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Mar 2010

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"We've got to be willing to do something about test scores and to deal with ineffective teachers who have tenure and are hiding behind the union. It's coming to a head where the public is saying, 'We've had it now,'" declares David Cicarella of the New Haven (Conn.) Public Schools.

Statements like this one have become commonplace among reform-minded school leaders around the country. What makes Cicarella's comments remarkable is that they are not coming from a frustrated superintendent or enterprising principal, but from the president of the city schools' teachers union.


Kathy Cox, the superintendent of schools for Georgia, believes "excellence is not an accident."

She made a name for herself by winning $1 million proving she was smarter than a fifth-grader on a popular television show. And since her election in 2002, Cox has earned complaints and kudos for tackling testing and implementing new curriculum standards and graduation requirements for Georgia.

As she prepares for possible reelection next fall, she remains committed "to be part of the solution"— a promise she made to her students when she entered politics over a decade ago.

A classroom lecture at Capistrano Connections Academy in Southern California involves booting up the home computer, logging on to a Web site, and observing a teacher conducting a PowerPoint presentation of that day's lesson entirely online. Through microphone headsets, students can watch on their home computers, respond to the teacher's questions, and take part in classroom discussions.

From costly lawsuits on behalf of victims to negative media coverage, such as the one recently played out in the District of Columbia Public Schools when Chancellor Michelle Rhee stated that one teacher was laid off for suspicion of sexual misconduct, districts can face potentially devastating consequences as a result of sexual abuse of their students by district employees.

Many are aware of the practical implications of sexual harassment of students by school staff, but such situations can also have considerable legal implications, as well.

While the legal aspects of staff-to-student sexual harassment take a back seat to the moral and emotional considerations, the legal framework provides school administrators with a helpful basis for drafting policies, conducting investigations, and making decisions.


While investigating a tip that a student had a picture of another, partially nude, female student on his cell phone, Ting-Yei Oei, assistant principal at Freedom High School in Loudoun County, Va., asked the student to e-mail the picture to his own cell phone. This seemingly tech-savvy way to preserve physical evidence had devastating consequences for Oei. The incident led to angry accusations from a parent, an investigation by police, and Oei's being charged with "failure to report child abuse" and felony possession of child pornography.

The classroom teacher noted changes in eight-year-old Jenny's attendance and behavior. Jenny seemed less motivated to perform in school, her homework was no longer completed, and she was often unkempt and prone to falling asleep in class. The teacher had heard a rumour about Jenny's living situation but did not want to pry into her private life.


By the time James G. Merrill became superintendent of Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools (VBCPS) in 2006, there wasn't much to improve statistically. The district ranked first in reading proficiency among the neighboring seven cities and first on the combined SAT; all schools had earned full Standards of Learning (SOL) accreditation from the Virginia Department of Education; and even the relationship between its elected school board, the community and administrators was harmonious.

The word "globalization" doesn't often conjure images of the U.S. heartland, but one Oklahoma district is going global through an innovative approach to teaching foreign language. Jenks Public Schools Superintendent Kirby Lehman is a strong supporter of foreign language and cultural integration. His appreciation for Chinese education led him to create Chinese language and exchange programs for Jenks Middle School and Jenks High School.


In 2003, the information specialists of Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools (HCPS) noticed that the district's newly hired librarians had a substantial turnover rate. The district, consisting of over 48,000 students, 6,500 staff members, and 63 schools sprawling across suburban Richmond, was retaining a mere 56 percent of new librarian hires.


In May, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) will hold a final vote on a new social studies curriculum to be used for the next seven to 10 years by Texas' 4.7 million K12 students. Because its textbooks are standardized at the state level rather than by individual school districts, Texas has the second-largest market in the nation, and publishers scramble to get their books chosen. The high cost of creating different editions for other states prevents publishers from forming alternate editions; thus, Texas' standards are often replicated for use in other states.

The very tragic death of a Connecticut teenager involved in a school bus accident has reopened debate about the merits of seat belts on school buses. On January 9, Vikas Parikh, a 16-year-old student at Rocky Hill (Conn.) High School, died from a traumatic head injury when his school bus struck another car and plunged down an embankment.



California's State Secretary of Education, Glen Thomas, has resigned to aid his ailing mother. Thomas, the fifth education secretary the state has seen in six years, is credited for assisting with their Race to the Top application.

The popularity of thin clients may soon diminish as districts catch wind of zero clients, the latest computer technology that is even thinner and lower maintenance. Zero clients, small silver portals the size of a Big Mac box, differ from thin clients in that they have no internal processing at all. "It is more or less a portal between the user and the keyboard," says Mark Lamson, director of technology for the Westerly (R.I.) Public Schools (WPS ). "It records key strokes back to a virtual machine which is running securely in the data center."

President Obama's FY 2011 budget proposal, released Feb. 1, includes a $400 billion investment in education—but it lacks any funding specifically dedicated to school libraries. Funding for individual programs, such as the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries grant and the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT ) program, has been consolidated, effectively eliminating the programs and denying many districts the funds they need.

Undue punitive policies are driving students down a path toward prison, according to a study from the Advancement Project, an organization founded by veteran civil rights lawyers dedicated to racial justice. "Test, Punish, and Push Out," released January 20 as part of the group's Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track project, details the impact that high-stakes testing and zero tolerance policies have on graduation rates and students that enter the criminal justice system.

Two recent reports detailing rates of teenage pregnancy and sexual activity have renewed debate about sex education, particularly abstinence-based education. A January 26 report by the Guttmacher Institute, which produces sexual and reproductive health resources, found that the national rate of teen pregnancy is on the rise, with some experts claiming that the Bush-era emphasis on abstinence education is to blame.

With each year comes a fresh crop of college-bound students pressured by the headlines to overcome the increasingly competitive nature of college admissions. However, a new study from the Center for Public Education (CPE) illustrates that the perception that an average applicant faces more challenges each year may be nothing more than mere myth.

The great teacher exodus is upon us, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), an organization that promotes quality teaching in schools. "Who Will Teach? Experience Matters," released by the organization in January 2010, notes that between 2004 and 2008 more than 300,000 veteran teachers left the workforce. New teachers, however, have a steep turnover rate, making it a struggle to fill the void.

A report conducted by F. Robert Sabol of the National Art Education Association and funded by a grant from the National Art Education Foundation concluded that the No Child Left Behind Act has "created a number of negative effects on art education," and that art educators "generally have negative attitudes about the overall impact" of the legislation.

Just days after the nation's governors, state commissioners of education, school administrators and education experts proposed draft common core standards for K12 in English and math, major education groups responded.

The National Education Association, the National School Boards Association and the Alliance for Excellent Education tout the new standards as promoting 21st-century skills of collaborating, problem solving and critical thinking.


In the late fall of 2008, DA had a heck of a time catching up with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and, at the time, also of the United Federation of Teachers, its New York City affiliate, for a January 2009 interview. The AFT 's political operation in the 2008 elections was unprecedented, with Weingarten, who at the time was rumored as a contender for education secretary, traveling through 18 states to campaign for Barack Obama.



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Math instructional content translates well into software, as is evident by the high and ever-growing number of titles available. It covers all grade levels and ranges from assessments and interventions for struggling students to edugaming titles designed to reinforce concepts or provide further challenges for gifted students. But math software is not limited to such circumstances; programs that are supplemental to curricula and designed to integrate into everyday classroom instruction are also a large part of the industry.

The National Council of teachers of Mathematics wants high school students to make sense of their math. The organization is excited about the recent unveiling of Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making, a book published last October (and part of what will become a full series), in which NCTM builds on three decades of advocacy for standards-based mathematics learning of the highest quality for students.