State Standards Are Low and Vary Considerably, New Report Says
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the primary federal entity for collecting, analyzing and reporting education data in the United States and abroad, recently released the findings of a report, "Mapping 2005 State Proficiency Standards onto the NAEP Scales," that speak to the difficulty in comparing No Child Left Behind test score results across states.
The report examines the minimum score a student would need on a state reading and math test to be deemed proficient or at grade level and then determines what the equivalent score would be for that level of competency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. NAEP is considered the gold standard of student testing. The amount of variation in the standards the report finds is significant.
Experts have been aware that academic standards can vary drastically from state to state, but what stands out in this report is its mapping exercise used to project state standards onto the scale used by NAEP.
For example, a Missouri eighth-grader would need the equivalent of a 311 on the NAEP math test to be termed proficient, but in Tennessee a student can meet the state's proficiency standard with a 230, a score well below basic level on the national exam.
Critics of NCLB are saying that the law gives states an incentive to set low standards to avoid federal sanctions, and that uniform national standards are needed.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings says that it is too early to conclude that state standards are too low.
The full report is available at nces.ed.gov.
PTA Loses Members to PTOs
The Parent Teacher Association has shrunk significantly since its heyday of 12 million members in the 1950s, to a membership of less than six million today. An increasing number of schools nationwide are opting to have Parent Teacher Organizations, or PTOs, instead.
Although locally both groups have the same goal and function-to raise money to support school activities and engage parents in their children's education- PTOs have become the parent group of choice. The PTA, a national organization with a lobbying arm in Washington, currently represents a mere 24 percent of the nation's schoolparent groups.
"It's the autonomy," said Dennis Craft, superintendent of the Collinsville (Ill.) School District, which recently disbanded its PTA district council but still has PTAs in its schools. "They don't want to be governed by state and national bylaws."
Longer Days in Massachusetts
Ten Massachusetts schools are experimenting with an eight-hour day as part of a $7.5 million state initiative. Originally enacted as an effort both to raise student test scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and incorporate extracurricular activities into the day, the program is now a comprehensive one that features enhanced time for core subjects, physical education and even theater arts.
Experts say that in two or three years the state will have enough data to determine if the longer days have produced adequate academic and health gains. According to Ben Lummis of the Massachusetts 2020 foundation, nine of the 10 schools are using the added time for more exercise. The House and the Senate agree that the pilot program should be doubled next year.
The initiative complements two bills introduced by Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D-Mass.), one to require that students get 120 hours of physical education or active recess a year and the other to ban high-calorie vending machine drinks and regulate cafeteria foods.
Mississippi and Alabama are currently the only states that ban high-calorie drinks from all public school vending machines.
Koutoujian says we are living in a time when the only exercise students get takes place during school physical education classes, and that radical changes are necessary. "With these changes and the longer day, we're looking at a new model for how public schools function," he adds.
California is Leader in Teacher Foreign Language Certification
National Evaluation Systems, a business of Pearson Education, recently developed a new state exam for prospective teachers of the Filipino language as part of the California Subject Examinations for Teachers licensure testing program. The Filipino language exam will be followed by six additional new language tests, making California a leader in teacher certification exam offerings for foreign languages.
The other exams will be available in November 2007 and will include Arabic, Armenian, Cantonese, Farsi, Hmong and Khmer. They join existing tests for French, German, Japanese and others.
AASA Releases DVD on Importance of Public Schools
The American Association of School Administrators recently released "The Public School Speaks," a new DVD that highlights the importance of public education and makes a case for increased financial and public support for our nation's public school system. The DVD serves as a component of AASA's Stand Up for Public Education campaign, a multiyear effort that supports high quality public education.
The DVD features K12 school leaders from around the country, including AASA President and Indianapolis (Ind.) Public Schools Superintendent Eugene G. White.
"The Public School Speaks" provides an inspirational look at the power of public education and the valuable role that public schools play in the United States," said AASA Executive Director Paul D. Houston.
For more information about the DVD, including a 30-second preview, go to www.aasa.org/PublicSchoolSpeaks.
Secretary Spellings Announces $237 Million in Grants for Effective Teaching
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently announced $38.2 million in awards for 18 grants to provide financial incentives for teachers and administrators who improve student achievement and work to close the achievement gap in high-poverty schools. Through the Teacher Incentive Fund program, the grants are projected to be funded over five years for a total of more than $237 million and may also be used to recruit teachers at the schools, particularly for hard-to-staff subjects like math and science.
"These grants will help encourage our most effective teachers and principals to work in challenging schools where they can make a real difference in the lives of young people," Spellings said.
For more information about the Teacher Incentive Fund, as well as district grantees, visit www.ed.gov/programs/teacherincentive.
LAUSD Partners with Hollywood to Enhance Performing Arts Programs
International Creative Management, one of the world's largest talent and literary agencies, is partnering with the Los Angeles Unified School District to renovate and upgrade eight high school auditoriums in an effort to enhance their performing arts programs.
The charitable foundation of ICM is donating $500,000 to renovate the Dorsey High School auditorium, the first of the eight projects. L.A. Unified will contribute another $500,000 for the project.
"Beyond our financial commitment, we hope to create volunteer and mentoring opportunities for ICM employees and clients, as well as partner with other entertainment companies to set up student internship and employment positions within the industry," says Jeffrey Berg, chairman and CEO of ICM. "This will be a sustained effort on behalf of our agency."
ICM approached L.A. Unified in April 2006 with the idea of developing a partnership centered on entertainment and literary arts in high schools. Actors Martin Sheen and Samuel L. Jackson, who are ICM clients, are supporters of the project.
"I want to thank ICM for collaborating with the district through this exciting partnership," said L.A. Unified Superintendent David L. Brewer III in a statement. "The renovation of our high school auditoriums is sure to bring a greater appreciation of the arts to our students and the community at large." -Kevin Butler
New York Schools Feed Multitudes
The New York City school system has effectively become one of the nation's largest summer soup kitchens, handing out breakfast and lunch in housing projects, libraries, day camps and church groups.
Education Department officials say they expect to significantly exceed last summer's totals of 4.4 million lunches and 2 million breakfasts. Remarkably, last summer's figure was already more than twice as many meals as Citymeals-on-Wheels provided for homebound elderly residents in a full year, and well beyond the reach of other large public school districts like Los Angeles and Chicago.
Most of the costs are reimbursed by the federal government under the Summer Food Service Program: $1.66 for breakfast and $2.91 for lunch. The city contributes $5 million.
Eric Goldstein, district chief executive of student support services, who also oversees the program, said the primary purpose was to provide proper nutrition to as many children in the city as possible. "First and foremost, it's really an anti-hunger thing, with a really serious nutritional background to it," he said. "Academic performance is tangential to this."