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Articles: Business & Finance

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.

The Obama administration has grand hopes for turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools, in part by allocating $3.5 billion for School Improvement Grants. Unfortunately, there simply aren't enough qualified principals to replace those mandated to be fired under two of the four school improvement models that the federal government says districts must follow to tap into that funding.

School finance reform has become a key component for transforming public schools in the United States. Over the last decade, a growing number of districts have turned to an approach known by different names— student-based budgeting, weighted student funding and fair student funding, among others—in which budgets are allocated to schools in dollars, based on the needs of students within a school, rather than in staff positions.

Raymond Pecheone believes that to fairly evaluate teachers, one must watch them teach and assess the artifacts—such as assignments, lesson plans, and reflections—they use daily. This form of assessment may seem like common sense, says Pecheone, executive director for the Stanford University Center for Assessment Learning and Equities Scale, although it has really been a long time coming. Specifically, this assessment, which began with performance assessments for the licensing of teachers in California, has been 20 years in the making.

If you want to really challenge your thinking about the roles of teachers in the classroom, take a few minutes to watch Newcastle University (UK) professor Sugata Mitra talk about the research he's doing on providing technology to poverty-stricken kids in India. His "Hole in the Wall" experiment, in which he put a stand-alone, Internet-enabled computer, keyboard and mouse facing inward into a walled-off Delhi slum, shows that even children who know nothing about computers can self-organize to learn quickly and deeply on their own without any adult supervision.

A nationwide survey of forty-two states and the District of Columbia examined how states are using the $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants, part of the federal Title I program. Early State Implementation of Title I School Improvement Grants under the Recovery Act, conducted by the Center on education Policy and released in late February, found that changes in the guidelines implemented for these grants were intended to funnel more resources toward those high schools most in need.

District administrators in Wisconsin would appreciate greater management leeway in negotiations with teachers' unions, but many say the collective bargaining restrictions crafted by Gov. Scott Walker and the republican-controlled legislature go too far. On March 9, the GOP senators of Wisconsin abruptly passed a stripped down version of the budget repair bill. The financial proposals were eliminated, although they kept the language ending many of the collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.

There is nothing new about the fact that school superintendents come and go. Some retire, and some are recruited into other school districts or opportunities. But let's face it, some are let go.

On April 6, 2010, Jack O'Connell held a press conference to announce that California faced a teacher shortage. The state's superintendent of public instruction cited anticipated retirements over the next ten years, teacher attrition through layoffs, and a break in the supply line from teacher preparation universities as major factors in creating a critical shortage of teachers in the state. After a lull in the past five years, student enrollment in California is predicted to grow, creating a mismatch between supply and demand for teachers.

Per-pupil spending as nearly tripled over the last 40 years. While some states have shown improvements in student achievement, others have remained stagnant. These observations were noted in a new study, "Return on Educational Investment," released Jan. 19 by the Center for American Progress. The study, which examined over 9,000 major districts in the United States, attempted to measure district productivity in relation to spending on education, while controlling for outside factors such as percentage of students in poverty.

Districts are continuing to face many challenges in filing for reimbursement for the Medicaid services they provide to students, according to the 2009 Biennial Survey: Trends and Data released Jan. 25 by the National Alliance for Medicaid in Education (NAME), a nonprofit organization representing state Medicaid and education agencies. The report examines Medicaid reimbursements, primarily over the last decade.

"We want a grant for 20 computers."

This was my directive from district administrators nearly 25 years ago. As a district grants specialist, I dutifully wrote the grant for computers so that the schools would be prepared for the 21st century. Back in the late 1980s, the computers themselves were the crux on the federal grant application.

School leaders should pay attention to changes in a student's friendships and encourage pro-social relationships during the impressionable middle schools years, concluded a study conducted by the University of Oregon. Published in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Early Adolescence, found that changes in friendships while students transition from elementary school into the middle school years may trigger a student's academic success or defeat.

There is nothing new about the fact that school superintendents come and go. Some retire, and some are recruited into other school districts or opportunities. But let's face it, some are let go.

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