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May 2011

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Cover Story

The Obama administration has grand hopes for turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools, in part by allocating $3.5 billion for School Improvement Grants. Unfortunately, there simply aren't enough qualified principals to replace those mandated to be fired under two of the four school improvement models that the federal government says districts must follow to tap into that funding.

Features

Every weekday, millions of American schoolchildren throw away their half-eaten cafeteria lunches so that they can run outside to play. "We tell kids not to eat and swim right away. And yet here we are, telling them that the quicker they eat, the quicker they get to recess," says Greg Welk, director of clinical research at Iowa State University's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center.

According to Welk and a growing chorus of educators, poor eating habits, stomachaches and post-recess behavioral problems may be ascribed—at least in part—to a scheduling issue.

Brigadier General Anthony "Tony" Tata of the U.S. Army had one of those "ah-ha" moments in April 2006 when, on the eve of an operation he was heading in Afghanistan, an Al Qaeda rocket shattered a nearby school. The attack killed a teacher and seven students and wounded dozens more. "It occurred to me then that our enemy really sees education of the population as their enemy," says Tata (pronounced TAY-tuh). "They know that once young men and women have access and can think on their own, they will seek liberty and freedom and more opportunities."

School finance reform has become a key component for transforming public schools in the United States. Over the last decade, a growing number of districts have turned to an approach known by different names— student-based budgeting, weighted student funding and fair student funding, among others—in which budgets are allocated to schools in dollars, based on the needs of students within a school, rather than in staff positions.

Extensive media coverage of New York City's Harlem Children's Zone's cradle-to-career program over the past several years has served to focus mainstream attention on school reform in a way unprecedented in recent history.

The Obama administration has grand hopes for turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools, in part by allocating $3.5 billion for School Improvement Grants. Unfortunately, there simply aren't enough qualified principals to replace those mandated to be fired under two of the four school improvement models that the federal government says districts must follow to tap into that funding.

Opinion

The suicide of the 10th-grader sent shock waves through the middle school, but after a few months, almost all students and staff had moved on. The principal had heard through the grapevine that the parents blamed the school, but he had no idea that the school was going to be sued. The lawsuit specifically named the principal, coach and a teacher the parents believed had failed to stop the bullying of their child at school. The parents claimed that they had told school officials of their concerns about their child being victimized and that nothing had been done.

"Readiness" is in. But are educators prepared for the implications?

The push for common core standards—coupled with the distressing numbers of college students who need remedial courses and the dissatisfaction among business leaders with the preparation of high school graduates—has ignited the institutional and political movement to tackle the "readiness problem."

In your schools, In your classrooms, you will soon allow students to use computing devices they already own. While today 99 percent of schools ban cell phones and other mobile devices from the classroom, there will be a 180-degree turnaround within four years. This coming shift is inevitable.

Solutions

Online social networking includes much more than Facebook and Twitter. It is any online use of technology to connect people, enable them to collaborate with each other, and form virtual communities, says the Young Adult Library Services Association. Social networking sites may allow visitors to send e-mails, post comments, build web content, and/ or take part in live chats.

For Michele Hancock, the recently hired superintendent of the Kenosha (Wis.) Unified School District No. 1, her job is not business as usual. When she took the position last summer, she had a vision to transform the district, including questioning all practices, programs and policies to ensure they meet the needs of all students.

Boston schools are getting a little help for challenged students. In 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, 76 percent of all students qualified to receive free or reduced-price lunches. Although poverty is a proven factor in reducing student achievement, Boston Public Schools is seeing the results of City Connects (CCNX)—its intervention, prevention and enrichment program that, for a decade, has worked with teachers to pair students with community-based services to help students better engage and thrive in school.

Briefings

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a plea for special education students at a March 15 conference of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). He asked that they not only be included in the general education environment, but that their schools be held accountable for their performance. He said, "We can no longer celebrate the success of students if another group of students is still struggling.

The Connect All Schools Initiative has an ambitious goal: To lInk all schools internationally by 2016. The campaign has been months in the making, although it officially launched March 19 at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning, a professional development conference that brought together nearly 10,000 educators. The overarching objective is for schools to reach out to students in other countries to collaborate on projects, discuss global issues, and learn with each other—not simply about each other.

If you were to call the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a monotone recording would answer, "The number you have dialed is unallocated."

The organization has become a ghost town since the Obama administration began phasing out the controversial voucher program, which provides federal funding for low-income D.C. students to attend private schools. The program has seen signs of a revival in the House of Representatives, however.

The new Gloria Marshall Elementary School, opening this fall to 730 pre-K5 students in the Spring (Texas) Independent School District, will sport an aquatic pond for students to study its ecosystem, a butterfly garden, an above-ground cistern to collect rainwater, and a wind turbine. Inside will be a computer in the school lobby allowing students to view the amount of energy the roof's solar panels are harnessing. It will be one of the greenest schools in Texas and the first in Houston to use geothermal heating and cooling.

Raymond Pecheone believes that to fairly evaluate teachers, one must watch them teach and assess the artifacts—such as assignments, lesson plans, and reflections—they use daily. This form of assessment may seem like common sense, says Pecheone, executive director for the Stanford University Center for Assessment Learning and Equities Scale, although it has really been a long time coming. Specifically, this assessment, which began with performance assessments for the licensing of teachers in California, has been 20 years in the making.

Over 600,000 low-income elementary students nationwide will be receiving fresh food in the 2011-2012 school year after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced March 23 that it will be expanding the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The program received a funding increase of $48 million—a nearly 40 percent jump from the previous year—for a total of $158 million in funding. The program, which was established in 2008, supports local farms while also promoting healthy eating habits to impoverished students.

In March, U.S. Secretary of education arne Duncan estimated that 82 percent of schools could fail to make adequate yearly Progress in the 2011- 2012 school year. The startling statistic left many wondering whether the problem was with the schools or with the guiding policy of no child Left Behind.

 

Walcott Moves In

Dennis Walcott, who had served as a NYC deputy mayor and liaison to the school system, was appointed chancellor of New York City schools April 7. He had helped champion mayoral control of the schools and the lifting of the charter school cap.

Departments

"Technology is not a magic bullet. If you have a computer but you don't have the content and you don't have teachers who know how to design good classes - it's not going to make a difference."

-President Obama, speaking at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C. on March 28.

Having spent 25 years at Saint Paul (Minn.) Public Schools, Valeria Silva has seen more than just a few changes in her district. Since 1990, the number of English language learner students has more than tripled from 4,633 students to 15,772. In 1975—10 years before Silva arrived—the district had 100 students from Asia. Today there are 11,000. Silva has spent her entire career at SPPS, which now has 64 schools and 38,500 students, and became its superintendent in 2009.

When Cathie Black was first nominated to be New York City Schools chancellor last fall, some predicted the former chairwoman of Hearst magazines to last six months, but the prediction ended up being optimistic. Ninety-five days after her start date, she is out, and deputy mayor Dennis Walcott, an educator, as well as former CEO and President of the New York Urban league who has long aided mayor Bloomberg in educational matters, is in.

National Student Clearinghouse Correction

Thank you for including the National Student Clearinghouse in your article about graduate data to assess achievement ("Are Your Graduates Succeeding in College?" April 2011). However, the story inaccurately stated that the Clearinghouse follows "employment information through the IRS."

 

PERSONAL LEARNING NETWORKS: Using the Power of Connections to Enhance Education

JOSSEY-BASS, $24.95

Netbooks were the subject of a lot of attention in education about two years ago; many saw these inexpensive, compact versions of laptops as the devices that would finally enable one-to-one computing to become commonplace in K12. Today, even though new devices have appeared—namely, tablets like the iPad—and taken much of the spotlight in the discussion, netbooks remain a viable and inexpensive option for creating a one-to-one program.