History and Civics Test Scores Improve
Two reports recently released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the federal government's standard measure of public school achievement, point to improvements in U.S. history and civics test scores among fourth-graders, as well as improved history (but not civics) scores for eight hand 12th graders.
What the Data Say
The reports say the percentage of fourthgraders performing at or above the basic level in U.S. history increased from 64 percent in 1994 to 70 percent last year, and in civics the percentage scoring at or above basic climbed from 69 percent in 1998 to 73 percent last year. The percent of 12th graders scoring at or above basic in U.S. history increased from 55 percent in 2001 to 61 percent in 2006.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings didn't waste any time tying the higher scores to a greater focus on reading spurred by NCLB.
"The [NAEP] release today proves NCLB is working and preparing our children to succeed. ... While critics may argue that NCLB leads educators to narrow their curriculum focus, the fact is, when students know how to read and comprehend, they apply these skills to other subjects like history and civics," Spellings said in a statement.
The National Assessment Governing Board, which conducts the regular test sampling of U.S. schools, said in a statement that this is "the first time since 1998 that high school students have had a significant increase in achievement on a NAEP assessment."
How Students Really Stack Up
Some experts are using the opportunity to make the case that our nation's students are still performing well below the level where they should be.
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, said the following in a statement: "The results today are encouraging, but it must be noted that while these scores are headed in the right direction, they still remain alarmingly low."
Wise used the results to push for greater attention to reading, saying that the NAEP reading and writing results "show that roughly two-thirds of America's eighthand 12th graders lack proficiency in these basic skills. Students unable to read or comprehend their daily newspaper will not understand complex historical documents like the Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation."
While increased percentages of eighthand 12th graders performed at or above the basic level in U.S. history, 83 percent of eighth-graders failed to perform at grade level, as did 87 percent of 12th graders.
Interestingly, what may be at the root of all the debate is student apathy towards U.S. history and politics. A 2006 Reality Check survey found that only 49 percent of high school students consider it "absolutely essential" to "understand current events and how our government works" for success in the real world. But 69 percent said knowing the rules of grammar and spelling were essential.
The complete results of the NAEP assessment are available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard
Schools Turn Junk Foods into Pseudo Health Foods
In an effort to improve student nutrition and combat the nation's obesity problem, some schools are sneaking healthy ingredients into junk foods that kids already enjoy.
West Virginia schools, for example, are cutting fat and calories by supplementing their hamburgers with soy and substituting applesauce for shortening in cake. A breakfast item sold in the state and elsewhere deep-fried donuts is now being fortified with 5 grams of protein and 14 vitamins and minerals.
Experts worry that serving children nutritionally modified junk foods will impede their ability to make good food choices as adults.
"There are ways to prepare healthy foods to make them more palatable, but I'm not sure we need to hide them in a donut or a hot dog," says Stephen Daniels, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
To learn what other strategies schools are adopting to improve their food service programs and encourage children to make healthier food choices, please see our DA Leadership Series Web Seminar story in this issue (http://www.districtadministration.com/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=1217&p=2).
Martha Pickens prepares food at Piedmont Elementary School in Charleston, W. Va.
Georgia Districts Teach the Bible
The Georgia State Board of Education recently approved curriculum for teaching the Bible in its high schools, and now many public schools are walking a fine line as they decide whether to offer the nation's first state-funded Bible classes.
The law, which was passed in the state legislature last year, enables schools to teach two courses as electives: "Literature and History of the Old Testament Era" and "Literature and History of the New Testament Era."
Critics fear the classes could become endorsements of Christianity, but supporters say that religion is an integral part of American society and understanding it is necessary to tackle subjects such as political science, the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., and the war in Iraq.
Charles Haynes, of the First Amendment Center, a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties group, says, "Georgia has set its teachers up for failure. The chances of it being unconstitutional are pretty big, and the [legal] pitfalls are huge."
The Bible is already incorporated into comparative religion and other public school classes in many states, but those classes are funded by local districts, not the state government.
According to the Georgia board of education, only a handful of the state's 180 school districts have agreed to offer the elective classes so far, with many being too concerned about violating the separation of church and state. Muscogee County School District, with 11,000 students, is one of the largest to offer the courses.
"It has been a very thoughtful, healthy process," said Robin Pennock, deputy schools superintendent of Muscogee County Schools.
Pennock says that students cannot understand literary allusions and subjects such as Shakespeare, even Western civilization, without understanding the role of the Bible.
The Barrow County school board has also formed a committee to review the state standards and make a recommendation for offering Bible classes at the start of the 2008-2009 school year, according to executive curriculum director Claire Michael.
The Georgia law requires that the classes be taught "in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students."
Pennock does acknowledge what's at stake in offering the classes, as the district will provide additional training and preparation for the teachers.
"Most people do realize that this is an area that many people can feel very passionate about," she says.
AASA Executive Director Retires
Paul D. Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, recently announced his plans to retire in June 2008. Houston has served as AASA executive director since 1994.
"I am retiring from my job but not my passions," said Houston. "I hope to continue to stir up as much dust as I can about the issues that I care strongly about-public education and its critics, the welfare of children ... and the need for accountability from our leaders."
The AASA Executive Committee has named a search committee to find his successor, which will begin the search process this month and conclude in March 2008 with the selection of a new executive director.
ISTE Names 2007 Outstanding Leader and Teacher Award Recipients
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has named Carole Colburn, technology literacy teacher with Howell (Mich.) Public Schools, and Charlene Chausis, technology training and integration manager at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., 2007 Outstanding Teacher and 2007 Outstanding Leader, respectively.
The annual awards recognize and honor individuals who are dedicated to improving education through the use of technology.
Colburn was nominated by the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) for working to efficiently integrate technology into instructional programs and finding ways to better involve the community through her technology initiatives.
Chausis was nominated by Illinois Computing Educators for her positive impact on educational technology in Stevenson High School District 125 and beyond. As the district's technology trainer, she has provided teacher and staff development and is known for consistently going above and beyond her job responsibilities, implementing innovative programs to encourage technology use among district teachers and staff .
Colburn and Chausis both received $1,000 toward travel for the National Educational Computing Conference in June, as well as commemorative plaques and complimentary ISTE memberships.
New Resource for Online Learning Programs
The North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) has released the first-ever comprehensive online learning guide for K12 educators, policymakers and parents. The guide, "A National Primer in Online K12 Learning," answers common questions and provides the essential facts about this rapidly expanding area of American public education.
What an online course looks like and how it all works is addressed in the report, but other topics examined that are particularly important for school administrators include the qualifications and training required of online teachers, and what state or school district policies are necessary to implement online learning programs.
The complete guide is available online at www.nacol.org
New Report Identifies What Works for ELL Students
EdSource has identified four educational practices most commonly associated with higher performance among elementary English Language Learners (ELLs).
According to the study, "Similar English Learner Students, Different Results," the following practices produced, on average, the highest academic achievements among ELLs in California elementary schools:
- Using student assessment data extensively
- Ensuring access to good teachers and instructional resources
- Closely aligning the curriculum with state academic standards
- Setting measurable and ambitious goals for student achievement
The study is based on a survey of nearly 4,700 teachers and 237 principals in 137 California school districts. It is available online at www.edsource.org.