwg.com/schoolsafetyindex.