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Oct 2010

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Cover Story

There are plenty of statistics available for measuring the performance, potential and problems of school districts, from standardized test scores to the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Features

Under pressure to keep spending down but also keep pace with rapid technology changes, many districts are future-proofing their schools—trying to get the most out of their tech spending by providing solutions they will be able to use now and in the future without major, expensive infrastructure overhauls.

There are plenty of statistics available for measuring the performance, potential and problems of school districts, from standardized test scores to the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Superintendent Bradford Saron has always had a passion for technology. "My family makes fun of me because my iPod Touch is attached to my hip at home," he says. But even his family gets in on the act, as his children use the device to listen to music, watch movies or play educational games at different times.

Amid all the national attention on Arizona these past few months, largely due to Senate Bill 1070 empowering police to take "reasonable" steps to verify the immigration status of criminal suspects, the state's K12 district administrators have been wrestling with a unique segregation issue, as well.

Last year, 15 students in the Montpelier (Vt.) High School's advanced placement Spanish class paid class-time visits every week to a nearby dairy farm. They interacted with the Mexican laborers by conversing with them in Spanish, having picnics together, and playing cards and soccer. as the students advanced their Spanish verbal skills, they also befriended the workers, helping to ease their feelings of loneliness.

Opinion

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the single biggest complaint he's received about the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is how the law's emphasis on reading and math has led to a narrowing of the curriculum. At a recent event at the National Press Club, he agreed with NCLB's shortcomings related to other core subjects, saying, "I don't think art is an extra; I don't think social studies is an extra; I don't think PE is an extra. [These subjects] give students a reason to be engaged and come to school. ...

I'm not your typical parent in this age of Race to the Top and Common Core Standards. I don't care so much how my kids do on the test, whether they can remember the names of Columbus' three boats (it was three, wasn't it?) or how many AP courses they are going to take in high school. I'm not much concerned with the traditional ways that my kids' school or their teachers are being evaluated.

Solutions

"Children with disabilities will only meet their potential if they have effective teachers," says John O'Connor, executive director for special services at DeKalb (Ga.) County School System, a metropolitan Atlanta school district in the second-largest county in the state.

Through an intense collaborative effort, O'Connor has helped reinvent instruction for special education students who, combined with ELLs, amount to about 17 percent of the total student population.

In an impoverished corner of Phoenix, just north of Sky Harbor International Airport, the first school district in Arizona to adopt a 200-day calendar is reporting impressive academic improvements after only one year.

Briefings

 

Collective Bargaining

Mark Roosevelt, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, says the district and its teachers union reached an agreement on a five-year contract that includes new pay elements focused on teacher performance.

The federal approach to school safety is shifting. This shift was first seen at the federal summit on bullying, held August 12, with the announcement of the Safe and Supportive Schools grant, a program under the Successful, Safe and Healthy Students program in the Blueprint for Reform that focuses on the overall environment of a school. Climate surveys are the cornerstone of the grant, as the Department of Education is—for the first time—asking students and families to provide feedback on their school atmosphere.

States using college admission tests such as the SAT or ACT for measuring achievement of state learning standards are being cautioned to rethink using tests in this manner in a new report from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at Indiana University. There are currently six states using these college admission tests for both high- and low-stakes testing to gauge No Child Left Behind compliance, which researchers worry is not accurately measuring high school achievement of the entire student population and not lining up with state curriculum learning standards.

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.

ZAR, a graffiti artist from New Jersey, gets a hand from a young fan at the "Meeting of Styles," which gathered graffiti artists from around the globe on Aug. 28 in Paterson, New Jersey. The Urban Art Foundation hosted the event that transformed P.S. 15 in Paterson into one large canvas. The mission was to harness the appeal of street art to help raise funds for after-school art programs. Two other New Jersey public schools have since asked UAF to help beautify their campuses and help their arts programs.

Inspiring kids to pursue STEM education is more than just a good idea—the economic viability of our country's future nearly depends on it. A new Web video series, Advanced Technological Education Television (ATETV), does just this by showing students where their interests in math and science can lead them in terms of a college education and careers. Supported with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program began by partnering with community colleges nationwide and teaming up with technological industry employers.

A weak economy paired with a national push to improve reading and math as well as other core subjects has left an important skill behind in K12 classrooms—digital media literacy.

The newly opened South Warren (Ky.) Middle and High School is is the largest insulated concrete form building in the nation.

For almost 30 years, thousands of Los Angeles Unified School students in the Mid-Wilshire district have been waking up early to be bused to schools farther away in their district. As of Sept. 13, those students are within walking distance of their new school complex, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. The complex cost $578 million, which makes it the most expensive school in LAUSD and perhaps the country. It contains six pilot schools for elementary through high school students at the site of the former Ambassador Hotel.

Departments

EXCENT

MyGraduationPlan

Special education program

Software, Pricing varies

Student response systems, which use wireless remotes and sophisticated software to enable teachers to poll their students, are growing in popularity. Several new manufacturers have entered the market just this year, and a number of companies that make interactive whiteboards, slates, audio systems, document cameras and other technologies are also increasingly making response systems, designing all these devices to work together in the classroom.

As chief-of-staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and director of the Race to the Top fund, Joanne Weiss has seen the praise, criticism and speculation surrounding the Obama administration's federal high-stakes competition. The remaining $3.4 billion in Race to the Top funds was allotted to 10 states in August, with winning proposals promising improvements in teacher performance, data management, and student achievement.

Misery Loves Company

Thank you, DA, for the recent salary survey article ("A Salary Recession for School Administrators," September 2010) based on the ERS's 37th national survey of salaries and wages in public schools. e article confirms the feedback we are receiving at AASA: The pain caused by the recession is being shared by all.

The drop in average salary increases for superintendents from the 2008-2009 school year to the 2009-2010 school year is noticeable and signals a trend that will undoubtedly continue into the 2010- 2011 school year.

Evidence-Based Design of Primary and Secondary Schools: A Responsive Approach To Creating Learning Environments

Wiley, $85.00