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Inside the Law

Alaska Judge Calls for More School Oversight California Schools Required to Provide Service

Alaska Judge Calls for More School Oversight

The state of Alaska must improve its oversight of persistently underperforming school districts to ensure that students are getting an adequate education or it will no longer be able to use its high school exit exam, State Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled in June.

If state officials do not perform sufficient oversight of poor-performing districts, Gleason may permanently suspend the use of the exit exam and order reforms.

Gleason is allowing Alaska to continue administering the exam for the year while it overhauls its process for accountability and oversight.

The court ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the Bering Strait, Kuspuk, and Yupiit districts, the state teachers union, parents, and an educational advocacy group arguing that state officials were violating Alaska's constitution by providing inadequate school funding.

Gleason, however, ruled that school funding was sufficient but that the state hadn't done enough to monitor the chronically low-performing districts' spending and instruction.

"The state has failed to take meaningful action to maximize the likelihood that children at these troubled schools are afforded an adequate opportunity to acquire proficiency in the state standards when a school has demonstrated an unwillingness or inability to correct this situation on its own," she wrote.

Because students in low-performing districts such as Yupiit are not being given adequate learning opportunities, "it is fundamentally unfair to those children to condition the receipt of a high school diploma on the test at this time," she wrote.

But according to Eric Fry, information officer at the Alaska Department of Education and early Development the state feels that students do have the opportunity to adequately learn the material for the exit exam. He says that in some of the troubled districts "plenty of kids" are passing the test.

That's not an excuse for any poor education that kids might be getting, but it doesn't sound like students are being denied the opportunity to learn [for] the exit exam," Fry says.

At the time of the court ruling, the state had already embarked on a new strategy for intervening in troubled districts, but it was too early it that piont to know whether the effort was working, Fry adds.

In the 2005-2006 school year, the state began performing "instructional audits" of districts that had failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for four consecutive years and had not seen improvement in AYP and other standards-based assessment results. The audits-currently being conducted at the Lower Yukon, Northwest Arctic, Yukon-Koyukuk, Yukon Flats, and Yupiit districts-could result in changes to curricula and instructional methods, professional development, and the use of assessment data.

Fry says that the intervention program is working and that the Yupiit district saw proficiency rates in language arts increase 29 percent this past year.

The state hopes to persuade Gleason at another hearing that its audit program meets her requirements.

-Kevin Butler

California Schools Required to Provide Services to Students with Diabetes

A legal settlement recently announced in Oakland, Calif., will require all California schools to have someone available trained to assist diabetic children. The new policy will require all students with diabetes to be provided services under federal laws that guarantee equal educational opportunities for children with diabetes.

Some states, including Indiana, Oklahoma and Texas, already have legislation allowing schools' nonmedical staff members to be trained to administer insulin to help children monitor their bloodsugar levels.

But Ann Albright, president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association, says that those policies are not uniform across all states and that schools often have parents give insulin or other medical services if there is no nurse and the child is unable to do it.

"This will be a model for states across the country," says Arlene Mayerson, an attorney with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in 523 people under 20 has diabetes.

New Guide for Engaging Parents in Education

U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary Morgan Brown recently announced the release of a new DOE publication, "Engaging Parents in Education: Lessons from Five parental Information and Resource Centers," which identifies innovative and successful education programs throughout the country that are helping to close the achievement gap and reach the goal of every child reading and doing math at grade level by 2014.

The report profi les five Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs) and how they and their partnering organizations are successfully increasing parental involvement in education. The report says they emphasize the power of "strong parenteducator partnerships in improving schools and raising students' academic achievement."

"Thanks to No Child Left Behind, schools are now required to provide parents with the information and options they need to ensure their children receive the high-quality education they deserve," says Secretary of Education Margaret spellings. "Resources like this show how increasing parental involvement is key to improving student achievement."

As defined by the DOE, the funding agency for PIRCs, the report says key roles for PIRCs include providing leadership, technical assistance and support in the implementation of successful and effective parent involvement policies; strengthening partnerships among parents, teachers, principals, administrators and other school personnel in meeting the educational needs of children; and providing a comprehensive approach to improving student learning, through coordination and integration of federal, state and local services and programs.

The guide also includes tips for training parents for education leadership. It is part of the DOE's Innovations in Education series. Other publications in the series being released this fall cover topics such as online courses, charter school authorizing and K8 charter schools.

To view the full report visit parents/parentinvolve.

Banning Lawn Pesticides in Connecticut

Governor M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut recently furthered the cause of environmental health safety by signing into law a ban on lawn-care pesticides at public middle schools in the state.

Exposure to such pesticides poses a particular threat to children due to their lower body weights, faster rate of respiration, and the fact that they're still growing, says Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health Inc., the nonprofit organization whose research influenced the bill. Connecticut already bans pesticides on the grounds of public elementary schools. The new legislation extends that ban to grades 6,7 and 8.

Alderman says further extending the ban to high schools-whose fields get much harder use-is less of a priority compared to other concerns surrounding the health hazards of recycled rubber tire "crumbs" in synthetic turf fields and playgrounds.

Charter School Founder Arrested

A San Bernardino County grand jury recently indicted Charles Steven Cox, the founder of the California Charter Academy, charging him with grand theft of nearly $5.5 million and misappropriation of school funds. Hesperia City Councilman Tad Honeycutt was also indicted.

Cox built the California Charter Academy into a network of 60 campuses serving more than 10,000 students from Yuba City to Chula Vista. A state audit alleged that Cox misused school funds to lavishly pay himself, friends and family and to buy luxuries such as spa services.

District Attorney Michael A. Ramos says the "true victims" were the students left to find new schools when the charter academy abruptly closed in 2004.