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Apr 2011

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Cover Story

A district is as stable and grounded as its superintendent, according to some leaders and education experts. And given findings in a recent report from the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), which specifically states that the average tenure of urban superintendents increased from 2.3 years in 1999 to 3.6 years in 2010, an increase of 56 percent, educators across the nation are celebrating.

Features

A district is as stable and grounded as its superintendent, according to some leaders and education experts. And given findings in a recent report from the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), which specifically states that the average tenure of urban superintendents increased from 2.3 years in 1999 to 3.6 years in 2010, an increase of 56 percent, educators across the nation are celebrating.

STEM—the catchy shorthand for "science, technology, engineering and mathematics"—has been part of the school improvement discussion for more than a decade, as educational leaders and policy makers have underscored the importance of these areas in preparing students for an internationally competitive, 21st-century economy.

Administrators and teachers in several large districts nationwide have cheated on standardized tests to make achievement levels look better than they actually were. The offenses range from giving students advance answers to questions on standardized tests, to erasing and changing unsatisfactory answers.

When Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top program in 2009, he added two success factors to the plate of school districts, which are traditionally measured by students’ high school success in math, reading and science: college enrollment rates and credit accumulation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which launched Race to the Top, asks states to set up a longitudinal data system to report back on students’ progress after they receive their diplomas.

Opinion

If you want to really challenge your thinking about the roles of teachers in the classroom, take a few minutes to watch Newcastle University (UK) professor Sugata Mitra talk about the research he's doing on providing technology to poverty-stricken kids in India. His "Hole in the Wall" experiment, in which he put a stand-alone, Internet-enabled computer, keyboard and mouse facing inward into a walled-off Delhi slum, shows that even children who know nothing about computers can self-organize to learn quickly and deeply on their own without any adult supervision.

Elliot: It looks like mobile learning is finally at its tipping point.

Cathie: It really depends on one's definition of mobile learning. Schools are buying carts of iPads.

Elliot: I know, it breaks my heart. Haven't we learned anything from the past?

Cathie: A cart of iPads will have about as much impact on student achievement?

Elliot: ...as a cart of laptops had on student achievement. Deja vu all over again!

Cathie: And lest there be any doubt about what we mean...

Ask any random college educated American adult to recall the processes of cell respiration so painstakingly memorized in freshman biology, or to rehearse the dates of the Progressive Era that had been absorbed as part of the standard American history survey course, and you're likely to receive a blank stare, proving something that cognitive scientists have been shouting from the rooftops: Coursework focused on memorization of a broad body of content knowledge will not produce the sort of learning that lasts.

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.

Solutions

According to the national Assessment of Educational Progress' Long-term Trend Assessment (NAEP), since the 1970s, gaps among under-performing demographics have been slowly shrinking, while the gap has widened at the top end of student achievement.

Minnesota is among many states trying to close this "excellence gap" through innovative curricula. In 2009, Minnetonka Public Schools Superintendent Dennis L. Peterson helped to launch the Navigator Program, which offers charter- school-like access to programming for gifted students aged 8-11.

Neil Leist is fond of saying that his office, filled with perfectly usable repurposed goods, is a snapshot of the money-saving mission he has pursued in the four years since he became superintendent of rural Clermont Northeastern Schools (CNE), east of Cincinnati.

"My desk is from a federal building in downtown Cincinnati, which shut down," explains Leist. "My computer, fax machine and copier are from a closed Ford plant. My desk and chairs are from a facility shut down by the Ohio Department of Education. My filing cabinets are from the Social Security office in Batavia."

Briefings

Departments of education at the state level with high-quality longitudinal data systems in place have doubled within the last year, according to the sixth annual data for action report released by the Data Quality Campaign, an organization that encourages policymakers to use high-quality education data to improve student achievement. The report shows "unprecedented" progress, with 24 states having implemented the 10 state actions to ensure effective data use standards set by the data Quality campaign. The organization predicts all states will have complete systems by September 2011.

 

Won't Back Down

After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state's Senate passed a provision stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights on March 9, the Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell said the teachers unions "won't back down."

Memphis (Tenn.) City Schools will forfeit its charter after a landmark vote in the city on March 8 mandated the district allow Shelby County—its neighboring suburban district—to regain control of its school system. Memphis, which has been separate from the county, has long been deemed the struggling district, while Shelby County (Tenn.) Schools has been regarded as the successful one.

A nationwide survey of forty-two states and the District of Columbia examined how states are using the $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants, part of the federal Title I program. Early State Implementation of Title I School Improvement Grants under the Recovery Act, conducted by the Center on education Policy and released in late February, found that changes in the guidelines implemented for these grants were intended to funnel more resources toward those high schools most in need.

In 1992, the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) released an educational video that described to students the dangers of copying information from floppy disks, called Don't Copy that Floppy. But the Internet, with its file sharing and nonstop social media, made the problem of copyright infringement much worse. For this reason, SIIA has released Don't Copy That 2, which includes a rap video and classroom resources to discuss online copyright infringement, piracy and how to become a responsible digital citizen.

What's the size of an apple seed, the width of a credit card, and feeds every seven to 10 days? Bedbugs.

District administrators in Wisconsin would appreciate greater management leeway in negotiations with teachers' unions, but many say the collective bargaining restrictions crafted by Gov. Scott Walker and the republican-controlled legislature go too far. On March 9, the GOP senators of Wisconsin abruptly passed a stripped down version of the budget repair bill. The financial proposals were eliminated, although they kept the language ending many of the collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.

Departments

A new survey from PBS and Grunwald Associates found that 97 percent of teachers said they used digital media in the classroom in 2010, and 78 percent used DVDs. However, 76 percent said they now downloaded or streamed content online, up from just 55 percent in 2007.

 

HP

Digital Sketch

While most schools are under increasing pressure to improve the STEM education of their students, finding more effective—and cost-effective—ways to teach science concepts can be a challenging task. But as with many dilemmas in education, the right technology, when properly implemented, can be a big part of a successful strategy.

Two recent reports on the tenure of superintendents inspired us this month to look into the history of superintendents serving in the 10 largest school districts in the country. Using published news reports, we researched the superintendents who had served over the last 15 years in order to understand their accomplishments versus time served, and the reasons why they left their districts.

More Funds Needed for Libraries

After reading your recent feature story about the future of school libraries ("Going Out of Print," February 2011), I questioned the information about millions in funding having been spent for library media specialist education through No Child Left Behind. According to the American Library Association Office of Government Relations, these funds were distributed to all 50 states through grants and that "in FY 2009, out of approximately 450 applicants, only 57 grants were funded."