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Ed Leaders Talk Tech

Unless every student is given his or her own computer in school, districts can't even be close to transforming education, according to one expert.

Seymour Papert, professor emeritus of MIT Media Lab, told an audience at the Consortium for School Networking's 10th Annual Networking Conference in Washington, D.C. recently that three conditions are needed for transformation: Recognize that districts have not transformed; recognize that when districts talk of access it's inflated; and recognize that districts must explore ideas of what should be learned at what age. "All our ideas about what children can learn at particular ages is based on experience in a pencil-and-paper kind of learning environment," Papert says.

More than 800 educators, from technology directors to superintendents, gathered at the conference to discuss how some districts are starting to transform education and how technology can be used to help schools meet the demands of the 21st century. "Some people say, 'This generation can't focus,' " says Chris Dede, professor of learning technologies at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. "What I see is very sophisticated use. ... We expose them to deep academic skills but it's so out of touch with their learning styles."

Dede adds that technology spending in districts is off the front burner, with a "been there, done that" mentality. "Our challenge is to help people see that technology is a part of the change" that is necessary to transform education.

The challenge, Dede says, is for teachers to learn how to take powerful interactive media and work in academic content. Dede said he'd rather have a child know only a fraction of content standards, which are so heavily stressed now, but who is "in love" with learning and high thinking skills.

Others, including Elliot Soloway, a University of Michigan professor and CEO of GoKnow Inc., mentioned the importance of integrating handheld lessons like Game Boys--using what children use every day. GoKnow is a company that makes educational software for curriculum and professional development on handhelds.

Others stressed the importance of the superintendent having a common vision and trust in their technology director. "The superintendent is only as good as the information he or she has," says Jude Theriot, superintendent of the Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Louisiana. "You need to surround yourself with competent people."

--Angela Pascopella

Grammar Makes a Comeback

Driven by standardized testing requirements and poor student performance in reading and writing, educators are turning to an old standard to remedy the problem--grammar lessons. The U.S. Department of Education acknowledges the No Child Left Behind law emphasizes testing, placing greater importance on grammar. The new SAT also includes multiple-choice questions on grammar.

The challenge lies in that an entire generation of teachers have not been trained in the subject, experts say. The teaching of grammar was de-emphasized in the mid-1980s, with claims it was autocratic and irrelevant to student performance. The National Council of Teachers of English passed a resolution in 1985 saying that parsing sentences and other grammar exercises divorced from real-life application don't help students become better readers or writers.

Now, educators are finding that students struggle with expressing themselves. Ruth Townsend Story, co-author of a soon to be published book Grammar Lessons You'd Love to Teach, says without good grammar, many students struggle with critical thinking about a difficult text. In her work with high school students, Story has seen many good readers lose the meaning of complex sentences. A command of grammar could remedy that, she says. The way to teach grammar is by making it fun and relevant to students' daily lives, she says. "You can learn all about parts of speech, but if you never apply it in real-life situations or real-life simulations, it doesn't mean anything," says Story.

Using Instant Messaging and e-mail by most students is also contributing to the demise of grammar, Story says. The strategy to combat this problem is to teach students about the differences between colloquial speech and standard English, Story says.

Some educators are not sold on grammar as a cure-all for literacy and writing difficulties. Guy Stella, the assistant superintendent of schools for elementary education in Stratford, Conn., says grammar is best taught by using good literature. "The more connections we make the better. With good literature you have all the elements of language," Stella says. "Good grammar develops from good language. We don't parse anything ... It is more important than ever before to develop the craft of authorship at a young age."

--Steven Scarpa

Sneaky Student Back in Class

A high school student who recently photographed his principal smoking outside a school building was back in class after temporarily being suspended for posting the photos on the Internet.

Providence, R.I., school officials reversed the March suspension of sophomore Eliazar Velasquez and stated Principal Elaine Almagno was wrong to violate a state law that prohibits smoking within 25 feet of a school building.

Almagno apologized for the incident over the school's public address system.

Down Under Gives Over Ideas

A new Web site was launched to serve as a template for future exchanges between American educators and policy makers and Australian educators.

The site, started by The Consortium for School Networking, uses examples, reports, case studies and sharing best practices.

It also demonstrates ways other countries are using Information Communications Technology, or ICT, in K-12 education.

Last November, representatives from the U.S., U.K. and New Zealand met with Australian educational technology leaders to learn, listen and exchange information on integrating information technology and the Internet into K-12 education.

"Not to say that Australia has all the answers for everything," says Gerry White, CEO of www.education.au. "But there's a need for collaboration among similar political systems."

The delegation discussed such issues as education technology funding, Internet connectivity, professional training and the use of open source software. CoSN CEO Keith Krueger says the U.S. has not even begun to discuss open source use in K-12 schools but it's time to start. Open source generally refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public, free of charge, and programmers improve the code and share changes with the public.

www.cosn.org/resources/international/2004_trip/

Bullying Shoots into Cyber Space

As if students weren't bombarded with enough bullying in school hallways and on sports fields, bullying is going where it's never gone before--cyber space.

Now, bullies can target students on computer instant messaging, Web journals, cell phones and e-mail. They can mock them anonymously or slander them for all their classmates to read or see, in the comforts of their own homes or safe areas. And often, parents don't realize this is going on, too caught up with sexual predators and pornography online.

"Cyber bullying is so new, people don't have a clue," says Bill Belsey, head of a Canadian Web site, www.cyberbullying.ca, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Experts suggest online users never send messages when angry and never say something in an e-mail that they wouldn't say to someone's face.

Oregon Eats Well

Joining the national push for better nutrition in schools, the Oregon Department of Education recently devised a new report calling for schools to create specific nutrition policies, form school health councils and work closely with communities.

The Oregon Board of Education, at press time, was to review the 33 recommendations, which also include which foods should be served in school and curriculum changes, according to StatesmanJournal.com.

Study: Leadership Preparation Falls Short

The nation's education leaders--superintendents and principals--could use better education themselves to prepare them for their jobs, a national study concludes. The quality of most university and state preparation programs ranges from "inadequate to appalling," according to the report, Educating School Leaders.

It was written by Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, Columbia University, and released by the Education Schools Project.

With more than 40 percent of principals and an even higher percentage of superintendents expected to leave their jobs over the next decade, the nation faces an urgent need to educate large numbers of highly skilled administrators, Levine says.

But, he asserts, many programs designed to prepare the next generation of education leaders are engaged in a counterproductive "race to the bottom," competing for students by lowering admission standards, watering down coursework, and offering faster and less demanding degrees.

Levine terms the programs "graduate credit dispensers" because "they award the equivalent of green stamps, which can be traded in for raises and promotions to teachers who have no intention of becoming administrators."

Levine's report, concluding a four-year study, urges universities and states to raise standards for their educational leadership programs or eliminate the programs. He calls for axing the Ed.D. degree in school leadership and instead creating a new degree, Masters in Educational Administration (M.E.A.), requiring basic courses in management and education.

In a joint statement, the heads of three major organizations of principals and administrators say the report confirms "much of what school leaders have said for decades, that many university preparation programs fall woefully short."

They contend, however, that the report errs by painting all preparation programs "with the same brush." They say programs accredited through the Educational Leadership Constituents Council under the auspices of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education "are adequately preparing leaders for today's and tomorrow's schools."

The statement was issued by Vincent Ferrandino of National Association of Elementary School Principals; Paul Houston of American Association of School Administrators; and Gerald Tirozzi of National Association of Secondary School Principals.

They also see "no advantage" to replacing the Ed.D. degree with a M.E.A. "Changing a label will not solve a problem; changing the rigors of the programs will," they declare.

Levine acknowledges that not even his own college will eliminate the Ed.D. "My faculty has told me we're not," he says. But he expects it to change to look more like the M.E.A. he proposes and, thereby, become a "stronger" degree. View additional information related to this story below.

--Alan Dessoff

www.edschools.org

Got Varieties Of Milk?

A new law that President Bush signed last year is the most comprehensive child nutrition law in years and lets schools offer flavors and varieties of milk that students want.

The Child Nutrition Act includes two provisions: It relaxes restrictions on milk selection on school lunch lines opening the door for flavored and lactose-free milk, and it lets districts offer milk anytime and anywhere at school. It prevents restrictive milk sales, called exclusivity clauses, which are sometimes in soft drink vending contracts.

Cutting Chiefs Would Pay Off

A new report shows that schools would save much if they cut school administrators while the size of districts has no impact on academic performance, according to the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. The nonpartisan policy research center at the University of Maine says in part that consolidating could save million of dollars in administrative costs, money that could be better used for classroom instruction or could mitigate education costs to taxpayers.

Charter Schools Still In Question

When the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing results revealed last year that fourth graders in charter schools performed at lower levels than their public school peers in reading and math, charter school officials said the reason lies in that more economically disadvantaged students are in charter schools than public ones. But a new study says that simply isn't so.

The study, released by the Economic Policy Institute and Columbia University Teachers College, shows that while charter schools enroll a higher percentage of black students than regular public schools, black students in charter schools are less likely to be eligible for lunch subsidies than those in public schools.

"I am convinced that except in a couple of places, public schools serve a lower socioeconomic class of kids than charter schools. There is no evidence that charter students start at a worse place than public school students,'' says Martin Carnoy, a professor of education and economics at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

The study, based on additional data from NAEP, shows that students in charter schools perform at levels that were no higher--and in some cases consistently below--their counterparts in public schools.

Andy Smarick, director of Charter School Leadership Council, says the studies still fail to note that charter schools are improving the achievement of low-level students.

He says educators should consider the source of the study before jumping to conclusions.

"EPI is funded by unions and they have an agenda against charter schools,'' Smarick says.

But the two sides do agree on one issue: They both say the best way to measure student growth and achievement is to consider where each student has started, not just whether they reach a certain proficiency level.

--Fran Silverman

Counterfeiters Caught

A 12-year-old Seattle student and his friends were recently caught allegedly using a computer to counterfeit $20 worth of $1 bills that they used in the cafeteria for food.

A sixth-grader offered a fake dollar to buy beef jerky and that led school officials to another sixth-grader who created the money using a PC and a printer. They passed the dollar bills to other students. The police recovered eight of the counterfeit bills.

Three boys were suspended for five days, according to CNET news.com.

Tennessee Makes Teaching Easier

Tennessee just unveiled its new Teach Tennessee program, approved by the state Board of Education, to allow scientists, mathematicians and engineers to become teachers in months.

Anyone accepted into the program now could be teaching in middle and high school classes by this fall, according to Tennessean.com. The program allows professionals who have intense education and training in a field they'd like to teach the chance to do so in schools without going through years of a traditional teaching program immediately. Instead, they'll have proper training and a mentor, but also a customized plan for taking needed college courses while they're in the classroom.

Amato Falls in New Orleans

While embattled New Orleans Superintendent Anthony Amato resigned this spring, two years after arriving in the struggling 66,700-student district, his spectacular downfall came a few days after the district nearly bounced payroll checks and only months after the public voted out all school board members opposed to him. Interim Deputy Superintendent Ora Watson is in charge as the search for a new leader could take up to a year.

"It was not a surprise," says New Orleans Chamber of Commerce President Sandra Gunner. "[We] were beginning to lose confidence since the same problems seemed to be recurring on the finance side, and the academics didn't seem to be progressing as fast as had been projected."

The district's financial problems were clear before Amato, who at press time was a top finalist for the superintendent post in Tampa, Fla., arrived from Hartford, Conn., in 2003 and included annual deficits of $10-$30 million and a corruption investigation. In negotiating his resignation, Amato secured a "non-disparagement" clause, and he along with all seven board members declined to be interviewed.

After Amato's resignation, State Education Superintendent Cecil Picard issued a scathing statement, insisting in part that the district cede financial control to the state. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved, after Amato's resignation, to takeover four long-failing New Orleans public schools.

Amato's academic reforms in New Orleans were lauded, including the implementation of district-wide reading and math programs and a formative assessment program. He also created 18 theme-based schools. But some critics say Amato's problems stemmed from his management style.

"I believe it was a personality problem that prevented him from pulling together a top-notch team," says Karran Harper Royal, a parent and education activist. "Everybody from his driver, to his secretary, four CFOs, two chief operating officers, two deputy superintendents of academics --all people he brought in--all left in two years."

And then, there's the politics. Amato's hiring was approved in a 4-3 vote, and in recent months the board seemed split along racial lines.

"The politics here are brutal," says Tracie Washington, a parent and educational leader. "But I think it's because this city is so divided along race and class lines, so the educational system is divided that way as well."

-- Rebecca Sausner

Title IX Expands

The Supreme Court recently expanded the scope of the landmark gender equity law Title IX, ruling that it protects whistleblowers who accuse schools of discrimination based on gender.

The 5-4 ruling was in favor of an Alabama high school girls' basketball coach, Roderick Jackson. It will protect those who report bias that would otherwise go unsaid or unheeded. Jackson can now pursue suing the Birmingham district, claiming he was fired for complaining that the boys' team had better facilities and treatment.

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