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Sep 2010

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Cover Story

If you didn't get the raise you were hoping for recently, you're certainly not alone. Almost every day, it seems, school districts coping with budget shortfalls are announcing freezes or cuts to administrative salaries and benefits as part of the solution, a trend that began during the past school year and is becoming more prevalent around the country.

Features

If you didn't get the raise you were hoping for recently, you're certainly not alone. Almost every day, it seems, school districts coping with budget shortfalls are announcing freezes or cuts to administrative salaries and benefits as part of the solution, a trend that began during the past school year and is becoming more prevalent around the country.

In the spring of 2007, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana made the first call. Gov. Kathleen Blanco made the next call. And Louisiana's state superintendent of schools, Paul Pastorek, made the final pitch. The trio wanted to know if Paul Vallas, the renowned CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, would make a move to New Orleans to oversee the most troubled campuses in the state and arguably in the nation.

A new informal federal survey has found that for many districts, budget cuts have had a profound effect on school safety and security measures. Administrators have been forced to cut safety and security staffing and programs, reorganize security departments and find alternative sources of funding in order to maintain levels of safety and security within their schools.

Tight budgets are no excuse for failing to be proactive with school safety. In fact, school leaders must be especially committed to prevention and security programs during times when economic woes are increasing stress on kids, their families and school staff. Parents will forgive educators if their school's test scores drop.

Until this year, the Oregon Department of Education was running a central portal of thousands of learning resources that required all teachers and students in the state to have an e-mail address as authentication for security purposes. Because many districts didn't offer student e-mail, however, the learning materials were not available to everyone.

In Oshkosh, Wis., second and third graders build houses out of milk crates, the teacher simulates a flood, and they talk about how home insurance works. In Chicago, high-school social studies classes take field trips to places like the Chicago Board of Trade and the Federal Reserve, to learn about markets and banking.

Opinion

Last spring, Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization, released a report on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report, entitled "Can I Get a Little Advice Here?" presented the results of a survey administered to 600 adults from 22 to 30 who had at least begun some form of higher education. The survey asked the respondents to reflect on the quality of their interactions with their high school counselors.

Solutions

Offering innovative choices to students and families is at the heart of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's Academic Transformation Plan. Spearheaded by Chief Executive Officer Eugene Sanders, the Whatever it Takes blueprint offers what he calls "a gamechanging opportunity" for improvement through academic and non-academic strategies.

"In our district, every four years we lose 45 percent of our students, Mr. Chairman," Western Heights (Okla.) Public Schools superintendent Joe Kitchens testified in April before a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor hearing entitled "How Data Can Be Used to Inform Educational Outcomes." "We have to do something about this. We have to retool America's schools to deal with this issue of mobility," he urged the committee. Over the past five years, Kitchens and the administration of Western Heights have done just that.

Briefings

Detroit is the next city to throw away the administrative reins and open the doors for an all-teacher-led school. Serving pre-K through eighth grade and roughly 450 students, the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy (P3A) will open in Detroit Public Schools this fall— sans principal—replacing the Barbara Jordan Elementary School, which closed in spring 2010 to become a turnaround school after being identified as low performing. The school, which DPS students and families will apply to, is modeled after similar schools in Boston, Milwaukee, Denver and Los Angeles.

 

Education Denied

Terry Branstad, a Republican candidate for Iowa governor, said in a July 27 interview that he disagrees with the longstanding Supreme Court precedent that children in the United States illegally should be provided the benefits of a public education.

With one year under its belt, Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools embarks on its second school year of collecting data to evaluate teacher effectiveness. The two-year project, currently underway in five other districts nationwide, began in fall 2009 with a Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The data collection strategies include digital video recording, student assessments, student surveys, and teacher surveys.

Due to heightened vigilance regarding minority achievement, districts across the country are under scrutiny. One of these is the Wake County (N.C.) Public School System. Recently the Wake County school board decided to change the way it handles student assignments and busing between schools. Board members voted 5-4 on March 23 to end forced busing, a method initiated in the 1970s to promote diversity in public schools.

Tuition voucher program support has been withering under the Obama administration as it phases out the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, a federally funded voucher program signed into law in 2004, has provided over 3,700 students in Washington, D.C., with scholarships to attend private schools. The administration's primary reasoning, it appears, has been strong union opposition to school vouchers.

The U.S. Department of Education has earmarked $350 million in Race to the Top grants for states to develop new assessments for the Common Core Standards. On September 2, it was announced that the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) was awarded $170 million and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) won $160 million. The two groups submitted their applications in June 2010.

Through the efforts of a group of fifth-graders from Morningside Elementary School in the Granite (Utah) School District, House Joint Resolution 5 was passed by the Utah House of Representatives, the purpose of which was to eliminate car idling and to encourage walking and biking as forms of transportation. "Travel Wise Get Exercise" was a project entered into Disney's Planet Challenge, a project-based learning competition.

Departments

The current generation of edugames—computer based video games intended for educational use—stands in stark contrast to the drill-and-practice CD-ROM games of the past. While the earliest games were most often tightly focused on topics with clear right or wrong answers, such as math equations, spelling words or historical trivia, today's technology has allowed the latest generation of game developers to branch out to design games in interdisciplinary and creative subjects, including writing, history, literature, biology, business, personal finance and more.

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With one year under its belt, Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools embarks on its second school year of collecting data to evaluate teacher effectiveness. The two-year project, currently underway in five other districts nationwide, began in fall 2009 with a Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The data collection strategies include digital video recording, student assessments, student surveys, and teacher surveys.