After more than a decade of writing about educational accountability, I have come to a conclusion that we can't wait for Washington, or for that matter, any state capital, to get accountability right. The most innovative models for educational accountability will happen in districts that are willing to say to the president and secretary of education, "We do not fear accountability. In fact, we will be more accountable than any federal or state program has ever required. We will report not only our test scores, but we will also report on the other 90 percent of the work we have been doing.
For at-risk students who stand little chance of going to college, or even finishing high school, a growing number of districts have found a solution: Give them an early start in college while they still are in high school. An early college high school (ECHS) strategy, which combines high school and college-level instruction, reduces dropout rates and improves academic achievement levels while also boosting students' chances of graduating from school and finding jobs.
Enrolling in college was not part of the path for graduates of the San Antonio (Texas) Independent School District, where 93 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Shortly after Superintendent Robert Duron, known for raising achievement in the Socorro ISD in El Paso, arrived in 2006, he began to raise the bar in this 55,000-student, predominantly Hispanic, urban district.
Celina (Texas) Independent School District, roughly 100 miles north of Dallas, has 2,000 students across its four school campuses—and they're all Bobcats, says Lizzy Kloiber, secondary curriculum director, referring to the district's unifying mascot. The community is tight knit, she adds, with most teachers having grown up in the district, and families regularly mingle at church or at high school football games each weekend.
As states now begin their transition to the Common Core State Standards, seven organizations have united to provide advice on issues related to the implementations of the mathematics curriculum and assessments.
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.
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.
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.