SCHOOLS FEEL PAIN OF FINANCIAL MELTDOWN
Homeless Students on the Rise
Taxpayers, homeowners and investors are not the only ones nervously wiping their brows—the Wall Street crisis also has serious implications for education. A wave of foreclosures has uprooted children, creating disruptions that can impair their academic performance.
An estimated 2 million children will be affected by foreclosures tied to subprime mortgages over the next two years, according to First Focus, a nonpartisan children’s advocacy group. As a result, school districts are reporting surges in the numbers of homeless students, says Phillip Lovell, vice president for educational policy at First Focus.
Students uprooted by foreclosures will likely suffer from poor academic performance and behavioral problems, he says.
But another problem for homeless students is that it may be difficult for many of them to even enroll in school. The McKinney- Vento Homeless Assistance Act guarantees students from homeless families the right to stay in the school they were attending, but some districts worry that such students will drag down test scores and make it hard for the school to avoid sanctions under No Child Left Behind.
Barbara Duffield of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth says a homeless liaison in a metropolitan area told her of about 20 homeless high schoolers that had been denied enrollment.
To prepare, school district leaders should work with teachers and counselors to identify homeless students and partner with community organizations to connect foreclosure-affected families with services, says Lovell. District leaders also ought to lobby their congressional representatives to provide funding to assist districts and homeless families.
Lending On Hold
The economy is also making it hard for districts to borrow from banks to pay for schools and projects.
In North Carolina, for example, Wake County—whose school district of over 130,000 is the largest in the state—recently delayed plans to sell $454.5 million in bonds. The county enjoys the highest credit rating—meaning it is among the safest institutions to lend money to.
Wake County Manager David Cooke says the county has enough cash that the delay in not selling bonds will not have an immediate effect on projects under way. The bulk of the bonds would be for school construction and renovation projects approved by voters in 2006.
However, experts say that if the market continues to decline and counties are unable to borrow money, the planned construction of schools, county libraries, and expansion projects could be delayed.
John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International, says the state of the economy poses hard questions for school systems holding referendums with capital construction projects on the ballot.
“With the eroding property tax base, the public will may just not be there,” he says, “and many proposals may be delayed, reduced in scope, or simply not pass.”
Dee Freeman, executive director of the council of government in Durham, N.C., says the longer the market crisis persists, the longer it will force local leaders to make hard decisions. Governments may be forced to borrow money on unfriendly terms, and hope to refinance the debt later when markets return to normal.
College Loans Not Immune
Students going through the college application process, in addition to students already enrolled in college, are also running scared due to private lenders pulling out of college loan packages.
“Spawned by the subprime mortgage crisis, private lenders are leaving at an alarming rate,” says Dave Kenney, the CEO of CollegeZapps, a Web site that provides an easy way for students to fill out college applications. “It may not seem like it makes sense—with the prospect of students graduating in four years and getting jobs—but default rates are increasing across the board.”
Congress did act over the summer to provide guarantees to financial institutions for their federal loan programs, which increased the average student federal loan from $2,000 to $5,000, says Phil Day, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
But many students—close to half, says Kenney—rely on private loans to augment their federal loans in order to attend expensive universities.
The federal loan programs are cheaper and have better repayment options than those of private lenders, says Kenney, which require a cosigner and are increasing their fees and costs.
Kenney recommends that students apply to at least eight to 10 schools to increase their options for financial aid upon admittance, and to look into individual college scholarship programs as well as scholarships from their local community. —Kevin Butler
No More Fuzzy Math
The findings and recommendations of the National Math Panel, commissioned by President Bush to find out why the math skills of U.S. students pale in comparison to those in other countries, were released last March, but resources related to the findings are now available to educators online.
The tools, developed by the Education Department for educators to use in implementing the findings, can be found at www.ed.gov/mathpanel and include a short film about what administrators can do to support their students’ math knowledge and skills. A digital workshop for teachers will also be offered in the coming months.
No one would argue that kids are to blame for the fallout in the financial markets, but that’s who the U.S. Treasury Department is targeting with a just launched program to educate themabout credit and other financial matters.
The long-planned multimedia campaign consists of television and radio spots, Web banners and a site (www.controlyourcredit.gov) complete with financial tools, resources, and an interactivegame called “The Bad Credit Hotel.”
The Treasury Department says there is no similar program in the works for the heads of financial institutions or government regulators.
Teacher’s Orders: “Open Your Mouth and Say ‘Ah’”?
Now may not be a good time to get sick if you’re a kid. As districts across the country face nurse shortages—and spread thin the nurses they do have across multiple schools—many are turning to an unsettling line of defense to provide care for students: teachers.
Not only teachers but an increasing number of nurse’s aides, teacher’s aides and secretaries are carrying out the duties typically reserved for school nurses, and they’re having to do a lot more than just dole out aspirin or clean scraped knees.
“It really boils down to two things,” says Lynn Lanham, a school nurse at Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Public Schools. “Schools do not pay as much as hospitals, and we are seeing a growing population of medically fragile children.”
In a recent nationwide survey of more than 600 school nurses by the University of Iowa, 75 percent said unlicensed faculty and staff administer medications to students at their schools, and the change comes at a time when more students are dealing with serious medical conditions such as diabetes, cerebral palsy and bipolar disorder.
The National Association of School Nurses (NASN ) cites an “explosion” of asthma, obesity, and exposure to violence and weapons. NASN officials add that across the board there is a rising need for mental health services.
Federal guidelines recommend that schools employ one nurse for every 750 students, but NASN says the current average is closer to one nurse per 1,100 students, and even the recommended ratio assumes that students are healthy.
Some states such as Oregon are not required by law to have a nurse in every school, but lay school employees are required to complete a one-hour class to administer care to a sick child, dispense medication or evaluate symptoms.
NASN Executive Director Amy Garcia says 25 percent of U.S. schools have no nurse at all, but there are wide disparities in staffing and care throughout different regions of the country.
Regardless of who is administering the care, experts agree that the increase in chronic conditions and number of students without health insurance is giving way to school medical procedures that include insulin injections, tube feedings and even catheterizations.
Garcia says that if there is a national shortage of school nurses, it’s more a shortage of funded positions.
“Nurses love kids, and many yearn to be in school environments,” she says, but in many places the funding “isn’t there.”
“This is largely a decision made at the local level by administrators,” says Garcia, “and there must be more engagement.”
“Public awareness is key,” says Lanham. In today’s times, she says, “nurses should be a priority.”
Many of today’s high school students say that the pressure to get good grades is creating a problem for them and that there is too much pressure to act as adults, according to a recent study by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, a nonprofit educational group.
Although the annual report, State of Our Nation’s Youth, finds 80 percent of high schoolers reporting stress-related problems, their actual grades have consistently remained on average in the B range since 2001. Nearly 40 percent of students report not being able “to just be teenagers,” but the majority would use the word “confident” to describe themselves and consider themselves optimists.
Looking Hard at Accreditation
Few people have ever heard the word “accreditation” paired with K12 schools, much less shown a familiarity with the accreditation process. Yet when Clayton County (Ga.) Public Schools became in September the first district in nearly 40 years to lose the status, the term suddenly made headlines, illustrating the high stakes that the seal of approval carries for school leaders.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools revoked the school’s accreditation, citing a dysfunctional school board whose members violated an ethics policy and allowed for improper outside influences on decision making.
Losing accreditation doesn’t just mean losing public confidence in education. It could mean students are ineligible to apply to some colleges or some scholarships.
There are six regional K12 accreditation bodies that periodically have experts review documentation and make visits to schools as part of the accreditation process. In general schools are expected to meet similar standards. By staying focused on standards and preparing for and managing the accreditation process, districts can ensure that they don’t share the same fate as Clayton County, experts say.
Districts should ensure that “the standards of accreditation always guide your improvement efforts,” says Mark A. Elgart, president and CEO of AdvanceED , which handles accreditation standards and processes for SACS and North Central Association. He also advises that districts be as transparent as possible in the accreditation process and in sharing with the public their efforts to improve.
Elgart also recommends that districts “have an informed relationship with your community so that they can remain involved in a supportive way.”
Accreditation revocation is usually a rare occurrence. In the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which deals with schools in California and Hawaii, only five to 10 schools annually lose accreditation, says executive director David Brown.
Last year, King City High School—located about 100 miles south of San Jose—lost its accreditation and was directed to improve in such areas as parent involvement and the use of test data.
Brown urges districts to take the accreditation process seriously, noting that WA SC provides free training on how to navigate the full-scale self-study required as part of the accreditation process. Schools also should look at recommendations received from the accrediting body in previous years to ensure that those concerns have been addressed. —Kevin Butler
Big Apple School Gets Green Makeover
Students at Beekman Hill International School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side might feel like they’re floating in air when they exercise in the building’s top floor gymnasium, and it’s because they are. The gym’s floor uses a system supported by springs to minimize noise and vibrations for 22 classrooms below—just one of the innovative construction elements students and educators enjoy at what is now New York City’s first green public school.
Developed through a partnership between the Educational Construction Fund, an arm of the New York City Board of Education, and real estate developer World-Wide Group, the top-rated pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school is the first to comply with the city education department’s Green Schools Rating system. The school is housed in what used to be the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, and the designers, Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, even saved on materials and resources by reusing the building’s exterior shell.
“What’s helped is that we already had an existing building,” says EE&K associate principal Raya Ani. To take a truly sustainable approach, she says, it’s important to “work with what you have.”
The school uses an HVAC system that monitors air temperature and automatically adjusts to optimize comfort levels and energy consumption, and insulated windows reduce heating and cooling loads. The building has no boilers, consumes no fossil fuels, and produces no carbon dioxide emissions.
Local shoppers at Target stores helped the store chain donate in September nearly $15 million in books, classroom supplies, field trips and new technology to 78,000 schools across the nation, according to Target spokeswoman Courtney Foster.
In 1997, Target created the Take Charge of Education program, which has donated a total of $246 million to more than 110,000 schools, or about 75 percent of the nation’s K12 schools, Foster says.
Eagle Point Elementary School of School District 622 in Minnesota has received more than $19,000 since the program started.
“Without those funds, we would not have the ability to take field trips or provide artist-in-residence and other allschool programs—all things that our children need to learn, grow and reinforce the classroom experience,” says Sue Jetzke, an Eagle Point third-grade teacher.
The program works like this: Target shoppers can apply and approve to receive a Target RE Dcard, which allows them to designate an eligible K12 school of their choice. Target, which has 1,684 stores in 48 states nationwide, will then donate an amount equal to 1 percent of shoppers’ RE Dcard purchases made at Target or Target.com, Foster says. And Target donates 0.5 percent of Target Visa credit card purchases made anywhere Visa cards are accepted. If the total accumulated donations equal less than $25, the amount carries over to the next payment period. Donations to schools are made in March and September every year.
Every U.S. K12 school that has a 501(c) (3) or 509(a)(1) tax-exempt status is eligible to benefit from the charitable program.
Since 1946, the company has invested 5 percent of its income in the communities it serves.
Here are some other education programs that Target supports:
Target Field Trip Grants, which helps bring students outside the classroom; Kids in Need Teacher Resource Centers, which donate free school supplies to teachers and students; Letters About Literature, which is a national reading and writing contest; and United Through Reading, which helps deployed military men and women stay connected to families by sending videotapes of themselves reading to their children back home. Track your school’s progress under Take Charge of Education at www.target.com/tcoe.
Taking On Water
Bottled water now comprises the largest slice of drinks offered in schools, the beverage industry recently announced.
Sugary soft drinks accounted for less than a quarter of beverages sold in schools last year—down from 40 percent the year before—and bottled water represented almost 30 percent of the product mix last year, versus 22 percent the year
before and 13 percent in 2004. The analysis comes from the second annual progress report by the American Beverage Association. The current year marks the final year of a three-year, voluntary program designed by a joint initiative of industry groups and beverage companies to lower the calories and portions offered to students through school vending machines.
A Sign We Like
As part of a series of initiatives spearheaded by the Environmental Sustainability PTO committee at Katonah Elementary School in Katonah, N.Y., students and their parents are being encouraged to decline car rides to school in favor of more environmentally conscious modes of transportation. “We’re really trying to promote student awareness about sustainability issues that exist all around us,” says principal Jonathan Kaplan.
Eli Broad has announced the Brownsville (Texas) Independent School District as the winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education, which will receive $1,000,000 in college scholarships. The four finalists will each receive $250,000 in scholarships.
Alberto Carvalho has been appointed to replace Rudy Crew as superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools. He will face such challenges as boosting morale among teachers, navigating a financial crisis, and working with a sharply fractured school board.
GUILTY AS CHARGED
William Coleman III , former Detroit schools superintendent, has been sentenced to a year of probation and fined $5,000 after pleading guilty to attempting to influence a grand jury during a federal Dallas schools corruption case.
Michelle Rhee, D.C. Public Schools chancellor, has proposed in a new labor contract, a series of measures allowing her to more easily fire ineffective teachers. Talks have been stalled over the negotiations, which also include rewarding high-performing teachers.
Mark D. Wilson of Morgan County High School (Ga.) has been named the 2009 Principal of the Year. He has implemented a scheduling system that facilitates collaboration, builds teacherstudent relationships, and allows students to receive help during the school day.