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January 2012

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Cover Story

County, regional and statewide education service centers that provide shared purchasing power and technical support have been around for as long as a half-century, and some have helped districts gain lower prices on technology through economies of scale since the heyday of the Apple II. But the combination of tighter-than-ever budgets and greater-than-ever needs for computing and other leading-edge technology has made the opportunities that education service centers provide all the more valuable in the past three years.


From the outset, President Obama placed teacher quality at the center of his Education Plan. In a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., in March of 2009, he stated, “To complete our Race to the Top requires the three pillars of reform—recruiting, preparing and rewarding outstanding teachers. From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents. It’s the person standing at the front of the classroom.”

On a district-wide professional development day, a consultant presents to an auditorium of 250 teachers and conducts follow-up sessions with smaller groups throughout the day. The event is chock-full of information, and the teachers feel good about the resources and skills they have learned. The consultant departs at the end of the day knowing she has done her job. However, the teachers do not get the time to reflect and practice the skills learned, and their excitement about the new information soon wanes.

Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools is at a crossroads. The district has struggled for decades with poor academic achievement, dwindling enrollment and budget, and short-term superintendents—27 in the past 40 years. Most recently, after a two-year stint during which he helped the district get its financial house in order, closing nearly half of its schools and slashing staffing levels, Superintendent John Covington abruptly quit last August.

An old saying goes, “When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, something has to give.” That adage is taking on new urgency for school districts as they grapple with the burgeoning costs of their special education programs.

District CIO

The increasing incorporation of digital materials and resources into school and district portals and repositories has given rise in recent years to a new focus on the issue of identity management in K12 education.

Clintondale (Mich.) Community Schools’ high school has turned the traditional school day upside-down by asking teachers to assign short video lectures as homework and have students do activities, participate in discussions and complete assignments in class, with their teacher at hand to answer questions.


When I was young, I loved puzzles. My favorite childhood toys were the Rubik’s Cube and the wooden tangram set my grandmother gave me. I’d request logic problems over bedtime stories from my father. He preferred withholding puzzles until morning to prevent me from staying up all night solving them.

A new battle cry of American education seems to be college and career readiness. School professionals are being urged to graduate students who can be successful in college and ready for a career. In a speech before Congress in 2009, President Obama raised the bar when he declared that “every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.”

As we welcome in 2012, let’s do a quick recap of the new state of the world of education, shall we?

Technology demonstrates its significant value time and time again, from improving productivity in the workplace, to providing a huge range of personalized entertainment opportunities, to making the slogan “Reach out and touch someone” an essentially frictionless reality. Unfortunately, in K12, technology has been a bust. In contrast to the communications industry, the music industry, the accounting industry, K12 has failed to see improvement in student achievement attributable to the use of technology.


The concept of an open-door policy has deep meaning in the school district serving Mason County, a large pocket of northeastern Kentucky that comprises everything from rural farms to low-income housing projects in Maysville, the county seat. Each of Mason County School District’s 2,900 K12 students can expect an informal visit at home, every summer, from their teacher, or “advocate,” for the upcoming year.

In 2009, a year after joining Illinois School District U-46 from his previous post as regional superintendent for Chicago Public Schools’ Area 14, Jose M. Torres made unprecedented cuts to his district’s budget and personnel.

Typical public school revenue streams such as state money and property taxes were decimated by the recession nationwide, and districts across Chicago faced deficits worse than U-46’s anticipated $60 million hole in the coming years. It wasn’t a surprise that cuts in U-46 were necessary, but Torres’ tactics were.


From Intel to Ariz.Craig Barrett

Craig Barrett, former Intel chief executive officer, was appointed in December to the Arizona Ready Education Council by Gov. Jan Brewer. Barrett would like Arizona to adopt the Common Core State Standards and reform teacher training and pay.

In Garrison, N.Y., along the banks of the Hudson River, lies a renovated monastery that is home to the Garrison Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to contemplative teaching, which focuses on inner healing and awareness. Over 150 teachers from around the U.S. gathered in early November at this scenic retreat for a symposium, “Advancing the Science and Practice of Contemplative Learning.”

The lack of stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] educators is a national crisis, according to education leaders such as Martha Cyr, executive director of the newly created STEM Education Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. So WPI is one of many higher education institutions nationwide focusing on preparing its undergraduates to teach STEM topics inside the classroom and, ultimately, prepare students for careers in science or math.

Every state in the country now has a longitudinal data system extending beyond test scores, according to the Data Quality Campaign’s seventh annual Data for Action analysis. Thirty-six states—a giant leap from zero in 2005—have implemented the organization’s 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems. While the results are promising, Aimee Guidera, executive director of DQC, warns that building the data system isn’t enough.

In 2004, Deborah Verstegen, professor of education finance, policy and leadership at the College of Education at the University of Reno, wanted to create a vast library of data that, until now, didn’t exist: state-by-state school finance formula figures. “The search for the best model to use in funding education is a perennial concern and interest,” she says.

There is some skepticism regarding the effectiveness of School Improvement Grants (SIGs) on the part of those districts that are not eligible to receive them, according to a new study released in November by the Center on Education Policy (CEP). SIGs are competitive grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to districts identified as persistently lowest achieving, a designation that applies to 15 percent of the nation’s districts. Based on the survey results, only 16 percent of ineligible districts felt the grants have been effective.


Gene R. Carter is a veteran educator with experience as a private and public school teacher, public school administrator, university professor and author. In 1992, he became executive director and CEO of ASCD, an educational leadership organization with members in more than 145 countries. As ASCD’s leader, Carter has participated in educational seminars all over the world. In 1988, he was selected the first National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.

Since the U.S. Green Building Council launched LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Schools certification in 2007, building sustainable, eco-friendly facilities has become the norm for new construction and is statewide policy in 13 states. However, there is still much to be done with the approximately 99,000 existing public schools across the United States. According to “A National Action Plan for Greening America’s Schools” (Sundance, 2011), on average, green schools save $100,000 per year on operating costs. Over 10 years, America’s schools could save $20 billion.

Of American teens, 78 percent have broadband Internet at home, while 62 percent of all Americans have broadband at home.
—Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project

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