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Nov 2009

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Cover Story

As cell phones—with ever-expanding possibilities of texting, Web browsing, and game playing—have multiplied in recent years among teenagers and even preteens, so have the concerns of teachers and administrators about the distractions these devices can cause. A survey of students and parents earlier this year by the group Common Sense Media found that almost 70 percent of schools around the country ban student cell phone use during the school day.

Features

Over the last 18 months, school district purchasing offices across the country have been tightening the reins like never before while more top-level administrators get involved in the budget process. “When the economy really hit the skids, states got hit hard, so a lot of school districts were forced to make severe budget cuts,” says John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International. “They stopped or reduced purchasing as much as they could on those discretionary items.

This article is the result of a collaboration between three superintendents from Ohio and a school district lawyer.

As cell phones—with ever-expanding possibilities of texting, Web browsing, and game playing—have multiplied in recent years among teenagers and even preteens, so have the concerns of teachers and administrators about the distractions these devices can cause. A survey of students and parents earlier this year by the group Common Sense Media found that almost 70 percent of schools around the country ban student cell phone use during the school day.

Cell phones were banned from most schools years ago, but after the Columbine High School and 9/11 tragedies, parents started pressuring some school boards and administrators to reverse the bans. On its surface, allowing students to have cell phones under the guise of improved school safety may seem like a “no-brainer” to many board members and administrators. But an in-depth analysis suggests that while students having cell phones may make parents feel better, it actually could create a less safe situation in a school crisis.

As a middle and high school math teacher for 14 years in the Norman (Okla.) School District and Dallas (Texas) Independent School District, Cathleen Norris at first thought the idea of using cell phones in a classroom was absurd. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “Would I want that distraction? That would make me crazy.”

Cory was a special education sixth-grader at the Saugus (Calif.) Union School District when he wrote an entry on his blog page entitled “The Spied Enemies: A War Journal.” This make-believe story opens with the words “I am Johnny Willow, a hero to some people. I will tell you my story about my adventures in World War II.”

When Charles Soriano enrolled in classes a few years ago in the Mid-Career Doctorate in Educational Leadership program at the University of Pennsylvania, he was already an accomplished school administrator. Assistant superintendent of schools in the East Hampton (N.Y.) Union Free School District, Soriano had two master’s degrees—in English literature and educational leadership—and had served on state panels and advisory committees. He wasn’t satisfied and chose to pursue professional development. “I really believe school leadership is a craft,” he says.

Opinion

Within the Common Core State Standards Initiative, I facilitated the working group charged with the development of a new generation of English-language arts (ELA) standards that would be fewer, clearer, higher, evidence-based, and internationally benchmarked. Moreover, these standards would address the realities of the kinds of reading, writing, speaking and listening required for success in college or the workplace.

Jenny, a third-grade girl, commented after receiving the results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, “I cried repeatedly when I heard the news, and so did my mom.” Jenny had failed the high-stakes test necessary for promotion and as a result was required by state rules to repeat third grade. Jenny now considers herself a failure and a loser.

Solutions

“Technology really wasn’t something ‘normal’ back when I was in school,” says Kari Rhame Murphy. But today, the same young girl raised in the 1950s Louisiana home of two teacher parents is the chief technology officer of a district that is one of the most highly funded in Texas, thanks to its nearness to the Houston Ship Channel. A former middle school math and computer technology teacher—the latter, at a time when teaching computers was virgin territory—Murphy now instructs the teachers and administrators of Deer Park ISD.

For the Tangipahoa Parish School System, federal stimulus funds provided a unique opportunity to get some new computers for its classrooms. But for the district, located about 40 miles northwest of New Orleans, upgrading systems wasn’t a simple matter of buying new, previously unaffordable machines.

Briefings

A report issued by the New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project in September, and since been held up as clear evidence that charter schools are doing a better job than traditional schools, is now facing criticism that its claim of being an “apples to apples” study just isn’t true.

Saying that many schools of education are doing a “mediocre job,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called for a “sea change” in how they train teachers. In an address on Oct. 22 at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Duncan said, “America's university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change—not evolutionary tinkering.”

Larry Williams, assistant superintendent for facilities and construction in the Lewisville (Texas) Independent School District, received the Pinnacle of Excellence Award at the annual meeting of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) in Chicago in October. He was honored for spearheading a project to make his department’s work more efficient and more cost-effective. It included the initiation of the “classroom blitz,” in which every 60 days each of the district’s 4,000 classrooms is inspected.

Departments

For the most part, K12 is just beginning to realize the potential of mobile technology. A 2009 study of 25 mobile learning initiatives worldwide by the Joan Ganz Conney Foundation Center chose them as having the greatest potential to revolutionize teaching and learning methods. But this technology has already arrived in some districts, whose leaders cite its ability not only to be more mobile than laptops, but more affordable, more reliable, and just as powerful. DA columnists Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris inspired us this month to create a full Mobile Learning Guide.

Shifting Roles: A Positive Trend


I enjoyed the 9th Annual Salary Survey article (“Administrator Roles Shift with the Times,” September 2009). The story spotlighted certain positions. It was reassuring to see that our salaries in Greenville County were for the most part in line with the survey data.









Harvard law professor John Palfrey's new book examines the lives of digital natives.








 

Global Education: Using Technology to Bring the World to Your Students


International Society for Technology in Education, $31.95








 

Disney Educational Productions


Disneynature Series, Nature films


Books and Materials, $49.95 each