Before and during the tenure of Florida's former education commissioner, Eric J. Smith, the state made bold moves toward incorporating charter schools, began corporate "scholarship" programs that provide funding for students to attend private schools, implemented class-size caps that voters approved via referendum, and earned $700 million in federal money through round two of Race to the Top.
In August, as the back-to-school clothing and supplies were hitting the stores, Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools launched its own new "product line of services" to its student clientele, including additional magnet schools, a conservatory for the arts, salad bars, and new technology and online digital tools for students. This "ritual of reinvention" is a signature program of Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, as he's unveiled similar plans each year since joining the district in fall 2008.
An estimated 8,000 people made the trip to Capitol Hill on July 29-31 for the Save Our Schools March. The rally, which was reportedly supposed to draw about 1 million supporters, was held to elevate issues such as putting an end to high stakes testing, provide equitable funding for all public schools, increase family and community leadership in forming public education policies, and increase local control of curriculum.
Synergy Charter Academy, which is one of three charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District operated by the husband-wife team of Meg and Randy Palisoc, spent its first six years (2004-2010) in a cramped church space in south LA. Equipment and supplies had to be packed up on a daily basis because the church needed to use the same space. The Palisocs, both former LAUSD teachers, opened the school there because they could not find another space in the heavily industrial community without incurring millions of dollars in environmental remediation costs.
The Common Core State Standards are bringing some changes to curricula across the country—but not just in the classroom. School librarians are preparing for the shift and its new emphasis on 21st-century skills including information literacy, primary resources, independent thinking and complex texts. The New York City Department of Education—the nation's largest school system—is relying on its library staff to implement these standards in the coming years.
In just the first six months of 2011, 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation supporting school voucher or scholarship tax credit programs. This has been a big year for school advocates. While some states expanded already existing school choice programs, six new programs were created in Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Wisconsin—beating the previous record of five new programs set in 2006.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan perhaps reached his breaking point in early June when he gave Congress an ultimatum to fix No Child Left Behind or he would begin issuing waivers to districts facing sanctions under the bill. Education advocacy groups, including the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA), have been campaigning for this form of regulatory relief since it became clear that reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—NCLB's formal title—would not occur by the upcoming school year.
For administrators, teachers, students and their families in some districts, summer isn't what it used to be. Trying to stem a "summer slide" of learning loss by students and also to avoid having to build more schools to cope with overcrowding, districts are operating on year-round schedules that shorten the traditional summer vacation while adding breaks through the year, which traditionally averages 180 days of instruction, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
At a recent conference that I attended, I learned quite a bit about the development and implementation of online courses in public schools. However, I left the workshop feeling a bit discouraged, even disgusted. Not with regard to online learning; in fact, I am cautiously optimistic that online coursework will benefit students in many different ways. But the more I heard, the more I felt disillusioned.
In the 2008-2009 school year, Adams County (Colo.) School District 50, just north of Denver, did something only previously attempted by the small rural Chugach school system in Alaska. The struggling district with roughly 10,000 students abandoned the conventional concept of grade levels and implemented a standards-based system, which only advances students to the next level when they have mastered certain skills. Three years later, student achievement is lower than ever before, and the superintendent that guided the district through this reform is stepping down.
Arts education is being left out of the national conversation about how to reform schools, according to a report released May 6 by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
The report acknowledges that tight budgets and high-stakes testing has placed arts education on the back burner, but it affirms that there are cost effective models to incorporate the arts across the curriculum that, when done properly, can raise student achievement, attendance rates and behavior.
Failure Is Not an Option is not just the title of a best-selling book; it's a mantra for many high-performing districts. The Mansfield (Texas) Independent School District adopted this motto in 2007 and hasn't looked back.
The district—the second-largest in Texas with over 35,000 students—was far from low-achieving, although it was experiencing rapid change with the addition of over 2,000 students each year. Located outside Dallas, Mansfield has had to add a new school each year for the last 13 years to keep up with enrollment. It currently has 40 schools.
Buzz surrounding the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) program, released late last year, has yet to cease. The report proved that achievement gains of American students were stagnant when compared to students of various foreign countries.
Extensive media coverage of New York City's Harlem Children's Zone's cradle-to-career program over the past several years has served to focus mainstream attention on school reform in a way unprecedented in recent history.