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October 2011

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Cover Story

For more than half a century, the annual science fair has been a fixture in many a school's academic life, both for science teachers, who guide classes through the hands-on experience of researching topics of interest, and for students, who often hectically put the finishing touches on their work the night before it is exhibited in the school gym or other public space. From there, winning submissions can advance to district or regional science fairs and—with enough scientific know-how and inspiration, as well as school and parental support—to national science competitions.


For at-risk students who stand little chance of going to college, or even finishing high school, a growing number of districts have found a solution: Give them an early start in college while they still are in high school. An early college high school (ECHS) strategy, which combines high school and college-level instruction, reduces dropout rates and improves academic achievement levels while also boosting students' chances of graduating from school and finding jobs.

Solve for x. While many of us first encountered this enigmatic instruction in high school, the last 20 years have seen a strong push to get students to take algebra in eighth grade or even before. Today, concerns about the economy highlight a familiar worry: American eighth-graders trailed their peers in five Asian countries on the 2007 TIMSS mathematics assessment, and American fourth-graders were outperformed by students from eight other countries, including England, Latvia and Kazakhstan.

Before and during the tenure of Florida's former education commissioner, Eric J. Smith, the state made bold moves toward incorporating charter schools, began corporate "scholarship" programs that provide funding for students to attend private schools, implemented class-size caps that voters approved via referendum, and earned $700 million in federal money through round two of Race to the Top.

Online learning has seen a STEEP upward growth trajectory over the past decade. In the 2011 report "The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning," authors Michael Horn and Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute say the number of students taking online courses has leapt from 45,000 in 2000 to more than 3 million today, and that by 2019, 50 percent of high school courses will be delivered online.

District CIO

When Google+ was announced in late June, it began in a field trial to determine its place in social networking. While it's still unavailable to Google Apps for Education customers and the jury is still out on whether or not it will be right for K12 public schools, the project is designed to make sharing on the Web more like the real world—sharing different pieces of information with different people.

For the last decade, Carrollton-Farmers Branch (Texas) ISD Director of Technology Andy Berning has taken a pragmatic approach to 1:1 learning in his district of over 25,000 students by assessing the individual technology needs of the student population so as not to over-deliver and waste money. DA recently spoke with Andy to get his perspective on technology management in his district.

As districts rely less on isolated K12 data and more on digital delivery for academic and business needs, chief technology officers have a greater need for interoperability standards that allow them to assemble multiple, cloud-based tools and services into one, according to CoSN's Interoperability Standards for K-12 Education primer.

Over 150 school districts in Illinois have teamed up to share software and technology through IlliniCloud, a one-of-its-kind nonprofit cloud-computing consortium for schools. Jim Peterson, IlliniCloud's chief technology officer and Bloomington (Ill.) Public Schools' technology director, started IlliniCloud in 2009 with the help of technology company CDW. Three data centers, located in Belleville, Bloomington and DeKalb, house computer systems, backup power supplies and security devices.

In the 1990s, school districts invested all they could in desktop computers that had plenty of horsepower, since applications and data were all stored locally on individual machines. By the 2000s, the individual machines had become less critical as districts moved to server-based networks.


Are you an "unlearner?" If not, you need to become one—fast. Of the many important messages articulated by Duke professor Cathy Davidson in her newest book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, that may be the one that is most relevant for educational leaders at this moment.

After billions of dollars spent, the impact on student achievement of computer use in K12 has been essentially zero. The reason is: The same textbooks, the same curriculum and the same pedagogy continue to be used, but computers have been substituted for pencil and paper. Teachers have had their students use computers to search for information instead of having them go to their school library. Direct instruction is the technical term for this teacher-centric pedagogical style, but we refer to it as "I teach."

After more than a decade of writing about educational accountability, I have come to a conclusion that we can't wait for Washington, or for that matter, any state capital, to get accountability right. The most innovative models for educational accountability will happen in districts that are willing to say to the president and secretary of education, "We do not fear accountability. In fact, we will be more accountable than any federal or state program has ever required. We will report not only our test scores, but we will also report on the other 90 percent of the work we have been doing.


Enrolling in college was not part of the path for graduates of the San Antonio (Texas) Independent School District, where 93 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Shortly after Superintendent Robert Duron, known for raising achievement in the Socorro ISD in El Paso, arrived in 2006, he began to raise the bar in this 55,000-student, predominantly Hispanic, urban district.

Celina (Texas) Independent School District, roughly 100 miles north of Dallas, has 2,000 students across its four school campuses—and they're all Bobcats, says Lizzy Kloiber, secondary curriculum director, referring to the district's unifying mascot. The community is tight knit, she adds, with most teachers having grown up in the district, and families regularly mingle at church or at high school football games each weekend.


To keep children safe and prevent school bus accidents, school districts across the nation are cracking down on drivers who pass school buses when children are getting on or off.

The Sand Springs (Okla.) School District just added multiple cameras to its fleet of buses, including on the exterior school-bus stop sign arm. “Cars cannot see students loading and unloading from the bus, and students cannot see an oncoming car. There is no way the driver could stop before hitting the child,” according to Sean Parker, assistant director of transportation for the district.

This year, parents in need of information on bus routes before the first week of school in Palm Beach County (Fla.) School District turned to a new user-friendly program using Google maps developed by Jerry Nyman, the district’s information technology director. Before the Find My Bus Stop application was developed in the fall of 2009, parents had to call the district to find out which bus their child should take, unlike other districts that notify families.

Transparency, student data and modernization have been on the forefront of Oklahoma State Education Superintendent Janet Barresi's mind since she began her job in January 2011. Upon her arrival, Barresi saw the state's education technology was lagging behind, to say the least. Barresi implemented a new email and phone system, which previously had messages received through snail mail and without conference-call capabilities.

States have until Oct. 19 to submit applications for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, a competitive grant program to prepare more children, including those from low-income families, for kindergarten. The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services are investing $500 million in early learning. "Investing in the health and educational development of our youngest children is critical to ensuring America's long-term strength and competitiveness," says Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Three years after tornadoes ripped through a high school, middle school and elementary school in the small rural community of Chapman, Kan., the school district's restoration project, which includes a new art building, will be completed January 2012. The high school, middle school, elementary school and gym, which opened in January 2011, include hallways without glass in the ceilings and stronger doors. The middle school has a safe room below ground that is designed as a tornado shelter.

As states now begin their transition to the Common Core State Standards, seven organizations have united to provide advice on issues related to the implementations of the mathematics curriculum and assessments.

Nationally, health-care costs are rising roughly 10 percent each year. Costs at the School District of Manatee County (Fla.), however, are rising at a mere 1 percent since the district implemented an employee wellness program, dubbed HealthVantage, three years ago. Since the wellness program took root, the district has saved nearly 14 percent on health-care costs compared to other districts and $1.3 million for medical and prescription services during the first half of 2010 compared to 2009.

Northeast Yucai Oxford International High School, a first-of-its-kind public school, opened its doors in Shenyang, China, this fall. The school, a joint partnership between Oxford (Mich.) Community Schools and Northeast Yucai Education Group in Shenyang, allows American and Chinese high school students to attend and earn dual degrees for each country.

$900,000 Buyout in Philly Arlene Ackerman

Arlene Ackerman is out as Philadelphia’s school chief, but she walked away with a buyout worth more than $900,000. Test scores increased under Ackerman, but there was often conflict between her and the teachers’ union and elected officials.


While today's K12 classrooms use more multimedia than ever before, typically it is the visual technologies—such as projectors, interactive whiteboards and television displays—that receive most of the attention in the marketplace. The audio component is just as important, however, and can often be overlooked. That is rapidly changing, and a number of companies are beginning to design classroom audio systems to meet a growing demand for better sound.

According to a study on the 2011 Vision K-20 Initiative, the U.S. is not making progress toward educational technology benchmarks, particularly helping schools meet students' individual needs and providing authentic assessment tools. Source: Software and Information Industry Association

TCI K12 Social Studies Curriculum

Pricing varies by student count

Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools class warfare

Simon & Schuster, $28

National Conference on District-Charter Collaborations

Recent readership studies show that DA magazine plays an essential role in informing high-level school administrators about a wide array of topical issues. In each issue, we cover current trends and pressing issues in K12 education, along with emerging technologies, leadership issues and management strategies. We have worked closely with the ed tech industry and education trailblazers to deliver in-depth and unbiased coverage of cutting edge technology that you need to be informed about in order to continually improve student achievement and administrative effi ciencies.