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Mar 2011

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Cover Story

Becoming more global is a familiar refrain for many a school administrator or curriculum developer wrestling with delivering 21st century skills. Over the past decade, districts have expanded their foreign language programs, added Mandarin Chinese to the mix, and in some cases launched language immersion classes in their elementary schools. Others have opened entire schools designed around international education.


Three of nine school buildings that have won the latest Educational Facility Design Awards from the American Institute of Architects' Committee on Architecture for Education stand out from the crowd of other school buildings because they are sustainable and are connected to the nature that surrounds them. The awards program is designed to identify trends and emerging ideas, honor excellence in planning and design, and disseminate knowledge about best practices in educational and community facilities, according to the AIA.

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.

At education conferences, as well as in professional association reports, as a target area of funding for nonprofit foundations and in the literature of industry vendors, the term, "personalized learning" has taken center stage in an arena already crowded with complex and long-standing issues and concerns.

Why personalized learning? And why now?

As districts collect increasing amounts of information on their students, from assessment scores to attendance records, many are finding new and better ways to use the information to catapult student achievement. They are implementing solutions such as data warehouses and data dashboards, electronic tools for storing, viewing and analyzing data, which provide immediate updates on everything relevant to their students, and adjusting instruction accordingly.

Becoming more global is a familiar refrain for many a school administrator or curriculum developer wrestling with delivering 21st century skills. Over the past decade, districts have expanded their foreign language programs, added Mandarin Chinese to the mix, and in some cases launched language immersion classes in their elementary schools. Others have opened entire schools designed around international education.

"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.


I've been personally and professionally blessed to have had the opportunity to serve some very diverse and large urban school communities in several states as superintendent of schools. These varied locales have given me the unique opportunity to look at the world of system reform through a broader range of lenses. These multiple perspectives have provided me with insights into the role state policies and infrastructure play in the pace at which systemic reforms can be implemented and accelerated.

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.


Kathleen Regan came to Glen Rock Public Schools four years ago thinking she would work only six months as the interim director of curriculum and instruction. Instead, she has stayed and succeeded—helping place the affluent, 2,500-student New Jersey district 20 miles northwest of Manhattan in the national spotlight for its science, technology, engineering and math program that extends from kindergarten to college-level work in high school.

Having loved libraries since she was a child, Deputy Superintendent Mary Kolek of New Canaan (Conn.) Public Schools was truly happy when the staff of the New Canaan High School Library Media Center won the 2010 National School Library Program of the Year Award, presented by the American Association of School Librarians. "Everything that our library media center is producing," she says, "is reflective of what we're trying to do as a district: create critical thinkers, problem solvers, creative collaborators."


If you think your district needs further preparation to implement the common core state standards (CCSS), you're not alone. According to a poll conducted by the Leadership and Learning center, an organization providing solutions to districts and school leaders, 96 percent of respondents reported they were unprepared to implement the standards in their district. The poll consisted of 115 thorough responses from district leaders and, while far from scientific, sheds light on some specific concerns facing administrators.

The No Child Left Behind Act dates back to Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, part of that president's ambitious signature policy, the War on Poverty. After a 36-year conflict, however, poverty was officially declared the winner in 2001. As a result, the ESEA was revamped and renamed the No Child left Behind Act by George W. Bush in 2002, and was apparently part of the president's ambitious signature policy, the War on Terror. After nine years of terrorizing schools nationwide, however, the bill is about to be reformed, but even more importantly, renamed.

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.

Most of us are familiar with the damaging consequences of computer viruses such as freezing worms and Trojan horses. Another set of devious hacking forces, however, known as botnets, have caused districts to re-evaluate their online security measures. A botnet is a network of computers controlled remotely by hackers and infected with malware. Unlike other viruses, botnets do not run on autopilot once they gain access. They infiltrate computers, usually via e-mail, and they take advantage of the affected computers' Web browser vulnerabilities while spreading spam and viruses.

The 700 students that attend Mississinawa Valley (Ohio) Schools now have some work to do on their snow days. Only three "calamity days" are allowed, instead of the usual five, and two days will become "eDays," in which all K12 students will spend their time working on online lessons created by their teachers. This was made possible after the Ohio Department of Education in September allowed the district to adopt this change. On the fourth and fifth calamity days, students will log on to the district's Web site and follow their class's eDay lesson plans and assessments.

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.


Has It Come to This?

Accused of lying about her address and falsifying records, Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was jailed for 10 days for sending her daughters to a school in a neighboring district. "I did this for my daughters," Williams- Bolar told reporters.

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.

Educators learned about the latest trends and products on the market at the annual Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC), held in February in Orlando. Just as the Consumer Electronics Show proclaimed 2011 as the "Year of the Tablet PC," FETC indicated that this year will be known for the arrival of tablets designed for education.



The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes On the Nation's Worst School District

Jossey-Bass, $24.95

How times have changed! Eight years ago this month, products on this page included early software for online instruction, a guide for the Mac OS X Jaguar operating system—known today as Snow Leopard—and a pre-cloud computing file saving system.


Black Box


In his State of the Union address, President Obama said, "Nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science." And as education reform continues rapidly under this administration, school district leaders are searching to find the right infrastructure and the data to lead their students in the right direction.